The Yarmukian Culture in Israel

XI. Chronology

The chronological setting of the Yarmukian and a consideration of its relationship to Byblos and Jericho IX (Pottery Neolithic A) will be discussed here, as well as the avaliable radiocarbon dates.

1. Sha`ar Hagolan and Byblos

In Byblos there are three different Neolithic layers designated by the excavator: "neolithique ancien", "neolithique moyen" and "neolithique recent"(116). The excavations at Byblos were not performed stratigraphically, according to the common archaeological definition of the word. The settlement layers were artificially separated one from the other every 20 cm. The artifacts from the three layers are chronologically very mixed and it is most difficult to know which elements do indeed belong to each stage and which are intrusive. Various suggestions were raised during the years concerning the chronological relationship between the Neolithic of Byblos and the Yarmukian Culture:

1. The Yarmukian coincides with the "neolithique ancien" of Byblos(117).

2. The Yarmukian coincides with the "neolithique moyen" of Byblos(118).

3. It was suggested, without any argumentation, to seperate early Byblos into "neolithique ancien" and "neolithique ancien final", and the Yarmukian Culture was correlated only to the latter stage(119)

By clarifing the nature of the pottery assemblages in Munhata Layers 2b and 2a it became clear that the basic correlation between Byblos and the southern Levant is as follows: The "neolithique ancien" coincides with the Yarmukian Culture, and the "neolithique moyen" with the Wadi Rabah Culture(120). The similarities between "neolithique ancien" Byblos and the Yarmukian are apparent in various aspects of the material culture: pottery typology and decoration(121), the flint industry(122) and the figurines(123).

The basic difference between Yarmukian sites and Byblos is in the architectural features. In the Yarmukian sites many pits and some rounded or rectangular structures with beaten earth floors were found. In Byblos the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B traditon of rectangular houses and plaster floors was retained(124). We can suggest two explanations to this phenomenon:

1. In the Phoenician Coast this architecture continued to be used till the end of the 6th millennia B.C., as evident also from Tell Sukas (125) and Ugarit Vc (126).

2. Taking into account the "Byblos method of excavations" it will not be surprising if two different layers, Pre-Pottery Neolithic B and Yarmukian, were combined into one.

When Garstang exavated Jericho in the 1930s his Layer IX was a combination of rectangular structures with plaster floors together with the use of pottery(127). Only in Kenyon's excavations in the 1950s it became apparent that the pottery came from pits dug in a later stage into the plastered structures(128). It is possible that the same mistake was made in Byblos. Even if we consider the first possibility, the divergences between the "neolithique ancien" at Byblos and the Yarmukian with regard to pottery and architecture should be understood as regional and not chronological.

2. The Yarmukiam and Jericho IX (Pottery Neolithic A) following the discovery of the Yarmukian at the end of the 1940s a hot debate ensued on the chronological relationship between Sha`ar Hagolan and the finds from Garstang's excavations at Jericho. The assemblage in question is Garstang's Layer IX, which is equivalent to Kenyon's Pottery Neolithic A, and Layer VIII which is equivalent to Kenyon's Pottery Neolithic B(129). Without going into detail six different suggestions have been offered over the years:

1. The Yarmukiam Culture pre-dates Jericho IX(130).

2. The Yarmukiam is parallel to Jericho IX(131).

3. The Yarmukiam post-dates Jericho IX and pre-dates Jericho VIII(132).

4. The Yarmukiam is parallel to Jericho VIII(133).

5. The Yarmukian is parallel to both Jericho IX and Jericho VIII(134)

6. The Yarmukian post-dates Jericho VIII(135).

Nowdays the question is not the specific relationship between the sites of Sha`ar Hagolan and Jericho, but the relationship between the Yarmukian Culture and the Jericho IX Culture. The Yarmukian has been discussed here in some detail. The Jericho IX Culture is now clearly known from additional sites: Telulyot Batashi Layer IV(136), Lydda(137), Dhra`(138), and Khirbet ed Daharia(139). As no radiometric datings are available for the Jericho IX Culture sites, the chronological sequence between it and The Yarmukian Culture cannot be determined on such a basis. Two other criteria will, therefore, have to be employed: typology and geographical distribution.

