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Chapter 4: Neolithic 2 Jericho (Pages 211-218)

Pre-History and Archaeology Glossary

Excerpts and Definitions and Addendums:

The PPNA settlement at Jericho was abandoned about 7700 BC as we have already seen. The site remained unoccupied for several centuries and then a new settlement - designated Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) - was founded on top of the weathered surface of the mound. The reasons why the site was deserted for so long are not known but probably depend on local factors which affected Jericho alone. There are no indications of such a break in occupation at this time at sites further north such as Tell Aswad and Mureybat nor at the two sites in Palestine with sratified Neolithic 1 and 2 deposits - Nahal Oren and Khiam.

The new settlement was at least as large as the PPNA one for remains of it were found in Trenches I and III and sites E and M. The settlement may have been even larger for in Trenches II and III it extended beyond the limits of the Middle Bronze Age town wall which had been cut into PPNB settlement levels.

The buildings of the PPNB settlement were rectilinear and built of mud-bricks sometimes on stone foundations. The bricks were parallel-sided with rounded ends and had deep thumb prints in them to act as keys for mud mortar. No buildings were fully exposed so it is not known what their complete plan was but a good idea of the arrangement of some of them was obtained. They consisted of a number of rooms arranged around a courtyard. The main rooms were very large - two examples being 6.5 by 4 metres and 7 by 3 metres each and were subdivided by partition walls with two or three openings each framed with wooden posts. These spacious rooms were accompanied by much smaller chambers and storge bins. The floors of the rooms were covered with plaster painted red or cream and then burnished. Recent analyses have confirmed that the plaster was made of lime. Some floors were covered with reeds or circular rush mats.

The courtyards had clay floors which were covered with ashes from numerous fires. They formed the core of each building complex but it is not certain if the rooms around them belonged to one or more buildings. These complexes were frequently rebuilt on a slightly different alignment - one of them in site E no less than 14 times. They apparently had a single storey and the same type was found all over the mound. It is probable that they were family houses.

One building similar in other respects to these houses had an unusual feature. A rectangular room had been seperated off and a niche cut in an end wall. Nearby a chipped-out pillar of volcanic stone was found which fitted into the niche (See *1 Below). Kenyon has suggested that the room was a shrine but there is no clear indication of what purpose it served.

The overall plan of another building was different from the usual houses even if details of its construction were the same as in the other buildings. It consisted of a series of rooms with curvilinear walls which surrounded a rectangular plastered space 6 metres long and at least 4 metres wide. This area was believed to be a central room. In the centre of the floor of this room lay a sunken basin plastered like the floor which had apparently been used as a hearth. This building was different from the houses; Kenyon thought it may have been a temple but it could equally well have seved as a communal building.

The houses of the early PPNB settlement were built down the side of the mound on the evidence from Trench I. Some were rebuilt ten times before there was any change. Then a wall was built near the top of the slope. The ground in front was levelled off and the debris piled up behind the wall so that it formed a terrace. Houses were then built on top of the terrace behind the wall. The line of this wall was irregular and since it has only been found in Trench I and Site M it is not known if it encircled the site. The ground in front of it sloped very glently so it may been simply a terrace wall rather than a defensive work as Kenyon has suggested. It may be that the settlement contracted on this side and that the wall was built to strengthen the upper part of the settlement as more debris accumulated. Eventually this terrace was partly collapsed and a replacement was built further to the west. It is thought that yet another well may ultimately have been built even further out as the settlement expanded still more.

The dead of the PPNB settlement were buried beneath the floors of the houses or in the fill of abandoned buildings. The graves frequently contained collective burials in which many of the skeletons were disordered. Some bones were articulated but others were not and many of the corpses lacked skulls. A cache of seven skulls was found beneath the floor of a room and two more under another floor in the same house. The jaws had been removed from all but one and the face and base of the skull covered with plaster. The features were modelled naturalistically with shells for eyes to give the appearance of live human beings. One other plastered skull was found at the north end of the mound making a total of ten altogether. Five of these skulls have recently been examined and were shown to be adult males.

