Abundance or stress? Faunal exploitation patterns and subsistence strategies: The case study of Brush Hut 1 at Ohalo II, a submerged 23,000-year-old camp in the Sea of Galilee, Israel

Tikvah Steiner*, Rebecca Biton, Dani Nadel, Florent Rivals, Rivka Rabinovich

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The submerged site of Ohalo II was occupied during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), between 23,500-22,500 cal BP, bridging the Upper Paleolithic/Epipaleolithic transition in the southern Levant. The site is known for the excellent preservation of its brush huts and botanical remains. This study examines the behavior of its past inhabitants through analysis of the entire faunal assemblage found on the three successive floors of Brush Hut 1. Furthermore, it provides an opportunity to test differing models of prey choice and assess whether the observed resource diversification is the result of resource depression (explained by Optimal Foraging Theory) or resource abundance (explained by Niche Construction Theory). We focused on a quantitative, qualitative and spatial investigation of the more than 20,000 faunal remains, combining traditional zooarchaeological methods with microwear analysis of teeth and Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) of burnt bones. Identification of faunal remains to the most detailed level possible, combined with analysis of skeletal element frequencies allowed reconstruction of a profile of the desired prey, highlighting the importance of small, expedient prey compared to larger game (ungulates). FTIR was used to identify degrees of burning and to develop a key to identifying burnt bones from water-logged environments. Availability of multiple food sources within a rich habitat may have driven exploitation of those varied local resources, rather than targeting energetically-rich large prey. The choice of a littoral habitat that could be intensively exploited is an example of niche selection. Comparison with contemporaneous and later sites contributes to the ongoing discussion about Early Epipaleolithic prey choice, and the impact, if any, of the LGM in the Jordan Valley. Ohalo II is an example of diverse prey choice motivated by abundance rather than stress, at a 23,000-year-old fisher-hunter-gatherers camp.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere0262434
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported partly by scholarships awarded to T.S. by the Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel to M.A. students and the Ruth Amiran Scholarship. Field work was supported by grants from the Israel Science Foundation (Nos. 831/00 and 711/08), Jerusalem Center for Anthropological Studies, L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, MAFCAF Foundation, National Geographic Society, Stekelis Museum of Prehistory in Haifa, and the Israel Antiquities Authority. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Steiner et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


  • Archaeology
  • Bone and Bones
  • Humans
  • Israel
  • Spectroscopy, Fourier Transform Infrared
  • Tooth


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