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      The function of the south-Levantine Late Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age basalt vessels bearing circumferential depressions: Insights from use-wear analyses


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          One of the most characteristic aspects of the Late Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age periods in the southern Levant is the appearance of large assemblages of basalt vessels. These vessels, frequently meticulously made, appear sometimes a considerable distance from the raw material sources and are found mainly at habitation sites. While these and their prestigious value have been widely discussed in the past, their function is still obscure. In the current paper, we address their functionality through microscopic use-wear analysis. Emphasis was placed on basalt vessels with a distinct wear pattern–circumferential depressions, which appear along the perimeter of their interior bases. The documented traces were compared to results of an experimental study we conducted to characterize the effects of abrasion, grinding, and lubrication on basalt surfaces. The results of the comparative experimental study suggest that the circumferential depression was formed from a repetitive rotational activity using a narrow-ended tool. Further, it seems that two material types acted in combination as the circling device and processed material. One was hard and abrasive, such as stone, and the other was semi-resilient, such as wood or mineral powder. Water was likely used as a lubricant in the rotational process. While the actual function of the bowls bearing the circumferential depressions is not entirely clear, the use-wear analyses suggest that they may have been devices involved in craft industries, used for processing materials unrelated to food (minerals in particular). Whatever the exact function was, it clear that this use continued from the Chalcolithic through the Early Bronze Age, providing evidence for functional continuity between these two periods.

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          Holocene Climate and Cultural Evolution in Late Prehistoric–Early Historic West Asia

          The precipitation climatology and the underlying climate mechanisms of the eastern Mediterranean, West Asia, and the Indian subcontinent are reviewed, with emphasis on upper and middle tropospheric flow in the subtropics and its steering of precipitation. Holocene climate change of the region is summarized from proxy records. The Indian monsoon weakened during the Holocene over its northernmost region, the Ganges and Indus catchments and the western Arabian Sea. Southern regions, the Indian Peninsula, do not show a reduction, but an increase of summer monsoon rain across the Holocene. The long-term trend towards drier conditions in the eastern Mediterranean can be linked to a regionally complex monsoon evolution. Abrupt climate change events, such as the widespread droughts around 8200, 5200 and 4200 cal yr BP, are suggested to be the result of altered subtropical upper-level flow over the eastern Mediterranean and Asia. The abrupt climate change events of the Holocene radically altered precipitation, fundamental for cereal agriculture, across the expanse of late prehistoric–early historic cultures known from the archaeological record in these regions. Social adaptations to reduced agro-production, in both dry-farming and irrigation agriculture regions, are visible in the archaeological record during each abrupt climate change event in West Asia. Chronological refinement, in both the paleoclimate and archaeological records, and transfer functions for both precipitation and agro-production are needed to understand precisely the evident causal linkages.
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            Ground-Stone Tools and Hunter-Gatherer Subsistence in Southwest Asia: Implications for the Transition to Farming

            Ground-stone tools and hunter-gatherer subsistence in late Pleistocene southwest Asia are examined in light of ethnographic and experimental data on processing methods essential for consumption of various plant foods. In general, grinding and pounding appear to be labor-intensive processing methods. In particular, the labor required to make wild cereals edible has been widely underestimated, and wild cereals were unlikely to have been “attractive” to foragers except under stress conditions. Levantine ground-stone tools were probably used for processing diverse plants. The earliest occurrence of deep mortars coincides with the glacial maximum, camp reoccupations, the onset of increasingly territorial foraging, and the earliest presently known significant samples of wild cereals. Two major episodes of intensification in plant-food processing can be identified in the Levant, coinciding respectively with the earliest evidence for sedentism (12,800-11,500 B.P.) and the transition to farming (11,500-9600 B.P.). The latter episode was characterized by rising frequencies of grinding tools relative to pounding tools, and suggests attempts to maximize nutritional returns of plants harvested from the limited territories characteristic of sedentary foraging and early farming. This episode was probably encouraged by the Younger Dryas, when density and storability of foods may have outweighed considerations of processing costs.
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              A 12,000-year-old Shaman burial from the southern Levant (Israel).

              The Natufians of the southern Levant (15,000-11,500 cal BP) underwent pronounced socioeconomic changes associated with the onset of sedentism and the shift from a foraging to farming lifestyle. Excavations at the 12,000-year-old Natufian cave site, Hilazon Tachtit (Israel), have revealed a grave that provides a rare opportunity to investigate the ideological shifts that must have accompanied these socioeconomic changes. The grave was constructed and specifically arranged for a petite, elderly, and disabled woman, who was accompanied by exceptional grave offerings. The grave goods comprised 50 complete tortoise shells and select body-parts of a wild boar, an eagle, a cow, a leopard, and two martens, as well as a complete human foot. The interment rituals and the method used to construct and seal the grave suggest that this is the burial of a shaman, one of the earliest known from the archaeological record. Several attributes of this burial later become central in the spiritual arena of human cultures worldwide.

                Author and article information

                Role: ConceptualizationRole: InvestigationRole: MethodologyRole: VisualizationRole: Writing – original draftRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: ConceptualizationRole: InvestigationRole: MethodologyRole: Writing – original draftRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: ConceptualizationRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: ConceptualizationRole: InvestigationRole: MethodologyRole: SupervisionRole: Writing – original draftRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: ConceptualizationRole: Funding acquisitionRole: SupervisionRole: Writing – original draftRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: Editor
                PLoS One
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, CA USA )
                4 June 2021
                : 16
                : 6
                [1 ] Laboratory for Ground Stone Tools Research, Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
                [2 ] Institute of Archaeology, University of Wroclaw, Wroclaw, Poland
                [3 ] The Use-Wear Analysis Laboratory, Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
                Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, ISRAEL
                Author notes

                Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

                © 2021 Hruby et al

                This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

                Page count
                Figures: 14, Tables: 5, Pages: 30
                Funded by: funder-id http://dx.doi.org/10.13039/501100001653, Gerda Henkel Foundation;
                Award ID: AZ02/S/15
                Award Recipient :
                Funded by: funder-id http://dx.doi.org/10.13039/501100001659, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft;
                Award ID: GL705/3-1
                Award Recipient :
                The research was funded by the grants: AZ02/S/15 received from Gerda Henkel Foundation (D.R.) and the grant no. GL705/3-1 of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) (D.R.). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
                Research Article
                Earth Sciences
                Igneous Geology
                Volcanic Rocks
                Social Sciences
                Research and Analysis Methods
                Specimen Preparation and Treatment
                Mechanical Treatment of Specimens
                Specimen Grinding
                Physical Sciences
                Materials Science
                Engineering and Technology
                Mechanical Engineering
                Earth Sciences
                Earth Sciences
                Biology and Life Sciences
                Flowering Plants
                Biology and Life Sciences
                Medicine and Health Sciences
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