Fish processing during the early holocene: A Taphonomic case study from Coastal Israel

I. Zohar, T. Dayan, E. Galili, E. Spanier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Study of fish bones recovered from coastal archaeological sites requires careful taphonomic analysis in order to determine whether the fish bone assemblage is naturally or culturally derived, and how fish may have been processed by humans. We analysed a grey triggerfish (Balistes carolinensis) assemblage from Atlit-Yam, a submerged Pre-Pottery Neolithic site (8140-7550 BP) off the Mediterranean coast of Israel, using multiple taphonomic criteria and quantitative analyses. The clumped distribution of remains, the high bone scatter frequency, the presence of a few burnt bones, the bones' state of fragmentation, the absence of a correlation between bone density and bone frequency, the low species diversity and wide range of body sizes represented, all point to a culturally derived assemblage. The high percentage of identifiable elements, the occurrence of most skeletal elements, and the virtual absence of branchial region bones, are compatible with fish gutted for immediate or later consumption, and incompatible with the expected of refuse. Cranial bones and first dorsal spines of large individuals were missing, apparently a result of size-dependent butchering methods. The emergent picture is of a pile of fish gutted and processed in a size-dependent manner, and then stored for future consumption or trade. This scenario suggests that technology for fish storage was already available, and that the Atlit-Yam inhabitants could enjoy the economic stability resulting from food storage and trade with mainland sites.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1041-1053
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2001

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the Irene Levi Sala CARE Foundation, the Morris M. Polver Scholarship Funds of Israel, The National Center for Collaboration between Natural Sciences and Archaeology at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Aharon Katzir Center of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Na’amat Organization for Working Women, The Israeli Diving Federation, MAFCAF Foundation, Maria Rossi


  • Balistes carolinensis
  • Fish processing
  • Fish storage
  • Fish trade
  • Neolithic
  • Taphonomy
  • Triggerfish

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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