Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 9–18 | Cite as

Invading a new niche: obligatory weeds at Neolithic Atlit-Yam, Israel

  • Anat Hartmann-Shenkman
  • Mordechai E. Kislev
  • Ehud Galili
  • Yoel Melamed
  • Ehud Weiss
Original Article


A characteristic group of obligatory weeds was found in the well of the submerged Pre-Pottery Neolithic C site of Atlit-Yam, Israel. Identifying these finds to species level was crucial for defining them as obligatory weeds. We deal here with the earliest and largest assemblage of obligatory and facultative weeds in the southwest Asian Neolithic. Atlit-Yam may reflect a stage in the establishment of weeds in cultivated fields. Weeds are an important resource for reconstructing the agricultural situation in archaeological sites, as weed-crop interactions reflect an agricultural lifestyle. Some of the weeds of Atlit-Yam grow in fields as well as in Mediterranean herbaceous habitats. This may indicate that the local herbaceous ecosystem was the original habitat of the weeds and the place where the first fields were planted. Presence in a single context of the earliest identified obligatory grain pest beetle (Sitophilus granarius) along with obligatory weeds reflects a novel change made to the ecosystem by the farmers, in which stored crops were invaded by pests.


Pre-Pottery Neolithic C (PPNC) Submerged settlement Agriculture Obligatory weeds Sitophilus granarius 



We would like to thank E. Donahaye of the Department of Plant Protection, Beit-Dagan, Israel, for confirming the identification of S. granarius; J. Langsam for the SEM micrographs; Y. Mahler-Slasky for the stereo-microscope pictures and we thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. We also thank the COST program, action TD0902, SPLASHCOS of the European Commission, the National Geographic Research Foundation, CARE Archaeological Foundation, MAFCAF Foundation, and Sandy and Joseph Lepelstat for their financial support of research on the submerged Carmel coast sites. The Israel Antiquities Authority, the Israel Prehistoric Society and Haifa University are acknowledged for their financial and administrative support of the underwater excavations.


