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Wadi Natuf and Shuqba Cave

Date of Submission: 06/06/2013
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Palestine to UNESCO
Ref.: 5712

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Latitude: 35 2 33.749
Longitude: 31 58 51.871


Latitude: 35 2 32.673
Longitude: 31 58 53.953

The cave, formed by karstic activities, was discovered for the scientific world by A. Mallon in 1924. It was excavated by D. Garrod in 1928. Garrod uncovered the evidence for a hitherto unrecognised late Stone Age, pre-agricultural culture which was named after the wadi as the ‘Natufian Culture'.

The cave, one of the largest in Palestine, opens into a central chamber (diameter 18 m) with two chimneys in its roof and three side chambers. The excavation revealed the stratigraphic history of the site, with two major prehistoric occupations, the Upper Levallois-Mousterian period (layer D), and Upper Natufian period (layer B), with evidence of use thereafter from the Early Bronze Age to the present. The lithic remains of the Upper Levallois-Mousterian layer consist of points, retouched flakes, a few disks and hand axes, burins, and a large quantity of side scrapers.

The major, Upper Natufian layer consisted of black, ashy soil containing a number of human burials, mostly of children, close to the habitation area. The lithic assemblage found for the first time by Garrod in layer B consisted of lunates or crescents, geometric microlithics, sickle blades and a rich bone industry that included points and needles. The Natufian community of Shuqba was characterised by practising a settled pattern of hunter-gatherer activity. Most of the flints are tiny microliths which served as spearheads and arrowheads for hunting. There were also flint sickle blades were used for harvesting wild grain and straw. The Natufian remains indicate a mode of production based on hunting and intensive food gathering by a co-operating group of pre-agricultural communities.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Shuqba cave is the type-site of the Natufian culture now recognized worldwide. It marks a critical point in the evolution of human culture in south west Asia, when people were practicing the old hunter-gatherer economy but now from a settled base on a communal basis, before, perhaps immediately before, it evolved into an agricultural phase with selectively domesticated flora and fauna.

Criterion (ii): Shuqba cave exhibits in the Natufian culture important developments in technology over a span of time which subsequently proved to be of fundamental significance.

Criterion (iii):  Shuqba cave bears unique testimony to a cultural tradition, the Natufian, preceding the emergence of agricultural societies.

Criterion (iv): Shuqba cave is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement which first illustrated a most significant stage in human history.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Shuqba cave is one of the largest prehistoric caves in Palestine, located on the right bank of Wadi en-Natuf. Though partly excavated, it retains its natural power to impress, and it and its surrounds continue to possess a high scientific potential. The historical landscape of the site has recently been disturbed by the construction of an illegal Israeli bypass road.

Moreover, the Palestinian National Committee considers the site to be of high priority for conservation, maintenance and the representation of its universal values.

Comparison with other similar properties

Many caves have of course been inhabited, and early, anonymous cultures identified archaeologically were often named after the sites of the first discovery of their remains. For instance the cultures of the Lower Palaeolithic period, Abbevillian and Acheulean, were named after the Abbeville and the St. Acheul sites in France. The Middle Palaeolithic cultures, Levallois and Mousterian are named after Le Vallois and Le Moustier, also in France. Moreover, the Ghassulian culture of the Chalcolithic period was named after Teleilat Ghassul site in Jordan. The discovery and characterization of the Natufian culture at Shuqba cave marked a major step forward in understanding early human history in the region, and much work throughout south west Asia stemmed from them.