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From Hunter-Gatherers to Farmers: Contributions of Traceology to the Study of Prehistoric Lithic Technology in Arabia

Yamandú H. Hilbert, Matthias López Correa, Claudio Mazzoli, Rémy Crassard, Fabio Negrino, Mauro Cremaschi, Ignacio Clemente-Conte et Thorsten Uthmeier
p. 133-154

Résumés

Résumé. Les recherches archéologiques portant sur l’occupation humaine au cours du Pléistocène final et de l’Holocène des près de trois millions de kilomètres carrés que constituent les paysages divers de la péninsule Arabique sont entravées par une série de lacunes. Lorsqu’on essaie de reconstituer l’occupation et le comportement humains, certains des problèmes majeurs sont induits par les oscillations environnementales qui ont marqué les paysages régionaux au cours des trente derniers millénaires. Les variations entre phases arides et humides, puis dernièrement le retour à l’aridité à la fin de l’optimum climatique de l’Holocène ont pratiquement effacé tous les vestiges organiques préhistoriques, ne laissant aux archéologues que poussière et pierres. Afin de reconstituer la façon dont les humains se sont adaptés à ces environnements parfois difficiles, les archéologues se sont tournés vers l’une des expressions culturelles humaines les plus durables: les industries lithiques. Alors que la technologie et la typologie offrent quelques informations sur la façon dont les outils ont été fabriqués et comment les classer, la tracéologie, l’étude de l’utilisation des outils, fournit des informations sur la cinétique des outils en pierre, les tâches accomplies et les matériaux transformés. Cet article se concentre sur les données tracéologiques de la Préhistoire de l’Arabie, du Paléolithique supérieur, au Paléolithique récent et au Néolithique. Nous aborderons les changements de paradigmes technologiques et fonctionnels et discuterons des limites de l’approche, principalement imposées par les altérations taphonomiques sévères sur les assemblages lithiques.

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We thank Sultan al-Bakri, Khamis Al-Asmi, Khalid al Nadabi and Said al Jadidi of the Ministry of Heritage and tourism of the Sultanate of Oman for making the traceological analyse of the assemblage from Dhofar possible. We thank the Heritage Commission from the Saudi Ministry of Culture for permission to export and analyse the finds from DAJ-112 and 125 in particular the General Director for Archaeological Excavations Dr. Abdullah al-Zahrani. We thank Drs. Guillaume Charloux and Romolo Loreto directors of the archaeological investigations in Dumat al-Jandal and Dr. Jeffrey Rose, director of the Dhofar Archaeological Project. Najat al-Fudhaili (GUtech, Oman), kindly helped with the blood-residue investigation. YHH is grateful for the financial support from the International Foundation for the Study of Arabian (IFSA) in the form of a Research Grant as well as the German Academic exchange program (DAAD) for financial support in the form of a P.R.I.M.E. fellowship for the project “How did Human Behaviour change During the Terminal Pleistocene and Early Holocene in South Arabia?”

Introduction

1Prehistoric hunter-gatherers with complex social adaptations and material culture have inhabited the Arabian Peninsula throughout the climatically induced ecosystem changes of the Quaternary. The extreme environmental shifts between (global glacial) arid spells and (interglacial) periods of pronounced pluvial intensity during the Pleistocene had a considerable effect on biogeographical exchange as well as resource diversity and availability across the peninsula. In turn, these changes greatly influenced the palaeodemography of early human populations (e.g. Rosenberg et al. 2012; Parton et al. 2015). Research on the Palaeolithic of Arabia shows that diverse landscapes have been exploited during the Pleistocene and early Holocene by groups moving along palaeodrainage channels and exploiting resources in the vicinity of palaeolakes (e.g. Amirkhanov 2006; Crassard and Drechsler 2013). Archaeological sites from these periods are mostly discernible as lithic scatters across deflated surfaces or, when exceptional conditions are met, within sediments. When preserved in situ, the latter offer the rare possibility to obtain absolute dates, e.g. by using OSL-dating methods. All sites are the product of distinct production tasks performed at a given locality and reflect specific aspects of human palaeoeconomic behaviour.

2Archaeological investigations along the Jebel Faya escarpment in the United Arabian Emirates (UAE) (Bretzke 2018) and the dry plateau of Nejd in the Sultanate of Oman (Rose et al. 2019) have produced stratified and dated lithic assemblages falling within the Upper Palaeolithic period. The end of the Palaeolithic in Arabia and the introduction of domestic animals into what were previously hunter-gatherer based subsistence strategies were subject to research for the past decades (Cleuziou 2004; Crassard and Drechsler 2013; Hilbert 2013; Hilbert et al. 2018b; Parton and Bretzke 2020), but data on site-function remained scarce. Neolithisation first occurred in the Near East, where human populations underwent a series of profound technological and socio-political changes during the Terminal Pleistocene, culminating in the emergence of food-producing societies (Zeder 2011). In this part of the world, the Neolithic is characterised by semi-sedentary to sedentary settlements, agriculture and maintenance of stocks, in parallel to developments in socio-political complexity and symbolic expression (Bar-Yosef 2011; Asouti and Fuller 2013). The origins of a food-producing way of life in the Levant, a well-known climatic and cultural refugium, and its subsequent spread across Eurasia are thoroughly documented (Fu et al. 2012; Gallego Llorente 2018).

3Until today, however, little is known about how this profound change in human behaviour unfolded in adjacent, less well-studied regions to the south. Recent archaeological research into the prehistory of Arabia has revealed a plethora of archaeological cultures dating from the Late Pleistocene to the Holocene (Crassard 2008a; Armitage et al. 2011; Crassard and Hilbert 2013; Bretzke et al. 2014; Hilbert et al. 2014; Hilbert and Rose 2014; Groucutt et al. 2018). Archaeological sites dating between ~22,000 to 7,000 years Before Present (BP uncalibrated) (Charpentier 2008; Crassard et al. 2013; Hilbert 2014; Hilbert et al. 2014), coupled with recent genetic discoveries of an endemic lactose persistence gene, suggest the existence of a population refugium in South Arabia, from which a demic development of the existing Neolithic traditions may have occurred (Al-Abri et al. 2012; Gandini et al. 2016; Platt et al. 2017; Yang and Fu 2018).

