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Tree-Felling, Woodworking, and Changing Perceptions of the Landscape during the Neolithic and Chalcolithic Periods in the Southern Levant

Richard W. Yerkes and Ran Barkai
Current Anthropology
Vol. 54, No. 2 (April 2013), pp. 222-231
DOI: 10.1086/669705
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/669705
Page Count: 10
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Tree-Felling, Woodworking, and Changing Perceptions of the Landscape during the Neolithic and Chalcolithic Periods in the Southern Levant
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Abstract

Examination of 206 Neolithic and Chalcolithic bifaces from the southern Levant revealed that changes in form during the emergence of agropastoralism correlated with evolving land use practices, but new biface types also expressed altered social identities and perceptions of the environment. Nonfunctional groundstone pre-pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) bifaces seem to have served as social and status symbols, while flaked flint PPNA tranchet axes and chisels were used for carpentry rather than tree-felling. This pattern continued during the following early pre-pottery Neolithic B (EPPNB) period, but a new sharpening method, polishing, was used on a unique flint tranchet ax to strengthen its edge. By the MPPNB and LPPNB, heavier polished flint axes were used to clear forests for fields, grazing lands, wood fuel, and lumber. Sustainable forest management continued until the cumulative effects of tree-felling may have led to landscape degradation at the end of the PPNC. Adzes replace axes as heavy woodworking tools during the pottery Neolithic A (PNA) period, but by the PNB period, once again there are more carpentry tools than tree-felling bifaces. The trend is reversed again during the Chalcolithic, when the demand for fire wood, lumber, and cleared land seems to have increased during a time of emerging socioeconomic complexity.

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