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Time to Go Beyond Chrono-Stratigraphy: The (EPPNB) Aswadian Culture of the Southern Levant

Avi Gopher
p. 165-194

Résumés

Résumé. Contrairement aux tendances actuelles, je m’efforce dans cet article de soutenir l’histoire culturelle comme un cadre conceptuel et analytique valide de l’analyse archéologique, et de définir les cultures néolithiques comme des représentants de groupes socioculturels spécifiques du passé. Pour ce faire, je m’attarde sur la composition culturelle de la période du Néolithique précéramique B ancien (EPPNB) dans le sud du Levant et je plaide en faveur de la culture aswadienne. Après un examen des caractéristiques spatiotemporelles et matérielles de la culture asswadienne, l’article propose de la diviser davantage en sous-cultures, ce qui permet une compréhension plus détaillée de sa composition socioculturelle. Malgré les lacunes de nos connaissances, je m’appuie sur le fait que l’aswadien se distingue d’autres entités – le précédent Sultanien PPNA, l’EPPNB du nord du Levant et la culture de la Badia de Jordanie, définie très récemment – pour soutenir qu’il doit être considéré comme une entité culturelle à part entière. La position de la culture aswadienne dans le contexte plus large de la néolithisation levantine est également examinée. Je soutiens que, en dépit des tendances décisives et novatrices dans l’EPPNB du Levant Nord, la culture asswadienne a continué à maintenir un mode de vie de chasseur-cueilleur, résistant à l’incorporation de produits domestiques (plantes et animaux) dans son économie, qui n’apparaissent pas dans le Levant du Sud avant la toute fin du 11e millénaire cal. BP et plus tard au milieu du PPNB.

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Texte intégral

I would like to thank Prof. Sumio Fujii who kindly allowed me to see his unpublished Tokyo paper and his paper for this volume. I thank Phillip Edwards for his comments, Ferran Borrell for his straightforward replies and statements, Omri Barzilai for a helpful conversation on aspects of this paper, Kobi Vardi for his replies on Aḥihud, and finally, many thanks to Assaf Nativ for his thorough editing of this text. I thank Itamar Ben-Ezra for preparing the figures.

Introduction

  • 1 I find it useful for clarifying the views presented in this paper, injecting them with historical d (...)

1Crossing over from the Levantine Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), one observes not only remarkable cultural changes but also a peculiar shift in our conceptual apparatus. While the PPNA boasts several well-defined cultural entities (e.g., the Khiamian, the Sultanian, the Mureybetian, and the Nemrikian), each representing human groups that occupied a particular region for a specifiable stretch of time, the PPNB does not. Unlike its predecessor, research of the PPNB failed to establish well-­defined cultural entities. As a result, the chrono-stratigraphic term “PPNB” is the only concept at work with significant traction, rendering it difficult to appreciate the cultural and evolutionary complexities involved. In this paper, I seek to contribute to the definition of cultural entities in the Early PPNB (EPPNB), specifically the Aswadian culture of the southern Levant. But before we delve into the matter, a brief (personal) history of research is in order.1

  • 2 Until this time, the sites and assemblages I familiarized with in the field, through a Neolithic pr (...)

2I first encountered the EPPNB in the late 1970s in the prehistory laboratory at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In the early 1980s, my interest in the period deepened through an intersection of three “events.” The first was a visit to Nahal Lavan (NL) 109 (with E. Friedmann) and subsequent viewing of its collections, upon which I was struck by the numerous (over a thousand) arrowheads (mainly Helwan points) in its lithic assemblage (see Burian et al. 1976, 1999; Burian and Friedman 1988, 1989).2 The second event was A. N. Goring-Morris’s and my excavation at the Harifian (Late Epipaleolithic) site of Abu Salem in the Negev Highlands (1980–1981), where we unexpectedly uncovered an EPPNB occupation with round stone-built architecture and an arrowhead assemblage dominated by Helwan points (Gopher and Goring-Morris 1998). Finally, after long discussion in the lab my teacher and mentor, Ofer Bar-Yosef, published the first definitive argument for the existence of a south Levantine EPPNB (Bar-Yosef 1981).

3However, concerning the north Levantine PPNB, I remained relatively unfamiliar until the early–mid-1980s, when I worked on my Ph.D. It consisted of a multidimensional seriation analysis of Neolithic arrowhead assemblages from across the Levant and asserted, among other things, that Helwan points occur early in the PPNB sequence. A correlation of my seriation analyses with the then available 14C records suggested that the EPPNB of the northern Levant was earlier than the EPPNB of the southern Levant and that a retardation effect was at work. These observations, in turn, suggested the diffusion of cultural features (e.g., the Helwan point) from north to south (Gopher 1989a, 1989b).

  • 3 I also used the term “Aswadian” for the EPPNB site of Mujahiya (Gopher 1990). Interestingly, and wo (...)

4Among the various sites and assemblages analyzed in my Ph.D., the arrowhead assemblages of the early layer of Tell Aswad in the Damascus Basin, Syria, are particularly notable. The excavator, H. de Contenson (1981, 1989, 1995), assigned these assemblages to the PPNA. However, drawing on my seriation analyses and on conversations with M.-C. Cauvin, who studied and published the site’s lithics (Cauvin 1974, 1995), I suggested that early Tell Aswad (Layer IA) is better assigned to the PPNB (i.e., the EPPNB). I suggested labeling it “Aswadian” to underscore this entity’s cultural distinctiveness (Gopher 1985: 341, 1994: 260).3 Having been in contact with H. de Contenson and sharing my results with him in the second half of the 1980s, I was quite surprised by Contenson’s (1989) suggestion to use the term “Aswadian” for the same cultural assemblage but assign it to the PPNA period instead of the PPNB.

  • 4 Relevant sites and excavations, in some of which I was personally involved, include Mujahiya and Ho (...)

5Notwithstanding these observations and the ongoing accumulation of data,4 the scholarly community remained unconvinced that the southern Levant had an EPPNB at all. The main impediments pertained to the relative scarcity of data and 14C dates. Ultimately, in the 1990s, two views crystallized. One asserted that the EPPNB’s distribution is restricted to the northern Levant and is altogether missing in the south, while the other held that it could be found in the southern Levant too and traced across a growing number of sites (for a disagreement between coauthors, see Kuijt and Goring-Morris 2002: 382; cf. Kuijt 2001, 2003). As for myself, I wondered “What happened to the EPPNB?” in the southern Levant (Gopher 1996), and why would anybody start the PPNB with a chrono-stratigraphic unit called “Middle PPNB.” Why not call the earliest PPNB of the region (whatever it may be) “Early”? Was it a wild guess, an expectation, or a gesture to northern Levantine research?

  • 5 In 2021, I had listened to two lectures on Kharaysin by J. J. Ibáñez, who provided updates on the s (...)

6Since the turn of the century, the issue of the EPPNB’s standing in the southern Levant gradually cleared as more fieldwork was carried out and new series of 14C dates were produced. Notable among these projects are the renewed excavation at Tell Aswad (Stordeur 2003a, 2003b; Stordeur et al. 2010) and the excavation at Tell Qarassa (Ibáñez et al. 2010, 2014a; Santana et al. 2012, 2015), both in the Damascus area. Further to the south, relevant fieldwork included the excavation at Motza near Jerusalem (Khalaily et al. 2007), the intensive excavations at Kfar HaḤoresh in the Lower Galilee (Goring-Morris 2005; Birkenfeld 2018), Aḥihud in the Upper Galilee (Paz and Vardi 2014; Caracuta et al. 2015, 2016, 2017), Nesher Ramla in the Shephelah (Ullman et al. 2021), and the ongoing excavations at Kharaysin, Jordan (Ibáñez et al. 2015, 2019; Monik et al. 2018; Borrell et al. 2019).5

  • 6 Kuijt (2017) rejects the notion of a distinct EPPNB in the south and instead speaks of a combined E (...)
  • 7 The authors of this paper present a late, local (south Jordanian) PPNA that incorporates lithic tec (...)

7Although some implicitly continue to doubt it (e.g., Finlayson et al. 2014; Kuijt 2017;6 Smith et al. 2019;7 and see discussion in Sampson 2020), most scholars today consider the EPPNB part and parcel of the south Levantine PPNB sequence. Having put some of the chrono-stratigraphic issues to rest, research has begun to veer towards matters of cultural and economic characteristics. However, old problems tend to resurface. New excavations in Jordan, including Harrat al-Juhayra 202 at the Jafr Basin (Fujii et al. 2019; Fujii 2022, this volume, and references therein) and Wadi Mushash 163 in the Badia (Rokitta-Krumnow 2019, and references therein), produced a combination of features that called our understanding of PPNA–PPNB chrono-stratigraphy back into question (see also Rollefson 2019). On the one hand, these sites presented lithic assemblages compatible with the EPPNB (which was largely unknown east of the Rift Valley) comprising bidirectional blade production and a considerable percentage of Helwan points (as well as El Khiam points) within the arrowheads. However, on the other hand, they produced remarkably early 14C dates that start at ca. 11,000/10,900 cal. BP, almost half a millennium before the onset of the EPPNB west of the Rift Valley.

  • 8 These features are bound with coevolutionary models and attitudes, presuming the Neolithic agent wa (...)

8Against the confusion and disagreements over the nature, position, and origins of the south Levantine EPPNB and the newly emerging complexities of time-space systematics, this paper will summarize selected aspects of the available data and strive to pour cultural content into the chrono-­stratigraphic (spatiotemporal) unit of the EPPNB. Specifically, I will draw on its material culture to define the prevalent sociocultural entity I label “Aswadian.” This definition will be achieved by articulating how the Aswadian culture differs from its PPNA (Sultanian) predecessor, its north Levantine counterpart, and the very recently defined Badia culture of Jordan. In the process, special attention will be devoted to the advance of plant and animal domestication. Finally, I will use this opportunity to comment on two issues. One pertains to matters of analytical resolution, mainly the tendency to lump and generalize at the expense of detail. Specifically, I suggest that the higher our resolution and the finer the units we discern, the more likely we are to attain an accurate appreciation of the history of Neolithic cultures and socio-economic developments. The second issue pertains to the noticeable interpretive favor of Levantine Neolithic archaeology for autonomous (non-centered), polycentric, protracted, processes8 (e.g., plant domestication, see discussion in Gopher et al. 2021: chapters 3–4) and fluid behavioral spectra of “situations” (e.g., sedentism/mobility patterns, see below).

Terminology, temporality, and seriation

9Before delving into the EPPNB, let us revisit the terms used to describe past entities and recall how they steer the construction of archaeological knowledge. Crucially, the concepts (and terms) we use are never neutral but always carry a host of presuppositions and values. In the context of Levantine Neolithic research, three kinds of conceptual systems are notable:

  1. Kenyon’s (1957, 1960) widely used chrono-­stratigraphic units (PPNA, PPNB) that constitute stratigraphy-based temporal distinctions but also incorporate cultural considerations (see below).
  2. Cultural units that occupy specifiable segments of space and time, usually defined in the spirit of culture history according to their material culture. These include, for instance, the Kebaran and Natufian cultures of the Epipaleolithic period and the Sultanian and Mureybetian cultures of the Neolithic period. These entities represent sociocultural groups of past people.
  3. A technical (neutral?) periodization that embodies ranges of calendrical years (e.g., period 1, period 2) indifferent to intra-Levantine spatial variations (Aurenche et al. 1987; revisited and argued in favor of by Watkins 2013). They constitute a linear and implicitly progressive view of cultural development.
  • 9 Notably, cultural names for the PPNB were suggested in early Neolithic research, but these were pre (...)

10Of these, Kenyon’s PPNA and PPNB designations are the most prevalent. She coined them in the 1950s, based on the stratigraphy, chronology, and material culture found in her excavations at Jericho. This terminology had the marked advantage of being simple, straightforward, and well-grounded.9 However, it also harbored internal tension. On the one hand, it is conducive and widely presumed to signify a continuous sequence of developments along chrono-stratigraphic periodic lines. On the other hand, in keeping with Kenyon’s training and background in G. Childe’s school of culture history, it was devised to underscore the cultural differences between the earlier PPNA (gap) and the later PPNB. Thus, from the very beginning, Keyon’s nomenclature pulled in the somewhat incompatible directions of linear chrono-stratigraphy and culture history. In many respects, the debate outlined above over the EPPNB’s constitution and definition is an instance and consequence of this tension.

