Approaches to understanding formation of archaeological sites in Israel: Materials and processes

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The study of the mechanisms involved in the formation of archaeological sites is now recognized as a sub-discipline of archaeological research. It involves processes of anthropogenic and natural accumulation, abandonment, and degradation. In order for archaeologists to be able to reconstruct past human lifeways and activities, it is important to identify the processes that affected the formation of any excavated site. The study of site formation processes in Israel started in the late 1960s with a strong sedimentary geology and geomorphology approach, pioneered by Paul Goldberg, and followed by Arlene Rosen in the late 1980s. These early studies focused on deciphering the sediment sources in cave and open-air archaeological sites, and in identifying the relationship between sediments in archaeological sites and climatic factors. Goldberg introduced the technique of micromorphology during the 1970s, which had a local as well as international influence on the field. A greater emphasis on the microscopic record, combined with a materials science approach, was the focus of the many studies conducted in Israel by Steve Weiner, who introduced on-site techniques and developed quantitative methods to study the archaeological record. Systematic studies of a large variety of materials were conducted, with an emphasis on material degradation through experimentation with modern equivalents. A major contribution is the detailed understanding now available regarding dissolution and re-precipitation processes in cave sites. Insights from all the studies of site formation processes conducted to date in Israel bear many implications for archaeology in Israel as well as worldwide. Further research should focus on systematic studies of more materials (such as ceramics and mud bricks), widen the use of ethnoarchaeology, and focus on formation processes in urban tell sites.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-86
Number of pages14
JournalIsrael Journal of Earth Sciences
Issue number2-4
StatePublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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