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Chapter 5: Neolithic 3 Ras Shamra (Pages 299-302)

Pre-History and Archaeology Glossary

Excerpts and Definitions and Addendums:

Ras Shamra was occupied throughout Neolithic 3 and its deposits provide the key sequence for this stage in north Syria. Remains of the Neolithic 3 settlement have been found in the soundings on the temple acropolis and also in the Palace garden so it appears to have been quite as extensive as the Neolithic 2 site. The deposit varied from 2.6 to 3.3 metres in depth and has been divided into two phases, V B or Middle Neolithic (Neolithique Moyen) and V A or Late Neolithic (Neolithique Recent).

The houses in Phase V B were seperated from each other and had a single rectangular room with stone walls and a mud-brick superstructure (See Page 36 in *1 Below). Plaster floors were associated with these buildings in some layers and other trodden earth floors were quite common. A clay-lined pit full of burned earth, charcoal and stones was also excavated in these layers. Much the same kind of rectilinear structures built of walls with stone footings were found in Phase V A. The remains of the superstructure of one of these buildings was found in one area; it consisted of large timbers which had been covered with vegetable matter and clay. Many floor surfaces and some hearths were also found around the buildings of this Phase. These features were similar to the domestic structures of Phase V C at Ras Shamra so there was no change in the building tradition here between Neolithic 2 and 3.

The flint tools were also in the same tradition as before which, it should be remembered, was a little different from other sites in Syria. The main tool types were pressure-flaked tanged arrowheads and sickle blades with finely denticulated cutting edges; some of these were backed. Borers and scrapers, including at least one fan scraper, were also made. Associated with these tools were spherical stone hammers which may have been used in flint working or in other tasks. A little obsidian was used in these phases but from which sources is not known. The flint industry gradually "degenerated" through time to use de Contensen's phrase which means that fewer of the carefully retouched arrowheads and other pressure-flaked tools were made. This is an indication of changing needs that can probably be linked to the develonments wbich were taking place in the economy of the site.

White plaster ware continued to be made in the lower layers of Phase V B but bv Phase V A its manufacture had been discontinued. The shapes were typical of those found on Neolithic 2 sites, the most common being large bowls with thick walls and flat or hollow bases. The surface of these vessels was burnished and a few had been decorated with red paint.

The most important cultural change in these phases was the introduction of pottery. This new artifact is the main distinguishing feature between Phases V B and V A and Phase V C. The earliest pottery found on the site was a lightly fired crumbly ware. Sherds of this pottery were found in some quantity at the bottom of the V B layers in the Palace garden sounding but only a handful were found in the sounding west of the Temple of Baal.

The most common class of pottery was a series of thick-walled vessels made of a dark fabric with grit and vegetable filler which had been fired quite hard. There were hemispherical bowls, globular hole-mouth jars, jars with a collar neck and other simple shapes. They had rounded or ring bases and a few were fitted with handles or lugs for carrying. One or two fenestrated bases were found but as the pieces were incomplete we do not know how they were used. The surfaces of all these vessels had been partly burnished and a few were decorated with incisions or even red paint. One unusual group of vessels made of the same ware was a series of "husking trays" found in Phase V A which resembled those found in Levels II to VI at Tell Hassuna (See Page 277ff). Ras Shamra is the only site in the Levant at which these unusual vessels have been discovered so it is difficult to assess their significance but they are so similar to the Hassuna examples that they must indicate a cultural connection between the two regions. Phase V A immediately precedes Phase IV C, the phase in which Halaf material occurs, so the "husking trays" may be the first indications of that north Mesopotamian influence which became so marked later on.

The third class of vessels was a group of thin-walled globular or carinated bowls and jars with short necks made from a dark fabric which again had been quite hard fired. The vessels of this fine ware were coloured black, brown or red and had been highly burnished. Some of them were incised with a dot pattern after firing. Another characteristic form of decoration found in Phase V A was "pattern burnishing" in which a series of lines had been drawn on the surface of the vessels with the burnishing tool to create herring-bone and diamond patterns.

The name "dark-faced burnished ware" was given by the Braidwoods (See Page 49ff in *3 Below) to a broad category of black and brown burnished vessels at Tell Judaida and Dhahab. This term has since been used by archaeologists to describe almost all types of simple burnished pottery found on Neolithic 3 sites in the Levant and in the process has lost much of its descriptive value. For this reason I propose ta avoid using the phrase except when discussing material from the Amuq sites for which it was invented. Another term is still needed to describe that class of highly-burnished black and brown fine ware found at Ras Shamra in Phases V B and V A, in Amuq B and on other sites in Syria. I propose to call this distinctive pottery "dark polished ware".

One other group of sites was found in Ras Shamra V B. These had a white plaster coating, perhaps to make then more watertight. Similar sherds were found at Byblos in Neolithic 3 but neither there nor at Ras Shamra did this class of pottery continue in use very long.

There were several other classes of artifacts in these levels at Ras Shamra. Fragments of stone bowls and dishes were quite common; these were usually made of limestone but there were basalt ones too. A number of small polished stone axes were found and also stone grinding tools such as rubbers and saddle querns. The bone industry included borers and hafts for other tools. Baked clay was used for objects other than pottery, one of which was a spoon and another a stamp seal with a simple linear design. The stamp seal seems definitely to have been used to print a design on other objects. Personal ornaments made of polished stone or shell were another abundant group of artifacts at Ras Shamra.

One C-14 determination has been obtained for each of these two phases at Ras Shamra, 5736 112 B.C. P-458 for V B and 5234 84 B.C. P-457 for V A (See Page 47 in *4 Below). Since the transition from Phase V C to V B took place at or a little after 6000 B.C. Phases V B and V A lasted for most of the 6th millennium on the evidence of these dates. These are the phases that fall in Neolithic 3 for with the advent of Phase IV C the occupation at Ras Shamra takes a different course from that on other sites further south in the Levant .....


*1 New Correlations Between Ras Shamra and Amiq (Amuq)
H. de Contensen: (1963) Number 172 (Pages 35 - 40)
Bulletin American Schools of Oriental Research

*2 Tell Hassuna S. Lloyd and F. Safar
(1945) Volume 4 [Pages 255 - 289]
in Journal of Near East Studies
Library of Congress # DS 41 J6

*3 Excavations in the Plain of Antioch
(1960) R. Braidwood and L. Braidwood [Volume 61]
University of Chicago Oriental Institute Publications

*4 A Futher Note on the Chronology of Basal Ras Shamra
H. de Contensen (1964) Volume 175 [Pages 47 - 48]
Bulletin American Schools of Oriental Research

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium