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2021-01-17 13:57:05   •   ID: 2237

Update on the MP - UP Transition in the Levant

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figures 1 - 3 show a broad based convergent pointed Blade, an isolated find from Galilee in Israel.

The platform is dihedral and the left margin shows a semi-abrupt continuous retouch, best seen in Figure 3 on an orthogonal view.

Such tools are known from the lnitial Upper Paleolithic layers at Ksar Akil / Lebanon (stratum XXV-XXI /Ksar Akil Phase A) and from other "Emiran" sites. There are similar examples, described from the lowest Upper Paleolithic layer E at Kebara/ Mt Carmel by Garrod (1954), now assigned to an early Ahmarian.

Figure 4-6 show an elongated convergent point with Brocken tip and facetted platform, made probably from a bi-directional core, which was found in the Negev 30 km from Boker Tachtit, very similar to specimens known from several strata from this site. An almost identical point from the last excavations can be seen here: Boker Tachtit

Figure 7 and 8 show a convergent point, made from an unidirectional core, from Ha Mahtesh ha Gadol in the Negev with a fully Upper Paleolithic morphology. Such blanks are common during the Ahmarian of the Levant.

Figure 9 shows a typical Ahmarian El Wad Point from Kebara; Mt Carmel, Israel-already introduced into the Blog earlier- see 1646

These examples show one common diachronic pattern of the earlier Upper Paleolithic in the Levant, Syria and the Nil Valley.

The underling concept of this evolution is the knapping of a pointed blade or bladelet from Levallois cores that were stepwise transformed into volumetric uni- or bipolar Upper Paleolithic cores.

According to D.A.E Garrod the Levante and adjacent areas were the genuine origin for the transition from the Middle to the Upper Paleolithic, maybe among other regions, that came into focus during the last years (The Nil Valley, the Altai, Arabia, the Balkans...).

I personally hold on to the concept of a Transitional Industry, because currently the data support the origin of this transition from Middle to Upper Paleolithic in the Levant.

The best candidate for this process remains the Boker Tachtit site in the Negev in Israel- see: 1494 . According to older data and a fresh dating program, the early phase at Boker Tachtit, the Emirian, dates to 50 through 49 k.a. Cal BP, while the late phase dates to 47,3 k.a. Cal BP.

Are there local Middle Palaeolithic forerunners in the Negev? - I think yes:

The nearby site of Rosh Ein Mor is now securely dated to MIS 4/3, after a final correction of earlier misleading age estimates and fits perfectly into the puzzle.

It bears among a broad spectrum of Middle Palaeolithic Levallois tools, predominately elongated convergent Blades with a Middle Palaeolithic morphology made from Levallois and Volumetric cores, - see here: 1004

These data point to an autochthonous gradual shift in the Negev from the late MP to the IUP, as already sugested by A Marks decenia ago.

Compared with the designation of an Industry as “transitional”, the term: Initial Upper Paleolithic is a more descriptive term and describes the first Upper Paleolithic industry in a particular region. In the Negev the IUP seems indeed the local transitional industry, too.

Convergent blades/blanks are the main substratum of this transition and have been often labelled “elongated Levallois points” in the literature, although they do not originate from Levallois core concepts sensu stricto. While during the EUP, facetted platforms prevail, they show a subsequent decrease in favor of simple / punctiform platform preparations.

Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 6
According to Copeland (1868) I personally prefer to use the term “convergent blanks” since only 60-90% of all convergent blanks in the transitional assemblages are blades, while the rest are bladelets.

All along-axis cores known thus far have in common that the entire chaîne opératoire was focused on the production of these blanks and conducted by the appliance of direct hard hammer percussion.

"Convergent blades can easily grade into pointed blades which in turn display a wide range of shapes, beginning with rather big irregular specimens to very narrow ones with parallel edges and pointed ends.

Thus, a continuum from convergent blades over irregular but pointed blades to pointed blades with parallel edges and even bladelets does exist and all distinction is based on defined criteria rather than clear-cut morphology
" (Lederer 2014).

The Initial Upper Paleolithic industries (IUP / Emiran) of Levant date back roughly to about 45-50 k.a. BP.

Ksar Akil in northern Levant and Boker Tachtit in southern Levant remain the best reference sites showing evidence of continuity for the intermediate phase between the local Middle and Upper Paleolithic. Typologically the "index fossil" of the IUP is the Emireh point and /or the chamfered pieces.

