The Eynan-Mallaha (Aïn Mallaha) occupied between 12 500 and 9700 BC is situated in Galilee. It is an exceptional prehistoric site considering the precedence of the French research conducted since 1955 in partnership with the CRFJ as well as the testimony it delivers on the earliest shift from nomadic to sedentary societies, just before the invention of agriculture and animal husbandry. Thus, its exploration gives us an opportunity to reflect upon sedentarization and, in a Near-Eastern context, upon its mechanism that led from a sedentary lifestyle to the birth of agrarian societies of which we are all heir. This radical change of lifestyle finds its origin in the Natufian communities (from the valley known as “Wadi” in Natuf, in Palestine, where the first site has been discovered in 1928 by Dorothy Garrod), which are communities of hunters-gatherers.
Between 1955 and 1961, Jean Perrot (CNRS) brings to light the earliest Natufian houses in Mallaha. These houses are imposing circular or semi-circular partly buried units, with stone veneer and covered by a roof held by massive poles and stones used for wedging. Those houses are connected to a large number of graves. Following these discoveries, Jean Perrot defended the idea of a sedentary lifestyle of hunters-gatherers preceding the domestication of plants and wildlife, an idea that changed drastically the previous chronology of the neolithization process. When the excavations resumed from 1971 to 1976, the stratigraphic succession of these regularly reconstructed houses and their interior layout received the greatest attention under the direction of Jean Perrot and Monique Chevalier (CNRS) and then of François Valla (CNRS) who set up a thorough excavation following Pr. André Leroi-Gourhan’s palaeo-ethnological approach. From 1996 to 2005, the fieldwork operations resumed under the co-direction of François Valla and Hamoudi Khalaily (Israel Antiquities Authority). They documented the last phase of the site occupation preceding the neolithic period before the site was abandoned. This final Natufian phase is fundamental in understanding the economic shift, but is also not well documented as a large number of Natufian sites have been abandoned since the Late Natufian. Hence, the site of Mallaha, which has been inhabited for almost 2500 years, is ideal in apprehending the sedentarization process in the long term through domains such as architecture, land use, the development of the territory and its resources, symbolic and technical productions, funerary behaviors. Finally, the quality of the available archives (J. Perrot, F. Valla’s archives) held in the MSH Mondes in Nanterre allows a constantly renewed re-reading throughout the scientific debate (http://archives.mae.u-paris10.fr/index.php/fouilles-de-en-mallaha).
The currently two ongoing projects are on site:
1. The 3 volumes monograph on the 1996-2005 excavations undertaken by François Valla and Hamoudy Khalaily. The direction of this publication is held by José-Miguel Tejero (CSIC) who received the financial support of the White-Levy Programme of Harvard University.
Four preliminary reports have been published in the Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society: https://www.jstor.org/journal/mitekufathaeven?decade=2000 : 1998 (vol. 28), 2001 (vol. 31), 2004 (vol. 34), 2007 (vol. 37).
2. Restarting the excavations after a 15-years interruption, under the direction of Fanny Bocquentin (CNRS) and Lior Weissbrod (IAA). A first exploratory fieldwork has taken place from June 27th to July 22nd 2022 in order to get an overview of the site excavated in 1955, to prepare a project consisting in enhancing the existing structure and to identify new excavation areas for the upcoming years. This operation has been funded by the ARPAMED Foundation (https://www.arpamed.fr/en/projets/projets-2022/eynan-mallaha-les-derniers-chasseurs-cueilleurs-du-proche-orient/), the Iren Sala Care Archaeological Foundation, the research unit UMR 8068 Temps, the CRFJ and it has received the logistical and technical support of the IAA. A new campaign is planned in 2023.
Suggested readings (non-exhaustive list):
Bar-Yosef, O., Valla, F.R. (Eds.), 2013. Natufian foragers in the Levant: terminal Pleistocene social changes in Western Asia, Archaeological series. International Monographs in Prehistory, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Biton, R., Bailon, S., Birkenfeld, M., Bridault, A., Khalaily, H., Valla, F.R., Rabinovich, R., 2021. The anurans and squamates assemblage from Final Natufian Eynan (Ain Mallaha, Israel) with an emphasis on snake-human interactions. PLoS ONE 16, e0247283. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0247283
Bocquentin, F. 2003 Pratiques funéraires, paramètres biologiques et identités culturelles au Natoufien : une analyse archéo-anthropologique. Thèse. Université Bordeaux 1. https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/tel-01997088/
Bocquentin, F., 2021. Beyond the Formal Analysis of Funerary Practices? Archaeothanatology as a Reflexive Tool for Considering the Role of the Dead amongst the Living: A Natufian Case Study., in: Knüsel, C.J., Schotsmans, E.M.J. (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Archaeothanatology. London, pp. 159–177.
