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Chapter 4: Neolithic 2 Middle Euphrates Sites (Pages 265-272)

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More evidence about the economy has been recovered from Neolithic 2 than from Neolithic 1 sites and in consequence we have a clearer idea of how people lived then. One of the best documented sites now is Tell Abu Hureyra so it will be convenient to consider the economy of this settlement first. Flotation was used to recover plant remains at Abu Hureyra. (See Page 55 in *1 Below). A sample of soil from every level dug in the main trenches was washed in a flotation machine. In this way plant remains were obtained from many different contexts which, when fully analysed, will give a detailed picture of what plants were exploited by the inhabitants and how they were processed and used.

Several cereals were cultivated at Abu Hureyra (See Page 73 in *2 Below). Seeds of domestic emmer were quite common in the flotation samples and wild emmer was also present. Domestic and wild two-grained einkorn were also found. Domestic barley was another common crop plant, occurring in both naked and hulled six-rowed forms. Rye (Secale cereale) was also present but Hillman tells me that this was probably a weed in the cereal crops and not cultivated separately. Both emmer and barley could have been domesticated not far from Abu Hureyra. Wild-type einkorn was found in Mesolithic levels at Abu Hureyra and in the Neolithic 1 settlement at Mureybat so it was used for a long time before the cultivated varieties were developed. This makes it likely that einkorn too was domesticated locally although the process probably toek place over quite a wide area of the Eastern Mediterranean and Near East (See Page 44 in *3 Below).

Lentils were the most common legume grown. Both domestic and wild-type seeds of this species were found which Hillman suggests may have been deliberately cultivated together. Among other species were chick-peas (Cicer arietinum), horse bean (Vicia faba) and common vetch (Vicia sativa). Several other plants such as capers and prosopis were collected for food. Grapes were also gathered on the Euphrates flood-plain and may have been cultivated.

The barley and legumes were probably grown on the moist alluvium of the flood-plain. Some of the weed seeds indicate that the steppe was also cultivated, as it is today, and it is likely that wheat was grown there. The two principal environmental zones in the vicinity of the site were thus exploited for agriculture.

The climate was slightly more favourable for agriculture at Abu Hureyra during the 7th millennium than it is now. Rainfall seems to have been more regular and the temperature was still several degrees cooler so the rainfall was more effective, even if little more fell than today. Crops grown on the steppe would have flourished in most years whereas now they quite often fail. The crops grown on the flood-plain would have benefited from the moister conditions there and given quite high yields. Hillman tells me that, even so, some of the lentils and other seeds are so large that they resemble seeds of plants grown today with the aid of irrigation. After the spring floods the water table of the flood-plain remains high until mid-summer although the level of the river drops sharply. The regime of the river and the seasonal rise and fall of the water table were probably much the same in the 7th nillennium so that cereals grown on the flood-plain may have grown well without irrigation in most years. Irrigation, however simple, would have been useful for the cereals in dry years and would have considerably increased the yields of the legumes.

Irrigation along the Euphrates today depends on motor pumps which lift the water from the river as much as 6 or 7 metres up to the level of the flood-plain. The gradient of the river is so gentle that a gravity system of irrigation would require large canals many kilometres long. Such engineering works were not constructed in the Neolithic. The unique topography of Abu Hureyra made possible irrigation by another method which would have been well within the capabilities of the Neolithic inhabitants. I have already remarked that the site lay near the mouth of the Wadi Hibna, a stream which flows seasonally now but which was probably perennial in the 7th millennium. It would have been quite simple to dam this stream higher up and to tap this supply with a small channel which could have been led along the side of the wadi to irrigate land near the site. In this way crop yields could have been substantially increased, as it appears happened to the legumes, and so a much greater plant food supply be obtained than would otherwise have been possible. The Euphrates valley near Abu Hureyra was quite a favourable region for early farming but not naturally sufficiently well-watered to support settlements of unusual size. The tapping of the Wadi Hibna for irrigation would have transformed the agriculture of the site so that enough food could have been grown to feed its large population.

The agricultural economy of Abu Hureyra was modified somewhat during the life of the settlement. Cereal agriculture became more important and more legumes were cultivated. There are also indications that the developed strains of cultivated cereals were more common in the later levels of the site. As time passed fewer edible plants were collected from the wild to supplement the plant diet.

