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Chapter 5: Neolithic 3 Middle Euphrates Sites (Pages 296-299)

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The principal Neolithic 2 settlement sites along the Middle Euphrates were abandoned in Neolithic 3. Permanent occupation at Mureybat ceased at the end of phase IV sometime in Neolithic 2 and although there are indications that the site was used in later periods, even possibly in Neolithic 3, it was never subsequently inhabited as a permanent settlement.

Abu Hureyra continued to be occupied until early in Neolithic 3 so that here one can trace the development of some of the features of the new stage. In the ceramic Neolithic phase of occupation there were some changes in the structures used at the site as we have seen. Shallow pits were dug between the buildings which continued to be built of mud-brick on a rectilinear plan. The settlement itself shrank until it covered only half the area of the aceramic site. There were slight changes in the flint industry, the most noticeable being an increase in the amount of retouch by squamous pressure-flaking on arrowheads and a few other tools. The other artifacts were as varied as they had been in the later ceramic phase, the one innovation being the introduction of pottery. This and the other new features found in the excavation were sufficient to mark a new phase of occupation, the ceramic Neolithic, even if it was obviously a continuation of the later aceramic Neolithic settlement. The appearance of pottery, albeit in modest amounts, the changes in the flint industry and the digging of large pits around the brick buildings are all hallmarks of Neolithic 3 so that the ceramic Neolithic phase of occupation at Abu Hureyra can be ascribed to this stage.

The remains of the Neolithic 3 settlement at Abu Hurcyra had suffered considerably from weathering and much of the deposit had simply been eroded away. For this reason it is difficult to know exactly when the settlement was abandoned but from the typology of the artifacts it would appear that occupation ceased about the same time as at Buqras, that is early in the 6th millennium.

Tell Kreyn near Abu Hureyra was certainly occupied in Neolithic 2 and again in the Halaf. The foci of these two settlements were several tens of metres apart and there were no surface indications of material that would fill the gap between the two phases of occupation, a gap that corresponds to Neolithic 3. The inference to be drwwn from this, admittedly inconclusive evidence, is that the site was abandoned during the 6th millennium.

The level III occupation at Bugras also falls in Neolithic 3 on the evidence of the few potsherds that were found in the deposit. The other artifacts were similar in type to those of levels II and I. The structures in level III consisted of mud-brick walls as in the earlier levels. The sequence at Buqras was continuous and occupation at the site came to an end about 5900 B.C., as we have already noted.

Abu Hureyra, Kreyn and Buqras all seem to have been abandoned in the first half of the 6th millennium and Mureybat perhaps a little earlier. In itself such a break in the occupation of sites along the Euphrates need not have been significant since few excavated Neolithic sites have proved to be continuously occupied for more than several centuries at a time. Each may have been abandoned because of local circumstances, perhaps a change in the structure of the settlement or the local environment. The important fact to note is that once these sites were abandoned no others were founded along the Middle Euphrates until much later. This observation is based upon inadequate information since the course of the Middle Euphrates has not yet been fully surveyed but in the areas which have been examined Neolithic 2 and Halaf settlements bave been found but none that could be attributed to Neolithic 3. This is most obvious in the area above the new Euphrates dam at Tabqa where 80 kilometres of the river valley have been carefully surveyed. There are three Halaf sites known in this area, Shams ed-Din which has recently been excavated, the gas station site at Mureybat (See Page 12 in *1) and Kreyn. No Neolithic 3 sites have been located in this area except for the ceramic Neolithic phase at Abu Hureyra.

The same observation holds true for the Jebel Abdul Aziz. We have seen that the Japanese survey team found Neolithic 2 sites in this area but nothing that could be attributed to Neolithic 3. Similar results were obtained by the same team when they surveyed the area around Palmyra. All the Neolithic sites they found could be attributed to Neolithic 2 and none to Neolithic 3.

One site in this region, Khirbet Kum, was occupied in Neolithic 3. The remains of the ceramic Neolithic settlement were substantial consisting of at least two superimposed layers of buildings. The artifacts too were abundant but, except for the pottery, little different from those of the aceramic Neolithic phase of occupation. For this reason I believe Khirbet Kum may not have been occupied for more than the earlier centuries of the 6th millennium but until futher excavations are carried out in the untested deposits at the site we shall not know for certain. A great deal of pottery was found in the brief excavations at Khirbet Kum. The soft, straw-tempered fabric of most of the sherds and the few with grit filler can be matched on most Neolithic 3 sites in Syria and Lebanon. The red painted and burnished sherds are more unusual since these are uncommon on sites further west at this early date. Some of the sherds from Buqras, however, have a similar finish, an interesting parallel which is supported by the similarities in the flint industries and other remains at these two sites.

Having considered the slight traces of Neolithic 3 settlement in the Euphrates region I will now turn to north-western Syria where many Neolithic 3 sites are known and describe their remains in turn .....

*1 The Oriental Institute Excavations at Mureybat
M. van Loon (1968) Volume 27 [Pages 265 - 290]
Journal of Near East Studies
Library of Congress # DS 41 J6

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium