Landscapes, depositional environments and human occupation at Middle Paleolithic open-air sites in the southern Levant, with new insights from Nesher Ramla, Israel

Yossi Zaidner*, Amos Frumkin, David Friesem, Alexander Tsatskin, Ruth Shahack-Gross

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Middle Paleolithic human occupation in the Levant (250-50 ka ago) has been recorded in roofed (cave and rockshelter) and open-air sites. Research at these different types of sites yielded different perspectives on the Middle Paleolithic human behavior and evolution. Until recently, open-air Middle Paleolithic sites in the Levant were found in three major sedimentary environments: fluvial, lake-margin and spring. Here we describe a unique depositional environment and formation processes at the recently discovered open-air site of Nesher Ramla (Israel) and discuss their contribution to understanding site formation processes in open-air sites in the Levant. The site is 8-m-thick Middle Paleolithic sequence (OSL dated to 170-80 ka) that is located in a karst sinkhole formed by gravitational deformation and sagging into underground voids. The sedimentary sequence was shaped by gravitational collapse, cyclic colluviation of soil and gravel into the depression, waterlogging, in situ pedogenesis and human occupation. Original bedding and combustion features are well-preserved in the Lower archaeological sequence, a rare occurrence in comparison to other open-air archaeological sites. This phenomenon coincides with episodes of fast sedimentation/burial, which also allowed better preservation of microscopic remains such as ash. The Upper archaeological sequence does not exhibit bedding or preservation of ash, despite presence of heat-affected lithic artifacts, which makes it similar to other open-air sites in the Levant. We suggest that rate of burial is the major factor that caused the difference between the Upper and Lower sequences. The differences in the burial rate may be connected to environmental and vegetation changes at the end of MIS 6. We also identified an interplay between sediment in-wash and density of human activity remains, i.e. during episodes of low natural sediment input the density of artifacts is higher relative to episodes with high rate of sediment in-wash. The detailed analysis of natural and anthropogenic processes at Nesher Ramla suggests a much wider spectrum of processes than previously reported for southern Levantine Paleolithic sites. Nesher Ramla shares certain depositional and post-depositional characteristics with both cave and open-air sites and provides a better insight into processes which control both types of sites.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)76-86
Number of pages11
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - 15 Apr 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Cave sites
  • Karst sinkhole
  • Levant
  • Middle Paleolithic
  • Open-air sites
  • Site formation processes


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