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Chapter 5: Neolithic 3 DISCUSSION (Pages 398-407)

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Now that I have reviewed all the archaeological and other evidence and attempted to establish how man lived in Neolithic 3 one problem remains to be considered. We have seen that there was a great alteration of the settlement pattern at the outset of Neolithic 3 and it is now necessary to establish why this happened. I beleve that there are three reasons for it. The first is the environmental deterioration which began in the 7th millennium and continued with but minor respites until the 4th millennium. The second is the changes that took place in Neolithic 2 society and its economy which accounted for some of the differences between man's way of life in Neolithic 2 and Neolithic 3. The third is the interaction between the alterations in the environment and the changes in the Neolithic 2 way of life.

I explained in the first chapter that the temperature continued to rise throughout the period we are considering. During the 7th millennium the rainfall became more seasonal and decreased, a trend that continued for two millennia. As a result the Mediterranean and intermediate open forest zones contracted while the steppe and the modest area of desert in the extreme south-east of the Levant expanded. These changes in the vegetation were accelerated by man's own activities. Such a deterioration in the climate and vegetation was bound to affect human settlement. If the economies of the agricultural sites in the intermediate forest zone and the settlements on the steppe were not profoundly modified these sites would have had to have been abandoned.

We have seen that there was a great increase in population in Neolithic 2. The economy that sustained the expanded population rested upon a delicate balance of agriculture, herding and exploitation of wild resources. Some of the biggest sites were in the intermediate forest zone and so were particularly vulnerable to any worsening of the environment while there were many flourishing settlements in the steppe whose continued existence was even more precarious.

Agriculture gradually became more intensive during Neolithic 2 while marked changes took place in animal husbandry mainly in the response to the growth of population but also I suspect partly because of environmental deterioration. Eventually a point was reached when the efforts to adjust the economy were probably no longer sufficient. It may have proved impossible to maintain let alone increase the yields of crops in the intermediate open forest and steppe zones as the rainfall diminished. The inhabitants of sites in these marginal areas could have attemted to overcome the rainfall deficiency by using irrigation but in the Neolithic this called for special geographical circumstances. Only where permanent streams flowed near arable land could irrigation be carried out and such places have always been rare on the plateau to the east of the Rift Valley. Abu Hureyra is one of the sites that was most vulnerable. We have seen that some of the crops grown there were irrigated, not from the Euphrates because that was too difficult but probably from a stream in the Wadi Hibna. This stream would have shrunk and may have dried up because of climatic changes in the 7th and 6th millennia. This would have undermined the economy of the site and was probably one of the reasons why it was eventually abandoned. The same would have occurred elsewhere along the Euphrates and was, I suggest, a major cause of the desertion of the area.

The decrease in rainfall and continued deterioration of the vegetation in the intermediate open forest and on the steppe would have had other disruptive consequences. It would have reduced the available surface water and further damaged the grazing at a time when it was already being degraded by herded animals. This would have threatened the maintenance of the flocks and herds of dwellers not only in the agricultural settlements but also in the pastoral sites of the steppe. The herds of game, already perhaps hard-pressed by man at least in the vicinity of the larger sites, may have diminished thus reducing one of the important sources of food of the inhabitants of many Neolithic 2 settlements. Some of the wild vegetable foods which were still important in the diet would also have become scarce under these conditions.

The inhabitants of sites in the intermediate open forest and on the steppe would have found that their food supplies from their crops, their flocks and herds, from game and wild plants could no longer be maintained in such circumstances. The population in these areas had to decline to a number which could be fed by the reduced supplies of food. In fact it seems that the steppe was completely abandoned and the population of the open forest greatly reduced. The displaced people moved westward and northward into the Mediterranean forest zone augmenting the existing population there and founding new settlements. The Syrian steppe, the Trans-Jordan plateau and Sinai were all deserted. The population of Palestine was also greatly reduced as most of the inhabitants left.