Material and Methods

Method

Lithic technology

4The study of stone tools as the dominant evidence of material culture found in this part of the world is crucial in determining prehistoric human behaviour, adaptation and diversity. As part of the behavioural responses of humans to specific tasks at hand, lithics represent the most resilient part of archaeological cultural expressions. Given the arid environmental conditions in South Arabia, they represent, in many cases, the only remaining evidence to study the Pleistocene and Early Holocene cultural evolution and model their behavioural adaptations. In this study, techno-functional analyses were conducted by classifying the artefacts based on quantitative and qualitative characteristics. Blanks were classified into flakes, blades, debordant elements and primary pieces. The presence and absence of retouch were recorded, followed by the position of retouch and the disposition of the retouch. Tools were classified based on type lists established in previous publications (Uerpmann 1992; Rose 2006; Charpentier 2008; Crassard 2008a; Hilbert 2014).

Traceology: functional analysis of lithic assemblages

5Traceology is a term used to describe the study of any kind of traces, regardless of their origin, on archaeological material. The term is sometimes used synonymously with microwear or use-wear, which focuses on the specific traces resulting from tool use (Odell 2004). Traceology as understood in this study encompasses the investigation of residues and surface modifications resulting from the use, handling, hafting, storage, production and taphonomy of archaeological artefacts (Semenov 1964). Most actions conducted with a stone tool cause the formation of specific traces on the artefact that can be identified with microscopy. The identification of use-wear and prehensile-wear on stone tools is a method applied to identify the type of matter modified using a given artefact, to estimate the intensity of tool use, and to answer the question of whether the stone tool was hafted, and if so, how it was hafted. Depending on the disposition of the worked materials and the duration of use, specific wear patterns, most noticeably micro-polish, can be differentiated (Vaughan 1985; González-Urquijo and Ibañez-Estéves 1994; Ibáñez and Mazzucco 2021). As does the mechanical stress of a stone tool moving within a haft during use, such mechanical tensions leave specific micro-scarring and polish on the non-active part of the artefacts (Moss 1987; Rots 2010). There are a series of analytical protocols for functional analysis, which are all based on comparisons between traces observed on the archaeological artefact under investigation and artefacts from controlled archaeological experiments, for which the exact use is known. In this study, we make use of a stereomicroscope and a metallurgical reflected-light microscope to screen the artefact surfaces for traces of alteration, yielding polished rounding and/or edge scarring specific for the materials these tools were in contact with (Keeley 1980; Clemente-Conte 1997; Marreiros et al. 2015; Hilbert et al. 2018a).

6The analysed samples were washed using water and soap to clean the surfaces of the artefacts. Tools were handled using latex gloves, and any residual impurities due to handling have been cleaned using alcohol and cotton. Initial sample screening was conducted under stereoscopic microscope (Leica S9 and Carl Zeiss Stemi 509) to identify microchipping damage and possible residues. Micro-polish analysis was done with metallurgic microscopes to scan the tool edges and surfaces at different magnifications ranging between 50× to 600×, using an Olympus BX53M and an Olympus BH50 metallurgical upright microscope equipped with Nomarski prisms. Once identified, micro-polish was plotted on a sketch of the artefacts and documented. The identification of the materials transformed and the kinetics of tool use were based on the comparison of the archaeological materials with the extensive comparative experimental collection of the CSIC-IMF working group Archaeology of Social Dynamics and our own experimental collection made on raw material from Oman.

The identification of residues on stone tools

7Recent advances in residue analysis increased the amount of data obtained by functional studies of prehistoric artefacts and human behaviour (Rots et al. 2016). Residue analysis focuses on the identification of plant and animal fibres that are found preserved on the surfaces of lithic artefacts after they have been used. Methodologically, the first step of the analytical process, which involves the screening of the artefact surfaces for such traces under reflected light with a metallurgical microscope, took place at the CSIC-IMF in Barcelona. The localised residues were then extracted from the piece using different methodologies (e.g. ultrasonic cleaning devices) and analysed under transmitted light (Hardy and Garufi 1998; Lombard 2008).

8Pivotal for the compositional analyses of rare microscopic residues on artefacts are non-destructive techniques, like scanning-electron microscopy with EDX function (e.g. Taipale et al. 2022b), micro-XRF scanning, infrared spectroscopy and micro-Raman spectroscopy (µRaman). In particular µRaman spectroscopy has the potential to reveal mineral components, as well as organic residues, like proteins, lipids, cellulose, fibres and natural pigments (e.g. Bordes et al. 2017). Likewise, tools used for hunting activities are expected to yield animal residues and we herein present data obtained by Hilbert et al. (in press) on potential blood residues from the Palaeolithic site of Mutafah 1 in southern Oman. The artefact was analysed at the Department of Organic Chemistry, University of Padova, Italy by using a Thermo Scientific µRaman spectroscope with a monochromatic 532 nm DXR laser run at 3 mW laser power. The Raman-shift between 100 and 3500 cm-1 was collected from spot sampling with 60 s exposure times, invoking a 50× long-working distance (LWD) objective and a 25 µm pinhole. Average spectra obtained from nine replicates (intensities reported in counts per second; cps) were processed with the Omnic software. While mineralogical reference spectra were sourced from the RRUFF-database (http://rruff.info/​), for instance for silica in flint stones, while the comparison spectra for recent and mid-Holocene blood components were sourced from Atkins et al. (2017) and Janko et al. (2012), respectively.

