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Claim first known lighters from Palestine Neolithic

A new study claims that cilindro-conic artifacts and holed items found in Yarmukian Pottery Neolithic sites (6th millennium BCE) are the first known fire-making artifacts and not, as had been argued previously, ritual or cultural objects such as idols or game boards.
Naama Goren-Inbar et al., The Earliest Matches. PLoS ONE, 2012. Open access ··> LINK [DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042213]

Abstract

Cylindrical objects made usually of fired clay but sometimes of stone were found at the Yarmukian Pottery Neolithic sites of Sha‘ar HaGolan and Munhata (first half of the 8th millennium BP) in the Jordan Valley. Similar objects have been reported from other Near Eastern Pottery Neolithic sites. Most scholars have interpreted them as cultic objects in the shape of phalli, while others have referred to them in more general terms as “clay pestles,” “clay rods,” and “cylindrical clay objects.” Re-examination of these artifacts leads us to present a new interpretation of their function and to suggest a reconstruction of their technology and mode of use. We suggest that these objects were components of fire drills and consider them the earliest evidence of a complex technology of fire ignition, which incorporates the cylindrical objects in the role of matches.

Rather than matches I would use the analogy of lighters if any because matches by definition have a chemical head that burns with friction, while lighters can have many designs and traditionally often used, like these, friction to ignite a wick or tinder (example). 

The kind of fire-making the authors suggest resemble more the style used by Bushmen and other peoples in which a stick is energetically rolled inside a small plank, until it achieves enough heat by friction to set some tinder alight. 
Often friction is generated just using the hands but in other cases the string of a bow is used instead (right). 
This last seems to be what the authors suggest to have been the case with the strange artifacts:

Fig.3 – Fired-clay cylindrical artifacts

Fig. 6 – Kfar HaHoresh limestone artifacts interpreted as fire boards
In support for their case the mention that the Egyptian hieroglyph for fire is a fire drill with the bow method, precisely their suggested method, based on some grooves arguably made by strings, however I could not confirm this extreme because the Internet is full of all things pseudo-Egyptian and basic introductory pages to the most complex Egyptian hieroglyph writing system (similar in the general concept to Chinese script, for instance) do not go that far. 

I would not anyhow discard the game board notion myself but your call.

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Posted by on August 4, 2012 in fire, Neolithic, Palestine, Syria, West Asia

 

Bronze Age temple of Tel Haror, Palestine

The Archaeology Network mentions the finding of a pre-Jewish temple at Tel Haror, near Beersheba, dated to c. 1800-1550.
The finding is interesting because of the many sacrificial burials of young dogs and corvids. Puppies were ritually slaughtered in some West Asian religious rituals, the use of corvids is not documented however. It is also known that the Jewish mythological text declared both animals impure and that it banished the ritual of slaughtering dog cubs by breaking their necks. 
 
 

Origin of Neolithic crops

There is a new and quite interesting paper the reviews the domestication of the key Neolithic crops:
Worth a good read but I’ll mention here the most relevant conclusions:

 

Cereals:

Wheat close-up
Wheat
Einkorn wheat (Triticum monococcum) is native as wild from Anatolia or the Zagros area, most probably it was domesticated in modern Kurdistan (aka SE Turkey), in Çayönü or Cafer Höyük. Frome there it spread, along with PPNB to Syria and Palestine.
Emmer and Durum wheat (Triticum turgidum) is native from the Levant and the Zagros but not Anatolia peninsula. It was also domesticated (most probably) in the early PPNB of Kurdistan (Çayönü), spreading soon after the Damascus basin of Syria, where the Emmer variant may have been selected for (Tell Aswad). Cypriot evidence is declared unconvincing by the authors but not totally rejected.
Barley (Hordeum vulgare) is a sturdier cereal even if also less valued than wheat. In its wild form it has a similar principal distribution as T. turgidum (Levant and Zagros but not Anatolia), although it also scatters through the Iranian plateau. The earliest clear domesticated variants are from Syria (Tell Aswad) and Cyprus, but soon also expanded to Southern Kurdistan (Jarmo), Iraq (Ali Kosh) and Palestine (Jericho).
Pulses:
Bitter vecht (Vicia ervilia): it is not really studied in this paper. It has an ample wild origin area and was maybe domesticated in Anatolia or Levant.
Lentil (Lens culinaris): the wild variant is scattered through much of West Asia but it is relatively rare with preference for stony and disturbed soils. It appears along with early cereals in wild form but the first clearly domesticated case is from Yiftah’el, North Palestine (aka Israel), within a middle PPNB context.
Pea (Pisum sativum): there are two wild forms, one scattered through the Mediterranean and the other more specific of West Asia. This one (P. humile) is the one proposed here to be the main ancestor of cultivated peas (but with weak support). The earliest finds are from Syria, Kurdistan and Palestine but the first large amounts are from Southern Anatolia: Çatalhöyük and Erbaba. The discerning of wild and domesticated type is no easy in this case but the available evidence seems to support Çatalhöyük or nearby areas for the domestication of this pulse in the middle or late PPNB.

