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From the Natufian to the Chalcolithic in Southern Syria: The Qarassa archaeological evidence

Johnny S. Baldi, Juan José Ibáñez, Xavier Terradas, Martin Godon, Frank Braemer et Luis C. Teira-Mayolini
p. 33-52


Les fouilles de Qarassa North Tell, menées entre 2007 et 2010 par une équipe franco-syrienne-espagnole, ont constitué la phase finale d’un programme lancé en 2002 avec les études archéologiques dans le plateau du Leja. Par la suite, des fouilles ont débuté sur le tell sud de Qarassa en 2007, dans le but d’évaluer la séquence de l’âge du Bronze et du Fer identifiée lors de prospections précédentes parmi les maisons modernes sur le tell sud. Finalement, en 2008, des prélèvements de surface et des sondages limités sur le tell du Nord ont révélé la présence de matériel archéologique apparemment lié à la période néolithique.
Si, près du tell, les matériaux microlithiques indiquaient une possible occupation khiamienne et natoufienne au bord du plateau basaltique, des lames naviformes sur les pentes du tell ainsi que des fragments céramiques nous ont suggéré l’existence d’une longue occupation néolithique, allant du PPNB au Chalcolithique.
Deux saisons de fouilles, à des endroits différents du tell septentrional et du plateau basaltique qui lui fait face, nous ont permis de progresser dans le diagnostic chronologique et culturel du Levant méridional dans une région jusqu’ici dépourvue de séquences archéologiques bien conservées entre le Natoufien et le Chalcolithique.

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Excavations at Qarassa were conducted by a joint programme of the Syrian Directorate of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), the French Archaeological Mission in Southern Syria, and the Archaeology and Anthropology Laboratory of the CSIC Institute Milá y Fontanals in Barcelona. Funding was provided by the French Foreign Affairs Excavation Commission (MEAE), the DGAM, and the CSIC. We are grateful to B. Jamous and M. Al-Maqdissi (former general director and excavation unit director, DGAM) for their constant support throughout the project.

1Manuscript received the 5th April 2018, accepted the 13th September 2018

2Excavations at Qarassa followed a decade of surveys in Southern Syria, investigating cultural and spatial development from the end of the Iron Age (4th century BC) to Roman annexation (1st century AD). This investigation began on the Leja basaltic plateau and led to the formation of the project “Archaeological atlas of Pre- and Protohistoric sites of Southern Syria” (Al-Maqdissi and Braemer 2006, Braemer et al. 2010, Criaud and Rohmer 2010).

3About 480 Neolithic to Ottoman-period sites have been identified and documented in the Leja area alone over the course of several survey campaigns. A recent, more detailed survey of the prehistoric sites in the southern part of the Leja (2009-2010) area identified a dozen sites spanning from Palaeolithic to Neolithic periods (Boix and Abdo 2012). In 2007 the widening of the survey area to include other zones of Southern Syria made it possible to better understand the cycles and the modalities of human occupation at the scale of the whole region. Archaeological excavation at the Qarassa site (Mohafazat de Suweida), identified in 2005, also began in 2007 and is currently ongoing. The aim, of this project is the development of a regional stratigraphic reference based on investigation of the long occupations from prehistoric and protohistoric periods at the site (fig. 1).