  1. Bar-Matthews M, Ayalon A, Kaufman A (1997) Late Quaternary paleoclimate in the eastern Mediterranean region from stable isotope analysis of speleothems at Soreq cave, Israel. Quat Res 47:155–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bor NL (1968) Lolium L. In: Townsend CC, Guest E, Al-Rawi A (eds) Flora of Iraq. Iraq Ministry of Agriculture, Baghdad, pp 90–99Google Scholar
  3. Colledge S (1998) Identifying pre-domestication cultivation using multivariate analysis. In: Damania A, Valkoun J, Willcox G, Qualset CO (eds) The origins of agriculture and crop domestication. ICARDA, Aleppo, pp 121–131Google Scholar
  4. Dafni A (1984) Edible wild plants of Israel. Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, JerusalemGoogle Scholar
  5. Damania AB, Valkoun J, Willcox G, Qualset CO (1998) The origins of agriculture and crop domestication, 1st Harlan symposium. ICARDA, AleppoGoogle Scholar
  6. Danin A (2004) Distribution atlas of plants in the Flora Palaestina area. Israel Academy for Science and Humanities, JerusalemGoogle Scholar
  7. De Moulins D (2000) Abu Hureyra 2: plant remains from the Neolithic. In: Moore AMT, Hillman GC, Legge AJ (eds) Village on the Euphrates: from foraging to farming at Abu Hureyra. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 399–416Google Scholar
  8. Dobie P, Haines CP, Hodgers RJ, Prevett PF, Rees DP (1991) Insects and arachnids of tropical stored products: their biology and identification. Revised by Haines CP, 2nd edn. NRI, SloughGoogle Scholar
  9. Eliáš P, Hajnalová M, Eliasova M (2010) Historical and current distribution of segetal weed Lolium temulentum L. in Slovakia. Hacquetia 9:151–159Google Scholar
  10. Fahmy AG (1997) Evaluation of the weed flora of Egypt from Predynastic to Graeco-Roman times. Veget Hist Archaeobot 6:241–247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fairbairn A, Martinoli D, Butler A, Hillman G (2007) Wild plant seed storage at Neolithic Çatalhöyük East, Turkey. Veget Hist Archaeobot 16:467–479CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Feinbrun-Dothan N (1978) Flora Palaestina, vol 3. Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, JerusalemGoogle Scholar
  13. Feinbrun-Dothan N (1986) Flora Palaestina, vol 4. Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, JerusalemGoogle Scholar
  14. Feinbrun-Dothan N, Danin A (1998) Analytical flora of Eretz-Israel. Cana, JerusalemGoogle Scholar
  15. Fragman-Sapir O, Plitmann U, Heller D, Shmida A (1999) Checklist and ecological data-base of the flora of Israel and its surroundings. Miflalot “Yeffe Nof” & The Middle East Nature conservation promotion association, JerusalemGoogle Scholar
  16. Fuller D (2007) Contrasting patterns in crop domestication and domestication rates: recent archaeobotanical insights from the Old World. Ann Bot 100:903–924CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Galili E, Nir Y (1993) The submerged Pre-Pottery Neolithic water well of Atlit-Yam, northern Israel, and its palaeoenvironmental implications. Holocene 3:265–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Galili E, Rosen B (2011) Submerged Neolithic settlements off the Mediterranean coast of Israel. In: Benjamin J, Bonsall C, Pickard C, Fischer A (eds) Submerged prehistory. Oxbow Books, Oxford, pp 272–286Google Scholar
  19. Galili E, Weinstein-Evron M, Hershkovitz I, Gopher A, Kislev M, Lernau O, Kolska-Horwitz L, Lernau H (1993) Atlit-Yam: a prehistoric site on the sea floor off the Israeli coast. J Field Archaeol 20:133–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Garfinkel Y, Kislev M, Zohary D (1988) Lentil in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B Yiftah’el: additional evidence of its early domestication. Isr J Bot 37:49–51Google Scholar
  21. Greig JRA (1990) Practical ecology: experiments in growing traditional cornfield weeds and a comment on their archaeological records in Britain. In: Robinson DE (ed) Experimentation and reconstruction in environmental archaeology. (Symposia of the Association for Environmental Archaeology 9). Oxbow, Oxford, pp 41–62Google Scholar
  22. Harlan JR (1965) The possible role of weed races in the evolution of cultivated plants. Euphytica 14:173–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Harlan JR (1995) The living fields. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  24. Harlan JR, DeWet JMJ (1965) Some thoughts about weeds. Econ Bot 19:16–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Helbæk H (1969) Plant collecting, dry-farming, and irrigation agriculture in prehistoric Deh Luran. In: Hole F, Neely JA, Flannery KV, Helbæk H (eds) Prehistory and human ecology of the Deh Luran Plain. Memoirs of the Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, pp 383–428Google Scholar
  26. Helbæk H (1970) The plant husbandry of Hacılar. In: Mellaart J (ed) Excavations at Hacılar. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, pp 189–244Google Scholar
  27. Hillman GC (1972) Plant remains. In: French DH, Hillman GC, Payne S, Payne RJ, Excavations at Can Hasan III 1969–1970. In: Higgs ES (ed) Papers in economic prehistory. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 182–188Google Scholar
  28. Hillman GC (1978) On the origin of domestic rye—Secale cereale: the finds from aceramic Can Hasan III in Turkey. Anatol Stud 28:157–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hillman GC (1991) Phytosociology and ancient weed floras: taking account of taphonomy and changes in cultivation methods. In: Harris DR, Thomas KD (eds) Modelling ecological change. Institute of Archaeology, University College London, London, pp 27–40Google Scholar
  30. Howe RW (1965) A summary of estimates of optimal and minimal conditions for population increase of some stored products insects. J Stored Prod Res 1:177–184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Jones G (2002) Weed ecology as a method for the archaeobotanical recognition of crop husbandry practices. Acta Palaeobot 42:185–193Google Scholar