Marks originally described the Boker-Tachtit sequence as a gradual technological transition in situ between Level 1 (terminal Mousterian) and fully Upper Paleolithic (Level 4), while other archaeologists suggest that this succession essentially represents four fully Upper Palaleolithic occupations. This is also my position in the discourse.

Other IUP sites are Abu Halka, 6 km south of Tripoli in northern Lebanon, levels VII-V of the now destroyed Antelias Cave, near Ksar Akil and the type site Mugharet el-Emireh in Lower Galilee, which consists of three small caves, where F. Turville-Petre excavated an ensemble, which he insisted to come from one single archaeological level.

This ensemble was not only characterized by tools of a typical "IUP" / Emiran ensemble, but also by the presence of El Wad points, the hallmark of the Ahmarian.

It remains open for discussion, if the Ahmarian started earlier, than assumed or if the Ensemble from Ehmireh is the result of secondary mixing.

The rock-shelter of Tor Sadaf also yields a Middle to Upper Paleolithic transitional site in the Wadi al-Hasa, west-central Jordan and was dated to c 40 k.a. Cal BP. The ensemble shows similarities to Boker Tachtit 4 with a similar age. Tor Sadaf may represent the late phase of the IUP in the southern Levant.

Another important late IUP scatter are the Tor Fawaz in S-Jordan assemblages with great similarity to those of Boker Tachtit Level 4, Tor Sadaf and Wadi Aghar C–D1. An age of ca. 45–36 k.a. has been suggested for the IUP occupations at Tor Fawaz (Kadowaki et al. 2022).

Figure 7
Figure 8
Outside Israel, Jordan and Lebanon, we find two important sites in the Nil Valley and in Syria, that formally fulfill the Definition of the Levantine IUP.

Taramsa (layers IV, V, VI; dated to about 60 k.a. BP, testifies is a change from planimetric to volumetric Levallois production, not unlike to Boker Tachtit), but about 10 k.a. earlier-see 1551 .

In Umm el Tlel in the el Kowm Basin of Syria levels III2a’ and II base contain IUP industries. They combine a volumetric Levallois point technology associated with IUP tools - the “Paléolithique intermédiaire”.

There are no Emireh points or chamfered pieces. Anyhow a very specific point type, designated as the Umm el Tlel point was described. It has small bladelet removals from the proximal end which act to guide the removal of the elongated Levallois point/blade (Olszewski 2017).

The age of this IUP remains controversial: 36,5±2,5 k.a. by TL on burnt flint, and 34,5±0,89 k.a. BP with AMS dating (corresponding to 40,9–37,2 k.a. cal BP).

Anyhow and depending on the correct date- the Initial Upper Paleolithic at Umm el Tlel remains at least 10 k.a. later than Boker Tachtit 1 and at least 7 k.a. later than Boker Tachtit 4, indicating a mosaic structure of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition.

Remarks on the Early Upper Paleolithic / EUP/Ahmarian: It has to be mentioned that there are marked technological differences between the Levantine IUP and EUP, as described by Belfer-Cohen: it should be noted that the so far earliest dated Ahmarian assemblages, i.e., Units III-IV in Kebara, are dominated by blade tools, similar to those observed in most of the IUP variants, but the technology indeed differs as there are no bidirectional or unidirectional ‘Levallois’ points, and there are but very rare occurrences of butt faceting. The same can be said about other Ahmarian assemblages in the Levant.

Thus the Ahmarian evidently stands out at its first appearances from the local, preceding IUP industries, the differences clearly observed in the technological aspects rather than in the typology
(Belfer Cohen et al. 2017 ).

Anyhow it remains open if we really should focus on technological traits or on typology and therefore the continuity of the convergent pointed blades/blanks concept.

The Early Upper Paleolithic of the Levant shows several innovative traits:

  • the appearance of fully "Upper Paleolithic" Core technology and production of refined hunting equipment

  • an astonishing rapid and almost complete turnover of a multitude of tool classes, never or only rarely seen during the Middle Paleolithic

  • a more clear differentiation of tools that were either used for domestic or hunting purposes

  • the evolution of carved and polished bone, antler, and ivory tools

  • the appearance of personal adornments

  • a changing pattern of land-use and the increasing exploitation of less productive habitats

  • the increasing exploitation of diversified plant and animal resources, probably leading to increased local human populations

Dating the Ahmarian: At Kebara, burnt Mousterian ("Tabun B") flints yielded TL dates between 48-60 k.a. BP, whereas numerous radiocarbon dates point to the transition from Middle to the Early Upper Paleolithic (Early Amarian; Figure 8) between 49/48 and 47/46 k.a Cal BP. The Monograph by the late Ofer Bar Yosef in 2021 confirmed this early date. Interestingly these data are partially overlapping with the late Emiran strata at Boker Tachtit.

Figure 9
Discoveries at Manot Cave and new research on the Eastern Side of the Jordan River confirmed an early onset of the Ahmarian in the Levantine Corridor.

An Overview about Levantine Ahmarian sites according to Richter et al.can be found here: Ahmarian-Levant

Ahmarian scatters at Manot Cave are in Area A, in lower parts of Area D, and in Units 7-8 of Area C. Only the artifacts from Units 7-8 of Area C were undisturbed. The tool kit consists of retouched blades, end scrapers on blades and el-Wad points. The ensemble resembles other early Ahmarian sites like Kebara III-IV, Qafzeh, Ksar Akil XX- XVI and Üçagizli Cave, Layers B1-3. Here C-14 results date the Ahmarian from Unit 7 of within a range of 46-42 k.a. Cal BP.

Another new site is Mughr al- Hammah in the western highlands of Jordan overlooks the Jordan Valley to the west and yielded typical early Ahmarian lithic artifacts and some simple bone tools together with undisturbed hearth features. C-14 dates this site between 45 and 39 k.a. cal BP.

In Sum new data confirm an early date both for the Emiran and the Ahmarian of the Levantine Core area, with a partial overlap of these entities. Therefore the impression that both entities emerged synchronous is strengthened- the Transition occurred in the Levant and not at the "Same Time" along the circum-Mediterranean; see-here: 1125 .

However, this simultaneity takes place in different regions. While in the marginal / arid zone of the Levant, The Emiran started at 50 k.a. cal BP at the site of Boker Tachtit. This IUP lithic industry overlaps with Middle Paleolithic industries from other sites in the region. The Ahmarian in the arid zone is somewhat younger.

This is in contrast to the data of the northern Mediterranean woodlands, where the EUP (Ahmarian) already started at 49/48 k.a. cal BP, which may indicate that it was not derived from the Negev assemblages, but an independent innovation.

Surf the Blog:

here: 1125 , here: 1494 , here: 1150 , here: 1142 , here: 2149 , and here 1646

Suggested Reading:

L. Copeland, Lorraine: The early Upper Palaeolithic material from levels VII-V, Antelias Cave, Lebanon Berytus, 19, 99-143, 45, 1970.

D. Lederer: Technological and Typological change at the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic boundary in Lebanon. Universitätsforschungen zur prähistorischen Archäologie 255, 2014

D. A. E. Garrod und D.M.A. Bate: The Stone Age of Mt. Carmel I, Oxford 1937

D. A. E. Garrod: at the Mugharet Kebara, Mount Carmel, 1931: The Aurignacian Industries Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 20(02): 155-192; 1954

D. A. E. Garrod The Mugharet El-Emireh in Lower Galilee: Type-Station of the Emiran Industry." The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 85, no. 1/2 1955

Marks A.E. The sites of Boker and Boker Tachtit In MARKS A.E. (éd.). Prehistory and paleoenvironments in the Central Negev, Israel, Vol. III. The Avdat/Aqev area. Part 3 15-37 1983

René Neuville paléolithique et le mésolithique du Desert de Judée. (= Archives de l’Institut de paléontologie humaine. Mémoire 24) 1951

Ofer Bar-Yosef and Liliane Meignen: Kebara Cave, Mt. Carmel, Israel, Part I The Middle and Upper Paleolithic Archaeology 2008

Ofer Bar-Yosef and Liliane Meignen: Cave, Mt. Carmel, Israel, Part II The Middle and Upper Paleolithic Archaeology 2019

S. Sarel: The Middle-Upper Paleolithic Transition in Israel: Technological Analysis 2004

Not ot just a Corridor. Human occupation of the Nile Valley and neighbouring regions between 75,000 and 15,000 years ago. Paris : Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, 364 p. (Natures en Sociétés ; 3) 2021

Provenance: Collection Chizhof, Dimona (ISR), Collection Levenstein (ISR)