The Jerusalem Post
15,000-year-old tools shed light on community relations in ancient Israel
Fifty-four basalt pestles dating back 15,000 years uncovered in a cave in the Carmel area offer insights into the relations between the earliest communities who transitioned to a sedentary lifestyle and how they started to develop a close connection to their territory, research by Israeli and German scholars has shown.
The University of Haifa and University of Mainz project successfully located the source of the raw materials used by ancient Natufians to manufacture tools to process their food. It reveals that most of it came from different areas around Lake Kinneret, between 60 and 120 km. from the el-Wad Terrace site where they were found.
“Since we did not find evidence of basalt processing at the Carmel site, we assumed that the ancient Natufian hunter-gatherers of the Carmel would travel to the Kinneret, among other things, to bring the processed basalt vessels,” said University of Haifa archaeologist Prof. Danny Rosenberg, one of the authors of the paper recently published in the academic journal Scientific Reports.
Basalt is an especially hard type of rock that requires sophisticated knowledge and technology to avoid breaking it when it is cut.
Natufian communities lived in the area in the late Epipaleolithic period, 11,700-15,000 years ago, during the transition between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic eras, which was reflected in their lifestyle. The Natufians were still hunter-gatherers who were not able to produce their food but still lived in semi-permanent small settlements.
The trips of el-Wad Natufians to the Sea of Galilee could have happened according to two theories.
It is possible that only expert stonecutters would travel to the area, possibly taking the opportunity to exchange other objects along the way, although in light of the many and relatively distant sources of raw material researchers believe it is not very likely.
Another theory states that the whole community would go, maybe as part of their seasonal movements around the region. The stone-cutting technology was preserved and transmitted among the members of the community.
The researchers were not surprised to find out that these populations would journey so far. Previous studies had shown that they traveled even greater distances and maintained some form of commercial relations with regions that were even further away.
However, what especially intrigued them was that there were areas where the Carmel Natufians could have found the basalt much closer to home. They reason that those long trips might have been forced by the necessity to avoid rival communities.
“The advent of a sedentary way of life dovetailed with the emergence of an early sense of possession,” the researchers wrote. “As groups became more closely attached to a certain place and invested in their immediate surroundings, they probably began cultivating prefatory claims of ownership.
“In this vein, the Natufian culture is also notable for introducing a new sort of geopolitics: the emergence of socio-territorial entities, a landscape of more-or-less distinct spatial units attached to organic groups, probably separated from one another by unclaimed ‘buffer zones,’” they added. “As one group claims an area and its resources, it also denies it to others, setting into motion a dialectic of alienation and suspicion.”
According to Rosenberg, it is possible that the basalt sources closer to the Carmel were under the control of rival groups, which caused the el-Wad Natufians to travel as far as the Kinneret, an area that was almost uninhabited.
“The transition of some of the Natufian communities to permanent settlements and early forms of agriculture must also have led to the development of their territorial feelings and strengthened the connection between them and the environment of the sites