Bocquentin, F. & Noûs, C. 2022. Considerations on the mechanisms of integration of the dead in the early sedentary societies of the Near East (Natufian, 15-11.6 ka cal BP). Bulletins et mémoires de la Société d’Anthropologie de Paris. BMSAP 34. https://journals.openedition.org/bmsap/9548
Bouchud, J., Pichon, J., Desse, J., Mienis, H.K., 1987. La faune de Mallaha (Eynan), Israël, Mémoires et travaux du Centre de recherche français de Jérusalem. Association Paléorient, Paris.
Borvon, A., Bridault, A., Biton, R., Rabinovich, R., Prevost, M., Khalaily, H., Valla, F., 2018. Finding of trout (Salmo cf. trutta) in the Northern Jordan Valley (Israel) at the end of the Pleistocene: Preliminary results. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 18, 59–64. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2018.01.008
Bridault, A., Rabinovich, R., Simmons, T. 2008 Human activities, site location and taphonomic process: a relevant combination for understanding the fauna of Eynan (Ain Mallaha), level IB (Final Natufian), Israel. Archaeology of the Near East VIII. TMO 49, Maison de l’Orient et de la Mediterranée. Lyon, pp. 99-117.
Davin, L., 2019. La parure du Natoufien ancien en contexte funéraire : reconstitution des chaînes opératoires à Mallaha (Eynan), Israël (These de doctorat). Paris 1. https://tel.archives-ouvertes.fr/tel-02932302
Dubreuil, L. 2004 Long-term trends in Natufian subsistence: a use-wear analysis of ground stone tools. Journal of Archaeological Science 31: 1613-1629. https://www.sciencegate.app/document/10.1016/j.jas.2004.04.003
Perrot, J., Ladiray, D., Solivérès-Masséi, O., Ferembach, D., 1988. Les Hommes de Mallaha (Eynan), Israel, Mémoires et Travaux du Centre de Recherche Française de Jérusalem, 7. Association Paléorient, Paris.
Rivals, F., Rabinovich, R., Khalaily, H., Valla, F., Bridault, A., 2020. Seasonality of the Final Natufian occupation at Eynan/Ain Mallaha (Israel): an approach combining dental ageing, mesowear and microwear. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 12, 232. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-020-01190-3
Santana, J., Millard, A., Ibáñez-Estevez, J.J., Bocquentin, F., Nowell, G., Peterkin, J., Macpherson, C., Muñiz, J., Anton, M., Alrousan, M., Kafafi, Z., 2021. Multi-isotope evidence of population aggregation in the Natufian and scant migration during the early Neolithic of the Southern Levant. Sci Rep 11, 11857. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-90795-2
Samuelian, N. 2019 Les abris du Natoufien final de Eynan-Mallaha, Israël: organisation spatiale et interprétation fonctionnelle = Buildings of the Final Natufian of Eynan-Mallaha, Israel: spatial organisation and functional interpretation. Éditions de Boccard. Mémoires et Travaux du Centre de Rechercge Français de Jérusalem, 11.
Samuelian N, Khalaily H., Valla F.R. 2006 Final Natufian Architecture at Eynan: approaching diversity behind uniformity. In E.Banning and M.Chazan (eds.) Domesticating Space. Construction, Community and Cosmology in the Late Prehistoric Near-East. Actes. Studies in Early Near Eastern Production, Subsistence, and Environment 12, pp.35-41).
Valla, F.R., 1988. Aspects du sol de l’abri 131 de Mallaha (Eynan), Israël. Paléorient, Préhistoire du Levant II. Processus des changements culturels 14, 283–296. https://doi.org/10.3406/paleo.1988.4475
Valla, F.R., 2018. Sedentism, the “point of non return”, and the Natufian issue. An historical perspective. Paléorient 44, 19–33 https://www.persee.fr/doc/paleo_0153-9345_2018_num_44_1_5783
Valla, F., 2019. More on Early Natufian Building 131 at Eynan (Ain Mallaha), Israel, in: Goldfus, H., Gruber, M.I., Yonah, S., Fabian, P. (Eds.), “Isaac Went out to the Field”: Studies in Archaeology and Ancient Cultures in Honor of Isaac Gilead. Archaeopress Archaeology, Oxford, pp. 302–315.
Valla, F.R., Khalaily, H., Samuelian, N., Bocquentin, F., Bridault, A., Rabonovich, R., 2017. Eynan (Ain Mallaha)., in: Enzel, Y., Bar-Yosef, O. (Eds.), Quaternary of the Levant: Environments, Climate Change, and Humans. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom ; New York, NY, pp. 752–759. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316106754.034
Weissbrod L., Marshall F.B., Valla F.R., Khalaily H., Bar-Oz G., Auffray J-C., Vigne J-D., Cucchi T. (2017). Origins of House mice in ecological niches created by settled hunter-gatherers in the Levant 15.000 years ago. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science U S A 114(16): 4099-4104. https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1619137114