Material

9In total, a hundred artefacts from five sites have been analysed. These sites were all located in Dhofar save for a small sample of 20 artefacts from northern Saudi Arabia (fig. 1). The site of Mutafah 1, located south-west of Mudayy village in Dhofar inside a small promontory of Wadi Ghadun, consists of a remnant sedimentary terrace excavated in 2013 (Rose et al. 2019). A sequence of fluvial overbank deposits from Wadi Ghadun and coarse sediments consisting of cemented rock shatter has been excavated and dated. Four archaeological horizons were identified. Archaeological horizon III, dated by OSL to approximately 30–32 ka BP, has yielded a small lithic assemblage consisting of blades, bladelets and flakes. Tools are rare and are here classified as arched backed bi-pointed micro-bladelets. In total, 20 artefacts have been analysed from the Mutafah 1 site, of which 11 are tools.

Fig. 1 – Geographical location of key Palaeolithic sites investigated herein

Fig. 1 – Geographical location of key Palaeolithic sites investigated herein

A. Overview of the Arabian Peninsula with sites DAH-112 and DAH-125 in northern Saudi Arabia; B. Southern Oman with the position of site maps in C and D; C. Detailed SRTM-topography for site Mutafah-1; D. Detailed SRTM-topography for sites KR-252 and TH-50.

Contour spacing in C and D is 10 m; QGIS-processed data derived from the Shuttle Radar Topographic Mission (SRTM) via https://earthexplorer.usgs.gov/​. Base maps for A) and B) drawn from www.maps-for-free.com; Matthias López Correa.

10The TH.68 site (17.553667 °N/53.28395 °E), discovered in 2010, underwent systematic survey collection in 2011 and yielded over 3,000 lithic artefacts. Their spatial distribution attests a concise and homogenous artefact cluster on top of a chain of low inselbergs located to the west of Wadi Aybut in southern Oman. Technological and typological analyses of the material have been conducted and the results were recently published (Hilbert 2020). Here, we will report on a pilot study conducted to ascertain the potential for the preservation of both organic residues and associated use-wear on a total of 30 artefacts.

11In addition, we also analysed a sample from the so-called “burin sites” in Dhofar. These sites were found along the southern edge of the dry plateau north of the Dhofar mountain chain (Hilbert et al. 2018a; Hilbert and Clemente-Conte 2021). They stand out from other lithic surface scatters in the area by their concise spatial distribution, uniform weathering patterns, and homogenous techno-typological characteristics of the blanks selected for transformation into tools. Primarily, hard-hammer knapping of single platform unidirectional cores for the manufacture of elongated products have been used to obtain debordant blades, pointed blades and bladelets. This particular technical system, termed the Washah Method (Crassard 2008b; Hilbert et al. 2012; Hilbert 2014), has been observed widely throughout southern Arabia, reaching from Yemen, over Oman to the UAE. Here we analyse ten burins from the site of KR252 initially reported by Cremaschi and Negrino (Cremaschi and Negrino 2002). This site is characterised by clusters of lithic artefacts, one of which yielded 38 large burins over an area of about four square metres. The total absence of burin spalls had initially been suggested as an interpretation of the burins as cores for the production of thick bladelets with triangular cross-section; it can now be explained, in the light of traceological analyses, as rather the introduction to the site of burins, manufactured elsewhere, for specific tasks. Burin sites have also been reported from northern Arabia by many scholars, particularly in the desert areas in Iraq, Jordan, Syria and the northern regions of Saudi Arabia. These are to a great extent surface sites containing a high amount of debitage and tools, for which burins on truncation are the most prevalent. A small sample of 20 artefacts from the sites of DAJ-112 and DAJ-125 was analysed for this study. The sites are located to the west of Dumat al-Jandal and have been reported by Crassard and Hilbert (2020) for showing the prevalence of naviform core technology, one of the hallmarks of the Pre-Pottery-Neolithic B (PPNB) culture.

12A sample of 20 artefacts from the Neolithic layers (Geological Horizon [GH] GH4a and GH4b) from Khamseen Rockshelter (OM.JA.TH.50) was submitted to us for traceological analysis. The site was excavated in 2010. Two soundings were made and the lithic analysis of the artefacts has been published (Hilbert, 2013, 2014). Radiocarbon ages for a shallow fireplace in Area 1 at a depth of 112 cm within GH4b provided a date within the 5th millennium BCE (5,000 to 4,800 yrs cal BCE, 6,950 yrs cal BP, and uncalibrated 6,740 to 6,010 ± 40 14C-yrs BP). While the Late Palaeolithic samples showed a low number of formal tools, the Neolithic layers contained a series of small symmetric bifaces, cutting and scraping tools and fragmented pressure-retouched projectiles.

Results

Palaeolithic Projectile Technology of Southern Arabia: Mutafah 1

13Projectile technology refers to launched weapons propelled by physical strength that have their range and speed augmented by mechanical force, using specifically developed launching systems (e.g., spear thrower, bow, crossbows, etc.) with the intent to kill or wound a target. The significance of this technology to the success of our species, its geographical distribution, the chrono-/cultural variability of the archaeological record, as well as the impact it made and still makes on archaeological interpretations, are subject of many scientific articles and books (Iovita and Sano 2016; see also Knecht 1997, and ref. therein). The identification and attribution of a specific artefact to this category, however, may be complicated and challenging given circumstances related to the preservation of archaeological artefacts (Rots and Plisson 2014).

14Here we focus on stone insets assumed to have been formerly attached to a wooden shaft and served as a composite projectile. One of the reasons for focusing on stone insets is their durability in comparison with most organic archaeological remains. Prehistoric stone insets used as projectiles show great morphological variability throughout the Palaeolithic. This variability is a result of how points were hafted, shot, whether made from organic and inorganic material, as well as from a vast array of social factors. The variability and geographical distribution of specific point types reached a peak in complexity and display of skill and craftsmanship during the Neolithic, a phenomenon that is well known throughout the Southern Arabian Peninsula (Crassard 2008c; Charpentier and Crassard 2013; Maiorano et al. 2018; Crassard et al. 2020).

