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Feeding the Living, Feeding the Dead: The Natufian as a Low-Level Food Production Society in the Southern Levant (15,000-11,500 Cal BP)

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Abstract and Figures

The Natufian culture is generally accepted as having been a hunter-gatherer's society positioned on the "threshold of agriculture." This is based on the culture's sedentary nature and the numerous plant processing tools-sickle blades and ground stones-it had created and used, but preceding plant domestication by thousands of years. Here we describe the Natufian agro-technological system, including the first appearance of a threshing floor, hundreds of conical mortars for peeling and milling, and grinding implements that had enabled the production and supply of wild plant-food to the Natufian population in the southern Levant. The narrow conical mortar was a central component in this system. It was specially designed to dehull wild barley and mill cereal grains into fine flour for bread making, also attested by the starch of cereals and legume and striations in the mortars' walls. Additionally, few, exceptional pierced narrow conical mortars cut into large boulders deliberately placed in Natufian graves, reveal a very early symbolic "feeding of the dead." We propose that cereal food and bread were a central part of the culture's subsistence strategy and way of life, which positions the Natufian as a low-level food-producing society, between hunter-gatherers and early agriculturalists in the Levant.
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Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society 50 (2020), 44–77
Feeding the Living, Feeding the Dead: The Natufian as a Low-Level Food
Production Society in the Southern Levant (15,000–11,500 Cal BP)
David Eitam1 and James Schoenwetter2
1 Independent researcher, Hararit, Israel
2 Department of Anthropology, Arizona State University
Dedicated to the memory of Ofer Bar-Yosef with great gratitude and admiration
The Natufian culture is generally accepted as having been a hunter-gatherer’s society positioned on the “threshold of
agriculture.” This is based on the culture’s sedentary nature and the numerous plant processing tools – sickle blades and
ground stones – it had created and used, but preceding plant domestication by thousands of years. Here we describe the
Natufian agro-technological system, including the first appearance of a threshing f loor, hundreds of conical mortars
for peeling and milling, and grinding implements that had enabled the production and supply of wild plant-food to the
Natufian population in the southern Levant. The narrow conical mortar was a central component in this system. It was
specially designed to dehull wild barley and mill cereal grains into fine flour for bread making, also attested by the
starch of cereals and legume and striations in the mortars’ walls. Additionally, few, exceptional pierced narrow conical
mortars cut into large boulders deliberately placed in Natufian graves, reveal a very early symbolic “feeding of the
dead.” We propose that cereal food and bread were a central part of the culture’s subsistence strategy and way of life,
which positions the Natufian as a low-level food-producing society, between hunter-gatherers and early agriculturalists
in the Levant.
KEYWORDS: Natufian, narrow conical mortar, agro-technological system, cereal food, barley bread, mortuary
ritual, low-level food production society.
The Natufian culture of the Levant is divided into
three chrono-cultural phases: Early Natufian (15,000
13,700/13,000 Cal BP) when several hamlets with large
structures existed (Bar-Yosef and Goren 1973; Goring-
Morris and Belfer-Cohen 2008; Edwards 2013a; Grosman
and Munro 2017). In the Late Natufian (ending ca. 11,500
Cal BP) the size of some hamlets and stone-walled huts
diminished (but other sites appeared, e.g. Hayonim
Terrace, Nahal Oren, Dederiyeh), while the final phase,
lasting about 300 years, is characterized by small villages
(Valla et al. 2007, 2010; Eitam 2019a; Terradas 2013a;
Grosman et al. 2016; Winter 2017), composed of dozens
of stone-walled huts in variable size, presumably with
larger populations. The Harifian, a distinct Natufian
group, settled in the Negev highlands in beehive-shaped
stone-walled structures, overlapping with most of the
Late Natufian phase (Goring-Morris and Belter-Cohen
The Natufian material culture is broadly recognized as
a product of a semi-sedentary and sedentary population
that had practiced a complex hunting-gathering
subsistence lifestyle. The Natufian also produced some
cereal food (Moore 1982; Henry 1989; Belfer-Cohen
1991; Byrd 1998; Anderson 1999; Bar-Yosef 1998, 2002a,
2002b; Kuijt 2008, 2009 but see Rosen 2010, 2013;
Grosman and Munro 2017; Arranz-Otaegui et al. 2018b;
Boyd 2018).
Eitam and Schoenwetter
However, the meager archaeobotanical evidence found
at Natufian sites (e.g. Baruch and Goring-Morris 1997;
Buxo and Capdevila 1999; Hillman 2000; Janetski and
Chazan 20 04; Rosen 2010; Colledge 2013; Tanno et al. 2013;
Caracuta et al. 2016) precludes a satisfying reconstruction
of the socio-economic milieu. Consequently, the impetus
for this sudden settling of a foraging population in
     
(Byrd and Monahan 1995: 282).
Hundreds of narrow conical mortars (NCMs; 320
items) were found in domestic contexts in 30 south
Levantine Late Natufian sites (Fig. 1; Henry 1976; Scott
1977; Nishiaki 1998; Goring-Morris et al. 1999; Eitam
2008, 2009a, 2013; Valla 2009; Rosenberg and Nadel
2014). The mortars, interpreted as pounding devices
(Henry 1976, 2013: 594; Wright 1992; Rosenberg 2008
but see Hayden 2011; Hayden et al. 2013), were cut into
bedrock and, less frequently, carved into stone blocks
or shaped as vessels (Scott 1977; Schroeder 1991). Only
a few of the NCMs (at least 16 items) were found in a
ritual or mortuary contexts; of these, ten were discovered
in the Nahal Oren cemetery (Stekelis and Yizraeli 1963)
and two in the burial cave of Raqefet (Nadel et al. 2008).
These exceptional mortars, which were cut into massive
Fig. 1. Map of Natufian sites with NCMs and WCMs in the southern Levant:
1. satellite sites 11, 17, 22 (Nadel and Rosenberg 2011); 2. Ornit Cave;
3. Usba Cave; 4. Wadi Malich Terrace; 5. Umm Sawaneh 5 (Eitam 2013);
6. Rosh Horesha; 7. Saflulim; 8. Romam; 9. Abu Salem; 10. Ramat Harif.
Eitam and Schoenwetter
boulders, each weighing up to 100 kg, were left pierced
at the bottom.
The study of the conical mortars, as well as hundreds
of other Natufian stone tools, reveals a sophisticated
agro-technological system, which included implements
for processing wild cereals and prepa ring other plant foods
(see the catalog in Eitam et al. 2015: table S1). We proposed
that the NCM was a central component in this system,
exclusively designed to remove the chaff (dehulling) and
efficiently mill the wild barley grains into f ine f lour for
bread making (Eitam et al. 2015). Moreover, placing the
pierced boulder NCMs in graves, directly above human
burials, may be indicative of a ritual designed to provide
the dead with plant food (Eitam 2013, 2020). There is a
fundamental difference, in our view, between foragers
societies that sporadically produced some plant food and
the Natufian society (see discussion).
While, as we stress before, direct archaeobotanical
evidence of Natufian cereal exploitation is rare. Still,
the first direct evidence of Natufian bread-making was
recently discovered in the Early Natufian site of Shubayqa
1 in Jordan (Arranz-Otaegui et al. 2018a). Remains of
cereals and legumes were found in the two boulder NCMs
placed in a grave in Raqefet Cave, Israel (Liu et al. 2018;
see also commentary, Eitam 2019c). Moreover, previous
studies showed that the first appearance of numerous
sickle blades, and two types of sickles, points toward a
regular harvest of unripe grasses, including cereals, in
the Late Epipaleolithic (Garrod 1932, 1957; Garrod and
Bate 1937; Unger-Hamilton 1989; Anderson 1991; Winter
2009; Ibanez et al. 2014; Major 2018, and see discussion
below). A shift toward a plant diet, including cereal
food and other grasses, was indicated by the increase
of heavy dental attrition among the Natufian population
(Smith 1972; Smith et al. 1984; Eshed 2001: 47; Eshed
et al. 2006; Mahoney 2006; Smith and Kolska-Horwitz
2007). Other studies pointed out that the manufacture of
numerous Natufian ground stones for processing large
quantities of plant food, cereal, in particular, and their
large typological variety, is also significant in this regard
(Wright 1991, 1994, 2000; Bar-Yosef 1998; see also the
exceptional presence of high densities and storability of
cereals, Henry et al. 1981; Bar-Yosef and Kislev 1989).
This paper presents two aspects pertaining to
Natufian plant processing, namely modifications of
wild-plant food processing technology and evidence
of the increasing relative complexity in the Natufian
social and ritual activities (Bar-Yosef 2002b). We assess
the functions of the NCM (brief ly introduced in Eitam
2008) through macroscopic use-wear and shape analyses,
ethnographic and historical parallels, and experimental
archaeology. We present in detail the procedure and
results of eight experimental operations we conducted
in 2008–2018 with the agro-technological system at
Huzuq Musa (partially published in Eitam et al. 2015).
We also describe the processing implements, as well as
the assumed cooking and storage facilities mentioned
in Eitam’s stone tool typology list for the Natuf ian and
the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (2009a). The second part
of the paper consists of a series of reconstructions of
daily subsistence and social activities during the Late
Epipaleolithic including preparation of food, communal
dining, feasting, and family meals, and mortuary
ceremonies. The reconstr uctions are based on analyses
of agro-technological systems cut in bedrock exposures
or compounded of vessels and implements carved into
stone blocks found in situ at three sites (el-Wad, Eynan,
and Huzuq Musa, Eitam 2019a). The ritual role of the
pierced boulder NCM is explored as well. The third part
of the paper examines the Levantine geo-botanical zones
vis-a-vis the Natufian archaeological record and the Late
Epipaleolithic edible plants. Finally, we establish the new
definition of the southern Levantine Natufian as a low-
level food production society.
Our st udy of the Natufian stone t ools focuses on examini ng
subsistence, social, and cultural aspects of stone tool
technology and function through time and space via
landscape archaeology projects. The functional question
is examined in five ways: 1. Analyzing the morphological
and technological features of the stone tool; 2. Exploring
the usage of stone tools through historical records and
ethnographical parallels; 3. Studying the suggested role
of the stone tools following the environmental conditions
of the studied period and area; 4. Investigating the use
of the stone tools through the chronology, by comparing
Natufian and Harifian implements of earlier and later
periods; 5. Examining the hypothetical function of some
stone tools by experimental operations. We anticipate
testing the different usage assumptions through micro-
Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society 50 (2020), 44–77
Fig. 2. Two types of conical mortars: (1–4, from left to right) NCM; (5–6) WCM. Both narrow
and wide conical mortars are present in several forms: tools cut into bedrock and on a stone
block, stone vessels, and ground stone.
botanical residue and by experimental use-wear studies.
Great emphasis was put on field analysis, sorting out
ancient human activity from natural phenomena, while
considering the different rock formations into which
stone-carved devices were located, reconstructing the
size and original shape of the eroded tools and analyzing
the various locations of the items. Stone tools were
examined several times, measured, described, drawn,
and photographed. Ground stones, collected from the
surface of sites, were measured, described, sketched, and
studied in the laboratory with the naked eye and under a
magnifying glass (x10).
