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The Natufian: Settlement variability and economic adaptations in the Levant at the end of the Pleistocene

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The relationship between current interpretations of Natufian settlement and subsistence and available archaeological data are examined in light of recent research, particularly in Jordan. Regional variability in adaptive strategies is discernible, particularly between forest and coastal sites versus steppe and desert sites. Greater evidence of plant processing and more intensive occupation characterize settlement in the former, although year-round occupation has yet to be conclusively demonstrated. Patterned variability also exists between two classes of steppe and desert area settlements. One set of steppe and desert sites is characterized by a broad range of activities and moderate settlement permanence and activity intensity, while less permanent occupation and more specialized activities focused primarily on hunting typify the other set of sites. Evidence for food production in the Natufian is examined and, although the domestication process may have begun, no morphological evidence exists for the domestication of plants or herd animals. Finally, worthwhile areas for future research are outlined.
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... The majority of such Natufian sites with evidence for significant sedentism and all those contributing samples to the present study are confined to the Mediterranean climate region of Mount Carmel and the Galilee that are considered the core area of the Natufian culture ( Fig. 1) (Bar-Yosef 1983). Evidence has also been considered, however, for significant variability in mode and intensity of settlement occupation both within and between different phases of the Natufian (Bar-Yosef 1983;Byrd 1989;Valla 1998). Thus, whereas some sites that are located in prime resource locations, typically in ecotonal zones, contain all the landmark characteristics of the Natufian culture and evoke significant levels of occupation (e.g. ...
... Both grinding (e.g., Dubreuil 2004) and pounding (e.g., Wright 1994;Eitam et al. 2015) tools have been seen as indicative of cereal processing. Bearing in mind that the long-term success of cereals may have created a cultural bias (Byrd 1989;Olszewski 2004), evidence from Shubayqa 1 could suggest that grinding and perhaps pounding tools at this site were used to process another type of plant food: plant storage organs (i.e. rhizome tubers). ...
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Shubayqa 1 is a newly identified early and late Natufian site in the harra desert of northeastern Jordan. In addition to buildings, and rich chipped stone, faunal, and botanical assemblages, the site has produced a large collection of ground stone tools. This paper presents the result of a preliminary study of the ground stone artefacts associated with the late Natufian phase. Results indicate that while the assemblage is overall very similar to other Natufian sites in the Mediterranean zone, there are also some notable differences. Although grinding rather than pounding tools appear to be more important at the site, many tools were seemingly involved in both grinding and pounding activities. We hypothesize that this dual function could be explained by the processing of rhizome tubers, which were found in abundance at the site, and which may have represented an important food source for the inhabitants. In addition, we argue that the relationship between ground stone tools and cereal processing has been overemphasized and the processing of other plant food resources, in this case tubers could have been equally significant. While the processing of plant foods was one function, many tools are also associated with pigment stains, suggesting that they were involved in the processing of non-vegetal matter.
... This approach does not explain the paucity of decorated items in the sites outside the classic core-area as opposed to their abundance in the core-area sites. This point is crucial for understanding the taxonomy and definition of the Natufian phenomenon (Cauvin 1980;Belfer-Cohen 1989;Byrd 1989). ...
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How hunter-gatherers manipulated and utilised their natural surroundings is a widely studied topic among anthropologists and archaeologists alike. This focuses on the Natufian culture of the Late Epipalaeolithic period ( c. 15–11.7 kyr), the last Levantine hunter-gatherer population, and specifically on the earliest composite tools designed for harvesting. These tools are widely referred to as sickles. They consisted of a haft into which a groove was cut and flint inserts affixed. This revolutionised harvesting and established it on new grounds. While the plants manipulated by these tools are yet to be identified with certainty, it is evident that these implements were rapidly integrated and dispersed throughout the Natufian interaction sphere, suggesting that they provided a significant advantage, which probably constituted a critical step toward agriculture. At the same time, the Natufian haft assemblage demonstrates high morphometric variability. We review the available data concerning Natufian hafts and offer three possible models to explain the noted variability. We conclude that while these models are not mutually exclusive, this varied technological pattern is best understood as deriving from a protracted formative phase of technological development, progressing through incremental processes of trial and error.
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