  • 10 Stratigraphy and typology of material culture elements are the two major protagonists in this play (...)
  • 11 These elements encompass typologically defined (entities) morphological types, assemblages of a spe (...)

11Of course, the definitions of archaeological cultures and chrono-stratigraphic units (periods) are closely linked, a quality perhaps best manifested through the procedures of seriation.10 Seriation is the principal means of relative dating based on typological features of cultural entities. The simplest mode of seriation is the fossile directeur approach that notes the presence and absence of diagnostic elements. While highly useful, anyone who studied archaeological assemblages would be quick to observe that the insights it provides are crude and coarse-grained (too low a resolution). For better and finer results, one must resort to quantitative measures. These measures, in turn, presuppose that the popularity of archaeological material culture elements11 follows normal, unimodal frequency distributions along the temporal axis. That is, they are presumed to represent ontogenetic patterns (per entity, type) consisting of an emergence (“birth”), a rise, a (modal) peak (the modal, high or low), a decline, and finally, a disappearance (“death”). Such normal distributions mean that low sub-modal frequencies of any such element pertain to a history of use and either indicate (1) a phase of modest (relatively inconspicuous), “ahead of its time” beginning as an innovation (somewhat earlier than their modal), or (2) a diminishing presence (“tail”) that lingers after an element’s “maturity” (peak, modal).

  • 12 The constitution and reliance on transitional periods, units, and cultures to explain cultural deve (...)

12Acknowledging and adopting the principles of frequency seriation (well exemplified by the classical “battleship curve” pattern) render debates over periodic demarcations according to the presence or absence of specific elements crude and inadequate. They put too much emphasis on instances of elements’ emergence and disappearance to note the relative autonomy of their “careers”(life histories). Thus, the expectation that the EPPNB be perfectly correlated with the emergence of bidirectional blade technology, certain types of arrowheads, sickle blades, and rectangular architecture is ungainly. Given that sharp shifts of this sort are the exception rather than the rule, it is understandable how anticipations like these (emphasizing the pre-modal appearance of archaeological elements) invite “transitional” periods or cultures as if any archaeological unit is not already transitional and on the move from “pre-” to “post-”.12

13Having established the premises of frequency seriation and archaeological temporality more broadly, I will now make a case for the Aswadian culture as a distinct southern entity of the Levantine EPPNB. By doing so, I hope to contribute to a better understanding of the relevant cultural landscapes.

The Aswadian culture of the southern Levant: An outline

  • 13 I base my discussion of the northern Levant on well-known EPPNB layers from sites such as Çayönü, M (...)

14As illustrated in the brief history of research above, the agreement on the existence of the south Levantine EPPNB does not entail acknowledging the existence of corresponding cultural entities. Therefore, in this section, I seek to fill this gap and trace the main distinguishing features of the Aswadian culture. I will do so by reviewing various aspects of the southern Levant EPPNB and making brief comments on its northern manifestations that will subsequently serve as grounds for comparison (see below).13 When suitable, I also set them up against the preceding PPNA cultures. The review will begin with the spatial and temporal framework and proceed to discuss settlement patterns. Next, I briefly consider various categories of material culture and the broader cultural features of the economy, burial customs, and symbolism.

Spatial and temporal distributions

Fig. 1 – A chrono-cultural scheme for the PPN Levant.

Fig. 1 – A chrono-cultural scheme for the PPN Levant.

CAD I. Ben-Ezra

  • 14 While some attribute this area to the northern sphere of the Levant (see below and footnote 55), I (...)
  • 15 As will be discussed below, Jordanian sites that Fujii assigns to the EPPNB Badia culture pre-date (...)
  • 16 By all means, this is a large territory. For comparison, the Middle Euphrates EPPNB (looked at stri (...)

15The Aswadian culture occupies the southern Levant. Specifically, the region spans the Damascus Basin14 in the north and the northern Negev in the south,15 and it extends from the Rift Valley (corridor) and the northwestern parts of Jordan to the east, until the Mediterranean coast, to the west. Altogether, it covers an area of ca. 40,000–50,000 km2 (fig. 2).16

Fig. 2 – The distribution of the Aswadian and the Badia cultures.

Fig. 2 – The distribution of the Aswadian and the Badia cultures.

Subcultures are tentatively suggested.

Map I. Ben-Ezra

  • 17 In Abu Salem, the Aswadian superimposed Harifian layers.

16Stratigraphically, the Aswadian and north Levantine EPPNB occupy a similar position, located above PPNA layers and below Middle and Late PPNB deposits. Thus, in the southern Levant, sites like Nahal Oren, Kharaysin, and Abu Salem17 featured EPPNB layers above PPNA (Sultanian) deposits, whereas, in sites like Tell Aswad, Kfar HaḤoresh, Kharaysin, and Motza, they were encountered below MPPNB, LPPNB, or PPNC layers. Similarly, in the northern Levant, EPPNB layers were observed above PPNA Mureybetian occupations in Mureybet, Dja’de, Sheikh Hassan, Göbekli Tepe, and Çayönü, and below later PPNB layers in Çayönü or Mureybet. There is no case in which this stratigraphic order does not hold true.

  • 18 As I elaborate below, earlier 14C dates, produced for the sites of Harrat al-Juhayra 202 and Wadi M (...)

17Facilitating the Aswadian’s chronological placement, new sets of 14C dates have been generated over the last twenty years. According to these dates, it had begun around 10,500 cal. BP or somewhat later. This estimation is also based on dates generated for PPNA sites like Zahrat adh-Dhra’ (ZAD) 2, Jericho PPNA, Wadi Faynan (WF) 16, and el Hemmeh, providing a terminus post quem determination for the EPPNB (Edwards et al. 2004; Edwards 2016 and references therein).18 By the same token, dates generated for MPPNB sites in the region—e.g., Ain Ghazal, Kfar HaḤoresh, Motza, Tell Aswad, and Kharaysin—provided a terminus ante quem determination that places the Aswadian’s end at ca. 10,200/10,100 cal. BP, maybe even somewhat later. Notably, 14C dates of EPPNB Aswadian sites (Tell Aswad, Motza, Kfar HaḤoresh, Qarassa, Kharaysin, Aḥihud, Nesher Ramla) fell comfortably between the two. On these grounds, we may presume 10,500–10,100 cal. BP was the time of the Aswadian culture in the southern Levant.

  • 19 The dates of Çayönü are difficult to interpret (see Erim-Özdoğan 2011; Haklay and Gopher 2019), and (...)

18The north Levantine EPPNB seems to have begun earlier, ca. 10,800/10,700 cal. BP. This is suggested collectively by dates produced for PPNA sites of the Middle Euphrates (Mureybetian) at Jerf el Ahmar, Mureybet (III), and Tell Abr 3, as well as Qaramel and Göbekli Tepe (III) and the Tigris region (Gusir Höyük, Hasankyef Höyük, and Çayönü) all of which predate 10,800/10,700 cal. BP (see Edwards 2016, and references therein). Drawing on early dates produced for the MPPNB, the EPPNB of the northern Levant is estimated to have reached its conclusion at around 10,200/10,100 cal. BP (e.g., Evin and Sordeur 2008 and references therein), perhaps a little earlier than in the south. Reinforcing these chronological anchors, 14C dates of north Levantine EPPNB sites [e.g., Dja’de (Dj 2, Dj 3), Mureybet (IVA), Nevalı Çori, Cafer Höyük, and Göbekli Tepe (II)] fall within the late three quarters of the 11th millennium cal. BP.19 Thus, the chronological range for the northern EPPNB is between 10,800/700 and 10,200/100 cal. BP.

19In summary, most researchers accept these chronological estimates (e.g., Evin and Stordeur 2008; Edwards 2016; Borrell 2017: table 1; Birkenfeld 2018; Rollefson 2019; Fujii et al. 2019; Goring Morris and Belfer-Cohen 2020; Fujii this volume), and there is a broad agreement that the northern EPPNB starts ca. 10,800/700 cal. BP, while the southern starts ca. 10,500/400 cal. BP, both coming to a close ca. 10,200 or 10,100 cal. BP (the south being somewhat later). Under these circumstances, a north-south “retardation effect” (Gopher 1989a, 1989b, 1994) seems to have been at work (see also Edwards 2016; Borrell 2017).

Settlement patterns

  • 20 For Mujahiya, site size may reach 5 ha but it is estimated and not immediately evident from the sma (...)

20South Levantine EPPNB Aswadian sites are usually small in marginal zones and in the desert regions, spanning several 100 m2 (e.g., Abu Salem), while, in the Mediterranean zone, they are larger and commonly range between 0.50 ha (e.g., Horvat Galil) and as much as 3 ha (e.g., Mujahiya) and even more (Kharaysin).20 So-called “mega sites,” bigger than 10 ha, are absent from the Aswadian cultural landscape and appear only later in the MPPNB, LPPNB, and PPNC. In the northern Levant, EPPNB sites may reach 2–4 ha in size (e.g., Mureybet, Çayönü, Göbekli Tepe), but smaller sites of 0.40–0.50 ha (e.g., Nevalı Çori, Cafer Höyük) have been noted, too.

21As a rule, in the southern Levant, Aswadian settlement patterns and the logic of the site location broke away from the patterns of their PPNA Sultanian predecessors. Notwithstanding a few exceptions (e.g., Naḥal Oren and Kharaysin), PPNA Sultanian sites stood unoccupied during the EPPNB (PPNA Jericho, Netiv Hagdud, Gilgal 1, Gesher, Hatoula, WF16 and more), while many Aswadian occupations were initiated in new, previously unsettled locations (e.g., Mujahiya, Ḥorvat Galil, Kfar HaḤoresh, Aḥihud, Motza, Nesher Ramala, and NL 109).

22In the northern Levant, a similar pattern is discernable, albeit slightly less pronounced. Several PPNA sites were superimposed by EPPNB occupations (e.g., Mureybet, Çayönü, Göbekli Tepe and Dja’de), but many others appear to have been abandoned: Jerf el Aḥmar, Tell Qaramel, Tell Abr 3, Demirköy Höyük, Hallan Çemi Tepesi, Gusir Höyük, Kermez Dereh, Hasankeyf Höyük, Körtik Tepe, Nemrik 9, and others. Alongside these, several EPPNB sites were established in new locations, including Nevalı Çori, Cafer Höyük, and Tell ‘Ain el-Kerkh.

  • 21 The relationship between settlement and mobility patterns, on the one hand, and the emerging farmin (...)

23The issues of mobility patterns, sedentism, and the beginning of agriculture are inextricably entwined with settlement patterns and the economy (see below). While I do not discuss the matter in detail here, I offer a footnote with a relevant example of the tendency mentioned throughout the text to reconstruct (low-resolution) fluid spectra of “situations”.21

Architecture

  • 22 Notwithstanding, the circular/amorphous (semi sunken) structures at Tell Aswad (Stordeur et al. 201 (...)

24In the southern Levant, EPPNB sites of the Aswadian culture often consist of free-standing, rectangular, lime-­plastered architecture, supplanting the circular, half-sunken buildings typical of the PPNA Sultanian. These sites include Qarassa (Balbo et al. 2012), Ḥorvat Galil (Gopher 1997), Motza (Khalaily et al. 2007), Kharaysin (Ibáñez et al. 2015; Monik et al. 2018), and maybe Aḥihud (Paz and Vardi 2014).22 Interpreted as a designated burial site, Kfar HaḤoresh occupies a special place in the architectural landscape of the EPPNB, and it is also characterized by rectangular construction and intensive use of lime plaster. Notably, however, in sites of the arid zone to the south (e.g., Abu Salem), the Aswadian retained the round stone-built architecture.

25The northern Levant demonstrates a similar shift as PPNA round, half-sunken structures with earth floors were supplanted by EPPNB rectangular, free-standing buildings with stone foundations and various types of floors including mud-earth, stone-paved and lime (plastered) floors and domestic installations (e.g., Dja’de, Çayönü, Nevalı Çori, and Göbekli Tepe [II]; for a recent review see Duru et al. 2021). Construction materials include stone, mudbricks, and mud. Notably, the north Levantine EPPNB also boasts several innovative architectural plans, including “grill” and “channeled” buildings that demonstrate the use of geometric and metric principles (Haklay and Gopher 2019). Outstanding public architecture was also recorded, including the Nevalı Çori temples (Hauptmann 1999, 2011), the skull building of Çayönü (Erim-Özdoğan 2011), and the “house of the dead” at Dja’de (Layer Dj 3; Coqueugniot 2000, 2014).

