Pre-Pottery Neolithic A

Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) denotes the first stage in early Levantine Neolithic culture, dating around 8000 to 7000 BCE. Archaeological remains are located in the Levantine and upper Mesopotamian region of the Fertile Crescent. The time period is characterized by tiny circular mud brick dwellings, the cultivation of crops, the hunting of wild game, and unique burial customs in which bodies were buried below the floors of dwellings.

The Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and the following Pre-Pottery Neolithic B were originally defined by Kathleen Kenyon in the type site of Jericho (Palestine). During this time, pottery was yet unknown. They precede the ceramic Neolithic (Yarmukian). PPNA succeeds the Natufian culture of the Epipaleolithic (Mesolithic).

Settlements

PPNA archaeological sites are much larger than those of the preceding Natufian hunter-gatherer culture, and contain traces of communal structures, such as the famous tower of Jericho. PPNA settlements are characterized by round, semi-subterranean houses with stone foundations and terrazzo-floors. The upper walls were constructed of unbaked clay mudbricks with plano-convex cross-sections. The hearths were small, and covered with cobbles. Heated rocks were used in cooking, which led to an accumulation of fire-cracked rock in the buildings, and almost every settlement contained storage bins made of either stones or mud-brick.

One of the most notable PPNA settlements is Jericho, thought to be the world’s first town (c 8000 BC). The PPNA town contained a population of up to 2000-3000 people, and was protected by a massive stone wall and tower. There is much debate over the function of the wall, for there is no evidence of any serious warfare at this time. One possibility is the wall was built to protect the salt resources of Jericho.

Burial Practices

PPNA cultures are unique for their burial practices, and Kenyon (who excavated the PPNA level of Jericho), characterized them as “living with their dead.” Kenyon found no fewer than 279 burials, below floors, under household foundations, and in between walls. In the PPNB period, skulls were often dug up and reburied, or mottled with clay and (presumably) displayed.

 Crop Cultivation and Granaries

Sedentism of this time allowed for the cultivation of local grains, such as barley and wild oats, and for storage in granaries. Sites such as Dhra′ and Jericho retained a hunting lifestyle until the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period, but granaries allowed for year-round occupation. This period of cultivation is considered “pre-domestication”, but may have begun to develop plant species into the domesticated forms they are today. Deliberate, extended-period storage was made possible by the use of “suspended floors for air circulation and protection from rodents”. This practice “precedes the emergence of domestication and large-scale sedentary communities by at least 1,000 years”.

Granaries are positioned in places between other buildings early on 9500 BC. However beginning around 8500 BC, they were moved inside houses, and by 7500 BC storage occurred in special rooms. This change might reflect changing systems of ownership and property as granaries shifted from a communal use and ownership to become under the control of households or individuals. It has been observed of these granaries that their “sophisticated storage systems with subfloor ventilation are a precocious development that precedes the emergence of almost all of the other elements of the Near Eastern Neolithic package—domestication, large scale sedentary communities, and the entrenchment of some degree of social differentiation.” Moreover, “Building granaries may … have been the most important feature in increasing sedentism that required active community participation in new life-ways.”

Regional variants

‘Sultanian’ in the Jordan River valley and southern Levant with the type site of Jericho. Other sites include Netiv HaGdud, El-Khiam, Hatoula and Nahal Oren.

‘Mureybetian’ in the Northern Levant. Defined by the finds from Mureybet IIIA, IIIB, typical: Helwan points, sickle-blades with base amenagée or short stem and terminal retouch. Other sites include Sheyk Hasan and Jerf el-Ahmar.

‘Aswadian’ in the Damascus Basin. Defined by finds from Tell Aswad IA. Typical: bipolar cores, big sickle blades, Aswad points. The ‘Aswadian’ variant was recently abolished by the work of Danielle Stordeur in her initial report from further investigations in 2001–2006. The PPNB horizon was moved back at this site, to around 8700 BC.

Sites in ‘Upper Mesopotamia’ include Çayönü and Göbekli Tepe.

Jericho

Jericho (Arabic: Arīḥā) is a Palestinian city located near the Jordan River in the West Bank. It is believed to be one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. It is known in Judeo-Christian tradition as the place of the Israelites’ return from bondage in Egypt, led by Joshua, the successor to Moses.

Jericho is described in the Old Testament as the “City of Palm Trees.” Copious springs in and around the city attracted human habitation for thousands of years. Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of more than 20 successive settlements in Jericho, the first of which dates back 11,000 years (9000 BC), almost to the very beginning of the Holocene epoch of the Earth’s history.

