This article addresses the nature of the evidence for symbolling behaviour among hominids living in the Near East during the Middle and Upper Pleistocene. Traditionally, Palaeolithic art and symbolling have been synonymous with the Upper Palaeolithic of Europe. The Berekhat Ram figurine, a piece of volcanic material from a Lower Palaeolithic site in Israel, described as purposely modified to produce human features, challenges the view of a late emergence of symbolic behaviour. The anthropogenic nature of these modifications, however, is controversial. We address this problem through an examination of volcanic material from the Berekhat Ram site and from other sources, and by experimentally reproducing the modifications observed on the figurine. We also analyze this material and the figurine itself through optical and SEM microscopy. Our conclusion is that this object was purposely modified by hominids.
With comments from Ofer Bar-Yosef, Angela E. Close, João Zilhão, Steven Mithen, Thomas Wynn, and Alexander Marshack followed by a reply from the authors.