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Cult paraphernalia or everyday items? Assessing the status and use of the flint artefacts from Nahal Hemar Cave (Middle PPNB, Judean Desert)

AuthorsBorrell i Tena, Ferran ; Ibáñez-Estévez, Juan José ; Bar-Yosef, Ofer
KeywordsPre-pottery neolithic B
Judean desert
Cultic cave
Nahal hemar cave
Flint tools
Use-wear analysis
Issue Date2020
CitationQuaternary International : https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2020.05.007 (2020)
AbstractSince its discovery in the 1980s, Nahal Hemar Cave has been interpreted as a cult site where ceremonies were performed, as indicated by the extremely selected and highly symbolic repertoire of objects found in the cave (e.g., stone masks, modelled skulls, bone figurines, etc.). The finds, dated to the 8th millennium cal. BC and assigned to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) period, also consisted of other artefacts often found in contemporaneous sites, such as flint tools or stone beads, of more complex interpretation. In this paper, the status and use of the unique lithic assemblage found in the cave is assessed through a comprehensive approach integrating techno-typological and use-wear analyses and, secondly, contextualized within current lithic research and in the broader context of the Middle/Late PPNB in the southern Levant. The study resolves some of the major questions concerning the production, use and meaning of the flint tools, also bringing some light to the ritual, spiritual or unconventional activities associated with the use of the cave. It concludes that the flint assemblage found in the cave was the result of a series of episodes of deposition of objects over a relatively lengthy period of time, that a varied group of social agents was involved in the production of the said tools and, finally, that the tool producers, and likely, the cave users, were farmers from the agricultural villages in the Mediterranean woodland region. In addition, use-wear analysis indicates that the flint tools found at the cave had a previous history of use before being abandoned/deposited in the cave and some of them may have participated in the ritual activities. Finally, we propose that, in the particular case of the Nahal Hemar knives, they could be related to the processing/dismembering of human bodies, a hypothesis further supported by the remains of 23 individuals (mostly cranial) found in the cave.
Publisher version (URL)https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2020.05.007
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