15The majority of the backed pieces from Mutafah 1 show continuous abrupt retouch from top to bottom, given that the artefacts have a curved shape; the backing is conducted by direct percussion using a mineral hammerstone. Both the distal and proximal terminations of the artefacts show deliberate traces of shaping by fine direct percussion, forming a bi-pointed arch-backed lithic inset. The possible microscopic linear impact traces (Moss 1983) on the distal portion of specimen #104 points to its use as a projectile and may indicate that it has been shot (fig. 2). Three specimens show rounding and micro-polish along their backed portion. Such traces are referred to as “G” polish, or hafting wear (Moss 1987; Rots 2010), and indicate that the artefacts where mounted transversally to the wooden arrow (or dart), which is the typical hafting method when making use of the proximal point to serve as a barb. Spots of undulating, moderately developed micro-polish and associated negative edge-rounding caused by abrasion were observed on specimen #111. Being located along the cutting edge of the tool, they may indicate an alternative use of the bi-pointed tools in the processing of a soft and abrasive organic material (fig. 3). The cutting of hides, or the preparation of a carcase for consumption may be some of the activities conducted.

Fig. 2 – Artefact MF1.104 from Mutafah 1.

Fig. 2 – Artefact MF1.104 from Mutafah 1.

F1. Micrograph showing the possible microscopic linear impact traces (MLIT) at magnifications 100×; F2. Micrograph showing the micro negatives seen along the active edge of the tool at magnification 100×.

I. Clemente-Conte, Y. Hilbert

Fig. 3 – Artefact MF1.111 from Mutafah 1.

Fig. 3 – Artefact MF1.111 from Mutafah 1.

F1. Specific G-type polish seen on the eminence of micro-topography on the back of the tool at magnification 50×; F2. Micrograph showing the tip of the tool and the abrasion on the edges resulting from contact with a soft abrasive material at magnification 100×; F3. Micrograph showing the micro-negatives and weakly developed undulating mat polish at the edge of the negatives on the working edge of the tool at magnification 50×; F4. Micrograph showing patches of undulating mat weakly developed polish and abraded edges resultant from the contact with a soft abrasive organic material.

I. Clemente-Conte, Y. Hilbert

16Microscopic residues were found attached to the tip of specimen #50 (figs. 4–5). The residue is characterised by a smooth and highly reflective surface that shows a specific mud-cracked pattern. While it has been argued that such patterns may be distinctive for blood residues, an objective determination of residues based primarily on optical characteristics alone remains unsatisfactory.

Fig. 4 – Artefact FF1.50 from Mutafah 1.

Fig. 4 – Artefact FF1.50 from Mutafah 1.

F1. Micro-residue found preserved inside a retouch negative see at 100× and 200× magnifications.

I. Clemente-Conte, Y. Hilbert

17The micro-Raman spectra recorded from the micro-residue (fig. 5) yielded between 3,200 to 1,400 cm-1, a relatively high absorbance and broad peak areas, and a less strong overall signal between 1,400 and 100 cm-1 (Hilbert et al. in press). Several of the observed peaks (fig. 5) show a correspondence to peaks observed in modern (Atkins et al. 2017) and mid-Holocene (Janko et al. 2012) blood or blood components. In particular, peaks at 1,586, 1,450, 1,395, 1,308, 1,240, 1,130 and 747 cm-1 from Janko et al. (2012) find their resemblance in our data (fig. 4).

Fig. 5 – Micro-Raman spectrum from artefact #50 of the mud-cracked residue (red curve), which is suspected to be a remnant of blood, shown as average from 9 spectra.

Fig. 5 – Micro-Raman spectrum from artefact #50 of the mud-cracked residue (red curve), which is suspected to be a remnant of blood, shown as average from 9 spectra.

Expected Raman peaks for blood or blood components, based on Janko et al. (2012), are marked with blue arrows and stippled lines.

M. López Correa, C. Mazzoli

18The traceological results of the Mutafah 1 arched backed points show these artefacts to be used in at least two different activities: hafted as projectile points and likely used in hunting, and in transformative/productive activities, showing them to be part of a mobile toolkit. This versatility in use demonstrates how stone tools that look the same and were manufactured with the same specific technical system may represent different functional applications that the traceological characterisation can unravel.

Analysis of the TH.68 site at Jebal Kareem, southern Oman

19The TH.68 assemblage is composed mostly of knapping waste, including flakes, bladelets, debordant elements and blades. The tool assemblage comprises 44% burins, followed by bifacial pieces with 16%, and by side-scrapers combined with endscrapers with 10%. Traceological analysis have focused on the main tool classes present at the site and targeted the backed pieces, the bifacial components, the different types of burins, including burins on truncation, burins on snap, and endscrapers.

20Given that the TH.68 lithics come primarily from a surface context, high levels of post-depositional alteration were expected. Unfortunately, the desert varnish weathering that covers the surfaces and edges of the artefacts was considerably more developed than expected, and the highly reflective sheen (fig. 6) obliterated any traces of microscopic polish, making it impossible to identify the way the artefacts were used. In some cases, fine striations and highly reflective areas were observed, but showed erratically distributed polished spots from the superimposed desert varnish (fig. 6A-6B). Their anthropic nature is therefore questionable and these traces are likely the result of taphonomic factors. In addition to the desert varnish, most artefact edges show a high level of edge damage possibly resultant from ancient trampling, again making an interpretation of micro-negatives as resulting from anthropogenic tool kinetics difficult.

Fig. 6 – Micrographs showing different post-depositional alterations seen on the TH.68 lithics.

Fig. 6 – Micrographs showing different post-depositional alterations seen on the TH.68 lithics.

