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Chapter 4: Neolithic 2 Tell Ramad (Pages 192-198)

Pre-History and Archaeology Glossary

Excerpts and Definitions and Addendums:

Tell Ramad was discovered by two French customs officials before the Second World War. One of them - M. Compant - and an army officer - Lieutenant Potut - collected material from the site on several occasions. The site was visited in 1939 by Laurisson Ward who collected more material from the surface which is now in the Peabody Museum. Tell Ramad remained known to at least one scholar but had otherwise been generally forgotten until rediscovered by van Liere and de Contenson.

The site is situated 20 kilometres southwest of Damascus at the foot of Mount Hermon. It lies on a high undulating plateau at an elevation of 830 metres at the edge of the Wadi Sherkass which flows into the Damascus Basin. The mound is approximately rectangular in shape and about 2 hectares in area. There are two high points on the western side with a wide almost level bench to the east. The northern side slopes steeply down into the wadi.

Eight seasons of excavation have taken place at Tell Ramad since 1963. The full sequence of occupation was determined from three trenches excavated in the first season; since then these trenches have been extended to obtain as broad an exposure as possible of the layout of the settlement. The occupation layers which are about 5 metres thick have been divided into three phases; Levels I and II making up the bulk of the site are aceramic Neolithic and Level III is ceramic Neolithic. Another later phase of occupation has been postulated on the evidence of sherds found on the surface but any occupation layers of this phase have eroded away.

Level I was about 2 metres thick on the east side but only 0.7 metres deep on the west of the site. It would appear from this that when the site was first settled the eastern sector was occupied more intensively but that almost the whole area of the site was inhabited. The most conspicuous features of this phase were a number of oval pits from 3 to 4 metres in diameter lined with clay. These pits contained hearths - ovens and other depressions which suggest that they may have served as working hollows or even dwellings. In the same deposit there were also rectangular bins made of clay which may have been for storage - a number of lime plastered surfaces and other floors.

The deposits and structures of Level II were quite different from those in Level I yet there is nothing to suggest that there was a break in occupation between the two phases. Level II was from 2.35 to 4.3 metres thick and extended over the whole site. This deposit - which is exposed over much of the surface of the mound - was very ashy, a feature from which its Arabic name was derived. The structures in this level had a single rectangular room built of mud-bricks on a stone foundation. The corners were rounded which avoided the structural problem of joining two brick walls at a right angle. The buildings varied in size - one being 7 by 5.5 metres and another 9 by 4-5 metres - but most had plaster floors. These structures - which are quite uniform - have been found across the site and it is probable that they were dwellings. Outside these buildings were several pits which contained carbonised seeds indicating that food was probably stored in them. Hearths - ovens and prepared working surfaces could all be traced outside the buildings which were separated by narrow lanes and courts.

Burial customs were the same in Levels I and II. Human remains were buried in shallow graves inside buildings sometimes beneath the floors and also outside. A few crouched burials were found intact; but most corpses appear to have been deposited incomplete in communal graves. The latter frequently lacked skulls and other parts of the skeleton indicating that secondary burial had taken place. Very few grave goods were deposited with these skeletons. Several groups of skulls were found which had been buried separately from the corpses to which they belonged. Single skulls and other human remains occurred throughout the deposits. The lower part of the face and chin of some of these skulls had been covered with plaster which had the effect of partly restoring the appearance of the face. The plaster and the remainder of the skull was frequently decorated with red ochre. Both male and female skulls were treated in this way.

Associated with one of these groups of skulls were the remains of two clay figures. Both were seated and the better preserved one which was about 25 centimetres high had at least one arm akimbo. It is thought that these figures - the more complete of which was headless - may have served as stands on which the plastered skulls were mounted.

The flint industry of Levels I and II at Tell Ramad was composed principally of blade tools. The blades were struck from pyramidal and double-ended cores - a few of which were keeled. Some of the tools in both phases were made on bladelets - a feature quite absent on the Euphrates sites.

The principal classes of tools were sickle blades and arrowheads. The sickle blades were of two types - blades with sickle gloss but little or no retouch and segmented blades. The segmented sickle blades had finely denticulated edges and were frequently retouched around the sides to reduce their thickness. In Level II some of these had coarse denticulation.

There were also two groups of arrowheads - one notched and one with long tangs. The notched arrowheads had pairs of notches along the blade and a pair at the base to define a short tang. This type though found in both levels was not so common in Level II. The other arrowheads had a long tang sometimes defined by shoulders. Many of these arrowheads and some of the sickle blades were retouched with squamous pressure-flaking.

The other blade tools consisted of types found on many other Neolithic 2 sites; retouched blades - borers and burins. End-scrapers on blades were uncommon but flake scrapers - principally discoids and end-scrapers - were numerous.

Another important and characteristic group of tools was the flaked axes. Most were small and quite thin with a polished cutting edge but a few had a tranchet edge. Their shapes were very varied; some were ovoid and others trapezoidal or semicircular with a straight edge. A few axes and adzes were much larger than these small woodworking tools. All such axes both large and small were almost entirely absent on the Euphrates.

Obsidian formed approximately 1% of the chipped stone industry at Tell Ramad. Most of it was in the form of small blade segments although a few retouched tools and worked-out cores were found - sufficient to indicate that some of it was finished on the site. Five pieces have been analysed by optical spectography - three of which came from Ciftlik and two from group 4c in eastern Anatolia. A sixth piece analyzed by neutron activation also came from group 4c. Renfrew looked at 40 pieces visually and concluded from this that only 10% of the obsidian in fact came from the Lake Van area - presumably because this proportion was green in colour. Recent work has thrown doubt upon this observation because some grey obsidian has now been shown to come from the Van region as well. At Tell Aswad and Ghoraife - another site in the Damascus Basin where larger samples have been analysed - a much higher proportion of the obsidian came from Lake Van and it would be surprising if the pattern at Ramad was very different because the sites are so close together - their sequences overlap and their material culture has much in common.

The remaining artifacts from Levels I and II were varied in type as we have noted on other Neolithic 2 sites. White ware was a characteristic feature of Level II but was not found in Level I. The forms were either cylindrical vessels with a flat bottom or bowls with a ring base. Some of the vessels were burnished and painted with a red line around the rim and body.

Pieces of white ware and the plaster floors have been analysed to determine their composition and how they were made. The analyses have shown conclusively that both materials were calcium carbonate but there is some doubt about how they were manufactured. Balfet and her collaborators think that limestone was baked on the site in pits to obtain the lime. They have analysed the soil of Ramad II and found it to be full of ashes - crushed limestone and traces of grass. They believe the grass played a part in the actual fashioning of the lime plaster. One huge pit was found on the site which could well have been used for this purpose. Gourdin and Kinpery point out however that limestone has to be baked at a very high temperature to obtain lime. As very large quantities of lime were used for floors on these Neolithic sites they believe that this could only have been regularly made in kilns. No kilns have been found on these sites but as Gourdin and Kingery remind us lime-burning is an unpleasant business and such kilns might well have been sited beyond the confines of the settlement. The question is unresolved but it does seem that some lime could be obtained from pit fires and it also seems probable that the ashy soil at Ramad is partly the result of this. Kilns may have been used at other sites at this time although there is no good evidence for them until much later. However the lime was obtained it was then used as a plaster to build up the white ware vessels. Balfet believes that a pozzolanic reaction took place in which the plaster set like cement. Gourdin and Kingery cast some doubt on this but do not offer a clear explanation of how they think the vessels were made.

The heavy stone tools were of the same type in both levels. Most of them were made of basalt which were easily obtainable on the Golan plateau. They included pestles and stone balls together with open ended stepped querns and rubbers. Small polished bowls in alabaster and limestone were also made but only in Level I apparently.

Bone tools were common finds in both levels and particularly abundant in Level II. The usual types in Level I were borers and spatulae while in Level II there were also needles - beads and hafts.

Clay figurines were another very common find particularly in Level II. Most were sun dried but a few appear to have been baked. They usually portrayed animals and humans although there were plenty of pawn-like figurines and other abstract shapes. Cattle - caprines - equids and pigs could be recognised among the many animal figurines.

The other artifacts were also quite varied. Among them were stone spindle whorls which supplement our knowledge of the range of crafts practised by the inhabitants. The objects of adornment included cylindrical beads of bone and different stones and other beads made of shell - obsidian - carnelian and steatite; the three latter materials were probably imported from Anatolia or the Zagros. There was also at least one butterfly bead of the same shape as those at Abu Hureyra. Pendants were less common but they included examples in shell and also one carved on bone which was an accomplished rendering of the bead of a ruminant.

An unusual find from Level I was a copper pendant. The pendant had been bored through so that it could be threaded on a string. Traces of the vegetable fibre yarn by which it had been suspended could be seen in the hole. The pendant was made of native copper which it is believed may have come from southern Turkey. It might equally have been derived from Edom or Sinai where there were also copper deposits.

The chronology of the sequence at Tell Ramad has been quite well established by a series of six C-14 determinations. The dates for Level I are 6250 +/- 80 B.C. GrN-4428 and 6140 +/- 50 B.C. GrN-4821 which suggest that the site may have been first occupied in the second half of the 7th millennium perhaps about 6300 BC. There are three determinations for Level II: (1) 5970 50 B.C. GrN-4427 (2) 5950 +/- 50 B.C. GrN-4822 and (3) 6260 +/- 50 B.C. GrN-4426. The first two fit the sequence very well but the last one which was obtained from a sample taken near the surface appears to be aberrant or may have been determined on old wood charcoal. If one considers only the first two determinations it would appear that Level II began about 6000 B.C. but we do not know for certain when the change from Level II to Level III took place ...

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