Jericho has evidence of settlement dating back to 9000 BC. During the Younger Dryas period of cold and drought, permanent habitation of any one location was not possible. However, the spring at what would become Jericho was a popular camping ground for Natufian hunter-gatherer groups, who left a scattering of crescent microlith tools behind them. Around 9600 BC the droughts and cold of the Younger Dryas Stadial had come to an end, making it possible for Natufian groups to extend the duration of their stay, eventually leading to year round habitation and permanent settlement.

The first permanent settlement was built near the Ein as-Sultan spring between 10000 and 9000 BC. As the world warmed, a new culture based on agriculture and sedentary dwelling emerged, which archaeologists have termed “Pre-Pottery Neolithic A” (abbreviated as PPNA). PPNA villages are characterized by small circular dwellings, burials of the dead within the floors of buildings, reliance on hunting wild game, the cultivation of wild or domestic cereals, and no use of pottery. At Jericho, circular dwellings were built of clay and straw bricks left to dry in the sun, which were plastered together with a mud mortar. Each house measured about 5 metres across, and was roofed with mud-smeared brush. Hearths were located within and outside the homes.

By about 9400 BC the town had grown to more than 70 modest dwellings. Population estimates have been as high as two to three thousand people, but it has been suggested that these are highly exaggerated by at least tenfold. The most striking aspect of this early town was a massive stone wall over 3.6 metres high, and 1.8 metres wide at the base. Inside this wall was a tower over 3.6 metres high, contained an internal staircase with 22 stone steps. The wall and tower were unprecedented in human history, and would have taken a hundred men more than a hundred days to construct it. The wall may have been a defence against flood water with the tower used for ceremonial purposes.

After a few centuries it was abandoned for a second settlement, established in 6800 BC, perhaps by an invading people who absorbed the original inhabitants into their dominant culture. Artifacts dating from this period include ten plastered human skulls, painted so as to reconstitute the individuals’ features. These represent the first example of portraiture in art history, and it is thought that they were kept in people’s homes while the bodies were buried. This was followed by a succession of settlements from 4500 BC onward, the largest being constructed in 2600 BC.

Archaeological evidence indicates that in the latter half of the Middle Bronze Age (circa 1700 BC) the city enjoyed some prosperity, its walls having been strengthened and expanded. According to carbon dating the Canaanite city (Jericho City IV) was destroyed between 1617 and 1530 BC. The site remained uninhabited until the city was refounded in the 9th century BC.

Çayönü

Çayönü is a Neolithic settlement in southern Turkey inhabited around 7200 to 6600 BC. It is located forty kilometres north-west of Diyarbakır, at the foot of the Taurus mountains. It lies near the Bogazcay, a tributary of the upper Tigris River and the Bestakot, an intermittent stream.

Çayönü is possibly the place where the pig (Sus scrofa) was first domesticated. The wild fauna include wild boar, wild sheep, wild goat and cervids. The Neolithic environment included marshes and swamps near the Bogazcay, open wood, patches of steppe and almond-pistachio forest-steppe to the south.

According to Der Spiegel of either 6 March or 3 June 2006, the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne has discovered that the genetically common ancestor of 68 contemporary types of cereal still grows as a wild plant on the slopes of Mount Karaca (Karaca Dağ), which is located in close vicinity to Çayönü. (Compare to information on cereal use in PPNA).

 

Tell Aswad

Tell Aswad (“Black hill”), Su-uk-su or Shuksa, is a large prehistoric, Neolithic Tell, about 5 hectares (540,000 sq ft) in size, located around 48 kilometres (30 mi) from Damascus in Syria, on a tributary of the Barada River at the eastern end of the village of Jdeidet el Khass.

Tools and weapons were made of flint including Aswadian and Jericho point arrowheads. Other finds included grinding equipment, stone and mud containers, and ornaments made of various materials. Obsidian was imported from Anatolia. Tell Aswad occupies a special location in the central Levant as a connecting region between northern and southern expansions of agriculture.

Mureybet

Mureybet is a tell, or ancient settlement mound, located on the west bank of the Euphrates in Ar-Raqqah Governorate, northern Syria. The site was excavated between 1964 and 1974 and has since disappeared under the rising waters of Lake Assad.

Mureybet was occupied between 10,200 and 8,000 BC and is the eponymous type site for the Mureybetian culture, a subdivision of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA). In its early stages, Mureybet was a small village occupied by hunter-gatherers. Hunting was important and crops were first gathered and later cultivated, but they remained wild. During its final stages, domesticated animals were also present at the site.