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We are grateful to Ben-Yosef et al. (above) for their thorough critical evaluation of our recent paper. We identified a group of modified wooden shafts originating in two large complex caves with Late Chalcolithic (Ghassulian) burials in the Negev Desert (Israel) as the earliest Levantine wooden spinning implements (Langgut et al. 2016). Their detailed assessment culminated in the alternative hypothesis that the wooden objects functioned as sticks that carried metal maceheads during rituals. This raises several issues that merit serious consideration. Our response to Ben-Yosef et al.'s suggestions is divided into two sections, each concentrating on one of the two main technologies under discussion: spinning and metallurgy.
A unique set of circumstances has preserved a group of rare wooden artefacts deep within burial caves in the southern Levant. Identified as spindles and distaffs, they are fashioned from tamarisk wood and date to the Late Chalcolithic period. Analysis suggests that these implements were used to spin flax fibres, and they provide the earliest evidence for two distinct spinning techniques, drop spinning and supported spinning (with rolling on the thigh). One wooden spindle with the whorl still in place is the oldest such tool to survive intact in the Near East. The lead forming the whorl may have originated in Anatolia, and it is evidence, perhaps, of early long-distance trade.
In the framework of the European Research Council-funded project, “Reconstructing Ancient (Biblical) Israel: The Exact and Life Sciences Perspective,” we carried out multiple analyses on iron and bronze objects from provenanced contexts in Israel, as well as on previously unidentified metallurgical remains from the production of both metals. In addition, we counted anew iron and bronze objects from well-stratified contexts and studied metalworking sequences at major sites, which included those that had undergone the bronze/iron transition. This enabled us to clarify some of the issues related to the bronze/iron transition in the southern Levant. Using this evidence, we showed that iron was not used for utilitarian purposes before the Iron I (late 12th century BCE) and that iron only became dominant concurrently with the beginning of its systematic production during the Iron IIA (10th–9th centuries BCE). A strong correlation between iron and bronze production suggests that during the Iron I local independent bronzesmiths adopted the new iron technology. Under local administrations that developed during the Iron IIA, workshops that previously produced bronze turned to iron production, although they continued to manufacture bronze items as a secondary venture. Significantly, at some of the major urban centers iron production was an independent industry that included the entire operational sequence, including the on-site smelting of the ore. This development appears to have been a major contributor to the transition to systematic production of iron.
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