A number of steppic plants were found in the Mesolithic and Neolithic deposits which had been brought into the site for fodder and fuel. There were differences in the species present in each phase and from these Hillman has deduced that some disturbance of the natural vegetation of the steppe took place between the Mesolithic and Neolithic (See Page 70 ibid). This was caused by over-grazing, tillage and clearance of the trees which had grown on the plateau. The inference that some of the damage to the vegetation was caused by over-grazing is important as it implies that animals were being herded on the steppe at the beginning of Neolithic 2 on the Euphrates.

So far relatively few animal bones have been examined of the great number that were excavated but already these have given us some idea of what species were exploited by the inhabitants of the Neolithic settlement. Trench D was excavated in deposits that belong to an early stage of the aceramic Neolithic settlement and the faunal assemblage from here has distinctive characteristics (See Page 74 - 76 in *4 Below). Over 80% of the bones are from Gazelle (Gazella subguturossa) and the remainder from an equid, sheep, goat and cattle as well as small quantities of other species. The few samples which have been examined from the Mesolithic settlement also have a great preponderance of gazelle so this may be a continuation into Neolithic 2 of a long-lived pattern of exploitation. It seems likely that these gazelle were being controlled by man and that they were responsible for the over-grazing of the steppe detected in the plant remains that took place between the occupation of the Mesolithic and Neolithic settlements.

The proportions of the fauna in the aceramic Neolithic levels in trench E were quite different. Sheep and goat accounted for over 70% of the total, sheep being about three times as common as goat (ibid). Most of the goats were Capra aegragus but a few were Capra ibex. Only about 18% of the total were gazelle and 7% cattle while equid, pig and other species were present in small nambers.

A sample of bones has also been examined from the ceramic Neolithic deposit, the last phase of occupation, in trench B. The proportions of the species in this sample were almost the same as in the aceramic Neolithic of trench E. Nearly 69% were sheep and goat and 21% gazelle. Cattle were about 6% and other species represented by a few bones only.

Two kinds of faunal assemblage are represented in these three Neolithic samples, one in which gazelle predominates with the balance composed of sheep, goat and equid and a second dominated by sheep and goat with gazelle and cattle accounting for much of the remainder. The sample from trench D with a high proportion of gazelle is certainly early in the Neolithic sequence while that from trench B composed principally of sheep and goat is late. The trench E sample which also has a high proportion of sheep and goat is probably also relatively late in the sequence. What this suggests is that when the Neolithic settlement was founded the animal exploitation depended principally upon gazelle and then later there was an abrupt change to sheep with goat also playing a significant part. Legge believes that such a rapid change implies that the sheep and goat were domesticated in the later stages of the settlement (ibid). These species had been present in the area at least since the Mesolithic and so could have been domesticated locally.

Cattle were eaten in significant numbers throughout the duration of the Neolithic settlement. Some of these were the large Bos primigenius. They would have been more important in the diet than the percentages of their bones suggest because of their size. Several other species were present in the faunal samples and may have been eaten, among them roe and fallow deer, hare, fox and cat. The inhabitants of Neolithic Abu Hureyra also caught birds and fish and collected shellfish from the river. Most of their meat was obtained from animals that were probably herded but they also ate a significant amount of several wild species. It is interesting that the diet was supplemented in this way by such a variety of animals for the same seems also to have been true of the plants.

Neolithic Abu Hureyra depended upon agriculture and the close control of certain animals for its food supply. One can see that this basic pattern was modified with the passing of time as the inhabitants concentrated on more productive crops and at a certain moment took up sheep and goat herding. The two latter species would have provided milk and hide products as well as meat and so have been more use to man than gazelle. Sheep and goats could have been herded on the steppe during the winter and spring, perhaps some distance away from the settlement. When the level of the river fell in the summer a large area of the banks were exposed which provided good pasture near ample water at a time when pasture on the steppe dried up. The arable fields were another source of pasture after the harvest. The Neolithic herdsman could have brought their animals down to the river during the summer and autumn to take advantage of these conditions so maintaining larger flocks than would otherwise have been possible.

Most of the Neolithic inhabitants probably lived at Abu Hureyra all the year round on the evidence of the plant remains. They were there in the late summer and autumn to prepare the ground and sow the cereals and legumes. These plants were harvested in May and June. Some of the weeds and wild fruits like capers ripened in the late summer when they were collected and brought to the site. Winter occupation is not definitely attested yet but some of the inhabitants had to tend the crops and it is likely that most of the others remained there.

