Paleolithic landscape of extraction:
flint surface quarries and workshops at Mt. Pua, Israel
A complex Late Acheulian - Early Mousterian quarry landscape was discovered during a reconnaissance investigation
of prehistoric communities in the central Dishon Valley, Northern Israel (Figure 1). The site is located on the
flat and narrow summit of Mt. Pua, where numerous flint nodules of various sizes are exposed within the limestone
outcrops (Barkai and Gopher 2001). The mountain summit is studded with hundreds of tailings (quarry debris heaps),
each covered with flint nodules and prehistoric artifacts such as tested nodules, cores, roughouts, tools, blanks
and knapped lithic waste material. Preliminary mapping of the site revealed approximately 1500 tailing heaps
(Figure 2), varying in size from <1 to >15 meters in diameter and from <0.3 to >3 meters in height
Geological controls on quarry development
Quarry activities at Mt. Pua were concentrated at higher elevations, where the nearly flat-lying limestone beds
(karrens) form a series of steps. These higher elevation locations were preferable to those at lower elevations for
practical reasons, most importantly the enhancement of master joint systems (regular networks of near-vertical
fractures in the bedrock) by solution weathering. Accelerated dissolution of the limestone along the master joints
provided a more convenient means of prying away the limestone to reach the desired flint nodules. The master joints
at Mt. Pua rarely intersect flint nodules, so the thick limestone beds were crushed and broken along joints before
the flint was extracted out of the limestone matrix. Large, homogeneous limestone blocks were apparently used as
hammerstones. These impact instruments are rectangular to sub-rounded masses of dense limestone which are derived
from the local outcrops. These instruments are simply joint-bounded blocks with crushed edges, sometimes slightly
modified for use in quarry extraction (Figure 4).
The summit area also provided room for maneuver of extraction debris as the outcrops were quarried and enabled the
development of a large-scale quarry complex. In contrast, lower elevation locations have master joint systems that
are still tightly sealed (owing to a less advanced state of weathering) and only one face of the outcrops would be
visible, making it more difficult not only to extract the flint but even to assess just how much flint was available
to be quarried. In addition to that, preliminary geological reconstruction seems to indicate that sources at lower
elevations might not be exposed during the Middle Pleistocene (Ronen et al. 1974; Yair 1962). The importance of
solution-enhanced master joint systems to the Paleolithic quarrying process is apparent at other locations in Israel
(personal observations by the authors), where extensive Paleolithic quarry landscapes have developed in limestone
Surface quarrying at Mt. Pua
Most, if not all, of the extraction debris heaps lie adjacent to limestone outcrops containing flint nodules. Numerous
flint nodules have eroded from the outcrop owing to natural weathering processes. However, specific breakage patterns
and impact marks observed on the outcrops we described above, as well as massive hammerstones bearing impact marks,
indicate human exploitation of the flint nodules via a method of extraction called "surface quarrying" (e.g. Claris
& Quartermaine 1989). Our preliminary reconstruction of the extraction techniques applied at the site reveal that
Paleolithic hominids took advantage of master joints in the limestone outcrops, expended these joints using massive
hammerstones, smashed the limestone blocks, extracted the flint nodules and heaped the extraction waste in proximity
to the extraction front. The large quantities of broken limestone blocks found in the waste heaps are thus products of
this surface quarrying activity. Test pits excavated at two different heaps indicate that the tailing heaps are placed
on top of exhausted flint sources, covering exploited extraction fronts. Finer-scale flint debris interspersed between
the limestone blocks indicates that flint-working took place on top of these heaps throughout all stages of their
"construction." We interpret this behavior as related to the organization of flint procurement and exploitation strategies
practiced at the site, specifically, that expended flint sources were intentionally covered as potential sources were
exposed for future manipulation. This pattern of heaping extracted waste and working flint on top of the heaps is visible
at other recently discovered Lower-Middle Paleolithic quarry sites in Israel (personal observations by the authors),
as well as at the Early Bronze Age workshop at Mt. Haruvim (Shimelmitz et al. 2000). The occurrence of this phenomenon
suggests that this strategy may be employed in general wherever flint nodules are embedded within rocky outcrops (karrens).
