The economic and ritual utilization of plants at the Raqefet Cave Natufian site: The evidence from phytoliths

Robert C. Power, Arlene M. Rosen, Dani Nadel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Natufian culture marks a dramatic in the cultural evolution of our species, the shift from mobile to sedentary communities. Within this framework, analysis of their use of plants is pivotal for social and economic reconstruction. While most researchers believe the Natufians collected the grains of grasses, little direct evidence (e.g. macrobotanical remains) has been found. This current study uses phytoliths (opal silica bodies) to interpret Late Natufian plant use at Raqefet Cave (Mt. Carmel, Israel). We analyzed a wide range of sediment samples for microbotanical phytoliths remains. This analysis, of an assemblage of 35 samples, was aimed at exposing plant use at the site both in burial contexts and hewn bedrock features (e.g. mortars, cupmarks).The results indicate economic use of grass seeds, including both small-seeded varieties and large-seeded grasses such as barley and wheat. They also suggest an opportunistic approach to grass seed collection. Phytoliths found in the burials of Homo 19 and Homo 22 may be the remnants of a final meal. The phytolith assemblages from burial contexts also show abundant morphotypes from dicotyledons that are rare elsewhere in the cave. The evidence suggests that a multi-species layer of vegetation including flowering plants and Phragmites lined the graves, accompanying the dead. This adds new insights to the range of known Late Natufian mortuary practices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-65
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Anthropological Archaeology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding was provided through the Max Planck Society, University College London’s the Institute of Archaeology, the National Geographic Society (Grant #8915-11 ), the Wenner-Gren Foundation (Grant #7481 ) and the Irene Levi-Sala CARE Foundation. Anat Regev, Aurore Lambert and Gabrielle Bosset helped to prepare figures. We wish to thank the following: Alison Weisskopf, Michele Wollstonecroft, Sandra Bond, Andrew Garrard, Sue Colledge, Andre Strauss, Roger Mundry, Julie Walsh Power, Monica Guly, Judy Medrington and Amanda G Henry; Fanny Bocquentin, György Lengyel, Danny Rosenberg, Alexander Tsatskin, Lior Weissbrod and Reuven Yeshurun. Field work was conducted under permits from the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.


  • Archaeobotany
  • Burial customs
  • Hunter-gatherer
  • Natufian
  • Near East
  • Phytoliths
  • Raqefet Cave
  • Southern Levant
  • Subsistence
  • Wild cereals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


Dive into the research topics of 'The economic and ritual utilization of plants at the Raqefet Cave Natufian site: The evidence from phytoliths'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this