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Chapter 2: Mesolithic 2 (Pages 54-61)

Pre-History and Archaeology Glossary

Excerpts and Definitions and Addendums:

Archaeological evidence from sites in Palestine and on the Lebanese coast suggests that Mesolithic 2 developed directly from Mesolithic 1. At Kebara, Nahal Oren, Hayonim and Jiita II the Mesolithic 2 layers were stratified immediately above those of Mesolithic 1 without any serious break in the sequence. There were also enough similarities in the cultural equipment of the two stages from these and other sites to indicate that Mesolithic 2 developed directly from Mesolithic 1 at least in these regions. Both the microliths and the heavy component of the flint industries of both stages had many types in common; only the lunate, one of the type-fossils of Mesolithic 2, was really new. Certain technological traits such as the microburin technique were shared by many Mesolithic 1 and Mesolithic 2 sites while the same types of heavy stone tools, pestles, mortars and querns were present in each stage.

It would also appear that the huts at Ein Gev I and III were the ancestors of the characteristic circular Mesolithic 2 buildings. The sequence of sites at Ein Gev illustrates the transition from Mesolithic 1 to Mesolithic 2 as it took place in one favoured settlement location. Sites I and II here have been classified as Kebaran and therefore quite early in the Mesolithic 1 sequence, site III as Geometric Kebaran A which is thought to have been a little later and site IV as Geometric Kebaran A2 or B (See Page 368ff in *1 Below); this last phase may be regarded as transitional or even a variant of Mesolithic 2.

It is only in the central Levant that we have strong evidence for an uninterrupted transition from Mesolithic 1 to Mesolithic 2 although there is some additional evidence from other sites as far south as the Negev to Yabrud III in the north. Elsewhere in central and northern Syria and in the semi-arid areas to the east not enough is known yet about contemporary sites for one to be certain that their development was similar.

The Natufian in Palestine may be defined by a number of cultural attributes. The most important of these is a microlithic chipped stone industry of which the lunate is the most characteristic type; this stone industry may include many coarse flake tools on some sites. Heavy ground stone tools such as mortars, pestles and rubbers are another typical feature. Some other traits are also characteristic, among them a rich bone industry, certain bone and shell beads and art objects which include both human and animal figurines. Circular stone buildings sometimes associated with stone paving have also been found on some sites and may be regarded as another attribute.

Most or all of these traits have been found on the large sites such as Erq Ahmar, Mugharet Wad (See Page 29ff in *2 Below) and Ain Mallaha in central and northern Palestine. It is in this region which nay be regarded as the Natufian heartland that the Natufian was most developed. Many smaller sites in this area were also Natufian in aspect although for functional or other reasons they may have lacked some of the characteristic artifacts. Most of the typical Natufian traits have also been found on the larger sites in the Negev. Both Rosh Zin and Rosh Horesha had circular buildings and a typical Natufian flint industry (See Page 353 in *3 Below). A number of ground stone rubbers and querns were also found at Rosh Zin (See Page 130 in *4 Below) as well as other diagnostic traits. The material from these sites is so similar to that on sites further north that it is reasonable to include Rosh Zin and Rosh Horesha within the Natufian as defined above.

Mesolithic 2 sites in Lebanon and south Syria, Jiita II, Jiita III (See Page 92 in *4.5 Below) and the Beirut Sands stations (See Pages 129 and 134 ibid) on the coast; Amuq II and Jebel Saaideh (See Page 200 in *5 Below) in the Bekaa; Nacharini, Yabrud III, Mugharet Abde, Qornet Rharra and Saidnaya (See Page 179 in *6 Below) in the Anti-Lebanon; and Taibe in the Hauran had relatively few characteristic Natufian traits. All of them lacked buildings which may be because they were mostly shelter sites. Only two of them, Saaideh (See Page 200 in *5 Below) and Jiita II had ground stone tools while few other types of artifacts have been found on them at all. The one feature linking them with the Palestinian Natufian was an abundant microlithic flint industry characterised by lunates. This connection is strong enough to place them on the same horizon as the Natufian in Palestine but the cultural links do not seem to have been very close. It is for this reason that I believe these sites are better regarded as a regional variant, Natufian-like rather than true Natufian. These two groups of sites may be conveniently described together as Mesolithic 2.

Mesolithic 2 sites with a flint industry related to the Natufian have been found in a great arc around the eastern Mediterranean from Helwan near Cairo in the south to Beldibi (See Page 146ff in *7 Below) and Belbasi (See Page 254ff in *8 Below) on the Turkish coast near Antalya. These sites were located in regions far beyond the Natufian heartland and apart from the flints their artifacts had little in common with the full Natufian inventory. The same may be said of the sites in the Euphrates valley. Both Abu Hureyra and Mureybat had an abundant microlithic flint industry characterised by lunates, a range of simple bone tools and ground stone pestles, mortars, rubbers and querns. These artifacts broadly resembled Natufian types but there was none of the elaboration of a full Natufian assemblage and some of the significant traits were missing. The structures at both sites were different from anything found in Palestine. In the small exposure at Mureybat [NOTE: 3] in phase IA there were large fire-pits and at Abu Hureyra there were a number of interlocking pits cut into the natural subsoil with post-holes around them; the latter appear to have been dwelling or working hollows which were probably roofed with timber, branches and reeds.

