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Chapter 6: Neolithic 4 (Pages 408-412)

Pre-History and Archaeology Glossary

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The end of Neolithic 3 in central and northern Syria is marked by the appearance of Halaf cultural traits - principally new styles of pottery but also modifications to the chipped stone industry and the construction of tholoi on some sites. The change in culture may be seen on the sites north of a line from the coast through Homs and along the Jebel Shaar - Jebel Abu Rujmein and Jebel Bishri to the Euphrates. As we saw in chapter 5 the development of Halaf began several centuries before 5000 BC east of the Euphrates while Halaf elements were adopted on sites further west about 5000 BC or a little before.

The transition from Neolithic 3 to the Halaf in the Jazirah happened at Tell Halaf itself - at Tell Aswad (Balikh) and also perhaps at Chagar Bazar; while many other settlements in this region such as Tel Agab were probably first occupied in the Halaf. Tell Brak is another of these though it is possible it was first settled in a earlier period. The northern Jazirah was a centre of Halaf development and the pattern of Halaf settlement was dense. Each site made some of its own pottery but imported the rest from nearby centres and even from sites further afield. Some of the pottery had a monochrome finish in black - brown or red which was burnished. Other vessels were coarser and undecorated with hand-smoothed surfaces. These classes of pottery were typical of Neolithic 3 but continued to be made in the Halaf. Such Halaf sherds are indistinguishable from Neolithic examples.

The same transition from Neolithic 3 to Halaf took place on sites west of the Euphrates: at Carchemish perhaps - Tell Turlu - Judaidah Jabbul in the Amuq from Phase B through the First Mixed Range to Phase C - at Ras Shamra from Phase V A to Phase IV and at Hama from M to L. Pottery in the Halaf style was also found at Mersin and Tarsus on the Cilicia Plain. The Halaf pottery on all these sites and at settlements like Tell Shirbia on the Jabbul Plain which was apparently first settled in the Halaf was a little different from sites east of the Euphrates nearer the Halaf heartland. This was partly because much of it was locally made. Most of the Halaf pottery at Carchemish for example was probably made in the Yunus kilns. Some Halaf pottery was also imported from further east. On sites west of the Euphrates as further east there was a great deal of coarse ware and monochrome burnished pottery similar to Neolithic 3 wares which continued to be made throughout the Halaf stage.

The buildings found on sites west of the Euphrates were usually rectilinear as at Ras Shamra. The details of their plans may have differed somewhat from Neolithic 3 structures at these sites but they were built in the same way. Tholoi were characteristic of sites like Arpachiyah where Halaf developed and a few have been found further west. Davidson tells me that there is probably a tholos at Tell Agab - a site he is excavating near Amuda in the northern Jazirah and they have certainly been found at Yunus and Tell Turlu. Small circular buildings were also discovered at Shams Din on the Euphrates. Further west all the Halaf buildings known continued to be constructed in the Neolithic tradition.

The chipped stone industry on many western Halaf sites also developed without a break from Neolithic 3. Blades were still struck from pyramidal cores and tanged arrowheads retouched by pressure-flaking continued to be used. Fewer types of tools were made in the Halaf on all sites; in particular the variety of scrapers was much reduced. Segmented sickle blades continued to be made at Ras Shamra and in the Amuq although their detailed typology was a little different. The percentage of sickle blades at most sites was also higher than in Neolithic 3. Obsidian continued to be used in modest quantities on sites west of the Euphrates though at Tell Agab and other sites in the Halaf heartland over half the tools were made of it.

Most Halaf sites in north Syria were situated in similar positions to Neolithic 3 settlements - that is they were relatively low-lying in areas with good arable land and usually near perennial streams or springs. The only significant difference in the settlement pattern was that some Halaf settlements were founded along the Middle Euphrates and in the Jazirah as far south as the confluence of the Khabur and the Jaghjagha - both regions which were unoccupied in Neolithic 3. Thus the occupied area expanded to include marginal areas abandoned in Neolithic 3.

The Halaf settlement pattern, the houses and many of the artifacts on Halaf sites in north Syria were a continuation of the Neolithic 3 tradition. This suggest that the population of north Syria remained basically the same although there may have been a few immigrants from the east who facilitated the spread of Halaf cultural elements. The economic basis of Halaf society was - so far as we can judge on the scanty evidence available - also the same as in Neolithic 3. The inhabitants of Halaf settlements depended upon cereal agriculture and the herding of sheep - goats - cattle and pigs for food as their Neolithic 3 ancestors had done.

It is important to note this underlying continuity of settlement pattern, economy and certain material remains but the spread of Halaf pottery and other associated elements was still a major cultural change. There also seems to have been alterations in size of population and social organization while new patterns of trade developed. Henceforth the way of life of the inhabitants of north Syria took a different course from that of the people living in the central and southern Levant. North Syria now came within a cultural zone that stretched eastward from the Mediterranean to the foothills of the Zagros - souhward from the Anti-Taurus and the mountains of eastern Turkey to the plains of Syria - and northern Mespotamia. Thus the pattern of uniform cultural development in the Levant which had persisted at least since Mesolithic 2 was interrupted. Although there was still a strong element of continuity in the way of life as well as in material remains north Syria now belonged within a different cultural sphere so I will follow development there no further.

About 5000 BC or a century or two later certain changes occurred on sites in south Syria and Lebanon. Other modifications to the way of life took place on sites in Palestine perhaps about 4800 BC. The settlement pattern remained fundamentally the same as in Neolithic 3 but new sites were occupied in the wooded uplands and mountains. Buildings on sites in the central Levant were not much changed but in Palestine the pits of Neolithic 3 were replaced by curvilinear and rectilinear structures built on the surface. Pottery everywhere was better made while new shapes and types of decoration were used. Some pots were still decorated with incised designs but many of the finer vessels were now covered with a red wash or slip which was often burnished. The flint industries too were modified. The proportions of arrowheads and scrapers in each assemblage from settlement sites diminished and there was less variety both of these and other classes of tools. Sickle blades increased in proportion though not in variety while heavy cutting tools were especialy numerous on some sites - particularly in the uplands. All these changes are sufficient to indicate the emergence of a new stage of the Neolithic or Neolithic 4. This stage lasted until 3750 or 3500 BC in Palestine and probably for about the same length of time in Lebanon.

Neolithic 4 is the last stage in the Levantine sequence which may reasonbly be called Neolithic. The inhabitants of the central and southern Levant continued to live in vilages and small towns supported by subsistence agriculture. This way of life had developed over a long period during and after the Mesolithic. The economy and even the social system remained the same in most vilages in the Levant until much later but the stage following Neolithic 4 was no longer truly Neolithic. The material culture altered considerably and metal-wotking was introduced. New contacts with regions beyond the Levant were established. This cultural and economic stage - the Chalcolithic of the Levant as it is comonly known - was thus something new even if the population of the region remained almost the same and the economic basis was little different from Neolithic 4. The Chalcolithic of the central Levant - no longer Neolithic in the way I defined it in Chapter 3 - was a prelude to the Bronze Age, a stage between it and the Neolithic proper.

Neolithic 4 sites have been discovered in Lebanon both on the coast and in the Bekaa Valley - in the Damascus basin and in Palestine. As in earlier stages these sites fall into regional groups: a South Syrian group comprising sites in Lebanon and the Damascus basin and a Palestinian group. The South Syrian group may be further sub-divided since there are certain local differences between the sites on the coast of Lebanon - in the Bekaa and near Damascus. In my earlier study I found that the Palestinian sites could also be divided into three local sub-groups in southern - northern and western Palestine ...

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