The metric attributes recorded for both rock-carved
tools and ground stones are: length, width and depth, and
diameter and depth in circular stone tools. In non-flat
bottomed implements, the lower diameter is measured
one centimeter above the bottom.
The morphological classification systems of ground
stones are generally based on a sequence of reduction
(Wright 1992) or fabrication when both ground stones
and stone-carved tools are concerned (as hollowing/
voiding is the primary manufacturing process of carved
in stone implements). Stages of manufacture can be
traced in stone-carved devices when the process was
halted or hampered by the bedrock’s non-homogeneous
formation. This enables the reconstruction of the stages
of manufacture (Eitam 2008: fig. 3:1).
We examined hundreds of stone-carved implements
and ground stone tools in 24 Natufian sites in the ‘core’
area and part of the ‘periphery’ of the Natufian hinterland
(the Negev region). We also studied the stone tools from
already known archaeological sites (e.g. Stekelis and
Yizraeli 1963; Bar-Yosef and Goren 1973; Henry 1976;
Scott 1977; Goring-Morris 1987; Perrot and Ladiray
1988; Wright 1991, 1994; Moore 2000; Valla et al. 2007;
Nadel et al. 2008; Edwards 2013a, Terradas 2013b). We
examined some pre- and post-Natufian stone tools in
order to establish similarities to and differences from
the Natufian stone tools to highlight the latter’s unique
features. A classification system was established,
including a primary typological list based on Wright’s
(1992) work, with some modifications, including the
addition of implements carved in bedrock and stone
blocks (Eitam 2009a).
The usage of any stone tool would determine its
essence. Consequently, the study of stone artifacts in the
current paper and other works (e.g. Eitam 1996a, 1996b,
2019b) is focused on the mundane function of the device
at issue (see a different approach proposed by Rosenberg
and Nadel [2014] and criticism in Eitam [2020a, 2020b]).
This approach, focusing on the use surface – the inner
aspect of the tool – signifies that implements carved in
bedrock and block stones are an integral part of the stone
tools assemblages. There appears to be no difference in
function between mortars (and other stone tools such as
cupmarks, grinding devices, and basins), whether they
are in the form of ground stones, stone vessels (of fixed
rim width), and tools carved into bedrock and boulders
(Fig. 2; Eitam 2009a). Accordingly, the inclusion of tools
carved in stone in the Natufian ground stone assemblages
reveals more accurately the role played by Natufian stone
Eitam and Schoenwetter
The addition of hundreds of devices carved in stone to
the numerous Natufian ground stones reveals that the
Natufian stone assemblage consisted of three main
groups and not two as had been suggested: concave and
flat-bottomed mortars, cupmarks and anvils (crushing
and pounding implements), grinding devices, and conical
large and small mortars and cupmarks – are by far the
dominant group. To date, some 450 conical mortars and
cupmarks have been found.
The conical mortar – a Natufian hallmark
There are two distinct types of conical mortars: the deep,
narrow conical mortar (NCM), and the wide conical
mortar (WCM):
1. The average diameter of NCM is ca. 20 cm, and the
slope of the sides is 20 degrees. They are exclusive to
the Late Natuf ian (Fig. 2:1–4; 270 items; 21 NCMs
were revealed lately at Hayonim Cave, Ovadia 2016).
We estimated a total of 320 NCMs with approximately
50 partly covered rock-cut mortars at Rosh Horesha
sites and Upper Besor VI (Eitam 2013).
2. The average diameter of WCM is 40 cm, and the slope
is 45–60 degrees. These WCM appeared during the
Early Natufian and continued to be in use till the end
of the Natufian (Fig. 2:5–6; 73 items: Eitam et al. 2015:
table S1; Ovadia 2016: appendix 3: 5–8). This type was
part of the threshing floor complexes (see below).
Both types of conical mortars also appear as stone vessels.
Either large or small goblet WCM were found in Early
Natufian Eynan, Wadi Hammeh 27, and Hayonim Cave,
and NCM elongated vessels were found in Jebel Se’ide
II (Schroeder 1991) and Hayonim Cave (Fig. 2:2; Ovadia
2016: appendix 6, H77_641).
The number of NCMs at the different sites varies,
from one to a dozen in small sites to dozens in large sites,
mainly of the Final Natufian, i.e. 31 NCMs at Huzuq Musa
(Eitam 2019a) and 41 NCMs at Qarassa 3 (Terradas et al.
2013b). WCMs are less frequent: four at el-Wad and about
six at Eynan, and five in Final Natufian Huzuq Musa, of
which four were carved into rock exposures (one in each
of a large flatten bedrock, defined by us as a threshing
floor, Eitam 2019a).
The conical mortars were cut into bedrock exposures
at sites, such as Rosh Zin and Fazael VI, and their
surroundings (Eitam 2013), while a few were placed in
structures, either cut into bedrock floors or incorporated
into the stone walls of dwellings. Some conical mortars
were cut into medium-sized boulders for practical reasons
– to bring the mortar into the structure (e.g. Ramat Harif
sites, Eitam 2013, and two out of 41 NCMs from Qarassa
3, Terradas et al. 2013a, 2013b: 56). At Eynan, massive
WCM vessels were placed on the floors of Structure 26
and other structures (Perrot 1966; Perrot and Ladiray
1988) and small WCM in Structure 241 (Valla et al. 2007:
figs 25–27). All NCMs (excluding the 16 pierced boulder
mortars) and all the WCMs were found in domestic
contexts, with no indication of ritual activity.
The functions of the narrow conical mortar
What was the role of this unique mortar that lacks a flat
or concave base to hit on? The conical mortar use-wear
indicates that intensive, constant, vertical, and radial
motions were made with a long pestle, most likely made
of wood. The shaft of the mortar, reaching a depth of 40
cm in an active mortar, is too deep and narrow for a stone
pestle. There is direct evidence of fibers on the mortars’
inner walls as a result of abrading, probably from the
wooden pestle, during operation (Liu et al. 2018: 785;
Eitam 2019c: 2). This use-wear, evident to the naked eye,
varies following the hardness and texture of the carved
rock. Microscopic observations of a silicone cast of one
basalt NCM’s wall from Qarassa 3 reveal both vertical and
radial striations (Terradas et al. 2013b: 57). NCM walls
are smooth when carved in a hard limestone formation
but also in finely grained basalt, as seen in the case of two
NCMs found on the surface of Nahal Ein Gev II (Eitam
2013). Sometimes radial striations are seen on narrow
and wide conical mortars (Eitam 2008: fig. 3:4). Gloss
appears on the bottom and the lower, narrow part of the
mortar, both in limestone and basalt mortars, sometimes
accompanied by vertical wide dark patches (Fig. 3:2).
Microscopic observations clearly show vertical and
radial, as well as diagonal, striations, and sheen (Liu et al.
2018: 291, fig. 7). Vertical deep grooves, made by a pestle,
can be seen on the walls of the NCMs carved into brittle
sandstone bedrock in Wadi Mataha II (Baadsgaard et al.
2010: 12–13; figs. 1, 4; 2A, 2B center). Sustained use of a
pointed pestle created a narrow, short cylindrical shaft, 7
cm in diameter, at the bottom of conical mortars carved
in limestone, sometimes deepening the shaft beyond the
maximum 40 cm depth of an active mortar (Figs. 2:1,6;
Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society 50 (2020), 44–77
see the following “Dehulling”). Occasionally, the base
of the mortar was eventually pierced (Fig. 3:2–4) for the
same reason, as is the case with many mortars, querns,
and grinding slabs in historical periods and recent years.
Natufian pierced NCMs were sometimes repaired by
inserting a fitted pebble by flaking, pecking, and fine
abrading into the pierced bottoms (Fig. 3:1).
Ethnographic and historical parallels
Similar narrow conical mortars were used until recently
in easter n Turkey, Kurdistan, and the Caucasus for
dehulling barley and dehusking glume wheats, because
they prevent breaking the grain into small pieces, thus
easing the separation of the chaff from the grain by sifting
(Hillman 1985:20).
“The mortars (Tur. dibek; Kur. souk) of wood or
stone…are most effective for dehusking if they
have a strongly curved, narrow parabolic, inside
surface…; small-scale dehusking indoor is generally
done with small mortars of less than 20 cm internal
(Hillman 1984: 129).
These provide a strong ethnographic analogy for the
function of the Natufian NCM.
Historically, barley and emmer (glume wheat) were
the two major staple cereals in ancient Egypt (Nesbitt and
Samuel 1996). A pointed long wooden pestle was found
at the el-Amarna excavations (Samuel 2010). A similar
wooden pestle was depicted on an Egyptian relief in the
tomb of Intef-inker at Thebes, dated to the 20th century
BC (Davies and Gardiner 1920: pl. XI). The scene may
illustrate the processing of barley (Fig. 4A, from right
to left): two men are depicted hulling in what may be a
conical mortar, possibly made of wood, with two long
narrow wooden pestles. A woman is separated grains
from bits of chaff with a sieve, while another woman is
milling peeled grains on a grinding slab with a handstone.
Another scene from the tomb of Hetpherakht, probably
portrays the processing of emmer wheat, a much easier
task (Fig. 4B; note the small concave mortar, and the
action of tossing the sieve to separate the large pieces of
glume from the grain).
It is unlikely that the narrow conical mortars were
used as brewing vats, as was suggested by Hayden (2011;
Hayden et al. 2013), due to their small size and narrow
shape (volume of ca. 4 to 6 liters). Nor were they suitable
Fig. 3. Pierced NCMs, Huzuq Musa: (1, from left to
right) Eroded pierced rock-cut NCM repaired by flaked
pecked and abraded pebble; (2) Interior of boulder
NCM with pecked upper-part, fine ground working
face with vertical marks and pierce bottom; (3) Coarse
flaked and pecked exterior of boulder NCM with fine
braded upper slip; (4) Pierced cylindrical bottom of the
same NCM.
devices for pounding nuts, such as acorns (Rosenberg
2008), as it would have been impossible to remove the
stuck mash from the narrow cone. In contrast, collecting
dry grains, groats, and flour with fingers by hands
cooping has been effortlessly done (see the experimental
study below).
The Natufian agro-technological system
Processing implements
The implements described below were carved in bedrock
exposures in the Early Natufian site of el-Wad and the
Late Natufian site Huzuq Musa. We defined these
assemblages as complex agro-technological systems
because they included other plant-processing implements
cut in the rock (see Table 1 for measurements of stone
carved devices) along with wide and narrow conical
mortars (Figs. 5–7, 11; Eitam 2013, 2019a).
Eitam and Schoenwetter
No. Type of
device Location
Measures (in cm)
and striat ion Illustration
Upper axis
Upper axis
axis Length
In Late Natufian
site and
near dwellings
20 20 735
Vertical and
radial Str.,
shaft and
pierce bottom
2Wide conical
Cut in a
threshing f loor 30 30 745
vert ical
patches, shaf t
at bottom
In site, in food
device complex 8 8 1 10 Abraded
In site, in food
device complex 30 20 3Fine abraded
5Deep bowl In site, in food
device complex 45 30 20 Sheen
In site, in food
device complex 35 20 10 Abraded
In site, in food
device complex 120 90 6Flatten
In site
surrounding 400 250
Adjacent to
and grinding
10 10 2Shallow,
10 Storage pit
In site, in food
50 50 40 55
Carved in
rock, dug in
dirt, plastered
or paved
11 Water pit In food devices
complex 60 40 30 40
Cut in
bedrock with
collecting vat
in bottom
12 Small-box
like basin Near burials 15 15 10
Carved with
no finished
Table 1. Bedrock carved implements.
Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society 50 (2020), 44–77
The Early Natufian system includes: (a) a small oval
flattened rock surface defined as a beating threshing f loor
(Fig. 5:6; Table 1); (b) a WCM adjacent to the threshing
floor (Figs. 5:1; 6 left); (c) small narrow conical mortars
(Figs. 6:7, 13); (d) grinding slabs; (e) cupmarks of various
shapes; and (f) deep bowls (Figs 5:2–5; 6:4,6,11).
The Late Natufian system includes: (a) a large flattened
bedrock, defined by us as threshing floor (Fig. 7: II; Table
1); (b) an adjacent large and small WCMs (Figs. 7:1, 9);
(c) a narrow conical mortar (NCM, Figs. 2:1, 2; 7:5); (d)
grinding devices (Fig. 7:3); (e) cupmarks of all kinds; (Fig.
7 above implements no. 3) (f) deep bowls that continued
to be a part of the food preparation complexes.
The small, elongated grinding slab and quern, usually
operated with a small handstone (Wright 1992), were
established during the Early Natufian. Their number
slightly increased in Late Natufian (from 11% in Early
Natufian to 15% handstones, Wright 1991: tables 5, 6)
with the addition of a couple of dozens of rock-carved
grinding devices (Fig. 7:3 right, Table 1). Grinding
implements developed into efficient mobile millstones
(larger and wider grinding slab and larger handstone)
in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, becoming the standard
cereal-mill tool in the Neolithic. While the elongated
rock-cut device reached a peak in the Late Chalcolithic
(van den Brink 2008; Eitam 2009b) and continued to exist
in historical periods. Altogether only several dozens of
grinding devices were revealed in the Late Epipaleolithic
vis-a-vis 320 NCMs.
Cooking and eating facilities ( Ta ble 1)
Deep concave basins resembling later cooking bowls
and pots, were found in the context of food preparation
devices at several sites. Some of them have a coat of sheen
that covered the bottom and lower side (Figs. 5:3; 6:4, 6).
The lack of use-wear on the interior surfaces of the deep
bowls in el-Wad Terrace was a reliable indicator to Garrod
(1957:102) that they served as food bowls, and because
     
with a cult of the dead”. The bottom of the deep bowls
sometimes contained a projected hard stone or a flint
core (partly reduced by f laking, pecking, and abrading).
These were left since the projecting stone did not affect
the bowls’ function as cooking vessels (Figs. 5:3; 6:4,
6). The same trend can be seen in Natufian storage pits
(Eitam 2013: fig 21:1). On the other hand, when the hard
Fig. 4. Ancient Egyptian reliefs: (A) Processing barley:
peeling the hulls with long, thin wooden pestles in a
mortar (probably conical); sieving, separating the bits of
the hull from the grains that stays in a sieve; milling with
a handstone on a grinding slab. Part of a scene from the
tomb of Intef-inker at Thebes, 20th century BC (Davies
and Gardiner 1920: Pl. XI); (B) Processing emmer wheat:
peeling the glumes with a long, thick wooden pestle in
a concave mortar, sieving the glums from the grains,
and milling. Part of a scene from the tomb-chapel of
Hetpherakht, Thebes (courtesy of H. Wilson 1988: fig. 8).
Fig. 5. Early Natuf ian agro-technological system, el-Wad
Terrace: (1) WCM; (2–5) deep bowls; (6) small oval
threshing floor (30 cm long scale).
Eitam and Schoenwetter
stone was exposed while carving a NCM, it had halted the
manufacture of the device or had disrupted its function
(Eitam 2008: fig. 5:1–2). The deep bowl, with a volume of
ca. 7–12 liters that is most suitable for cooking stew and
porridge, may have been heated by pebbles thrown in from
an open fire (e.g. Dalman 1935: 235; Liu et al. 2018: fig.
4). The deep bowls first appeared in the Early Natufian.
Nine were found at el-Wad Terrace (Weinstein-Evron et al.
2013: fig. 4a:2, 3, 5); another one was cut in a large stone
block in el-Wad Cave (Weinstein-Evron et al. 2013: fig.
7C); a portable stone bowl was found in Wadi Hammeh
27 (Edwards 2013b: fig. 9.13). They continued to appear
in food-preparation contexts until the end of the Natufian.
Other bowls were recorded at Hatula (n=2), Nahal Oren
Cave (n=2; Eitam 2013: figs: 21:2; 14:1, 2), and Huzuq
Musa (n=2; Eitam 2019a) and Raqefet Cave. Shallow bowls
cut into bedrock, with a volume of ca. 3–5 liters, were also
found in food processing contexts in Natufian sites such as
Saflulim (Eitam 2013) and Raqefet Cave (Filin et al. 2017:
99). They first appeared in the Natufian and resembled
in size and shape the later portable stone bowls found at
Pre-Potter y Neolithic A (PPNA) sites that were defined as
serving dishes (Rosenberg and Nadel 2011).
In this context, one may raise the question of how the
Natufian people ate their prepared plant food, especially
groats and stew-like meals. The size and form of a box-
like basin, found in el-Wad Terrace near the burials, is
well suited for serving as a personal eating bowl (Fig. 6:10;
Table 1). The flat-based basins were left with no finished
surface, an unusual phenomenon among Natuf ian car ved
were presumably used as receptacles for gifts for the dead
(when found near burials) , likely barley groats or porridge,
assuming that the dead were given the same plant food in
the corresponding receptacles as were the living (Fogelin
2007). The eating-bowl could be a portable woven vessel
made of green cereal stalks. The same materials are still
prevalent in the Levant and elsewhere for making small
vessels, corn-dollies, and ornaments (Barnett 1989). They
could be made of leaves or bark, similar in shape and size
to eating-bowls of a fishermen-gatherer society in North
America (bark dipper exhibited in the American Museum
of Natural History in 2012). The polished tortoise shells
found in Hayonim Cave (Anna Belfer-Cohen pers. com.
2020) may also serve this purpose.
Fig. 6. Rock-cut devices, el-Wad Terrace, plans, and sections. Left: large WCM and small cupmark, note the cylindrical
shaft in the bottom; (4, 6) deep bowls, note the reduced hard stone in the bowls; (7) small conical mortar with a pebble;
(10) box-like basin; (11, 12, 13) two deep bowls and conical small mortar, note that bowl 12 was cut by bowl 11 and no.
13 was cut by bowl 12.
Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society 50 (2020), 44–77
Storage facilities (Tabl e 1)
Storage facilities, particularly granaries, are
characteristic of agricultural societies (e.g. Kuijt
2008, 2009). Based on the ethnological evidence, the
generally accepted opinion is that the Natufians stored
plant foodstuff in baskets (Bar-Yosef 1998; Kuijt 2008).
However, at two Late Natufian sites, ground-dug pits
defined as storage tools. In Hayonim Terrace (Valla
1995), the discovered pit was paved and coated with
limestone slabs, while in Nahal Ein Gev II, the storage pit
was plastered (Grosman et al. 2016: figs. 4, 6). Moreover,
other pits of a similar shape and size: round basins with
flat bottoms and, usually, slanted sides (which makes it
easy to remove the stored grains) and volume of ca. 20 to
45 liters, were defined by us as storage pits. The rock-cut
pits, located beside plant processing devices, were first
discovered in Natufian open-air sites, like Hatula,
       
         
Eitam 1996a: fig. 416, and see Winter 2017, 2019: Umm
Sawaneh (E)). Similar pits were exposed at Raqefet Cave
(Fig. 7:1), sealed by Late Natufian sediments. Two of
them are of an extraordinary size of ca. 70 and 120 liters
(Nadel and Lengyel 2009: 43, “deep mortar/basins” CII
and CXXIII, respectively).
Furthermore, plastered pits, similar in size and shape
to the above-mentioned Natufian ones, were found at
PPNA sites, side-by-side with large, shallow plastered
installations that undoubtedly functioned as silos
(Hartmann 2006). The Natufian storage pits could have
been sealed with limestone slabs and lime-plaster to
prevent pests’ foodstuff damage. Indeed, the plastered
sides of the pit in Nahal Ein Gev II are curved toward the
center at the top (Grosman et al. 2016). One can postulate
that some of the many trash pits found in Eynan, similar
in size and shape to the defined storage pits, could be
reused small pits, which were initially used for storage
(Perrot and Ladiray 1988; Valla et al. 2007).
Fig. 7. Late Natufian agro-technological system: (II) large threshing floor, Huzuq Musa; (1) WCM; (2) NCM,
Raqefet Cave (courtesy, D. Nadel); (3) grinding installations cut in the threshing f loor; (1) small storage pit,
Raqefet Cave (courtesy, D. Nadel); (3 left) small storage pit, Umm Sawaneh.
Eitam and Schoenwetter
Three small water cister ns were discovered in an
Epipaleolithic satellite site of Umm Sawaneh 5 at the
eastern Samaria Hills. The small bell-shaped basins of
ca. 90 liters each, with a large cup at the bottom (serving
as sinking vat; Table 1), were carved in extensive bedrock
exposure near-exclusive Late Natufian NCMs and a pair
of typical Natufian grinding devices (Eitam 2005: figs
481:1–3,6; 482:1–2, and see Winter 2019: Umm Sawaneh
(E)). The Natufians may have also used a natural karstic
pit for storing water, covering the pit with a large stone
(Eitam 1996a: 695, fig. 531). Several such natural pits,
mistakenly identified as “human-made bedrock holes”,
were exposed in Raqefet Cave and the “terrace” (Nadel et
al. 2012: fig. 16. bedrock mortar T-XIII).
The experimental study
To assess the suggestion that specific implements
carved in stone were cereal processors and that NCMs
functioned as barley dehusking devices, we undertook
eight experimental operations at the Final Natufian site
of Huzuq Musa in the southern Jordan Valley. There the
rock-cut devices were readily available at a short-lived,
single period site. The large-scale surface collection
produced lithics that entirely dated to the final Natufian
(Winter 2005), while the smaller excavated lithic
collection was predominantly Final Natufian but also
contained a single arrowhead of el-Khiam point type
and a single Beit Ta’amir knife (Nadel and Rosenberg
2013; see discussion in Eitam 2019a and Eitam 2020b).
Strict precautions were taken during the experimental
study to avoid any damage to the prehistoric implements
(three out of 61). We conducted a systematic operation
following the order suggested by the different locations
of the single-period devices carved in the bedrock.
This method allowed us to reconstruct the operational
sequence (chaîne opératoire) that took place dozen of
thousands of years ago for achieving the desired product
(see additional details in Eitam et al. 2015).
We collected the fully ripe wild barley spikelets by
hand to prevent the ear from shattering into spikelets
(Fig. 8A). We avoided the use of a sickle since cropping
wild cereals with a sickle or uprooting the ears must be
done while the ears are still unripe. We discovered an
efficient way to gather large quantities of ripe barley by
trampling the green stalks before collecting the spikelets.