Lithic assemblages at the Mt. Pua site
The tailing heap assemblages generally include all stages of the lithic reduction sequence (nodules, cores, waste and tools).
While some of the individual heaps have similar tools and lithic debris, others contain only specific stages of the reduction
sequence - mainly nodules and tested nodules, with no evidence of more advanced reduction stages.
A test pit excavated at one of the large scale stone heaps revealed among thousands of waste lithic artifacts found in-between
the limestone blocks, two flint caches deposited on top of the exhausted extraction front, a meter below the present heap
surface. The caches include mainly large blanks and cores and a detailed technological and typological analysis of these
caches is currently underway. The following notes deal with the two most conspicuous components of the lithic assemblage -
Levallois cores and handaxe roughouts.
Levallois cores form an important component of the lithic industry at Mt. Pua (Figure 5). Various Levallois core reduction
strategies (unipolar parallel, bipolar, centripetal, unipolar convergent) were employed at the site, although only few
Levallois blanks are present. Another component of the industry is roughouts of large bifacial tools, mostly representing
early stages of handaxe manufacture (Figure 6). However, the bulk of the flint assemblage is comprised of large numbers of
non-Levallois cores (Figure 7), many cortical elements, flakes, chunks and chips as well as a small quantity of blade cores
and blades. Small numbers of completed tools were found at Mt. Pua, and most of these tools are rejects owing to failure
during manufacture. These artifacts and debris composition suggests that selected blanks and pre-shaped tools were
transported from the workshops. Few chopping tools are also worth mentioning (Figure 8).
The presence of Levallois cores and debitage, as well as handaxe roughouts and chopping tools, suggests that the quarrying
activity at Mt. Pua is related to the later phase Acheulian complex of the Lower Paleolithic period (e.g. Goren 1979;
Goren-Inbar 1985), or perhaps the early stages of the Mousterian complex of the Middle Paleolithic period. Archaeological
assemblages from other periods were not identified at the site3. As a result of our preliminary observations, we propose
that the site of Mt. Pua as a whole was in use mainly during Paleolithic times. The extraction activities we have identified,
as well as some aspects of the lithic industry, could indicate late Lower Paleolithic stages of stone procurement strategies.
Early Paleolithic examples for stone procurement are known from Africa and southern Asia, such as the MNK chert factory site
at Olduvai Gorge (Stiles 1998; Stiles et al. 1974) and the Acheulian Isampur quarry in India (Petraglia et al. 1999; Paddayya
et al. 2000; Blackwell et al.2001). Middle Paleolithic extensive flint extraction sites were recently studied in Egypt
(Vermeersh et al. 1990, 1995, 1998; Vermeersh and Paulissen 1997).
An extensive quarry landscape was developed at Mt. Pua in the central Dishon Valley, upper Galilee, Israel, during the late
Lower Paleolithic to early Middle Paleolithic, as indicated by the presence of handaxe performs, chopping tools and Levallois
cores and debitage. Late Acheulian sites found at the Yiron and Bara'm plateaus, in very close proximity to the Dishon valley
and to Mt. Pua, were studied by Ohel (1986; 1990). The lithic assemblages of these Acheulian sites are similar to finds
described above from the quarry site of Mt. Pua and thus a possible connection between these two complexes can be suggested.
Other Late Acheulian sites in Israel are characterized by the presence of both handaxes and Levallois products (e.g. Goren
1979; Goren-Inbar 1985). Acheulian lithic assemblages from Europe and Africa which include both handaxes and Levallois technology
were recently reported (Rolland 1995; Tuffreau 1995; Monnier 2000) and a technological and conceptual link between handaxe
manufacture and the Levallois technology was suggested (DeBono and Goren-Inbar 2001; Tuffreau 1997; Roe 2000).
