Wadi Hammeh, one of the largest repertoires of Natufian art


Wadi Hammeh 27, located 2 kilometres north of Pella, represents one of the largest and most complex Natufian base-camps in the southern Levant, an Australian archaeologist has said.

Wadi Hammeh, one of the largest repertoires of Natufian art
Fossil and carved animal from the Natufian site Wadi Hammeh 27
[Credit: Phillip Edwards]

“These are essentially the world’s first villages [12,000 BC], funded by hunter-gatherers near the end of the Pleistocene [Ice Age], which predated farming,” said Phillip Edwards from La Trobe University in Melbourne.

Wadi Hammeh 27 was discovered when Edwards’ mentor Tony McNicoll asked Australian geologist Phillip Macumber to investigate the geological basis of the Pella tell (Khirbet Fahl) in the 1980/81 season, Edwards said, adding that Macumber explored the area of Wadi Hammeh and found “a virtual El Dorado” of prehistoric occurrencess from the Middle Palaeolithic, Upper  Palaeolithic and Early Epipalaeolithic periods.

Wadi Hammeh, one of the largest repertoires of Natufian art
Location of Wadi Hammeh 27 in the east Jordan Valley [Credit: Phillip Edwards,
Antiquity Vol. 89 2015]

“I was first asked by director Tony McNicoll to excavate the Early Epipalaeolithic site of Wadi Hammeh 26 in late 1982, as part of my graduate studies. After finishing this, he suggested I sample the interesting-looking larger site overlying it [Wadi Hammeh 27]. So, in early 1983, I placed a small 2x1m sondage into a point that had many different artefacts eroding from the cliff-edge of the site,” Edwards outlined.

The test pit revealed a trio of large, engraved slabs, wedged diagonally in the trench and after this find, and McNicoll was sure of the site’s importance and supported Edwards to work there in 1980s, he noted.

Wadi Hammeh, one of the largest repertoires of Natufian art
Aerial view of phase 2 occupation surface (plot XX F) excavated at Wadi Hammeh 27 in 2014; each grid square
 measures 1 × 1m; the earlier ‘XX F sondage’ (phase 4) is located to the right, and a pit dug from the later
phase 1 is indicated by a dashed line; white discs indicate the locations of ‘artefact clusters’
[Credit: Phillip Edwards, Antiquity Vol. 89 2015]

“Scholars found over 60 art pieces of Natufian art at Wadi Hammeh, making it one of the largest such repertoires of Natufian art.”

“Apart from the large slabs, art pieces are mainly small and furnished with geometric designs. They mainly consist of small limestone plaques and pieces, with a small number on bone tools,” he said, adding that finds of natural objects such as fossils and unusual stones in the site indicate that some of the designs may have been prompted by natural patterns. 

Wadi Hammeh, one of the largest repertoires of Natufian art
Stone slab incised with a repeated array of concentric irregular squares was found in a wall inside
“Structure 2” at Wadi al-Hammeh 27 [Credit: National Gallery of Australia]

A zoomorphic sickle terminal is one of a small number of representative images of animals, Edwards said, adding that the tiny head was badly burnt and in danger of dissolving altogether.

“It is often difficult to tell exactly which types of animal are represented in Natufian art, even though the pieces are executed with great skill, but we have a gazelle and a bird, and a few indistinguishable animals,” Edwards said, stressing that the gazelle is the most commonly represented animal in Natufian art, “just as it was usually the animal hunted the most”.

Author: Saeb Rawashdeh | Source: The Jordan Times [June 21, 2019]