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Chapter 4: Neolithic 2 Ugarit (Pages 208-210)

Pre-History and Archaeology Glossary

Excerpts and Definitions and Addendums:

The great mound of Ras Shamra was first occupied in the Neolithic and remains of this earliest settlement have been found on the natural subsoil at the bottom of several soundings made beneath the temple acropolis at the northeast corner of this site and under the Palace garden in the northwest sector. The full extent of the settlement is not known as no deep soundings have been made in the southern half of the mound but on the evidence of the trenches excavated so far it may have been about 8 hectares in area. It was thus one of the largest Neolithic sites in Syria although we do not know if this whole area was occupied at the same time in the earlier phases. The Neolithic settlement stretched along the southern bank of the Nahr el Fidd which reaches the sea 1 kilometre west of the site at Minet el Beidha.

This first settlement belongs to Phase VC or the Early Neolithic in the Ras Shamra sequence and is distinguished from all later phases by an absence of pottery. Stone structures were found in one of the soundings and traces of surfaces with refuse of humnan occupation in the others but the trenches were too restricted in area to give us an idea of the layout of the settlement. Am enigmatic stone structure was found in 1933 at the bottom of the first soundings to be excavated. It consisted of a sloping ramp of stones apparently forming a glacis. The same structure was found a little further to the east and (*1)Schaeffer was inclined to believe it was a defensive perimeter wall. The shape of the ramp makes this unlikely but the true nature of the feature is unclear for many of the stones may have simply fallen down the slope. A more probable explanation is that the structure was a terrace wall for it faces the river and would have supported the layers behind. This suggestion was advanced by Schaeffer himself at first then rejected in favour of the idea of a defensive glacis on analogy with the PPNA perimeter wall at Jericho.

Enough is known about the artifacts of this phase to determine the cultural affinities of the settlement but not to give us a detailed picture of how the inhabitants lived. The flint industry was based upon blade production although flake tools make up a significant proportion of the assemblage. The blades were struck off conical cores for the most part while some of the flakes came from discoid cores. Many of the sickle blades were segmented and almost all had a finely denticulated cutting edge. At least one notched arrowhead was found in the sounding west of the temple of Baal but most of them were tanged. The tang was defined by a narrowing of the blade rather than with true shoulders and the tools were retouched with pressure-flaking. The other blade tools consisted of burins, borers and end-scrapers. Most of the flake tools were scrapers and some of these were quite large. A little obsidian was used in this phase although in what amounts is not known. Two of the pieces analysed came from Ciftlik and one from the unidentified third source which may be in eastern Anatolia.

Several other classes of artifacts were found but none in any great quantity. There were a few small polished axes and fragments of basalt and limestone bowls, some of which were polished. Several querns were found and some smaller objects carved in limestone. At least one piece of white ware was recovered from this phase in the sounding west of the Temple of Baal and also a carnelian bead. Bone tools seem to have been scarce but among them were borers and handles for other tools. Two anthropomorphic figurines were also found, one of baked clay and one of limestone.

Three charcoal samples have been analysed for C-14 giving dates of 6416 +/- 100 BC P-460, 6192 +/- 100 BC P-459 and 7080 +/- 400 BC Gsy-102. The Phildelphia dates accord well with material of similar character that has been dated elsewhere but the third (Gif-sur-Yvette) determination would seem to be too early.

The finds from Ras Shamra, though scanty, all belong in a Neolithic 2 context. This conclusion based on an examination of the artifacts is reinforced by the stratigraphic and chronological evidence. The sequence at Ras Shamra was continuous throughout Phase V and the VC levels were stratified directly below those containing material of the next cultural stage. The C-14 determinations place the occupation in the second half of the 7th millennium.

Although the flint industry, white ware and other artifacts are all characteristic of late Neolithic 2 in the Levant, the regional cultural affinities of the settlement at Ras Shamra are less clear. The core technique and typology of the sickle blades and arrowheads are different from the usual forms found on Euphrates sites ruling out any close connection there. A much better comparison can be made with the finds from Tell Ramad I and II, particularly between the flint assemblages, so that Ras Shamra may reasonably be included in the West Syrian group sites. Yet even so certain differences remain. These are partly the result of the use of different local raw materials for the flint artifacts and other tools and also becuse Ras Shamra is seperated from the Damascus basin and Lebanese site by a considerable distance. One suspects that as in later phases its closest cultural affiinities would be with sites in the Amuq basin if any of this stage had been found there .....


(*1) Les Fondements Prehistoriques d'Ugarit
C. F. A Schaeffer (1962) in Ugarit IV (151-250)

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium