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Chapter 4: Neolithic 2 Ghoraife (Pages 198-203)

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Ghoraife, like Tell Aswad, is situated on the floor of the Damascus basin about 22 kilometres east of Damascus. It is now 8 kilometres west of the present Ataibe lake but would have been much nearer the shore at the time it was occupied. A small sounding 2 metres square excavated here in 1974 showed that there was 7.5 metres of deposit on the site. There was no indication within the sounding of mud-brick or stone buildings but there were pieces of clay incorporating impressions of reeds which were presumably the remains of mud and reed huts of the kind thought to have been used at Tell Aswad. The deposit in the sounding consisted of layers of mud, ashes and burned earth. These layers may have been the washed out remains of such structures and the occupation floors associated with them. There were also a number of large pits in the lower layers. The deposit has been divided into two phases based more upon alterations in the typology of the artifacts than any marked change in the stratigraphy for the deposits seen to have been of much the same kind from bottom to top and there was no discernible break in the occupation sequence.

Phase I at the bottom was characterised by a chipped stone industry which used large blades struck from double-ended cores some of which were keeled. 41% of the retouched tools were finely-denticulated sickle blades, 25% of other retouched blades and only 14.5% arrowheads. These had a long tang and were retouched abruptly. The other tools included a few burins and disc scrapers on flakes. A little obsidian was also used but otherwise there were few ground stone tools or bone artifacts.

The rest of the deposit has been designated Phase II. The flint industry was much less abundant and appears to have changed quite markedly, although this may partly be the result of condensing complex data for a preliminary note. Most of the tools were still made on blades but these were struck from prismatic and pyramidal cores derived from tabular flint. Arrowheads now formed 31.8% of the retouched tools, retouched blades 30% as before but sickle blades only 15%. Burins and discoids were still used in small quantities. Some of the tools were now retouched by squamous-pressure flaking. A few flaked axes with polished edges were made for the first time and there were more basalt and limestone tools. Bone tools of several types were numerous now.

About 2% of the total chipped stone at Ghoraife was of obsidian and 24 pieces of this, 20% of the total, have been analysed in the Bradford programme. Obsidian was being used from the same three sources as at Tell Aswad, that is Ciftlik, 1g and Nemrut Dag, though 1g obsidian was found only in Phase II; as the quantities analysed were quite small this may not be significant. Taking Phases I and II together obsidian from these three sources was present in roughly equal amounts, Ciftlik 33%, 1g 29% and Nemrut Dag 38% which on present evidence would indicate a strong preference for obsidian from eastern Anatolia. The sample analysed from Ghoraife is still too small for one to be sure if the proportions of obsidian from the different sources have been correctly determined. Even so the results from Ghoraife and Tell Aswad together indicate that Vannic obsidian was used at least as much as obsidian from Ciftlik, a conclusion that greatly weakens the earlier hypothesis that most obsidian used in the Levant at this period was obtained from the Aksaray region.

Five C-14 determinations have been obtained for these levels and, like those for Tell Aswad and Tell Ramad, they form a consistent series. Those for Phase I are 6760 190 B.C. GIF-3376, 6530 190 B.C. GIF-3375 and 6450 190 B.C. GIF-3374, all in stratigraphic order. The two dates from Phase II are 6200 +/- 190 B.C. GIF-3372 and 4990 190 B.C. GIF-3371, the second of which appears to be too late for its archaeological context. There was much surface disturbance at the site and it is believed that this may have contaminated the sample. From these dates one would estimate that Ghoraife was settled about 6800 or 6900 B.C. and that the transition from Phase I to Phase II took place about 6300 B.C. The site was deserted perhaps about 600O B.C. although this figure is uncertain. From the chronology above it is clear that Phase I at Ghoraife was contemporary with Tell Aswad II and Phase II with Tell Ramad I. The site thus overlapped chronologically the other two Damascus basin sites but, surprisingly for a site so close to the others, there appear to have been marked differences between the flint assemblages of Ghoraife and the other sites, at least on the information available so far.

The Ghoraife industry throughout was based on blade production as at the other sites but in Phase I the cores were double-ended whereas in Aswad II they were usually prismatic or pyramidal. The main tool types were used in similar proportions, sickle blades being much more common than arrowheads for example, which implies that much the same activities were being practised at these two sites which occupied the same environment. Even so there were considerable differences between the arrowheads because squamous pressure-flaking was used commonly at Tell Aswad but not at Ghoraife. Such differences in technique between two neighbouring contemporary sites are unusual since elsewhere in the Levant at this time basic techniques of flint production were the same on sites over a wide area as we have seen in the Euphrates region.

Ghoraife II and Ramad I had more in common in their flint industries although these two sites were in different environments, one on a high plateau and the other in a lake basin. The core techniques were quite similar although double-ended cores were more common at Ramad. Pressure-flaking seems to have been used to about the same extent at both sites. Arrowheads were more frequent at Ghoraife than at Ramad but as the setting of the two sites was different this probably reflects differences in subsistence. Ramad had some segmented sickle blades by this time, a type apparently absent at Ghoraife. Flaked and polished axes were used at both sites. Interestingly enough, the bone industry was also quite rich at both of these sites although far fewer bone tools were found in Ghoraife I.

What this all suggests is that although there are general resemblances between the artifacts frcm these three sites there are quite specific differences in the details of their material remains. These must partly reflect differences in subsistence activities but the variation in basic techniques of flint production may have more to do with the relations between the inhabitants of these sites in the phases when they were occupied at the same time.

These three sites share certain general characteristics with the Euphrates valley sites. The buildings at Ramad are rectilinear even if built differently. White ware is found on sites in both regions towards the end of this stage. The burial rites are generally quite similar although at Ramad the plastered skulls were treated differently from the usual practice on the Euphrates sites. Much the same range of exotic materials was being received at all these sites and in the three sites where large samples of obsidian have been analysed obsidian was being obtained from the same sources, from Lake Van as much as or more than Ciftlik. The general features of the flint industries, the use of large blades and the wideside introduction of double-ended cores, are also common to both areas. This list of common features together with the chronological evidence is enough to establish that the sites in the Damascus basin, Aswad II, Tell Ramad I and II and Ghoraife, not only belong to Neolithic 2 of the Levant but share many fundamental aspects of their culture with the Euphrates sites.

That having been established, it is also apparent that the Damascus basin sites form a distinct group and, whatever the differences between them, have certain things in common which distinguish them from the Euphrates sites. As is usually the case this can best be seen in the flint assemblages. To begin with there is greater variation in core technique in the Damascus basin towards the end of Neolithic 2, that is at Ghoraife II and Ramad I. Pressure-flaking is also used much more commonly there than on the Euphrates, particularly for retouching arrowheads. Sickle blades are more abundant on all the Damascus basin sites and the segmented sickle blades at Tell Ramad are quite different from the few sickle blades known in the Euphrates area. Flaked and polished axes are a type absent on the Euphrates but abundant in the Damascus basin in late Neolithic 2, an important indicator of a variation in response to a different environment. The buildings of Ramad II, despite their use of mudbrick and plaster floors, are of a different plan from those at Abu Hureyra and elsewhere on the Euphrates. Then again one might note the very large number of human, animal and abstract clay figurines found at both Tell Aswad and Tell Ramad which are a very rare find on the Euphrates sites ...

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