Typology of selected material culture elements

26To be clear, I do not argue that each and every feature or material culture element in question is a north EPPNB or Aswadian innovation. Following the above discussion on frequency seriation, such features and elements may have appeared earlier (e.g., in the later part of the PPNA) and continued later (into the MPPNB), or both. Such elements and features are considered characteristic of the EPPNB period because the modal part of their timelines coincides with the chrono-stratigraphic unit we call “EPPNB.” Clearly, EPPNB proper innovations are also noted, including major economic elements. The discussion of each category will usually start with the southern Levant and then make some comments about the northern Levant that will provide the background for the comparative notes in the paper’s discussion section (see also table 1).

Lime plaster and other additive technologies

  • 23 During the PPNB, lime plaster was also used to produce mobile articles, including small vessels, im (...)

27Throughout the Levant, the PPNB as a whole is characterized by extensive use of lime plaster for architectural and funerary purposes. In the EPPNB, it was used to coat floors and wall bases and to seal graves (Goring-Morris 2000, 2005); sometimes, lime plaster was found in the grave pits themselves (e.g., Hershkovitz and Gopher 1988; Khalaily et al. 2007). The roots of lime pyro-technology can be traced to the late Natufian of the southern Levant (Valla et al. 2007; Friesem et al. 2019), and it is found in PPNA sites too (e.g., Netiv Hadgud, Kharaysin and more) but it was not until the PPNB that it became a significant cultural feature.23

28I would like to mention here two more additive technologies that have grown considerably in the PPN as a whole, the EPPNB included. One pertains to the increasing use of clay and mud and mudbricks for construction (e.g., Gilgal I, Jericho, Horvat Galil, and more), and importantly for imagery items (figurines, see Rollefson 2008). The second technology is basketry, and it is mentioned here because of a recently announced discovery of a remarkable, complete braided basket dated by 14C to ca. 10,500 cal. BP found in a Judean desert cave.

Flint

  • 24 As stated recently by Goring-Morris and Belfer-Cohen (2019: 429): “We follow the culture history pa (...)

29Notwithstanding the significance of numerous other categories of material culture, knapped lithics are perhaps the most basic of all. By virtue of their ubiquity, quantity, and diversity, they have come to play a paramount role in distinguishing both diachronic (chronological) trends and synchronic (geographical) entities and should not be played down for other elements that seem to carry more impressive baggage.24

  • 25 “The knapping sequence was oriented to producing highly standardized large, generally robust, strai (...)
  • 26 . – It is interesting to observe that this technology embodies an attitude to lithic production tha (...)

30The Aswadian sites of the southern Levant manifest marked changes in their lithic industries compared to their PPNA predecessors. Most notably, they pertain to raw material selection and procurement, knapping technology, and tool typology. Of particular interest is the emergence of bidirectional core technology for the production of long, non-twisted, non-curved straight (including central “naturally pointed” blades), and standardized flint blades.25 Notably, while it is widely agreed that these blades were highly standardized (Borrell 2017) and serially produced (Barzilai 2010; Barzilai and Goring-Morris 2013), whether they constituted a specialized mode of production is a matter of debate (see Borrell and Khalaily 2016; Maeda et al. 2016; Gopher 2020).26

  • 27 However, as I discuss below, the desert sites of Mushash 163 and Harrat al-Juhayra 202 raise the po (...)
  • 28 Both in the north and the south, these blades come onto the scene somewhat before the first clear e (...)

31Thus, in the southern Levant, this technology is strictly an EPPNB Aswadian new element (e.g., Qarassa, Tell Aswad, Horvat Galil, Motza, Aḥihud, Kharaysin)27—it did not exist in the PPNA. The blades produced were primarily used to produce sickle blades, reaping knives, or both. The sickle blades are long, have a finely denticulated working edge, and afford several inserting or hafting methods (for an illustration, see Gopher 1989c: 50, fig. 18). When they fell out of use as sickle blades, they were often recycled and made into arrowheads, burins, or other tools. By all odds, the emergence of sickle blades made on the newly introduced bidirectional blades entwined with the crystallizing domesticates-based economy (e.g., for the north, see Stordeur and Abbès 2002).28 In this vein, the occurrence of caches of blades throughout the PPNB, the Aswadian included (e.g., Barzilai and Goring-Morris 2007; Khalaily et al. 2007), suggests a change in attitude toward harvesting tools, especially given their primary function as sickle blades (see also, Asouti and Fuller 2013: 322).

  • 29 Depending on how one reads the chronology of House 47 at Mureybet, for example (see Haklay and Goph (...)

32In the northern Levant, the emergence of naviform bidirectional technology on selected, high-quality raw materials had already occurred in the late PPNA, ca. 11,000 cal. BP, considerably earlier than in the south [e.g., Mureybet (III),29 Jerf el Ahmar, Dja’de]. Otherwise, however, the patterns are similar to those observed in the south. Here, too, this technology primarily served the manufacture of finely denticulated sickle blades, which were sometimes cached. Blade production was also linked to the production of arrowheads (e.g., Borrell and Khlaily 2016 and references therein).

  • 30 Notably, the morpho-typology of the Helwan point has shown more variability in the northern Levant, (...)

33Another major field of lithic Aswadian innovation pertains to new arrowhead types, often produced on bidirectional blades. Most notable among these is the Helwan point—a double-notched, small-tanged projectile—that occurs alongside the El Khiam point. Importantly, the frequencies of El Khiam points (including the Jordan Valley and Salibiya points) decrease throughout EPPNB. It was characteristic of the preceding PPNA period and was gradually supplanted during the EPPNB, eventually disappearing before the advent of the MPPNB (see table 1). Other newly introduced arrowhead types are the Byblos and Jericho points. With the exception of the Jericho point, which is principally a south Levantine Aswadian innovation, the northern Levant demonstrates similar patterns. Nevertheless, Helwan points demonstrate notable regional variations. Thus, in the southern Levant, most of these points are short and produced on small blades (or even flakes), although long specimens made on bidirectional blades have also been recorded (e.g., Nesher Ramla [Ullman et al. 2021: fig. 6.6], Horvat Galil [Gopher 1997: fig. 14.3], Tell Aswad [Cauvin 1974: fig. 1.1–1.2, 1.4]—bidirectional blade technology is present in all these sites). Interestingly, EPPNB Helwan points in the south are sometimes shaped on obsidian, clearly a material of northern origin (fig. 3). In the north, conversely, the use of elongated blades is common place, and the points are often long and slender (often dubbed Aswad point; Tsuneki et al. 2006; Edwards 2016).30

Fig. 3 – An obsidian Helwan point from Qumran Cave 24.

Fig. 3 – An obsidian Helwan point from Qumran Cave 24.

After Gopher et al. 2013: fig. 8c

  • 31 Tranchet axes are unknown in the north Levantine PPNA. On the other hand, the north Levantine PPNA (...)
  • 32 Tree felling would be a significant element in disturbing the pristine pre-agricultural environment (...)

34Turning to bifacial tools, in the southern Levant, the EPPNB marks the displacement of PPNA tranchet flint axes31 by flint axes, chisels, and (later) adzes. At first, these bifacials were rarely polished, a modification that became more common in the subsequent MPPNB. In the northern Levant, bifacials were made of various stone types, and polish was widespread throughout the PPNA and EPPNB. Given that polish has been shown to improve the efficiency of woodworking tools (Yerkes and Barkai 2013),32 its differential temporal and spatial distributions are likely to have been correlated to farming and the large-scale construction operations of the PPNB as a whole.

Ground stone tools

35The EPPNB as a whole (the Aswadian included) participated in a long-term transformation that gradually replaced pounding tools with grinding tools. This trend had begun in the PPNA and continued throughout the PPNB. A notable innovation of the EPPNB is the stepped quern, possibly better suited for processing large quantities of vegetal food (see Gopher 1999).

Economy

  • 33 Some argue for pre-domestication cultivation since the Natufian (Ibáñez et al. 2014b, 2016a) and ev (...)

36The southern Levant Aswadian maintained a hunting and gathering subsistence economy, and no discernable evidence of domestication was recorded in its archaeobotanical or faunal remains. Evidence of such developments does not occur before the MPPNB. Notwithstanding, the question of the faba beans found at Aḥihud (late Aswadian, ca. 10,200 cal. BP) is of note, especially following the statements made by the investigators vis-à-vis cultivation and domestication (Paz and Vardi 2014; Caracuta et al. 2015, 2017). Ultimately, arguments for the cultivation of wild plants in the southern Levant during the PPNA (Weiss et al. 2006; Fuller et al. 2011; Willcox 2012b; Riehl et al. 2013; Edwards 2016; Ibáñez et al. 2016a, 2018)33 and the EPPNB (for Jilat 7; Colledge 2001; Fuller et al. 2011a; see also Fujii this volume) are not well supported by the data (for a detailed discussion, see Gopher et al. 2021: chapter 2). I suspect that the arguments for pre-domestication cultivation in plant domestication research are a consequence of the prevailing tendency for coevolutionary, mutualistic models that speak for “fluid” protracted processes and unconscious domestication (automatic selection; Abbo and Gopher 2020; Gopher et al. 2021: chapter 2).

  • 34 This proposition is currently accepted by most of the archaeobotantical and archaeozoological resea (...)

37The north Levantine EPPNB, on the other hand, presents the earliest economy incorporating domesticated plants and animals (e.g., Gopher et al. 2017; Vigne et al. 2017).34 The incipience of farming definitely would have called for extensive communal reorganization in terms of annual scheduling, social order, and specialized activities.

Burial customs: the living and the dead

  • 35 Skull treatment is unknown in the northern Levant PPN, and the fact that it appears at Tell Aswad i (...)

38Throughout the Levant, the EPPNB shows changes in funerary practices marked by a growing number of collective burials in designated locations. In the northern Levant, this is best demonstrated by the “house of the dead” at Dja’de (Middle Euphrates) and the “skull building” at Çayönü (the Tigris region). In the southern Levant, Kfar HaḤoresh (phase IV) in the Lower Galilee is a striking example. It is interpreted as a designated funerary site consisting of burial structures with low stone walls and burials under lime-plaster surfaces (Goring-Morris 2000, 2005; Birkenfeld 2018). Designated burial areas and skull caching were also reported from Qarassa and Tell Aswad in the Damascus Basin and Kharaysin in northwestern Jordan. Common burials in Aswadian occupation sites such as Horvat Galil (Gopher 1997), Motza (Khalaily et al. 2007) or Tell Aswad (Stordeur et al. 2010) include intra- and extramural burials (primary or secondary, single or multiple), separating the skull is common, and association with plastered floors is common too. Notably, lime plaster was found in “common” burial pits at Aswadian Horvat Galil and Motza. Coupled with the shift to collective (group) burials in designated built spaces, especially the cached (skull) burials require special attention as they may have been harbingers of the later south Levantine PPNB practice of skull plastering and caching.35 A clear difference between north and south vis-à-vis skull removal is noted in the MPPNB and LPPNB (Bocquentin et al. 2016)—a rise in the south (associated with the appearance of skull treatment/plastering), and a decline in the north. Although the case for the EPPNB is not clear, the northern Levant shows “secondary collective handling including skull displacement […] already present in the EPPNB” (Boquentin et al. 2016: 40)

Imagery items, symbolic behavior36

  • 36 Imagery items (such as figurines) were vital and active participants in shaping Neolithic ideologie (...)

39In the southern Levant, the imagery of the EPPNB and PPNB more broadly demonstrates an increased emphasis on the human figure, usually manifested in stone or clay figurines (e.g., Khalaily et al. 2007), and, in one instance, on an engraved bone (e.g., Ibáñez et al. 2014a). However, this pattern was already apparent in the PPNA of the south, boasting more human than animal figures (in stone and clay, e.g., Hershman and Belfer-Cohen 2010) and indicating the Aswadian culture proceeded down a preexisting path.

