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Carmel Caves

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East What is This? Provides comprehensive coverage of the history and scope of archaeology in the Near East.

Carmel Caves

Mount Carmel is a limestone mountainous block that stretches as a triangular mass over about 350 sq km. It was surveyed intensively and all visible prehistoric sites were recorded (Olami, 1984). A series of prehistoric caves is located in the western escarpment of Mount Carmel, facing the narrow coastal plain (1–3 km wide), which even during glacial regression periods did not exceed 10 km in width. Excavated sites include Naḥal Me῾arot (Wadi Mughara), es-Skhul, El-Wad, Jamal, and et-Tabun and Kebara caves. In the wadis that descend westward, Sefunim, Naḥal Oren, and Abu Usba caves were excavated as well as Rakefet cave, which is located in Naḥal Yoqne῾am, which flows eastward into the Jezrel Valley.

Excavations at Mount Carmel were first undertaken by Dorothy A. E. Garrod in a project that lasted from 1929 to 1934. Subsequent excavators included Francis Turville-Petre (Kebara), Moshe Stekelis (Kebara, Sefunim, Naḥal Oren), Arthur Jelinek (Tabun), Avraham Ronen (Sefunim and Tabun), Tamar Noy and Eric Higgs (Rakefet), Ofer Bar-Yosef and Bernard Vandermeersch (Kebara), Mina Weinstein-Evron (El-Wad and Jamal). These excavations uncovered remains from the Lower, Middle, Upper and Epi-Paleolithic, as well a few Neolithic assemblages described in the following pages.

Tabun Cave.

Originally excavated by Dorothy Garrod (1929–1934) in a joint expedition of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem and the American School of Prehistoric Research and later by Arthur J. Jelinek (1967–1972) for the University of Arizona, Tabun Cave is still under excavation by Avraham Ronen of the University of Haifa. The cave lies 45 m above sea level; the lower part of its sequence of layers (G, F, half of E) is filled by fine-grained, well-sorted sand, resembling a modern dune. The upper part of layer E is increasingly siltier, and the layer D deposit resembles loess. Layer C contains the remains of brush fires in the form of ash lenses. The sediments are mainly clays that were washed in through the “chimney” that was formed by the dissolution of the limestone from the Mt. Carmel plateau. Layer B and the “chimney” were filled in with similar deposits with numerous limestone cobbles and blocks. The old shoreline next to the cave, 39 m above sea level, was probably the source of the sand. It has been suggested, but not confirmed, that the cave was lifted to its present location by the tectonic movements that characterized the Pleistocene era.

The chronological placement of Tabun's various layers is an unresolved debate. Pollen evidence is rather scanty but indicated fluctuations from warmer to wetter conditions. Thermoluminescent (TL) dates suggest an average age of 170,000 years old for layer C; 270,000 years old for layer D; and 300,000 years old for the upper part of layer E. Electron spinresonance (ESR) indicates somewhat later dates, such as about 80,000–100,000 years old for layer B; about 100,000 years old for layer C; 130,000–150,000 years old for layer D; and more than 200,000 years old for layer E. There are no dates yet for layers F and G. The previously held chronological scheme that viewed most of the sequence in Tabun as lasting from the last interglacial (c. 130,000 years ago) to about 45,000 years ago is therefore not accepted, although disagreement still exists about the ages of the older layers. It has also become evident that the kurkar ridge about 2 km west of Tabun, where the red loam soil is known as Mousterian hamra, is much older—150,000–175,000 years old.

Lithic industries began in layer G with what was defined as Tayacian by Garrod and later as Tabunian by F. C. Howell (1959). It is a core-chopper assemblage with a few retouched pieces. Layer F contains an Upper Acheulean industry with ovate and cordiform bifaces, side scrapers, and other stone tools.