Having considered the econony of Abu Hureyra in some detail it will be useful now to examine the economic evidence from the contemporary site of Buqras. This settlement was in the steppic zone in an area that was probably too arid for successful dry farming during the Neolithic. No plant remains were recovered in the excavation but a report has been published on the animal bones which were found. The most abundant remains were of sheep (Ovis orientalis) and goat (Capra aegagrus) and of these sheep were more numerous than goat (See Page 194 in *5 Below). There were no morphological indications of domestication in the bones of the sheep but some of the goats were thought to have been domesticated. Cattle were next in importance after the ovicaprines; most of these were the large Bos primigenius but smaller possibly domesticated cattle were present in level I (See Page 193 ibid). Only one equid tooth was found and no gazelle bones at all. The few other bones were from a jackal or fox and a vulture.

This assemblage resembles that from the later aceramic and ceramic Neolithic levels at Abu Hureyra. The inhabitants of both sites depended principally upon sheep and goat for their meat with cattle as a major supplement. It is probable that the ovicaprines at Buqras were herded as they appear to have been at Abu Hureyra. The absence of gazelle and the other supplementary species at Buqras is surprising but the faunal sample appears to have been small and has, in any case, not yet been fully published.

The absence of cereals but presence of sickle blades and grinding tools led de Contenson to the conclusion that the inhabitants ate some vegetable foods but did not engage in agriculture. On the evidence of the animal bones he decided that they were pastoralists. Since the pattern of animal exploitation at Buqras is similar to that at Abu Hureyra one might well ask if in fact the plant economy may not also have had some features in common. The absence of plant remains in the excavation need not be significant for soil conditions may not have permitted the preservation of such material even if it once existed at the site. Buqras was excavated before flotation was widely practised so that the likelihood that plant remains would have been recovered, evcn if they were there, was less than it would be now. Buqras is a substantial site which was occupied for several centuries so its inhabitants must have had a dependable food supply. Since the region was so arid they could not have subsisted on wild plants alone but must have engaged in regular agriculture, probably with cereals as the staple crops. These would have been grown on the Euphrates flood-plain for the steppe was too arid for anything but the occasional planting. Higher yields may have been obtained using a simple irrigation system. The econony of Buqras would thus have resembled Abu Hureyra in most respects except for certain modifications occasioned by its more arid environment. A Dutch team is now carrying out new excavations at the site, partly to learn more about its economy so we should know shortly if this suggested reconstruction is correct or not.

Some plant and animal remains were identified during the brief excavations at Khirbet Kum and these give us an idea of the economy of the site. Both wheat and barley seeds were found and also bones of gazelle, an equid, large cattle which may have been Bos primigenius, sheep and goat (See Page 70 in *6) it is said that the animals were probably wild but the status of the plants is not known. These species of plants and animals were all important in the economy of Abu Hureyra and may have been exploited in similar ways at El Kum despite the different location of the two sites. El Kum was a large, long-lived settlement whose inhabitants needed a regular, substantial food supply. They could only have obtained this from herded animals, perhaps supplemented by hunting, and from agricultural produce. It seems probable, therefore, that some of the animals at El Kum were controlled and that the wheat and barley were cultivated. El Kum is quite high up and the hills nearby receive more rainfall today than the surrounding plateau. The site would have been situated in a relatively well-watered area in the 7th millennium so that agriculture certainly could have been practised in the vicinity .....


*1 The Excavation of Tell Abu Hureyra in Syria
A. M. T. Moore [1975] Volume 41 (Pages 50 - 77) in
Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
Library of Congress # DA 670 E13 P8

*2 The Excavation of Tell Abu Hureyra: A Preliminary Report
G. C. Hillman [1975] in Volume 41 (Pages 70 - 73) of
Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
Library of Congress # DA 670 E13 P8

*3 Palaeoethnobotany [1973] J. Renfrew
Library of Congress # GN 799 F6 R46

*4 The Fauna of Tell Abu Hureyra: Preliminary Analysis
A. Legge in The Excavation of Tell Abu Hureyra in Syria
A. M. T. Moore [1975] Volume 41 (Pages 50 - 77) in
Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
Library of Congress # DA 670 E13 P8

*5 Preliminary Reports on the Animal Remains
Found at Buqras and Ramad in 1965

D. Hooijer (1966) Volume 16 [Pages 193 - 196]
Annales Archéologiques Arabes Syriennes
Library of Congress # DS 94.5 A 75

*6 An Early Village (1969) R. Dornemann
Archaeology: Volume 22 [Pages 68 - 70]
Library of Congress # GN 700 A725

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