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Chapter 4: Neolithic 2 Discussion (Pages 286-293)

Pre-History and Archaeology Glossary

Excerpts and Definitions and Addendums:

Farming as a way of life began in Neolithic 1 but did not become the mainstay of the economy until Neolithic 2 when it spread throughout the Levant. This process was accompanied by a considerable growth of population and increase in the density of settlement. The first agricultural settlements were founded early in Neolithic 1 and so preceded the growth in population by several centuries. Agriculture made possible the great expansion of population in Neolithic 2 but this did not happen immediately after the first farming settlements were established. The spread of sedentary settlements with a farming economy and the growth of population in Neolithic 2 took place together.

The widespread adoption of agriculture, growth in population and new cultural configuration in Neolithic 2 were accompanied by changes in climate and vegetation. These environmental changes were not themselves the cause of the great alterations of man's way of life in Neolithic 2 for they only took effect during the 7th millennium and not at the beginning. The gradual opening up of the Mediterranean forest would have facilitated the spread of agriculture and herding in this region but the evidence indicates that this process was considerably hastened by man's own efforts. The environmental changes began to have a major effect only towards the end of Neolithic 2 and were partly responsible for the alterations in the settlement pattern which took place in the 6th millennium.

There was a greater range of settlement types in Neolithic 2 than in Neolithic 1. Almost all were nucleated and since they tended to be larger the social relations of their inhabitants would have been more complex than before. It is likely that the peoples of the Levant were by now all members of tribes. They also shared many cultural traits which implies that there was much intercourse between them. The boundaries between the tribes are difficult to define partly because of these cultural similarities. The three cultural groups which I have distinguished, Middle Euphrates, West Syrian and Palestinian, include several environmental zones and are too extensive to be equated with single tribes. Each probably represents several tribes united by a common culture.

Since many Neolithic 2 settlements were larger than those of Neolithic 1 and occupied all the year round their inhabitants would have had a greater degree of social intercourse and communal organization. This would have been most marked in the very large settlements of Abu Hureyra and Jericho although at Jericho the pattern may not have differed very much from that which had already developed in Neolithic 1 as the settlement was quite similar in type.

The social organization of Neolithic 2 settlements probably created the need for public buildings for meetings and to house guests which would have been centres of village affairs. Buildings found at three excavated Neolithic 2 sites could be interpreted in this way: the unusual rectilinear building in PPNB levels at Jericho, the large circular structure in level 3 at Munhatta and the large rectangular building in Level II and possibly also in Levels III and IV at Beidha. Very few Neolithic 2 settlements have been excavated extensively so it remains to be seen if such buildings were a regular feature of other villages. The strong senses of territoriality and of belonging to a particular community engendered among the inhabitants of such settled villages were reflected in the burial rites in which many of the dead were buried within the settlement, often under the floors of the houses which they had perhaps occupied. The same feelings found expression in the special ways skulls were treated.

The normal buildings found on most Neolithic 2 settlements had certain general characteristics in common. They were usually rectangular in plan, sometimes with a large single chamber but more often with several small rooms. On Levantine sites these buildings were always separate from each other and were apparently the houses in which most people lived. In the ethnographic record such buildings are usually inhabited by nuclear families living in settled farming villages and this has probably also true of Neolithic 2 settlements (See Pages 29 and 39 in *1 Below). We have seen that the nuclear family was probably the basic form of social organization at PPNA Jericho but not on all Neolithic 1 sites. In Neolithic 2 it is likely that the inhabitants of all settlements and probably also camps at which dwellings have been found belonged to nuclear families.

We can infer something of the patterns of residence and descent among the inhabitants of Neolithic 2 settlements from their chipped stone industries. The technology and typology of the flint industry at Abu Hureyra changed very gradually throughout the occupation sequence. Most of the tool types found in the earliest aceramic Neolithic levels were present throughout the sequence. Mortensen noted the same continuity at Beidha and it seems to be a characteristic feature of all other Neolithic 2 sites with lengthy sequences of occupation. If we assume as we did for Neolithic 1 that the flint knapping traditions were handed down from father to son then we may deduce that residence and descent were patrilocal on Neolithic 2 sites. The same rules thus applied to Levantine society in both Neolithic 1 and 2.

