prehistoric site located south of the Carmel ridge, close to the outlet of the Oren valley onto the coastal plain. Excavations at the site were begun by Moshe Stekelis In 1942 and were continued from 1954 to 1960 by him and Tamar Yizraeli-Noy, and In 1969–1970 by Noy, Eric Higgs, and Anthony Legge. Because the cave floor is buried under large limestone boulders, the main archaeological operations were conducted on the terrace, over an area of about 400 sq m. Nine layers were uncovered: IX–VII, Kebaran; VI–V, Late Natufian; and IV–I, Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB).

The Kebaran layer has been radiocarbon dated to 18,250 ±350 to 15,800 ±300 BP. Although a small stone wall was exposed in this layer, most of the remains were animal bones and lithic industries. The Kebaran industry is dominated by microliths, the most common types of which in the lower levels are the obliquely truncated backed bladelets and micropoints. In the uppermost levels, triangles and backed lunates predominate. Among the animal species represented are fallow deer, which indicates that the immediate environment of Mt. Carmel was still covered by oak forest; and gazelle, which were probably hunted in the parkland of the coastal plain. As a result of the lowering of the sea level during the glacial age, the coastal plain was at least 10 km (6 mi.) wide.

Naḥal Oren was unoccupied during the Early Natufian period. The Middle and Late Natufian are represented at the site by flimsy house foundations, well-built terrace walls, small installations, postholes, and a large cemetery. Most of the occupational deposits abut three terrace walls, which were erected in a west–east direction. Deep mortars, also known as “stone pipes,” were imbedded in secondary positions in these walls. Small mortars, stone bowls, and numerous pestles, as well as decorated basalt shaft straighteners, were found. The cemetery contained numerous flexed burials with the remains of forty-five humans, ten of which were children. In a central area a large hearth, more than a meter in diameter, was uncovered, surrounded by flat limestone slabs. Three postholes were uncovered nearby around the fireplace.

The Natufian lithic industry is dominated by backed lunates, many of which were made by the microburin technique. Sickle blades, burins, endscrapers, and perforators comprise the rest of the assemblage.

The few art objects recovered include a long bone depicting an ungulate on one end and a human head on the other; a limestone piece interpreted as depicting the heads of a dog and an owl; a gazelle head carved in bone; and a stone figure smeared with red ocher, representing an unidentified animal head but resembling a baboon. Among the objects used as body decorations were bone pendants and numerous dentalium shells.

Layers IV and III contained assemblages associated with the PPNA. The nature of layer IV is unclear but may be related to the Khiamian, the earliest phase within the Neolithic sequence. Layer III contained the remains of twenty domestic structures, often attached, arranged on four terraces. The houses/rooms are 2.5–4.0 m in diameter, with entrances facing south. On the well-preserved floors, rounded hearths surrounded by small stones were uncovered, and next to each was a limestone slab with two to four cup holes. Large, flat, and round grinding stones, as well as rubbing stones, were found, as were two schematic figurines interpreted as representing humans. PPNA burials were rare at Naḥal Oren. Of those burials found, in only one was the skull removed. In this way, the PPNA here differs from contemporary farming communities in the Jordan Valley. [See Jericho.]

The layer III lithic industry is comprised of a few arrowheads, ax/adzes, sickle blades, perforators, retouched blades, and a considerable amount of debitage. The Tahunian axes are characterized by a working edge shaped by transverse removals. Among the sickle blades, Beit Ta'amir knives should be noted, as well as el-Khiam arrowheads. Small obsidian blades originated in central Anatolia. It is, however, extremely difficult to determine what part of the microlithic tool assemblage belongs to the PPNA because the leveling of the terraces caused the mixing of Natufian and PPNA artifacts.

Layers II and I contain the remains of small rectangular houses. The remains of six rectangular buildings were exposed, with very few finds. Among the most important objects were querns and rubbing stones. The lithic assemblage includes arrowheads of the Helwan types, Jericho points shaped by pressure flaking, elongated sickle blades with short tangs, and Tahunian axheads, as well as some polished bifacials. The burials are mostly of adults, from which the skulls have been removed. Among the animal remains are ovicaprids, probably domesticated goats, wild boar, gazelle, and some deer.

It seems that Naḥal Oren represents the spreading in the process of acculturation of cultural traits that had originated in the “corridor” of Jericho to the Damascus basin. The small village or hamlet in Naḥal Oren kept its traditional Natufian structure during the PPNA and only modified its architectural forms later, during the PPNB.

Bibliography

  • Noy, Tamar, et al. “Recent Excavations at Naḥal Oren, Israel.” Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 39 (1973): 75–99.
  • Stekelis, Moshe, and Tamar Yizraeli. “Excavations at Naḥal Oren: Preliminary Report.” Israel Exploration Journal 13.1 (1963): 1–12.

Ofer Bar-Yosef