At first sight this seems to have been too drastic a response to the deterioration in the environment. Why was the desertion of the marginal areas so complete? Firstly we should remember that small groups of whose sites we have no record may have continued to live in the steppe so the area may not have been totally abandoned as the archaeological record suggests. Secondly, the environmental change happened just at the time when man had come to depend on agriculture and herded animals to maintain a greatly enlarged population. Such an economy was more productive if carried on in the better-watered Mediterranean open forest zone. In this area were found rich terra rossa soils formed on limestone which was the bedrock of so much of the coastal region, the mountains and their immediate hinterland. The soils of some of the little plains and along the rivers were composed of alluvium which was quite as rich as the terra rossa. Both types were extremely fertile and gave high crop yields, as they have continued to do down to the present day. The pasture for flocks and herds would have been excellent in this region and the rainfall would have been sufficient to maintain a good cover of grass in the winter months even if the total precipitation had declined somewhat. It would have been necessary to clear more of the tree cover to create new pasture and some of the stone axes found on sites in the Mediterranean forest zone were probably used for this purpose.

Thus when the development of the Neolithic 2 economy reached a certain point there were compelling reasons for the population to move wholesale into the Mediterranean forest zone. This adjustment would have been so advantageous that it might have come about eventually even if the environment had not deteriorated. Man himself had already reduced the vegetation cover of the steppe and intermediate forest sufficiently to undermine the Neolithic 2 economy in these areas. This strained the system further increasing the pressure to modify the economy and settlement pattern.

The soils in the Mediterranean forest were not only very fertile but also heavy, certainly heavier than those of the open forest and the steppe. Neolithic 3 farmers would have found them more difficult to work than the soils of the marginal zones and so may have devised some new means of tillage that would make it easier to cultivate them. No definite digging tools have been found on any settlement of Neolithic 1, 2, or 3 in the Levant unless flint picks were used for this. One can do no more than suggest what tools might have been used bearing in mind how peasants in simple farming societies till the soil today. People who practise long fallow or bush fallow agriculture usually need no more than digging sticks to sow seed after they have cleared the vegetation. In short fallow farming the grass sod may have to be broken with hoes or spades. If such tools were used in Neolithic 2 or 3 they must have been made of wood since stone hoes were not known. The lighter soils of the open forest and the steppe could have been tilled with these tools alone but Neolithic 3 farmers may have needed a simple ard or plough to break the heavier soils of the Mediterranean forest. Cattle had already been herded on some sites in Neolithic 2 but this practise was widespread in Neolithic 3. For the first time man had a draught animal which could be used to pull an ard if required. We do not know if such tools were used this early but the seed was there and for the first time the means were available.

Once the Neolithic 3 pattern of settlement had developed it proved to be long-lasting. Many of the new settlements were the first of a long series on the same sites. The earliest villages at the bottom of great tells such as Tell Half, Hama, Byblos, Megiddo, Beth Shan and Tell Duweir were founded during this stage while many smaller tells with a long sequence of later occupation were also established then. The economy too proved to be extraordinarily long-lived since although minor modifications occurred later the pattern of wheat and barley cultivation combined with herding of sheep, goats and cattle adopted by most Neolithic communities has remained the basis of peasant life in the Levant until the present day.

Once the new adaptation had been worked out some people returned to Palestine. This took place at a time when the environment was still deteriorating. It may have stabilized later but the climate then was warmer and drier than it had been early in the 7th millennium. The human response to the changes in climate and vegetation thus allowed the new inhabitants of Palestine to partially overcome these difficulties. They practiced a modified form of the Syrian agricultural and herding economy which included a strong element of hunting on some sites. The Neolithic 3 population of Palestine was nonetheless smaller than it had been in Neolithic 2 and it was not yet possible for settlement to be resumed in Trans-Jordan or Sinai.

Neolithic 3 settlements were well spaced out across the landscape but each was probably within easy reach of its neighbour. Most were a little larger than Neolithic 2 settlements but their social organization was similar so far as I can interpret it. The fundamental social unit probably continued to be the nuclear family. These families usually lived in separate rectangular houses built on broadly similar plans to those of Neolithic 2. They would have been linked by complex social relationships, particularly in the larger settlements. The nuclear family was still the basic economic unit as I have suggested for Neolithic 2.

