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Chapter 3: Neolithic 1 (Pages 84-87)

Pre-History and Archaeology Glossary

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There was a further transformation in the way of life of the population of the Levant after the Mesolithic. This is marked in the archaeological record by alterations in the cultural remains and evidence for changes in economy. A new stage in the development of society and economy crystallized which since the beginning of modern archaeology has been called the Neolithic. Many objections have been raised to the continued use of this term but it has remained in circulation nonetheless. One still needs a name for this new stage of development in order to conceptualize and refer to it. I believe the term Neolithic serves this purpose as well as any other so long as one is careful to define one's use of the word.

In order to understand what I mean by Neolithic I wish to anticipate some of my later conclusions by outlining the attributes of the full Neolithic way of life in the Levant. Well before the end of the Neolithic most of the population lived all the year round in villages and supported themselves by arable farming and stock-keeping. One might suppose from ethnographic analogy that each village was composed of groups of families united by kinship ties and that these links extended to other villages in the same region. Society was probably egalitarian with no marked differences in status between the members of different families. The chipped stone industry of these people was based upon the production of blade tools. They practised a number of household crafts; among them weaving - woodworking and stoneworking - which were themselves attributes of a sedentary way of life. They also made pottery - another craft which is usually associated with sedentism.

The full Neolithic way of life thus had a characteristic economy - settlement pattern - social organization and range of artifacts. These traits were typical only of the developed Neolithic: they were not evolved immediately after the Mesolithic. Even when these characteristic features were created they did not remain static for each underwent constant change - though at varying rates. It is necessary therefore to visualize the Neolithic of the Levant as a way of life with certain attributes which were themselves continually evolving - a system in continuous motion. There was a point at the beginning when it began to crystallize but when it still lacked most of the attributes outlined above and a point at the end when these attributes had been sufficiently modified for the term Neolithic no longer to apply. The Neolithic then had a beginning and an ending; a chronology which it is necessary to state in order to complete the definition. The choosing of such dates cannot be entirely objective; as will be seen I prefer to propose a long Neolithic chronology in order to avoid having lengthy transition phases between one defined stage and the next - particularly as these stages are themselves such fluid concepts. Mesolithic 2 seems to have come to an end about 8500 BC throughout the Levant and I shall take this date as the beginning of the Neolithic. The Neolithic did not finally run its course in the southern and central Levant until the 4th millennium about 3750 or 3500 BC when the Chalcolithic began. The Neolithic of the Levant therefore lasted about 5000 years.

The evolution of the Neolithic of the Levant may be conveniently divided into several stages. The earliest stage - which I shall call Neolithic 1 - will be the subject of this chapter. I will briefly describe some of the characteristics of this stage and then examine the detailed archaeological evidence for them in the remainder of the chapter.

The people of the Levant became more sedentary in Neolithic 1 - a development which was associated with the first certain evidence of cereal agriculture. They established some new relatively large settlements one of which - Jericho - was enormous when compared with all earlier sites. These larger settlements were probably occupied for longer too - that is for much or all of the year. Other Neolithic 1 sites were no bigger than many in Mesolithic 2 and were probably inhabited on a seasonal basis.

The economy of Neolithic 1 consisted of several methods of obtaining food. Some cereals were definitely cultivated while others were gathered from the wild. Many other fruits - nuts and plants were also collected in season. A few species of animals were either killed by intensive controlled hunting or herded while many others were hunted on a less regular basis.

The normal form of dwelling was a circular hut made of whatever materials were readily available - usually mud-brick and stone. These varied greatly in size according to the number of people who lived in them. The smallest circular structures on some sites were probably used for other purposes such as stores. These circular buildings were simply a modification of the typical huts of Mesolithic 2.

The people of Neolithic 1 buried their dead within the confines of their settlements. The bodies were often laid under the floors of the houses or sometimes in an open space between the buildings. This mode of burial was in essence a continuation of the Mesolithic custom.

The chipped stone industry of Neolithic 1 was also derived from that of Mesolithic 2. The tools were still small but microliths were phased out early in this stage. The most common tool types were burins and scrapers while nibbled blades were also numerous on most sites. A new tool was the Khiamian point - probably an arrowhead - which may have superseded one of the functions of lunates. The Khiamian point is the only chipped stone tool unique to Neolithic 1. Among the other stone tools were rubbers and querns while stone bowls and other vessels were quite frequently made. Ground stone axes were also manufactured for the first time though these do not seem to have been used on many sites. Bone tools were a regular component of the artifact assemblages from Neolithic 1 sites though with the exception of the tools from Mureybat they were less elaborate than those from some Mesolithic 2 sites. Other kinds of artifacts were scarce on Neolithic 1 sites although a few items of jewelry were sometimes made. One important innovation was tools made of obsidian. This raw material began to be exchanged during this stage and in consequence the first regular contacts were established with regions distant from settlements in the Levant.

The change in culture at the end of Mesolithic 2 was first established stratigraphically at Jericho where the Natufian site was abandoned and then succeeded by other settlements with somewhat different cultural remains to which the names Proto-Neolithic and Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) were given (See Page 150 in *1 Below). A similar sequence has also been found at Nahal Oren where immediately above Natufian layers there was another cultural level with material described as Pre Pottery Neolithic A and B (See Page 75ff in *2 Below) though here the deposits were much less substantial. One site in northern Syria - Mureybat - had a phase with somewhat different cultural remains - phase IB - which has been equated with PPNA immediately succeeding a Mesolithic 2 level - phase IA. It would thus appear that this change in culture was taking place on sites throughout the Levant and that the cultural configuration had sufficient similarities for archaeologists to name it by the same term. In order to examine the validity of these propositions it will be necessary to describe and compare the sequences from these and other sites on which such remains have been discovered .....


*1 The Origins of the Neolithic (1969)
K. Kenyon in The Advancement of Science
Number 128 (Pages 144 - 160) [LC # Q 41 B812]

*2 Recent Excavations at Nahal Oren in Israel (1973)
T. Noy et al in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
Volume 39 (Pages 75-99) [LC # DA 670 E13 P8]

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