HOME / Table of Contents = Civilizations - Cultures - Areas - Regions - Prehistory
Other Archaeological Sites / The Neolithic of the Levant (500 Page Book Online)

Chapter 2: Neolithic 1 Nahal Oren (Pages 99-106)

Pre-History and Archaeology Glossary

Excerpts and Definitions and Addendums:

The site of Nahal Oren is situated on the north side of the Wadi Fallah and consists of a small cave with a terrace in front which slopes steeply down to the Wadi floor. It has been extensively excavated by three teams in seperate campaigns. The first excavation was in the cave and on the terrace in front (See Page 4 in *1 Below). It was believed that the site had been occupied in the Aurignacian and Mesolithic 2. The second series of excavations exposed a large part of the terrace and showed that it had been occupied in Mesolithic 1 and 2 and the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (See Page 1ff in *2 Below). The third excavation took place on the terrace a little to the west of the area already dug. It was intended that the soundings here should confirm the stratigraphic sequence of the site and provide samples of organic remains from which the economies of the different phases of occupation could be determined (See Page 75ff in *3 Below).

The occupation sequence at Nahal Oren covers a long period of time yet the remains of the superimposed phases of the settlement are less than 4 kilometres deep (See Figure 2b ibid). Much of the deposit consists of stones and other debris washed down from the steep slopes above. Although the archaeological cultural sequence is complete from Mesolithic 1 to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B there is too little occupation deposit on the site for it to have been continuously occupied by man. It is more likely that occupation was discontinuous but that people returned to the site in each cultural phase.

The Neolithic occupation deposits were found to be stratified directly above Natufian layers. In the most recent excavations these deposits have been divided into a lower series, layers II and III, which has been equated with the PPNA at Jericho and layer I above ascribed to the PPNB (See Page 86 ibid. Two stone-walled structures with associated floors and hearths, considered to be houses, were found in the lower PPNA layers (See Page 78ff ibid). These layers cannot be linked directly with stratum II described as PPNA in the earlier excavations (See Page 10 in *2) but it would appear that the much more extensive structural remains excavated then belonged to the same cultural phase. The stratigraphical position of both was the same in their respective sequences, sandwiched between Mesolithic 2 and PPNB layers (See Page 2 in *2 and Figure 2b in *3 Below).

Stratum II consisted of a village of at least 13 subcircular structures most of which were probably houses (See Page 4ff and Figure 3 in *2 Below). The buildings were from 2 to 4 metres in diameter, the smaller one perhaps serving as stores or workshops. They were built on a descending series of four terraces cut back into the natural slope and set so close together that the walls of some interlocked. These walls made of rough stones were up to O.8 metres wide and stood about 1 metre high. Originally they must have carried roofs of timber with perhaps reeds and mud. The buildings had earth or pebble floors, which had been renewed in some instances, and stone-lined hearths sunk in their floors. Cup-marked stones were often found associated with these hearths; as the cup marks were quite small they may have been used in some craft activity rather than as roof supports. The doors of these dwellings opened down the slope towards the bottom of the wadi. Allowing for the differences in situation and building material, these structures were quite similar to the houses of PPNA Jericho. Both types were round or subcircular with a single entrance and a number of the Nahal Oren buildings were dug at least partly into the hillside, so resembling the semi-subterranean houses at Jericho. The walls of the Nahal Oren buildings were low as at Jericho, though broad enough to support a superstructure. It is likely that both types had a conical, tent-like roof which sloped down to the tops of the walls and was supported by one or more posts within the building.

Only one burial has been reported for these levels at Nahal Oren (See Page 79 in *3). This was a semi-flexed skeleton laid on its right side in a shallow pit without accompanying grave goods. The skull was missing although the mandible was in position. This would appear to have been another early example of the practice of removing skulls from corpses which was so common later in the Neolithic. As this burial was the only one reported from inside the settlement at this period it is likely that most of the inhabitants were buried elsewhere, in contrast with the practice in Mesolithic 2 and later in the Neolithic.

The finds from these levels of the Neolithic settlement were restricted in type, lacking the elaboration of material culture found on some Mesoiithic 2 sites and later in the Neolithic. Cylindrical pestles and plano-convex rubbing stones of limestone or basalt were quite common (See Page 8ff in *3 Below), the latter material being imported probably from Galilee. Only one hollow quern, on the other hand, was found in stratum II and none was reported for Nahal Oren IV - II. A number of other limestone bowls, dishes and platters were found in stratum II, several of them ground thin. One pebble incised as a female figurine was also discovered in house 16.

