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2016-07-07 03:57:06   •   ID: 1460

The Acheulian of the Menashe Hills (Israel)

Figure 1
These are handaxes from the Menashe Hills

The Carmel region is bounded to the northeast by faults and on the southeast by the low Eocene Menashe hills, which is an elevated plateau between the Coastal Plain and the Jezreel Valley. 

The Menashe sources yield flint nodules in different sizes and quality, most of them are brown or grayish brown with white patches. They appear in rounded nodules of different size or as large blocks. The quality of most of these pebbles is mediocre, with cracks resulting from a rather inhomogeneous structure of most of the nodules.

Nevertheless these abundant flint outcrops were widely used from the early Paleolithic until Pre-Pottery and Pottery Neolithic Times. Near Ramot Menashe and Ein Hashofet, large quantities of cores, unfinished and broken tools and preparation flakes are the most common field findings while finished handaxes and especially cleavers are rare.

The presence of flint seems to be the major, if not the sole attraction for most of these open-air sites. Several thousand handaxes (mainly cordiforms and many discoidal handaxes) were collected during the last 70 years on the plateau and some of the best are exposed in the Archaeological museum of the Ramot Menashe Kibbutz, which was established in July 1948, mainly by immigrants from Poland, who had just escaped the Shoah in Europe.

The handaxes from the Menashe plateau were repeatedly related to the Late Acheulian by the literature, because artifacts with a clear Yabroudian character have not been reported from the Menashe workshop sites. This definition ex negativo may not be sufficient to describe handaxe variability.

Figure 2
Many smaller handaxes (Figure 2) would metrically fit into the Acheulo-Yabroudian group as well, and stratified handaxes from the Carmel can also shed light on this issue. The Flint from the Menashe was sometimes exported to living sites of early men in the Carmel area. While we do not know any examples from the Acheulian, some export was present during the subsequent  Acheulo-Yabroudian (400-200 k.a.) as evidenced from the excavation of Misliya Cave ca.20 km north.

Anyhow, even at Misliya, Nahal Galim flint from Mount Carmel was clearly preferred over the Menashe flint, because it appears in the shape of thin nodules better suited for production of handaxes. This type of flint was also used for production of special Levallois core-types and served as the main flint source during both Levallois-Mousterian and Acheulo-Yabroudian occupations of the site.

I personally do not know any example from the Menashe flint type during the Levallois Mousterian from the Carmel Caves in the Nahal Mearot - but the huge material of Tabun has not been evaluated according the raw material of the B/C-strata so far.

However the areas of Menashe Hills and Mt. Carmel were probably used as flint procurement areas by the inhabitants of Kebara Cave.

On the other hand, Levallois Points are displayed in the Menashe Museum and were therefore produced on site.

Flint from the Menashe plateau reappeared in larger quantities in stratified context during the early Upper Paleolithic and the Late Natufian assemblage of  Raqefet cave, Mt Carmel, ca. 3 km east from the Menashe plateau, comprising about 8% of the ensemble during the Natufian.

The cave is famous for its graves from the Natufian period (ca. 13 k.a. ago), where the last hunter–gatherers in the Mediterranean Levant ritually buried their dead with flowers. Although no flower fragments remaining in the graves were found, the excavators excavated many impressions left by the plants in the wet mud veneer (Salvia judica, Mints and other herbs from the the Lamiaceae [formerly: Labiatae] family and Cercis silliquastrum).

Natufian sites in the Menashe low hills were found during surveys of the 1970ies at Khirbet el-Mite, Iraq el-Hamra A et Wadi Abu el-Loz. Communities of the Pottery Neolithic Period in the Menashe Hills continued to use the Menashe flint, mainly as a raw material for the production of flint-axes (some nice examples are again displayed in the Kibbutz Museum). Nahal Zehora, a Wadi Raba Site remains the best known of these sites.

Suggested Reading:

Olami Y., Gilead D. 1979. Handaxe Indutries in the Region of Nahal Daliya and Nahal Menashe. MH 16: 40-68.

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