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2016-12-06 10:35:19   •   ID: 1545

Acheulo Yabroudian Handaxe from Tabun/ Israel

Figure 1
This is a small (2x4x6 cm) handaxe from the Acheulo Yabroudian from the Tabun cave in the Nahal Me'arot valley, also known as the Wadi el-Mughara at Mount Carmel near Haifa, Israel. The raw material of the layer E at Tabun is mainly homogenous, fine-grained flint. This flint varies in colors and textures, and different types of flint often grade into each other. The raw material used for this handaxe comes from outcrops of Mount Carmel, which are located 2-3 km to the east of the Nahal Me'arot valley.

The development of mining to acquire the best raw materials for producing stone tools represents a breakthrough in human technological and intellectual development. Quarrying by hominines in the Levant is attested since the late Acheulian. According to the determination of in situ-produced cosmogenic  Be-10 concentrations, artifacts from Tabun Cave layer E are suggested to have been made of  raw materials, originating from flint bearing geologic layers that were mined or quarried by early humans at a depth of ca 2 m.

Handaxes from the cave-Acheulo-Yabrudian of the Carmel region are often made from small pebbles. This has been already demonstrated for the Misliya cave handaxes, which closely resembling handaxes from Layer E of Tabun Cave.  Acheulo Yabroudian handaxes at Tabun differ from Acheulian ones from the same site. The latter are larger, more carefully worked and have a smaller cortex cover, although the same raw materials were used.  Whether the small size is a common feature of Acheulo-Yabroudian bifaces as a whole, or represents a special trend in handaxe production at the end of the Lower Paleolithic on the Carmel ridge, remains open for discussion.

Figure 2
Regarding the example shown here, the knapper focused on shaping the handaxe tip rather than its entire circumference, in accordance to published data from other typical Acheulo Yabroudian handaxes from Tabun E and Misliya cave. The function of the piece was apparently of greater importance than its overall eye catching sophistication and /or symmetry. The tip of the artifact is extremely thin (Figure 2; thickness: 1 mm), made by careful retouches, applied from both sides. Interestingly, the overall thickness of the handaxe was reduced from 20 mm to 1 mm by a controlled abrupt and stepwise approach from the ventral and dorsal surface.

The base remained unworked and exhibits the original cortex of the flint nodule. The lateral edges were rather neglected, obviously not intended to be used for cutting.  Such handaxes are in contrast to many Late Levantine Acheulian bifaces, which were carefully bifacially flaked all around their circumferences.

A microtraceological study about the use of such thin and sophisticated tips should be elucidated by future evaluation of similar pieces.

Suggested Reading: 

The best on-line collection of Paleolithic artifacts I personally know: please look at the Archaeological Treasures of Israel to put the artifact displayed in this post into a wider context: Anyhow I do not appreciate the ultra-nationalistic attitude of renaming the Tabun cave into Me`arat Tannur without any reference to the name of the cave, common to the local Arabian population, before the excavations. (Vae victis). And certainly this is not an adequate attitude for naming a world heritage site: