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Chapter 4: Neolithic 2 Palmyra (Pages 187-190)

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Many prehistoric sites have been discovered in recent years around Palmyra by the Japanese survey team. 46 of these were found in 1967 and all were ascribed to the "Post-Palaeolithic" although it was recognised that some also had earlier remains. The published material from 23 of these sites includes flints which are certainly Neolithic and it may be that some of the other sites also have indications of Neolithic occupation.

21 of the sites were rock shelters with a terrace in front and two were open stations. Some were found on the southern slopes of Jebel Douara and along the Wadi el Ahmar to the north-east of Palmyra. Four were discovered immediately to the north and north-west of the oasis and the remainder on the slopes of the Jebel el Abyad further to the north-west.

The chipped stone assemblages from all these sites belong to the same industry. There were double-ended and keeled cores with characteristic crested blades and flakes. The ventral surfaces of the blades and blade tools had scars from other blades struck off both ends of the parent cores, another typical feature. Among the tools there were tanged arrowheads, burins on blades and scrapers on flakes and blades but of these only the arrowheads and the blades on which some of the tools were made are really diagnostic.

These artifacts are all characteristic of Neolithic 2 assemblages elsewhere in Syria. The shape of the arrowheads and the squared-off tangs of some of them in particular are paralleled closely in the aceramic levels at Abu Hureyra which indicates that this group of sites, like Khirbet Kum, may be grouped with those on the Euphrates on typology and technology.

Since these sites were discovered a large manufacturing station has been found by the Japanese on the salt flats in front of Douara Cave which they are excavating. Strewn on the surface were large quantities of double-ended cores, waste and blades of a Neolithic 2 industry. I have found other flints of the same industry in the classical ruins at Palmyra particularly on the northern side beyond the city wall of Justinian; enough to indicate that there were other Neolithic 2 stations in this area.

The evidence which has been accumulated is sufficient to show that the Palmyra area was occupied by a number of groups during Neolithic 2. The sites are not very large so none of the groups can have been anything like as numerous as the community which inhabited Khirbet Kum.

The 38 sites discussed so far range from small surface stations to large tells. They are all situated well inland on the plateau of central and northern Syria. Within this region they occupy diverse zones - the Palmyra hills, the Euphrates valley, the Balikh and headwaters of the Khabur, yet their material remains are sufficiently similar for one to conclude that they were occupied in Neolithic 2 by people who shared a common culture. If one compares the remains from these sites with contemporary settlements elsewhere in the Levant one finds however that they have some distinctive features which mark them out as a regional group of sites within Neolithic 2. It is best to identify these features on excavated settlements with the longest well-stratified sequence of occupation, Abu Hureyra and Bouqras and then look for them on the other sites.

This regional variation can be seen most clearly in the flint industry at Abu Hureyra and Bouqras. The techniques of blade production here were exactly the same at other contemporary sites throughout the Levant but the tools made from these blades were distinctive. The principal types were arrowheads, burins and end-scrapers; sickie blades, though more numerous at Bouqras than Abu Hureyra, were still relatively rare compared with other Levantine Neolithic 2 sites. These tools were usually shaped with a minimum of abrupt retouch. Squamous pressure-flaking was never a common technique in the Neolithic 2 levels at either site. On sites in the southern Levant and in the Damascus basin it was used much more frequently than on the Euphrates sites. The arrowheads at Abu Hureyra and Bouqras were all tanged as they were often elsewhere but certain types were typical of the Euphrates sites. Most of the arrowheads had a tang which was clearly separated from the rest of the blade by a pair of shoulders; the tangs were also often stubby and squared off, another characteristic trait rarely found elsewhere. None of the arrowheads on these sites had notches. Some flake scrapers were found but otherwise almost no other flake tools nor core tools either although these were found in some numbers on Levantine sites nearer the coast.

When the stratified assemblages from Abu Hureyra and Bouqras are compared with material from the other 36 sites it can be seen that all share these specific characteristics of their flint industries. This is as true of the surface material from the sites around Palmyra and Tell Fakhariyah as of the other excavated sites, Tell Aswad (Balikh) and Khirbet Kum. These sites thus form a regional cultural group within Neolithic 2 in the Levant. All the sites except those around Palmyra and Khirbet Kum are within the Middle Euphrates drainage system which gives them a certain geographical unity; they may thus all be called the Middle Euphrates group of sites to distinguish them from the other regional groupings to which I shall now turn ...

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