Layer E was originally called Micoquian by Garrod and later Acheulo-Yabrudian or the Mugharan by Jelinek. The Acheulo-Yabrudian is limited to the northern and central Levant. It contains three industrial facies, once considered independent archaeological entities, defined on the basis of quantitative and qualitative studies:

  • The Yabrudian facies contains numerous side scrapers, often made on thick flakes, which results in relatively high frequencies of Quina and semi-Quina retouch; a few Upper Palaeolithic tools; rare blades; and few or no Levallois products.
  • The Acheulean facies has up to 15 percent bifaces, with numerous scrapers fashioned in the same way as the Yabrudians.
  • The Amudian facies—including end scrapers, burins, backed knives, and rare bifaces—seems, as the result of the Tabun excavations, to be closer to the Acheulean than the Yabrudian and contains evidence for limited practice of the Levallois technique.

The Mousterian sequence begins with layer D and contains blades and elongated points predominantly removed from Levallois unipolar convergent cores and perhaps some blade cores with minimal preparations of the striking platforms. Elongated retouched points, numerous blades, racloirs, and burins are among the common tool types. Layer C is characterized by large, oval flakes that were removed from Levallois cores through radial or bipolar preparation. Levallois points appear in small numbers. In layer B, blanks were mainly removed from unipolar convergent Levallois cores with a minority of radial preparation. Broad-based Levallois points and, often, short, thin flakes and some blades were all made by the same Levallois recurrent method. The chimney seems to have contained a similar industry and numerous bones. Jelinek (1973) has suggested at that time the hole of the chimney served for trapping deer.

Human remains include a broken femur in layer E and the burial of a woman, the exact provenience of which remains uncertain. It is traditionally attributed to layer C but could have originated in layer B. An isolated jaw resembles modern humans in the Qafzeh cave, while the woman is considered to have more robust features.

Jamal Cave.

Garrod believed that the Jamal cave was empty, but in recent years, in the course of conservation activities, the cave was found to contain Acheulo-Yabrudian industry in brecciated deposits. It is currently being excavated by Mina Weinstein-Evron for the University of Haifa.

Skhul Cave.

The ceiling of Skhul cave, which is located on the northern face of the same escarpment in which Tabun and el-Wad are found, collapsed in prehistoric times, and the archaeological remains are mostly the residues of two Mousterian layers. Layer C was found in small pockets in the bedrock with a small lithic assemblage, mostly abraded. Layer B was about 2 m thick and contained the remains of several Mousterian burials. The remains of ten individuals were uncovered. The best known are the burial of Skhul V, with a pig's mandible incorporated in the grave; Skhul I, the skeleton of an infant; Skhul IV, a semiflexed burial; and Skhul IX. The skeletal remains of this group served as the basis for the identification of early modern human anatomical characteristics. Stratigraphically, the remains of the Skhul II and V seem to be later than the others. The lithic industry essentially resembles that of Tabun C. ESR and TL dates indicate an age in the range of 80,000–117,000 years old. Layer A contained some Upper Paleolithic artifacts.

El-Wad Cave.

An elongated karstic corridor that lies 44.5 m above sea level, the El-Wad cave and its terrace were first excavated by Garrod from 1929 to 1933. In 1981 the terrace was reexamined by François R. Valla and Ofer Bar-Yosef, and from 1988 to 1990 salvage excavations were carried out in the interior chamber by Weinstein-Evron. The earlier layers were found only in the cave. Layer G contained a late Mousterian industry that resembles the upper part of the Tabun sequence. Layer F was in part mixed, and some of the artifacts were abraded by water. The mixture of tool types, together with Emireh points, is related to the earliest phase of the Upper Paleolithic. Layer E contained a Levantine Aurignacian assemblage with scrapers, carinated and nosed scrapers, burins, and el-Wad points. In addition, seven bone and antler points were recovered. Layer D contained a Levantine Aurignacian assemblage (D2 and D1). Carinated and nosed scrapers, together with ordinary scrapers, are most frequent, with a small number of el-Wad points. Layer C was characterized by numerous burins and scrapers, originally called the ῾Atlitian culture. In this industry, the production of flakes is more dominant than blades, while numerous bladelets were removed from carinated cores.

