Caves of the Doves

Lab Note #2
Mar 17, 2017

That's the direct translation of "Mughr el-Hamamah." Rock doves (species Columba livia) like to perch and nest in the large caves found throughout the wider Mediterranean Basin. Not surprisingly, locals have given many cave systems the very same name. Paleolithic humans also liked the large caves found throughout the wider Mediterranean Basin. Although our hunter-gatherer ancestors were hardly cave people (we think they made most of their camps out in the open), caves provided shelter from the elements and would have been conspicuous landmarks, making them reliable places for multiple families or hunter-gatherer groups to meet and maintain temporary camps. The result is that many "Cave(s) of the Doves" are also important Paleolithic sites. 

Thus, we have La Grotte des Pigeons in Morocco. There, researchers found some of the oldest known examples of decorative beads--in this case, with perforations in Mediterranean sea shells. We do not know how those beads were worn (e.g., as bracelets or necklaces versus sewn onto clothing). But they date to over 80,000 years ago, likely made, shared as gifts, and worn by early anatomically modern human groups. 

The other scientifically important "Caves of the Doves" is the Me'arot HaYonim, located in northern Israel. In the Paleolithic era, Hayonim Cave (as it's reported in scientific publications) would have been a two-day's hike from Mughr el-Hamamah, the west-northwest. Hayonim Cave has deposits ranging from the later Lower Paleolithic (ca. 250,000 years ago) to the end of the Paleolithic (around 12,000 years ago). In the 1990's, Profs. Ofer Bar-Yosef, Bernard Vandermeersch, and Baruch Arensburg led an interdisciplinary team that studied the Paleolithic layers of Hayonim Cave in detail. With their colleagues, they succeeded in refining many of the scientific methods on which our work at Mughr el-Hamamah depends. 

Hayonim Cave also happens to be where Aaron and Liv first met, as they participated in the excavations as students. That was 1995.

We're excited to build on what we learned years ago at Hayonim Cave, to see what new discoveries we make this summer at Mughr el-Hamamah in Jordan.

The attached photos: Mughr el-Hamamah in early January 2013, above fields of wild winter herbs (by Aaron Jonas Stutz); Rock dove portrait by Wikimedia commons user dori (CC BY-SA).

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