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The Mesolithic (EpiPaleolithic) of the Levant

Chapter 2: (Pages 34-36)

Pre-History and Archaeology Glossary

Excerpts and Definitions and Addendums:

The Mesolithic of the Levant was a distinct cultural stage which came between the Aurignacian and the Neolithic. Its most diagnostic archaeological feature was a chipped stone industry characterised by microlithic tools. This microlithic component has been found on Mesolithic stations all over the Levant but on no Aurignacian or Neolithic site. It is thus the most distinctive trait by which to define the Mesolithic stage.

Mesolithic sites were first discovered in Palestine and the cultural sequence has since been established more securely there than anywhere else. The earliest group of these sites determined on the evidence of stratigraphy and comparative typology was called Kebaran after the site where this phase was first defined in excavation by Turville-Petre (See Page 271 in *1 Below). The second phase was called Natufian since its type-site - Shukbah - was situated in the Wadi Natuf on the western edge of the Judean hills (See Page 1 in *2 Below). The information obtained from these excavations was considerably augmented in later years in further work by (1) Garrod herself at the Mugharet Wad (See Page 9ff in *3 Below) - (2) by Neuville at several sites in the Judean desert - (3) Stekelis and his collaborators at En Gev (See Page 106 in *3.5 Below) and (4) Perrot at Ain Mallaha. Much other information about Mesolithic sites in Palestine has also been found in recent surveys and excavations.

I must now explain why I have called this stage Mesolithic since this term is not widely used at present in Near Eastern archaeology. The Kebaran and Natufian were described as Mesolithic from their discovery until sometime after the Second World War (See Page 276 in *1 and Page 211 in *4 Below). Objections to this term have recently been raised by a number of archaeologists. Braidwood for example has said that there was no Mesolithic in western Asia in the sense that the term is used in northern Europe (See Page 4 and 80 in *5 Below). Perrot and Bar-Yosef (See Page 1 in *3.5 Below) have also rejected the term; they prefer to call this stage Epi-Palaeolithic to emphasise that the microlithic industries developed from the Aurignacian. At a conference in London in 1969 a number of archaeologists accepted this reasoning and agreed to use this name in future.

I believe that the exclusive use of Epi-Palaeolithic has a number of disadvantages. While I would agree that there was continuity from the Aurignacian to the Kebaran - this term implies that there was an absolute break between the Natufian representing the end of the Palaeolithic and the Neolithic. It is clear now however that human occupation of the Levant continued straight through from the Natufian to the earlier Neolithic. Epi-Palaeolithic also implies that the Kebaran and Natufian had more in common in their artifacts and way of life with the immediately preceding Aurignacian than with the Neolithic. It will be seen from what follows that I would strongly challenge this assumption. This was an important intermediate stage in the human settlement of the Levant distinct from both the Palaeolithic before and the Neolithic after. Furthermore the Mesolithic coincided with the final cold phase of the Pleistocene and its immediate aftermath so that the environmental setting was different from the preceding and succeeding stages; the contrast between the Kebaran and Aurignacian landscapes being particularly marked. This stage needs to be described by a term that suitably expresses its distinctive qualities. I prefer to return to earlier usage and to use Mesolithic to describe these phases: the Kebaran and Natufian in Palestine and contemporary sites elsewhere in the Levant.

The Mesolithic has been more thoroughly investigated in Palestine than in any other region of the Levant. A few Mesolithic sites had long been known in Lebanon and Syria but their number has grown markedly in recent years. Several of these sites have now been excavated so that the sequence in these regions has also been determined at least in outline. For many years the Nebekian and Falitian levels excavated by Rust at Yabrud III were thought to be the most northerly Kebaran-like occurence but related material has now been found at Douara Cave near Palmyra (See Page 4 in *6 Below) and possibly at Nahr Homr east of Aleppo besides the Euphrates. The evolution of this phase in Lebanon has become much clearer following the recent work at Ksar Akil and Jiita II.

Sites with material related to the Natufian have also been known over a wide area for some time. Helwan near Cairo and Yabrud III were investigated long ago but recently several more sites have been discovered and excavated in Lebanon and Syria. No less than four; Tell Abu Hureyra (See Page 56 in *7 Below) - Mureybat - Dibsi Faraj East (See *7.5 Below) and Nahr Homr have now been examined in the Euphrates Valley in the programme of archaeological exploration which has taken place during the construction of the new Euphrates dam. Work by Hours and his collaborators at Jiita II and by Schroeder at Saaideh (See Page 200 in *8 Below) and Nacharini has begun to clarify the development of this stage in Lebanon.

Now that sites with material resembling at least in part the assemblages of artifacts from Kebaran and Natufian sites in Palestine have been found over such a wide area of the Levant and even further afield the traditional terms used to describe them are no longer adequate. The descriptions Kebaran and Natufian have been used to describe every site far beyond the confines of Palestine with material which bears only the most general resemblance to that on the type-sites. They have by such usage become so strained that they have lost some of their original meaning and precision. I propose in this thesis to use the terms Kebaran and Natufian only for sites in Palestine which may be properly described under these headings. Sites found elsewhere in the Levant which have similarities with these I shall classify as Mesolithic 1 if they may be compared with the Kebaran snd Mesolithic 2 if they have some of the characteristic traits of the Natufian. Both Mesolithic 1 and Mesolithic 2 will also subsume the Kebaran and Natufian in Palestine itself ...


*1 Excavations in the Mugharet Kebara
Turville-Petre [1932] Volume 32 (Pages 271 - 276)
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Library of Congress # GN1 M 252

*2 Excavations at the Cave of Shukbah in Palestine
D. Garrod [1928] Volume 8 (Pages 1 - 20) in
Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
Library of Congress # DA 670 E13 P8

*3 The Stone Age of Mount Carmel
D. Garrod and D. Bate [1937]
Library of Congress # GN 776 P16 J6

*3.5 The Epi-Palaeolithic Cultures of Palestine
Ofer Bar-Yosef (1970) Doctoral Thesis
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

*4 The Natufian Culture: The Life and Economy
of a Mesolithic People in the Near East

D. Garrod [1957] Volume 43 (Pages 211 - 227)
Proceedings Brittish Academy LC # AS 122 L5

*5 Pre-Historic Investigations in Iraqi Kurdistan
R. Braidwood and B. Howe [1960] in Number 31 of
Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization
Library of Congress # CB 251 C55

*6 Paleolithic Assemblages from the Douara Cave Site
T. Akazawa [1974] Volume 6 (Pages 1 - 167) in
Bulletin Tokyo Daigaku Sogo Kenkyu Shiryokan
Library of Congress # GN 772.32 S95 T64

*7 The Excavation of Tell Abu Hureyra in Syria
A. M. T. Moore [1975] Volume 41 (Pages 50 - 77) in
Proceedings Brittish Academy
Library of Congress # DA 670 E13 P8

*7.5 A Pre-Historic Site Near Dibsi Faraj in Syria
T. Wilkinson and A. M. T. Moore in Levant
Volume X (1978) [Pages 26 - 36] LC # DS 56 L48

*8 A Pre-Historic Survey in the Northern Bekaa Valley
H. Schroeder [1970] Volume 23 (Pages 193 - 204) in
Bulletin Museum Beyrouth

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium