Wādi el ʿAmud

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This post will show several handaxes from a late Acheulian or Acheulo-Yabroudian context from the Wadi Amud (Wādi el ʿAmud) in N-Israel and two mousterian artifacts from the same area.

The human use of caves has its origins as far back as million years ago, when early humans began to use them as seasonal camp sites. At about 500 k.a. the use of caves by these small groups of hunter-gatherers became a widespread phenomenon in Africa and Eurasia. In Israel alone (at an area of 8,800 km2) there are about 40 prehistoric caves, dated between 500and 50k.a. Because the number of caves on the landscape is much higher than the number of caves used by our ancestors, it is assumed that the preference of particular caves within a group’s geographic territory involved a system of decision-making based on selection criteria.

israelWadi Amud drains an area of 124 km2 of the Upper Galilee. The channel drops some 1,400 m from an elevation of 1,200 m above msl at its origins at Mt. Meron, to 200 m below msl at its outlet, at the Sea of Galilee, over an aerial distance of 15 km. The climate at lower Wadi Amud is Mediterranean semi-arid, with 450 mm annual rainfall. The direction of the flow and the configuration of the channel are a phenomenon of the last ~2 myr, and were formed as a result of channel capture due to tectonic activity in the Rift Valley. The geographical structure of the middle and lower part of the stream consists of two geological formations (Timrat and Bar-Kokhba Fms.) of Eocene limestone. The Bar-Kokhba Fm. forms cliffs and canyon morphology, while the underlying Timrat Fm. appears as moderate slopes. The meteoric water draining eastward over the steep gradient incised a deep canyon through the hard limestone, exposing a large number of karstic voids. One hundred and twenty caves and rock shelters are known. Most are phreatic voids that developed along tectonic fissures. Ninety percent of the caves and rock shelters are within the massive limestone cliffs of Bar Kokhba Fm, while less than ten percent are within the well-bedded limestone slopes of Timrat Fm. The latter caves are also much smaller.

israel3Several surveys in the Wadi Amud identified important characteristics of Paleolithic caves sites, that are assumed to represent the preferences of early humans regarding to cave-site selection:

  • Large-medium caves (but not rock shelters).
  • A cave with morphology of one main hall, which has a large entrance. That hall is well ventilated and well illuminated.
  • A cave that is relatively easy to approach.
  • The cave is located within a distance of daily walk from a large valley and large body of water.

All known prehistoric cave sites in Wadi Amud are within the distance of 5 km walk from the fertile Ginosar valley. It has been recognized that there are no Paleolithic cave sites in the mountainous Upper Galilee. It is possible that hominins looked for caves that were located at the openings of Wadis, since this localities are ecotones, where both hilly/mountainous and valley habitats can be approached on a daily basis. The same notion applies to all of the Paleolithic cave sites of the Carmel Mountain.

The use of large caves which are relatively easy to access, along with the typical archaeological finds in those caves, support the hypothesis that each cave was used by a band of several tens of hominins. The cave selection was with preference for proximity to divers habitats, from where a verity of food resources and raw materials were brought to the cave and there they were processed and consumed.

The caves of Wadi Amud were the subject of the first prehistoric excavations in what is now Israel, and their copious results encouraged further research. F. Turville-Petre excavated the caves of Emireh and Zuttiyeh in 1925-26. Later, S. Binford dug in the cave of Shovakh (Subbabiq), and the Tokyo University Expedition, directed by H. Suzuki and F. Takai, excavated in the Amud Cave. An additional cave (AmE-15) containing Paleolithic material was surveyed recently.

The Zuttiyeh Cave is situated 0.8 km from the Wadi Amud outlet, approximately 30 m above the Wadi bed (148 m below sea level). It is a large chamber 20 m long and 12 to 18 m wide. The entrance is 10 m high and 13 m wide and faces west. During the 1920ies,  F. Turville-Petre removed 550 m3 of sediments mainly from inside the cave. The stratigraphy described in his report is as follows:

  • Layers of ashes from historical periods confirmed by the presence of Early Bronze sherds.
  • 1.20-2.10 m. Layer of calcareous blocks originating from rockfalls which covered a Layer of fine reddish sediment with numerous Palaeolithic artefacts as well as many bones. This layer contained artifacts from an Acheulo-Yabroudian and Levallois-Mousterian.

israel katzmBelow the Palaeolithic layer, remains of a human skull (“Galilei man”) were uncovered and thought to be associated with an “Mousterian” (sensu-lato; the “Yabroudian” was not defined as an entity at this time).  This fragmentary skull was initially identified as Neanderthal by Keith.

Later excavations showed a complex stratigraphy which was overlooked by the original excavator. It seems that what can be defined as a Levallois Mousterian industry is found in the top part of the reconstructed sequence. The Acheulian-Yabroudian was recognized below the Mousterian and therefore the stratigraphic situation is similar to Yabrud Rockshelter and Tabun and Bezez B. Given that the age of “Galilei man” is estimated on the basis of its association with Yabroudian industry, it should be considered to be older than previously presumed (200-400 k.a.).

Amud cave is located at the top of a steep cliff in the narrow confines of the Nahal Amud northwest of the Sea of Galilee. Two research campaigns using up to date methods have taken place at Amud, the first between 1961 and 1964, the second between 1991 and 1996. Excavations in the principal Mousterian Stratum, Level B, have recovered numerous Neanderthal remains. The paleoanthropological material from Amud Cave consists of the fragmentary remains of a male Neanderthal along with 15 other specimens two-thirds of which are children or infants. This material has been dated by TL to approximately 45-47 k.a. Amud 1 is the most complete specimen consisting of just about the entire cranium with most of the postcrania present. This individual was a male – died in his mid-20 – was approximately 174 cm tall and has the largest cranial capacity of any Levant hominid at 1740 cc.

In 1991 a joint Israeli and American expedition began new excavations. The following year workers uncovered the partial skeleton of an 8- to 10-month-old Neanderthal baby (Amud 7), upon whose pelvis had been placed the maxilla of a red deer, apparently as a burial rite. Further evidence of Neanderthal habitation and Mousterian tool making were revealed, including flaked blades and points as well as deer, cattle, horse, pig, and fox remains.

amud valley aggsbachAlthough the use of recurrent convergent unipolar Levallois flaking, characteristic for many late Levallois-Mousterian ensembles in the Levant is well attested at Amud also, none of the Amud lithic assemblages falls indisputably into the parameters of the “Tabun B” variant. For example, the production of Levallois points is not as monotonous and standardized as at Tabun B and there much more elongated Levallois points, than usually seen in the late Mousterian in the Carmel caves (Tabun Layer B; Kebara). Such observations undermine the use of Tabun as a techno-chronological unilinear scale for the Levantine Middle Paleolithic and argue, that site specific (“cultural”) solutions were common within a wider (and maybe generally accepted)  reference frame.

The Mugharet el-Emireh consists of three small caves, where F. Turville-Petre excavated an ensemble, which he insisted to come from one single archeological level.   The artifacts were later described in detail by Garrod which used the site as the “Type-Station of the Emiran”. Nevertheless other ensembles defined as Emirian from later excavations, notably those of Ksar Akil and Boker Tachtit show more homogeneity. Contrary to the Emireh material they are not characterized by El Wad points. I personally suggest that the “type-ensemble” at Emireh is rather a mixing between an Initial Early Upper Paleolithic and an Ahmarian.

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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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