Layer B contained the remains of a Natufian (c. 10,000–8,000 BCE) settlement and cemetery and covered both the frontal chamber of the cave as well as the entire terrace. The remains of more than one hundred skeletons were mostly recovered on the terrace, but also in the cave. Garrod identified the collective burials as typical of the Early Natufian and the isolated, often flexed burials as Late Natufian. In a few cases, body decorations were found attached to the remains (remains of headgear, necklaces, belts). Most of the decorations were made of dentalium shells but also of bone. In the bedrock of the terrace, four mortars were recovered; next to them Garrod identified the remains of a terrace wall constructed of large cobbles. The lithic industry included numerous microliths, among which lunates were dominant. The high frequencies of bifacially retouched Helwan lunates is representative of the Early Natufian, while subsequently the backed lunates are more common. Other tool types include scrapers, burins, borers, and awls, as well as many sickle blades. The bone industry includes points, a few harpoons and fishhooks, spatulas, and sickle hafts, one of which was preserved with two blades still adhering. Ground-stone artifacts include pestles, often of basalt, which were brought from the Galilee or the Golan, and fragments of bowls and portable mortars. With regard to artistic expression, the site is known for a sickle blade with a carving of a young ungulate, a small model of a human head in limestone, and some schematic human figurines. Information concerning subsistence activities was obtained from animal bones, which indicate the hunting of gazelle and fallow and roe dear, the trapping of birds, and fishing; reptiles were also collected. Pollen spores indicate the importation of branches with flowers of olive and tamarisk; firewood was identified, indicating that the cave was occupied during spring and summer. Cementum increments of gazelle teeth reflect hunting during both winter and summer, and it therefore seems that el-Wad was a sedentary to semisedentary campsite. Layer A contained remains from the Neolithic to historical periods. Also worth noting is a Hellenistic clay statue of Aphrodite. Since Medieval times, the cave has been occupied mainly by shepherds.

Kebara Cave.

Located at the western escarpment of Mt. Carmel, the Kebara cave is about 13 km (8 mi.) south of Naḥal Me῾arot, at about 60–65 m above sea level (map reference 1442 × 2182). The first sounding near the cave entrance was made by Moshe Stekelis In 1927 (Schick and Stekelis, 1977). While excavating the caves in Wadi el-Mughara In 1930, Garrod, unaware of Stekelis's test pit, dug a small trench in Kebara, where, below the historical deposits, she encountered remains of the Natufian culture. In 1931, together with C. A. Baynes, Francis Turville-Petre excavated at Kebara, revealing about 300 sq m of surface area to a depth of 3 m. Stekelis carried out additional excavations from 1951 to 1965, and a joint project coordinated by Bar-Yosef and Bernard Vandermeersch was conducted from 1982 to 1990 under the auspices of the Hebrew University and the French Mission in Jerusalem. The combined stratigraphy, from which the first three layers were removed in their entirety by Turville-Petre, follows:

Layer A:

From the Bronze Age to the modern period, layer A was a mixed stony layer, quite variable in its thickness.

Layer B:

About one meter thick, layer B contained an Early Natufian assemblage with numerous bone tools, pendants, ornaments, and decorated sickle hafts. The lithic assemblage, collected without sieving, included approximately five hundred lunates and one thousand sickle blades. Turville-Petre (1932) also listed a few mortars and pestles and a variety of other stone tools, such as shaft straighteners and whetstones. A pit with several badly damaged Natufian skeletons was uncovered close to the cave's entrance.

Layer C:

A microlithic assemblage in layer C (20–40 cm thick) serves as the type-site for the definition of the Kebaran. The dominant tool types were the obliquely truncated backed bladelet and some curved backed bladelets. At the rear of the cave, some fragmentary charred human remains were found, but recent radiocarbon dates on the bones relate them to the Early Natufian.

Layer D1:

A Levantine Aurignacian assemblage dominated by end scrapers, steep (carinated) scrapers, and some burins, mostly made of flakes, was found in layer D1.

Layer D2:

Currently units I–II, layer D2 was similar in its contents to layer D1; it had a Levantine Aurignacian assemblage with mainly flake end scrapers, steep scrapers (both nosed and carinated), a few burins, and El-Wad points. Two bone tools were recovered in this layer, one a point with the tibia articulation still intact and the other a broken point with parallel incisions encircling its width. The new excavations found a typically Aurignacian split base point and provided several radiocarbon dates indicating a time span of 36,000–28,000 years ago.