At the present stage of our research we thus can not determine the exact cultural assignment of the site. The prominent role
of Levallois technology in the lithic assemblages of Mt. Pua points in favor of assigning the site to the Mousterian, but it
seems to us that since the site was in use for very long time periods, one can not rule out the possibility that it was
visited both during Late Acheulian and Early Mousterian times. Geological characteristics inherent in the bedrock, such as
rock fabric, controlled the distribution and development style of the quarries; such controls are common to Paleolithic quarries
at other sites in Israel as well as at Isampur, India (Petraglia et al. 1999). However, the increasingly advanced degree
of quarry organization from Isampur (quarry activity but no sense of maintenance) to Mt. Pua (possible task subdivision and
evidence for maintenance) suggests that quarrying activity may also have been influenced by changes in cultural traditions
during the Acheulian and the Mousterian. Our research thus suggests that the development of large-scale quarry landscapes
bearing signs of task subdivision and maintenance begins during the late Lower Paleolithic.
Middle Pleistocene hominids used the natural resources at Mt. Pua extensively during a long time period, in recurring visits.
The site can be regarded as a Paleolithic "industrial area" representing large scale resource extraction and unprecedented
human impact on ancient environments. Mt. Pua must have been exploited by generations of foragers and thus represent a
monumental landmark in the Paleolithic landscape. This new aspect of Middle Pleistocene human behavior is a testimony for
complex, large scale environmental manipulation by early hominids. This may suggest new perspectives regarding man-environment
relationship and the capabilities of Pleistocene hunter-gatherers to alter nature.
Further investigation of this extensive Lower-Middle Paleolithic industrial complex will permit a better reconstruction of
the Late Acheulian-Early Mousterian lithic cha?ne op?ratoire. It will also contribute more generally towards a better
understanding of raw material procurement and exploitation strategies, land use patterns and early human impact on the
environment and landscape, in a region that represents the crossroads of the ancient hominid world.
The lithic assemblage from the site was studied by D. Meyer and the authors. We would like to thank the following colleagues
for visiting the site with us as well as for their advice and suggestions: O. Bar-Yosef; A. Frumkin; N. Goren-Inbar and A.
Horwitz. L. Meignen made useful comments regarding the lithics. Fig. 1 was prepared by Y. Dekel and Figs. 4-8 by R. Pinhas.
Photographs are by the authors.
Barkai, R. and Gopher, A. 2001. Lower-Middle Paleolithic flint extraction sites and workshops at Har Pua, Israel. Paper presented at the XIVth International Congress of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences, Liege, Belgium, September 2001.
Bar Yosef, O. and Kuhn, S. 1999. The big deal about blades: laminar technologies and human evolution, American Anthropologist 101:322-338.
Blackwell, B.A.B; Fevrier, S; Blickstein, J.I.B; Paddayya, K; Petraglia, M; Jhaldiyal, R. and Skinner, R. 2001. ESR dating of an Acheulean quarry site at Isampur, India. Paper presented at the Paleoanthropology Society Meeting, Missouri, U.S.A. March 2001.
Claris, P. and Quartermaine, J. 1989. The Neolithic quarries and axe factory sites of Great Langdale and Scafell Pike: A new field survey, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 55: 1-25.
DeBono, H. and Goren-Inbar, N. 2001. Note on a link between Acheulian Handaxes and the Levallois method. Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society 31:9-23.
Goren, N. 1979. An Upper Acheulian industry from the Golan Heights, Quart?r 29-30:105-121.
Goren-Inbar, N.1985. The lithic assemblage of the Berekhat Ram Acheulian site, Paléorient 11: 7-28.
Marks, A.E. and Monigal, K. 1995. Modeling the production of elongated blanks from the Early Levantine Mousterian at Rosh Ein Mor. In: Dibble, H.L. and Bar-Yosef, O. (eds.). The Definition and Interpretation of Levallois Technology. Monographs in World Archaeology 23. Madison, Prehistory Press. Pp. 267-277.
Monnier, G.F. 2000. A Re-evaluation of the Archaeological Evidence for a Lower/Middle Paleolithic Division in Western Europe. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.
Ohel, M. 1986. The Acheulian Industries of Yiron, Israel. Oxford: B.A.R. International Series 307.
