The Mousterian sequence of Hummal (Syria)

Hauck, Thomas Carsten. The Mousterian sequence of Hummal (Syria). 2010, PhD Thesis, University of Basel, Faculty of Science.


Official URL: http://edoc.unibas.ch/diss/DissB_9223


The well-site of Hummal, located in the arid steppe region of El Kowm (Central Syria), is scientifically important because of its long archaeological sequence. Beginning probably over a million years ago, humans visited the spring during a range of environmental conditions, and their remains can be found in more than 60 archaeological levels. This thesis focuses on the Mousterian deposits, which comprise the uppermost and longest section of the Hummal sequence. Over 30 archaeological levels display evidence of intermittent site frequentation by Mousterian hominids.
The Mousterian deposits of Hummal have been under regular excavation since 2002. Since that time, the western and southern parts of the well have been examined more closely, and the two current stratigraphies comprise a sequence more than 5 meters thick. The littoral deposits mirror a steady shift between water transgressions and regressions, which caused the development of a broad ecological spectrum ranging from extended, oxygen-rich lake systems to marshy ponds or water-depleted depressions filled with aeolian sands. Colluviated deposits show evidence of recurring sediment collapses and erosion processes that were provoked by instabilities in the karstic bedrock, water flows and weathering.
The changing biotope varied in its attractiveness to both animals and humans as they searched for drinking water and food. Resource diversity was probably higher in the vicinity of the artesian springs than in the steppe surrounding El Kowm, for herds of grazing ungulates gathered at these waterholes in the course of their annual migration through the El Kowm gap in the mountain ranges that stretch across Syria. The animal bones found in the Mousterian levels of Hummal show that Middle Paleolithic hunter-gatherers encountered steppe-adapted species such as horses, gazelles, ostriches and camels. Among the camel remains, evidence of a large-sized species that is now extinct shows Mousterian hunters had access to considerable masses of meat at times. In their hunt for these large mammals, the mobile human groups would have benefited from the strategic position offered by the El Kowm area.
The hunter-gatherers also benefited from ready access to the high-quality flint distributed along the Cretaceous and Tertiary formations to the north and south of Hummal. Analysis of the lithic assemblages excavated at Hummal suggests variable patterns of raw material provisioning and use, and these in turn provide information about technological strategies in relation to the site’s role in the Mousterian hominids’ land-use system. The principal parameters used for reconstructing different strategies of the raw-material economy include the density of lithic waste in a given level and the composition of artifact assemblages. From the presence or absence of specific products such as cores, cortical flakes and tools, as well as their quantity and size, it is possible to decipher variable provisioning strategies that involved targeted forays, the transportation of raw material, opportunistic exploitation of secondary outcrops, or a strong reliance on personal gear. A statistical test for assemblage types corresponding to these different strategies for raw material import and consumption proposes four different assemblage types. Together with the relevant environmental context, these types are informative test cases that can be used for a reconstruction of site functions and land-use systems.
Off-site as well as on-site core reduction saw a systematic application of the Levallois method to obtain standardized blanks. The lowermost Mousterian levels of Hummal reflect the need for a wide spectrum of blank forms that was met by the application of different flaking methods. Common features found across the whole sequence, irrespective of flaking strategy, are the marked elongation of Levallois blanks, the scarcity of Levallois cores and retouched tools, and the systematic recycling of flakes and tools into cores.
Although the sample size is small, the oldest lithic industry (labeled HM-B) is characterized by broad, centripetally prepared preferential flakes and large blades with uni- or bidirectional scar patterns. In the upper two-thirds of the Hummal sequence, a special blank type gains more and more importance: the Levallois point. This coincides with a marked uniformity as regards the choice of core reduction strategies. Triangular blanks were struck exclusively from one-axis Levallois cores with the recurrent unidirectional or lineal method. They are accompanied by elongated flakes and blades for the production of which the knappers used unidirectional parallel prepared core surfaces. Inter-assemblage variability concerns the shape and volume of exploited cores and corresponding morphometric attributes of the blanks.
Despite idiosyncratic techno-typological properties, the Hummal Mousterian industries HM-B and HM-A share certain traits with other Mousterian sites in the El Kowm region and beyond. Despite the frequency of elongated points and blades in HM-A, a comparison with Early Mousterian assemblages, such as Tabun unit IX, shows more differences than similarities. Rather, the clear focus on Levallois points and their high degree of standardization warrant an allocation of the upper Mousterian levels of Hummal to a Late Levantine Mousterian, as is shown by comparisons with sites like Umm El Tlel, Kebara, Amud or Tor Faraj. As regards the HM-B industry, its relative chronological position is still unclear; however, comparisons with Douara III and Tabun unit I suggest that the lowermost Mousterian levels of Hummal belong to the so-called “Tabun C type Mousterian”. They would therefore represent an extension of this facies further eastward than might be expected into the arid, interior part of the Levant.
Advisors:Le Tensorer, Jean-Marie
Committee Members:Conard, Nicholas J.
Faculties and Departments:05 Faculty of Science > Departement Umweltwissenschaften > Institut für Prähistorische und Naturwissenschaftliche Archäologie (IPNA) > Urgeschichte (Le Tensorer)
Item Type:Thesis
Thesis no:9223
Bibsysno:Link to catalogue
Number of Pages:1 Bd.
Identification Number:
Last Modified:30 Jun 2016 10:41
Deposited On:17 Dec 2010 08:56

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