A, D. Highly reflective lustre distributed evenly across all surfaces and within micro-negatives; B. Fine parallel striations with superimposed post-depositional alterations; C. Possible original striations covered by post-depositional alteration.

Y. Hilbert

21Of interest to the technological aspect governing backed point production is the identification of manufacturing techniques, comparing between the Mutafah 1 and TH.68 backed micro-blades (fig. 7). Functional attribution of these pieces is difficult given their fragile nature and the ambiguous fracturing pattern that does not fit any of the experimentally reproduced diagnostic impact fractures (Dockall 1997; Taller et al. 2012; Taipale et al. 2022a). It is likely that these had multiple functions, like the Mutafah 1 bi-pointed backed micro-blades. The TH.68 specimens show a combination of different techniques including direct percussion, percussion on anvil and the oblique abrasion of the backed edges on either a hard organic surface or soft mineral comparable to l’égrisage technique (sensu Pelegrin 2004). The Mutafah 1 specimens, on the other hand, are predominantly produced using direct percussion without the use of an anvil.

Fig. 7 – Type of backing seen on micro-blades from Dhofar.

Fig. 7 – Type of backing seen on micro-blades from Dhofar.

A-D. TH.68; E-H. Mutafah 1.

Y. Hilbert

Burin Sites

22A remarkable phenomenon observed in the Syrian/Arabian steppe, especially in Syria around Palmyra (Akazawa 1979), Jordan (Betts 1986; Betts and Finlayson 1990; Rollefson 1988) and the northern areas of Saudi Arabia (Ingraham et al. 1981; Zarins 1990; Crassard and Hilbert 2020) are the so-called “burin sites”. These are large workshop sites with a high percentage of burins. Where absolute dating is possible, these sites fall chronologically within the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) between 8.0 and 6.5 ka BC. Similar sites have been reported in Dhofar, southern Oman. Their chronological and cultural attribution, however, is difficult to establish and possible Late Palaeolithic to Neolithic cultural affinities falling within the early Holocene were suggested (Cremaschi and Negrino 2002; Hilbert et al. 2018a; Hilbert and Clemente-Conte 2021).

23Of the 20 analysed stone tools from DAJ-112 and DAJ-125, northern Saudi Arabia, only one tool has micro-polish allowing for the identification of the material transformed and possibly hafting arrangements. The piece DAJ-112 #4 is a double truncated short burin measuring 41.8 mm length, 33.77 mm width and 10.25 mm thickness. The truncation is placed at both ends and a series of burin blows have been administered on the concave truncations on both edges of the tool. Micro-polish has been observed on both ends; these are, however, attributed to different activities. Processing traces associated to contact with hard organic material are visible on the distal end of the tool (fig. 8). The micro-polish is concentrated on the eminences of the micro-topography of the active edge and shows a bright and undulating texture possibly associated with the processing of wood. On the proximal end of the tool, flat bright spots of bright polish are seen on the eminences of the micro-topography. These are interpreted as hafting traces associated with the friction between the tool and the haft during tool use.

Fig. 8 – Traces of use and hafting on DAJ-112 #4.

Fig. 8 – Traces of use and hafting on DAJ-112 #4.

F1. Micrograph showing undulating bright micro-polish on the elevated areas of the micro-topography of the active tool edge, possible traces of woodworking at magnification 200×; F2. Woodworking traces at 400×; F3—F4. Bright flat polish interpreted as G-polish from hafting. M1 macro-image of the proximal truncation on the tool.

Y. Hilbert

24The remaining tools show varying levels of edge rounding, edge battering and desert varnish, which has rendered the identification of micro-polish and hence interpretations of possible tool function difficult to establish. Some specificities of the edge rounding distribution, however, are noteworthy and may, nonetheless, provide insight on how raw material and blanks were transported to and from the site. As an example, we draw attention to specimens DAJ-112 #1 and 7# (figs. 9–10). These show high levels of ridge and edge rounding on their dorsal surfaces, while the ridge negatives on the truncations and burin blow negatives show no such rounding. Additional flat, bright spots of micro-polish, resultant from the contact with mineral materials, were observed sporadically across ventral and dorsal surfaces. This may indicate that unretouched blanks have been transported to the site and transformed into tools afterwards. The effect of transport on stone tools has been sporadically addressed by different researchers from an experimental perspective (Clemente-Conte 1997; Rots 2010; Mazzucco and Clemente-Conte 2013). The main aspect of these experimental replications is reflected in high levels of ridge rounding and incidence of mineral micro-polish observed on the tools; elements that can be seen on the analysed lithics DAJ-112 and 125 (fig. 9).

Fig. 9 – Transport traces on DAJ112 #1.

Fig. 9 – Transport traces on DAJ112 #1.

M1, M3. Heavily abraded ridges on the dorsal artefact surface; M2. Rounding on the truncation of the tool due to use; M4. Lack of ride rounding on the retouch of the truncation of the artefact.

Y. Hilbert

Fig. 10 – Artefacts #2 and #7 from DAJ-112.

Fig. 10 – Artefacts #2 and #7 from DAJ-112.

M1. Rounding and abrasion on the working edge of DAJ-112 #2; M2. Traces of percussion on the edge of the burin blow; M3. Edge abrasion on the dorsal surface of DAJ-112 #7; M4. Unabraded ridges on the negatives of the truncation on DAJ-112 #7.

Y. Hilbert

25While identification of the material transformed with the burins from sites DAJ-112 and 125 was viable for specimen #4, the abrasion and micro-scarring on the truncations of the burins may indicate their actual use in productive tasks. These were in some cases conducted in combination with indirect percussive activities as observed on the burin blow negatives as seen on specimen #2 (fig. 10). This tool is a double truncated burin made on a thick-crested blade element showing different levels of ridge-rounding varying between the highly abraded edge on what was the core’s initial crested part to very fresh ridges seen on both the proximal and distal truncation. Signs of percussive action are seen on M2 in Figure 9 and likely corresponds to the specific task conducted with the tool.