Since the social organization of Neolithic 2 and Neolithic 3 settlements appears to have been so similar one would expect that there would have been the same need for communal buildings in both stages. In fact none has been found on any site excavated so far, even at Byblos where so much of the Neolithic 3 settlement has been exposed. It is possible that one or two of the larger houses at sites such as Byblos served a communal function. If not and if no communal buildings were found on sites excavated in the future we would have to presume that some change had taken place in society which obviated the need for these structures.

There were probably close family and community ties between settlements in the same geographical area. The inhabitants of such settlements may have been linked together in a tribe as I postulated for Neolithic 2. Groups of communities forming these tribes may have been found in such regions as the Lebanese coast, the Bekaa, the Amuq plain and other well-defined areas.

The economy and distribution of Neolithic 3 settlements in Palestine differed in certain ways from the pattern in Syria so one would expect that the social organization would also have varied somewhat. It is likely that nuclear families formed the basic social and economic unit as on sites in Syria but they seemed to have lived in one or more pit dwellings or huts rather than true houses. Relations between families in the same settlement would have been less complex because the sites were smaller. These communities probably belonged to several tribes but the social links that held each tribe together would have been much weaker than further north. Communities of bush fallow farmers tend to be more spread out than those of short fallow cultivators and their system of agriculture keeps them apart so inhibiting strong pan-tribal ties.

We know much less about burial practices in Neolithic 3 than in Neolithic 2 because very few graves have been found in settlements of this stage. Some graves were found within the settlement at Byblos but these were between the houses and not under their floors. Hardly any burials have been found at other sites although one must always remember that only very small areas have been dug on most of them. Even so the difference between the abundant graves on Neolithic 2 sites and their scarcity on Neolithic 3 settlements points to a change in the mode of burial. The Byblos evidence shows that some of the dead were still buried within the settlement though there was no longer a strong feeling that they should be buried beneath the floors. The remainder at Byblos and probably on most other sites must have been buried outside the settlement or disposed of in other ways. Any graves were probably grouped together in cemeteries, the first time this kind of burial may have been practiced in the Neolithic of the Levant. This would still imply a strong community sense but may indicate a less compelling desire to stress the continuity between the dead and living family. The same feelings probably lay behind the differences in burial rite in the two periods. Neolithic 3 burials were simple inhumations in shallow graves; there were no more secondary burials and no separate treatment of skulls.

Neolithic 3 society still appears to have been egalitarian since most communities consisted of subsistence farmers who had little surplus produce with which to obtain higher status or material wealth. Nevertheless there is some evidence that slight differences in status were slowly developing. Two types of burial were noticed at Byblos, simple inhumations with few grave goods and richer burials in which the skeleton lay on beds of stone accompanied by more artifacts. The simpler graves which were more common were presumably those of people of lower status while the richer burials were a new group with higher status.

The ornaments in the Byblos graves and the beads, stamp seals and other decorative objects found on other sites reflect a continued demand in Neolithic 3 society for more varied artifacts, particularly for adornment. The agricultural and herding economy of most Neolithic 3 sites was probably a little more labour intensive than the farming economy of Neolithic 2 settlements yet the inhabitants of these sites still had extended periods of leisure. The combination of ample spare time and a demand for goods led to a further growth of crafts. The new craft of potting is the most obvious example. Most of the vessels made in this stage were utilitarian but from the beginning they were often decorated with incised, impressed or painted designs so that they were ornamental as well as practical.

More wool than before could have been obtained from the enlarged flocks of sheep and goats kept by Neolithic 3 settlements. It is not surprising therefore that spindle whorls should be a common artifact on most Neolithic 3 sites whereas they were relatively rare in Neolithic 2. A few possible loom weights have also been found on Neolithic 3 sites which may indicate that substantial looms were now being used. The increased supply of wool and ample evidence of spinning suggest that textiles were now made in some quantity. Most were probably still woven on very simple looms which have left no trace in the archaeological record. The products may have included cloth and mats.

