© K. Douka,  T. Higham, E. Mastora

Sampling at the Naturalis Museum, Leiden


One of the most important prehistoric Palaeolithic sites in the Near East, at the crossroads of Africa, Asia and Europe, is the Lebanese rock-shelter site of Ksar Akil. Known since the 1920s, and excavated over three different periods (1937-38, 1947-48 and 1969-1974), the site has yielded the most impressive Palaeolithic sequence in the region. Members of our group have been working on the chronology of the site since 2006. Our collaborator, Christopher Bergman, has investigated the site since the 1980s.

The faunal material from Ksar Akil, stored in Leiden since the 1950s, amounts to several hundreds of thousands of elements from a wide variety of species.  Earlier this month we returned to the collections, now housed at the Naturalis museum (see picture), to sample a series of faunal material for dating and other isotopic studies.


It was great to meet up once again with our good friend and colleague Dr Frank Wesselingh. Frank is an expert in marine geology, with a particular emphasis on malacofauna. We had previously worked with him on dating the sequence at the site using marine shell, mainly perforated shell ornaments. This was published in PLOS One in 2013.


One of the great things about the Ksar Akil collection is that very few people have ever looked carefully through the faunal material. The last time we were here we found a shell tool in the form of a clearly modified scraper (this was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science by Katerina Douka). This time we also stumbled upon several very interesting new finds that we will hope to report more on in the near future.

Apart from Ksar Akil, it was great to be able to have a quick look at other material in the vast collections of the Naturalis.


The palaeontological collection and scientific archive of Eugene Dubois, the great Dutch explorer of early human antiquity and discoverer of “Pithecanthropus erectus” (or, Java man), are held on the 16th floor, next to the Ksar Akil material. Our eye was caught by a model of Java man which was made by Dubois himself using his son as a model for the post-cranial parts!


Other collections on our floor included some other fascinating Stegodon (early Proboscidean remains from the island of Flores, where the recent discovery of Homo floresiensis of course was made. We also spotted some of the fossils of hipparion (the extinct ancestor of the modern horse) from Samos, in Greece, and the weird ‘mouse-goat’ (Myotragus sp.), also extinct, from the Balearic Islands. The mouse-goat is named for its strange dentition, no great level of imagination is needed to figure out why.


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