This is based on having observed the result of a herd
of wild asses squatting on green wild barley patches in
the Negev highland in April 2004. This action prevents
the grain from being scattered by the wind as it ripens.
After ripening, the trampled spikelets can be gathered
into a basket without being scattered. Using this method,
the productivity of a single worker was about 50 liters
of spikelets per hour, compared to an average of 325 gr
spikelets per hour of hand-picking (Kislev et al. 2004:
table 1).
Threshing was carried out in the threshing floors hill of
Huzuq Musa (Eitam 2019a: fig. 3 VI) on threshing floor
II (Fig. 7, Table 1:8) by beating the spikelets on a flattened
bedrock surface defined as threshing floor with a massive
curved stick (Fig. 8B). In Palestine, home processing of
grains and beans until quite recently was commonly
carried out on small domestic threshing floors such as
bedrock surfaces or bitten dirt surfaces (Avitzur 1985: 8).
The spikelets were then separated from the awns with a
large-holed sieve (Fig. 8C). Threshing 24 liters took 25
minutes and was achieved in three cycles of beating and
sifting. This left 7.2 liters of spikelets with most of the
awns removed. Before the first experiment, we assumed
that the WCM was an early (and less effective) version of
the NCM that served the same role in husking the grains,
but we found it wrong. Moreover, by holding to our main
guideline, that is, by following the order suggested by the
location of the Natufian food devices (started in beating
the spikelets on the threshing floor, followed by reducing
the volume of the processed material by pounding it in
the adequate WCM), the experimental operation revealed
the role of the WCMs. The threshing stage of wild cereals
processing aimed (in addition to separating the spikelets
in domestic cereals) to separate and remove unnecessary
parts of the plant (leaves, stalks, etc.) for enabling the
following processing.
Hummeling (removal of the sharp-fatal awn base) was
carried out in the nearby WCM (Fig. 7: II: 1). After 15
minutes of vertical and radial pounding with a wooden
Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society 50 (2020), 44–77
Fig. 8. Experimental operation in Huzuq Musa: (A) half-green barley ears (spikelet with awn); (B) beating spikelets
on threshing floor II (spikelet with almost-removed awn); (C) separating the straw from the spikelets with a large
holed sieve; (D) hummeling in WCM with wooden pestle (spikelet without the base of awn); (E) dehusking in NCM
with wooden pestle, first shifts. Note the adjacent cupmark (partially-peeled grain); (F) Scooping by hand from the
NCM’s bottom the clean grains and groats and gathered in the cupmark (fully peeled grain’s fragment); (G) milling
of the dehull grains; (H) fine flour gathered in the adjacent cupmark.
pestle (Fig. 8D), about 90% of the tiny sharp awn bases
were almost completely removed. Small WCMs, such
as the goblets of Wadi Hammeh 27, were most likely
used with a stone pestle (a compatible stone pestle was
found in one of the vessels). After sieving, 5.2 liters of
unhusked grain remained. Removing the fatal sharp
awn bases that pierce the intestines of humans and
animals is necessary for preparing the unhusked grain
for human consumption as groats or porridge, as well as
for successful dehusking.
Eitam and Schoenwetter
Dehulling (removing the barley hulls) was achieved in the
Natufian NCM (see technical analysis of the process in
Eitam et al. 2015: text S1). Dehulling took place in NCM 31,
located in hut B of Huzuq Musa (Fig. 2:1; Eitam 2019a: fig.
4), which was filled to one-third of its volume (1.3 liters).
The same wooden pestle was employed to pound the grain
using vertical strokes and, besides, some hoeing motions
(Fig. 8E). Within thirty minutes, approximately 90% of
the grain was utterly husked, with half of the grains broken
(Fig. 8F). The chaff was then removed by fine sieving,
then winnowed by gentle blowing, holding the grains by
the hand. Processing 1.2 liters of hulled grains produced
one liter of grain and groats. The maximum depth of
an operative NCM was 40 cm, the length of an average
human arm, as the recurrent scooping of material from the
mortar’s bottom was done by hand (Fig. 8F). Indeed, most
of the NCMs are not deeper than 40 cm. For example, in
Rosh Zin, two out of the 12 NCMs were deeper than 40 cm
(Nadel and Rosenberg 2010: fig. 2). The pestle’s intensive
motions eroded the deeper ones (e.g. Eitam 2013 pl. 24:5,
see the use-wear analysis presented above). In contrast to
NCMs, the WCM could be used, in addition to hummeling
cereals, for any other task like pounding nuts, beans, and
tenderizing meat by beating it with a pestle.
Milling and Making bread
Milling was done by returning the husked grain to
the NCM, where they were ground into f lour through
intensive, fast, radial motions, pushing the grains with the
pestle against the walls and the bottom of the mortar (Fig.
8G). This high productivity rotar y-milling in a mortar
was realized during the experimental operation. It took
15 minutes to produce 230 cubic centimeter of fine flour
(Fig. 8H).
In the first experiment (June 2008), we intentionally
halted the grinding process when the grains turned into
groats (grits), took them out from the NCM, and brought
them to the nearest rock-cut grinding device (Fig. 7:3 left;
Eitam 2019a: fig. 4, device 34). After 15 minutes of hard
work, using a small basalt handstone, the milling outcome
was coarse semolina. Hence the grinding efficiency rate
in the Natufian NCM with a long pestle was much higher
than that in the narrow and small Natufian grinding
We found that dehusking and milling in the NCM
could be significantly aided by a small and shallow
cupmark compatible for depositing material produced
in the mortar. Such implements are frequently found
adjacent to conical mortars (Figs. 2:1; 8E; Table 1) and
other food processing devices like WCMs and grinding
device. During dehusking and milling, the groats, husk
bits, powder, and flour were repeatedly hand-scooped
from the mortar bottom without much effort and placed
in this cupmark (Figs 8F, 8H). The one to six adjacent
cupmarks appeared joined to stone-carved food tools in
sites of diverse geographic regions, such as Nahal Oren’s
satellite sites in the Mediterranean zone (Nadel and
Rosenberg 2011), the Jordan Valley sites of Fazael VI and
Gilgal VI (Eitam 2013), Shubayqa 1 in the Black Desert
(Richter et al. 2012) and at the Harifian sites of the Negev
Highlands (Abu Salem, Eitam 2013).
From the fine f lour mixed with some water, a small,
thick flatbread, made of unleavened dough, was formed
and baked in a setup akin to an oven (ovens were absent
in the Late Epipaleolithic in the Levant). We placed the
dough above a bed of hot embers situated on sparkling
wood coal and then, we covered it all over with additional
embers. After ten minutes, the bread was ready to eat
(Ru b el n. d .).
Feeding the living
The significant advantage of rock-cut tools over ground
stone vessels is that the former is always found where
carved and used, frequently adjacent to or in the vicinity
of other rock-cut implements. Analyzing the chaîne
opératoire of rock-cut tools from the perspective of
function, allows us to reconstruct the relevant human
activities in a specific period.
The area for communal food preparation and
consumption at el-Wad occupied most of the exposed
bedrock. The carefully designed threshing f loor with the
stylized rimmed WCM hummeling device in the center,
together with nine deep ‘cooking’ bowls, indicates that it
was a central place for communal preparation and food
consumption perhaps of ceremonial nature characteristic
of the Early Natufian (Wright 1994). This central eating
place was active during the early and middle phases of the
Early Natufian at el-Wad (EEN and MEN respectively:
Weinstein-Evron et al. 2013), while in the MEN phase,
the eating place was surrounded by burials of the site’s
graveyard (ibid: 91–95). During the late phase of the
Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society 50 (2020), 44–77
Early Natufian (Weinstein-Evron et al. 2013: 96–99),
when the bedrock exposure was covered, alternative
food areas were established. One could have been in
chamber I of the cave with two large WCMs (ibid: fig.
7b, c). Weinstein-Evron and colleagues point out that
these WCMs, placed side-by-side, were associated with
a large wall, and in our view they were probably adjacent
to a small, beaten threshing floor. A third, smaller WCM,
carved on a f lat surface of a large stone block (Fig. 9; ibid:
fig. 7b), probably with adjacent small dirt threshing f loor,
points to third food preparation and dining area although
its original location is unknown (Garrod and Bate 1937:
10, 41).
At Eynan, a large WCM vessel was placed on the dirt
floor of the large, well-built Structure 26, and possibly
also the other WCM vessels were placed within other
structures (Perrot 1966; Perrot and Ladiray 1988). The
central position of the WCM in Structure 26, although
not at its center, points toward the possibility that part
of the structure dirt f loor may have been used for
threshing of cereal spikelets, accompanied by preparation
and consumption of plant food by members of the
co m m u n it y.
Feasting and dining in the Late Natufian
Communal dining or feasting of cereal food and bread
(and probably game meat) by large groups had occurred
at the postulated aggregation site of Rosh Horesha in
the Negev Highland, as suggested by the hundreds of
implements carved into bedrock exposures at the site (173
devices including about 50 NCMs: Goring-Morris et al.
1999; Eitam 2013). More ‘private’ dining, in small groups
or with only a few individuals, is suggested by the few to
a dozen NCMs located near dwelling huts in other Late
Natufian sites, from Wadi Mataha in southern Jordan
(Baadsgaard et al. 2010), through Rosh Zin in the Negev
(Fig. 10) to Jebel Se’ide II in the Baq’a Valley (Schroeder
Family meals in the Final Natufian
Huzuq Musa is a Final Natufian site located in the
southern Jordan Valley (Rosenberg et al. 2010; Nadel
and Rosenberg 2013; Winter 2017; Eitam 2019a). It was
possibly a village of about 100 inhabitants living in 30
stone-walled huts, concentrated in a dwelling zone (Eitam
Fig. 9. Small WCM carved in a large stone block, el-Wad
Cave, plan and sections: the f lat surface of stone-block
with small cupmarks. Note the small cylindrical shaft at
the bottom and the two V-shaped grooves for drain liquid
into the mortar (see a third groove on the block’s surface
in Weinstein-Evron et al. 2013: fig. 7b); the grooves were
probably carved in resent time (by the Arabs inhabitants
of the cave) for reuse of the Natuf ian device as olive oil
simple installation).
Most of the 31 NCMs (out of 62 rock-cut tools) were
located near or in the dwellings. Consequently, the
secondary phase of grain processing, (husking and
milling), and eventually the making of the bread itself and
its consumption, which followed the communal threshing,
took place either adjacent to the dwellings or indoors,
a trend already noticed at Late Natufian sites (Wright
2000). The small size of the huts indicates that two or
three people, possibly a nuclear family (Goring-Morris
and Belfer-Cohen 2008), took part in the preparation and
eating (Eitam 2019a).
Feeding the dead
The Natufian people were the first in the region to
consistently bury their dead in cemeteries, maintaining
elaborate mortuary rituals. The multifaceted Natufian
Eitam and Schoenwetter
Fig. 10. Rosh Zin site, plan, and sections: (1–34) devices carved in bedrock and few ground stones found
on the surface. Note the small dwelling structures and the stone monolith — modification of site plan
(Henry 1976: fig. 18).
Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society 50 (2020), 44–77
spiritual world is revealed by the great attention paid
to their dead and their elaborate mortuary ceremonies
(Garrod 1932; Garrod and Bate 1937; Perrot and Ladiray
1988; Noy 1989; Byrd and Monahan 1995; Kuijt 1996;
Bocquentin 2003; Eitam in press).