  32. Jones G, Charles M, Bogaard A, Hodgson J (2010) Crops and weeds: the role of weed functional types in the identification of crop husbandry methods. J Archaeol Sci 37:70–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kislev ME (1997) Early agriculture and paleoecology of Netiv Hagdud. In: Bar-Yosef O, Gopher A (eds) An early Neolithic village in the Jordan valley, Part I: the archaeology of Netiv Hagdud. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, pp 209–236Google Scholar
  34. Kislev ME, Hartmann A, Galili E (2004) Archaeobotanical and archaeoentomological evidence from a well at Atlit-Yam indicates colder, more humid climate on the Israeli coast during the PPNC period. J Archaeol Sci 31:1301–1310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kreuz A, Schäfer E (2011) Weed finds as indicators for the cultivation regime of the early Neolithic Bandkeramik culture? Veget Hist Archaeobot 20:333–348CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kreuz A, Marinova E, Schäfer E, Wiethold J (2005) A comparison of early Neolithic crop and weed assemblages from the Linearbandkeramik and the Bulgarian Neolithic cultures: differences and similarities. Veget Hist Archaeobot 14:237–258CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Neef R (2003) Overlooking the steppe forest: a preliminary report on the botanical remains from early Neolithic Göbekli Tepe (southern Turkey). Neo-lithics 2:13–16Google Scholar
  38. Pasternak R (1998) Investigations of botanical remains from Nevali Çori PPNB, Turkey – A short interim report. In: Damania AB, Valkoun J, Willcox G, Qualset CO (eds) The origins of agriculture and crop domestication, 1st Harlan symposium. ICARDA, Aleppo, pp 170–177Google Scholar
  39. Pieters AJ (1935) What is a weed? J Am Soc Agron 27:781–783CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Riehl S, Zeidi M, Conard NJ (2013) Emergence of agriculture in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains of Iran. Science 341:65–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Savard M, Nesbitt M, Gale R (2003) Archaeobotanical evidence for Neolithic diet and subsistence at M’lefaat (Iraq). Paléorient 29:93–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Van Zeist W, De Roller GJ (2003a) Some notes on the plant husbandry of Aşikli Höyük. In: Van Zeist W (ed) Reports on archaeobotanical studies in the Old World. The Groningen Institute of Archaeology, University of Groningen, Groningen, pp 115–142Google Scholar
  43. Van Zeist W, De Roller GJ (2003b) The Çayönü archaeobotanical record. In: Van Zeist W (ed) Reports on archaeobotanical studies in the Old World. The Groningen Institute of Archaeology, University of Groningen, Groningen, pp 143–166Google Scholar
  44. Van Zeist W, Bakker-Heeres JAH [1982 (1985)] Archaeobotanical studies in the Levant, 1. Neolithic Sites in the Damascus Basin: Aswad, Ghoraifé, Ramad. Palaeohistoria 24:165–256Google Scholar
  45. Van Zeist W, Bakker-Heeres JAH [1984 (1986)] Archaeobotanical studies in the Levant, 3. Late-Palaeolithic Mureybit. Palaeohistoria 26:171–199Google Scholar
  46. Van Zeist W, Waterbolk-Van Rooijen W (1985) The palaeobotany of Tell Bouqras, eastern Syria. Paléorient 11:131–147CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Vavilov NI (1949–1950) Phytogeographic basis of plant breeding. In: Vavilov NI (ed) The origin, variation, immunity, and breeding of cultivated plants. Chronica Botanica. Mass., Waltham, pp 46–54Google Scholar
  48. Vavilov NI (1987) Origin and geography of cultivated plants. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  49. Wasylikova K (1981) The role of fossil weeds for the study of former agriculture. Zeit Arch 15:11–23Google Scholar
  50. Webster Third New International Dictionary (1966) GC Merriam Company. Springfield, MassachusettsGoogle Scholar
  51. Willcox G (2001) Présence des Céréales dans le Néolithique Préceramique de Shillourokambos à Chypre. Paléorient 26:129–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Willcox G (2008) Nouvelles données archéobotaniques de Mureybet et la néolithisation du moyen Euphrate. In: Ibañez J (ed) Le site néolithique de Tell Mureybet (Syrie du Nord), en hommage à Jacques Cauvin. (BAR International Series 1843). Archaeopress, Oxford, pp 103–114Google Scholar
  53. Willcox G (2012) Searching for the origins of arable weeds in the Near East. Veget Hist Archaeobot 21:163–167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Willcox G, Herveux L (2013) Late Pleistocene/early Holocene charred plant remains: preliminary report. In: Mazurowski RF, Kanjou Y (eds) Tell Qaramel 1999–2007. Protoneolithic and early Pre-Pottery Neolithic settlement in northern Syria. PCMA, Warsaw, pp 120–130Google Scholar
  55. Willcox G, Fornite S, Herveux L (2008) Early Holocene cultivation before domestication in northern Syria. Veget Hist Archaeobot 17:313–325CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Zohary M (1941) The weeds of Palestine and their control. Hassadeh, Tel-Aviv (in Hebrew)Google Scholar
  57. Zohary M (1950) The segetal plant communities of Palestine. Plant Ecol 2:387–411CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Zohary M (1962) Plant life of Palestine. Ronald Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  59. Zohary M (1966) Flora Palaestina, vol 1. Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, JerusalemGoogle Scholar
  60. Zohary M (1972) Flora Palaestina, vol 2. Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, JerusalemGoogle Scholar
  61. Zohary D (2004) Unconscious selection and the evolution of domesticated plants. Econ Bot 58:5–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Zohary D, Hopf M, Weiss E (2012) Domestication of plants in the old world, 4th edn. University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anat Hartmann-Shenkman
    • 1
  • Mordechai E. Kislev
    • 2
  • Ehud Galili
    • 3
  • Yoel Melamed
    • 2
  • Ehud Weiss
    • 1
  1. 1.The Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, The Institute of ArchaeologyBar-Ilan UniversityRamat-GanIsrael
  2. 2.The Mina & Everard Goodman Faculty of Life SciencesBar-Ilan UniversityRamat-GanIsrael
  3. 3.Israel Antiquities Authority and Zinman Institute of ArchaeologyThe University of HaifaAtlitIsrael

Personalised recommendations