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Table of Contents = Civilizations -- Cultures -- Areas -- Regions -- Prehistory / HOME / Other Archaeological Sites
The Neolithic of the Levant

  • Samarran Culture (5500 BC- 4800 BC)
    • Farming gradually spread south towards the "neck" of Mesopotamia
      • this may have been some combination of people actually moving into the area
      • and a possible low density population of foragers who were already there and began to adopt agriculture
    • this area has less rainfall, so irrigation is necessary to consistently produce much food
    • The Samarra style and culture was contemporary with the later part of Hassuna style
      • but further out onto the alluvium
      • it is both a cultural and a chronological category
      • maybe a different social or ethnic group .....
    • Samarra style is also contemporary with Halaf style, found to the north
      • in some places, both styles are found...
      • may be different ethnic groups, or just different fashions
      • together, these are the first widespread, relatively uniform pottery styles
        • this might indicate more long-distance travel, contact, and exchange
        • or some other reason for widespread, shared ideas about aesthetics and possibly other things .....
    • Samarra style pottery
      • made with "tournette" (also called a "slow wheel")
      • possibly by specialists?
    • subsistence
      • cultivated wheat (emmer and bread wheat) and barley
      • kept sheep, goats, pigs, cattle
      • some fishing and shellfish gathering from Tigris river
      • hunting and wild plant foods important, but agriculture had a bigger role
      • farming was based at least partially on irrigation
        • Evidence of irrigation:
          • the region in general is too dry for reliable farming without it
          • they cultivated at least one crop that would not have produced at all in this region without irrigation: flax (linseed)
            • for fiber used in linen cloth
          • sites are found in the areas where natural flooding could be most easily channeled and drained
          • sites are lined up along contour lines, implying canals
        • irrigation suggests intensification
          • more investment in the land
          • more permanence
          • maybe land ownership
          • greater vulnerability to attack and need for defense
          • maybe greater need for coordinated work, conflict resolution, etc.
        • but this can all still happen in pretty small-scale societies, without strong leadership or very complex social organization
    • largest sites around 6 ha (site of Samarra)
      • about three times the size of the main quad
      • estimated about 1000 people
    • mud-brick rectangular houses
      • multiple rooms
      • external buttresses, apparently to support corners and roof beams (later become decorative)
      • around open courtyards
      • granaries, ovens, kilns
    • the Samarra economy apparently had some complex features
      • stamp seals, like Halaf
      • possible maker's marks on pottery suggest craft specialization, exchange
      • limited amounts of copper suggest long-distance exchange
    • Tell Sawwan (a Samarra style site)
      • population probably several hundred (comparable to Jericho)
      • in the earliest level (about 5500 BC)
        • houses were relatively uniform in size and elaboration
          • suggesting little variation in social status
        • large buildings (up to 17 rooms) are interpreted as temples
          • suggesting some kind of organization or leadership
        • the site was surrounded by a ditch
        • many baked clay balls -- sling missiles .....
          • suggests fear of raids .....
        • at least 128 burials under several of the large buildings (Wenke says they were under house floors)
          • including 55 infants, 16 adolescents, and 13 adults
            • this high proportion of sub-adults in burials is typical for pre-industrial populations, which normally have high infant mortality
          • most buried with at least one object
            • alabaster female figurines
            • alabaster bowls
            • jewelry including copper and turquoise beads
            • ceramic pots
          • only minor variation in goods
            • slightly more with adolescents and adults than with infants
            • this agrees with the uniformity of houses to suggest relatively minor differences in wealth between individuals and families
          • but one adult male with several items, buried under the floor of a room with no other burials
            • maybe a slightly wealthier, more important person
          • but all together, the burials are richer than burials from other contemporary sites
            • suggests that some settlements or kin groups within settlements already had access to more wealth than others
      • by about 5400 BC
        • a wall had been built just inside the ditch
        • with an "L"-shaped entrance path to make intruders vulnerable to fire from on top of the walls
          • suggests fear of attack
    • Another example of a fairly large, walled Samarra site: Choga Mami
      • up to 6 ha (15 acres)
      • up to 1000 people
      • like the later levels at Tell es-Sawwan, Choga Mami was walled and had an L-shaped (that is, defensible) entrance
      • plus a tower guarding one entrance to the site
    • Defense was clearly a serious concern for Samarran people, at least at some sites and times
      • and the Samarra people at various different sites were sufficiently organized to build sizable defenses
      • presumably indicating some sort of leadership, at least on a temporary basis
  • These societies, and especially the Samarrans, were the source of the first people who settled in the Mesopotamian alluvium
    • they comprise the roots of the first civilization in the world

    The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium