Centered On the Wetlands: Integrating New Phytolith Evidence of Plant-Use from the 23,000-Year-Old Site of Ohalo II, Israel

Monica N. Ramsey, Arlene M. Rosen, Dani Nadel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Epipaleolithic hunter-gatherers are often interpreted as playing an important role in the development of early cereal cultivation and subsequent farming economies in the Levant. This focus has come at the expense of understanding these people as resilient foragers who exploited a range of changing micro habitats through the Last Glacial Maximum. New phytolith data from Ohalo II seek to redress this. Ohalo II has the most comprehensive and important macrobotanical assemblage in Southwest Asia for the entire Epipaleolithic period. Here we present a phytolith investigation of 28 sediment samples to make three key contributions. First, by comparing the phytolith assemblage to a sample of the macrobotanical assemblage, we provide a baseline to help inform the interpretation of phytolith assemblages at other sites in Southwest Asia. Second, we highlight patterns of plant use at the site. We identify the importance of wetland plant resources to hut construction and provide evidence that supports previous work suggesting that grass and cereal processing may have been a largely indoor activity. Finally, drawing on ethnographic data from the American Great Basin, we reevaluate the significance of wetland plant resources for Epipaleolithic hunter-gatherers and argue that the wetland-centered lifeway at Ohalo II represents a wider Levantine adaptive strategy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)702-722
Number of pages21
JournalAmerican Antiquity
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments. Phytolith analysis and counting was conducted in the Environmental Archaeology Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin. We thank Prof. Ehud Weiss for kindly allowing us to use data from his PhD dissertation in this study and Dr. Iris Groman-Yaroslavski for her advice. We are also very grateful to Lara Sanchez Morales and Luisa Aebersold for their help in translating the abstract to Spanish. The Ohalo II project was generously supported by the Irene Levi-Sala Care Archaeological Foundation, the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Israel Science Foundation, the Jerusalem Center for Anthropological Studies, the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, the MAFCAF Foundation, the National Geographic Society, and the Stekelis Museum of Prehistory in Haifa. This research was supported by a Canadian Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) PhD fellowship [award number 752-2011-1728], a National Science Foundation SBE DDIG [grant number BCS-1418462], and two Council for British Research in the Levant (CBRL) travel grants (2011, 2012) awarded to M. N. Ramsey. This manuscript was written during the tenure of M. N. Ramsey’s Canadian SSHRC Post doctoral Fellowship [award number 756-2015-0408].

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 by the Society for American Archaeology.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Archaeology
  • Museology


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