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2014-07-13 10:48:13   •   ID: 1171

Handaxe complexes of the Levant

Figure 1
This is a flat handaxe, dating from the younger Acheulian or Acheulo-Yabrudian from N-Syria found during the 1960ies.

The data base from the Levant includes 239 Acheulian sites from Syria, 33 sites from Lebanon and 137 sites from Israel.

Most of the sites are dated to a late Acheulian (c 600- 400 k.a. BP). These ensembles show a considerable typo-technological variability with almost no chronological significance.

The earliest reliable occurrence of Acheulean handaxes outside of Africa is that at Ubeidiya in Israel during the Early Pleistocene (c 1.4 million years). The absolute chronology of later Acheulian sites in Israel is sparse.

The famous Gesher Benot Ya’aqov site, with a basalt and chert handaxe and cleaver dominated ensemble, is known to have been occupied between 800 and 700 ka.  

Other early Acheulian sites include Joub Jannine II and Latamne in Syria. Here large and rather crude lanceolate handaxes and trihedral picks are predominant. Most bifaces are made by hard hammer, a few indicate occasional soft hammer-production.

The Latamne archaeological horizon lays in the mid-sequence of the Latamne Formation. The Formation has a single TL date of 560 k.a.BP; the proposed date for the horizon is 500-700 k.a. BP.

In Israel, the Acheulian at Evron Quarry yielded luminescence and ESR dates in the order of 630 -330 k.a.

The Acheulian layer of Umm Qatafa Cave yielded dates between 262 and 409 k.a. BP.

The open air Acheulian site of Revadim shows luminescence dates between 403 and 194 ka, but it is not clear how the dates relate to the human occupation. U/Th dates on calcitic crusts attached to flint artifacts resulted in dates exceeding 400 k.a.  that might be later than the artifacts themselves.

The Acheulian site of Birket Ram predates 233 k.a and postdates 800 k.a but the date of the occupation is not clear.

The data set for the El Kowm area in central Syria clearly helped to clarify the age of the Levantine Acheulian. At least 26 Acheulian sites are known from that area. Well dated Acheulian complexes mainly come from Nadaouiyeh and Hummal.

The Acheulian at El Kowm is dated between 525 and 350 k.a. BP. No "logical internal evolution" has been recognized in this sequence on the data base of many  thousands of handaxes.

Subdividing the Upper Acheulian of Israel into phases or “facies” is not an easy task and may, after the results at the deeply stratified Syrian sites, not be as significant as once thought . On the basis of technological and morphological considerations Gilead (1970) subdivided the Late Acheulian into several groups as follows:

  • Ma’ayan Barukh group (MB; Figure 2), mostly from open-air sites, is characterized by the dominance of handaxes with a cordiform aspect (including amygdaloids, cordiforms and subtriangulars) with fewer ovate and a few pointed bifaces and rare cleavers. The assemblage from the excavations of Umm Qatafa D2 is included in this group.

  • The Evron-Kissufim group (EK) is, on the basis of stratigraphic evidence, later than the MB group. It contains a richer flake tool component, up to 30-60%, with clear evidence for the manipulation of the Levallois technique. The bifaces show a decrease in rounded aspects (ovates and discoids) and a slight increase in the pointed forms.

  • The Sahel el-Khoussin-Yiron group (SY) are those assemblages mostly surface collected in the hilly areas and flanks. The bifaces are somewhat cruder than those of the other groups with an occasional dominance of the rounded aspect over the cordiform aspect (Yiron, Beith Uziel, Baqaa-Rafaim 556 etc.). As in the EK group, the Levallois technique was practiced in some sites. It is worth noting that despite the hilly distribution, these assemblages are not present in the three caves where Late Acheulian layers were uncovered (Tabun F, Abu Sif, Umm Qatafa D).

Figure 2
For sure this classification will change, because it is mainly based on surface collections.

In 2017 an in-situ Acheulian site, maybe 500 k.a. old was found near the town of Jaljulia: see the last external links-currently there is no scientific publication- but we will certainly hear a lot about this promising site in the future.

The youngest lower Paleolithic in the Middle East is the Acheulo-Yabrudian. According to TL and ESR methods, the Acheulo-Yabrudian can be generally dated to a range from ca. 400 to ca. 200 k.a. by a small number of reliable ages currently available.

The most consistent dates in Israel come from Qesem Cave, where the Acheulo-Yabrudian started earlier than 320 k.a. BP and ended about 220 k.a. BP.

The absolute dates of the most important stratigraphy in Israel, the Tabun-cave in the the Nahal Me`arot on the lower reaches of the western part of the Carmel Mountain Range, are still controversial but stratum E could be also of a considerable age between be of 350 to ca. 200 k.a. Dates of 225 k.a. on a flowstone above the Acheulo-Yabrudian layer were reported from Jamal Cave, adjacent to Tabun Cave.

It is thus clear that the Acheulo-Yabrudian of Jamal Cave predates 225 ka. Again the dates from the El Kowm area may help to clarify stratigraphical issues. The Acheulo-Yabrudian at Hummal cluster around 200 and 256 k.a. BP. Similar dates have been determined for the Acheulo-Yabrudian layers at Yabroud I.