The development of plant food processing in the Levant: insights from use-wear analysis of Early Epipalaeolithic ground stone tools
In recent years, the study of percussive, pounding and grinding tools has provided new insights into human evolution, more particularly regarding the development of technology enabling the processing and exploitation of plant resources. Some of these studies focus on early evidence for flour production, an activity frequently perceived as an important step in the evolution of plant exploitation. The present paper investigates plant food preparation in mobile hunter-gatherer societies from the Southern Levant. The analysis consists of a use-wear study of 18 tools recovered from Ohalo II, a 23 000-year-old site in Israel showing an exceptional level of preservation. Our sample includes a slab previously interpreted as a lower implement used for producing flour, based on the presence of cereal starch residues. The use-wear data we have obtained provide crucial information about the function of this and other percussive tools at Ohalo II, as well as on investment in tool manufacture, discard strategies and evidence for plant processing in the Late Pleistocene. The use-wear analysis indicates that the production of flour was a sporadic activity at Ohalo II, predating by thousands of years the onset of routine processing of plant foods.