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Chapter 3: Neolithic 1 Beidha (Pages 109-113)

Pre-History and Archaeology Glossary

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The discovery at Beidha of Neolithic occupation layers stratified between Mesolithic 2 remains and the 7th millennium BC village of stone built houses raises the possibility that the site was occupied contemporaneously with PPNA Jericho and Nahal Oren layers IV - II by people with similar material culture. The earliest occupation at Beidha discovered so far consisted of a settlement with an associated Mesolithic 2 flint industry designated as layer X. Soundings made in the first two seasons on the eroded steep western slope of the site revealed 0.5 to 0.75 metres depth of sandy deposit with a hearth, stone slabs, a stoned-lined pit and many animal bones. In later work some Mesolithic 2 occupation was found in squares L4 and M4 on the southern side of the site under House XVIII of layer VI; this consisted of part of a structure of mud-bricks and plaster. Towards the centre of the site in a sounding beside House XXXVII there was more Mesolithic 2 occupation with a wall 1 metre high built of the same sandy irregular mud-bricks on a curved stone foundation. These and other soundings established that the Mesolithic 2 occupation was up to 2.5 metres deep and extended under the southern half of the Neolithic village.

This Mesolithic 2 settlement was overlain by between 2 and 3 metres of virtually sterile windblown sand except in square L4 and M4 where House XVIII was built directly on top of the Mesolithic 2 layers. The sand was not sterile everywhere: in another sounding in the centre of the site a stone was found which had been deliberately set upright with clay and pebbles. Apart from this slight trace of human activity the site appears to have been deserted while the sand accumulated.

Above this thick layer of sand lay several levels of occupation, Levels IX - VII, with no trace of substantial structures. These levels consisted of a sandy deposit with layers of human occupation within it and some associated features. A deposit of this nature was found in squares H4 and H5 near the middle of the site; this was Level VIII. There was a similar deposit with a small hearth in squares E4, E5 and E6 beneath the houses of the later village. In the squares two large floors were found side by side on top of the sandy occupation layers. These floors, described as level VII, were made of a mixture of sand and calcareous clay resembling plaster; one of them had three post-holes in it. Many more of these firm floors were found during the last season's digging in squares G4, H4 and J4 in the middle of the site stratified beneath Level VI and so presumably ascribed to levels IX, VIII and VII. Post-holes, some with stone packing, were associated with some of these floors. There were also many hearths hollowed out in the floors, one of which was surrounded by clay lumps. Traces of two squared timber beams were noted in one layer and the outline of a large wooden platter or basket in another. Apart from these finds the floors were fairly clean so that few artifacts or animal bones were recovered. These floors were stratified directly beneath a series of courtyards belonging to the later village which were also quite clean. As no break in the occupation sequence is suspected and as there was some continuity of internal settlement arrangements at Beidha it may be that these floors were also open yards and that houses built of wood and clay, if not stone, lay beyond them in the unexcavated areas. These surfaces seem to have represented living floors in which some domestic activities were carried out and where several slight wooden structures were built. Because they were regularly replaced the site must have been repeatedly occupied, either continuously or on a seasonal basis. None of the artifacts from these levels at Beidha has been published so that it is not possible yet to say whether the flint industry was like that of Neolithic I sites in Palestine or not. All we do know is that there were very few artifacts in Levels IX - VIII, that the flint industry was Neolithic in aspect and that there was no break in the tradition of flint working between Levels IX - VII and the later levels.

The flint industry from Levels VI - I at Beidha has been described as resembling the PPNB industry at Jericho and elsewhere, although there were in fact some significant differences between them. Two of the arrowhead types, Al and A2, found in these layers had a distinctly archaic look. They both had a pair of side notches and a straight snapped or rounded retouched base. Type A1 was almost a Khiamian point which could be paralleled at Jericho in the PPNA and in the contemporary levels at El Khiam while type A2 was found in both the Proto-Neolithic and PPNA at Jericho. As these types are characteristic of an earlier phase when they are found stratified on other sites their presence, even in small quantities, in Levels VI to I at Beidha merits comment. Either they were definitely contemporary with the rest of the material in the layers in which they were found and so late examples of a type which had ceased to be made elsewhere or they were secondary. Mortensen has pointed out that the lower levels of the site were disturbed by later building and that material from these levels was consequently found higher up. It is possible therefore that these arrowheads and no doubt some of the other material in levels VI - I such as the burins and scrapers were derived from an earlier assemblage in levels IX - VII that had some of the characteristics, at least, of the PPNA at Jericho.

No C-14 determinations have been made on material from levels IX - VII but there are no less than seven dates now for level VI. These have a wide range from 6990 +/- 160 B.C. K-1086 to 6596 100 B.C. P-1379, making it difficult to estimate when the first occupation in this layer took place; all the determinations for the later layers except one fall within the same time range and the exception, P-1380 from level IV, is in fact earlier. From these determinations one might suggest with due caution that level VI began about 7000 B.C. which would mean that the occupation represented by layers IX - VII took place in the later 8th millennium B.C. This would make these levels contemporary with the PPNA at Jericho. Thus from levels IX to VII we have evidence of an 8th millennium settlement occupied regularly over many years; it also seems likely that the associated material culture had some elements in common with Neolithic I at Jericho and Nahal Oren. Apart from the indications of floors, hearths and some wooden structures the true nature and extent of this settlement has not yet been established because of the limited area of the soundings from which the evidence was derived ...

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