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Excavations at Late Neolithic al-Basatin in 2004


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In May and June, 2004, our team from the University of Toronto conducted excavations at al-Basatîn in Wadi Ziqlab, al-Kura, northern Jordan, where survey in 2000 had discovered Neolithic artifacts. These produced evidence for occupation in the Late Neolithic (ca. 5200 BC), with material culture very similar to that found in the project's earlier excavations at Tabaqat al-Bûma, some 7 km upstream. There was also evidence for Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age use of the site. The excavation results contribute to better understanding of the transition from the Neolithic to the Chalcolithic, an aspect of Jordan's late prehistory that is relatively poorly understood, and when farmsteads appear for the first time to have supplemented aggregated villages.

The new site, al-Basatîn (WZ 135) occupies a broad, sloping terrace about 25 m above sea level and about 1 km downstream from another Neolilthic site, Tell Rakan (WZ 120), in part of the valley where numerous springs feed a perennial stream with several waterfalls.

This season's excavations uncovered a number of Neolithic architectural features, including house walls, a probable terrace wall, several cobbled floors and platforms, and one stone-lined and one clay-lined pit or silo. Interestingly, several of the cobble floors do not appear to have been associated with walls, suggesting the possibility that they were the floors of tents or other impermanent structures, similar, perhaps, to the plaster floors without walls at Byblos at roughly the same time.

Neolithic artifacts from al-Basatîn include sickle elements with both ends truncated, sometimes with steep retouch on one edge, and usually with deep denticulations on the cutting edge. Although these are often closely similar to ones previously found at Tabaqat al-Bûma, there is a greater tendency to make sickle elements from blades here than at the latter site.

The Late Neolithic pottery is crudely constructed, probably by coiling, and poorly fired, yet occasionally shows expressive surface treatment. Although decoration is rare, the most common decoration consists of combed or roughened surface. Usually the combing is simply horizontal or vertical, but occasionally it is in alternating directions (similar to surface treatments found in Wadi Rabah sites) and more rarely the combing is intermittent, to create dentate-like patterns. Other sherds show traces of red slip, and a few have black burnished surfaces. Where form is evident, cups, bowls and small jars appear common. These sometimes have small ledge handles or larger loop handles, and usually flat, disk bases.

The Neolithic fauna from the site include Bos sp. (cow or aurochs), Sus scrofa (pig or wild boar), and Ovis sp./Capra sp. (sheep/goat).

Somewhat surprisingly, the site turns out to have Chalcolithic and Early Bronze occupation as well, although predominantly upslope of the Late Neolithic deposits. These include some architecture, close to the modern surface, and a fairly good sample of stone artifacts and pottery.

Al-Basatîn provides new evidence for the poorly-known sixth and fifth millennia BC in Jordan. It will be particularly valuable, given its stratigraphic sequence, for tracing the changes that occurred after the Yarmoukian Neolithic and before the Late Chalcolithic Ghassulian culture.

References

Banning, E. B., & M. Najjar 2000. Tell Rakan, Wadi Ziqlab. In Archaeology in Jordan, edited by V. Egan, P. Bikai, and K. Zamora. American Journal of Archaeology104: 571.

Banning, E. B., D. Rahimi, & J. Siggers 1994. The Late Neolithic of the southern Levant: Hiatus, settlement shift or observer bias? The perspective from Wadi Ziqlab. Paléorient 20: 151-64.

Maher, L., & E. B. Banning 2001. Geoarchaeological survey in Wadi Ziqlab, Jordan. Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 45: 61-70.