The ritual of “feeding the dead” had possibly started
in the Early Natufian with the placement of food in a
small, boxlike basin, carved in the rock near burials in
the bedrock terrace of el-Wad (Fig. 6:10; Table 1:5). The
proximity of the small basins to burials and its small
bowl-shape and unordinary nature were the reasons to
associate it with the provisioning of food to the dead.
The small basin has no signs of wear on its straight sides
and its bottom and is too small to serve as a storage vat
(sometimes small, projected rectangular, hard limestones
were left at the bottom). It seems reasonable to assume that
the coarse surface was covered with disposable material,
as this basin is the only Natufian rock-cut device left with
carving marks and no surface finish. The boxlike basins
(n=9), identical in size and form, were cut in el-Wad
bedrock during the Early Natufian (Figs. 1, 2, 10, 15–19,
28). They were cut in the bedrock, later to the time of the
threshing floor’s carving, by the straight line, of basins
17, 16, 18, 19, parallel to the edge of the bedrock and
the burial area, and the proximity of 1–3 basins to other
burials (Fig. 11:1,2). The box like basins also appeared in
ritual contexts in Late Natufian sites such as Nahal Oren
Cave and Raqefet Cave (Eitam in press).
Altogether, 16 pierced boulder NCMs (Table 1; Figs.
3, 13) have been found in Late Natufian sites: 12 in two
Natufian cemeteries – 10 at Nahal Oren and two in Raqefet
Cave (Stekelis and Yizraely 1963: 11; Noy 1989: 56; Nadel
et al. 2008; Nadel and Rosenberg 2011; Rosenberg and
Nadel 2014). Another two pierced boulder NCMs were
embedded in the enclosure wall of the Natufian sanctuary
at Jericho (Kenyon 1960a: 24, fig. 8, 1960b: pl. A-B, 1981:
272, pl. 145a) in the same way three mortars in Nahal Oren
cemetery were embedded in a terrace wall. The sixteen
items found at Huzuq Musa were not in situ and may point
to the existence of graves nearby (based on its similarity
to the other pierced boulder mortars; Table 2; Eitam
2019a). Some of the pierced boulder NCMs were lightly
decorated, with a finely ground stripe under the rim seen
in five boulders at least. This decoration contrasts with
the coarsely f laked and pecked exteriors. The pierced
bottoms of the ritual NCMs, as is also the case with many
domestic mortars, are a result of intensive use. The ritual
mortars were most likely left perforated intentionally.
Furthermore, the perforations were sometimes widened
by smoothing and rounding the hole’s sides (Rosenberg
and Nadel 2014: figs. 4, 10). The widened hole in the
bottom was prepared to ease the symbolic feeding of the
deceased (Fig. 12: note the drawings in frames; Stekelis
and Yizraeli 1963). In one case, the boulder was located
near the head, possibly a marker that facilitated skull
removal after decay (Bocquentin 2003; and see her and
other comments in Rosenberg and Nadel 2014: 799).
Eight of the 16 pierced boulder NCMs were placed in
graves (Figs. 12). Some were placed immediately adjacent
to burials, rising 20 cm above the ground’s surface, so that
the rough f laked exterior was left hidden while exposing
the finely abraded, finished strip and rim. Although
Stekelis and Yizraeli (1963: 12) mentioned the option that
the pierced mortars ref lect “…the Natufian understanding
of the life of the soul after death”, they suggested that
the mortars were tombstone. After discovering that the
NCMs were the primary tool for producing flour and,
eventually, bread, we propose that the pierced boulder
NCMs were initially placed in Natufian graves to feed the
dead symbolically. The fact that a small concave mortar
was also placed in grave H25 at Nahal Oren cemetery
(Fig. 12, right), in addition to the boulder NCMs, suggests
that the Natufian symbolically provided the dead with
prepared sustenance and not unprocessed food such as
grains or flour (as concave mortars were also used for
pounding foodstuff in the preparation of food).
Feeding the dead, feeding the living
The bedrock floor of the Raqefet Cave cemetery provides
us with the opportunity to reconstruct the ceremonial
mortuary activity within the cave, and, perhaps, in
Natufian burial places in general. Community members
who attended either buried or visit their dead, sat at the
center of the entrance hall, surrounded by their buried
ancestors and descendants. Here they prepared the feast.
This included processing cereal grains and beans, like
barley, wheat, rye, and legumes, into groats and flour
and made plant food and bread using the 14 NCMs, and
other implements, cut into the rock center of the first
chamber’s floor (Fig. 13 complex I). Other members of
Eitam and Schoenwetter
Fig. 11. The complexes of el-Wad Terrace, plan and sections: Complexes II and III: Small threshing floor and
an adjacent WCM (8); (4–6,9,11,12,21, 25) deep bowls; (7,13) small conical mortars; (7, 14, 17) cupmarks;
14, 8 near 7) small concave mortars; Complexes I, IV and V: (1, 2, 10, 15–19, 28) boxlike small basins;
(28) concave mortar. Note the reconstr ucted locations of stone slabs of the northern paved area with burials
(number according to catalog number in Eitam et al. 2015: S1 Table).
Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society 50 (2020), 44–77
the community took care of the dead, producing the same
products with the same implements as the rock-cut NCMs
in the two boulder NCMs found in the central grave (Fig.
13 complex II:7, 70; H12, Nadel et al. 2008: figs. 10, 11).
The use-wear on the inner walls of the two boulder NCMs
evince the intensive peeling and milling of grains over an
extended period, maybe first providing cereal meals to
the mourners’ feast, then, after the bottoms were pierced,
rye, and legume in the two-pierce boulder NCMs placed
above burial at Raqefet cave strengthen this suggestion
(Liu et al. 2018: 788–789 and criticism, Eitam 2019c).
Other interments were equipped with a much humbler
device: a conical cupmark, cut into stone (Fig. 13: complex
IV; Nadel et al. 2008: fig. 9; Nadel and Lengyel 2009).
This trend was observed in other Late Natufian graves by
placing a limestone slab carved with cupmarks (maybe to
provide cereal food for the dead symbolically).
The archaeozoological remains indicate that the
mortuary meals or feasts of the Raqefet community did
Site Location Interior Exterior Raw material Note/Reference/Fig.
Jebel Se’ide II above skeletal
remains Schroeder 1991: 72-73.
Nahal Oren cemetery grave H27 21 55 36.5 59 hard limestone Stekelis and Yizraeli 1963; fig.12.
Nahal Oren cemetery terrace wall, grave
H37, H31 22.5 47 37 50 hard limestone Stekelis and Yizraeli 1963:11; fig.
Nahal Oren cemetery Paved area with
slabs 19 62 54.5 67 hard limestone Stekelis and Yizraeli 1963: 11 pl.
3b; fig. 13.
Nahal Oren cemetery grave H21, a
headless skeleton 22 55 hard limestone
Stekelis and Yizraeli 1963: 11;
Rosenberg and Nadel 2014: fig.
23; Noy 1989: fig. 3.
Nahal Oren cemetery terrace wall hard limestone Stekelis and Yizraeli 1963: 11 pl.
3c; fig. 13.
Nahal Oren cemetery terrace wall,
H34,42,47 20 46 35 48 hard limestone Stekelis and Yizraeli 1963;
Rosenberg Nadel 2014: fig. 4.
Nahal Oren cemetery in the south near
H4, H1 hard limestone Grosman et al. 2005; no figure.
Nahal Oren cemetery
between graves H8
and H38, near hearth
hard limestone
Upper part missing; Noy 1989:56
fig.3; Rosenberg and Nadel 2014:
figs. 22, 23.
Nahal Oren cemetery in grave H18 ~20 ~30 ~ 45 ~50 hard limestone Nadel and Rosenberg 2011: fig. 5
back; broken, 1/5 missing.
Nahal Oren cemetery ?~18 ~35 ~30 ~40 hard limestone Rosenberg and Nadel 2014: fig. 4.
Raqefet Cave
in large burial-basin,
L 2, few cm above
H 7
20 35 32 40 limestone Rosenberg and Nadel 2014: fig. 4.
Raqefet Cave
in large burial-basin,
L 2 with H bones at
18 45 33 47 limestone Rosenberg and Nadel 2014: fig. 5,
plus fragments of NCM.
Jericho Sq. E1, sanctuary
wall 60 40 70 limestone Kenyon 1960b: pl. A-B, 1960a:
24, fig. 8,
Jericho Sq. E1, sanctuary
wall limestone Kenyon 1960b: pl. A-B, 1960a:
24, fig. 8.
Huzuq Musa,
complex IV
Com. IV; not in situ
(found broken in
recent time)
24.4 41.2 36 43.3 hard limestone Fig. 3; Eitam 2008: Fig. 3:2, 3, 4.
Table 2. Pierced narrow conical mortar boulders.
Eitam and Schoenwetter
not include substantial amounts of game meat (Yeshurun
et al. 2013) but a lot of plant food and bread as evident
by the 14 NCMs and dozens of other food processing
devices found in the cave. This contrasts the feast at the
cemetery in Hilazon Tachtit Cave that contained plenty of
meat; the 90 tortoises in the central grave alone provided
around 22 kg of meat, in addition to the vast amount of
meat provided by the two wild cows and a calf (Munro
and Grosman 2010).
This vegetal-carnivorous dichotomy, as well as the
contrast between the numerous plant food devices at
Raqefet Cave and their scarcity at Hilazon Tahtit Cave
(Dubreuil and Grosman 2013: 535–536), possibly shows
that the makers of the first were members of a food
production community while the latter were hunter
Late Epipaleolithic edible vegetation
Distribution of wild cereals and stone implement in the
A clear difference exists between the southern and
northern Levant Natufian stone tool assemblages. While
the conical mortar types dominated the stone tools in the
southern Levant (Fig. 1), they were absent in the north.
The north Levantine stone assemblages, mainly the rich
assemblage of Abu Hureyra I (Moore 2000), include
many large grinding stones for both crude and fine
grinding, with only a few small concave mortars. This
difference may reflect a distinct geo-botanical division of
the Levant, which can be observed today, of two botanical
zones that also existed in the Epipaleolithic.
In the northern zone, the variety of wild cereal
growing is the wild hulled wheat, or einkorn (Triticum
Fig. 12. The Late Natufian cemetery of Nahal Oren with seven boulder NCMs (circled in red; after Grosman et al. 2005:
fig. 9). Note, in frames, three pierced boulder NCMs and a pierced concave mortar (courtesy of the Stekelis Prehistoric
Museum, Haifa and the Israel Museum, Jerusalem).
Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society 50 (2020), 44–77
monococcum). Its primary distribution zone is in
Anatolia, and it reaches down to the northern Levant. In
the southern Levant, wild barley dominates (Hordeum
vulgare; Weiss and Zohary 2011: fig 4 vs. fig. 2). Glume
wheats, such as emmer (Triticum turgidum subsp) and
Timopheev’s wheat (Triticum timopheevi subsp) are also
growing in the northern Levant, Anatolia and Western
Asia (Weiss and Zohary 2011: fig. 3; Zohary et al. 2012).
These latter species are also found in Lebanon and in the
northern parts of Israel and Jordan.
