Weapons in transition: Reappraisal of the origin of complex projectiles in the Levant based on the Boker Tachtit stratigraphic sequence

Alla Yaroshevich, Daniel Kaufman, Anthony Marks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The affiliation of complex, i.e., mechanically delivered projectiles, with Anatomically Modern Humans has led to a growing interest in the origin of these weapons in different geographic regions. The focus of these inquiries comprise processes related to human evolution, in particular trajectories of human expansion out of Africa, where the earliest complex projectiles had been documented. While the Levant constitutes the only land bridge connecting Africa with Eurasia – the earliest complex projectiles identified so far among the narrow elongated points characteristic of the local Upper Paleolithic (UP) Ahmarian do not have direct parallels in African contexts. Here we investigate the hypothesis of a local origin of Levantine complex projectiles based on the four-layered Emiran/Initial UP (IUP) stratigraphic sequence of Boker Tachtit – the best documented time span usually defined as Middle Paleolithic-UP transition in the Levant. The study incorporates analysis of diagnostic impact fractures, point metric characteristics, as well as their hafting-related features. The results indicate the use of high velocity weapons all through the Boker Tachtit sequence, starting with the Emiran and, in particular, with the thinned-base Emireh points – the type fossil of the culture. Furthermore, the comparison of the Boker Tachtit data with preceding and succeeding relevant archaeological record shows that the major increase in weapon velocity was associated with the emergence of the Emiran/IUP, thus supporting the possibility that complex projectiles in the Levant originated during this period. We further hypothesize that the prominent change in points' metrics associated with the subsequent UP Ahmarian – the transition from broad-based to narrow-based points – may have been related to transformations in weapon design, e.g., an introduction of lateral hafting, and not necessarily with the introduction of a new kind of weapon. This study allows considering the origin of complex projectiles in the Levant within the framework of the Emiran-UP technological continuity that is characteristic of the local record. Even though the precise kind of projectiles applied in Boker Tachtit cannot be delineated at the current phase of the research - the use of high velocity weapons can be incorporated into the technological package that defines the Emiran. This additional technological trait can contribute to future attempts to allocate the origin of this culture – yet another issue which has long been discussed in the context of modern human evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105381
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Volume131
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The affiliation of complex, i.e., mechanically delivered projectiles, with Anatomically Modern Humans has led to a growing interest in the origin of these weapons in different geographic regions. The focus of these inquiries comprise processes related to human evolution, in particular trajectories of human expansion out of Africa, where the earliest complex projectiles had been documented. While the Levant constitutes the only land bridge connecting Africa with Eurasia ? the earliest complex projectiles identified so far among the narrow elongated points characteristic of the local Upper Paleolithic (UP) Ahmarian do not have direct parallels in African contexts. Here we investigate the hypothesis of a local origin of Levantine complex projectiles based on the four-layered Emiran/Initial UP (IUP) stratigraphic sequence of Boker Tachtit ? the best documented time span usually defined as Middle Paleolithic-UP transition in the Levant. The study incorporates analysis of diagnostic impact fractures, point metric characteristics, as well as their hafting-related features. The results indicate the use of high velocity weapons all through the Boker Tachtit sequence, starting with the Emiran and, in particular, with the thinned-base Emireh points ? the type fossil of the culture. Furthermore, the comparison of the Boker Tachtit data with preceding and succeeding relevant archaeological record shows that the major increase in weapon velocity was associated with the emergence of the Emiran/IUP, thus supporting the possibility that complex projectiles in the Levant originated during this period. We further hypothesize that the prominent change in points' metrics associated with the subsequent UP Ahmarian ? the transition from broad-based to narrow-based points ? may have been related to transformations in weapon design, e.g., an introduction of lateral hafting, and not necessarily with the introduction of a new kind of weapon. This study allows considering the origin of complex projectiles in the Levant within the framework of the Emiran-UP technological continuity that is characteristic of the local record. Even though the precise kind of projectiles applied in Boker Tachtit cannot be delineated at the current phase of the research - the use of high velocity weapons can be incorporated into the technological package that defines the Emiran. This additional technological trait can contribute to future attempts to allocate the origin of this culture ? yet another issue which has long been discussed in the context of modern human evolution.The solution to overcome inconsistent terminology and related ambiguity with the functional determination of points is two-fold. The first requires an attribute-based description of fractures, such as the morphology of fracture initiation and termination (Coppe and Rots, 2017). The second involves recording of additional features supporting the use of the point as a weapon tip. These include microscopic linear impact traces (MLIT), hafting related modifications, such as basal thinning, blunting of lateral edge/s, prominent notches; as well as hafting related wear, such as binding scars on lateral edge/s and fractures resulting from a counter pressure with the shaft (e.g., Rots, 2016). Since points tend to be broken in association with haft limit, or slightly within the haft (Rots, 2016 and references therein), recording hafting-related features in conjunction with DIF may be advantageous not only as an additional evidence supporting the use of the point as a tip of a projectile weapon, but also for reconstructing certain aspects of weapons design.N4.2 contains a 32 mm long burin-like fracture on the left edge (Fig. 13

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd

Keywords

  • Complex projectiles
  • Diagnostic impact factures
  • Emiran
  • High velocity weapons
  • Initial Upper Paleolithic
  • Levant
  • Weapons design

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology

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