Atlit-Yam: A submerged Neolithic settlement

Atlit-Yam appears to be a one-phase settlement, representing a short period of occupation before the encroachment of the sea that led to Atlit-Yam being abandoned around 6300 BC.

Off the coast of the village of Atlit lies Atlit Yam, a submerged Neolithic settlement located off the Atlit coast in present-day Israel.

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Atlit-Yam, underwater ritual structure made of stones. © Image Credit : Hanay – CC BY-SA 3.0

The site, which dates between 6900 and 6300 BC, is approximately 10 meters below current sea level and covers an area of 40,000 square meters.

Tectonic tilting and climatic changes caused swamps along the Israeli coastal plain to dry up at the start of the Holocene. The reclaimed land along the retreating shoreline was settled by Neolithic peoples during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPNB) and later Pottery Neolithic Periods, until a eustatic rise in ocean sea levels submerged the ancient settlements to a depth of 8-12 meters beneath the surface.

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For centuries, the site remained hidden 10 meters below the waves and was discovered after a severe storm in 1984. Scientists found special stones that were used for religious ceremonies. © Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Atlit Yam was settled around 6900 BC, with the inhabitants surviving on agro-pastoral-marine subsistence.

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In one assemblage alone, over 8755 flint artefacts have been recovered, whilst across the site numerous arrowheads, sickle blades, bifaces, spearheads, and bifacially flaked knives has been excavated. © Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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The villagers dug a deep well to depths of 10.5 meters through layers of clay and soft sandstone, that was lined with stone courses and capped with a tumulus-like circular construction. Within the build-up of marine sediment inside the well, underwater archaeologists found hundreds of thermally fractured limestone pebbles, animal bones, stone tools, waterlogged and carbonised plant remains, and several fragments of human bone. © Image Credit: Public Domain

Scientists believe that Atlit-Yam was abandoned abruptly as a result of a tsunami that hit the region, most likely caused by a volcanic eruption in the Mediterranean area.

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Human skeleton in flexed position, discovered at Atlit-Yam. Close to or within the ritual structures, 15 human skeletons have been discovered, mostly in single graves either relatively intact, or only a few bone fragments, all of which show varying degrees of hypoplasia. © Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Archaeologists were particularly interested in the discovery of two skeletons, one of a woman and one of a child, which revealed the earliest known cases of tuberculosis.