The Yarmukian Culture in Israel

III. Pottery

Although Yarmukian pottery was described in the past(50), the first comprehensive studies of it were carried out by the writer on the assemblages of Munhata(51), and the new excavations of Sha`ar Hagolan(52). The Munhata assemblage was used to build a detailed typological framework since the material comes from a careful stratigraphic excavation; it is the largest Yarmukian assemblage ever excavated (15,890 sherds); it was collected from a large exposure (2050 sq m) representing varied activity areas of the settlement; the restoration produced complete vessels and not only rim fragments; and complete quantitative data was available.


Table 1: The Stratigraphical Position of the Yarmukian Settlements in the Southern Levant

Sha`ar HagolanMunhataHabashan StreetMegiddoHamadiyaNahal Qanah`Ain Ghazal
Wadi Rabah2aII
PPNCGap (3)+

* In `Ain Ghazal no numbering system was applied to the different occupation levels of the site.

Simultaniously we have also studied the assemblage from our excavations at Sha`ar Hagolan. This provided a control reference from a one-layer Yarmukian site were the probability that intrusive elements from other periods distruct the picture is minimal.

Before dealing with typology it seems appropriate to describe some aspects of the potter's techniques:

1. All the pottery is hand made and the use of coils can sometimes be seen in side sections of sherds.

2. Various treatments of the surface are visible. When the vessel was decorated with paint or incision, usually its surface was smoothed. In undecorated vessels the surface remained rather rough. Sometimes the surface was smoothed with the help of grass (grass smoothed), which had left its imprint in the pottery. Sometimes the surface was smoothed with the help of water and a self-slip effect is evident.

3. Usually no special treatment was given to the rims. The vessel ends abruptly and the edge is rounded or pointed.

4. The broad typological repertoire, as will be specifed below, emphasized the technical ability of producing both very large storage vessels, up to 270 liter in volume (see Fig. 3, Category E4), as well as a very small items (see Fig. 3, Category A1).

5. Detailed petrographic study of various aspects of the pottery was also carried out on the Munhata material(53). Its conclusion were that the pottery was produced on the site.

The typological framework constructed here is based on two principles:

1. The basic shape of the vessel: open or closed;

2. The size of the vessel: diameter smaller than 10 cm, diameter between 10 and 20 cm, diameter larger than 20 cm. The diameter was chosen because it is available even in the case of very small sherds, while the height can be known only when the complete profile has been preserved.

Thus, six main groups of vessels were identified. The vessels within each typological group are subdivided according to their specific shape and decoration, forming together 20 different forms (see Fig. 3). The typological frameworke is:

Group A) small open vessels: A1- small bowl or cup, A2- small chalice, A3- spoon.

Group B) small closed vessels: B1- miniature jar, B2- small jar.

Group C) medium-sized open vessels: C1- deep decorated bowl, C2- deep undecorated bowl, C3- bowl with Large handle (mug), C4- large chalice, C5- various bowls.

Group D) medium-sized closed vessels: D1- Sha`ar Hagolan jar, D2- Jericho IX jar.

Group E) large open vessels: E1- pot, E2- large bowl, E3- basin, E4- pithos (E4a- holemouth pithos and E4b - open pithos).

Group F) large closed vessels: F1- holemouth jar, F2- large Sha`ar Hagolan jar, F3- handleless jar, F4- various jars.

The vessels, according to their shape and size, could have served the inhabitants of the site for a large number of functions which are related to a household's daily activities. The breakdown of the precentage of each vessel type in the different excavation units, such as pits and living surfaces is given in the final report(54). The percentage given in Fig. 3 is a summary of the results from the entire site. The most common types were the holemouth jar - 18.6% (F1), the deep decorated bowl - 14.6% (C1), the pithos - 13.5 (E4) and the handleless jar - 13.5% (F3). These four types constitute together 60.2% of the diagnostic rim fragments counted.

Another important element of the pottery industry is the handle. Five main groups were determined: loop handles (54.9%), lug handles (36.8%), knob handles (1.9%), pierced handles (5.5%), and tubular handles (0.8%).

The vessels are decorated both with paint, with incision and with a combination of the two. The use of paint, which entails various shades of red, includes the forms of lines, spots or slip.

The incised decoration is very pronounced and singular, and has, therefore, been defined as the "Sha`ar Hagolan Decoration" (see Fig. 4). It is a very distinct style of craftsmanship which is composed of three elements: (1) horizontal lines, (2) zigzag lines, and (3) herring-bone pattern.

The potter's decorative techniques were performed in the following order (see Fig. 5a):

1. Incision of parallel horizontal lines (around the neck of jars and close to the rim of bowls) forming a frame.

2. Incision of parallel zigzag lines beneath the two horizontal lines, along the perimeter of the vessel, forming a frame.

3. Filling of the frames with short incisions of the herring-bone pattern.

4. Painting red the area not incised. The incised area remains unpainted.


The concept of the Sha`ar Hagolan decoration is clearly unique to the Yarmukian Culture. A quantative analysis of the Munhata assemblage gave the following counting: 2041 decorated sherds constituting 12.8% of the assemblage. The decoration was performed in various styles: red sliped or red painted on the entire sherd (38.6%), wide painted lines (13%), thin painted lines (4.9%), incised herring-bone pattern (30.8%, Fig. 5a:3-4), incised parallel (frame) lines (11.6%, Fig. 5a:2), and other incised patterns (1.1%).

Isolated sherds decorated with the classical Yarmukian incised herring-bone pattern or the incised frame lines were also reported from sites belonging to Jericho IX Culture: Jericho(55) and Telulyot Batashi(56). These probably reflect exchange networks between the Yarmukian and the Jericho IX sites.

In addition to the pottery vessels it was common to produce from clay other items:

1. Clay pestels- cilindrical items with pointed tip and a straight or pointed base. They were carfully made and sometimes burnished (see Fig. 5b). Stekelis understood these objects as cultic items representing male sex organs(57), but this interpretation is not convincing.

2. Clay whorls- rounded objects, bi-conical in cross-section, pierced in the center, usually interprated as spindle whorls (see Fig. 5c).