The practice of seperating skulls from corpses and reburying the disordered skeletal remains in collective graves was widespread in the Levant in Neolithic 2. Restoring the faces of these skulls with plaster was a more localised custom found only at Jericho - Tell Ramad and as we shall see at Beisamun. One other aspect of the treatment of detached skulls at Jericho differed from the practice on West Syrian and Euphrates sites such as Tell Ramad and Abu Hureyra. Apart from the ten plastered examples hardly any detached skulls were found buried in the excavated parts of the settlement which suggests that they had been gathered together and deposited in one or two special locations.

The flint raw material for the PPNB chipped stone industry was quite as varied as in the Proto-Neolithic/PPNA. Some of it was buff - brown or grey and of obvious local derivation. A proportion however was fine-grained and often veined and more lightly coloured in pink - even purple or a honey brown. We have already noted that this colourful flint was used at Jericho and at Nahal Oren in Neolithic 1 but in Neolithic 2 large blade tools - particularly arrowheads - were made of this material at these and and a number of other sites in Palestine and southern Syria such as Munhatta and Tell Ramad. The sources of the brightly coloured flint have not been determined but it has tentatively been suggested that one may lie in the hills that form the southeast extension of Mount Carmel between the coastal plain and the Plain of Esdraelon.

Although the sources of this flint have not been located with certainty the idea has been put forward that this raw material formed an object of trade or exchange - a hypothesis which might be questioned if only because the material is heavy and since so much has been found on archaeological sites it is difficult to see how it might have been transported before beasts of burden were domesticated. It is noticeable that this special flint was preferred for the larger blade tools - many of which were retouched with pressure-flaking. This functional distinction in the use of raw material may point to another explanation. Long blades may be pressure-flaked more readily when the flint has been heated. This process can alter the appearance of the flint by turning it pink or other colours and also may make the surface of struck pieces shiny and smooth - all of which can be seen on the distinctive Neolithic 2 flint. This suggests that the material is medium-grained flint of the usual kind found in beds in the limestone of Palestine and southern Syria or nodules in wadis. They were then collected and heated to make them easier to work. This would also explain why no sources of this material have been identified with certainty.

Most of the flint tools in the PPNB at Jericho were made on blades struck off double-ended cores of which some were keeled. The basic core technique was thus exactly the same as on most Neolithic 2 sites in the West Syrian and Middle Euphrates groups.

Some of the most common tool types were the arrowheads. Almost all were tanged but some had pairs of side notches as well - quite like examples on West Syrian sites. Another group had long tangs with pronounced wings or barbs formed by deep notches on either side of the tang. These appear to have been a specificlly Palestinian type. A third group had tangs defined by shoulders or a simple narrowing of the blade at the tang end. These types were common on West Syrian sites and were found on other sites throughout the Levant. The tangs of most of the arrowheads were heavily retouched with pressure-flaking but although some also had pressure-flaking on the rest of the blade most were only lightly retouched at the tip.

The other main class of tool was the sickle blades. These had nibbled or finely-denticulated cutting edges but were usually not otherwise retouched. Dihedral and angle burins on blades were fairly common. Borers on blades were also made but these were quite rare.

Scrapers of all types were common especially when compared with sites further north. Some discoids were made on core tablets but there were few other flake scrapers or end-scrapers on blades. Core tools were also exceedingly scarce. There were no large core tools at all and only one or two small flaked axes with a tranchet cutting edge. Small greenstone axes were found which - like these flaked flint ones - may have been used for woodworking.

About 1% of the chipped stone industry at Jericho was of obsidian. Two pieces analysed by Renfrew (See *2 Below) and his colleagues were found to be from the Ciftlik source as was a third piece recently analysed in the Bradford program. One other piece analysed at Bradford was of green obsidian but it could not be ascribed to any known source. It did not however come from Ciftlik so we now know that obsidian from at least two sources was reaching PPNB Jericho.

The ground stone tools at Jericho were numerous and varied. The most characteristic objects were the open-mouthed querns - some of which were stepped - a type which has since been found at Munhatta and Tell Ramad. Plano-convex rubbers were used with these querns to grind grain. Hammerstones - stone balls and stone polishers were all made and also pestles which are rare on other Neolithic 2 sites. Dishes and bowls were carved from a local soft limestone and some were then given a fine polish. Among the other stone tools were spindle whorls and weights which may have been used in single looms. Bone tools such as borers and spatulae were made but these were less abundant than in the PPNA at Jericho and also less common than on most West Syrian and Middle Euphrates Neolithic 2 sites.

One of the more unuual groups of finds from PPNB Jericho was a series of stylised anthropomorphic plaster figures. Fragments of several of these were found in Square DII. One which could be reconstructed from the waist up was almost life-sized and had a rectangular head but no indication of facial features. It was decorated with red - brown and cream paint. Two groups of three plaster figures were found by Garstang (See *3 Below) in Neolithic levels at the northern end of the site but their precise stratigraphic position was uncertain. It now seems likely that they can be associated with the figures found in Kenyon's excavations and so dated to the PPNB phase of occupation. The groups each consisted of a life-size man and a smaller woman and child. Garstang was able to recover only one head of these figures; it was thin and spade-shaped like those found by Kenyon but its face was naturalistically modelled as were the other plaster fragments which could be identified - with eyes made of shells. The face was made more life-like still with painted lines to represent hair on the forehead and a beard.

The modelling of these figures with plaster - shells and paint reminds one of the way the plastered skulls were made but there is no indication that the two were used together like the plaster figures and plastered skulls at Tell Ramad. For the moment the function of the Jericho plaster figures remains obscure.

Clay was used to make human and animal figurines - finds which are common to most excavated Neolithic 2 sites. There were also objects of adornment such as shell and malachite beads; the raw material for the latter was probably brought up from the Wadi Arabah. Turquoise was imported from Sinai and cowrie shells from the Mediterranean or Red Sea. A little oval piece of bone carved to resemble a human face with two holes for eyes may have been a bead or button.

The C-14 determinations for PPNB Jericho are even more difficult to interpret than those for the preceding phases. Six have been made altogether and of these two from the Brittish Museum and three from the Philadelphia laboratories probably give results approaching the true age of the samples. Unfortunately when considered together they are contradictory. The Brittish Museum determinations of 7220 +/- 200 BC BM-115 and 6760 +/- 150 BC BM-253 are thought to date the middle of the PPNB phase. Yet two of the Philadelphia dates which should date early PPNB levels are 6660 +/- 75 BC P-380 and 6708 +/- 101 BC P-381. It seems that once again the Philadelphia determinations are several centuries later than those from the Brittish Museum. One other sample stratified above P-380 in Site E gave a date of 7006 +/- 103 BC P-382 which only adds to the confusion. It is not possible from these dates to make an accurate estimate of when PPNB Jericho was resettled or when it was abandoned although given the clustering of the determinations it is probable that the total duration of the phase may have been nearer a half than a whole millennium. One might guess that the PPNB settlement began about 7000 BC and lasted until 6500 BC or a little after but this estimate would be in error by several centuries. One inference from this would be that Jericho was deserted for about half a millennium between PPNA and PPNB. PPNB Jericho was apparently abandoned well before the end of the 7th millennium and was not resettled until much later.

Jericho was occupied during Neolithic 2 and the general character of the remains on the site link it culturally with Neolithic 2 sites in the West Syrian and Middle Euphrates groups. There are the rectilinear mud-brick buildings and plaster floors - a basically similar flint industry though with some typological differences and the Neolithic 2 burial systems though again with certain local special features. These broad similarities place PPNB Jericho firmly within Neolithic 2 of the Levant but the particular local differences we have noted mean that Jericho must be regarded as a site within a third regional cultural grouping. This third regional cultural group consists of sites in Palestine ...


*1 Digging Up Jericho by Kathleen Kenyon (1957)
Library of Congress # DS 110 J4 K39

*2 Obsidian and Early Cultural Contact in the Near East
Renfrew et al (1966) Proceedings of the PreHistoric Society
Library of Congress # DA 670 E13 P8

*3 Jericho: City and Necropolis (1935) Garstang
Liverpool Annual Archaeology and Anthropology
Volume 22 (Pages 143-184)

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium