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Qafzeh Cave (Israel)

Middle Paleolithic site of Qafzeh Cave


Qafzeh Cave is a rockshelter in the Lower Galilee of Israel, located near Nazarteth. The site has Holocene, Upper Paleolithic and Middle Paleolithic occupations.

The oldest levels are dated to the Mousterian, ca 80,000-100,000 years ago (TL dates of 92,000 +/- 5,000; ESR dates 82,400-109,000 +/- 10,000). The site includes a series of hearths; stone tools are dominated by radial or centripetal Levallois technique artifacts.

Animals represented in the Mousterian levels are red deer, fallow deer, and aurochs, and microvertebrates. The Upper Paleolithic levels include land snails and freshwater bivalves as food sources.

Human remains from Qafzeh cave include seven adults and at lestanine juveniles. Qafzeh 9 and 10 are almost completely intact. All of the human remains appear to have been purposefully buried, if so, these are very early examples of modern behavior indeed, direct-dated to 92,000 years BP. The remains are from anatomically modern humans, with some archaic features; they are associated with Levalloiso-Mousterian assemblage.

Modern behaviors indicated at the cave include the purposeful burials, the use of ochre for body painting and the presence of marine shells, used as ornamentation.

Marine Shells at Qafzeh Cave

The marine shells are not associated with burials, but rather appeared scattered more or less randomly throughout the deposit. Species identified include ten Glycymeris insubrica (4-7 cm, some bearing , some purposefully perforated.

Some of the shells are stained with red, yellow, and black pigments of ochre and manganese. Each shell was perforated, with the perforations either natural and enlarged by percussion or completely created by percussion. At the time of the Mousterian occupation of the cave, the sea coast was about 45-50 kilometers away; ochre deposits are known to be located between 6-80 km from the site. No other marine resources were found in the cave site deposits.

Qafzeh cave was first excavated by R. Neuville and M. Stekelis in the 1930s, and again between 1965 and 1979 Ofer Bar-Yosef and Bernard Vandermeersch.


This glossary entry is part of the Guide to the Middle Paleolithic and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Bar-Yosef Mayer, Daniella E., Bernard Vandermeersch, and Ofer Bar-Yosef 2009 Shells and ochre in Middle Paleolithic Qafzeh Cave, Israel: indications for modern behavior. Journal of Human Evolution 56(3):307-314.

Gargett, Robert H. 1999 Middle Palaeolithic burial is not a dead issue: the view from Qafzeh, Saint-Césaire, Kebara, Amud, and Dederiyeh. Journal of Human Evolution 37(1):27-90.

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