Evidence of ritual breakage of a ground stone tool at the Late Natufian site of Hilazon Tachtit cave (12,000 years ago)

Laure Dubreuil, Ahiad Ovadia, Ruth Shahack-Gross, Leore Grosman

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Destruction of valuables is a common behavior in human history. Ethnographic data show the polysemic, but fundamentally symbolic, nature of this act. Yet, research aimed at exploring symbolic destruction in prehistoric societies has underlined the difficulties in establishing unambiguous evidence for such behaviour. We present here the analysis of a basalt tool fragment which provides evidence for intentional breakage associated with ritual activity 12,000 years ago. The tool fragment was part of a unique assemblage of grave goods deposited in a burial pit of a woman suggested to have been a shaman (Hilazon Tachtit cave, Southern Levant). The reconstruction of the artefact's life history through morphological, 3D, use wear, residue and contextual analyses suggest that: 1) the fragment was initially part of a shallow bowl used for mixing ash or lime with water; 2) the bowl was subsequently intentionally broken through flaking along multiple axes; 3) The bowl was not used after its breakage but placed in a cache before the interment of the deceased, accompanied with other special items. The broken bowl fragment underlines the ritualistic nature of the act of breakage in the Natufian society. The research presented in this paper provides an important window into Natufian ritual behaviour during the critical period of transformation to agricultural communities. In addition, our results offer new insight into practices related to intentional destruction of valuables associated with death-related ceremonies at the end of the Palaeolithic.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0223370
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2019

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Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Dubreuil et al.

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