The houses within each Neolithic 2 settlement were of a similar kind and size; no single household inhabited a much larger dwelling than the others. Few grave goods were deposited in Neolithic 2 burials and there was little to differentiate between one grave and the next. There is thus no evidence that certain individuals or families had a higher social position or possessed greater wealth than the others from which we may conclude that society was still egalitarian. Chiefdoms, the most developed form of tribal organization, had not yet come into existence. Scciety in a chiefdom is arranged hierarchically and the chief himself will accumulate surplus goods produced by the community (See Page 24 and 91 in *2 Below). Nothing like this seems to have developed in Neolithic 2 although there are very great differences in the scale of the settlements. The largest ones like Abu Hureyra and Jericho must have been regional centres, the foci economically and socially of the surrounding area. Yet it is only their size and the degree of communal organization which may be inferred from this which distinguished them from other Neolithic 2 settlements for their dwellings and burial customs were the same as on other smaller sites.

Where today tribal societies are based on nuclear families in separate households these form the fundamental economic unit. Each household produces sufficient for its needs in what Sahlins has called the domestic mode of production (See Page 83 ibid). Since this form of social organization was characteristic of Neolithic 2 settlements it is likely that the econony was organized in the same way.

Neolithic 2 households were clustered together in nucleated villages. We saw in the last chapter that the land around such villages or at least the right to work it is usually apportioned equally among the households and it seems likely that this pattern of land distribution continued in Neolithic 2.

Before taking the enquiry further it will be helpful to restate succinctly how I believe Neolithic 2 society was organized. Each settlement was composed of nuclear families which formed the basic economic unit. The families enjoyed equal status and no individual was endowed with political authority which gave him preferential access to the settlement's resources. For the first time the landscape of the Levant was peopled with communities of settled peasant farmers. The settlements and their inhabitants were grouped in tribes which appear to have been in close contact with each other since they shared so much of their material culture. This reconstruction is based partly upon ethnographic analogy but is supported by the archaeological evidence we have at the moment.

An important feature of these Neolithic 2 farming settlements and one of great significance for the future was that their inhabitants were sedentary. They were tied to their homes by the regular cycle of the agricultural year in preparing the land, sowing the seed, perhaps weeding and then harvesting. Under a simple fallow system this would not have been very time-consuming. The number of hours a Neolithic 2 farmer spent in agricultural activities may have been about the same as a hunter-gatherer needed to collect enough food to eat. The difference was that the farmer's year was divided into periods of intense work and others of extended leisure whereas the hunter-gatherer had to go in search of food every day or two. Since the farmer lived in one place and had months at a time with little to do he was able to develop more complex social activities and crafts than the hunter-gatherer.

The material remains from Neolithic 2 settlements were richer than in Neolithic 1 because a greater range of crafts was being practised. The interiors of buildings were decorated and furnished to an extent not seen in the Levant before. Workers in stone produced fine bowls in coloured stone of greater quality and variety than in Neolithic 1. A number of other decorated stone objects were made such as gaming boards and stamp seals which were new. The decorative beads and amulets were much more elaborate than in earlier times. The butterfly beads from Abu Hureyra and elsewhere are good examples of these but many other types were made, often from exotic materials. Dried and baked clay were frequently used for figurines and other objects while the first large non-perishable containers were made in white plaster. Lime plaster was produced in great quantities for house floors and other uses. Basketry was probably a very old craft but there is more evidence for it in Neolithic 2 than in earlier periods. Semi-sudentary and mobile groups would have travelled as light as possible with few containers but sedentary farmers wanted baskets in which to store and carry produce. Wooden containers and tools were almost certainly made in earlier times but again it is only in Neolithic 2 that there is evidence of wooden boxes being made in some numbers and of specialised ground stone tools being devised to shape them.

