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Chapter 3: Neolithic 1 Saidnaya (Pages 130-133)

Pre-History and Archaeology Glossary

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There is one other site near Damascus at which traces of Neolithic 1 occupation has been found. This is Saidnaya which lies 23 kilometres north of the city in a valley on the eastern side of the Anti-Lebanon. The occupation deposit here lay near the surface and was quite thin. Most of the material belonged to a Mesolithic 2 flint industry but mixed with this were pieces which were typologically a little later. There were in particular three notched arrowheads; one had a straight retouched base and the other two were tanged. These arrowheads can be paralleled at both Tell Aswad I and Mureybat III, indicating that Saidnaya was occupied briefly at this time. Saidnaya is thus the second site known in the Anti-Lebanon with Neolithic 1 occupation.

The slow but fundamental change from a microlithic to a full blade flint industry took place at about the same time in Syria, Palestine and elsewhere in the Levant. Microliths were gradually phased out, rather more quickly at Jericho and Nahal Oren than at Mureybat, Nacharini and the Harifian sites. The first recognisable arrowheads were made and also certain relatively heavy flaked tools such as adzes and picks were introduced though on the new evidence from Hayoniz these tools may already have been used in the Mesolithic at some sites; it is important to remember also that heavy flaked hammerstones and large flake scrapers were common at Abu Hureyra and in certain other Mesolithic assemblages. Almost all the other tools in the earliest post-Mesolithic assemblages were small, much smaller than those of the blade-based developed Neolithic industry of the 7th millennium and after. The same core technology was used on all Levantine sites but later double-ended blade cores were introduced at Mureybat, Jericho and Nahal Oren and the first true blade tools were made in some quantity. Similarly, towards the end of this stage squamous retouch was introduced, at least at Jericho and Mureybat, the two sites with the most complete sequences, and Tell Aswad.

There were few other classes of artifacts at these sites but even these showed some similarities. Bone tools vere quite abundant at Mureybat, Nahal Oren and Jericho and for the most part consisted of quite fine points, pins and needles. Hollow querns were also common to these three sites. Simple dishes and bowls made of stone were another regular if less common find on both sites; some of these were quite finely made with a high polish. Hollow querns were also common to these three sites.

Yet for all these general similarities between broadly contemporary assemblages from different sites in the Levant there were marked local differences. Tool types were found in different proportions from site to site while some tools such as the Harif point and the distinctive N&charini truncated blades were found on certain sites and not on others. Arrowheads were much more numerous and varied in shape at Mureybat than at Jericho or any other site.

The other principal feature that these sites had in common was their buildings. Circular structures were common to all the open sites from Abu Salem in the Negev to Mureybat on the Euphrates. They were built of whatever materials were easily available, stone and timber at Abu Salem and Nahal Oren, mud and timber at Jericho and Mureybat. This tradition of erecting circular buildings was inherited from Mesolithic 2 and had its origins in the Mesolithic I circular huts at En Gev or perhaps even earlier. These structures were of much the same diameter, whatever they were built of, at most of the sites discussed: Abu Salem, Nahal Oren and Mureybat; only their internal arrangements differed somewhat. The houses at Jericho were slightly larger and in phase III at Mureybat much bigger circular structures with several compartments within were built alongside the first rectilinear buildings. Until then the building tradition seems to have been remarkably uniform throughout the Levant. The latter part of phase III at Mureybat came quite late in Neolithic 1 when a further change in building type was taking place.

There is very little evidence for burial practices from these sites but what there is does suggest a certain similarity in customs throughout the Levant. Burials within the settlement have been found at several sites, a tradition which in Palestine was derived from the Natufian but which in north Syria would appear to have been an innovation. The most distinctive feature was the separate interment of skulls after death for which there is evidence from Jericho, Nahal Oren, Mureybat and Tell Aswad I. The inhabitants of these sites, at least, had certain ideas in common concerning the treatment of the head after death which led them to bury skulls apart from the corpses to which they belonged. Other aspects of the disposal of the dead differ from site to site; at Jericho bodies were buried intact in graves while at Mureybat and Tell Aswad I there is evidence for secondary burial in which the skeleton was probably dismembered.

One other activity in which the inhabitants of many of the sites were involved was the exchange of obsidian. This began immediately after the Mesolithic and is one of the features marking the start of this new stage. All the obsidian found on Levantine sites at this early date which has been analysed came from Anatolia and the amount that reached the Levant was extremely small, a handful of pieces at a few sites only. Yet even this early it was being retouched into tools at Jericho and elsewhere so it was appreciated for its practical qualities from the beginning. This is the earliest instance of regular long distance trade known in the Levant, the only precursor being the traffic in marine shells from the Mediterranean and the Red Sea found on inland sites in earlier periods. It indicates that the Levant and Anatolia were in some sort of contact even if as yet we are unable to say anything about the cultural context in which the obsidian was being collected or quarried in Anatolia.

The Levant in this stage formed one cultural province with most contemporary sites having many cultural traits in common. For this reason Mureybat IB - III and Tell Aswad I may be included in Neolithic 1. Yet even though there are relatively few sites known of this period it is clear that there were local cultural differences that served to separate one group of sites from another. Thus one can distinguish between the Harifian sites of the Negev and the Palestinian group of Jericho, El Khiam and Nahal Oren because of differences in their flint industries. Nacharini in the Anti-Lebanon for the moment stands alone, having only certain aspects of its flint industry in common with other sites. Mureybat on the Euphrates while sharing many traits with sites further south has enough distinctive features to distinguish it from the others; when other sites of this period are found in this region sub-group. Tell Aswad I is late in the Neolithic 1 sequence they and the best parallel for its flint industry is Mureybat III; for the moment there is little with which to compare it with further south ...

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