Background

Üçağızlı I cave was discovered and first excavated in the 1980's by Dr. A. Minzoni-Deroche. We began a new excavation project at the site in 1997. The project is a collaborative one, involving Turkish and American researchers as well as specialists from a number of other countries. The excavations are directed by Prof. Erksin Güleç of Ankara University and Prof. Steven Kuhn from the University of Arizona.

The stratigraphic sequence at Üçağızlı I cave can be divided into four major segments. The uppermost, layers B-B3 through C, contains archaeological materials attributable to the "Ahmarian", an early Upper Paleolithic culture complex typical of the eastern Mediterranean region. Layers F though I yield archaeological assemblages typical of Levantine Initial Upper Paleolithic or "transitional" industries. Archaeological materials from layers D through E represent a transition between these two components. The lower part of Layer I is essentially sterile, though it may contain very low-density early Upper Paleolithic or Mousterain deposits.

 

The archaeological sequence at Üçağızlı I cave is one of the longest early Upper Paleolithic sequences in the entire eastern Mediterranean region. The most complete sequence is found at Ksar ĎAkil in Lebanon. Other important early UP localities include Um et'Tlel and Yabrud shelter II in Syria, Boker Tachit, Boker, Hayonim Cave, El Wad Cave and Kebara Cave in Israel, Erq el Ahmar in Palestine, and Antelias shelter in Lebanon. Interestingly, the only other site of similar age in Turkey is Kanal Cave , located just 25 km away from Üçağızlı I cave (Nearby Sites).

 

In Eurasia, the early Upper Paleolithic period witnessed a number of profound changes in human behavior and adaptations, including the first appearance of art objects and elaborate bone, antler and ivory tools in the region, as well as elaboration of systems of personal ornamentation. To date, a great deal of research has been devoted to understanding the timing of these human behavioral developments, and to ascertaining whether they had roots in earlier Middle Paleolithic cultures or they arrived with new populations. Very early dates for bone tools, ornaments and decorated objects in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and possibly Israel have led scholars to argue that many characteristics of the Upper Paleolithic in Eurasia are attributable to the expansion of anatomically and behaviorally modern humans out of Africa. However, other researchers believe these developments to be local or indigenous, reflecting parallel evolutionary trends.

 

The main goals for the our excavation project at Üçağızlı I cave include (1) understanding the timing of important social, cultural and technological developments within the Levantine Early Upper Paleolithic, and (2) understanding how these developments were influenced by their economic and environmental contexts. Before this project began little was known about the ecological circumstances and subsistence economies of the first Upper Paleolithic humans in the Eastern Mediterranean region. Important sites such as Ksar ĎAkil and Yabrud shelter were excavated decades ago, and detailed information on faunas and ornaments did not come from these excavations. Other important early Upper Paleolithic sites in the region, such as Boker and Boker Tachtit, lack preserved organic material altogether. The conditions of preservation at Üçağızlı I cave are excellent. In addition to numerous stone tools we are recovering a variety of organic materials that can help us reconstruct both human diets and past environments in the region.

 

Laboratory studies and analysis of field data from four years of excavations are ongoing but some basic findings are summarized here, including the presence of large numbers of ornaments, throughout the sequence at the site. Body ornaments represent the earliest kind of information technology, exploiting material objects as a medium of communication. Ornaments like beads are assembled to convey information about the wearers to other people: in recent human cultures, they may be used to mark everything from age and marital status to religious or ethnic affiliation. The appearance of ornaments at Üçağızlı I cave and other sites in central Europe and Africa is material evidence for the existence of distinctly human capacities for symbolic communication. It may also reflect the increasing scale in human societies, since the need to broadcast personal information grows with the number of people one encounters.

 

A number of trends in human ecology can be seen in the sequence of occupations at Üçağızlı I cave. Throughout the occupation the bones of large terrestrial game (deer, wild goats, pigs and cattle) dominate the collections of faunal remains. This may seem strange in a site located so close to the sea, but the local topography probably had a great deal of influence on human foraging habits. The site is bracketed by steep-walled valleys ending in box canyons, and these topographic features would have provided ideal situations for ambushing large game animals. Though large animals predominate throughout the sequence, over time we see an increase in the importance and variety of small game. An important question for investigation is whether these changes in diet are due to changes in local environments, increasing human population density in the region, or a combination of factors.

 

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Excavations

Summer 2000

 

 

 

 

Stratigraphic Sequence

 

 

 

 

 

Early Upper Paleolithic
Shell Ornaments

 

Ahmarian Bone Tools

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Box Canyons