All these sites were on the same cultural level as the Natufian but they cannot really be regarded as truly Natufian or even Natufian-like unless further evidence is forthcoming to indicate that they were more closely related than at present they appear to have been. I do not believe that they should be called Natufian either with or without further differentiation. I prefer to group them all under the more general name Mesolithic 2.

I do not intend to present a detailed review of the material remains of Mesolithic 2 in this chapter but simply to discuss the Mesolithic population, their economy and pattern of settlement in order to establish how these contributed to the emergence of the Neolithic way of life. A word must be said however about the detailed schemes which have been proposed in the past for subdividing this stage since they can no longer be used as a guide for ordering all the material which has now been discovered. The evolution of Mesolithic 2 has been studied in detail only in Palestine where the Natufian was first defined by Garrod in 1932 (See Page 257ff in *9). Two years later Neuville published a fourfold division of the Natufian based on the results cf recent excavations. He believed that the Natufian could be divided into successive chronological stages, I to IV, on the basis of comparative stratigraphy, changes in the chipped stone industry and the presence or absence of certain attributes. In her report published in 1937 Garrod divided her deposits at the Mugharet Wad into two stages, Lower and Upper Natufian (See Page 9 in *2 Below) which she believed corresponded to Neuville's stages I and II. At that date she accepted Neuville's scheme but later she modified her views and proposed a threefold division of the Natufian (See Page 213 in *10). For many years archaeologists continued to try to fit new discoveries into one or other of these chronological schemes though never with complete success. In a recent study of the Natufian chipped stone industry and its technology Henry has indicated that he believes the schemes of Neuville and Garrod may still have some validity (See Page 173 in *11) but the fact remains that most Natufian sites cannot at present be accommodated in any detailed chronological sequence.

One of the most striking aspects of Mesolithic 2 material remains is their great variability fron one site to another. This is true of both the structures and the artifacts. Neuville and Garrod sought to explain this from the point of view of archaeologists well-versed in the sequential successions of industries which were then thought to characterise the Palaeolithic. They believed that the varied Natufian assemblages they had found in Palestine must represent different industries which could be arranged in the order of their chronological development. Stone industries during the Palaeolithic had a long life so a series of four stages such as Neuville proposed would have required a long period of development. We now know that Mesolithic 2 lasted a relatively short time, certainly much less than Mesolithic 1 and that there was no time for a succession of industries to have been developed on the model of for example the Upper Palaeolithic sequence in the Levant. As new sites were discovered and excavated the variations between them became more and more apparent until there could be no doubt that there never was a single succession of assemblages throughout Mesolithic 2.

This variability may be explained in several ways. It remains possible that some of the differences may reflect changes through time but for the moment we cannot pinpoint these. No site was definitely inhabited throughout Mesolithic 2 and few were occupied for even a substantial part of it. Thus we lack good stratigraphical evidence for whatever changes may have taken place during Mesolithic 2. Very few Mesolithic 2 sites have been dated by carbon 14 so that there is not even a good internal chronology to help us place sites in chronological order. For the moment we can only regard them as having been occupied contemporaneously in archaeological terms.

The most likely explanation for the great variability in assemblages from different sites is that different activities were being practised from one site to another. Mesolithic 2 sites were scattered through several environmental zones and this ecological diversity is also reflected in the diverse remains from different sites. We shall see that after a long period of apparent relative economic and social stability during Mesolithic 1 several significant modifications to man's way of life took place in Mesolithic 2 which were associated with changes in the environment and in the level of population. These developments were reflected in the variations in artifact assemblages between one site and another.

I will now briefly consider such evidence as we have for the chronology of Mesolithic 2 in order to establish how long it lasted. We have already seen that Mesolithic 2 followed Mesolithic 1 about 10,000 BC on present evidence. I have mentioned several dates from Kebara, Mugharet Wad and Jericho which confirm that Mesolithic 2 lasted throughout the 10th millennium and into the 9th. The end of Mesolithic 2 is difficult to determine precisely because the pattern of C-14 determinations we have for sites occupied late in Mesolithic 2 or early in the Neolithic is not consistent. The latest dates for Mesolithic 2 deposits anywhere in the Levant are the old determinations F-69 and F-72 from Jericho and a date of 7845 ± 600 B.C. (See Page 291 in *11) obtained recently from bone excavated from Mugharet Wad B1. All the other relevant dates would indicate that Mesolithic 2 ended much earlier so these three should be discarded.