26Burin sites were also identified along the Umm al Khashab region of Dhofar, and traceological analyses were previously conducted by the authors (Hilbert et al. 2018a; Hilbert and Clemente-Conte 2021). The analyses have shown that burins from Dhofar were used in woodworking activities and that these tools were used at specific sites across this region. We have conducted additional traceological analysis on a small sample from the site KR252. Unfortunately, post depositional alterations, namely desert varnish like weathering, have rendered the identification of traces resulting from use impossible on these samples. Nonetheless, we have been able to identify specific technological traces on these samples that were not observed on any of the previously analysed burin sites from Dhofar. Of the ten burins from KR252, half show traces of battering on the main ridges on the dorsal surface close to the active portion of the tools (fig. 11). These are possibly related to the manufacturing of the truncations, which have been shown by our previous research to be the main working edge on these tools. The manufacturers would rest the burins on a mineral anvil and resharpen them by applying direct percussion to the truncations.

Fig. 11 – Burins from KR252 with traces of batter on the dorsal surface.

Fig. 11 – Burins from KR252 with traces of batter on the dorsal surface.

M1—M3. Traces of indirect percussion on dorsal surfaces of the lithics, possibly from manufacturing process.

Y. Hilbert

The Neolithic occupation at Khamseen Rockshelter in Dhofar

27Of the 20 artefacts analysed from the Neolithic levels at Khamseen Rockshelter, only two have provided enough traceological data to allow for a functional interpretation of the respective artefacts. This low incidence of information is due to the high levels of post-depositional alterations observed on the artefacts. Albeit the tools come from stratified contexts, the majority show increased levels of soil polish and chemical alteration that have resulted in the formation of a thick white patina (Rottländer 1975; Glauberman and Thorson 2012; Caux et al. 2018). This white alteration, composed of a siliceous film superimposed on a desilicified tool surface, has negative effects on the preservation of micro-polish (Hurst and Kelly 1961; Keeley 1980; Vaughan 1985).

28The two tools presenting use traces have been identified due to the advanced state of micro-polish development, possibly resulting from prolonged use. Research into the formation of micro-polish due to use have highlighted the importance of use duration for the development of micro-wear traces (Schmidt et al. 2020; Ibáñez and Mazzucco 2021; Rodriguez et al. 2022). Artefact #4704 is a semi-bifacial worked flake measuring 64.91 mm in length, 26.27 mm width, and 6.11 mm thickness. Use-wear traces are concentrated on both faces of the right edge of the tool, micro-polish is found on the edges of the negatives and subsequent retouching of the tool has erased traces on the actual cutting edge. The orientation of the micro-wear indicates a longitudinal motion for this tool. Micro-polish, when well developed, is bright and undulating, in some cases with a rippled aspect, and small pits can be observed (fig. 12). These characteristics are associated with the sawing of a hard organic material. Additional smooth thin bands of polish on the interior edges of the micro-negatives and patches of weakly developed generic polish found on the working edge may indicate that the tool was also used to cut soft organic material.

Fig. 12 – Traces of use on artefact #4704 from Khamseen Rockshelter.

Fig. 12 – Traces of use on artefact #4704 from Khamseen Rockshelter.

F1. Well-developed bright undulating pitted polish from contact with hard organic material, likely from sawing bone; F2-F3. Weak generic polish, possibly from contact with soft abrasive organic material.

Y. Hilbert

29Artefact #4909 is a flake with fine continuous retouch along the right side, measuring 54.75 in length, 42.44 mm width, and 9.58 mm thickness. The tool shows a combination of traces including micro-striations and micro-polish found on the ventral and dorsal surface (fig. 13). The orientation of the micro-striations indicates a combination of transverse and longitudinal tool motion during use. Micro-polish, especially on the ventral surface, which is possibly the tool face with the highest amount of contact with the material processed, is bright and undulating with low incidence of micro-pits; it is concentrated on the eminences of the micro-topography and results from the contact of a hard organic material, possibly dry wood.

Fig. 13 – Use traces on artefact #4909 from Khamseen Rockshelter.

Fig. 13 – Use traces on artefact #4909 from Khamseen Rockshelter.

F1. Micro-polish with undulating texture on the higher areas of the micro-topography, longitudinal striations possibly from contact with a hard abrasive organic material, likely from wood processing; F2. Micro-polish on negative ridges on the dorsal tool surface.

Y. Hilbert

Discussion

30Here we have presented the results of traceological analyses conducted on Palaeolithic and Neolithic assemblages from southern Oman and northern Saudi Arabia. As stated above, some of the sites selected for analysis had produced negative results. This is particularly true for the stone tools from surface sites located throughout the scablands of the dry plateau in Dhofar. These show high incidence of post-depositional tool deterioration at the surfaces and edges that primarily hold the traceological data. This was observed for surface material, which has been exposed to aeolian activity and shows a desert varnish type of patination. The fine-grained sediments in which the artefacts were buried also negatively affected the samples of the Palaeolithic and Neolithic layers at Khamseen Rockshelter and some of the tools from Mutafah 1. Nonetheless, we were able to draw some preliminary conclusions from this pilot study, especially regarding the oldest uses of projectiles in South Arabia, which remain a largely understudied subject.

31Elsewhere, particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean and Northeast Africa, researchers have observed that Levallois points show traces suggesting their use as stone insets in thrusting or throwing spears (Shea 1988; Plisson and Beyries 1998; Boëda et al. 1999; Rots et al. 2011), providing a glimpse into Middle Palaeolithic (ap. between 200,000 to 40,000 yrs BP) projectile technology. The use of the Levallois points as part of hunting equipment has also been suggested for the Dhofar Nubian Complex sites found in southern Oman (Rose et al. 2011). The subject is, however, debated and traceological analysis of the points needs to be conducted if the function of these elongated and triangular stone tools is to be determined.

