Considering the importance of wetlands to hunter-gatherer adaptation : a microbotanical investigation of Late Pleistocene plant-use in the Eastern Levant




Nicolaides, Monica Lorelle

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The distribution and composition of ecological opportunities had a tremendous impact on Late Upper Palaeolithic to Middle Epipaleolithic (ca. 28-14.5 ka cal. BP) (Late Pleistocene) hunter-gatherers, influencing the ways they chose to use, modify and manage the changing Levantine landscape through and after the Last Glacial Maximum (ca. 28-19 ka cal. BP). The main objective of this dissertation is to employ phytolith and micro-charcoal analysis to explore through direct evidence, the long-term patterns of Late Pleistocene hunter-gatherer plant-use in the Eastern Levant. The phytolith data presented in this dissertation demonstrates clearly that wetlands are vital to understanding Late Pleistocene hunter-gatherer adaptations in the Eastern Levant during the late Pleistocene. This new direct archaeobotanical evidence shows that Late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers employed flexible local systems of plant-use that focused on wetland resources. Through their exploitation of anthropogenically sensitive phytolittoral resources, Late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers may have facilitated the development and expansion of those resources and contributed to the social and ecological feedbacks that aided the ‘upward mobility’ of wetland resources. In providing a dependable food and craft resource repository, wetland plant resources may have facilitated increasingly sedentary adaptations in certain locales and perhaps permitted increasing use of risky grass and cereal resources. This understanding of Late Pleistocene plant-use and human-environment dynamics veers significantly from previous perspectives on hunter-gatherer plant-use in the region. Firstly, in considering the local ecological opportunities, this work emphasizes the complexity of gathering strategies and the choices hunter-gatherers faced in the Late Pleistocene. Secondly, by seeking a new ethnographic analog in the American Great Basin, a region defined by its characteristic wetland/dryland landscape, it was possible to hypothesize about the many types of hunter-gatherer wetland adaptations in the Eastern Levant. Thirdly, by employing phytolith analysis a different picture of plant-use emerges from that which focuses on macrobotanical remains alone. Moreover, because macrobotanical remains are so rare in most Epipaleolithic contexts, this phytolith data constitutes the most complete botanical record for this important period in the Eastern Levant. This new perspective helps shift the emphasis from cereal and small-seeded grass (SSG) use and the broad-spectrum revolution (BSR) narrative that has overbearingly dominated our understanding of Late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers. Lastly, informed by an understanding of human-environment interactions based in Historical Ecology and Human Niche Construction (HNC), this dissertation recognizes that Late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers did not just react to their environments, but created and modified their environments. This research critically reconsiders the way we see hunter-gatherers in the prehistory of the Levant.



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