Phytolith-rich layers from the Late Bronze and Iron Ages at Tel Dor (Israel): mode of formation and archaeological significance

Rosa Maria Albert, Ruth Shahack-Gross, Dan Cabanes, Ayelet Gilboa, Simcha Lev-Yadun, Marta Portillo, Ilan Sharon, Elisabetta Boaretto, Steve Weiner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The presence of many phytolith-rich layers in late Bronze and Iron Age deposits at Tel Dor, Israel, are indicative of specific locations where plants were concentrated. Detailed studies of six of these phytolith-rich layers and associated sediments from Tel Dor show that the phytoliths were derived mainly from wild and domestic grasses. The most common domestic grass was the cereal Triticum aestivum (bread wheat). Three of these layers have a microlaminated microstructure, associated dung spherulites and phosphate nodules; characteristics that all point to the phytolith-rich layers having formed from dung in animal enclosures. In two of the layers, the microlaminated structure is absent while dung spherulites and phosphate nodules are present, suggesting that these too originate from dung that was not deposited in an enclosure. The sixth layer is microlaminated but does not contain spherulites. We thus cannot suggest a parsimonious explanation of its observed properties. Concentrations of burnt phytoliths are present in three locations, implying that dung was either burnt in situ or the ashes from burnt dung were redeposited. The transformation of dung accumulations into phytolith-rich layers involves a loss of organic material and hence a significant reduction in sediment volume, which is clearly apparent in the stratigraphy of some of the locations examined. The volume reduction can be observed in the macrostratigraphy and has important implications with regard to macrostratigraphic interpretation. The presence of abundant phytolith-rich layers on the tell has significant implications for the concept of 'urbanism' during these periods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-75
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the area supervisors Elizabeth Bloch-Smith, Willem Boshoff, Yiftah Shalev and Avshalom Karasik. We also thank the Berman Center for Biblical Archaeology, Mr George Schwartzmann, Sarasota, Florida, and the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science for their financial support. R.S.G. would like to thank Liora Kolska-Horowitz for providing a sample of dung plastered wall from South Africa, reported in this study. S.W. is the incumbent of the Dr Trude Burchardt Professorial Chair of Structural Biology. The Fundación Atapuerca financed the research performed by D. Cabanes.


  • Cereals
  • Dung spherulites
  • Iron Age
  • Micromorphology
  • Mineralogy
  • Phytoliths
  • Tel Dor
  • Urbanism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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