TUKUL 4: Melka Kunture Archaeology

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Balchit Survey and Excavations

The site of Balchit, located 6 km North of Melka Kunture, extends over several km2. Large concentrations of obsidian debris can be observed in different areas, and some of them are more than 60 m long and 50 cm thick. The presence of small accumulations of obsidian up to 10 m long with a thickness reaching 1 m is also to be found. Besides these accumulations there are more limited pit-like depressions, excavated by people trying to reach the veins in search of this raw material. There are two kinds of occupation of this site. The first one is characteristic of palaeolithic and post-palaeolithic quarries, where blocks or fragments of obsidian outcrops were extracted in order to cut blades of this raw material.  The second and most recent one is due to the activity of the tanners, who selected from the debris the blades and flakes that were more suitable for scraping hides. This activity modified the final composition of these obsidian accumulations. The extension of this site, the quantity of obsidian accumulations and outcrops, the abundance of flakes, blades and cores make Balchit an extremely interesting site.

Obsidian accumulation

Excavation at Atelier Gaggia

In 2004, during survey activities, a recent obsidian atelier, named Atelier Gaggia,  was discovered at the top of the Balchit hill. The obsidian artefacts have been recorded on a surface of about 100 m2. The study is still in progress.

Obsidian blade

Stratigraphy and chronology

In the natural incisions it is currently possible to observe some obsidian outcrops included within the volcanic sediments. These outcrops were reached by the quarrymen who excavated the pits that have now been filled up. Until recent times tanners came to collect obsidian blades to scrape hides. The site of Balchit was continually occupied during prehistoric times. The exploitation of this obsidian source probably occurred between the Late Stone Age and modern times.

Lithic industry

The lithic tool kit consists of large blades; wide flakes, with plain or punctiform striking platforms, are also present, as well as cores, mainly prismatic and pyramidal ones. Finally, these accumulations are mainly made of obsidian debris whose fractures are due to thermic origin and are a consequence of the cooling process of the lava.

Obsidian core

Obsidian flake

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