Ohel, M. 1990. Lithic Analysis of Acheulian Assemblages from the Avivim Sites, Israel. Oxford: B.A.R. International Series 562.
Paddayya, K; Jhaldiyal, R. and Petraglia, M. 2000. Excavation of an Acheulian workshop at Isampur, Karnataka (India), Antiquity 74:751-2.
Petraglia, M; La Porta, P. and Paddayya, K. 1999. The first Acheulian quarry in India: stone tool manufacture, biface morphology and behaviors, Journal of Anthropological Research 55: 39-70.
Roe, D. 2000. The British Lower Paleolithic: out of the doldrums. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 66:397-403.
Rolland, N. 1995. Levallois technique emergence: single or multiple? A review of the Euro-African record. In: Dibble, H.L. and Bar-Yosef, O. (eds.). The Definition and Interpretation of Levallois Technology. Monographs in World Archaeology 23. Madison, Prehistory Press. Pp. 333-359.
Ronen, A; Gilead, I; Bruder, G. and Meller, P. 1974. Notes on the Pleistocene geology and prehistory of the central Dishon Valley, Upper Galilee, Israel. Quart?r 25:13-23.
Shimelmitz, R; Barkai, R. and Gopher, A. 2000. Canaanean blade workshop at Mt. Haruvim, Israel, Tel Aviv 27:3-22.
Stiles, D.1998. Raw material as evidence for human behavior in the Lower Pleistocene: the Olduvai case, in M.D. Petraglia & R. Korisettar (ed.), Early Human Behavior in Global Context: The Rise & Diversity of the Lower Paleolithic Period. London, Routledge. Pp. 133-50.
Stiles, D; Hay, R. and O'Neil, J. 1974. The MNK chert factory site, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, World Archaeology 5: 285-308.
Tuffreau, A. 1995. Variability of Levallois technology in northern France and neighboring areas. In: Dibble, H.L. and Bar-Yosef, O. (eds.). The Definition and Interpretation of Levallois Technology. Monographs in World Archaeology 23. Madison, Prehistory Press. Pp. 413-427.
Tuffreau, A.; Lamotte, A. and Marcy, J-L. 1997. Land-use and site function in Acheulean complexes of the Somme valley. World Archaeology 29:225-241.
Vermeersh, P.M.; Paulissen, E. and Van Peer, P. 1990. Paleolithic chert exploitation in the limestone stretch of the Egyptian Nile Valley. The African Archaeological Review 8:77-102.
Vermeersh, P.M.; Paulissen, E. and Van Peer, P. 1995. Paleolithic chert mining in Egypt. Archaeologia Polona 33:11-30.
Vermeersh, P.M.and E. Paulissen. 1997. Extensive Midle Paleolithic chert extraction in the Qena area (Egypt). In: Schild, R. and Sulgostowska, Z. (eds.). Man and Flint. Proceedings of the VIIth International Flint Symposium. Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology Polish Academy of Sciences, Warszawa. Pp. 133-142.
Vermeersh, P.M.; Paulissen, E.; Stokes, S.; Charlier, C.; Van Peer, P.; Stringer, C. and Lindsay, W. 1998. Paleolithic burial of modern human at Taramsa hill, Egypt. Antiquity 277: 475-484.
Yair, A. 1962. The Morphology of Nahal Dishon. MA thesis, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem (Hebrew with English summary).
Figure captions (figures to come)
Fig. 1 - Location map of Mt. Pua.
Fig. 2 - Topographic map of the extraction landscape at Mt. Pua (black spots are debris heaps).
Fig. 3a - A large extraction heap (note scale - people and trees).1
Fig. 3b - A small extraction heap (note scale - 50 cm.).
Fig. 4 - Crushed-edged extraction tool made of limestone.
Fig. 5 - Levallois cores from Mt. Pua.
Fig. 6 - Handaxe roughout from Mt. Pua.
Fig. 7 - Non-Levallois core from Mt. Pua.
Fig. 8 -A Chopping tool from Mt. Pua.