Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 245–262 | Cite as

The application of biometry and LA-ICP-MS to provenance isolated bones: a study of hominin remains from Oumm Qatafa Cave, Judean Desert

  • Liora Kolska HorwitzEmail author
  • Patricia Smith
  • Marina Faerman
  • Elisabetta Boaretto
  • Irina Segal
Original Paper


Three hominin phalanges were recently identified in old faunal collections attributed to the Late Acheulean (Layer D2) dated to ca. 213 Kya, from Oumm Qatafa Cave (Judean Desert), a site excavated in 1928–1949. In terms of general appearance (colour, patina and adhering sediment), these specimens resembled the fauna with which they were found, but the likelihood of stratigraphic problems especially in old excavations, the presence of 4th millennium b.c. burials in the topmost Layer A at the site and the absence of any mention of Late Acheulean hominin remains in publications relating to the site prompted us to verify that the phalanges were indeed in situ. Osteometric examination showed the phalanges to be indistinguishable from those of Middle Paleolithic Levantine anatomically modern humans (AMHS) as well as Upper Paleolithic and recent populations, thus contributing little to the resolution of their provenance. To further investigate this issue, we compared the elemental composition of the phalanges to that of fauna from the same and overlying archaeological layers using non-destructive laser ablation–inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS). The results showed a close resemblance in elemental composition between the phalanges and fauna from Layer D2, implying that they are in situ. This would indicate either an early occurrence of AMHS in the region or the presence of an ancestral archaic Homo. We propose that LA-ICP-MS offers a useful minimally invasive method for provenancing isolated human and faunal remains.


Oumm Qatafa Cave Phalanges Anatomically modern humans Late Acheulean LA-ICP-MS Element composition Provenance 



We would like to offer our appreciation and give credit to Emma Humphreys (PhD candidate, Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto) who originally found the phalanges whilst cataloguing the Oumm Qatafa fauna. Our sincere thanks is also extended to: Dr. Clive Trueman and an anonymous reviewer for their valuable suggestions, which greatly improved the manuscript; to Dr. Rivka Rabinovich, curator of the archaeozoological collections at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, for facilitating access to LKH to study the Oumm Qatafa fauna; and to Mr. Vladimir Nakhlin (photography) and Mr. Leonid Zeiger (phalanx drawing).

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Liora Kolska Horwitz
    • 1
    Email author
  • Patricia Smith
    • 2
  • Marina Faerman
    • 2
  • Elisabetta Boaretto
    • 3
    • 4
  • Irina Segal
    • 5
  1. 1.National Natural History Collections, Faculty of Life ScienceThe Hebrew UniversityJerusalemIsrael
  2. 2.The Laboratory of Biological Anthropology and Ancient DNAThe Hebrew University–Hadassah Faculty of Dental MedicineJerusalemIsrael
  3. 3.Radiocarbon Dating and Cosmogenic Isotopes LaboratoryWeizmann Institute of ScienceRehovotIsrael
  4. 4.Department of Land of Israel Studies and ArchaeologyBar-Ilan UniversityRamat GanIsrael
  5. 5.Geological Survey of IsraelJerusalemIsrael

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