32The backed points from TH68 and Mutafah 1 provide some, albeit tenuous, insight into composite projectile technology from southern Arabia. The traceological analysis has shown that these were not only used as projectiles but also indicates their use in cutting and piercing activities, which makes them part of complex multifunctional tools. The differences in backing technique used at both TH.68 and Mutafah 1 may signal cultural discontinuity. The issue remains contested as the TH.68 assemblage comes from a surface context and is impossible to date. In terms of interregional comparisons with the Levant or East Africa, no satisfactory conclusion can be drawn at this stage.

33The same may be said for the comparison of the desert burins from northern and southern Arabia, particularly the differences in blank choice and blank manufacture observed for the DAJ-112 and 125 specimens and the Dhofar samples analysed here and published elsewhere (Hilbert et al. 2018a; Hilbert and Clemente-Conte 2021). It is interesting to observe, however, that tools from northern Arabia were possibly fabricated elsewhere, transported to the site and transformed into burins when needed. This suggests that artefacts found at the DAJ-112 and 125 localities (Crassard and Hilbert 2020) were brought to the site in different stages, as raw blanks for tool manufacture and possibly as nodules and cores ready for blank production. Burin sites from Dhofar show somewhat variable usage of production techniques—this may have different reasons, among which technical choice, chronological discrepancies or functional aspects could have played an important role. The difficulties in dating these sites and obtaining reliable functional data from these surface assemblages complicate narrowing down technical aspects of this phenomenon in southern Arabia.

34The traceological data from Khamseen Rockshelter may suggest that the site served to undertake domestic tasks. The lack of sickle elements, typical for the Neolithic in northern Arabia, is unsurprising given the lack of agricultural evidence for southern Arabia until the second half of the mid-Holocene and the expansion of the oasis subsistence pattern. This supports the assumption that semi-nomadic, hunting gathering was practiced alongside stock management during the Neolithic in South Arabia (Tosi 1986; Martin et al. 2009; Uerpmann et al. 2013).

35The example of a potential blood residue analysed with µRaman from an only 250 by 350 µm small residue on Mutafah 1 tool #50 has strong implications for its presumable use. The morphological shrinkage structures and the Raman peaks consistent with data by Janko et al. (2012) and Atkins et al. (2017) indicate that the residue is indeed blood and the tool was likely used in a hunting context. Nonetheless, we need to combine and interpret data with caution, as the influence of drying blood on the Raman signal and its potential alteration in an extremely hot desert environment are simply not yet investigated. Janko et al. (2012) reported peaks for the mid-Holocene “Iceman” from the Italian Alps, dated to 5300 yrs BP, with Raman spectra reported between 1,700 and 700 cm-1 that convincingly coincide with modern blood or blood component spectra, as later for instance also shown in Atkins et al. (2017). Our data show a correspondence at the same positions, but the peaks are much wider. While we are optimistic that the Raman signal can be taken as evidence for fossil blood, we need to take into account that the Holocene Iceman’s blood was stored frozen underneath a glacier, while our sample was preserved in a dry desert rubble under high ambient temperatures (modern average 25 °C). In the absence of other Raman spectra of presumable blood residues at 30 ka from the Arabian Peninsula, we provide the data as a reference for eventual future finds (Hilbert et al. in press).

Conclusions and outlook

36The transition from hunter-gatherers to herders-farmers, which in most places occurred during the Terminal Pleistocene and the Early Holocene (ap. 22,000 to 7,000 yrs BP) represents one of the most impactful episodes in our long existence on this planet. It allowed for an exponential demographic growth in comparison to the older phases of the Palaeolithic (Stone Age). The earliest archaeological evidence for this shift in human demography was triggered by a multitude of changes in cultural and social spheres that further altered the economy, subsistence and geography of our species. Subsistence, and how humans gain access to their nutrients first shifted in the eastern Mediterranean, where human populations underwent a series of profound technological and socio-political changes during the end of the Pleistocene, which culminated in the emergence of food-producing societies. This process took place over multiple generations and likely involved multiple initial setbacks, dead ends and turnovers.