Bone tools were the second principal category of artifacts [NOTE 6] but these were quite restricted in range. Most were simple borers of varying sizes. A number of small, cylindrical bone, stone and shell beads were found in the most recent excavations. One was a malachite spacer bead (BM # 1973 7-11886), the material for which must have been imported from some distance perhaps as far south as the Wadi Arabah or Sinai.

A very brief account of the flint industry from stratum II was published in the preliminary report on the second series of excavations (See Page 6ff ibid but a full study has not been carried out. A more detailed account has appeared of the Kebaran and Natufian flint industries from the most recent excavations but very little information was given about the Neolithic assemblages (See Page 86ff in *3 Below). Most of the flints from rectangle 500 in this excavation, however, have been deposited in the British Museum where I have been able to study them. The full occupation sequence on the site was present in this area. It is clear that the flint industry of stratum II in the earlier excavations was essentially the same as that of layers IV, III, and II in rectangle 500, thus confirming the stratigraphic equation of the remains from both deposits.

The uppermost level with a Natufian industry was layer V. Stratified above that was layer IV which was described as a small layer between the Natufian and 'Pre-Pottery Neolithic A' levels (See Page 86 ibid). The industry of this layer was quite characteristic and somewhat different from the Natufian. The raw material consisted of pebbles and other small pieces of various shades of grey, brown and buff flint. A little of it was quite fine but most was medium or coarse-grained. It was probably collected from wadi beds and terraces in the neighbourhood.

Flakes and rather irregular blades with prepared platforms were struck from prismatic or, more rarely, pyramidal cores. The waste material consisted of crested blades and small rough flakes and blades and most of the tools were also small. Little parallel-sided nibbled blades were common, as were single-blow and angle burins. The other major group of tools was the scrapers which were more varied in type. They included both disc scrapers and end-scrapers on blades, both absent in the Natufian at Nahal Oren. Small sickle blades while not numerous were typical of the industry. Another innovation of which several examples were found was a hollow-based arrowhead with side notches, quite like a Khiamian point. Several edge renewal flakes were found of flaked axe/adzes indicating that these tools were also made by the inhabitants of the site; they too were unknown in the Natufian.

The excavated material at Nahal Oren was passed through sieves and a flotation machine. In consequence many microliths were found in the Kebaran, Natufian and all later layers. Layer IV yielded lunates, microburins and microborers as well as typical Kebaran backed and truncated bladelets. It is difficult to be sure how much of this material really belonged in this layer. Much of it was probably derived from earlier deposits through disturbance during the layer IV occupation. This would certainly be true of most, if not all, of the tiny lunates found which were typical of the Naturian layers on the site. One lunate though was 3.3 centimetres long, much bigger than anything found earlier and so it was probably in context. This was also true of the microborers which were not found in earlier deposits on the site. It would thus appear that there was still a microlithic element in the layer IV industry.

Stratified above layer IV were layers III and II. These two layers had the same flint industry. The raw material was similar to that of layer IV although some larger flint was used. The core technique was also quite like layer IV in that most flakes and blades were struck off prismatic or pyramidal cores. There was a little more diversity, however, as some discoid cores were now found and at least one double-ended blade core. The waste still consisted largely of small, irregular flakes and blades with some crested blades. A few pieces of obsidian were imported in these levels.

The same principal classes of tools dominated the industry as in layer IV but there was a greater variety of types. Scrapers were particularly numerous with end-scrapers on blades and disc, steep and side-scrapers on flakes or nodules of flint, some of which were larger than anything found earlier at Nahal Oren. Burins were also quite common, though still restricted to angle and single or multiple-blow types. Nibbled blades remained an especially large class of the retouched tools. Less common were sickle blades: some of these were now quite large with backing. There were a few borers and arrowheads were still scarce. A point with retouched butt which was found in layer III may have served to arm an arrow and hollow-based arrowheads with side notches of Khiamian type were found in stratum II of the earlier excavations (See Page 8 in *2 Below). A few notched arrowheads with tangs were reported from the unpublished material in these layers (See Page 79 in *4 Below) which, if in context, would be the earliest occurrence of this type. Notched blades and flakes on the other hand were quite common and seem to have been typical of the industry of these layers. Flaked axe/adzes were found throughout the deposit together with cutting-edge rejuvenation flakes. The edges of a few of these axe/adzes had been prepared vith a true tranchet blow. The material from layers III and II like that of layer IV included many microliths, almost all of which were probably derived from earlier deposits. Nevertheless there were a few of the large lunates not found in the Natufian which probably were part of the industry.

