Paleolithic landscape of extraction: flint surface quarries and workshops at Mt. Pua, Israel

main_img5 Prof. Ran Barkai
Prof. Avi Gopher

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 (Figure 3).

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 formations.

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.


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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.