The botanical zones correspond to the spatial
distribution of the conical mortar and accord with our
suggestion that it was specially designed for hulling barley.
This may also indicate the presence of processing and
grinding of the wild predecessor of naked wheat spikelets
(Triticum boeoticum) in the northern Levant, and that of
glume wheat grains. The first was peeled by threshing,
while the second is easily dehusked by breaking the brittle
glumes, by rubbing the spikelets with handstone on the
coarse surface of a slab (Hillman1994: 131).
Fig. 13. Raqefet Cave schematic plan of the first chamber: Complex I:
accumulation of rock-carved tools in the center of the cave floor with 16
NCMs; Complex II: a grave in large pit with (7, 70) two pierce boulder
NCMs; Complex IV: burials with conical cupmark on stone slab; Complexes
V, VII: rock-cut devices outside the cave (mainly cupmarks and one NCM
(numbers according to catalog in Eitam et al. 2015: S1 Table). Modification
of the excavation plan (Lengyel et al. 2005: fig. 5).
Eitam and Schoenwetter
Plant Energy Carbs Protein Fat Sugar Site Reference
Wild wheat 327 kcal 71.18 g 12.61 g 1.5 4 g 0.41g Raqefet, Eynan, Hilazon
Tachtit, Shbayqa 1
Power et al. 2014;
Rosen 2010; Arranz-
Otaegui et al. 2018b
Wild barley 352 kc al 7 7.7 g 9 g 1.1 g 0.8 g
Hayonim, Raqefet,
Eynan, Hilazon
Tachtit, Shubayqa 1, Wadi
Hammeh 27; Colledge
Hopf & Bar- Yosef
1987; Power et al. 2014;
Rose n 2 010.
Lentil 353 kcal 60.1 g 25.8 g 2.0 g Raqefet Cave
Pea/small legume 143 kc al 18 g 7 g 1 g 7 g Hayonim, Raqefet, Wadi
Hammeh 27
Hopf & Bar- Yosef
1987; Garrard1980
Vet c h 40 g 13 g Nahal Oren Noy et al. 1973.
Lupine Hayonim Hopf & Bar- Yosef
Almond 600 kcal 6 g 21 g 56 g 4 g Hayonim Hopf & Bar- Yosef
*Atlantic Pistachio 55.7 kca l 2.8 g 2 .1 g 4.4 g 0.8 g Saflulim Bar uch& Goring
Morris 1999.
Wild olive 144 k cal 1. 5 g 13.5 g Nahal Oren; Wadi
Hammeh 27
Noy et al.
1973;Colledge 2013.
Acorn/Comm-on oak 265/172
kcal 54/45 g 4.8/3.4 g 5.1/0.4 g Wadi Hammeh 27 Hen r y 198 9.
**Wild vine grape 69 kcal 18 g 7 g 2 g 15.5 g Nahal Oren Noy et al. 1973.
Club-rush tuber 41 kca l 8 g 3 g Shubayqa 1 Richter et al. 2012.
Table 3: Nutritional values of 100 g of edible plant remains found in Natufian sites.
* All values were reduced by 1/10 since the value is of commercial pistachios.
** Sugar content was reduced by 1/3 since the value is of European grapes. All data is from the domestic plant except for almond and acorn http://www., olive, and lupine (Forbes 1976) and for beer,
presented below percentage.
Eynan and Nahal Ein Gev II in the northern Jordan
Valley may be considered sites in a region between
the barley and einkorn wheat geo-botanical zones. In
Early Natufian Eynan, several WCMs were in use for
hummeling wild cereals, while NCMs absent in the Late
Natufian occupation (Perrot 1966; Perrot and Ladiray
1988) indicates that wild barley grains were not made
into flour at Eynan. At Late Natufian Nahal Ein Gev II,
only two basalt NCMs were discovered on the surface
and none in situ till now (Eitam et al. 2015: table S1).
Indeed, wild naked wheat grew more commonly grown
in northern Israel (the Golan and the upper Galilee) in the
Late Epipaleolithic and now (Weide et al. 2018).
Plant remains in Late Epipaleolithic Levant
Plant macro-remains and phytoliths were recovered from
19 out of about 60 of the excavated Natufian sites in the
southern Levant. At other Natufian sites (Table 3), there
is a visible presence of large seed cereals and other large
seed plants, as well as a variety of wild plants, including
grasses and some small-seeded cereals (Colledge 2001;
Albert et al. 2003; Kislev et al. 2004; Portillo et al. 2010).
At Raqefet Cave, the presence of phytoliths of wild
wheat was generally higher than that of barley. However,
phytoliths of small-seeded grasses and large-seeded
cereals were of the same proportions, and the percent of
barley increa sed inside the NCMs (Power et al. 2014, 2016).
Wild plants were found at sites where various methods
were used to investigate botanical remains thoroughly: in
the recent el-Wad Terrace excavations, Shubayqa 1, Abu
Hureyra, Dederiyeh, etc. (Arranz-Otaegui et al. 2018b).
Archeobotanists draw attention to the effect of climate
changes on the Mediterranean environment during the
Late Epipaleolithic, claiming that in the Late Natufian,
Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society 50 (2020), 44–77
fewer cereals and many small-seeded grasses grew
amongst the forest’s trees (e.g. Portillo et al. 2010; Rosen
and Rivera-Collazo 2012).
Those sporadic finds are still i nsufficient to reconst ruct
the distribution of edible plants in the Levant during Late
Epipaleolithic times. However, we may cautiously sketch
a rough picture by comparing the very rich botanical
findings of Early Epipaleolithic Ohalo II and the contents
of the PPNA granaries at Gilgal I. The former contained
small-grained grasses with some large-grained cereals
(wild wheat and barley) and a range of other edible seeds,
fruits, and nuts (e.g. Kislev et al. 1992; Weiss et al. 2008).
In comparison, the PPNA botanical remains point toward
dominance of large-grain species, including barley, rye,
and some wheat (Hartmann 2006).
Nutritional values of edible plants
To assess the dietary importance of the various identified
plants of the Late Epipaleolithic, we assembled the
nutritional values of their modern domesticated
counterparts (Table 3). The relative value of the different
species is evident, despite possible small variations in
the wild varieties or those following cooking or heating.
The most energy-rich plant food is almond. While large
seed cereals provide reasonably high energy levels, half
that of almonds, they contribute the highest amount of
carbohydrates as well as significant values of protein and
some fat. Large-seed legumes provide similar amounts
of carbs to that of cereals and higher values of protein.
Low nutritional values are supplied by acorns of common
oak (Quercus calliprinos) and by tubers. The superiority
of bread over porridge is evident by comparing their
nutritional values: flatbread provides 270 kcal, 37g
carbohydrates, 10g protein, 1g fiber, and 1g fat, while
barley porridge provides only 97 kcal, 22g carbs and 2g
protein, inferior in all three categories.
Beer and acorn consumption
Beer was suggested as a stimulant for cereal domestication
(Braidwood et al. 1953; Katz and Voigt 1986) and purpor ted
to have been produced by the Natufians (Hayden 2011;
Liu et al. 2018) is so far without any supportive evidence.
It provides 17 kcal, 1g carbohydrates, and no protein. It
seems that the production of beer started much later, in
the fourth millennium BC, as a by-project of the cereal
food and bread mass production in the Mesopotamian
and Egyptian civilizations (e.g. Kavanagh 1994; see
discussion in Eitam 2019c).
It has been suggested that acorns were part of the
Natufian diet (Nishiaki 1998; Olszewski 2004; Rosenberg
2008). Consumption of acorns is well recorded in
archaeological findings and historical documentation in
Europe and the Americas. Only three species of oak grow
in the southern Levant, and another one and a sub-species
grow exclusively in the Mount Hermon area (Shmida
and Darom 1992: 30). In contrast, a wide variety of oak
species grow in the New World, Europe, and Turkey, e.g.
253 in Mexico, 84 in North America, and 32 in Europe
(Mason 1995). Southern Levant oak acorns are woody
and hardly nourishing, and they were used in tanning
animal hides. The Tabor oak (Quercus ithaurensis) has
an exceptionally high ratio of non-edible acid. Palestinian
Arabs were using its crashed cupules for indoor hide
tanning (Avitsur 1976a: 167). Acorn consumption in pre
Israel Palestine was limited to famines and other harsh
times (Araf 1975; Avitsur 1975, 1976b), in contrast with
such use in other parts of the world, where oak species
produce nutritious acorns that are widely eaten (Mason
and Nesbitt 2012). The nutritional values of acorns vary
among species, and they are rarely found in large amounts
in ancient sites of the souther n Mediterranean (Mason
1995). Only in Early Epipaleolithic Ohalo II, thousands of
acorns were found (Weiss et al. 2008). Remains of acorns,
unlike seeds of other plants, are frequently preserved and
consequently would be discovered if they were in use.
Therefore, it seems that in Late Epipaleolithic Levant and
the ancient Near East, acorns were probably consumed
only marginally (but see Shmida and Darom 1992: 30).
Potential cereal dishes in the Late Epipaleolithic
The ability to harvest a large amount of wild green
cereals with sickles and ripe cereals by efficient
gathering (see “Harvesting” above and discussion
below) resulted in numerous cereal dishes that could be
supplemented by adding animal fat and various plants.
The agro-technological system of the Early Natufian,
enabled one to prepare a variety of dishes made of groats
and hot porridge, from partially or fully-ripened husked
wild cereal cooked in various ways.
Historical and anthropological sources concerning
plant food, and particularly cereal meals, illustrate what
dishes could have been prepared and consumed during
Eitam and Schoenwetter
the Late Epipaleolithic (taking into consideration the late
date of the sources and their different region). Frik/frikee
     
Arab dish of roasted, soft partly green cereal grains (Azm
2012), which is also mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as
Geresh Carmel or Kali, (Eitam et al. 2015: Text S2). Other
dishes could also be prepared, ripened whole parched
grain se-sa(-a) (Sumerian, Ur III); qalitu (Assyrian, as in
            
of flour and hull bits; zid se-sa-a (Sumerian, Ur III) –
soaked grains (ptisane, Greek). Barley groats – nudum
(Akkadian) – nig-ar-ra (Sumerian) – arsanum (Akkadian)
– arsan, rish (Aram. and Heb.) – barley groats; alphita
(Greek) – porridge made of groats; hasalum (Akkadian)
are groats from other kinds of cereals (Dalman 1933:
260–271; Moritz 1958; Hillman 1984, 1985; Postgate
1984: 105 –10 8).
By discussing several of the points presented in the
current paper, we want to stress the following:
1. Our conclusions that Natufian societies produced
cereal food are compatible with the model of sedentary
low-level food production economies, positioned as a
    
’no man’s land’ that stretches between hunter-
gatherer-foragers, on one side, and agriculturalists,
who strongly depend on domesticated species as food
sources, on the other” (Smith 2001:1). This concept
(Smith 1998) is challenging the dualistic epistemology
of agricultural societies succeeding hunter-gatherer
ones (Hunn and Williams 1982). The small-scale
food production societies of North America, unlike
the Natufian, cultivated seasonal cereals, or at least
were occupied regularly in the management of the
wild fields at their surroundings (Smith 2001). There
is no evidence that the Natufians were manipulating or
managing the natural plant, and we may assume that
they produced food solely by exploring the wild plants.
