The Early Upper paleolithic deposit of Mughr el-Hamamah (Jordan): Archaeobotanical taphonomy and site formation processes

Mónica Alonso-Eguiluz, Michael B. Toffolo, Chantel E. White, Eleni Asouti, Elisabetta Boaretto, Liv Nilsson Stutz, Aaron Stutz, Rosa María Albert

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With a rich, well-dated Early Upper Palaeolithic layer, the Mughr el-Hamamah cave site is key for understanding the Middle-Upper Palaeolithic transition in the Levant. The archaeological deposit consists of two units. Layer A resulted from pastoral activities during the 20th century and Layer B dated between 44.5 and 40.0 ky BP. During Layer A's formation, shepherds disturbed Layer B, redepositing Early Upper Palaeolithic sediments and lithic artefacts in Layer A matrix. Activity from Layer A's formation also resulted in spatially patchy percolation and bioturbation, leaving microarchaeological traces such as dung spherulites in some areas in Layer B. In contrast, contemporaneous chemical diagenetic processes from Layer B's primary formation caused spatially uneven post-depositional dissolution of animal bone. In this article we present a multi-proxy microarchaeological approach to investigate the post-depositional processes in Layer B, focussing on possible impacts on the plant archaeological record. The identification of intrusive spherulites from shepherds’ activities define the limits of disturbance in Layer B. Micromorphological analyses have identified four intact micro-facies in Layer B, representing an interplay of natural and anthropogenic factors. Micromorphological details in bedded combustion features favour the interpretation that associated phytoliths represent fuel traces. Dicot fruit phytoliths occur in the western area of the cave, where well-preserved charred wood and seeds were also found. Grass-diagnostic phytoliths correspond to C3 and C4 taxa, indicating an overall humid environment with dry spells. Microarchaeological analysis identifies traces of both bedded and dispersed hearth materials, mixed with variable plant resources for food, fuel, and possibly other uses. This strengthens the interpretation of Mughr el-Hamamah Layer B as a dense, complicated palimpsest of recurring activities, formed over many millennia.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104471
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
StatePublished - May 2024
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 Elsevier Ltd


The mineralogical composition of the samples analysed in this study reflects the terra rossa sedimentary context of the site. This is supported by the occurrence of clay minerals in the FTIR spectra. The identification of authigenic phosphates, confirms the presence of components originated from the degradation of organic matter. Additionally, wood ashes are also part of the sediments as revealed by the presence of siliceous aggregates and pyrogenic calcite in the FTIR. The excavations and research on of MHM have been supported by Oxford College of Emory University ; a Gregory-Rackley Career Development Award to A. J. Stutz ; NSF High Risk Research in Anthropology Grant ( #1025352 ); the L. S. B. Leakey Foundation; the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research ; the MICRO-PAST project funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation to RMA ( PID2020-119773 GB-100 ); 65 backers of the crowdfunded project, “How Did Palaeolithic Hunter-Gatherers Use and Consume Plant Resources in Eurasia” on Experiment (; the Irene Lévi-Sala CARE Foundation; and the American Philosophical Society. We are grateful to the Department of Antiquities of Jordan. MBT is supported by the grant RYC2021-030917-I, funded by MCIN/AEI/10.13039/501100011033 and by the “European Union NextGenerationEU/PRTR”, and wishes to thank Archéosciences Bordeaux for the possibility to use the petrographic microscope to study thin sections at an earlier stage. MAE received support from the Research Foundation-Flanders (FWO) for international mobility (ID K118724).

FundersFunder number
Leakey Foundation
Department of Antiquities of Jordan
Irene Lévi-Sala CARE Foundation
Archéosciences Bordeaux
Wenner-Gren Foundation
New College, University of Oxford
American Philosophical SocietyMCIN/AEI/10.13039/501100011033, RYC2021-030917-I
Ministerio de Ciencia e InnovaciónPID2020-119773 GB-100
National Science Foundation1025352
Fonds Wetenschappelijk OnderzoekK118724


    • Cave archaeology
    • Early Upper Palaeolithic
    • FTIR
    • Micromorphology
    • Phytoliths
    • Post-depositional processes
    • Spherulites


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