Intensification and sedentism in the terminal Pleistocene Natufian sequence of el-Wad Terrace (Israel)

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Abstract

Measuring subsistence intensification in the archaeofaunal record has provided strong evidence for socioeconomic shifts related to sedentarization in the terminal Pleistocene Mediterranean Basin, but the precise timing and scale of the intensification trend and its place in the evolution of settled societies remain contentious. New archaeofaunal data from the key Natufian sequence of el-Wad Terrace (Mount Carmel, Israel, ca. 15.0-11.7ka [thousands of years ago]) is used here to clarify and contextualize paleoeconomy and mobility trends in the latest Pleistocene Levant, representing the culmination of Epipaleolithic subsistence strategies. Taphonomic variables serve as supplementary indicators of habitation function and occupation intensity along the sequence. At el-Wad, a very broad range of animals, mostly small to medium in size, were captured and consumed. Consumption leftovers were discarded in intensively occupied domestic spaces and suffered moderate attrition. The Early (ca. 15.0-13.7/13.0ka) and Late (ca. 13.7/13.0-11.7ka) Natufian phases display some differences in prey exploitation and taphonomic markers of occupation intensity, corresponding with other archaeological signals. We further set the intra-Natufian taxonomic and demographic trends in perspective by considering the earlier Epipaleolithic sequence of the same region, the Israeli coastal plain. Consequently, we show that the Early Natufian record constituted an important dietary shift related to greater occupation intensity and sedentarization, rather than a gradual development, and that the Late Natufian record appears to be maintaining, if not amplifying, many of these novel signals. These conclusions are important for understanding the mode and tempo of the transition to settled life in human evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-35
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
Volume70
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This paper is based on R.Y.'s doctoral research at the University of Haifa, generously funded by the Graduate Studies Authority , the Hecht Scholarship , the Wolf Foundation Scholarship and the Carmel Research Center Grant . The manuscript was written during his Fulbright post-doctoral fellowship in the Smithsonian Institution. We thank D. Kaufman for his help throughout this research and for commenting on a previous draft and A. Regev for graphic assistance. The paper greatly benefitted from the helpful comments and suggestions by the editors and two anonymous reviewers. The renewed excavation at el-Wad Terrace is sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Care Foundation and the Faculty of Humanities, University of Haifa. Thanks are also due to the Dan David Foundation and to Sarah and Avie Arenson for their support.

Keywords

  • Broad-spectrum revolution
  • Contextual taphonomy
  • Epipaleolithic
  • Levant
  • Mobility
  • Zooarchaeology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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