The latter developed food technology system was
enabling regular production and storing a large amount
of varied, nutritious food. The emphasis here, in our
view, is on the innovation of technology that enables
the quantity production of food, and not the agronomic
development. The small numbers of inhabitants in
the Natufian communities enabled them to deepened
solely on the wild plants for their subsistence.
Accordingly, we suggest that the Late Pleistocene
Holocene Levant (and possibly Southwest Asia in
its entirety) may be divided into three phases. The
Early and Middle Epipaleolithic foragers’ phase, the
     
of the Late Epipaleolithic Natuf ian and the PPNA
communities, and the first agricultural societies
of the early Neolithic (e.g. Childe 1951: 87; Harris
1996; Hillman 1996; Hole 1996; Colledge 1998;
Willcox 1998; Kislev 2002). The emphasis here, in
our view, is on the innovation of technology that
enables the quantity production of food, and not the
agronomic development. Early agriculture, which
emerged around 10,500 years ago, was the result of
combining the domestication of the founder’s crops
and the technological innovations of the low-level food
production societies. As the same subsistence strategy
existed in the PPNA period, it may be added to the low-
level food production phase.
2. The fundamental difference between foragers’
subsistence strategy and low-level food-producing
societies is illustrated in the case of Ohalo II, a
23,000-year-old hunter-fisher-gatherer site on the
shore of the Sea of Galilee. Among the wide variety of
edible wild plants at Ohalo II, the starch of wild wheat
and barley were tracked on a large stone (Piperno et
al. 2004). It was suggested that the first bread was
prepared there, where milling cereals into flour was
the dough was done on nearby sooty stones (Piperno
et al. 2004). Moreover, blades with gloss indicate
siliceous harvesting plants like weeds and cereal
(Nadel et al. 2012; Groman-Yaroslavski et al. 2016).
However, this suggestion seems to be wrong since it
does not synthesize the grain starch’s direct results
with the archaeological evidence. The pur ported
        
few small patches with battering and abrading on its
surface (Dubreuil and Nadel 2015; Spivak and Nadel
2016: fig. 9). No other grinding slabs or grinding bowls
were found at the site (Spivak 2008). Consequently,
the stone tools of Ohalo II could not produce enough
flour for preparing bread. In Early Epipaleolithic
Ohalo II, the commonly prepared dish could have been
Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society 50 (2020), 44–77
a mixture of small-seeded weeds, barley, and wheat
whose remains were found on the working slab. The
vast bulk of the Early Epipaleolithic plant food diet,
however, consisted of gathered wild fruits, nuts, and
pulses (e.g. Kislev et al. 1992; Weiss et al. 2008).
3. The role of sickle blades in the Natufian subsistence is
debated since Dorothy Garrod (1932, 1957) discovered
them in Shuqba Cave, and, thus, inferred that the
Natufian were the earliest agriculturalists. One of the
arguments relates to the relatively low frequency of
sickle blades’ presence during the Late Epipaleolithic,
less than 5% of the total Natufian lithic tools (Maeda
et al. 2016: table S3). However, the ratio is somewhat
higher because unretouched glossed blades were also
used in cutting grasses and weeds, although they are
less efficient in cutting cereals (Winter 2009). Three
Natufian straight sickle hafts and one improved slightly
curved sickle haft were found in Natufian sites. One
sickle with two blades still in the groove is from el-Wad
(Garrod and Bate 1937: 37, pl. XIII), two zoomorphic
straight sickle hafts from Kebara cave (Turville-Petre
1932: 272, pl. XXVII2), and one slightly curved from
Wadi Hammeh 27 (Major 2018: 260, fig. 7.100). The
straight and curved sickle hafts would have been able
to reap wild barley efficiently (Winter 2009). Thus, the
increased number of sickle blades and the development
of hafting indicates the regular practicing of harvest
with sickles vis-a-vis random use during the Early
4. The evidence of bread made by the Natuf ians at
Shubayqa I is a most significant discovery since it is the
fir st direct evidence that m ay clari fy the Natufia n socio-
economic essence. The researchers’ reconstruction of
the chaîne opératoire for the production of the bread is
similar to the operational sequence of our experiment
with the Natufian rock-cut tools at Huzuq Musa and
identical in the resultant fine flour produced (Arranz
Otaegui et al. 2018a: 4). Indeed, nine boulder NCMs
were found at Shubayqa 1 (Richter et al. 2012). Two of
them were placed in Structure 2 of the Late Natufian
phase, which was built above Structure 1, where the
bread remains were discovered. One mortar was
embedded in the structure’s stone wall while another
boulder was situated on the paved stone floor, near
the fireplace (Pedersen et al. 2016: figs. 2, 9), while
a WCM was found in the Early Natuf ian phase. The
existence of the NCMs at Shubayqa 1 indicates that
bread production was probably more extensively, in
the Late Natuf ian phase.
The discovery that the Natufians started making
bread earlier than we previously proposed, i.e. in
the Early Natufian, strengthens our suggestion. We
may suggest that the flour of the discovered bread at
Shubayqa 1 was made of wild einkorn wheat flour
(Triticum boeoticum/Urartu) which were also found
in addition to tubes in the Early Natufian fireplace
(Arranz-Otaegui et al. 2018a: 4). Hulled wheat is easy
to dehusk by rough abrading on a large scale with the
many grinding stones found in the site.
The Late Natufian phase of Shubayqa 1 features
an extraordinary number of grinding implements and
a dozen of NCMs (Richter et al. 2012; Pedersen et al.
2016). The handstones make 79% of the assemblage,
compared to 15% of handstones in other Late Natufian
sites (Wright 1991). This abundance of grinding tools
may indicate the processing of wild naked wheat,
more than that of barley, and to seasonal milling
of many small tubes from sedges (Bolbolschoenus
glaucus, Ar ranz-Otaegui et al. 2018b) growing during
the winter on the shores of the Qa’. The botanical
remains and the stone implements indicate that the
local microhabitat of Shubayqa 1, a seasonal lake (Qa’,
Arabic) that becomes a dry and salty area in summer,
may have influenced the diet of its inhabitants. The
food variety could be significantly different from
other diets. However, still in our mind it was primarily
based on the central element of cereal food and bread,
as attested to by the bread remains and the conical
mortars found at the site (Richter et al. 2012; Pederson
et al. 2016: 392, fig. 10:1,3; Arranz-Otaegui et al.
2018 a).
5. The quantity production of cereal food and bread and
their significant role in the subsistence strategy of the
Natufian created a fundamental shift in the socio-
cultural perception of the society. The placing of the
primary food processing device directly above burials
        
dead” that presents the spiritual shift of the Natufian
society from hunter-gatherer to food-production
society. Thus, we may assume that this ritual was a
direct consequence of the presence and significance
of plant meals and bread in Natufian daily life.
Eitam and Schoenwetter
From all the above presented discussed data, we can
conclude that sickle blades fixed in hafts used to harvest
cereals, and narrow conical mortars used to peel and
mill wild barley into flour, are the two most essential
tools introduced by the Natufian people. These two
hallmarks and the formation of a relatively sophisticated
agro-technological system enabled the systematic and
considerable production of plant-food throughout the Late
Cereal supply
The frequent regular use of sickles allowed the harvesting
of large quantities of green and semi-green wild cereals.
The improved technique of gathering recumbent ears
increased the capacity of collecting a relatively large
amount of fully ripe hard grains.
Wild cereal processing
As demonstrated by macroscopic use-wear analysis,
ethnographic and historical parallels, and an experimental
study, the arrangement of the threshing f loor with WCMs
was essential for the threshing and hummeling large
quantities of wild cereals and other seeds. WCMs were
carved into rock-cut surfaces or placed on structure’s
dirt floor, used as threshing floors. NCMs produced
substantial amounts of flour by husking and milling wild
barley into fine flour for making unleavened bread. This
agro-technological system may have also been used in
processing other foodstuffs, like beans and by-products,
like straw for roofing.
Preparation of cereal food products
Various products from whole or partially crushed cereals
are documented in historical and ethnographic records,
mentioned above. These were prepared by threshing,
hummeling, dehusking, pounding, and grinding in
conical mortars and grinding implements and could be
made by the Natuf ian and immensely improve their diet
and living conditions.
Seasonal or annual food production?
The ability to harvest sufficient amounts of plants, and
to process and prepare a significant amount of plant
foodstuff, is clear evidence of a change in the Natufian
diet from that of previous foraging groups. Small groups,
reaching up to 100 inhabitants, could settle close to fields
of wild cereals and beans that would be gathered to
provide their basic plant food needs throughout the year.
This could be achieved with a dozen of small storage pits
for keeping the grains. These facilities could probably
provide the small Natufian communities with food past
the harvest season, amounting to a significant portion of
their annual consumption.
“Feeding the dead.”
The ritual of providing the dead with food, which started
in the Early Natufian and culminated in placing boulder
NCMs in graves and around them in the Late Natufian,
seems to be the f irst known symbolic ritual intended to
supply the dead with food in the afterlife. This spiritual
change demonstrates the importance of cereal food for
Natufian people. It highlights the fundamental difference
between the spiritual world of a food-producing society
from that of hunter-gatherers.
Unraked society
The results of our study agree with the view that the Early
Natufian was an egalitarian society, with no hierarchy,
having no members or kin groups with higher status
than that of other groups as evident by the mortuary
practices (Byrd and Monahan 1995; Belfer-Cohen 1995
but see Wright 1971; Earle 1987; Henry 1989, and recently
Hayden 2011, in press), but also by the large huts that
could house a dozen of individuals such as those of Eynan,
Wadi Hammeh 27 and el-Wad. The Natufian society’s
unranked nature is revealed by the communal nature
of the preparing and eating of food and the communal
nature of feeding the dead in personal dishes. Kuijt (1996)
suggests that the dramatic shift in mortuary practices
from Early to Late Natufian (similar to the PPNA and
the Neolithic as a whole, Kuijt 2000) was an attempt to
limit social differentiation that started to establish in
the late phase of the Natufian. This shift toward a more
hierarchic society is indicated in the Final Natufian site
of Huzuq Musa where the making of the bread and its
consumption took place either adjacent to the dwellings
or indoors, a trend already noticed at Late Natufian sites
(Wright 2000).
We believe that the r easons for changes in Late Natuf ian
settlement patterns, and the disappearance of the culture
itself, were social and cultural, and not environmental as
Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society 50 (2020), 44–77
no drastic environmental changes occurred then (Maher
et al. 2011). The egalitarian society could not exist, in our
opinion, in the large communities of the Final Natufian
(Kavanagh et al. 2018). Indeed, the same population
abandoned the egalitarian way of life and settled down in
hierarchical larger communities of the PPNA.
Low-level food production economy
The Natufian maintained a sedentary or partly sedentary
way of life throughout the Late Epipaleolithic, as their
subsistence depended on numerous food devices carved
in stone blocks and bedrock exposures. They elaborated
and expanded the production of plant foods in the Late
and Final Natufian by enlarging the size of the threshing
floor and increasing the number of production devices.
Consequently, we propose that, from the very
beginning, the Natufian people were low-level food
producers exploiting wild plants, and not hunters-gathers.
