The social role of food in the Natufian cemetery of Raqefet Cave, Mount Carmel, Israel

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The archaeology of mortuary practices and related foodways in the Late Natufian (LN; ca. 14,000/13,500-11,700. BP) sheds light on the communal activities of the last hunter-gatherers in the Mediterranean Levant. We present a detailed analysis of the fauna from the LN cemetery of Raqefet Cave (Mount Carmel, Israel). Taphonomic evidence indicates that the animal bones are butchery and consumption leftovers. While the patterns of animal exploitation are reminiscent of Natufian habitation sites, the remains do not reflect the typical recurring post-discard damage resulting from continuous or repeating habitations in those sites. Hence the fauna is interpreted as the leftovers of punctuated, short-term events, rather than 'ordinary' Natufian household trash. Taking into account the special depositional context and site characteristics, we interpret the fauna as the intentionally-gathered and buried remains of simple funerary feasts. Elaborate mortuary behavior and symbolic role of food refuse were recently suggested at the contemporaneous cave of Hilazon Tachtit (Israel). The new data from Raqefet Cave probably reflect a somewhat different type of communal meals, adding to the diversity and complexity of pre-agricultural life-ways in the Levant.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)511-526
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Anthropological Archaeology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2013

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 paper was written during his Fulbright post-doctoral fellowship in the Smithsonian Institution. Fieldwork was generously supported by the CARE Archaeological Foundation, the National Geographic Society and the Wenner-Gren Foundation. We thank M. Weinstein-Evron, M.A. Zeder and two anonymous reviewers for providing helpful comments on previous drafts. A. Regev prepared the digital figures.


  • Burial
  • Contextual taphonomy
  • Epipaleolithic
  • Feasting
  • Foodways
  • Mount Carmel
  • Zooarchaeology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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