The Carmel caves, Dorothy Garrod and the Backdirt from old Excavations

backdirt carmelSome Levallois points from the backdirt of D. Garrods excavations at Mount Carmel.

Dorothy Annie Elizabeth (D.A.E.) Garrod (1892–1968) was the first woman to be appointed to the Disney Chair of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, mainly through her pioneering work on the Palaeolithic period.  Between 1925 and 1926 she excavated in Gibraltar and in 1928 led an expedition through South Kurdistan with the excavation of Hazar Merd Cave and Zarzi cave. Her most important contribution to world prehistory was the excavation of the Mount Camel caves of the Nahal Mearot (Wadi El-Mughara ; Valley of the Caves) beginning in 1929.

Being the pupil Abbe Breuil, Dorothy Garrod advocated a worldwide approach to prehistory, taking prehistory beyond Europe, and excavated throughout her career across a large geographical area. She excavated twenty three sites in seven countries, across two continents: in Britain, France, Gibraltar, Bulgaria, Anatolia, Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon.  Through her approach, Garrod highlighted south-west Asia as an important area for prehistoric research, developed a framework of chronology for Levantine prehistory – the basis of which is still in existence today- and investigated connections between and within continents and cultures. Garrod’s approach was an interdisciplinary one, as can be nicely shown in her publications about the Stone Age of Mount Carmel.

In total, excavations at Mount Carmel were carried out in five caves (Tabun, El Wad, Skhul, Shuqba by Garrod and her team and Kebara together with Turville-Petre) over a period of almost twenty two months, over seven seasons, recording, as Garrod suggested, an almost unbroken Palaeolithic succession from the end of the Lower Palaeolithic to the Epipaleolithic. During the analytical work, Garrod classified and analyzed all 92,000 artifacts. Her excavations at the cave sites in the Levant were conducted with almost exclusively women workers recruited from local villages, although she worked with fellow archaeologist Francis Turville-Petre at Kebara Cave, the type-site for the Kebaran culture. The results from Mount Carmel were unprecedented. Garrod recognized the presence of local forms which seemed indigenous to the area and were not encountered in Europe. Garrod ascribed them new names, and noted that some cases resembled African artifacts. Through this, foundations for the Levantine prehistoric sequence were established. The chronology for the prehistory of the Levant has inevitably altered through time, but it is Garrod‘s groundbreaking research in Palestine, combined with that of Rene Neuville‘s in Palestine and Alfred Rust‘s in Syria, that provides the basis of the Levantine prehistoric sequence that exists today.

Beside  Neanderthal remains assigned to Tabun B, at Skhul remains of early modern humans (EMH) were discovered.  These remains were suggested to be the consequence of interbreeding between Neanderthals and EHMs in the Levant and only later assigned to Homo Sapiens. The Skhul sample comprises the remains of seven adults and three children , some of which (Skhul;1, 4, 5 and 9) may have been deliberate burials. Skhul Layer B has been later dated to an average of 81-101 k.a. BP with ESR and to an average of 119 k.a. ago with the thermo-luminescence method.

Garrod‘s handling of the Mount Carmel material has later been heavily criticized, saying, that she was not interested in any details and painted the prehistory of the Levant in “broad brush strokes”. Regarding that the stratigraphy of the caves was broken down by her to only a few entities and that much of the lithic material was thrown away as useless “doublets”, this may be true, but the entities (Acheulo-Yabrudian, Levallois-Mousterian, Kebaran, Natufian) are still valid today and Garrod was very successful in establishing a structured frame for further research. Her pioneering work helped later generations to recognize the enormeous potential of the Levant in Paleolithic studies,  and stimulated non-Eurocentric approaches in Paleolithic research.

The Stone Age of Mount Carmel by  D. A. E. Garrod and D. M. A. Bate discusses the excavations at the Wadi El-Mughara and Mount Carmel in Palestine. Part I covers the description and archaeology of the expedition, and part II includes the paleontology and fossil fauna of the area.

Discover the The Dorothy Garrod Photographic Archive (!):



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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 The Carmel caves, Dorothy Garrod and the Backdirt from old Excavations

  1. Pingback: A. Rust and D.A.E. Garrod: Different Attitudes | Aggsbach's Paleolithic Blog

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