Archaeomagnetism of burnt cherts and hearths from Middle Palaeolithic Amud Cave, Israel: tools for reconstructing site formation processes and occupation history

Chen Zeigen, Ron Shaar, Yael Ebert, Erella Hovers*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Apart from magnetostratigraphy, archaeomagnetism is rarely used in Middle and Late Pleistocene sites. Here we present detailed palaeomagnetic analyses of cemented hearths and burnt chert items from Amud Cave, Israel (68–55 ka) - two types of materials common in Levantine Middle Palaeolithic cave sites. Both materials are shown to be recorders of the geomagnetic field and were used to reconstruct either the ancient field direction (for cemented hearths) or intensity (palaeointensity) (for chert) at the time of the last burning or shortly after. We test the utility of palaeomagnetic data to further our understanding of temporal aspects of occupations in the cave by comparing the dispersion of the palaeomagnetic data to the known characteristics of geomagnetic secular variation in the Holocene. We show that divergent palaeointensities can help identify diachronic burning events, suggesting different activity patterns in two areas of the cave. Additionally, we used palaeomagnetic directional vectors to distinguish between a well-preserved hearth and one that had been mixed prior to cementation. Using rock magnetic investigations, we demonstrate that magnetic methods can be used as a relatively fast and inexpensive method to identify burning of cherts in antiquity above 500 °C. The palaeomagnetic results are in agreement with results of previous studies at Amud Cave, obtained by other independent methods. This study shows that palaeomagnetic methods can serve as a powerful tool in the study of Palaeolithic sites.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-86
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
StatePublished - Jul 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by Israel Science Foundation grant 1364/15 to RS; a grant to CZ from The Ruth Amiran Fund for Archaeological research at the Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University, and a scholarship to CZ from the Institute of archaeology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem . The 2017 fieldwork at Amud Cave was funded by The Israel Science Foundation grant 1232/15 to EH and the cryptotephra site sampling program of the project Unravelling the pattern, impacts and drivers of early modern human dispersals from Africa , 2017–2020 (PI, S. Blockley, on-site research D. White) funded by the Leverhulme Trust . We thank Mae Goder-Goldberger for help with the GIS rendering of excavation plans and sections; Ravid Ekshtain for her help with chert geological sampling; Yoav Vaknin for help with sample preparation. We thank the participants of the Amud Cave 2017 sampling season – Tegenu Gossa Aredo, Ella Been, Ravid Ekshtain, Netta Mitki, Talia Oron, Yoav Vaknin, and Dustin White. We are also grateful to Ángel Carrancho and an anonymous reviewer for their constructive comments on an earlier version of this paper.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier Ltd

RAMBI Publications

  • Rambi Publications
  • Paleomagnetism -- Eretz Israel
  • Paleolithic period
  • Hearths, Prehistoric
  • Antiquities, Prehistoric -- Eretz Israel
  • Ammud Cave (Israel) -- Antiquities


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