37Unfortunately, we remain in the dark when it comes to understanding subsistence shifts and possible cultural and population continuity across these vast time periods throughout Arabia. Our modest contribution of traceological information on these aspects of Arabian archaeology help to ascertain how stone tools that share typological parameters may have exerted multiple functions and were manufactured for the use of different techniques. We hope, in the future, to continue conducting traceological studies on better preserved archaeological contexts, in order to better understand how human behaviour was shaped by environmental parameters across the Arabian Peninsula.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 – Geographical location of key Palaeolithic sites investigated herein
Légende A. Overview of the Arabian Peninsula with sites DAH-112 and DAH-125 in northern Saudi Arabia; B. Southern Oman with the position of site maps in C and D; C. Detailed SRTM-topography for site Mutafah-1; D. Detailed SRTM-topography for sites KR-252 and TH-50.
Crédits Contour spacing in C and D is 10 m; QGIS-processed data derived from the Shuttle Radar Topographic Mission (SRTM) via https://earthexplorer.usgs.gov/​. Base maps for A) and B) drawn from www.maps-for-free.com; Matthias López Correa.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/3043/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,3M
Titre Fig. 2 – Artefact MF1.104 from Mutafah 1.
Légende F1. Micrograph showing the possible microscopic linear impact traces (MLIT) at magnifications 100×; F2. Micrograph showing the micro negatives seen along the active edge of the tool at magnification 100×.
Crédits I. Clemente-Conte, Y. Hilbert
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/3043/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 198k
Titre Fig. 3 – Artefact MF1.111 from Mutafah 1.
Légende F1. Specific G-type polish seen on the eminence of micro-topography on the back of the tool at magnification 50×; F2. Micrograph showing the tip of the tool and the abrasion on the edges resulting from contact with a soft abrasive material at magnification 100×; F3. Micrograph showing the micro-negatives and weakly developed undulating mat polish at the edge of the negatives on the working edge of the tool at magnification 50×; F4. Micrograph showing patches of undulating mat weakly developed polish and abraded edges resultant from the contact with a soft abrasive organic material.
Crédits I. Clemente-Conte, Y. Hilbert
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/3043/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 310k
Titre Fig. 4 – Artefact FF1.50 from Mutafah 1.
Légende F1. Micro-residue found preserved inside a retouch negative see at 100× and 200× magnifications.
Crédits I. Clemente-Conte, Y. Hilbert
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/3043/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 343k
Titre Fig. 5 – Micro-Raman spectrum from artefact #50 of the mud-cracked residue (red curve), which is suspected to be a remnant of blood, shown as average from 9 spectra.
Légende Expected Raman peaks for blood or blood components, based on Janko et al. (2012), are marked with blue arrows and stippled lines.
Crédits M. López Correa, C. Mazzoli
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/3043/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 83k
Titre Fig. 6 – Micrographs showing different post-depositional alterations seen on the TH.68 lithics.
Légende A, D. Highly reflective lustre distributed evenly across all surfaces and within micro-negatives; B. Fine parallel striations with superimposed post-depositional alterations; C. Possible original striations covered by post-depositional alteration.
Crédits Y. Hilbert
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/3043/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 322k
Titre Fig. 7 – Type of backing seen on micro-blades from Dhofar.
Légende A-D. TH.68; E-H. Mutafah 1.
Crédits Y. Hilbert
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/3043/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 144k
Titre Fig. 8 – Traces of use and hafting on DAJ-112 #4.
Légende F1. Micrograph showing undulating bright micro-polish on the elevated areas of the micro-topography of the active tool edge, possible traces of woodworking at magnification 200×; F2. Woodworking traces at 400×; F3—F4. Bright flat polish interpreted as G-polish from hafting. M1 macro-image of the proximal truncation on the tool.
Crédits Y. Hilbert
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/3043/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 344k
Titre Fig. 9 – Transport traces on DAJ112 #1.
Légende M1, M3. Heavily abraded ridges on the dorsal artefact surface; M2. Rounding on the truncation of the tool due to use; M4. Lack of ride rounding on the retouch of the truncation of the artefact.
Crédits Y. Hilbert
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/3043/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 211k
Titre Fig. 10 – Artefacts #2 and #7 from DAJ-112.
Légende M1. Rounding and abrasion on the working edge of DAJ-112 #2; M2. Traces of percussion on the edge of the burin blow; M3. Edge abrasion on the dorsal surface of DAJ-112 #7; M4. Unabraded ridges on the negatives of the truncation on DAJ-112 #7.
Crédits Y. Hilbert
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/3043/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 118k
Titre Fig. 11 – Burins from KR252 with traces of batter on the dorsal surface.
Légende M1—M3. Traces of indirect percussion on dorsal surfaces of the lithics, possibly from manufacturing process.
Crédits Y. Hilbert
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/3043/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 117k
Titre Fig. 12 – Traces of use on artefact #4704 from Khamseen Rockshelter.
Légende F1. Well-developed bright undulating pitted polish from contact with hard organic material, likely from sawing bone; F2-F3. Weak generic polish, possibly from contact with soft abrasive organic material.
Crédits Y. Hilbert
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/3043/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 251k
Titre Fig. 13 – Use traces on artefact #4909 from Khamseen Rockshelter.
Légende F1. Micro-polish with undulating texture on the higher areas of the micro-topography, longitudinal striations possibly from contact with a hard abrasive organic material, likely from wood processing; F2. Micro-polish on negative ridges on the dorsal tool surface.
Crédits Y. Hilbert
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/3043/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 141k
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Référence papier

Yamandú H. Hilbert, Matthias López Correa, Claudio Mazzoli, Rémy Crassard, Fabio Negrino, Mauro Cremaschi, Ignacio Clemente-Conte et Thorsten Uthmeier, « From Hunter-Gatherers to Farmers: Contributions of Traceology to the Study of Prehistoric Lithic Technology in Arabia »Paléorient, 49-1 | -1, 133-154.

Référence électronique

Yamandú H. Hilbert, Matthias López Correa, Claudio Mazzoli, Rémy Crassard, Fabio Negrino, Mauro Cremaschi, Ignacio Clemente-Conte et Thorsten Uthmeier, « From Hunter-Gatherers to Farmers: Contributions of Traceology to the Study of Prehistoric Lithic Technology in Arabia »Paléorient [En ligne], 49-1 | 2023, mis en ligne le 28 août 2023, consulté le 22 juillet 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/3043 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/paleorient.3043

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Auteurs

Yamandú H. Hilbert

Palaeoanthropology, Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment, Institute of Archaeological Sciences, University of Tübingen, Tübingen – Germany | https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5469-2933

Matthias López Correa

GeoZentrum Nordbayern, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Erlangen – Germany | Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Istituto di Scienze Marine, Bologna – Italy | https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6996-1876

Claudio Mazzoli

Department of Geosciences, University of Padova, Padova – Italy | https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0374-8415

Rémy Crassard

CNRS, UMR 5133 Archéorient, Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée, Lyon – France | https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2403-1894

Articles du même auteur

Fabio Negrino

Department of Antiquities, Philosophy, History, Università di Genova, Genova – Italy | http://orcid.org/0000-0001-7539-2959

Mauro Cremaschi

Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra "A. Desio", Università degli Studi di Milano, Milano – Italy | http://orcid.org/0000-0003-2934-3210

Ignacio Clemente-Conte

CSIC, Institución Milá y Fontanals de investigación en Humanidades, Archeology of Social Dynamics (ASD), Barcelona – Spain | https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3190-215X

Thorsten Uthmeier

Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Erlangen – Germany | https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0374-8415

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