All these artifacts took much time to produce and so could only have been made when the population had extended leisure time. On some sites places have been found where the artifacts were fashioned. These working floors were in and around the houses but such objects were not made in every house. Some households were specialising in the manufacture of these artifacts in their leisure time. The sane was probably true of the lime burning and perhaps even the making of mud-bricks, processes that may have been organized as modest industries in order to produce the quantities needed. More of these crafts were carried on at the bigger settlements than on other sites, an indication of the greater cultural diversity that could be achieved in larger communities.

The growth of crafts in Neolithic 2 was accompanied by an increased demand for exotic materials. Certain objects such as marine shells had been valued as far back as the Aurignacian but it was only in Neolithic 2 that a wide range of exotic materials was found on sites far removed from their sources. The traffic in Anatolian obsidian is well-known but jadeite, serpentine, agate and native copper were all obtained from the same region, steatite perhaps from the Zagros and turquoise and malachite from Sinai and the Wadi Arabah. No great weight of these materials was imported because they originated so far away from where they were used but other materials such as bitumen, basalt and coloured limestone which occur in many areas of the Levant were used in considerable quantities. The exchange of these materials which reached a climax in Neolithic 2 was facilitated by the frequent contacts which took place between settlements in the Levant during this stage. These contacts obviously extended to Anatolia from whence so many materials originated.

The raw materials fron distant sources found on sites in the Levant were not obtained by trade of the kind we know in historic times. The quantity of materials was too small for this sort of transaction and there is no evidence that merchants or markets existed let alone transport other than on a man's back. In tribal societies today it has been found that desirable objects are exchanged between individuals to strengthen social relationships (See Page 81 ibid) and it is likely that exotic materials passed from hand to hand for the same reason in Neolithic 2. Although materials from distant sources were obtained in such small quantities they were found on many sites not only in Neolithic 2 but later as well. The traffic in obsidian was the most regular and long-lasting of all since it began in Neolithic 1 and continued into the Bronze Age. Such persistent if small-scale exchange indicates that the items traded continued to be much prized over a long period.

We do not kncw how the exchange of obsidian and other materials took place even if we can suggest what the context is likely to have been. Renfrew and his colleagues thought that there was an exponential fall-off in the quantities of obsidian reaching Neolithic sites the further away one travelled from the sources (See Page 327 in *3 Below). They suggested a model of down-the-line exchange to explain this in which each community would pass on some of the obsidian it received to a neighbouring settlement more distant from the sources (See Page 329 ibid). This hypothesis fitted the facts as they were known then but no longer accounts satisfactorily for the latest evidence of the distribution of obsidian in the Levant. When Buqras was excavated about 29% of the chipped stone industry was found to be of obsidian which fitted the Renfrew model well. Abu Hureyra is approximately the same distance from the Anatolian obsidian sources yet only 4.35% of the chipped stone from trench B was obsidian, very much less than the Renfrew model would have predicted. It is still true to say that in general the further away a site was from the obsidian sources the less obsidian it received but the picture is now more complex than was thought at first.

The distribution of obsidian from each source has also been proved to be more complicated than expected. The results of the earlier work suggested that most of the obsidian found on Levantine sites west of the Euphrates came from Ciftlik (See Page 326 ibid). The Bradford analyses have now thrown doubt upon this conclusion for about half the obsidian at Tell Aswad and two thirds at Ghoraife came from eastern Anatolia. It has been shown that grey obsidian hitherto thought to be characteristic of the Cappadocian sources could have also originated in eastern Anatolia so that the source of some of the obsidian classified visually as having come from Ciftlik may have been in the east. Now that we know that obsidian from at least six sources was reaching Abu Hureyra, the distribution is even more complex. The way in which obsidian was exchanged is less clear now than was thought when the first analyses were made but it is hoped that new patterns will emerge from the new analytical work in in progress .....


*1 The Origins of the Village as a Settlement Type
in Meso-America and the Near East

K. Flannery [1972] (Pages 23 - 53) in
Man, Settlement and Urbanism
Library of Congress # HT 111 R48

*2 Tribesmen by M. Sahlins [1968]
Library of Congress # GN 490 S3

*3 Further Analysis of Near Eastern Obsidian
C. Renfrew et al (1968) Volume 34 [Pages 319 - 331]
Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
Library of Congress # DA 670 E13 P8

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium