Insights into the Natufian

Helwan Lunates and personal adornment of the Natufian Period (Kebara Cave Vicinity)

During the spring of 1928 D.A.E. Garrod began the excavation of Shukba cave some 27 km northwest of Jerusalem. The cave opened on the Wadi en-Natuf at 322 m above sea level. Garrod uncovered a sequence of cultures beginning at the top with a deposit containing relics dating from modern times to the early Bronze Age. Below this was a rich layer which included a number of burials and a microlithic assemblage of artifacts which first defined the Natufian period.

 The early Natufian period marks the end of the Epipaleolithic sequence in the southern Levant at relatively mild and moist climatic conditions during the Bölling and Alleröd interstadials. This phase marks the shift from highly mobile foragers to the appearance of (semi)-sedentary communities in the Mediterranean woodland and the intensified use of wild plants (cereals, acorn, wild grasses, figs, almonds) and animal resources, including the specialized hunt of gazelles and small and fast moving game.

Several distinct cultural markers provide evidence for population growth and increased social complexity in the Natufian period. These include thick archaeological deposits, artistic manifestations, ceremonial behaviour, cemeteries and perhaps even Shamanism. Archaeological manifestations typical of the early Natufian in the Mediterranean woodland include large settlements, durable architectural remains, ground stone tools left in place at sites, prolific microlithic stone and bone industries, ornamented objects and large cemeteries. Some 500 burials are known, which vary in composition (multiple or single, age and gender), burial position (flexed, extended) and mode of inhumation (primary or secondary; inclusion of stones or grave goods). Decorated burials are a characteristic feature of the Early Natufian while skull removal is a custom that appears in the later Natufian and continues into the Neolithic.

It has to stressed, that in Mediterranean woodland and costal context, there is only a limited number of such large “village sites” inhabited by communities of up to several hundred people. Further east, in the Irano-Turanian steppe, subsistence strategies already established during the earlier Kebaran prevailed. Here we find more mobile hunters and gatherers, less thick archaeological remains, smaller villages, infrequent use of small game and intensified exploitation of cereals and other grasses from the open parklands and steppe.

During the late Natufian partially triggered by the harsher conditions of the younger Dryas, the mobile strategies that were once established in the early Natufian in the steppe-zones became also the lifestyle in the costal area. There are clear indications that the exploitation of grass seeds became more important, but these strategies did not ultimately lead to the cultivations of cereals during the younger Dryas, as once thought. The Natufians simply successfully adapted to the new environmental conditions, but the advent of agriculture did not take place until the warm and moist Holocene during the PPNA.

Suggested Reading (partially outdated but still an excellent summary) :

About a possibel “shaman burial”

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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome!

About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University.

Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.

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One Response to Insights into the Natufian

  1. Pingback: Enigmatic object from the Natufian et Kebara | Aggsbach's Paleolithic Blog

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