The first point to be made about the flint industries of layers IV, III and II is that their underlying features were the same. The raw material, core technique, and the principal types of tools, burins, scrapers, nibbled blades and the others were all similar. There were differences within the layers such as the trend towards larger tools, greater typological variation and the development of true blade tools in layers III and II but one would expect these in a long occupation sequence. Far more flint was found in layers III and II than in layer IV but this is because the excavated volume of these layers was much greater (See Figure 2b in *3 Below). Layer IV had essentially the same flint industry so should be thought of as a similar cultural deposit to layers III and II rather than a phase intermediate between the Natufian and the two overlying layers.

The second point is that the chipped stone industry of layers IV, III and II at Nahal Oren was similar to the Proto-Neolithic/PPNA industry at Jericho. The similarities extended through the techniques of tool preparation, the overall size of the tools and the principal tool types; these even included such distinctive innovations as the flaked axe/adzes and Khiamian points. There were some differences between these two industries, the most obvious one being raw material. The inhabitants of both sites used local sources of flint, deliberately selecting small chunks and wadi pebbles, yet the different colours, textures and striking properties of the material from Nahal Oren and Jericho are noticeable and give a slightly different look to each collection. The second difference was in the proportions of the main types of tool at each site. Burins and borers, for instance, appear to have been less common at Nahal Oren than at Jericho. Such differences may well be accounted for by the different situations of the two sites and the different activities practised on them. Variations in proportions of tools did not extend throughout the industries, however: scrapers and the ubiquitous nibbled blades seem to have been equally common and sickle blades equally rare at both sites. It is also doubtful if many microliths were used at either Nahal Oren or Jericho.

The third point is that the industry of layers IV, III, and II at Nahal Oren appears to have been a direct development of the Natufian industry on the same site in the same way as the Proto-Neolithic/PPNA industry at Jericho was derived from the Natufian there. The raw material used in the Natufian was the same local flint of small chunks and pebbles. This was prepared in the same basic way as in layers IV, III and II with small blades and flakes being struck off prismatic and pyramidal cores. The range of tools was small, consisting mainly of angle and multiple-blow burins and scrapers (See Figure 6 ibid). The scrapers were usually made on flakes, steep scrapers being quite common; end-scrapers on blades were present but only in small quantities. Backed and other irregularly retouched blades were used as sickle blades although these were not very numerous. Microliths of which lunates were the most common type formed a major component of the industry. Although the making of microliths seems to have diminished rapidly after the Natufian, large lunates were still being made in layers IV, III and II. Both the techniques of manufacture and the range of tools were common to this Natufian industry and that of the overlying layers. This strongly suggests that the later industry developed from the Natufian at Nahal Oren and that therefore, as at Jericho, there was no major replacement of population between the Natufian and the earliest Neolithic occupation.

The early Neolithic at Nahal Oren cannot be independently dated as there are no C-14 dates for this phase. The close typological similarity between the artifacts from Nahal Oren and Jericho in this phase suggests that they were contemporary and that Nahal Oren was therefore inhabited during the Proto-Neolithic/PPNA phase at Jericho .....

NOTE 6: I owe this observation to A.J. Legge


*1 Preliminary Report on Soundings
in PreHistoric Caves in Palestine

M. Stekelis (1942) Volume 86 [Pages 2-10]
Bulletin American Schools of Oriental Research

*2 Excavations at Nahal Oren [1963]
M. Stekelis and T. Yizraely : Volume 13
(Pages 1 - 17) Israel Exploration Journal
Library of Congress # DS 111 A1 I87

*3 Recent Excavations at Nahal Oren in Israel
T. Noy et al [1973] Volume 39 (Pages 75 - 99)
in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
Library of Congress # DA 670 E13 P8

*4 Nahal Boqer: an Early Pre-Pottery Neolithic B Site
T. Noy and R. Cohen (1974) Volume 12
[Pages 15-25 and 78-79] Miteaufat Haeven
Library of Congress # DS 111 A1 M5

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium