Early Middle Paleolithic (EMP) from the Mt. Carmel



Prehistoric Archaeology at the Mt. Carmel: When, in 1927, the British Mandatory government’s Public Works Department initiated the Haifa Harbor Project and quarrying threatened to destroy the caves’ cliff, Mr. Charles Lambert, Assistant Director of the Mandatory Department of Antiquities of Palestine, was assigned to check the complex of caves at Wadi el-Mughara to see whether it was worth saving. In autumn 1928 Lambert made five soundings in el-Wad Cave, three inside and two on the terrace, resulting in several important discoveries.

In fact, Lambert was the first to unveil the Natufian layers at el-Wad and to establish their stratigraphy. On the terrace, amongst stone walls and grinding implements, he came upon two burials, later known to be Natufian, the first ever unearthed at Mount Carmel. Inside the cave, a bone sickle handle carved as a young animal was found, the first prehistoric art ever published in the Near East.

The subsequent recognition of the Wadi el-Mughara caves (Tabun, Jamal, el-Wad and Skhul) as archaeologically important, and their registration as an antiquity site, was followed by six years of excavation directed, on behalf of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem and the American School of Prehistoric Research, by Dorothy A.E. Garrod (Garrod and Bate 1937). The Lower and Middle Paleolithic cave fillings from Tabun cave were opened during 1929.

Ninety years of archaeological research have revealed a cultural sequence of unparalleled duration, providing an archive of early human life in south-west Asia. This 54 ha property contains cultural deposits representing at least 500,000 years of human evolution demonstrating the unique existence of both Neanderthals andEarly Anatomically Modern Humans within the same Middle Palaeolithic cultural framework, the Mousterian. Evidence from numerous Natufian burials and early stone architecture represents the transition from a hunter-gathering lifestyle to agriculture and animal husbandry. As a result, the caves have become a key site of the chrono-stratigraphic framework for human evolution in general, and the prehistory of the Levant in particular.

tabun cave 2010

Wikipedia (GNU Free Documentation License) showing the Garrod section today.

Figure 1 shows a 13 cm long non retouched Levallois point from the Mt. Carmel, characteristic for “Tabun D” ensembles.  Such tools fit perfectly into a laminar phenomenon, found across the Levant around  200 k.a. BP. During the last 25 years it has been shown, that there is a lot of variability in these ensembles both by the chaine opératoires that was used and the typology of  the desired end-products.  Several types of “Points” have been described, although the boundaries between the types are volatile and reworking could easily change one type into another. Elongated blades / points have recently systematically described by their morphology and technology by Alla Yaroshevich, Yossi Zaidner, and Mina Weinstein-Evron. Figure 2 shows analogies from a collection from South Italy with similar characteristics (Probably dating from MIS5-3):


  • pointsLevallois point : Figure one shows an unusual elongated form
  • Retouched Levallois points: Levallois points, non-elongated with uni- or bilateral retouche
  • Abu-Sif points: elongated Mousterian points retouched along both edges by continuous retouche. Made from Laminar or Levallois convergent,  Preferential preparation
  • Hummal points: points with one fully or almost fully retouched edge opposite an edge that is either unretouched or retouched only on the tip Made predominantly on blades; some are possibly made on Levallois blanks.
  • Misliya points with tip modified by abrupt retouch in the form of an oblique truncation. Misliya points are made on small thin blades, Levallois as well as non-Levallois, or on small Levallois points.
  • Unnamed Points with bifacial, alternate or ventral retouch: points made on Levallois and non-Levallois elongated blanks and modified with invasive retouch which may be either bifacial, alternating or on the ventral surface
  • Off-set points with retouch creating either an oblique truncation or an arch-like back

This post gives a short account about what is currently known about the production, morphology and function of elongated pointed forms from the S/W-Asian  EMP at Mt. Carmel around 200 k.a. BP (MIS7).