  • 37 Human clay figurines were uncommon in the north Levantine PPNA.
  • 38 In the north, the shift of figurative emphasis to human form might have been because it was a prima (...)

40The same leaning towards anthropomorphic imagery is also observed in the northern Levant, including stone sculptures, clay figurines, and the generic human T-shaped pillars. However, unlike the southern Levant, here, the EPPNB marked a significant and clear shift. Northern PPNA imagery was dominated by wild animals, represented in various media and techniques,37 and, insofar as the human figure was portrayed, it was in generic (schematic) forms, like the T-shaped pillars at Göbekli Tepe. At the onset of the EPPNB, north Levantine imagery veered away from animals toward humans, supposedly manifesting a shift from hunter-gatherer to farmer symbolism (Hauptmann 2011: 106).38 Moreover, the T-shaped human figures continue to appear in the EPPNB at northern sites like Göbekli Tepe and Nevalı Çori, but they undergo a reduction in scale, lose their animal engravings, and often acquire human hands. The growing role of clay in the imagery assemblages (e.g., Nevalı Çori, see Morsch 2002) is also noteworthy, reflecting the gradually shifting balance between reductive and additive techniques, which reflects the changing relationship between people and the world they inhabit—a hallmark of the Neolithic world as a whole.

Defining and placing the Aswadian culture and subcultures

41Having reviewed the principal features of the Levantine EPPNB, we may now attempt a definition of the Aswadian culture of the southern Levant: It occupies a specifiable segment in time and space, inhabits the Mediterranean, Irano-Turanian, and some desert environments of the southern Levant, postdates the PPNA, predates the MPPNB, and ranges between ca. 10,500 cal. BP and 10,200/10,100 cal. BP.

  • 39 However, hunting and gathering continues throughout the PPN and into the PN.
  • 40 The southern and northern Levant embody different symbolic histories. Why has anthropomorphic image (...)

42Compared to the preceding PPNA, the most distinctive features of the Aswadian culture definitely place it within the broader framework of the Levantine EPPNB: the shifts in settlement patterns and distributions, the introduction of rectangular architecture, the increased use of lime plaster and pyro-technology more broadly, the establishment of formal locations of collective burials, and the promotion of significant lithic technological developments, most notably bidirectional blade technology. Within the EPPNB, the Aswadian culture is distinguished from its northern counterpart mainly regarding its economy and symbolism dynamics. Whereas the north Levantine EPPNB introduced domesticated plants and animals into its economy39 and underwent a significant symbolic change, the south Levantine Aswadian culture continued to maintain a hunter-gatherer economy and generally carried on with the already established PPNA symbolic regime.40 Thus, the Aswadian amounts to a distinct cultural phenomenon within the EPPNB koine that did not adopt the newly establishing economic order unfolding to its north, where the life of Neolithic communities was revolutionized. Notably, following Cauvin (2000, 2001; and see Abbo and Gopher 2020; Gopher 2020), the cultural shift in the PPNB of the north and the magnitude of all its innovations must have been preceded and accompanied by perceptual, ideological, and social change. These features took a different route in the southern Levant, probably accompanied by a different discourse and different choices.

  • 41 Interestingly, similar phenomena were argued for Europe, where some of the hunter-gatherers confron (...)

43One might wish to attribute the difference between the Aswadian and the northern EPPNB to the retardation effect (Gopher 1989a, 1989b, 1994) that presumes a two-to-three centuries delay in the diffusion of cultural innovations from north to south. However, while it might account for the late onset of the EPPNB in the south, it is insufficient to explain the lack of domesticates in the Aswadian. It is unlikely that the EPPNB interaction sphere of the Levant failed to transmit the information on the new economic practices southwards. Rather, it implies that while the Aswadians were happy to adopt technological innovations (e.g., bidirectional blade production), remodel their houses, and engage with specific ideological threads (e.g., funerary customs), they were reluctant to change their hunter-gatherer mode of existence for a domesticate-based economy. It seems the Aswadian culture is an embodiment of communities’ purposeful and knowledgeable decision-making to reject the new economic options and their far-reaching (social) effects, probably following negotiation (a struggle?) within Aswadian communities between conservatives and innovation supporters.41

The Badia culture challenge: Revisiting EPPNB chrono-stratigraphy and evolution

  • 42 In addition to Harrat al-Juhayra 202 and Wadi Mushash 163, Fujii (2022: fig. 1, this volume) includ (...)

44In an as-yet-unpublished paper on the PPNA-PPNB to the east of the Rift Valley (for the Tokyo Neo Lithics 9) and in his contribution to the present volume, Prof. S. Fujii “complicates” the relatively neat chrono-cultural scheme outlined above. Drawing on recent systematic excavations at the small sites of Harrat al-Juhayra 202 and Wadi Mushash 163 in Jordan, he underscores an apparent discrepancy. On the one hand, these sites’ material culture consists of round stone-built architecture, bidirectional blade technology, and Helwan points. However, on the other hand, their 14C dates are surprisingly early, spanning 11,000/10,900–10,600/500 cal. BP at Harrat al-Juhayra 202 and 10,800–10,500 cal. BP at Wadi Mushash 163 (see Rollefson 2019; Fujii et al. 2019; Fujii 2022, this volume). On these grounds, augmented by an argument on settlement patterns (site type, site location), Fujii (pers. comm. 2021, 2022, this volume) suggests assigning these and other related sites to “the Jordanian Badia EPPNB” (Edwards’s “East Jordanian EPPNB”),42 which I propose referring to as the Badia culture (see distribution in fig. 2).

  • 43 In their 2019 paper, Fujii et al. still maintained that these lithic elements are of northern origi (...)
  • 44 They claim an increasing focus on blade production and “some evidence for the development of bidire (...)

45It seems, therefore, that these Jordanian sites predated the south Levantine Aswadian but were contemporary with, and even somewhat earlier than, the north Levantine EPPNB. As such, they challenge the presumed northern origin of the Aswadian and the EPPNB as a whole. In this vein, Fujii (2022, this volume) proposed that the bidirectional “flat core” technology of Harrat al-Juhayra 202, Jebel Queisa 24, and other Badia sites be considered a precursor of (the later) bidirectional (naviform) blade technology (see below and footnote 27). Following a technological analysis, he shows that this mode of blade production sought to produce blanks for Helwan points. Later, Fujii (pers. comm. 2021, 2022, this volume) took a step further. Drawing on additional research of its lithic industries, he suggested that this very early Jordanian PPNB be considered a locally developed cultural entity.43 Likewise, and notwithstanding some misgivings about the radiocarbon plateau in the calibration curve, Rokitta-Krumnow (2019) also endorsed a model of local development of the south Levantine EPPNB. She did so following her excavations at Mushah 163 that produced evidence for bidirectional blade technology, arrowhead assemblages of El Khiam and Helwan points, and four dates “obtained from the on-floor deposits (i.e., the lowermost 5 cm of fills) within the structures” that suggest a “Late PPNA–Early PPNB occupation” (Rokitta-Krumnow 2019: 175). Smith et al. (2019) made a similar claim for the late PPNA WF16.44

  • 45 To illustrate this point, they use the different arrowhead typologies—the Aswad point in the north (...)

46The debate over the origins of the southern EPPNB is not new and arguments claiming (independent) autonomous (local) developments of the EPPNB are by no means new either, nor have they depended on the Badia culture for support. Thus, while drawing on their work at Tell ‘Ain el-Kerkh, Tsuneki et al. (2006) supported an autonomous (non-centered) model of EPPNB emergence although they made a case for a general, intercommunicating EPPNB koine.45 For the south Levantine EPPNB, they claimed that it has emerged rapidly via diffusion from a northern center, possibly mitigated by migration (for support they quote [Tsuneki et al. 2006: footnote 120] Edwards et al. [2004] that talk about a rapid cultural change using insights from modern immigration and the creation of a “diaspora” sense of identity for the newcomers). Simmons (2007: 124–126) proposed (if even implicitly) a non-centered, local development for the PPNB in the south, and so did the excavators of Motza (Khalaily et al. 2007). Notably, while they acknowledged the northern derivation of some of the EPPNB traits, they asserted a local line of development for others. This is also the case with Edwards (2016, pers. comm. 2021), who is generally a supporter of northern origin for the PPNB of the south. However, he suggests that the Levantine PPNB cultural complex as a whole (the EPPNB included) “should best be considered as a polythetic cluster of material culture traits and behavioural practices, some of which are autochthonous to the various regions north and south, and some of which are ultimately derived from north Syria [the middle Euphrates, my addition]” (Edwards 2016: 54) in “a series of pulses”. Gebel (2004), Ibáñez et al. (2018), and Goring-Morris and Belfer-Cohen (2016, 2020) may also be included in the list of scholars supporting hypotheses of autonomous developments, including the independent emergence of the south Levantine PPNB. This does not mean, however, that they completely reject the possibility of diffusion of cultural elements from the north to the south. Nevertheless, let us recall that there is a substantial number of scholars that support a northern origin for the southern EPPNB and, therefore, implicitly accept a centered (core-area) model. Notable among them are J. Cauvin (1979, 1989, 1990, 2000: 81), M.-C. Cauvin (1974, 1995), Evin and Stordeur (2008), Borrell (2017), Borrell and Khalaily (2016), Abbès (1994), Stordeur and Abbès (2002), Kozlowski and Aurenche (2005), and see also Vigne et al. (2017, 2019). I, too, support a northern origin for bidirectional technology and Helwan points, as I do for domesticated plants and animals (Gopher 1985, 1989a, 1989b, 1994, 2020 and references therein).

47How do we fit the Badia culture into the chrono-cultural sequence of the southern Levant, and how does it affect our understanding of the origins of the southern EPPNB more broadly?

  • 46 Although desert sites are usually irrelevant for statements on bifacial tools and sickle blades, it (...)

48One possibility is to consider the Badia culture an innovative late PPNA with bidirectional technology, Helwan points, and a declining presence of El Khiam points—a local (desert) development of the PPNA Sultanian. According to this proposition, it coexisted with the comparatively conservative Sultanian PPNA that persisted on both sides of the Rift Valley and retained established features: unidirectional blade production, bladelet production, El Khiam points, tranchet axes, Hagdud truncations, Beit Ta’amir knives, and more (see Fujii 2022: table 1).46 Although not inevitable, this line of reasoning tends to support theories of local development for the Badia culture and the south Levantine EPPNB.

  • 47 Chronologically, this is possible since bidirectional blade technology and Helwan points are known (...)

49Another response is to assign the Jordanian Badia culture sites to the EPPNB by virtue of their innovative blade production and arrowhead types. This view fits better with arguments for a northern origin of these innovations and the southern EPPNB in general,47 but it also has the peculiar consequence of conjuring a northern early EPPNB enclave (Edwards pers. comm.) in an otherwise PPNA-dominated south. By this token, the Jordanian Badia culture sites manifest a wave of innovation that passed through the eastern flanks of the southern Levant but did not affect the contemporary PPNA communities to the west. Edwards (pers. comm.) believes that this peculiarity can be partially explained by the greater mobility of desert communities, a feature that renders them more adaptive and responsive than the settled (conservative?) communities to the west, which would accord with Fujii et al. 2019, but not with Fujii’s more recent arguments and conclusions (this volume).

  • 48 Maybe as a result of incidental meeting (see footnote 43) or maybe as part of exchange network (of (...)
  • 49 The flat core bidirectional blade technology as seen in the Badia culture assemblages differs from (...)
  • 50 The southern, mostly squat types are made on short (unipolar) blades and sometimes even on a flake (...)

50As for myself, I endorse Fujii’s view that the Badia culture was an EPPNB entity of the marginal and desert zones east of the Rift Valley by virtue of its lithics. However, I am doubtful about the claims for its local (PPNA) origin and am much more inclined to consider it to be of northern derivation despite the uncertainty about the mechanisms at play.48 Chronologically, this fits well with bidirectional technology’s and Helwan points’ earlier appearance in the north (ca. 11,000 cal. BP) and their absence from the south any time earlier than that. On these grounds, both elements can be viewed as southern variants of northern techno-typological innovations. Thus, the Badia flat-core, bidirectional blade technology may be considered a southern adaptation of bidirectional blade production to local (desert) interests, needs, and traditions (e.g., being geared toward arrowhead production).49 A similar claim can be made for the Helwan point as well. It, too, may have been a shorter, wider local variation of an arrowhead that emerged further to the north.50

  • 51 Badia sites listed by Fujii (this volume) go further, to the south and southeast, deeper into the d (...)

