Before Farming

Variability in symbolic behaviour in the southern Levant at the end of the Pleistocene

Before Farming (2011), 2011, (1), 1–12.

Abstract

This paper presents evidence for a high degree of variability in symbolic representation at the multi-component, Epipalaeolithic hunter-gatherer encampment at Wadi Mataha in the Petra Basin of southern Jordan. Twelve sandstone, siltstone, basalt and flint objects were recovered from Geometric Kebaran and Early and Late Natufian occupations of the site during excavations in 1999 and 2001 and subsequently examined using both optical and scanning electron microscopy techniques. A number of these artefacts show clear iconographic links and similarities in patterning and form to art objects from the Mount Carmel, western Galilee and central Negev regions, and demonstrate that the full range of Natufian material culture covers a much broader geographic range than has been previously observed. However, the variability in the symbolic practices evident at Wadi Mataha also raises a number of questions concerning the ‘emerging territoriality’ among Natufian communities as has been argued by Ofer Bar-Yosef and Anna Belfer-Cohen (1998, 1999), and suggests that the marking of objects is a reflection of a cognitive, stylistic or symbolic grammar common to all late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers rather than a system of symbols for the storage or projection of information restricted solely to the Natufian world.

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Author details

Gregg, Michael

Chazan, Michael

Janetski, Joel