Hunting continued as in the early Neolithic and later,
while the role of prepared food, including bread, increased
during the Late Natuf ian. No doubt, foraging groups were
living side by side with food producers throughout the
southern Levant, as had happened in later periods.
Did the transition to a low-level food production
economy also happen in the northern Levant? The meager
data of the fewer Late Epipaleolithic sites in the north,
disturbed by the large Neolithic settlements above them,
still prevent us from evaluating this issue. However, the
difference between the southern and northern Natufians
was due to the dominance of wild barley in the southern
Levant. This had multiple effects on the economy, society,
and the spiritual world of the Natufian people.
The transition from foraging to food production
economy during the Late Epipaleolithic in the southern
Levant, which expanded in the PPNA, was a crucial
stage in the long, non-linear process in the emergence
of agriculture. We believe that the sudden settling of the
Natufian people in sedentary settlements was triggered
by the shift toward systematic and continuous bread
James Schoenwetter, mentor, and friend, the co-author
of this paper, passed away on 23 August 2015. Jim’s
vast contribution was to crystallize the work and the
summaries of this part of the study, sharing his immense
knowledge and deep understanding of human evolution
and prehistoric societies. Jim was an incredible ‘mensch’
and a remarkable scholar. Working with him for two and
a half years, near his departure, was a unique cultural and
intellectual experience. I thank him for this honor and
miss him. Special thanks go to the late Ofer Bar-Yosef for
his warm support. I thank Ian Kuijt, Brian Hayden, and
Haim Winter for constructive critiques and substantial
help. Thanks to William Rubel, a traditional f loodway
expert, and Jan Levi, a food historian who supported
and participated in the 8th experimental operation,
prepared the “Natufian” bread and provided the data
and reference for the nutrition values in Table 3. Thanks
go to Mordechai Kislev, Simcha Lev-Yadun, Tobias
Richter, and Ron Shimelmitz to comment on versions
of the manuscript and their suggestions. None of these
researchers should be seen as necessarily agreeing to
our ideas, and we alone are responsible for any errors in
this paper. Thanks to Moshe Einav and Ruhama Piperno
Beer for preparing Fig. 3, to Michael Eisenberg, Micha
Yamini, David M., Yael Yamini, and Sara Katzburg
for photograph Figs. 1:2–4; 1:1 and other photographs.
Thanks to Marina Suisky, and Anna Yamim for drawing
the stone tools and plans. The fieldwork done by Eitam
was permitted by the Archaeological Officer of the Civil
Administration, licenses 1164, 1166, 1115, and the Israel
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... In Eitam's last survey, all mortars were cleaned from recent debris and stones (after having been exposed by Henry and probably robed by Bedouins, 1976:335, 337); except for one mortar (Eitam 2013: pl. 16:5;Eitam and Schoenwetter forthcoming: fig. 11:30) where a modern fieldstone was forcefully stacked in the shaft, prevented cleaning the mortar. ...
Rosenberg and Nadel's claims in their replay to Eitam commentary (2020) range between misleading and false without providing a direct rebuttal to the assertions, which necessitates a response. Their main argument is that they never "…suggest[ed] that the actual function [of the narrow conical mortars] was not related to food processing." (Rosenberg and Nadel 2020). Such a claim was not raised in the commentary; nevertheless, the nonfood uses mentioned by the authors, in the dozens, relevant papers, and reports are double than the plant-food use mentions (60 compared to 30)...
... It has been suggested preceding the invention of the NCM in Late Natufian, that the small conical mortar served as a preliminary peeling device with a fitting stone pestle (Eitam 2013). The small conical mortar was found in Late Natufian burials (e.g., Nadel et al. 2008: figure 9), possibly for symbolical feeding of the dead (Eitam 2019b(Eitam , 2020Eitam and Schoenwetter in press: "Feeding the dead"). Cupmarks, found in a domestic context, served among other usages for pounding-grinding seeds and grains. ...
The paper depicts a firstly discovered Natufian rock-cut cultic complex in a cave overlooking the Late Natufian cemetery of Nahal Oren. Two similar rock-carved cultic complexes were distinct above burials in the Late Natufian Raqefet Cave cemetery. The reasons for identifying the rock-cut complex as offering place preceding a discussion on this issue analyses the position of the suggested cultic complex within the Natufian ritual practices and spiritual world. It is suggested that the offering place was related to the ritual of symbolic supplying the dead with cereal food in the afterlife by placing a boulder narrow conical mortar – a "bread machine" – in graves. This ritual emphasizes the importance of cereal food and bread in Natufian daily life. The production of cereal food and bread is evident by the discovery of agrotechnological systems, including hundreds of conical mortars in the domestic context of dozen of Natufian sites in the Southern Levant (Eitam 2008; Eitam et al. 2015; Eitam and Schoenwetter in press), and attested by the first bread remains discovered in Early Natufian Shubayqa 1 in Northeast Jordan (Arranz-Otaegui et al. 2018).
En este trabajo se da a conocer una parte del instrumental macrolítico (molinos, morteros y pilas) recuperado en una vivienda de la segunda Edad del Hierro del asentamiento urbano de Torre d’en Galmés (Alaior, Menorca). A través del estudio de su distribución espacial, se identifican las áreas donde se desarrollaban actividades artesanales específicas dentro de la vivienda. Por otro lado, se realizan inferencias relativas al modo de organización de la producción en la sociedad menorquina del Talayótico final y sobre las posibles implicaciones ideológicas de algunos tipos de utensilios.
Full-text available
1. A. Comparative study of wild barley and wheat’s processing through experimental operation in Late Epipaleolithic agro-installations system (Natufian, D. Eitam) B. Production of barley and wheat groats (D. Eitam). 2. Making wild barley and wheat flat-bread (pita) from the produced flour, including a comparative experimental study of milling with deep conical mortar and grinding installation (W. Ruble?). 3. Measurable tastes of the installations’ functions through ancient phytoliths and residue analyses and building a measurable features database of pollen and phytoliths of Natufian agro-installations (O. Katz and A. Amir). 4. A genetic study of peeling (thrashing, hummeling, and de-husking) features of cultivated wild wheat (A. Distelfeld and L. Oren). 5. The research project will be published through its various aspects in different scientific journals. The scientific participation of the project will be among the writers of the various publication of the research. 6. Video of the project will be separately published by D. Eitam, while still photographs will be published in the various publications
Full-text available
Rosenberg and Nadel's claims in their replay to Eitam commentary (2020) range between misleading and false without providing a direct rebuttal to the assertions, which necessitates a response. Their main argument is that they never "…suggest[ed] that the actual function [of the narrow conical mortars] was not related to food processing." (Rosenberg and Nadel 2020). Such a claim was not raised in the commentary; nevertheless, the nonfood uses mentioned by the authors, in the dozens, relevant papers, and reports are double than the plant-food use mentions (60 compared to 30)...
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In a series of recent articles, Rosenberg and Nadel have intensively explored the significance of Natufian devices carved in stone—and especially that of the narrow conical mortars (NCMs; fig. 1, top) “within the social and symbolic realms” (Nadel and Rosenberg 2010:85). In their main article (Rosenberg and Nadel 2014), the authors proposed that the pierced boulder conical mortars were brought to burial sites to make booming sounds during a mortuary ceremony. In their definition of these mortars, the authors query, “Could they be used to symbolize the female reproductive organs?” and “Could stones [rather small, D.E.] set on edge inside [the NCMs] support this avenue of interpretation?” (Nadel and Lengyel 2009:46). Alternatively, the researchers suggest that the devices may have been relics of hierarchic masonry competitions. It must be noted that while the booming hypothesis and the other suppositions cannot be confirmed, most of the hundreds Natufian NCMs were found at sites in domestic contexts, with no indication of ritual activity (Eitam et al. 2015). Only a dozen NCMs were found in mortuary or ritual contexts
In a series of recent articles, Rosenberg and Nadel have intensively explored the significance of Natufian devices carved in stone—and especially that of the narrow conical mortars (NCMs; fig. 1, top) “within the social and symbolic realms” (Nadel and Rosenberg 2010:85). In their main article (Rosenberg and Nadel 2014), the authors proposed that the pierced boulder conical mortars were brought to burial sites to make booming sounds during a mortuary ceremony. In their definition of these mortars, the authors query, “Could they be used to symbolize the female reproductive organs?” and “Could stones [rather small, D.E.] set on edge inside [the NCMs] support this avenue of interpretation?” (Nadel and Lengyel 2009:46). Alternatively, the researchers suggest that the devices may have been relics of hierarchic masonry competitions. It must be noted that while the booming hypothesis and the other suppositions cannot be confirmed, most of the hundreds Natufian NCMs were found at sites in domestic contexts, with no indication of ritual activity (Eitam et al. 2015). Only a dozen NCMs were found in mortuary or ritual contexts. We argue that the Natufian NCMs were exceptionally efficient “bread machines” for peeling and milling wild barley grains into fine flour for bread making. The NCM was part of an agri-technological system that included a threshing floor with a hummeling device, grinding implements, and deep bowls, possibly used for cooking. These enabled the production and supply of sufficient wild cereal food and barley bread for the Natufian population (Eitam et al. 2015).
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Recently, Liu and others have interpreted the Natufian narrow conical mortar cut into a boulder as a storage facility for beer-producing materials. They meticulously studied the residual plant taxa and mortars usewear and carried out experimental studies. We argue that the authors' evidence presented does not necessarily support this interpretation. It, however, reveals direct evidence for the making of cereal-food, namely our suggestion that the Natufian NCM was specially designed for the peeling and milling of barley grains into fine flour for making bread.
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The importance and antiquity of frikkeh: A simple snack or a socio-economic indicator of decline and prosperity in the ancient Near East�
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A wide range of stones were found at the 22,000-24,000 year old lakeshore camp of Ohalo II, the Sea of Galilee, Israel. The well-preserved camp includes the floors of six brush huts, several open-air hearths, a grave, a midden, and small installations. Stones were found in all excavated loci. These include a small assemblage of basalt and limestone tools, among which bowls, grinding implements and weights are the most common. Use-wear analysis supports the identification of the grinding tools, suggesting that cereals were indeed processed with them, but not in an intensive manner. The presence of thousands of cereal grains as well as several sickle blades accord well these finds. Bowls were all shallow and only their fragments were found. Weights were likely used as fishing net sinkers. Limestone and basalt flakes indicate local knapping. Basalt and limestone fragments, shattered from heat, were abundant in all the excavated loci. Their original use is yet to be verified, but their shattering from heat was affirmed by a series of experiments. Stones were also used as wall supports. The range of types, contexts and activities reflected by stone tools and natural stones is unprecedented in other contemporaneous sites in the southern Levant.
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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.
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Significance Despite being one of the most important foodstuffs consumed in the modern world, the origins of bread are still largely unknown. Here we report the earliest empirical evidence for the preparation of bread-like products by Natufian hunter-gatherers, 4,000 years before the emergence of the Neolithic agricultural way of life. The discovery of charred food remains has allowed for the reconstruction of the chaîne opératoire for the early production of bread-like products. Our results suggest the use of the wild ancestors of domesticated cereals (e.g. wild einkorn) and club-rush tubers to produce flat bread-like products. Cereal-based meals such as bread probably become staples when Neolithic farmers started to rely on the cultivation of domesticated cereal species for their subsistence.