The only dates for an early Neolithic site in the central Levant come from Jericho. Two determinations were made by the Brittish Museum on samples from quite early in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) levels which gave results of 8350 ± 500 B.C. BM-250 (See Page 290:11:1969 in *12 Below) and 8300 ± 200 B.C. BM-105 (See Page 107:5:1963 ibid). Results obtained by the Philadelphia laboratory from samples of similar age were several centuries later. The phases dated by these determinations were preceded by earlier PPNA levels and the whole Proto-Neolithic stage. I would estimate from this information that the transition from Mesolithic 2 to Neolithic at Jericho may have taken place about 8500 BC. The change seems to have ocurred in the Negev at about the same time. We have seen that the latest date from a Mesolithic site there is 8540 ± 430 B.C. SMU-9. The oldest dated site in the Negev with early Neolithic affinities is Abu Salem from which three determinations have been obtained of 8020 ± 150 B.C. I-5498, 8280 +/- 150 B.C. I-5499 and 8280 ± 150 B.C. I-5500 (See Page 361 in *3 Below). Thus the transition could be dated about 8500 B.C. here or perhaps a century or two later.

The only other region of the Levant from which we have dating evidence for late Mesolithic 2 and the beginning of the Neolithic is north Syria. Several determinations have been obtained from Mureybat which give us an approximate idea of when the change took place. The oldest phase at Mureybat was IA which has been ascribed to Mesolithic 2. Four determinations for this phase have recently been published though full details of these are not yet available. They are 8400 B.C. Mc-675, 8280 B.C. Mc-731, 8280 B.C. Mc-732 and 8220 B.C. Mc-635. Unfortunately these new dates conflict with those obtained by the laboratories for phase IB, the earliest Neolithic deposit, and phase II which succeeded it. The greatest discrepancy is with a determination of 8640 +/- 140 B.C. Lv-607 for the latter part of phase I now ascribed to IB. Other Louvain determinations for phase II have given results of 8640 +/- 170 B.C. Lv-605 and 8510 ± 200 B.C. Lv-606. Three dates were obtained by the Philadelphia laboratory for levels now ascribed to phase II which were excavated by van Loon in the earlier campaigns at the site. These were 8265 ± 117 B.C. P-1217, 8142 ± 118 B.C. P-1216 and 8056 ± 96 B.C. P-1215 (See Page 151:11:1969 in *12). These determinations cannot all be resolved satisfactorily. If the Louvain and Philadelphia dates only are considered then phase IA may have ended about 8700 BC. At the other extreme a comparison between the Monaco and Philadelphia dates would yield a figure of approximately 8300 BC. Taking all tbe dates together one might tentatively suggest that the transition from IA to IB happened about 8500 BC or a little after but this must remain a provisional estimate until the discrepancies between these determinations have been resolved. If my estimate of 8500 BC is approximately correct then the transition from Mesolithic 2 to the Neolithic would have happened at about the same time in Palestine and northern Syria.

Although neither the Palestinian nor the north Syrian chronological evidence can be related directly to the sequence in Lebanon and southern Syria it is probable that the transition there took place about the same time. It would thus appear from the evidence now available that the Neolithic began well before 8000 BC throughout the Levant from northern Syria to Sinai .....

NOTE 3: M. J. Cauvin has kindly given me much
information about his excavations at Mureybat


*1 The Epi-Paleolithic in Palestine and Sinai
O. Bar-Yosef [1975] (Pages 363 - 378) in
Problems in Prehistory: North Africa and the Levant
Library of Congress # GN 855 N35 P76

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

*3 An Outline of Pre-Historic Occurrences
and Chronology in the Central Negev

A. Marks [1975] (Pages 351 - 362) in
Problems in Prehistory: North Africa and the Levant
Library of Congress # GN 855 N35 P76

*4 The Natufian Site of Rosh Zin
D. Henry [1973] (Pages 129 - 140) in
Palestine Exploration Quarterly
Library of Congress # DS 111 A1 Q57

*4.5 Inventory of Stone Age Sites From Lebanon
L. Copeland and P. Wescombe [1965]
Volume 41 (Pages 29 - 175) in
Mélanges de l'Université Saint-Joseph
Library of Congress # PJ 3001 B5

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

*6 A Note on Five Early Neolithic Sites in Inland Syria
W. van Liere and H. de Contenson
[1963] Volume 13 (Pages 173 - 209)
Les Annales Archéologiques de Syrie
Library of Congress # DS 94.5 A75

*7 Researches on the Mediterranean Coast of Anatolia
a New Paleolithic Site at Beldibi Near Antalya

E. Bostanci [1959] Volume 4 (Pages 129 - 178) Anatolia

*8 A New Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic Facies at Belbasi
Rock Shelter on the Mediterranean Coast of Anatolia

E. Bostanci [1962] Volume 26 (Pages 252 - 293)
Belletin Library of Congress # PL 101 T735

*9 A New Mesolithic Industry: the Natufian of Palestine
D. Garrod [1932] Volume 62 (Pages 257 - 269) in
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Library of Congress # GN1 M 252

*10 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

*11 The Natufian of Palestine:
Its Material Culture and Ecology

D. O. Henry [1973] Doctoral Dissertation (SMU)

*12 Radiocarbon: American Journal of Science Supplement
Library of Congress # QC 798 D3 A48

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