Layer E:

Currently units II–IV, layer E contained a few Mousterian elements, most of which differ in their patination from the typical Upper Palaeolithic elements. The industry is dominated by blade production; the main tool types are end scrapers, some steep (carinated) scrapers with a few burins, and el-Wad points. A series of radiocarbon dates ranges from 43,000–36,000 years ago.

Layer F:

Originally termed Levalloiso-Mousterian, layer F remained largely untouched until the 1951–1965 Stekelis excavations. The Upper Palaeolithic layers (D–E) contained several hearths and a series of peculiar installations built of limestone slabs laid over small stones near the northern cave wall. The Mousterian layers were excavated to varying depths and contained large quantities of debitage and bones. The major discovery was the skeletal remains of a baby (eight–nine months old) found close to the northern wall at a level of 6.83–6.90 m.

Bedrock was reached near the northern wall in the 1982–1990 excavations and in Stekelis's original sounding. Upper Paleolithic levels still in place were in the southern portion of the dig and were radiometrically dated to 43,000–28,000 years ago.

In 1983, the excavation in the Stekelis deep sounding uncovered a human burial. The skull is missing, but the post-cranial skeleton is complete. This robust individual, TL dated to about 60,000 years ago, is included with the other so-called Near Eastern Neanderthals. The central area was chosen for “horizontal” excavation (exposing everything, leaving it in place for mapping and photography). Plotted artifacts and bones indicate that the hearths were located toward the entrance and the dumping zones toward the rear of the cave. Diagenetic processes caused by intensive water percolation destroyed all bones in the southern sector of the cave.

The lowermost unit is an accumulation of sterile, sandysilty deposits (units XV–XIV) above the uneven bedrock. Subsidence into a sinkhole and subsequent erosion were followed by sedimentation of a depositional admixture created by intervening activities of biogenic and natural agencies. Unit XIII was the first to accumulate the admixture. It contains numerous well-delineated hearths and rare artifacts, but no bones. Following an unconformity, units XII–VII accumulated as a continuum, containing ashy deposits, hearths, bone accumulations, isolated human bones, a human burial, and rich Mousterian lithic assemblages. An additional major event of subsidence in the sinkhole led to slumping and microfaulting of the Mousterian layers at the rear of the cave, followed by erosion and burrowing. Thus, the cave floor during the early Upper Palaeolithic formed a basin slanting steeply toward the cave's rear wall. Continuous erosion and burrowing led to the mixed accumulation of Upper Paleolithic and Mousterian artifacts in the lower part of this basin. Some Upper Paleolithic lithics infiltrated into units V and VI, which primarily contain Mousterian artifacts, and some Mousterian elements found their way into unit III, primarily Upper Palaeolithic. Unit IV is a thin lense; together with unit II, it may be similar to what Turville-Petre (1932) called layer E.

Lithic studies of the Mousterian period demonstrate that blank production was frequently done by the convergent recurrent Levallois method. Short and broad-based Levallois points and triangular flakes were often the end products. Despite the site's proximity to sources of raw materials, the sequence of flake removals was repeated until the cores were exhausted. The upper units (VII–VIII) exhibit a proliferation of Levallois flakes obtained by unidirectional or radial removals. Retouched pieces in Kebara are quite rare and include a few side scrapers and Upper Palaeolithic tool types. Levallois points and triangular flakes are rarely retouched but bear traces of hafting and impact fractures caused by their use as projectiles. Other stone tools demonstrate signs of use for woodworking and butchery. Bone accumulations in Kebara cave reflect the hunting of gazelle and fallow and roe deer and the gathering of reptiles. Carbonized plant remains were mainly of vetch—indicating gathering activities in late spring. Firewood from the Tabor oak and common oak were collected from the cave's immediate environment.

[See also British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem; Paleobotany; Paleozoology; Tabun; and the biographies of Garrod, Stekelis, and Turville-Petre.]


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Ofer Bar-Yosef

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