Yarmukian Sickles


yarmouk aggsbachThe Yarmukian culture (6,4-5,8 k.a. BC) was first distinguished in the late 1940s by M. Stekelis, at the site of Sha’ar Hagolan in the central Jordan Valley. Yarmukian Sickles together with distinct subtypes of  Byblos- and Amuq- and the appearance of  small Haparsa- and Herzliya-projectil points are characteristic for this complex.

In addition, the Yarmukian was one of the oldest culture in the Levant to make use of pottery. Yarmoukian houses were less  standardized than earlier ones, ranging from simple pit-houses to rectilinear houses with one or two spacious rooms and  sometimes smaller storage chambers. At Sha’ar Hagolan, sets  of rooms are arranged around courtyards and streets and alleys  separate the house compounds from one another. These  compounds are candidates for having housed larger social units, such as extended families. Besides the site at Sha’ar HaGolan, some 20 other Yarmukian sites have been identified in Israel, Jordan and Lebanon. These include:

  • Tel Megiddo (Israel)
  • Ain Ghazal (Jordan)
  • Munhata (Israel)
  • Tel Qishion (Israel)
  • Hamadiya (Israel)
  • Ain Rahub (Jordan)
  • Abu Tawwab (Jordan)
  • Atlit Yam (Israel)
  • Wadi Shu’eib (Jordan)
  • Nahal Qanah Cave
  • Nahal Zehora II
  • Rehov Habashan
  • Tell as-Saidiyeh

Although the Yarmukian culture occupied a limited region, Yarmukian pottery has been found outside this core area, including the Habashan Street excavations in Tel-Aviv and as far north as Byblos, Lebanon.

Settlement patterns are divided into two broad categories – core areas and marginal areas, an over-simplification which, however, is useful for summarizing the data. The best known site is Ain Ghazal in Jordan.  Other sites that may date to this time are Atlit Yam and Tel Ramad. Marginal areas are represented by Sinai, Negev and eastern Jordan where the environment was, for the most part, steppic or desert, apart from the central oasis of the Azraq Basin.  In these more marginal zones “Prehistoric human settlement is believed to have been temporary and seasonal, distinct from that in the lusher Levantine highlands or Jordan Valley, where large, permanently occupied early Neolithic sites are found” (Martin and Garrard 1999).

During excavations at Sha’ar HaGolan, large courtyard houses were uncovered, ranging between 250 and 700 m² in area, indicated a well structured and rich society. The courtyard house makes its first appearance at Sha’ar HaGolan, giving the site a special significance in architectural history. This is an architectural concept still found among traditional Mediterranean societies. Monumental construction on this scale is unknown elsewhere during this period. The houses consist of a central courtyard surrounded by several small rooms. The houses were separated by streets, which constitute evidence of advanced community planning. The dig uncovered a central street about 3 m wide, paved with pebbles set in mud, and a narrow winding alley 1 m wide. These are the earliest streets discovered in Israel and among the earliest streets built by man. A 4.15 m well dug to the local water table indicates knowledge of hydraulics. Exotic objects discovered during the excavations include sea shells from the Mediterranean, polished stone vessels made of alabaster, and blades made from obsidian from Anatolian sources. The presence of obsidian points to trade connections extending over 700 km.

Ba’ja, in the Petra mountains, was only inhabited in the Late PPNB.  By this time goat, sheep and pig had been domesticated elsewhere in the Levant.  Results in the semi-desert environment of the southern Levant are consistent with what would be expected in a marginal zone at this time:

  • Some wild goat and gazelle
  • Wild hare, hyraxes, donkey, leopard, fox and other carnivores
  • 90% domesticated small ruminants, with goat dominant
  • Some Bos bones, but uncertain whether domesticated or not

The best known PPNC site from the core area is Ain Ghazal in Jordan, where a distinctive level was found beneath a layer containing the Pottery Neolithic Yarmukian industry and above a PPNB layer.  It covered 13 hectares at around 6750 BC.  Large shaped clay tablets were used, hinting at an administration system which was simply unprecedented for this time period.  There are some signs that the settlement survived general local collapse by changing its subsistence strategy.  A number of sites in the area were abandoned at this time, and infant mortality at Ain Ghazal rose.  Volumes of domesticated goat and legumes increase.  The excavators see this phase as representing a response to increasing stresses in the environment caused by a combination of climatic change and human over-exploitation of the environment.  The growth of the site against this background is suggested to be due to successful changes in the subsistence strategy which involved increasing the pastoral component of the economy at the expense of cereal exploitation.

Ain Ghazal is renowned for a set of anthropomorphic statues found buried in pits in the vicinity of some special buildings that may have had ritual functions. These statues are half-size human figures modeled in white plaster around a core of bundled twigs. The figures have painted clothes, hair, and in some cases, ornamental tattoos or body paint. The eyes are created using cowrie shells with a bitumen pupil. In all, 32 of those plaster figures were found in two caches, 15 of them full figures, 15 busts, and 2 fragmentary heads. Three of the busts were two-headed, the significance of the two headed statues is not clearhttp://www.farhorizons.com/trips/MiddleEastandArabia/GrandeurofPetra/images/AinGhazalstatues.jpg).

Gopher and Gophna suggest that Atlit Yam and similar layers at Tel Ramad may also represent local adaptations to new conditions.  At Atlit Yam, for example, a heavy reliance on marine resources is clear, supplementing both cultivation and hunting.  At Atlit, a stone semicircle, containing seven 600-kilogram megaliths, has recently been found. The stones have cup marks carved into them and are arranged around a freshwater spring, which suggests that they may have been used for ritual (http://www.zed.fr/tv/distribution/videos/182/the-mystery-of-atlit-yam/).

Very few large sites survived into the Pottery Neolithic.  Bellwood  suggests that Beidha shows similar stress – it was occupied into the PPNC and then abandoned.  Abu Hureyra halved in size. There was less abandonment of settled areas in the northern Levant than elsewhere.

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