Archaeological Sites: Eynan
The archaeological site of Eynan, located in the far north of modern day Israel, provides us with a fascinating insight into the development of Epipaleolithic societies in the Levant. The name Eynan is the Hebrew version, with Mallaha or ‘Ain Mallaha in its Arabic name. For the purposes of this article, I will refer to the site as Eynan.
Eynan was the site of a Natufian community, a perfect location for sedentary hunter-gatherers, due to the rich resources at hand. The nearby lake provided access to fish, and in the basin and hills the inhabitants could hunt gazelle, fallow deer, wild boar, red and roe deer, hare, tortoise, reptiles, and amphibians, as well as the migrant waterfowl that visited the lake. On top of this, they could gather terebinth (a bitter stoned fruit), wild cereals and nuts (Watkins, p.210).
The site is important for the history of the Natufian culture, as it documents the entire lifespan of the culture from 12,000 to 9,600 BCE. One scholar, Francois Valla has distinguished three phases to the Natufian culture. What is remarkable is that the site of Eynan represents all three phases.
The first phase yielded around 30 burials, many of which had been covered over by the structures of the same period (Watkins, p.211). The bodies had been interred in the buildings, which were abandoned, and then filled in. With a number of the bodies, ornaments made from dentalium shell were found. One skeleton was found with a headdress made of this shell, along with a necklace, a bracelet, a belt and a garter.
The second phase unearthed smaller buildings than the previous phase, with the buildings arranged in three ranges on terraces. Cylindrical pits were found in some of these houses, some lined with mud plaster, others with stone. It has been suggested that the older pits were used as graves, as some bodies were placed in the pits immediately after death. Other pits contained multiple bodies; these seem to be secondary burials – that is, the major bones from the skeleton buried elsewhere where reinterred in the pits.
The third and final phase of Eynan was of some debate. It was thought that the Natufian inhabitants only used the site as a seasonal occupation by a group that returned to a mobile hunter-gatherer strategy. However, further excavations and research at the site revealed that occupation still continued here, but on a much smaller scale than previously. Smaller houses were constructed with less substantial materials before the site was finally abandoned in around 9,600 BCE.
The site of Eynan testifies to the unique culture that was the Natufians and provides us with a unique insight into the pre-history of the Levant.
Watkins, Trevor (2005) The Human Past – From Foragers to Complex Societies in Southwest Asia, Thames & Hudson, London.