Large flaked and polished axes and adzes and small greenstone axes and chisels were much more numerous on Neolithic 3 sites than on Neolithic 2 sites. A good deal of forest was being cleared now which partly explains the abundance of large axes and adzes but more timber was probably being trimmed and worked to make wooden objects ranging from large shelters and pens to small household utensils.

Stone bowls and dishes were still used on Neolithic 3 sites and some of them like the examples from Tell Judaidah were elaborately and carefully worked. Elsewhere although found quite frequently they were not so finely made as in Neolithic 2. Stone ornaments seem to have been made in greater quantity in Neolithic 3 since beads and amulets in various shapes were common finds. Many were made from exotic stones such as serpentine, steatite or carnelian. This is a continuation and development of a strong Neolithic 2 craft. New kinds of stone ornaments have been found on Neolithic 3 sites such as nose plugs and labrets, all testifying to the increasing elaboration of personal adornment in this stage.

Stamp seals are another class of object which are part of the increasing variety of material culture. A few of these were found on Neolithic 2 sites but many more in Neolithic 3, particularly at Byblos and Tell Judaidah where several types could be distinguished. The function of these objects remains difficult to determine but I do not think that they were used to mark personal property at this stage since no imprints have been found on pottery for example. It seems to me more likely that they were used for making patterns on cloth, a particularly appropriate use in this stage, or other materials.

These remarks concerning the growth of crafts in Neolithic 3 apply only to the North and South Syrian sites since the material culture of the Palestinian sites was much less elaborate. The inhabitants of these sites had flocks of sheep and goats which would have produced wool and enough spindle whorls have been found on Palestinian sites to indicate that much yard was spun. Pottery was also made in modest amounts but none of the other crafts I have discussed was practiced much in Palestine. There was less woodworking while ornamental objects such as beads, amulets and stamp seals were rare or absent. The economy and social organization of Neolithic 3 sites in Palestine inhibited such developments. The social system was less complex and the sites were more transient so weakening the desire of their inhabitants to acquire higher status and material possessions. Thus there was not much demand for more elaborate objects.

Raw materials were traded or exchanged in moderate quantities throughout Neolithic 3 as they had been in Neolithic 2. Material which could be found relatively near each site such as limestone, basalt and bitumen were acquired in some quantity so this trade flourished more than ever. The pattern of long distance exchange was more varied. Obsidian is the best documented example of this since 40 pieces have been analysed from the ceramic Neolithic levels at Abu Hureyra and 12 pieces from four other sites; Tell Judaidah, Tabbat Hammam, Byblos and Munhatta. At Abu Hureyra there was a definite increase in the proportion of obsidian which came from Ciftlik and corresponding decrease in obsidian from Bingol and the sources near Lake Van. Almost all of the pieces analysed from other sites came from Ciftlik and at Byblos also from the nearby Acigol source. Munhatta is the only other site other than Abu Hureyra at which Vannic obsidian has been recognised. These results suggest that most obsidian used in the Levant in Neolithic 3 was obtained from the Cappadocian sources and a smaller proportion from Lake Van. This may indeed have been the case but we must remember that although a moderate sample has been analysed from Abu Hureyra very little indeed has been analysed from the other sites. So far the results indicate the same trend but this might change if an adequate supply was tested.

One has the impression that obsidian was reaching the Levant in about the same quantity as in Neolithic 2 but this was not the case with all the other exotic materials which had been exchanged earlier. Objects of steatite, serpentine, various greenstones and carnelian which originated in the Zagros and Taurus were still made in Neolithic 3 but turquoise was almost never used. This was probably because Sinai was no longer inhabited. Cowries were no longer exchanged while other marine shells were not traded inland. Either these shells were not sought after now or they were no longer obtainable. Their absence and that of other materials such as malachite indicates a discernible decline in long-distance contacts in Neolithic 3 ...

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