Typologically, the basic vessels found in the Yarmukian Culture are also found in the Jericho IX sites. The greatest divergence between the two pottery assemblages is found in the style of decoration: incised frame and herring-bone pattern in the Yarmukian Culture; painted lines and burnish in the Jericho IX unit. The assemblage of Ghrubba(140) can also be included in the Jericho IX Culture, as it bears the same typological features (see Table 6). In my opinion Ghrubba is another variant of the Jericho IX Culture, because of the wide usage of painted decoration in its assemblage and its southern setting. The few Yarmukian decorated sherds found in Jericho IX sites (see section III) is another typological criterion to indicate that the two units co-existed chronologically. The flint assemblage of the Yarmukian Culture and Jericho IX (Pottery Neolithic A) is also very similar. Crowfoot Payne, who published the flint from Pottery Neolithic A Jericho, designated it "Yarmukian"(141).

Geographically, it can be noted that Yarmukian sites are found mainly in the north and center of Israel, while the Jericho IX Culture sites are concentrated in the southern parts of the country. The sites do not overlap geographically, except in the case of the Wadi Muraba`at Cave, where few Yarmukian sherds were found. That place, however, is not a settlement, but a cave used for short occupation periods, perhaps by herdsmen or hunters, occupations which by their very nature entail wandering and dispersion of greater distances. Therefore, in sum, the geographic dispersion of the sites indicates a tendency by each culture to concentrate in a given area.

From the typological and geographical point of view one should, therefore, understand the Yarmukian and the Jericho IX as the contemporaneous existence of two cultures in separate geographic regions. The hypothesis that we are dealing with an early and a late culture creates a strange situation: during the Jericho IX period all the northern part of the country is empty, whereas during The Yarmukian period the south of the country is not settled. We therefore conclude, on the strength of typological and geographic considerations, that the differences between Yarmukian and Jericho IX pottery assemblages are the reflection of regionallity, not chronology.

In this context one should understand the sites of the Southern Coastal Plain of Israel: Giv`at Haparsa(142) and Nizzanim(143). These include assemblages of pottery and flint with characteristics similar to the Yarmukian/Jericho IX Cultures. The differences in the forms of decoration are also regional and not chronological. Further to the south and to the east, in the Negev, Sinai, and Trans-Jorden Deserts, small camp sites were found. They are characterized by a flint industry which includes small arrowheads and sometimes rounded architecture, but no pottery(144). These reflects another adaptation strategy derived from the local arid conditions.

3. Absolute Chronology

To date, very few radiometric dates from Yarmukian sites have been published and they are presented in Table 7, in uncalibrated B.C. dates. It seems that all the dates are reliable, and should be accepted. They indicate that The Yarmukiam Culture flourished in the second half of the Sixth Millennium B.C. (ca. 5600/5500 - 5100/5000 B.C.).

As the end of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, according to radiometric dates, falls somewhere toward the end of the 7th millennium B.C. one is faced with the question of what occurred between the end of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B Culture and the beginning of The Yarmukiam Culture (ca. 6100/6000 - 5600/5500 B.C.). Three suggestions to bridge the gap have been advanced.

1. Kenyon(145) and Perrot(146) have suggested a settlement gap.

2. Stager suggests that the Yarmukiam followed the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B with no gap at all between them(147).

3. Following the new strtigraphic evidence from `Ain Ghazal, the term Pre-Pottery Neolithic C has been introduced(148), which bridges the period from the end of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B to the beginning of the Yarmukian.

The radiometric dates presented in Table 7, and the accumulation of data concerning a Pre-Pottery Neolithic C unit all seem to support a division of the 6th millennium B.C. into two phases:

a. 6100-5600 B.C.: Pre-Pottery Neolithic C.

b. 5600/5500-5100/5000 B.C.: Pottery Neolithic (including the Yarmukian, Jericho IX and Southern Coastal Plain regional cultures).