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Stone Age Artifacts from Mount Carmel Caves

Through its membership in the American School of Prehistoric Research, Wesleyan received over 1500 lithic and bone artifacts from the cave sites of el-Wad, Tabun, Skhul and Kebara, located on the western slope of Mount Carmel in Israel. These sites were occupied by Neanderthals and early modern humans, with the oldest layers in the caves dating back to ca. 400,000 years ago. The artifacts originate from some of the earliest systematic excavations at these sites, carried out jointly by the American School and the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem in the late 1920s and 1930s.  Much of this work was done under the direction of pioneering prehistoric archaeologist Dorothy Garrod and her largely female-led excavation teams. Wesleyan's collection contains artifacts from successive layers of the deeply stratified deposits, allowing students to observe thousands of years of change in stone tool technology.

Please click on thumbnails for more information. Cultural/chronological sequence from original site reports or commonly accepted equivalent. Dates given are compiled from contemporary and current research (through 2005).

Acheulean Handaxe

Accession lot 3220

Acheulean Handaxe

Mugharet et-Tabun (Cave of the Oven)
Upper Acheulean layer
ca. 300,000 - ca. 400,000 years ago
13.5 cm long x 8.4 cm greatest width

The term "Acheulean" derives from the site of Saint-Acheul in northern France, but refers to a recognizable type of stone tool technology that is found throughout Africa, Eurasia and Europe. Also known as "Mode 2" technology, Acheulean assemblages are characterized by such large bifacial (flaked on both sides) handaxes. This handaxe retains some of the original cortex, or outer covering of the flint cobble. This may have been left in place intentionally to serve as a handhold.

<em><center>Acheulean Handaxe</center></em>

Acheulean Handaxe

Accession lot 3221

Acheulean Handaxe

Mugharet et-Tabun (Cave of the Oven)
Upper Acheulean layer
ca. 300,000 - ca. 400,000 years ago

The name "handaxe" can be misleading. Experimental archaeology and usewear analysis suggest that Acheulean handaxes were actually an all-purpose tool used for slicing, scraping and chopping a wide variety of materials from animal hide to wood, which is why they are often referred to as the "Swiss Army knives of the Paleolithic." The pointed end may have been used for getting at nutrient-rich bone marrow.

<em><center>Acheulean Handaxe</center></em>

Acheulean Handaxe

Accession lot 3221

Acheulean Handaxe

Mugharet et-Tabun (Cave of the Oven)
Upper Acheulean layer
ca. 300,000 - ca. 400,000 years ago

This specimen clearly exhibits scars of both the broad primary flakes (in center of image) that provided the rough form of the tool, as well as the smaller secondary, or finishing, flakes used to refine the tool's shape and give it a sharper edge.

Compared to Mode 1 technology, characterized by minimally modified cobbles and rock fragments, Mode 2 represented a real innovation. This technology not only produced a versatile tool with a greater amount of useable working edge, but also required the maker to have the cognitive ability to look at a lump of raw material and conceptualize the desired final form, as well as the technical ability to execute its production.

<em><center>Acheulean Handaxe</center></em>

Convergent Scraper

Accession lot 3223

Convergent Scraper

Mugharet et-Tabun (Cave of the Oven)
Upper Acheulo-Mousterian layer
ca. 200,000 - ca. 275,000 years ago

The term "Mousterian" also derives from a specific site in France, but is used to refer to a recognizable stone tool technology found throughout portions of Europe, North Africa and the Near East. This technology is typically associated with Neanderthals, but it was also produced by anatomically modern humans. It is also known as "Mode 3" technology, and is characterized by an emphasis on tools made from stone flakes, like this scraper, that were struck from pre-shaped cores.

<em><center>Convergent Scraper</center></em>

Mousterian Point

Accession lot 3221 or 3222

Mousterian Point

Mugharet et-Tabun (Cave of the Oven)
Lower Mousterian layer
ca. 120,000 - ca. 200,000 years ago

This point shows clear evidence of having been produced via the prepared-core Levallois technique, as evidenced by the remains of previous flake scars on the striking platform (the little "bite marks" visible at top of image). This technique involved careful initial shaping of a stone cobble so that a large flake could be removed, pre-shaped into a specific tool form.

<em><center>Mousterian Point</center></em>

Backed Knife

Accession lot 3226

Backed Knife

Mugharet es-Skhul (Cave of the Kids)
Lower Mousterian layer
ca. 100,000 - ca. 130,000 years ago

This sharp flake knife was cleverly struck so that a layer of the original cortex serves as a natural "back," or blunted edge that could be held by the user. Archaeologists have done experiments with replicas of such knives to prove that they could be used to efficiently skin and butcher large animals.

<em><center>Backed Knife</center></em>

Blade Core

Accession lot 3227

Blade Core

Mugharet el-Wad (Cave of the Valley)
Upper Paleolithic layers
ca. 30,000 - ca. 40,000 years ago

Upper Paleolithic stone tool technology is characterized by a variety of implements made from blades (a specialized type of flake) produced from prepared cores like the one pictured here. Such "Mode 4" technology is part of the so-called "Great Leap Forward," which is when we first see prolific evidence of anatomically modern humans engaging in complex social behavior, including symbolic representation like the creation of cave paintings and carved figurines.

<em><center>Blade Core</center></em>

Blade Tools

Accession lot 3186

Blade Tools

Mugharet el-Kebara (Kebara Cave)
Upper Paleolithic layers
ca. 32,000 - ca. 40,000 years ago

Blades are defined as flakes that are at least twice as long as they are wide. They may be used, unmodified, as cutting or piercing tools. They can also be modified, via additional shaping, into tools used for scraping, grinding, notching, drilling and etching a variety of materials.

<em><center>Blade Tools</center></em>

Serrated Blade

Accession lot 3186

Serrated Blade

Mugharet el-Kebara (Kebara Cave)
Natufian layer
ca. 11,500 - ca. 14,500 years ago

Does this tool look familiar? Serrated blades have been a part of the human toolkit for over 12,000 years. The same technology that is now used to cut steaks and saw through bone and wood was probably originally used for processing fibrous plant stalks.
<em><center>Serrated Blade</center></em>

Microliths

Accession lot 3185

Microliths

Mugharet el-Wad (Cave of the Valley)
Natufian layers
ca. 11,500 - ca. 14,500 years ago

Small, razor-sharp tools like these could have been used individually as arrow tips or hafted on handles in groups to form spears, harpoons or saws.

<em><center>Microliths</center></em>

Bone Beads

Accession lot 3186

Bone Beads

Mugharet el-Kebara (Kebara Cave)
Natufian layer
ca. 11,500 - ca. 14,500 years ago

These beads may look like they are carved from stone, but they are actually made from calcined (or burned) animal bone. Burning the bone reduces it largely to its mineral components, hence the bluish-grey to white color. Beads like this were used in personal adornments found buried with the people Garrod termed "Natufian." Natufian peoples were anatomically modern hunter-gatherers whose exploitation of wild cereals and other plant resources allowed them to be semi-sedentary before the development of formal agriculture.

<em><center>Bone Beads</center></em>

Bone Tools

Accession lots 3185 and 3186

Bone Tools

Mugharet el-Kebara (Kebara Cave) and Mugharet el-Wad (Cave of the Valley)
Natufian layers
ca. 11,500 - ca. 14,500 years ago

From the Upper Paleolithic on, there is ample evidence that early humans used materials other than stone - such as bone, antler, and ivory - as part of their toolkit. The long bones  (limb bones) of animals could be split and shaped into tools like awls, picks and needles.

<em><center>Bone Tools</center></em>