The Yarmukian Culture in Israel

VI. Art Objects

The most interesting feature of the Yarmukian culture is the rich collection of art objects discovered at the sites. In the site of Sha`ar Hagolan about 130 anthropomorphic figurines, made either on clay or on limestone river pebbels, were found. In the site of Munhata, over 50 such figurines were unearthed in stratigraphic excavations, as well as two dozen animal figurines and numerous other baked clay objects. A variety of figurines and other art objects were discovered, but here we will concentrate on the most common types:

1. "Coffee Bean" Eyes Clay Figurines- This is the most common clay figurine type in Yarmukian sites (see Figs. 8-10), and some 63 items, in various states of preservation were reported so far from the following sites in Israel: Megiddo(71), Habashan Street(72), Sha`ar Hagolan(73) and Munhata(74). The only complete item (see Fig. 9:2) was unearthed in Munhata(75). The clay anthropomorphic figurines were discussed in the past by various scholars who interpreted them as connected with a fertility cult(76). The figurines are a higly stylized type of anthropomorphic figures. Many minute details such as an elongated head, diagonal "coffee bean" eyes, a nose, ears, earrings, a mouth, cheeks, a hairdress, a cloak or scarf, fingers, fat folds, knees, and feet are portrayed realistically, and in a somewhat exegerated fashion, giving the figuring a surrealistic image. Some scholars designated the Sha`ar Hagolan figurine "the terrible mother"(77) influenced by psyco analytical theories, "grotesque figurines"(78), or "broad figurines"(79). Most of the items are female (see Fig. 9), but two items from Sha`ar Hagolan and Byblos(80) represent males (see Fig. 10).

2. Pebble Figurines- Pebble figurines were reported from the following sites: Sha`ar Hagolan(81), Munhata(82), and Byblos(83). As opposed to the clay figurines, which were carefully produced and on each item all the attributes are visible, the approach to the pebble figurines was altogether different. The carving of pebbles, as oppossed to the moulding of clay, posses technical difficulties. Freedom of expression is evident, which allows the exclussion of much detail from the body or dress of the figure. Typologically the figurines may be divided according to the amount of detail or its absence in the specimen.

I suggest a threefold division:

a. Detailed figurine: a face with additional details of dress (cloak) or body, usually the hips (see Fig. 11:1-2). In the site of Sha`ar Hagolan this group constitutes 26% of the pebbles figurines.

b. Face figurine: In this group an attempt was made to express the face, including: eyes, and in addition a nose and a mouth (see Fig. 11:3-4). Occassionally only eyes and a mouth were carved (see Fig. 11:5-6). In the site of Sha`ar Hagolan this group constitutes 37.5% of the pebble figurines.

c. Eyes figurine - This is the most schematic type, and only the eyes were carved on the pebble (see Fig. 11:7-10). In Sha`ar Hagolan this group constitutes 36.5% of the pebble figurines.

As we have seen here, from one group to the other the description on the pebbles becomes more and more schematic, and only the more important symbolic details are retained. Therefore I take all three groups described above as conveying the same religious-ideological-symbolic message, which is more strongly emphasized in the clay figurines. This creates a circular relationship between clay and pebble figurines. On the one hand, the detailed clay figurines help interpret the carvings on the pebbles. On the other hand the pebble figurines emphasize the most important details of the clay figurines, thus indicating which are central and which are peripheral. According to this analysis the most significant detail in the figure is not the reproductive organs but the eyes. With this conclusion in mind it is interesting to see that it was very common in the ancient Near East, from the 6th to the 4th millennia B.C. to express anthropomorphic figures with elongated heads, and especially with "coffee-bean" eyes.

3. Male Cilindrical Figurines- No complete item of this group has so far been found, but only headless or torsu fragments (see Fig. 12). The body of the items has an elongated clindrical shape to which hands, legs and sex organs were added. It is possible that the elongated head fragments from Tel Ramad Layer III(84) represent the upper part of these items.

4. Inscribed Pebbles- This group includes eliptical river pebbles, usually made of basalt, which were engraved in a variety of geometric designs:

a. Parallel lines organized along the broad side of the pebble (see Fig. 13:1-2).

b. Lines organized parallel to the long side of the pebble (see Fig.13:3-4).

c. Net pattern of rectangulars (see Fig. 13:5-7).

d. Net pattern of rhombus (see Fig. 13:8-10).

e. A central line crossed by perpendicular short lines (see Fig. 13:11-13).

Such items were reported from Sha`ar Hagolan(85), Munhata(86), and Pella(87). Various hypothesi were suggested concerning the function of these items in the Yarmukian context: fertility cult(88), textile dying(89), rain cult(90), initiation rites(91), and burner to mark ownership of animals(92). We can not offer a coherent explanation, but it is worth noting that similar geometric patterns appear on contemperonous stamp seals in the Northern Levant (`Amuq A-B) and Mesopotamia(93), and on clay "pintaderas" in "neolithique ancien" Byblos(94). In Khirokitia in Cyprus similar items were also reported(95).

Art objects were found in almost every Yarmukian site. But two sites are outstanding in the quantity and quality of their inventory: Sha`ar Hagolan and Munhata. These two sites, located only 10 km apart, constitute one of the major centers of Neolithic art for the entire Near East in the 6th millennium B.C.


71) Loud, 1948: Pl. 241.

72) Kaplan, 1959a: 23-24, Figs. 1-2.

73) Stekelis, 1972: Pl. 49.

74) Perrot, 1964: Pl. XXIII:3, 1966: Pl. VI:13,16-17, 1965.

75) Perrot, 1965.

76) Yeivin and Mozel, 1977; Cauvin, 1972; Noy, 1968, 1990.

77) Cauvin, 1972.

78) Mellaart, 1975: 239.

79) Noy, 1990.

80) Yeivin and Mosel, 1977; Cauvin, 1972: Fig. 28:1; Dunand, 1973:

Pl. CXIII:26160.

81) Stekelis, 1951, 1952, 1972.

82) Zori, 1954: Pl. 11:9a-9b; Perrot, 1964: Pl. XXIII:16,20.

83) Cauvin, 1972; Dunand, 1973: Pl. CX-CXI.

84) de Contenson, 1971.

85) Stekelis, 1972: Pl. 56-58.

86) Zori 1954: Pl. 11:1.

87) NcNicoll et al., 1982: Pl. 103:5.

88) Stekelis, 1972.

89) Cauvin, 1972: 91.

90) Wreschner, 1976.

91) Bar-Yosef, 1992: 38.

92) Ms. B. Lindenfeld, personal communication.

93) Braidwood and Braidwood, 1960: Fig. 37; Tsuneki, 1983;

Masude and Shaath, 1983.

94) Dunand, 1973: 84-87.

95) Dikaios, 1953: Pl. XC; Le Brun, 1984: Fig. 73-75.