The issue of Projectile Points: Investigations into the development of weapon systems are increasingly important in archaeological debates about human evolution and behavioural variability. Since the elongated points from the Levantine EMP are known, their use as projectile points is debated. While some researchers argue that their optimal design, combined with a relatively high frequency of “Diagnostic Fractures” [DIFs]), well beyond the frequency of accidental ones, produced by experimental debitage and trampling may be a strong signature as projectiles. But others are increasingly sceptic in identifying projectile points by simple breakage characteristics. These researchers vote for more experimentation and detailed functional studies and have by contrast stressed the numerous difficulties in recognizing projectile points. There seems not one single fracture type or attribute that is diagnostic for a use as armature.  Any reliable identification requires a close examination of all wear features on an armature, both on an individual and group specific level.

Tabun Cave was the first site where an Early Levallois Mousterian was described in the Levant. It lies at the mouth of Nahal Me’arot (Wadi el-Mughara), facing the coastal plain ca. 20km south of Haifa, Israel. The cave was first excavated in 1929–1934 by D.A.E. Garrod and later re-excavated in 1967–1971 by A. Jelinek. Excavations were continued between 1975 and 2003 by A. Ronen. Garrod removed an estimated 2,000m³ of sediment from the cave, leaving a stepped section approximately 24.50m deep that began in the inner chamber and ended at bed­rock in the outer chamber where a swallow-hole was un­covered. Garrod divided the stratigraphic sequence into seven layers, beginning with what she called Tayacian (F) and ending with the late Mousterian (Layer B) (the uppermost Layer A was mixed and included recent material. Jelinek’s excavations concentrated on Gar­rod’s stepped section in the intermediate chamber. The new section was 10m high, 5m to 6m wide and penetrated 2m into Garrod’s section. The exposed sequence was di­vided into 14 ‘Major Stratigraphic Units’ (identified with Roman numerals), each composed of multiple geological beds. Although the new excava­tions provided much better control over the stratigraphy, Garrod’s simple division of the sequence is still most com­monly encountered in the literature.

Unit IX of Jelinek’s excavations, which is equivalent to the lower part of Garrod’s Layer D (EMP) has recently reevaluated on a technological level.  Unit IX is the most intact EMP deposit at Tabun: Units III–VIII show evidence of considerable ero­sion and re-deposition. The assemblage from this layer is most often referred to as ‘Early Levantine Mousterian’ or ‘Tabun D-Type’ in the literature. Unit IX has been dated by TL to 256±26 k.a. BP. It is somewhat ironical, that the “prototype” of Tabun D ensembles is itself a technological abnormality. In contrast to many other contemporary sites, during MIS7 (Hayonim Lower E and F, Douara IV, Rosh Ein Moor and Hummal) where non-Levallois laminar production is strongly represented, the assemblage of Unit IX is dominated by recurrent, unipolar Levallois technology . The reason for this technological choice remains unclear.

Misliya Cave is located on  the western slopes of  Mount Carmel, slightly to the south of Nahal (Wadi) Sefunim, at an elevation of ca. 90 m, some 12 km south of Haifa and ca. 7 km north of Wadi el-Mughara.  Excavations were carried out between 2001–2010 and revealed a rich EMP layer spread over the Upper Terrace of this collapsed cave  below a residual rock shelter. Preliminary TL dates on burned flint artifacts from the site suggest that they are older than 200 k.a. , thus corroborating the dates recently obtained for the same cultural phase in the nearby Tabun Cave. The EMP of all these caves have broadly assigned the site to MIS7.bWhile the cultural affinity of the finds on the Middle Terrace could not have been determined to date, Middle Paleolithic layers cover an extensive  surface of the Upper Terrace, most notably in its central/northern portion.  The Lower Terrace, where Acheulo-Yabrudain finds constituted the only existing cultural uni , yielded a small lithic assemblage rich in handaxes and Acheulo-Yabrudian side-scrapers.

Neuville. — Le Paléolithique et le Mésolithique du Désert de Judée. Archives de l’I.P.H., n° 24, 1951: Abu Sif Points

abu sif


“Tabun D type” Ensembles in the Levant


Hummalien at El-Kowm

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

A. Rust and D.A.E. Garrod: Different Attitudes

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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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