51Notwithstanding the Badia culture’s assignment to the EPPNB, I see no simple explanation for the fact that the Badia culture adopted northern lithic innovations (sometime after 11,000 cal. BP) while its late PPNA Sultanian neighbors (kin?) continued unaffected for nearly half a millennium. The Sultanian was a well-established PPNA culture (mostly unknown in the desert). Perhaps the Badia culture’s occupation of arid, marginal areas (rendering it a somewhat isolated entity (Sultanian subculture?) may provide a partial explanation.51 Either way, the relatively late appearance of the Aswadian (ca. 10,500 cal. BP), embodying a more comprehensive northern input (e.g., the classical and full-fledged naviform blade production package as well as rectangular architecture, with intensive use of lime plastered floors), is best explained as a second “wave” of northern innovations (see Edwards 2016).

  • 52 Note the site of Kharaysin with an EPPNB layer dated to the second half of the 11th millennium cal. (...)

52Before bringing this section to a close, I find it necessary to note that there is a “void” east of the Rift in the second half of the 11th millennium cal. BP (i.e., post-Badia and contemporary with the Aswadian culture), and it is not clear what happened there.52 Was this region occupied by a late Badia subculture, for which we have no evidence? Was it an Aswadian subculture that occupied marginal zones and deserts? Notably, we have little information about the late PPNA (pre-Aswadian) first half of the 11th millennium cal. BP (especially its later centuries) west of the Rift too.

Aswadian subcultures

53Above, we observed that the Aswadian culture covers an extensive area of 40,000–50,000 km2; we also noted that a distinction between the sites of the Mediterranean zone and those of the Irano-Turanian and desert zones follow neatly from the data. I want to suggest that these differences are sufficient to warrant the differentiation of two Aswadian subcultures in the southern Levant (see fig. 1, table 1).

54The features that constitute the Aswadian of the Mediterranean zone include sites 0.10–3/5 ha in size and deposits up to 2 m deep (Motza, Horvat Galil, Tell Aswad, Mujahiya [see footnote 20], Kharaysin), rectangular free-standing buildings with stone foundations (Qarassa, Horvat Galil, Kfar HaḤoresh, Motza, Kharaysin, and possibly Aḥihud, too), intensive use of lime plaster (for floors, and burials), bidirectional (naviform) blade production on selected high-quality flint, blade caching, finely denticulated reaping knives or sickle blades on bidirectional blades, a substantial component of Helwan points, diminishing frequencies of El Khiam points, the emergence and rise of Jericho and Byblos points, flaked flint axes and chisels, decreasing frequencies of tranchet axes, obsidian (imported from the north), elaborate intramural burials under lime plaster floors (they may be primary or secondary, single or multiple, sometimes staged, with or without grave goods or animal bones), skull caching (Qarassa, Kharaysin), and anthropomorphic-leaning imagery items made of stone and clay. All of these culturally significant features occur within the framework of a hunting and gathering economy.

  • 53 This kind of architecture persists in the desert areas throughout the PPNB.
  • 54 NL 109 has bifacial tools but it is a workshop site, from which bifacials were exported to the Medi (...)

55The features of the Aswadian of the marginal and desert zones include small sites 0.01–0.10 ha in size, rounded and oval, stone-built, free-standing buildings,53 no use of lime plaster, bidirectional blade production (techno-stylistically different from the Mediterranean zone Aswadian [and from the northern EPPNB]), no reaping knives or sickle blades, a substantial component of Helwan points, very small numbers of El Khiam points if at all, emergence and rise of Jericho and Byblos points, no bifacial tools,54 sometimes a considerable amount of obsidian (e.g., NL 109), no (known) burials, relatively scarce imagery (mostly anthropomorphic). Here too, the observed cultural features occur against the backdrop of a hunting and gathering economy.

  • 55 While some would consider Tell Aswad part of the north or the south (see footnote 14), Fujii (this (...)

56Thus, these two regional entities are sufficiently similar to belong to the same polythetic Aswadian cluster (of the EPPNB koine) and sufficiently different to justify their constitution as distinct subcultures. Pursuing this line of reasoning further, one may parcel out additional regional Aswadian subcultures. These may include the Damascus Basin and the Golan Heights (Tell Aswad, Qarassa north, Mujahiya),55 the Galilee (Kfar HaḤoresh, Horvat Galil, Aḥihud), the Carmel and northern coastal plain (Nahal Oren, Sefunim, Michrmoret 26, 26a), the Judean Hills (Motza), and the northern Negev and Negev Highlands (Abu Salem). Notably, regional cultures or subcultures can and have been suggested for the northern Levant EPPNB as well: the “Euphratian” or “Moyen-Euphrate” (Cauvin and Cauvin 1993; Kozłowski 1999; Kozłowski and Aurenche 2005: 75–76; Borrell and Molist 2014), the upper Tigris Basin (Kozlowski and Aurenche 2005: 75–76), and more.

57Significantly, however, subcultures need not only unfold along geographical lines. Specialized functions may also provide grounds for such distinctions. NL 109 is a case in point. It is located near the large flint outcrops of Har Keren (see Sharon and Goring-Morris 2004; Rosen and Goring-Morris 2018) and seems to have operated as a specialized workshop for the production and maintenance of bifacial tools and arrowheads (including items in various stages of production). Moreover, the numerous beads and the relatively large number of obsidian items suggest strong and far-reaching economic ties. As a workshop, it might have participated in a system of flint procurement (quarrying) and bifacials production and maintenance (Barkai 2005: 127). On these grounds, I cautiously suggest it be considered an example of an industrial or economic subculture that serves the needs of a comprehensive socio-economic system (culture) and is part of a Neolithic industrial complex (for additional Neolithic industrial complexes, see, for example, Gopher 1996; Quintero 1996; Barkai 2005; Finkel et al. 2017).

Discussion

58Having outlined the Aswadian culture of the southern Levant and positioned it in the broader context of the Levantine EPPNB, I want to use this opportunity to (1) defend the archaeological paradigm of culture history and offer a fine-grained, high-resolution treatment of the Neolithic Levant, (2) review the debate over centered and non-centered models of Levantine Neolithic cultural innovation and spread, and (3) reconsider the socio-economic and cultural history of the Aswadian culture within the Levantine PPNB, especially in light of the economic revolution taking place in the northern Levant.

In support of culture history

  • 56 As a rule, these reconstructions are accompanied by comparative data (correlations, or “synchronism (...)
  • 57 Albeit with an obviously different perspective and attitude.

59The foregoing discussion of the Levantine EPPNB, in general, and the Aswadian culture, in particular, adheres to the premises of culture history. This paradigm maintains a normative view of culture, underscoring the transmission of behavioral norms from one generation to the next. As such, it is inclined to produce particularistic and local historical reconstructions,56 accounting for cultural change as a reaction to external developments (e.g., diffusion, migration). Archaeologically, the normative view of culture presupposes a correlation with its material manifestations. Following Childe,57 Clarke’s definition of archaeological cultures articulates this well: “Culture consists of a polythetic set of artefact types that consistently recurs in assemblages within a limited geographical zone” (Clarke 1978: 247, 298–299) and represents a shared information system (high information content) and a specific socio-cultural system.

  • 58 Notably, attempts to apply contextual archaeology to the Neolithic Levant were not always successfu (...)
  • 59 Childe’s (1929: pp. v–vi) definition of culture left place for “the folk” (“a people”)—the (ethnic) (...)

60This approach has been under heavy criticism since the 1960s, launched by “new,” “processual” archaeology. Drawing on neo-evolutionary theory, this school of archaeological thought maintains an ahistorical conceptualization of culture conceived as an extra somatic means of adaptation. In the 1980s, “post-processual” or “contextual archaeology” “revived” the historical element that was in so many ways characteristic of culture history.58 However, it did so while promoting a different view on human culture and agency. Rooted in postmodernism, it promoted a relativistic view, stressing the researcher’s biases and criticizing culture history on political grounds as laden with colonialist or Eurocentric leanings. Culture history was and is considered anachronistic in many circles (e.g., for Levantine Neolithic, see Kuijt 1996, 2000, 2003, 2017; Asouti 2006; Watkins 2013). Presently, the accepted approach tends to avoid the notion of culture altogether. Thus, Watkins (2013: 149) stated that culture-historical concepts and the concept of culture are “outdated and unhelpful”, and that they constitute “obstacles to the formation of a general understanding of the complex processes in which we are interested”. Instead, Watkins argues for “a simple, continuous chronological sequence whose blocks of time are numbered”, a periodization based on ordered ranges of calendrical years (i.e., Period 1, Period 2, etc.; see Aurenche et al. 1987). Significantly, however, this seemingly “neutral” technically numbered periodization holds, at least in my view, implicit meanings and promotes the production of certain types of historical accounts: namely, long-term, evolutionary, continuous processes (or spectra of situations) that depreciate human agency and distinction.59

  • 60 Consider the following quote, for instance: “A bottom-up social network-based mode of investigating (...)

61Moreover, the dismissal of culture history as formulated by G. Childe and the analytical hierarchy of archaeological entities and cultures articulated by D. Clarke (and their use of cultural terms for describing active groups of living people) in favor of a technical, numbered sequence of entities has led scholars to speak of communities and social networks at various scales instead. However, the mobilization of these concepts ultimately comes remarkably close to the rebuked notion of culture.60 Indeed, Childe explicitly referred to these scales of social operations, and so did Clarke, viewing cultures as entities “of high sociocultural information content”. Therefore, Watkins’s (2013) appeal to differential scales of social networking appears to evoke features similar to those he dismisses for culture history. Indeed, culture history accounts for much of this networking through normative cultural mechanisms and engages networks of larger scales via correlations (or “synchronisms”), albeit with different motivations.

  • 61 Culture history “assumes the existence of specific social groupings, each sharing a common past and (...)

62On these grounds, I see no compelling reason to avoid cultural designations. On the contrary, past groups deserve to be distinguished and named by virtue of their substance and historical uniqueness. Designating a past culture “Natufian” or “Aswadian” and its people “Natufians” or “Aswadians” allows for a degree of familiarity, much like when speaking of “Italians,” “Germans,” or “Swedish.” On the other hand, labelling them “people (or communities) of period 1 (or 2)” cultivates detachment and maintains a distance between them and ourselves, here and now. Concerning the Neolithic, this boils down to whether we believe best scholarly conduct calls for divorcing it from ourselves, often at the cost of estrangement, or for attaining the most profound understanding possible, perhaps at the risk of historical bias. I lean towards the latter;61 I suspect that preference for a detached approach is driven by political correctness, which is probably Neolithically incorrect (see Gopher 2020: 55–56). Archaeologically, this is best applied in a splitter’s spirit, proceeding in a manner that strives to produce the most detailed regional mosaic possible that can then be used for cultural analysis and interpretation. Those who want to macro-generalize can then lump these entities in any way they find suitable without giving up the splitting beforehand. The inclination, in some quarters of PPN research, to merge the PPNA and the EPPNB periods (e.g., Stordeur and Willcox 2009; Stordeur 2010; Willcox and Stordeur 2012; Asouti and Fuller 2013) illustrates the problems with the lumping approach. Indeed, the differences between the two periods, which together span almost one and a half millennia, and the distinctiveness of the EPPNB are acknowledged even by the lumpers themselves. It seems that the lumping analytical procedure risks sacrificing glaring cultural distinctions and introducing historical biases in order to capture convenient narratives of cultural fluidity and continuity. Conversely, analytical procedures that strive toward higher resolution and careful differentiation across periods, cultures, and subcultures are much better equipped to facilitate a precise and nuanced account and understanding of past societies and developments (for a more detailed discussion see Gopher 2020).

63In summary, criticizing culture history for its content as a school of thought is unjustified if it is not practiced in its appropriate and full scope. Such criticism reflects a problem of performance rather than one of the approach. Ultimately, culture history provides sophisticated and detailed depictions of human societies. Moreover, there is no need to apologize for its “diffusionist” view. We have plenty of examples to demonstrate that diffusion was a real and effective cultural mechanism that works at various levels (global, continental, regional, and local). The case of Cyprus is an excellent example for the Levant).

Centers, non-centers, and “waves” of diffusion in the Levantine Neolithic

64Polycentric accounts that envision Levantine Neolithization as a motley scene of numerous autonomous (i.e., culturally independent) sequences have gained considerable traction in recent years, pertaining, among other things, to the region’s spatiotemporal cultural mosaic (Gebel 2004), to plant domestication (e.g., Willcox 2005; Fuller et al. 2011a, 2011b; cf. Abbo et al. 2010 for a different view) and to animal domestication (Conolly et al. 2011). This development is closely associated with the above-mentioned preference for reconstructing fluid processes and conceiving situations and circumstances as spectra, depicting them in continuous terms (see footnote 21 for mobility patterns and sedentism). Efforts in this vein that seek to produce accounts of multiple, simultaneously unfolding, autonomous (independently occurring) developments inevitably generate convoluted and tangled accounts. An “everything (happened) everywhere” (Borrell pers. comm.) approach unwittingly promotes ambiguity; it blurs the picture and wastes archaeologists’ good work, mainly the high chrono-spatial resolution they produced over the years.

  • 62 There are no claims for any cultural contacts between the Levant and Mesoamerica or Amazonia, or fo (...)

65Moreover, it is difficult to reconcile such polycentric accounts with the closely interconnected nature of the Levantine Neolithic koine, in which people, ideas, and substances constantly circulated. Indeed, non-centered models of cultural innovation and spread have recently been challenged by ancient DNA research that lent considerable support to diffusion- and migration-based models of cultural evolution. Consequently, the mechanism of diffusion that has been reproached as an old-fashioned and myopic explanatory device has been made legitimate once more. Concerning the Agricultural Revolution or, more specifically, plant and animal domestication, this invites a favorable reconsideration of a centered, core-area model (Gopher et al. 2021: chapters 4–5). So, while the existence of several culturally independent centers of domestication seems highly probable on a global scale (i.e., a case of convergent evolution),62 this is much less likely on smaller scales. At a narrower regional scope, a scenario of a centered, core-area domestication followed by spatial expansion—a “ripples-wave of advance pattern” (Abbo et al. 2006)—accords best (see also Abbo and Gopher 2017: fig. 1; Gopher et al. 2021: 82, fig. 3.1). This observation is convincingly reinforced by the demonstrated spread of Levantine domesticates throughout the Levant, across to Cyprus, the Balkans, and into Europe, on the one side (e.g., Olalde et al. 2019; Brace 2020), and to the Caucasus and farther east to the Indus Valley, on the other.

  • 63 In this case, Fujii’s early claim (Fujii et al. 2019) for a possible incidental/occasional technolo (...)
  • 64 Lime plaster has a long history in the southern Levant, and this intensification may have been a lo (...)
  • 65 Notably, the bidirectional blade technology of the Aswadian is very similar to the northern blade t (...)

66The Levantine EPPNB suggests diffusion from north to south that proceeded element by element. Indeed, the south Levantine sequence outlined above suggests at least three “waves”, progressively implicating more profound and more fundamental social-behavioral structures, presenting increasingly onerous challenges to the preexisting cultural order. Thus, the first “wave” entailed a techno-typological lithic change, embodied by the Jordanian Badia culture’s adoption of bidirectional blade technology63 and the Helwan point sometime after 11,000 cal. BP. The second “wave” occurred ca. 10,500 cal. BP and entailed a shift from round to rectangular architecture and an intensification of lime plaster use in both domestic and funerary contexts.64 Whereas innovations in the lithic industry are likely to have affected flint craftsmanship and attendant economic activities (e.g., reaping and archery), the second wave amounted to the reorganization of social space, affecting all aspects of daily communal practice and ongoing socialization processes.65 The third “wave” took place immediately after the Aswadian, at the onset of the MPPNB. This wave carried the agricultural package of domesticates that revolutionized the subsistence economy and called for a wholesale ideological, behavioral, and organizational rearrangement; indeed, the very place of these people in the world had to be redefined.

67Edwards (2016, pers. comm. 2021) also promotes a similar account of waves of diffusion. Unfortunately, we are still unable to confidently indicate the mechanisms at work. One possibility pertains to the management and distribution of contacts across the Levantine PPNB koine, affecting the circulation of knowledge and materials. Another possible mechanism pertains to the occasional small-scale movements or migrations within the Levant. Concomitantly, the element-by-element diffusion of the Neolithic package and particularly the fact that farming (i.e., domesticated plants and animals) was the last component to percolate southwards (postdating lithic technology and architecture), suggests a hefty resistance by the south Levantine cultures, probably maintained by a binding attachment to the hunter-gatherer way of life and ethos.

The Aswadian culture within the Levantine PPNB context

68As noted, when it comes to appreciating the motley cultural makeup of the Levantine PPNB (the Aswadian of the south and the EPPNB of the northern Levant included), our knowledge is lacking. Whereas the preceding PPNA has the Khiamian, the Sultanian, the Mureybetian, and the Nemrikian, each representing people of a particular region and covering a range of a few hundred years, nothing nearly as detailed or substantial exists for the PPNB. Working to compensate for this inadequacy, I defined above a south Levantine EPPNB culture—the Aswadian culture—a host of (still tentative) regional subcultures and adopted the Badia culture defined by Fujii. Now, I will revisit these cultural entities to determine how they fit in the comprehensive Levantine cultural system by providing a hierarchical model of these archaeological units. Drawing on Clarke (1978), I propose considering the northern and southern Levant “cultural groups”, the Badia and the Aswadian entities “cultures”, and their smaller elements “subcultures” (as suggested above for the Aswadian). The most comprehensive entity in Clarke’s hierarchy of cultural organization is the “technocomplex,” which I suggest is applicable to the Levantine PPN as a whole, while the Levantine EPPNB is probably best considered a “cultural complex”. Clarke does not use this last term, but I am putting it forward here as a designation of an intermediary position between the “cultural group” and the “technocomplex.”

69Notably, the higher an entity’s position in the systematic hierarchy, the more polythetic it becomes—the broader its scope and the greater its tolerance of internal variability and difference. Put a little differently, the degree of similarity across the elements constituting a cultural entity decreases as the entity’s scale increases. For this reason, the techno-­typological lithic features of the Badia culture are sufficient to justify its attribution to the high-tier EPPNB cultural complex. Conversely, an entity’s assignment to the lower-tier Aswadian culture calls for it to share with other entities not only the same techno-typological lithic features but also specifiable architectural features, a large-scale pyro-technological industry, and an increasingly anthropocentric symbolic world. Moreover, there seems to be an order to the type of traits at work at each level. Thus, at the broad scale of the highly polythetic cultural complex, technological features may be sufficient. However, at the finer scale of the cultural group, contextual considerations are also needed, and, when engaging cultures, exacting attention to conceptual and ideological affinities must also come into the mix.

Table 1 – Select traits of EPPNB cultural entities in the Levant.

Table 1 – Select traits of EPPNB cultural entities in the Levant.
  • 66 Fujii’s “southern Levant corridor EPPNB” and Edwards’ “Levantine corridor EPPNB”

70Pulling together the observations made on the EPPNB throughout the paper, table 1 compares the three principal cultural entities discussed: the north Levantine EPPNB, the Aswadian culture of the southern Levant, mostly west of the Rift Valley66 and the Badia culture of the southern Levant, east of the Rift Valley. It portrays the polythetic EPPNB cluster, constituted by a range of innovative elements in the north, a large selection of them in the Aswadian, and only a few, mainly lithic traits, in the Badia culture. At the same time, it demonstrates that the main difference between north and south pertained to their economy. While the northern EPPNB (at least post 10,500 cal. BP) maintains domesticates, the two southern EPPNB cultural entities subsisted on hunting and gathering alone.

Conclusion

71To conclude, we may now state that the EPPNB cultural complex constitutes a large-scale Levantine koine, in which two cultural groups are readily discernible: northern and southern. Some subdivisions were proposed for the north by other scholars (e.g., “Moyen-Euphrate”). For the south, I proposed a distinction between east (marginal and desert zones) and west (mainly Mediterranean zone) and between an early Badia culture and a later Aswadian culture. While the delineation of both the Badia and Aswadian cultures is firm, appealing to aspects of site nature, architecture, lithic techno-typology, and economy, their definition is far from complete. Indeed, large swathes of the EPPNB remain uncharted, and the proposed definition of the Aswadian culture is just one step towards a detailed historical and cultural reconstruction of the Neolithic Levant.

  • 67 While the MPPNB of the southern Mediterranean zones adopts farming of domesticates, the marginal an (...)

72Presently, our chrono-stratigraphic understanding of the EPPNB in the south can be summarized as follows. The Badia culture of the first half of the 11th millennium cal. BP occupied the Jordanian desert areas east of the Rift Valley and existed alongside the late PPNA (Sultanian) that persisted both west and east of the valley. Whether the Badia culture ought to be considered EPPNB by virtue of its bidirectional blade production and Helwan points or a late PPNA (Sultanian subculture?) is, for the time being, an open question, although I prefer the former. In the second half of the 11th millennium cal. BP, the Aswadian culture replaced the late PPNA and possibly the Badia culture too, carrying new features of northern origin. It was in this vein of high-resolution, detailed cultural accounts that I suggested splitting the Aswadian culture into subcultures. Such splitting may unfold along various lines: geographical, occupational (e.g., the workshop of NL 109), “ethnic” (e.g., kinship-based units or migrant “others” and natives), social, economic,67 and so forth. Applying such detailed articulation of intra-cultural variability to our case is expected to set the ground for a comprehensive understanding of the Aswadian’s socio-cultural makeup.

73A careful analysis of cultural composition is also valuable for tracing and debating processes of cultural evolution and change. Thus, the distinction between EPPNB culture groups allows us to trace how domesticates (plants and animals) and a whole series of other innovations emerged in the north and spread south over several centuries, tracing the Neolithic wave of advance across the Levant and generating, in the process, a multitude of local developments. At a finer scale, differentiating EPPNB Levantine cultures underscored that the domesticate-based economy was the last northern feature to be adopted in the south, suggesting a considerable degree of conservatism. The Aswadian culture (people) seems to have refused domesticates and the farming way of life, probably due to the scope and depth of its structural implications. Indeed, it was only later (ca. 10,000 cal. BP), from the MPPNB onwards, that the established farming economies can be seen in the southern Levant (e.g., ‘Ain Ghazal, Yiftahel). Another example of the benefits of cultural differentiation pertains to potentially incongruous trajectories of neighboring cultures. Thus, substantiating the Badia culture of the first half of the 11th millennium cal. BP, Fujii (this volume) argues for a locally evolved EPPNB facies that existed alongside the late PPNA Sultanian culture (see also Finlayson et al. 2014; Smith et al. 2019; but see Kuijt 2001). On the other hand, my understanding of the later Aswadian culture strongly suggests it did not evolve out of the preceding Badia culture or the PPNA Sultanian but crystallized through mechanisms of diffusion, originating in the north. It, therefore, seems to me that while the EPPNB in its (early) Badia manifestation developed into a recognizable southern Levant entity that emerged due to a combination of sporadic contacts with the north and local adaptation mechanisms, the Aswadian culture demonstrates that the north later became a significant influence on the region. Whether or not these suggestions prove correct in the longer run, it ought to be clear how attention to cultural traits calls for nuanced and refined accounts of cultural change.