Potaje de garbanzos y collejas5
Chickpea soup Castilian style
Chickpea (Cicer arietinum): ever wanted to know what Cicero means? It mens chickpea indeed. Anecdotes apart, the wild chickpea is almost exclusive of the Northern Kurdistan (SE Turkey). Naturally the first consumption findings are also from that area (Çayönü, Tell Abu Hureyra, Aşıklı Höyük – all from early PPNB). It is however impossible to tell from sure if theyw were already domesticated of wild. Contemporary remains from Jerciho however must be domesticated (as the wild form is not found in the region).

Other early crops:

Flax flowers
Flax flowers
Flax (Linum usitatissimum): flax can be used for fibers (surely at the origin of textile crafts) and for oil. Wild flax is widespread across the Mediterranean basin and even as far North as South England or Crimea.
Genetic data indicates that the first agricultural use of flax was not fiber but oil, even if flax fibers were already used before Neolithic (30 Ka. ago in Georgia). The earliest finds come from Çanönü and Tell Aswad. However the earliest reasonably safe case of a domesticated variant is from Jericho, just a few centuries later. Some time later (9th millennium BP) the first known fiber clothes are known (Nahal Hemar cave, Palestine), however this kind of evidence is highly subject to climatic conditions (extreme dryness here).

Discussion notes:

PPNA people did not make pottery but stone vessels (source)
It is interesting that no evidence of early domestication is found for PPNA. Does this suggest that this culture of Palestine and Syria was maybe not Neolithic after all? The main attribute of this culture of the Levant is their granaries but what did they store in them if all the crops were domesticated further North or in a later date? Only barley and maybe peas are from the Levant first according to this paper but from PPNB dates anyhow. So, are we missing something or were PPNA “farmers” actually mere large-scale semisedentary gatherers, i.e. Mesolithic instead of truly Neolithic? Your call.
 
On the other hand it is also interesting that nearly all early domesticates seem to be from the area of Kurdistan, which in my understanding, illuminates the mystery of Göbekli Tepe, which looks like the spiritual center of early Neolithic or at least the consolidated Neolithic of PPNB (notice that while the early village is from PPNA, the enclosure is from PPNB dates).

Göbekli Tepe – I always see a plow here – call me crazy if you wish
 
 

Jericho’s tower had astronomical relevance

Astronomy was clearly important in the lives of the ancients, it seems. It was at least the case in early Neolithic Jericho, whose seemingly classless society built a stonewall dominated by which was probably the tallest building back then: a tower at least 8.25 m tall (left).

Interestingly it has been discovered now that the tower is aligned with the summer solstice in a way that, when the Sun sets that evening, the shadows of the nearby hill envelop first the tower and then the whole town.


Roy Liran and Ray Barkai, Casting a shadow on Neolithic Jericho. Antiquity, 2011. Freely accesible. 

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2011 in astronomy, Neolithic, Palestine, West Asia

 

Atapuerca Director: Tel Aviv teeth are Neanderthal or similar. Judeo-Christian bias blamed for the hype

José María Bermúdez de Castro, Director of Spain’s National Center for the Research of Human Evolution (the “Atapuerca team”), writes today at Público newspaper[es] clarifying the matter: the human teeth found near Tel Aviv and hyped in the media as the first humans and blah-blah… are Neanderthal or quite so. 
Some key excerpts (my translation and bold type):
(…) the authors offer three similarly likely hypothesis to interpret their findings. But then they adopt the one that can offer more notoriety and discard the one that, in my opinion, is the most likely one, judging from the excellent images of the findings. The teeth are very similar (if not identical) to those of Neanderthals (…)

Eight teeth cannot be enough argumentation to demolish a hypothesis supported by dozens of works made in the fields of palaeoanthropology and genetics. I am persuaded that the authors are well aware of this. (…) Some media have been carried away by the symbolism of the region and of the Christmas period. I am afraid that some 400,000 years ago God did not inhabit the minds of human beings, or at least there is no data supporting such hypothesis.

I was admittedly waiting for some Atapuerca expert to demolish the wild and so-blatantly superstitious and populist conjecture. I did not have to wait much, thanks Jose Mari and thanks to Fonso for the link (at Mundo Neandertal[es], comments section).
 
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Posted by on January 9, 2011 in human evolution, Neanderthal, Palestine, West Asia