The Yarmukian Culture in Israel

I. History of Research

The first Yarmukian settlment was discovered at the base of Tel Megiddo in the 1930s(2), but it was not recognized as an independent Neolithic culture. In the publication the relevant finds were designated together with other finds as Chalcolithic.

The Yarmukian Culture was first determined in the late 1940s by M. Stekelis at the site of Sha`ar Hagolan in the Central Jordan Valley. He recognized the unique character of the flint industry, the pottery, and the art objects, and designated the assemblage: "Yarmukian Culture", after the nearby Yarmuk River(3). Some reservations were expressed when Stekelis first presented his results(4), but soon the term "Yarmukian" gained general recognitiont. In his preliminary Sha`ar Hagolan publications

Stekelis pointed out the most diagnostic aspects of this material culture, which became "fossil directeur" to the Yarmukian:

1. Pottery decorated with incisions of a herring-bone pattern.

2. Sickleblades with course denticulation.

3. A rich assemblage of art objects, which include large numbers of schematic anthropomorphic pebble figurines.

Stekelis dated the Yarmukiam Culture to the Pottery Neolithic Period, the same stage known as "Jericho IX" or "Pottery Neolithic A" (see section XI) and the "neolithique ancien" of Byblos(5). His dating was not accepted by all. Many scholars suggested other chronological relations between Sha`ar Hagolan, Jericho, and Byblos (see below, section XI).

During the 1950s Yarmukian settlements were discovered in various sites: In 1950-1952 J. Kaplan excavated the site of Habashan Street in the midst of the city of Tel Aviv(6); N. Zori conducted an intensive survey in the Central Jordan Valley and reported two additional sites: Munhata and Hamadiya(7). During those years typical Yarmukian sherds and flint objects were found at Tell Farah North(8) and Wadi Muraba`at in the Judean Desert(9).

The most intensive excavations of a Yarmukian site were conducted by J. Perrot in the years 1962-1967 at the site of Munhata(10). From the Yarmukian settlement, Layer 2b, rich assemblages of pottery, art objects, flint, and stones were collected making Munhata the key site for the understanding of the Yarmukian Culture. In the year 1964 one season of exavations was carried out at the site of Hamadiya by Kaplan(11).

The excavations at Sha`ar Hagolan, Habashan Street, Munhata, and Hamadiya, yeilded mainly pits, in which pottery sherds, flint items and art objects were found. No clear traces of architecture were reported. These gave a general impression that the Yarmukian popoulation was semi-nomadic and pastoralist, occupying the sites only part of the time(12). It was suggested that they lived in subterranean pits, and rounded huts made of perishable materials.

The art objects aside(13), all other aspects of this material culture such as pottery, architecture, or economy were almost unknown. The chronology of the Yarmukian was a matter of disagreement. The opinions ranged over a span of 1500 years from the 6th millenniaum B.C.(14) to the second half of the 5th millennium B.C.(15).

From the mid 1980s, after some 20 years of complete silence, the Yarmukian culture is again receiving scholarly attention. In Israel the site of Sha`ar Hagolan was re-excavated(16) and Yarmukian remains were discovered in the Nahal Qanah Cave(17). Recently a final analysis of various finds categories from the site of Munhata were carried out: flint(18), pottery(19), stone tools(20), and art objects(21). In these years three Yarmukian sites were discovered in Jordan (see Kafafi, this volume): Jebel Abu Thawwab(22), `Ain Ghazal(23), and `Ain Rahub(24). In the excavations of Pella typical Yarmukian items were found mixed in fills of the Chalcolithic period(25), although the typical herring bone decoration on the sherds was missings. It was suggested that the earliest remains at the site of Tell Wadi Feinan in southern Jordan are also Yarmukian(26). However, these remains have nothing in common with the Yarmukian material culture as presented in this article. The earlist remains in Tell Wadi Feinan are simillar to those of the sites currently designated "Qatifian"(27).

The rapid accumulation of fresh data from new excavations, as well as the publication of material from Munhata, opened inroads into our understanding of the Yarmukian Culture, as will be summarized and discussed below.

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1) Kaplan, 1959b; Kenyon, 1960; Perrot, 1962, 1968; de Vaux, 1970;

Kirkbride, 1971; Aurenche et al., 1981; Kafafi, 1987; Stager, 1992.

2) Shipton, 1939: 44-46; Loud, 1948: 60-61.

3) Stekelis, 1951, 1952.

4) Waechter, 1951: 178.

5) Stekelis, 1972: 43.

6) Kaplan, 1954, 1978a.

7) Zori, 1954, 1958.

8) de Vaux and Steve, 1947: Fig. 1:34, Pls. XII:2, XIV:7.

9) de Vaux 1953; Benoit et al., 1961: 9-22.

10) Perrot, 1964, 1966, 1967, 1968: 407-419.

11) Kaplan, 1965, 1978b.

12) Perrot, 1969; Kirkbride, 1971.

13) Anati, 1963; Cauvin, 1972; Yeivin and Mozel, 1977;

Noy 1968, 1990.

14) Moore, 1982; Stager, 1992.

15) Perrot, 1962, 1968.

16) Garfinkel, 1990.

17) Gopher and Tsuk, 1991; Gopher et al., 1990.

18) Gopher, 1989.

19) Garfinkel, 1992b.

20) Gopher and Orrells, in preparation.

21) Garfinkel, in preparation.

22) Gillet and Gillet, 1983; Kafafi, 1988.

23) Rollefson et al., 1989; Kafafi et al., 1990; Kafafi, 1990;

Rollefson et al., 1992.

24) Muheisen et al., 1988; Kafafi, 1989.

25) McNicoll et al., 1982: 27-30.

26) Najjar et al., 1990.

27) Gilead, 1990.

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