A micro-geoarchaeological view on stratigraphy and site formation processes in the Middle, Upper and Epi-Paleolithic layers of Sefunim Cave, Mt. Carmel, Israel

David E. Friesem, Ron Shimelmitz, Mara L. Schumacher, Christopher E. Miller, Andrew W. Kandel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper presents a micro-geoarchaeological study carried out on the sedimentary sequence exposed at the entrance of Sefunim Cave, Israel, a sequence that spans from the Middle Paleolithic to the early Epipaleolithic periods. Using FTIR and micromorphological techniques, we investigated the stratigraphic sequence to reconstruct patterns of site use and archaeological formation processes. We identified formation processes that are common among Paleolithic caves sites in the Southern Levant, mainly the deposition of local terra rossa through colluvial sedimentation. Taphonomic disturbances of the deposits range from minimal to moderate, exhibited mainly by root and burrowing activity, but with no evidence for significant transport of archaeological materials. While the upper layers (II–III) are decalcified, the precipitation of secondary calcite results in increasing cementation of the sediments with depth in the lower layers (V–VII). We observed variation at the microscopic scale and identified an inverse correlation between human and carnivore activity throughout the layers. We observed human activity by the presence of micro-archaeological materials such as chert, bone, charcoal, rubified clay, burnt bone and shell, and wood ash. We observed carnivore activity by the presence of phosphatic grains and coprolite fragments as well as chewed and digested bones. We conclude that human activity at the site was characterized by episodes of varying intensity, based on the frequency of archaeological finds within the different layers. The alternating episodes of human and carnivore activity at Sefunim Cave may demonstrate the close-knit interactions and reciprocal relations that humans and carnivore shared at Paleolithic caves.

Original languageEnglish
Article number222
JournalArchaeological and Anthropological Sciences
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Open Access funding enabled and organized by Projekt DEAL. The work at the site and the analyses were funded by the Leakey Foundation and the Irene Levi Sala CARE Archaeological Foundation (R.S. and A.W.K.), with support from ROCEEH, Heidelberg Academy of Sciences & Humanities (A.W.K. and M.L.S.), and the Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa (R.S.). The geoarchaeological work at the site was supported by the University of Tübingen, Teach@Tübingen and Tübingen Reloaded programs (D.E.F. and C.E.M.).

Funding Information:
The excavations at Sefunim Cave were carried out under permits issued by the Israel Antiquity Authority (licenses G9/2013; G32/2014; G64/2015; G66/2017) and the National Parks and Nature Reserve Authority (licenses 3059/13; 4117/14; 5121/15; A052/17). We are deeply grateful to the late Avraham Ronen for his support of our project at Sefunim and to Paul Goldberg for sharing notes, data, and slides from his previous work at the site. We thank Panagiotis Kritikakis for sample preparation and Jamie Clark, Meir Orbach, and Naomi Porat for valuable discussions and comments on earlier drafts of this paper. Last, we thank the many students and volunteers who helped during the field excavations at the site.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • Fire
  • FTIR
  • Hyenas
  • Micromorphology
  • Paleolithic Caves
  • Southern Levant

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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