Tomorrow’s mundane is today’s extraordinary: A case study of a plastered installation during Neolithization

Leore Grosman, Timna Raz, David E. Friesem

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For reconstructing past human ways of life we study mundane remains, but in order to detect special worldviews and behaviors we endeavor to observe the extraordinary embedded in those remains. There are many ways to define the ‘extraordinary’. Here we center on early occurrences of phenomena that later become mundane, rendering them ‘extraordinary’ through being rare compared to later frequent appearances. This study explores such extraordinary phenomena with relation to the processes of Neolithization in the Southern Levant, focusing on a round plastered installation (Feature 6) that was unearthed in the Late Natufian village of Nahal Ein Gev II (ca. 12,000 calBP). To investigate the feature’s function, we conducted a micro-geoarcheological analysis of the walls and fill to understand its use and formation processes, using Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy and micromorphology. Our results show that the walls were not exposed to elevated temperatures and that the interior of the installation was filled with mixed sediments. We therefore rule out the use of the feature as a cooking installation or a kiln. The interior mixed assemblage indicates secondary infilling after the feature was no longer in use for its initial purpose, thus challenging the identification of its original function. To date, there are no parallels for such lime and clay plastered installations in the Natufian culture. Yet, this type of feature becomes increasingly common with the advance of Neolithization where such features served as storage installations, integral to the farming way of life. We conclude that Feature 6 in NEG II is ‘extraordinary’ in the context of the Late Natufian, heralding the development of clay lined storage installations. We argue that this example of ‘extraordinary’ within the long process of Neolithization in the Near East helps to illuminate the gradual process of cultural innovation in which new features appear at first as extraordinary phenomena which later will become mundane.

Original languageEnglish
Article number87
JournalHumanities and Social Sciences Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We want to thank the Mandel Scholion Interdisciplinary Research Center in Humanities and Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the support of the staff and fruitful collaboration with members of the “Materials for Change” research group. We also want to thank Charles French and Tonko Rajkovaca from the McBurney Laboratory for Geoarchaeology, University of Cambridge, Naama Yahalom-Mac from the Laboratory for Archeological Materials and Ancient Technologies at the Institute of Archeology, the Hebrew University, and Yigal Erel from The Fredy & Nadin Herrman Institute of Earth Sciences in the Hebrew University for assistance, guidance, and use of the laboratories. Finally, we are grateful for the NEG II excavation team, especially to Dana Shaham, Natalie Munro, and Laure Dubreuil. Special thanks to Hadas Goldgeier for producing Fig. 4a, b, Valentin Sama Rojo for photographing the pictures in Fig. 5, Antoine Muller for english editing, and to Anna Belfer-Cohen for comments and suggestions on the manuscript. The field work was carried out under Israel Antiquities Authority Permits G-73/2012, G-76/2013, G-78/2015 and Nature Parks Authority permits 2930/12, 3160/13, 5137/15. The research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation grant #1415/14 and #2034/19 (LG), the Irene Levi Sala CARE Archaeological Foundation, the Ruth Amiran Fund (TR) and the Bina and Moshe Stekelis foundation for prehistoric research in Israel (TR).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences
  • General Psychology
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (all)


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