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Atlit-Yam (Israel)

Submerged PrePottery Neolithic Site

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Submerged Village of Atlit-Yam

Submerged Village of Atlit-Yam

Hanay

Atlit-Yam is the archaeological remains of a submerged fishing village located some 400 meters (1300 feet) off the northern Carmel coast of Israel in the western Mediterranean, and currently some 8-12 m (26-40 ft) below sea level. The 40,000 square meter (roughly 10 acres) site is dated to the late Pre-Pottery Neolithic period, ca. 8000-7500 RCYBP (approximately 8985-8345 calendar years before the present [cal BP], via InterCalc 9): it is the largest prehistoric submerged settlement ever uncovered along the Mediterranean coast.

The site is located approximately 10 kilometers (six miles) south of Haifa, and 400 meters (~1300 feet) north of the Crusader castle at Atlit. The site is bordered by a peninsula on the south and a submerged sandstone (kurkar) ridge on the west; an ancient now-submerged channel of the Oren river comprises its northern border. The site occupation is embedded in the upper layer of the clay: the site's location has afforded excellent preservation of organic materials.

Structures

Atlit-Yam includes the foundations of several rectangular structures, with walls ranging between 50-100 centimeters (20-40 inches) in thickness, and constructed of two rows of boulders mortared by smaller stones, animal bones and baked clay. Some of these structures represent houses; others are of storage structures, protective walls or are currently unidentified.

Several circular pits, probably storage pits or water holes, were constructed of large stones in 1-2 meter diameters. Also identified was a large platform of 2-5 square meters made of semiconvex baked clay (adobe) bricks covering a dense layer of some unidentified plant fiber, believed to have been used to process those fibers.

Several hearths, measuring between 50-140 cm (20-55 in) in diameter, have been identified near or within the structures. Built of small stones laid in a circular pattern, the hearths include bones, charcoal, adobe brick and a brittle white plaster.

Structure 15 is a wall of adobe bricks, 20 m (65 ft) long, 1-2 m (3-6 ft) thick and currently 80 cm (30 in) in height. It was constructed along the ancient bed of the Oren river, and is believed to represent a wall which would have protected the village from river floods.

Structure 11 is a cylindrical well, protruding from the clay to a height of 70 cm (25 in), 1.5 m (4 ft) in diameter and built of undressed stones. Within this well were a wide variety of organic and inorganic artifacts.

Artifacts

Approximately 9,000 stone artifacts have been recovered from the site, including 155 tools, dominated by arrowheads (mostly Byblos and Amuq types), sickle blades, bifaces, and spearheads.

Bone tools include spatula fragments, blade handles, fragmented pointed needles with drilled eyes, and awls. Deep, flat bowls were carved from worked limestone and sandstone; other stone tools include a few grinding stones and a flat, basalt bowl with a pedestal base.

Ornamental objects include two pieces of animal bone engraved with representation of heads of unidentified animals; grooved stones, a figurine/pendant; a limestone phallus; and broken stone bracelets.

Human Remains

Fifteen human skeletons were recovered from the site, located close to or within houses. Most were found in single graves: some were primary in a flexed position while some were disarticulated secondary burials. Ages of the individuals ranged from sub-adult to 20-30 years of age. Diseases expressed include spondylosis, and severe dental attrition.

The dental attrition is attributed to the use teeth to work on leather straps or cords for fishing nets; muscle markings and elbow abrasions suggest some of Atlit Yam's residents frequently rowed boats.

Plants and Animals

A total of 322 identifiable animal bones represent what appear to be non-domestic goats, cattle, and pigs, as well as a few mountain gazelle, deer and fish, primarily B. carolinensis, a deep water fish.

Charred wheat, include emmer wheat and a now-extinct species of naked wheat were likely domesticated. Barley, lentil, chickpea, fig, wild grape, wild almond and all three local pistachio species were identified within the well deposits. A single waterlogged seeds of Papaver setigerum (wild poppy) represents an early occurrence, but not domestication. Cretan palm (Phoenix theophrasti), Jerusalem pine (Pinus halepensis), Atlantic pistachio (Pistacia atlantica), wild cumin (Cuminum cyminum), and wild grape (Vitus sylvestris).

Olive branches and pollen grains have been identified at the site, as have grains, fruits and seeds, but no olive pits, suggesting that Atlit Yam's residents did not yet exploit olive fruit on a large basis.

Archaeology at Atlit Yam

The site was first discovered in 1984, and excavations have been undertaken by Ehud Galili, Mordechai Kislev and others, as part of joint investigations by the University of Haifa, Bar-Ilan University, Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University. Sand was removed from the excavation area using pairs of divers, one member working at the "suction" end, the other working at the "exhaust" end. as the excavation area was cleaned, it was photographs and sketched. Finally, the site was excavated in 10 cm arbitrary levels.

Sources

This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to the Prepottery Neolithic, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Galili E, Weinstein-Evron M, Hershkovitz I, Gopher A, Kislev M, Lernau O, Kolska-Horwitz L, and Lernaut H. 1993. Atlit-Yam: A Prehistoric Site on the Sea Floor off the Israeli Coast. Journal of Field Archaeology 20(2):133-157.

Kislev ME, Hartmann A, and Galili E. 2004. Archaeobotanical and archaeoentomological evidence from a well at Atlit-Yam indicates colder, more humid climate on the Israeli coast during the PPNC period. Journal of Archaeological Science 31(9):1301-1310.

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