Take-home message

  1. There is an EPPNB cultural group in the southern Levant, and it is comprised of at least two major cultures: the Badian and the Aswadian (with subcultures). This distinction offers a higher resolution cultural scheme for the region. As for the north, where the most important developments in human socio-cultural and economic history have taken place, high-resolution cultural and subcultural differentiation are needed too (Borrell and Molist 2014 is a good example).
  2. Culture history provides opportunities and a suitable route to produce sophisticated and detailed accounts of distinct (specific), defined and named past active (decision-­making) human societies (communities) and their dynamic histories. Given recent demonstrations that diffusion operates at various levels (global, continental, regional and local), there is no reason to reject its “diffusionist” leaning. While reconstructing demic diffusion and identifying immigrant populations in the Levant is in its infancy, it would not be too bold to assume that the encounter of immigrants and local populations would generate intensive sociocultural discourse. At the same time, technical, seemingly neutral terminology and a preference for reconstructing fluid spectra of situations tend to distance themselves from human agency and distinctiveness. Such attitudes towards past people seem to promote progressive scenarios and play in favor of coevolutionary, unconscious/unintentional reconstructions as in the case of plant domestication (e.g., the protracted-­autonomous model). This may also be an actual result of promoting the use of Niche Construction Theory (Zeder 2017 and references therein; see Abbo and Gopher 2020 for a detailed discussion; or gene-culture coevolution [e.g., Watkins 2020]) with their inherent dimension of cost-benefit, fitness considerations.
  3. While knowledge and ideas, as well as materials, diffuse quite rapidly within the Levantine Neolithic Koine, the adoption of innovation in the “receiving” areas depends on the nature of the diffused elements, the infrastructure of the receiving population, and on local sociocultural and political discourse within and between communities. A change in subsistence economy is a transformation of paramount significance, affecting all realms of life, a deep structural change, and a new perceptual landscape.
  4. High-resolution spatial and chronological analysis of well-defined cultural entities is indispensable for an insightful understanding of prehistoric people and societies in their historical context. The Neolithic Levant and Neolithization as a whole can be described as a dynamic sheaf of socio-cultural and economic processes, each progressing at its own pace, and high analytical resolution is necessary to account for this complex array of transforming elements.
  5. The available evidence from the Neolithic Levant does not support polycentric accounts of socio-cultural and economic developments. The Levant possesses a good and well-dated record, showing that many Neolithic innovative elements originated in the north. Most notably, these included bidirectional blade production and tool types made on these blades, rectangular architecture, and, above all, a food-producing economy based on domesticated plants and animals (in the EPPNB). In other words, the Levant’s archaeological record supports a centered, core-area model, and it is possible to trace the (wave of) advance from the center of the northern Levant. It is, however, crucial to differentiate between genuine invention (zero to one) of any kind (techno-typological, economic, or other) and its occurrence beyond its place of origin. Local adaptations are expected, and high analytical resolution is needed to verify whether they are independent innovations or local adaptations of imported elements.
  6. How we view the Neolithic “them” and to what degree we see ourselves as different is reflected, even if indirectly, in the names we give these past groups, manifesting our perceptions of them. As for the Levantine Neolithic, in an almost embarrassing way, it may be important to note that domesticates established by the people of the EPPNB Levant constitute staple foods to this day, both vegetal (cereals and legumes) and meat (sheep, goat, cattle, and pig). Including in our arithmetics the primary Chinese (rice and soybean) and Mesoamerican (maize and beans) centers of domestication, it is evident that these domesticates are responsible for most of the food we consume regularly. Therefore, some modesty towards the EPPNB and the people who made all this happen is in order.
  7. The (E)PPNB Levant was a center of domestication that incubated the modern human condition. Understanding the process and the human forces behind this momentous transformation is likely to have a significant contribution and provide sociocultural insights to our here and now as well as economic potential (e.g., cultivar and/or breed development, see Abbo and Gopher 2020 and references therein).
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Notes

1 I find it useful for clarifying the views presented in this paper, injecting them with historical depth. I am, thus, in full agreement with Goring-Morris and Belfer-Cohen’s (2019: 430) claiming that “the history of research does matter” and their lamentation of “a regrettable tendency for a ‘flat earth’ approach, whereby there is little or no time-depth to research.”

2 Until this time, the sites and assemblages I familiarized with in the field, through a Neolithic project led by Prof. Ofer Bar-Yosef in southern Sinai, were all of the Middle and Late PPNB and yielded no Helwan points.

3 I also used the term “Aswadian” for the EPPNB site of Mujahiya (Gopher 1990). Interestingly, and worthy of mentioning, the term Aswadian culture was adopted and used by Kozlowski for the EPPNB since the late 1990s (Kozlowski 1999; Kozlowski and Aurenche 2005).

4 Relevant sites and excavations, in some of which I was personally involved, include Mujahiya and Horvat Galil in northern Israel (Hershkovitz and Gopher 1988; Gopher 1990, 1997), NL 109 (Burian et al. 1976, 1999; Burian and Friedmann 1988, 1989), Abu Salem (Gopher and Goring-Morris 1998) in the south, and the two coastal plain sites Michmoret 26 and 26a (Burian and Friedman 1965; Gopher 1994).

5 In 2021, I had listened to two lectures on Kharaysin by J. J. Ibáñez, who provided updates on the site, including the 2021 field season.

6 Kuijt (2017) rejects the notion of a distinct EPPNB in the south and instead speaks of a combined E/MPPNB unit (see also Kuijt 2001). Otherwise, he casts serious doubts on the very existence of the EPPNB as a “cultural-historical phase” (Kuijt 2017: 551).

7 The authors of this paper present a late, local (south Jordanian) PPNA that incorporates lithic technological developments in blade production. What they call “full naviform” technology has not, in their view, appeared in the south before the MPPNB (the EPPNB skipped). On the other hand, they do not argue for the local development of the EPPNB, and, near the end of their paper, they mention possible interactions with incoming EPPNB communities.

8 These features are bound with coevolutionary models and attitudes, presuming the Neolithic agent was unconscious and lacked intentionality.

9 Notably, cultural names for the PPNB were suggested in early Neolithic research, but these were premature and not based on sound datasets. Thus, what has come to be known as PPNB can, in retrospect, be recognized in what D. Buzy (1928) called “The Tahunian” or “the Tahunian Culture.” Buzy refrained from designating it Neolithic because it lacked features he thought (based on his European education) were necessary, e.g., polished stone tools and “advanced” leaf-shaped arrowheads. He, therefore, assigned the Tahunian culture a “Proto Neolithic” status, placing it at the very end of the Mesolithic period. At about the same time, and coming from a similar tradition, D. Garrod did not hesitate to define the Natufian culture in full accordance with culture history logic. That being the case, why did Kenyon, who was educated in the school of culture history, choose definitions along periodic lines? Maybe it was just a matter of catchy terminology.

10 Stratigraphy and typology of material culture elements are the two major protagonists in this play and whenever they are incompatible (or “clash”), whether due to complex site formation and/or post-depositional processes or due to low resolution and poor archaeological practice, confusion and disagreement ensue, raising issues like those discussed in this paper on the EPPNB.

11 These elements encompass typologically defined (entities) morphological types, assemblages of a specific class (e.g., lithics, pottery), or more intricate categories of cultural patterning (e.g., architectural design; burial customs).

12 The constitution and reliance on transitional periods, units, and cultures to explain cultural developments are, in my view, a Testimonium Paupertatis to archaeology and archaeologists, manifesting their difficulties to engage the complexities of past dynamics.

13 I base my discussion of the northern Levant on well-known EPPNB layers from sites such as Çayönü, Mureybet, Dja’de, Cafer Höyük, Nevalı Çori, Göbekli Tepe (II), ‘Ain el-Kerkh, and more.

14 While some attribute this area to the northern sphere of the Levant (see below and footnote 55), I consider the Damascus basin sites part of the south Levantine cultural sphere of the EPPNB. As discussed below, these sites emerged several centuries after the northern EPPNB and, thus, confirm the retardation effect typical of the region (see, Gopher 1989a, 1989b, 1994). Moreover, the material culture of Tell Aswad demonstrates strong affinities with the southern sphere, including the presence of Jericho points and flaked axes that are unknown in the north. In addition, the modeled skulls of the MPPNB Tell Aswad are clearly part of the south Levantine milieu, indicating that the cultural alignment persisted beyond the EPPNB. Notably, Fujii (this volume) separates this region and considers it an independent entity (my subculture), calling it the Damascus EPPNB.

15 As will be discussed below, Jordanian sites that Fujii assigns to the EPPNB Badia culture pre-date the Aswadian culture, and, presently, given that Fujii’s assignment is accepted, no Jordanian sites are known to date from the second half of the 11th millennium BP.

16 By all means, this is a large territory. For comparison, the Middle Euphrates EPPNB (looked at strictly) covers an area that is smaller than that covered by the Aswadian (ca. 30,000 km2). Notably, according to Clarke’s (1978) model, “cultures” cover spatial units of several thousand km2.

17 In Abu Salem, the Aswadian superimposed Harifian layers.

18 As I elaborate below, earlier 14C dates, produced for the sites of Harrat al-Juhayra 202 and Wadi Mushash 163 (and assigned to the EPPNB or the “PPNA/EPPNB transition”), are not part of the Aswadian culture.

19 The dates of Çayönü are difficult to interpret (see Erim-Özdoğan 2011; Haklay and Gopher 2019), and the case of Tell Abu Hureyra’s EPPNB is not clear either.

20 For Mujahiya, site size may reach 5 ha but it is estimated and not immediately evident from the small-scale excavation; for Kharaysin it is not yet clear what is the extent of the EPPNB within this very large (some 25 ha) Neolithic site.

21 The relationship between settlement and mobility patterns, on the one hand, and the emerging farming-based economy, on the other is relevant to the EPPNB of the north and the debate over sedentism and farming villages. It is widely accepted that mobility patterns (sedentism included) comprise a “fluid” and continuous phenomenon, implying that sedentism is but one of many options on the “mobility spectrum.” On these grounds, Asouti and Fuller (2013) argue that there is no basis to simplistically presume a correlation between sedentism and farming. While I am inclined to believe that the north Levantine EPPNB combined sedentism and farming, Barker follows Asouti and Fuller and imagines these sites as “important locales where (we assume) otherwise mobile forager-cultivators came together” (Barker 2013: 332, my emphasis). Indeed, looking closely at Asouti and Fuller’s “generalized model of the potential mobility patterns proposed for Early PPN cultivator-forager communities” (Asouti and Fuller 2013: table 5) reveals a very mobile image. It consists of individuals, households, or whole communities, wandering across the landscape throughout the PPNA and EPPNB (both in the northern and southern Levant), gathering and hunting. Every once in a while (or seasonally), these mobile individuals or groups visit otherwise unoccupied sites where they may tend cultivated plots of cereals and legumes [slowly and automatically (unconsciously) working their own way towards full domestication], meet social partners, eat (and partake of ceremonial feasts), talk (exchange information), bury their dead, and perhaps exchange young brides and bride-grooms—a romantic image (see comments in Abbo and Gopher 2020; Gopher et al. 2021: 133–134). Nevertheless, in the same paper, Asouti and Fuller (2013: 330–331) end up claiming a connection between sedentism and farming for the EPPNB: “The establishment during the second half of the ninth millennium [i.e., in the EPPNB, my addition] of sedentary communities at sites such as Çayönü, Nevalı Çori, and Jericho that probably formed regional nodes of ritual activity, including mortuary rites, likely acted as a catalyst for significant, albeit at present poorly documented, shifts in landscape perceptions [settlement patterns included, my addition]. Such changes were manifested, for example, in the appearance of the earliest known indicators of the domestication syndrome in cultivated plants on the Southwest Asian mainland” (see also Fuller et al. 2018).

22 Notwithstanding, the circular/amorphous (semi sunken) structures at Tell Aswad (Stordeur et al. 2010) and the unclear/amorphous stone-built free-standing structures of Mujahiya are noteworthy and need to be explained. I consider both sites as part of the Damascene subculture of the Aswadian (see below). Note that Qarassa North in the same region shows rectangular stone-built structures (Balbo et al. 2012).

23 During the PPNB, lime plaster was also used to produce mobile articles, including small vessels, imagery items, and plastered skulls.

24 As stated recently by Goring-Morris and Belfer-Cohen (2019: 429): “We follow the culture history paradigm in believing that techno-typological variability reflects actual knapping communities.”

25 “The knapping sequence was oriented to producing highly standardized large, generally robust, straight and naturally pointed central blades, alternately, from each of the striking platforms” (Borrell 2017). While the so-called “naviform” cores are often treated as synonymous with PPNB bidirectional blade technology, it is an oversimplification that underestimates the variability of this PPNB technology across space and time (e.g., Barzilai 2010; Borrell and Khalaily 2016).

