Other Archaeological Sites / The Neolithic of the Levant (500 Page Book Online)
Chapter 4: Principal Cultural Characteristics
Excerpts and Definitions and Addendums:
Excerpts and Definitions and Addendums:
I have now reviewed most of the known Neolithic 2 sites in the Levant and described their material remains. Before going on to discuss the economy and society of their inhabitants it will be useful to consider some of their general cultural characteristics in order to understand more clearly the differences between Neolithic 2 and the preceding states.
One of the principal features which distinguished Neolithic 2 settlements from those of Neolithic 1 was the shape and constructicn of the dwellings. Almost everywhere these were rectilinear in shape and built of stone or mudbrick or the two combined. Mud-brick was now used commonly as a building material on sites in Syria and quite often elsewhere. The plans of these buildings varied from place to place but the new style was adopted throughout the Levant early in Neolithic 2. It has remained the usual mode of domestic building in the villages of the Levant down to the present day.
The rooms of these buildings often had floors made of lime plaster coloured with red ochre or a black pigment. Occasionally designs were painted on the floors and the plaster or whitewash of the walls. This is the earliest evidence we have for the decoration of the interiors of buildings in the Levant, itself part of the elaboration of culture that took place as a sedentary way of life became established.
A second important constituent of Neolithic 2 manterial remains was the chipped stone industry. Most of the tools were now made on large blades and the tool types themselves were clearly separated fro each other in form and probably function as well. Flake scrapers and a few other distinct types of flake tools were quite common on many sites but rarely a major component of the industry. This stone industry differed markedly from that of the Mesolithic and Neolithic 1, having more in common with the Levantine Aurignacian, a coincidence at present difficult to understand because we know so little about the uses to which Aurignacian flint tools were put. Nelithic 2 blade tools were heavier and more robust that in Neolithic 1 some of the tool types were quite different, technological changes that should reflect modified activities and new needs. These tools would have been more suitable for repeated use in specific tasks than the much slighter equipment of Neolithic 1. Lighter tools composed of microliths were not now made at all.
Most Neolithic 2 sickle blades were made on complete blades rather than segments. It is possible to determine how they were hafted from the lustre found on the cutting edge. Many still seem to have been hafted with other sickle blades to make composite sickles with a straight cutting edge but some were apparently hafted at the butt end only and used as knives. Segmented sickle blades were made on a few sites and hafted to form composite tools with a curved or even jagged edge as at Tell Aswad (Balikh). Sickles armed in this way had a much tougher cutting edge than anything made in Neolithic 1. I think it is probable that these tools were used for harvesting cultivated cereals on sites where they have been found in large numbers. Cereals, as we shall see, were a major constituent of the diet on many sites in Neolithic 2 and so new types of sickle were developed to cut the larger quantities that now had to be harvested every year. At sites like Abu Hureyra where there is no clear association of the few robust sickle blades that were found with the ample evidence of cereal agriculture it is more probable that the sickle blades were used for other regular tasks such as gathering reeds for roofing or to make baskets.
The different types of Neolithic 2 arrowheads were almost all variations of tanged blades. They were relatively heavy and strong with considerable penetrating power. These arrowheads were probably adopted in preference to Khiamian points or composite arrowheads because changes were taking place in hunting practices. The lighter arrowheads of Neolithic 1 would have been more suitable for killing small game and birds. It may be that heavier arrowheads were now required because less small game was being hunted and more larger ruminants. The effectiveness of small arrowheads would have been much increased with the use of poisons; it may be that poisons were not now used and that heavier arrowheads which would have wounded animals more effectively were substituted instead. The large tanged arrowhead found imbedded in the chest of a human skeleton at Abu Hureyra provides vivid evidence of violence in Neolithic 2 society. It may be that heavier arms were now preferred as more effective weapons in fighting between Neolithic 2 communities.
The other common Neolithic 2 tool types such as end-scrapers and burins were also larger and more robust. This may be an indication that they were now used for particular crafts which were practised more regularly. Flaked axes and adzes were made much more frequently in Neolithic 2 than before. There were many varieties of these, some made of flint and others of tougher exotic stones. Many were simply flaked but others had polished edges to increase their cutting effectiveness. These tools were probably used to trim timber and fashion it into shapes suitable for building or for boxes, platters and tools. This evidence for an increase in woodworking is another indication of the flowering of crafts in Neolithic 2.
Flaked and polished axes of all kinds were rare on the Middle Euphrates sites but common at Tell Ramad, Tell Labweh and other sites in the West Syrian group. They were also numerous at Beisamun, Munhatta, Abu Gosh, on surface sites in Judea and other sites in the Palestinian group as well as at Beidha. In the 7th millennium all these sites lay within the Mediterranean forest zone whereas the Eumhrates sites did not so there is a definite correlation here between a specific type of tool and an environmental area. Timber would have been more readily available for human use in the Mediterranean forest zone than elsewhere but the presence of so many axes on these sites in Neolithic 2 may be an indication that more forest clearance was taking place than before.
Rubbers, querns and other ground stone tools were more abundant on Neolithic 2 settlement sites than in Neolithic 1. This increase in the amount of heavy equipment used is another concomitant of a more sedentary way of life. The great increase in the use of querns and rubbers also correlates with the widespread adoption of cereal agriculture in Neolithic 2 so it is probable that most of these tools were used for grinding cereals for food.
Neolithic 2 burial practices were quite similar throughout the Levant. Most skeletons were buried in a crouched position with few, if any, grave goods. Skeletons were frequently deposited incomplete in collective graves after the flesh had decayed in a primary burial or through exposure. Skulls were often detached from the bodies to which they belonged and buried apart sometimes after receiving special treatment. These customs began in Neolithic 1 and were adopted by the inhabitants of almost all settlements in Neolithic 2 although there were some variations in the exact form of burial from site to site.
In Neolithic 2 the same general cultural characteristics, that is burial practices, style of dwellings and classes of artifacts were to be found on sites throughout the Levant. This broad cultural uniformity is an important feature of Neolithic 2 as it implies that the communities which shared these traits were in close contact with each other. From the large quantity of artifacts and other material collected and excavated from Neolithic 2 sites we can discern three regional groupings of sites, one of which had two subgroups, defined by local variations in artifacts and other remains. These Neolithic 2 regional groups, Middle Euphrates, West Syrian and Palestinian correspond to those established for Neolithic 1: Middle Euphrates, Damascus basin and Palestine; while one of the Neolithic 2 sub-groups, the Negev and Sinai, is in the same area as the Harifian group of Neolithic 1. We have already seen that Neolithic 2 evolved from Neolithic 1 in the three main regions so the same regional pattern is a feature of both Neolithic 1 and Neolithic 2.
The duration of Neolithic 2 has been established fairly certainly by the C-14 determinations made in recent years. In the south Level VI at Beidha began about 7100 or 7000 B.C. Jericho was resettled about 7000 B.C. or a little before at the beginning of the PPNB which should be early in Neolithic 2. In the Damascus basin the transition from phase I to phase II at Tell Aswad took place about 6900 B.C. or a little later. From these dates we can see that Neolithic 2 began throughout the Levant within only a century or two of 7OOO B.C. The new cultural configuration thus crystallized very rapidly all over the region.
The end of Neolithic 2 is signified by the beginning of potting on sites in Syria and Lebanon and certain other cultural changes. This happened at Buqras in level III which began about 6000 B.C. or a little after. The same change at Tell Ramad also took place in the transition from Level II to III at the same time as at Buqras. The two best dated sites in Palestine and Transjordan, Jericho and Beidha, were both abandoned in the mid 6th millennium well before the end of Neolithic 2. On consideration of typological comparisons it seems that other Neolithic 2 settlements like Munhatta continued to be occupied as late as those further north and that the period ended about 6000 B.C. in Palestine as it did elsewhere. In the central and northern Levant Neolithic 2 ended as swiftly as it had begun and was rapidly followed by a new cultural configuration which, however, was derived from Neolithic 2 and with which its material remains had much in common ...