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Chapter 3: Neolithic 1 Distribution of Sites (Pages 133-136)

Pre-History and Archaeology Glossary

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There are Neolithic 1 sites throughout the Levant in most geographic zones from Sinai to north Syria. They occur in the south on the coastal plain of Palestine (Poleg 18 and Halutza) which was still wider than it is today. Some are now known not far inland in the Jebel Meghara in Sinai and in the high Negev (Abu Salem and others). There is one (Khiam) in the hills of the Judean Desert and two (Nahal Oren and Mugharet Wad) on the fringes of Mount Carmel. Jericho is the main settlement in the Jordan Valley while there is one possible Neolithic 1 site - Beidha - in the Mountains of Edom. Further north there are two in the Anti-Lebanon (Nacharini and Saidnaya) and one in the Damascus Basin (Tell Aswad). Neolithic 1 in north Syria is represented at Mureybat in the Euphrates valley.

This distribution is quite similar to that of Mesolithic 2 sites. As before it seems that the high mountains were in general avoided but otherwise sites were to be found over a wide area. Not every region was occupied in both stages. There are no Neolithic 1 sites to the east of the Jordan - on the slopes of the Mountains of Lebanon or in the Bekaa [Valley]. There are also fewer Neolithic 1 sites in the hill country behind the coastal plain of the southern Levant than in Mesolithic 2. Part of the explanation for this charge in the distribution pattern may simply be that Neolithic 1 sites have not been noticed in these areas although they may exist. On the other hand several of these areas have now been carefully surveyed and it is likely that a few sites would have been discovered if they were there. People may have avoided these areas in Neolithic 1 because they were less suitable for environmental or economic reasons than they had been in Mesolithic 2.

Settlement was quite widespread in the Negev and north Sinai as it had been in Mesolithic 2. The vegetation in the high Negev and Jebel Meghara was thinner than in the hills further north making the uplands more attractive for settlement. The site of Tell Aswad shows that the floor of the Damascus Basin could now be occupied following the retreat of the Pleistocene Lisan Lake. Mesolithic sites have not been found on the old lake floor - presumably because it was still flooded then - although it is possible that traces of occupation might have been covered by later alluvium.

I have mentioned 22 sites in the Levant that were occupied in Neolithic 1; if one includes Beidha the total is 23. Of these 18 were open sites: three - Mugharet Wad / Nahal Oren / Khian - were terrace sites and two - Nacharini and Rakafet - were shelters. This is a higher proportion of open to shelter sites than in Mesolithic 2 when many caves - particularly in Palestine - were still occupied.

Neolithic 1 began about 8500 BC and continued until about 7000 BC thus lasting approximately 1500 years. This is about the same length of time as the duration of Mesolithic 2 which began about 10000 BC and ended with the beginning of Neolithic 1. Yet while a maximum of 23 Neolithic 1 sites are known at present over 60 Mesolithic 2 sites have been found. It may be that relatively few Neolithic 1 sites have been recognised in surveys carried out so far. There are after all few type-fossils in the artifact assemblages with which to distinguish Neolithic 1 from Mesolithic 2 sites. The chronology proposed here may be in error by several hundred years so that Mesolithic 2 was longer and Neolithic 1 shorter than I have suggested. Other factors might further reduce the gap between the total number of sites for each phase. Nevertheless on present evidence nearly three times the number of sites were occupied during Mesolithic 2 than in Neolithic 1 even though both stages lasted about the same length of time.

Most Neolithic 1 settlements with the exception of Mureybat and Jericho have thin occupation deposits and were probably occupied briefly or intermittently as were most Mesolithic 2 sites. Mureybat was occupied continuously throughout the stage although still without a massive deposit being accunulated. Jericho was an extraordinarily large settlement at which - although it was not occupied for the whole of Neolithic 1 - a great mound of debris was built up.

Although far fewer Neolithic 1 than Mesolithic 2 settlemerts are known we have a much better idea of the internal chronology and cultural development of this stage. The long stratified sequences at Jericho and Mureybat - the quantity of C-14 determinations and the changes in typology of the artifact assemblages all can be combined so that one may place individual sites within the sequence. Thus the Harifian sites would all appear to fall early in Neolithic 1 - there being no late Neolithic 1 sites known as yet in the Negev and Sinai. The occupation at Tell Aswad I on the other hand took place near the end of this stage.

Neolithic 1 sites vary considerably in size from sites of less than 100 square metres at one extreme to 4 hectares at the other. They may be arranged in three groups according to the area they cover. The first - Group A - includes sites of less than 1000 square metres. Within this group there is a clear distinction between Nahal Oren which covers approximately 650 square metres (See Figure 3 in *1 and Figure 1 in *2 Below) and several smaller sites. I include Mugharet Wad - Poleg 18M and Saidnaya in this sub-group as they are all probably of 200 square metres or less in this stage. One of the smallest sites is Nacharini where the area of the talus and cave together is 90 square metres. Group B consists of sites from 1000 to 8000 square metres. Among these are the Harifian sites - Abu Salem (1600 square metres) [See Page 44 in *3 Below] - G8 (3000 square metres) - K3 (8000 square metres) [See Page 81 and 82 in * 4] and Mureybat (a maximum of 4300 square metres). Khiam should be included in Group B since the terrace is about 7500 square metres although the Neolithic 1 site was probably snaller than this. The two largest sites - Tell Aswad (a maximum of 2.7 hectares) and Jericho (a maximum of 4 hectares) comprise Group C. These are several times bigger than any of the other sites.

If we compare the areas of Neolithic 1 settlements with those of Mesolithic 2 sites we see that most Neolithic 1 sites are larger although there are fewer of them. The small sites of the sub-group within group A are similar in size to sites within the categories of small and medium Mesolithic 2 sites but the sites in group B are larger than almost all in the previous stage. Those in group C are at least four times bigger than the largest known Mesolithic 2 site. Only the sites of group A were inhabited by communities with about the same number of people as Mesolithic 2 families or composite bands. The communities living in group B sites would have been slightly bigger than those on most Mesolithic 2 large sites while the inhabitants of group C sites were clearly far more numerous than any Mesolithic 2 community .....

BIBLIOGRAPHY

*1 Excavations at Nahal Oren [1963]
Stekelis and Yizraely in Israel Exploration Journal
Volume 13 (Pages 1 - 17) [LC # DS 111 A1 I87]

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

*3 Abu Salem: Type-Site of the Harifian Industry of the Southern Levant
Marks and Scott in Journal Field Archaeology (1976)
Volume 3 (Pages 43-60) [LC # CC 1 J69]

*4 Pre-Historic Sites Near Har Harif (1972)
Marks et al in Israel Exploration Journal
Volume 22 (Pages 73 - 85) [LC # DS 111 A1 I87]

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium