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Undersea dig explores ancient village.

Ongoing excavations at an approximately 8,000-year-old settlement submerged in the Mediterranean Sea near Israel offer a look at the complexities of ancient village life, according to a report in the summer JOURNAL OF FIELD ARCHAEOLOGY.

"This is not only the largest and best-preserved prehistoric settlement ever found on the sea floor, it is the only one known to contain [undisturbed human] burials," say Ehud Galili, an archaeologist at the Israeli Antiquities Authorities in Jerusalem, and his co-workers.

Yearly excavations at the site, called Atlit-Yam, began in 1984. Work occurs only during September, when strong underwater currents abate and water temperatures rise. Erosion along Israel's coast exposed enough of Atlit-Yam and several other prehistoric sites to allow for their discovery by underwater archaeologists in the early 1980s. Radiocarbon dates indicate that people inhabited Atlit-Yam from around 8,100 to 7,500 years ago. Residents apparently abandoned the settlement to avoid rising seawater or advancing sand dunes that may have preceded flooding by the sea, the researchers contend.

A wide range of activities - including fishing, hunting, farming, and perhaps the penning of wild animals - allowed year-round occupation of the village, they hold.

Many bones at the site come from deepwater fish. Perforated stones retrieved by investigators may have served as sinkers for fish nets, and bone points may have allowed for spearing of fish from boats, Galili's team maintains.

Some of the 15 human skeletons uncovered so far, mostly in single burials, show tooth loss and damage that may have resulted from biting ropes or thin leather straps while fashioning fish nets, they add.

Ribs and vertebrae make up most of the animal bones primarily from goats and cattle -- found at Atlit-Yam, a pattern typical of butchery, the lsraeli scientists note. Incisions on many bones probably resulted from cutting apart carcasses with sharpened stone tools, they say,

Goat and cattle bones at the site exhibit a wide range of sizes typical of isolated herds unable to breed with other wild animals, the team says. Thus, residents may have captured and kept these animals for slaughter at a later time, they argue.

A large hoard of charred wheat also turned up at the site. Marshes that once bordered the village would have provided good soil for wheat fields, Galili's team asserts.
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Title Annotation:Atlit-Yam excavation under Mediterranean Sea near Israel
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jul 10, 1993
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