26 . – It is interesting to observe that this technology embodies an attitude to lithic production that chooses to invest in early stages of the chaîne opératoirei.e., raw material acquisition (or treatment, or both) and meticulous core preparation—to facilitate serial removal of formal blanks (that require a minimum of subsequent shaping). The contrary technological attitude devotes less energy and attention to the production of blanks and instead invests more time and effort in the final shaping of the tool. Notably, both these approaches to lithic production were also recorded before the Neolithic period.

27 However, as I discuss below, the desert sites of Mushash 163 and Harrat al-Juhayra 202 raise the possibility of a pre-Aswadian EPPNB that bears a bidirectional blade technology (Fujii this volume and see below).

28 Both in the north and the south, these blades come onto the scene somewhat before the first clear evidence for farming domesticates.

29 Depending on how one reads the chronology of House 47 at Mureybet, for example (see Haklay and Gopher 2020: footnote 1).

30 Notably, the morpho-typology of the Helwan point has shown more variability in the northern Levant, generating new subtype definitions some viewed as independent types, for example, the Aswad point (Tsuneki et al. 2006 and references therein) or the Sheikh Hassan subtype (see Shirai 2002; Aurenche and Kozlowski 2011, and references therein). Aswad points (eventually) appear at Tell Aswad (Cauvin 1974, 1995) in the southern Levant, where they are made on quite long/slender blades (Cauvin 1974). The typology of the Helwan point calls for a meticulous morphological (and stylistic) analysis (tang, notches, shaping techniques) that may result in further distinctions.

31 Tranchet axes are unknown in the north Levantine PPNA. On the other hand, the north Levantine PPNA has the Mureybetian herminette, which is unknown in the south. Incidentally, the Mureybetian herminette is not a bifacial tool, although it is sometimes treated as one.

32 Tree felling would be a significant element in disturbing the pristine pre-agricultural environmental settings.

33 Some argue for pre-domestication cultivation since the Natufian (Ibáñez et al. 2014b, 2016a) and even earlier since 23 kyr at Ohalo II (Snir et al. 2015).

34 This proposition is currently accepted by most of the archaeobotantical and archaeozoological research communities (regardless of the domestication model one endorses). However, while this is not very clear for the vey beginning of the EPPNB, it is the case for most of the period.

35 Skull treatment is unknown in the northern Levant PPN, and the fact that it appears at Tell Aswad in the Damascus Basin supports the site’s attribution to the southern cultural sphere (see footnote 14).

36 Imagery items (such as figurines) were vital and active participants in shaping Neolithic ideologies and perceptions (Bailey 2005: 120), mainly due to their high communicative potential and operation as cultural and conceptual vehicles. The PPN Levant witnessed major changes in the relationships between people and the world (i.e., domesticating plants and animals), resource exploitation, and the appearance of an entirely new lifeway based on farming. Bailey’s (1996, 2005) statements were originally made in reference to the Neolithic Balkans and I have used them in the past [Gopher and Orrelle 1996, 1999; Gopher and Eyal 2012]).

37 Human clay figurines were uncommon in the north Levantine PPNA.

38 In the north, the shift of figurative emphasis to human form might have been because it was a primary plant (and animal) domestication center, while the southern Levant was not, leading it down a different path. Notably, the PPNA Sultanian of the southern Levant favored the human figure regardless of domestication, and this calls for further contemplation.

39 However, hunting and gathering continues throughout the PPN and into the PN.

40 The southern and northern Levant embody different symbolic histories. Why has anthropomorphic imagery taken over the scene of the south already in the PPNA and why have animal figures been so scarce remain open questions for now. To what degree does the fact that many of the animal depictions in the north appear on a platform that can, and is viewed as a human representation (T-shaped pillars) turn the balance?

41 Interestingly, similar phenomena were argued for Europe, where some of the hunter-gatherers confronted by a wave of immigrants bearing a new economy decided to stay out (e.g., Olalde et al. 2019), joining the new scene later.

42 In addition to Harrat al-Juhayra 202 and Wadi Mushash 163, Fujii (2022: fig. 1, this volume) includes in the Badia core region the sites of Wadi Jilat 7 and Jabal Ainab that produced bidirectional blade technology and Helwan points; in the Badia northern and southern peripheries, he includes the sites of Jebel Queisa 24 (layer C, that produced bidirectional blade technology too), Jabal Qattar 101, Masyoon, and Black Desert 2402 that are characterized by a predominance of Helwan points. I should note that not all these sites are equally reliable and while some are excavated and dated sites, others are excavated but not dated, and some are surface collections (for details, see Fujii this volume). I have excluded some of these sites from the Badia culture distribution map (fig. 2) and subdivided the southern parts of the Badia culture distribution by a dotted line (fig. 2).

43 In their 2019 paper, Fujii et al. still maintained that these lithic elements are of northern origin and estimated they were due to incidental northern contacts and influences.

44 They claim an increasing focus on blade production and “some evidence for the development of bidirectional knapping strategy” dated to 11,840-10,240 cal. BP (see Smith et al. 2019: 167, fig. 3f, notice scale).

45 To illustrate this point, they use the different arrowhead typologies—the Aswad point in the north and the Helwan point in the south. Although their wording implies that the Helwan point is of northern origin, they suggest it might have developed autonomously (i.e., contemporaneously) in the two parts of the Levant. I find it inconsistent with their depiction of an intercommunicated koine (interaction sphere).

46 Although desert sites are usually irrelevant for statements on bifacial tools and sickle blades, it is of note that Harrat el Juhayra 202 and Mushash 163 produced a single tranchet axe, each, and that a single sickle blade was found at Mushash 163.

47 Chronologically, this is possible since bidirectional blade technology and Helwan points are known in the northern Levant already in the late PPNA.

48 Maybe as a result of incidental meeting (see footnote 43) or maybe as part of exchange network (of materials, ideas) within desert nomadic hunters-gatherers following mechanisms like those attributed to obsidian trade (note Ortega et al.’s [2014, 2016] suggestion that these networks changed in the PPNB, and see Ibáñez et al. 2016b).

49 The flat core bidirectional blade technology as seen in the Badia culture assemblages differs from the classical naviform bidirectional production of the north and that of the Aswadian of the south. Beyond differences in size, raw material selection and the particular core preparation (Henry 1995: fig. 14.5), flat cores use the (flat) wide side of the cortical raw material block as the production surface and not the narrow side as is the case in many classical naviform cores (see relevant comments in Tsuneki et al. 2006). This may have affected the efficiency and predictability of blade producing (including pointed blades) and indicates that the blades had a different purpose than in the north. The fact that sickle blades are basically not present in the Badia desert sites may explain this choice. While the Badia flat core variant by all means follows the principals of bidirectional blade production (imported from the north) it is clearly modified to accord with local traditions and needs. Such production technology has no roots in the PPNA of the southern Levant (albeit statements such as by Smith et al. 2019 or Finlayson et al. 2014; see footnote 44).

50 The southern, mostly squat types are made on short (unipolar) blades and sometimes even on a flake while the longer (slender) types join in with the newly adoped blade production technology (see Fujii et al. 2019; Fujii this volume).

51 Badia sites listed by Fujii (this volume) go further, to the south and southeast, deeper into the desert.

52 Note the site of Kharaysin with an EPPNB layer dated to the second half of the 11th millennium cal. BP in the Mediterranean zone of northwestern Jordan, east of the Rift.

53 This kind of architecture persists in the desert areas throughout the PPNB.

54 NL 109 has bifacial tools but it is a workshop site, from which bifacials were exported to the Mediterranean zone. Desert sites generally boast no bifacial tools throughout the PPNB.

55 While some would consider Tell Aswad part of the north or the south (see footnote 14), Fujii (this volume) suggests it be considered a distinct EPPNB regional unit. I view the EPPNB of Tell Aswad as a subculture of the Aswadian albeit its peculiar round structures.

56 As a rule, these reconstructions are accompanied by comparative data (correlations, or “synchronisms”) of a larger regional and inter-regional scale, often reflecting, at least partly what is now called “networking.”

57 Albeit with an obviously different perspective and attitude.

58 Notably, attempts to apply contextual archaeology to the Neolithic Levant were not always successful. For example, Asouti and Fuller’s (2013; see comments by Matthews and Fazeli Nashli 2013) “contextual” approach to plant domestication ultimately amounted to a tacit culture historical narrative comprised of stratigraphic sequences and architectural typologies. Also, more recent studies of the Levantine Neolithic show rare attempts to argue in a “contextual” manner (especially concerning human agency) or pursue “contextual” lines of argumentation that would eventually produce historical accounts—i.e., regional culture histories—admittedly, still the inescapable beating heart of any archaeological reconstruction.

59 Childe’s (1929: pp. v–vi) definition of culture left place for “the folk” (“a people”)—the (ethnic) group, the community—and used material culture both as a means for reconstructing cultural sequences and as a means of understanding past peoples and their history and answering “How” and “Why” questions—thus, his Neolithic revoludion or the urban revolution.

60 Consider the following quote, for instance: “A bottom-up social network-based mode of investigating and discussing the different levels of sociocultural networking, in which people were engaged” (Watkins 2013). In my view, this is not very different from a socially-oriented form of culture history. After all, features like those mentioned have been integral to culture history from the very beginning, by virtue of its normative philosophy of culture. That is, it is based on socialization as the principal mechanism at work. Phrased differently, in Clarke’s words “A common cultural assemblage is thus the material manifestation of an area of maximized group intercommunication” (Clarke 1978: 270).

61 Culture history “assumes the existence of specific social groupings, each sharing a common past and kinship ties, differing in aspects of their material culture, with each adhering to their own traditions and styles…. Reflecting both temporal as well as spatial boundaries” (Goring-Morris and Belfer-Cohen 2019).

62 There are no claims for any cultural contacts between the Levant and Mesoamerica or Amazonia, or for that matter north China.

63 In this case, Fujii’s early claim (Fujii et al. 2019) for a possible incidental/occasional technological exchange with the north is easier to accept and would not be illogical for (mobile) flint knapping groups. Adopting the idea and making their own local variation/adaptation to this “imported” technology would be quite logical too and it will not be too difficult to note that the bidirectional flat cores of the Badia are not the classical ones as known in the north or in the Aswadian at sites like Tell Aswad, Motza or Horvat Galil that look like those in the north (see above). In addition, it is not too difficult to mistake a local development soon after adoption of an imported idea (knowledge) as an independent local invention especially in an atmosphere promoting polycentric (autonomous models); this has happened more than once concerning plant domestication for example.

64 Lime plaster has a long history in the southern Levant, and this intensification may have been a local trend.

65 Notably, the bidirectional blade technology of the Aswadian is very similar to the northern blade technology. However, the Badia blade technology is not (see footnote 49).

66 Fujii’s “southern Levant corridor EPPNB” and Edwards’ “Levantine corridor EPPNB”

67 While the MPPNB of the southern Mediterranean zones adopts farming of domesticates, the marginal and desert zones continue to maintain a hunting-gathering-based economy and only later adopt domesticated animals establishing herding economies in these regions.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 – A chrono-cultural scheme for the PPN Levant.
Crédits CAD I. Ben-Ezra
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/paleorient/docannexe/image/3712/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 91k
Titre Fig. 2 – The distribution of the Aswadian and the Badia cultures.
Légende Subcultures are tentatively suggested.
Crédits Map I. Ben-Ezra
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/paleorient/docannexe/image/3712/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 135k
Titre Fig. 3 – An obsidian Helwan point from Qumran Cave 24.
Crédits After Gopher et al. 2013: fig. 8c
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/paleorient/docannexe/image/3712/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 38k
Titre Table 1 – Select traits of EPPNB cultural entities in the Levant.
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/paleorient/docannexe/image/3712/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 690k
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Avi Gopher, « Time to Go Beyond Chrono-Stratigraphy: The (EPPNB) Aswadian Culture of the Southern Levant »Paléorient, 49-2 | -1, 165-194.

Référence électronique

Avi Gopher, « Time to Go Beyond Chrono-Stratigraphy: The (EPPNB) Aswadian Culture of the Southern Levant »Paléorient [En ligne], 49-2 | 2024, mis en ligne le 25 mars 2024, consulté le 26 mai 2024. URL : http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/paleorient/3712 ; DOI : https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/paleorient.3712

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Avi Gopher

Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv – Israel

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