Breaking the Mold of Natufian Basalt Mortars: Experimental Production and Archeological Implications

  • Ahituv H
  • Weiss E
  • Alperson-Afil N
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This paper presents an experimental study on the production of basalt mortars, common at Levantine Natufian sites (15,000–11,500 cal. BP). An increase in the gathering and processing of plant foods is among the Natufian cultural innovations preceding the Neolithic agricultural revolution, as documented in “agricultural” tools such as sickle blades and ground stone tools (GST). Studies of Natufian GST have focused on their typology and function; production methods are rarely discussed. We present 15 systematic experiments focusing on two methods—drilling and carving—and using a variety of techniques (bow/twist/pump/hand drilling, pecking, and battering) and tools. Our results demonstrate that drilling techniques are efficient only in the initial stages of depression preparation and only for a limited duration. Pecking and battering with a hand-held basalt chisel was found to be the preferable production method, allowing for longer, continuous working time, and producing deeper and larger depressions than other techniques. In addition, pecking and battering makes it possible to produce a complete mortar—from the initial depression to modification of the interior and exterior faces. We suggest that producing a Natufian basalt mortar takes only 5 h and produces specific waste products, and that such repetitive work causes severe pain, particularly to the elbow and palm of the working hand, which may be associated with the variety of physical deformations reported for male Natufian and Neolithic populations.




Ahituv, H., Weiss, E., & Alperson-Afil, N. (2019). Breaking the Mold of Natufian Basalt Mortars: Experimental Production and Archeological Implications. Journal of Paleolithic Archaeology, 2(1), 98–114.

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