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Chapter 4: Neolithic 2 Bouqras (Pages 176-180)

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Bouqras lies on the right side of the Euphrates valley 10 kilometres below the confluence with the Khabur. It is situated well back from the present course of the river on a slight rise above the flood-plain. A line of low hills lies to the west behind the site and beyond them the Syrian plateau. These hills are cut by several dry wadis which pass near the site on their way to join the Euphrates; water flows in them today only after severe rain storms. The area is semi-arid now, receiving an average of about 150 mm of rain a year.

The site is a little over 3 hectares in area and the deposits in the centre of the mound are 5 metrea deep. These were tested in 1965 by two adjacent 4 metre square soundings excavated to the natural subsoil. The sequence was divided into three phases on the evidence of the structures and artifacts found. Several of the excavated buildings had been burned or otherwise destroyed but there was nothing to suggest that these were more than localised events. The settlement appears to have been occupied continuously until its final abandonment.

The buildings at Bouqras were rectilinear in plan throughrut the sequence but the soundings were too small for any complete plans to be recovered. All the buildings were oriented north-west south-east as at Abu Hureyra. The area exposed of level I at the bottom of the trenches was particularly restricted so the nature of the structures found within it is uncertain. Parts of two buildings were found superimposed in this level; several walls of each were exposed which were believed to have been constructed of pise. Theze walls were quite straight and the photographs suggest that they were well-made; it may be that they were in fact built of mud-bricks, as were the later structures at Bouqras and all the buildirgs at Abu Hureyra but that this was not noticed when the site was excavated. The lower structure had a hearth in the corner of a room and areas of plaster floors. The upper one consisted of at least one room entered by a door with a raised sill; traces of a woven mat were found on the floor.

Level II consisted of a complex of structures which was remodelled four times. Each was composed of several walls and blocks or pillars of mud-brick associated with bins and hearths. The blocks were usually attached to other walls and so may have strengthened the buildings of which they were part. A number of floors were found in this level, two of them plastered. In level III several more mud-brick walls were found and a hearth. There was a bin in the angle of two of the walls. Although very little of the site was exposed in the excavations we know that the settlement at least in its later stages was closely built up with mud-brick buildings. The tops of the walls of these buildings could be seen all over the surface of the site after rain.

Most of the chipped stone tools were made of a fine-grained dark grey or brovn flint found in the wadi gravels or on the surface in the vicinity of the site. The industry was based upon the production of long parallel sided blades struck from double-ended and keeled or occasionally pyramidal cores. The most numerous tool types were burins and end-scrapers on blades. Arrowheads, though quite common, were much less abundant than at Abu Hureyra. There were sickle blades in the assemblage but they were rare as at Abu Hureyra. The other flint tool types were flake scrapers, often discoid, and borers. Heavy flake tools were absent. The arrowheads were tanged with a little retouch under the tip and along part of the edge. Most tools were retouched abruptly but pressure-flaking was used on some of the arrowheads throughout the sequence, an example being an Amuq point from layer 7. The same tools were represented throughout the sequence although the proportions varied from layer to layer. The industry closely resecbles that of the later aceramic and ceramic Neolithic at Abu Hureyra both in technique and in the types of tool which were made. The main difference is in the proportions of the tool types, burins and end-scrapers being much more common at Buqras.

One remarkable feature of Bouqras was the high proportion of obsidian in the chipped stone industry. It formed 32.3% in level I, 25.7% in level II and 27.9% in level III, an average of about 29%. Six pieces from level I have been analysed and all came from eastern Anatolia, two from the 4c source which could be either Bingol or Nemrut Dag, and four from 1g. It is not known what proportion of the obsidian if any came from central Anatolia.

The eastern Anatolian obsidian sources lie about 440 kilometres north of Bouqras. The route is direct up the Khabur across the heights behind Mardin and on to the upper Tigris basin. Perhaps this ease of communication was one of the reasons why Bouqras received so much obsidian. Abu Hureyra is only 40 kilometres further away from these sources as the crow flies but received much less obsidian, partly perhaps because the easiest route to the sources up the Euphrates was much longer.

Much of the obsidian used at Bouqras consisted of small retouched blades struck from conical cores. Cores were found in the excavation suggesting that the material was being worked on the site. Several obsidian tools were also recovered, among them burins, borers, disc scrapers and even one microlithic lunate.

The remainder of the artifact industry was quite rich, particularly in bone tools. These were numerous and consisted of borers of different sizes, hafts for other tools, needles and spatulae, some with a high polish. Saddle querns and rubbers of basalt and limestone were quite common; there were also a few basalt pestles and a mortar. The materials for these tools could have been obtained in the locality.

A distinctive group of common finds were the fragments of polished limstone, alabaster and gypsum stone bowls and dishes. Some were hemispherical in shape, others were wide, flat-bottomeed vessels; one even had a carinated profile. All the materials for these would have been available in the neighbourhood.

Cylindrical or discoid beads and other objects of adornment were another numerous class of finds. The beads were made of bone, shell, greenstones from the Euphrates gravels, carnelian imported perhaps from some distance away and dentalium from the Mediterranean. An alabaster bracelet fragment and pendant were also found on the surface.

Much less common but quite distinctive were several stone stamp seals with incised chevron and rectangular patterns. One was made of alabaster and another of jadeite from Anatolia. Two axes, one polished all over and the other of greenstone, pecked and polished, were found but they were apparently rare tools at Bouqras, at least in the area excavated. Baked clay figurines were also uncommon, as at Abu Hureyra, only a few anthropomorphic and animal examples being found.

One piece of a white plaster vessel was picked up from the surface of the site and another was found in the excavation. The fragment from the surface came from a vessel which had been made on a mat for it retained the pattern of the criss-cross weave on its base.

Pottery was used for the first time at Bouqras in level III. This seems to have been quite rare at the site as only 14 sherds were found. The sherds belonged to a small upright bowl, cylindrical vessels with flat bases and other rounded bowls. The fabrics were varied, several thin sherds being tempered with straw and others with quartz sand filler; there were also coarse straw-tempered sherds. Several sherds had a bright red painted surface and were highly burnished while a number of the plain sherds were also burnished, though not so thoroughly. One sherd had a triangle painted on it.

The same great variety of artifacts was found both at Bouqras and in the aceramic and ceramic Neolithic levels at Abu Hureyra. Occupation at both sites concluded with a short phase during which pottery came into use. The pottery was quite varied in form and decoration at both sites. The vessels seen to have been made in much the same way: they had a soft fabric tempered with straw which was burnished or in a few instances painted. Buqras enjoyed even closer contacts with Anatolia than did Abu Hureyra on the evidence of the obsidian and other raw materials were also received from that direction.

The artifacts at Buqras were all quite similar throughout the sequence which would indicate that the site was not inhabited for long. The C-14 determinations bear this out as they are clustered together. One from the bottom of level I is 6190 60 B.C. GrN-4818 and another from the top of the level is 6290 100 B.C. GrN-4852. The date for level II is 6010 55 B.C. GrN-4819 and for level III 5990 60 B.C. GrN-4820. While not quite all in order, they form a tight acceptable series from which one might estimate that the site was founded about 6300 B.C. and abandoned about 5900 B.C. or a little after ...

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