Fig. 1 – Regional map showing Qarassa and the settlements mentioned in the text

Fig. 1 – Regional map showing Qarassa and the settlements mentioned in the text

Map L.C. Teira-Mayolini

4Qarassa is a composite site situated on the southern fringe of the Leja basaltic plateau at the junction with the Hauran Plain. Including the two tells and the various archaeological vestiges in their vicinity, the archaeological site of Qarassa covers more than 60 ha located near a spring that dried up in the 1950s and an intermittent river to the South. The southern tell has yielded deposits from Bronze and Iron Age occupations (Braemer et al. 2011) while to the north, the second tell presents an extended PPNB sequence (Ibáñez et al. 2010) topped by deposits from the Final Neolithic, Chalcolithic, and Early Bronze Age IA (Godon et al. 2015). A vast megalithic necro- polis dating to the Bronze Age is located on the basaltic plateau that faces the northern tell (Steimer Herbet and Besse 2017), at the edge of which a Natufian site is preserved on a rocky relief (Terradas et al. 2013a). The reoccupation of the site dates to 1946, after a very long hiatus during which only the spring was visited, as evidenced by Roman and Byzantine pottery sherds collected on the surface and described by several travellers in the 19th century (Dumond-Maridat 2017).

5Situated at the southern edge of the Leja volcanic flows, the actual landscape of the Qarassa site is quite arid. However, the rocky ground covering the majority of the surface is interrupted by natural depressions that form large arable areas north of the site. The southernmost depression sheltered a spring-fed pond. The Wadi Abu Dhahab, an intermittent stream and a tributary of the Yarmouk River originating at the Jebel al-Arab, bypasses the basaltic lava bed, and therefore the site, from the south. South of the wadi, lava flows older than those of the Leja are underlie soil suitable for agriculture following stone removal.

Excavated areas
and their relative chronology

6Four main archaeological operations were carried out, revealing sequences of occupation from the 11th millennium BC to the 4th millennium BC (fig. 2):

  • Work at the Qarassa 3 site, with the excavation of three Natufian structures located on the edge of the basalt flow north of the tell. The overall coherence of the occupation structures associating houses and bedrock mortars was confirmed, and observations suggesting occupation through the whole Natufian period were reinforced by 14C dating.
  • Work on the PPNB levels of the northern tell and its surroundings focused on the excavation of an Early PPNB house just east of the tell. The excavation of the floor layers, which yielded abundant preserved building materials, was completed and presents the opportunity to reconstruct the layout and construction method, highlighting the complexity of the architectural history of this region.
  • The completion of a stratigraphic section on the northern flank of the tell that provides a complete occupation sequence from the PPNB to the Chalcolithic (Godon et al. 2015: fig. 6). This section is approximately 15 m thick, from the plateau terrace to the surrounding plain level. It contains a substantial architectural PPNB level, probably terraced into the slope of the tell, reoccupied and renovated during the Final Neolithic. Moreover, the section shows two stratigraphic horizons within the archaeological levels corresponding to wet climatic events. The first one (horizon IV), corresponds to a period of heavy rains, postdating the PPNB occupation, that created significant erosion on the slope of the tell, partially truncating the PPNB archaeological deposits at the edge of the slope. This horizon could correspond to the climatic changes and increase in humidity attested around 8200 BC as evidenced by periods of colluvial filling alternating with periods of drainage (Godon et al. 2015).
  • The opening of an extensive trench in the Pottery Neolithic (PN) and Chalcolithic levels on the northern upper terrace of the tell. The discovery of a Late-Final Chalcolithic level at the top of the tell and the extent of the dated levels of the Middle Chalcolithic indicate an almost continuous occupation during the 5th and 4th millennia BC.

Fig. 2 – The Qarassa sites: the Natufian occupation on the plateau’s edge (Q3)

Fig. 2 – The Qarassa sites: the Natufian occupation on the plateau’s edge (Q3)

The PPNB occupation on the North Tell, Area 1 and 2; the Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic occupations on the North Tell, Area 2 and 3; the Bronze and Iron Age sequence on the Southern Tell

CAD L.C. Teira-Mayolini

Fig. 3 – The Natufian occupation of Qarassa 3, on the edge of the Leja plateau

Fig. 3 – The Natufian occupation of Qarassa 3, on the edge of the Leja plateau

Map L.C. Teira-Mayolini

The Natufian occupation

7The site of Qarassa 3 is distributed around several basaltic hills and the surrounding lowlands located to the north of the modern village of Qarassa. During the 2007 survey, a variety of evidence of Epipaleolithic occupation was found, all attributed to the Natufian (Ibáñez et al. 2013, 2014a and 2014b; see fig. 3-4). The results of the two seasons of excavations have been partially published (Ibáñez et al. 2013, 2014a and 2014b). They include:

  • Twelve circular structures on the surfaces of the hills, all surrounded by substantial concentrations of lithic artefacts (Terradas et al. 2013a).
  • A small, rocky, recessed formation where archaeological deposits accumulated. This suggests the existence of a rock-shelter used as a dwelling or refuge. Its later use as basalt quarry disturbed the upper layers containing archaeological vestiges.
  • A large number of bedrock mortars (81) carved in the basaltic flow, spatially associated with the rest of the archaeological Natufian evidence. These holes are interpreted as bedrock mortars on the basis of morphological and functional criteria (Terradas et al. 2013b).

Fig. 4 – Aerial photograph of the Qarassa 3 Area

Fig. 4 – Aerial photograph of the Qarassa 3 Area

Photo G. Davtian

8Eleven of the twelve circular structures—interpreted as round dwellings—were distributed following in arc formation.

9The structures were built adjacent to one another without overlapping, suggesting that they were all probably contemp- oraneous. The walls were built directly on the basalt flow and, as the structures were not buried, the layers corresponding to the destruction of the dwellings and the original floors were poorly preserved. Partial excavation of three of these eleven structures has revealed two subsets:

  • Nine of the structures, located in the easternmost part of the complex, are very simple. Some stones forming a circular outline indicate the shape and size of the structures, with an interior diameter of nearly 5 m. The stone alignment is discontinuous, so the stones most probably did not make up a wall but were used to reinforce a superstructure made of perishable materials, as confirmed by the existence of small post-holes. Of these, we excavated Structure 4 (see below).
  • Though slightly smaller, with diameters of around 4 m, the two westernmost dwellings are more elaborate. The remaining walls are made up of more than one row of stones—and usually more than two—with a height that can reach up to 50 cm. The stones themselves are smaller and more regular in shape than those in the eastern subset and are normally laid out in two lines. We excavated the western halves of Structures 9 and 10.

10Despite their similitudes, circular facilities were charac- terised by some peculiarities:

  • Circular Structure 4. The walls consist of a single row of stones of irregular size and shape, the largest of them up to 50 cm long. Around its perimeter, we have identified seven holes in the basalt outflow whose positions more or less correspond to the wall of the structure and were probably used as postholes. The excavation of the western side of the structure revealed how the structure was built: natural depressions were filled with a bed of stones, over which a layer of clay was added.
  • Circular Structure 9. The interior of this structure measures 3.70 m (north-south axis) by 3.90 m (east- west axis). There is an internal structure located at the centre of the circular structure that consists of a line of stones marking out a rectangular area measuring approximately 150 cm (east-west) by 125 cm (south). The area between the rectangular space and the perimeter wall of the structure is filled with a layer of basalt stones laid out evenly with their flattest face upwards, creating a paved surface in the form of a bed of stones. Some lines of stones connect the rectangular space and the circular perimeter wall, creating a radial division of the space (fig. 5).
  • Circular Structure 10. The interior of this structure measures 3.10 m by 3.08 m. It was built on the edge of the stepped morphology of the basalt outflow, where the area was prepared and levelled before construction. To this end, large blocks of basalt were brought in, over which a layer of clay and smaller stones were deposited, again with the flat surfaces of the stones facing upwards. The circular wall was built above this layer. The inner surface of the outer wall is carefully and regularly arranged, while the outer surface is reinforced with larger stone blocks that are arranged irregularly. A deep pit dug into the bedrock, 50 cm wide by 20 cm, was identified in the central area of this domestic structure (fig. 6). A burnt piece of flint recovered in stratigraphic Unit 3 (which corresponds to the interior floor of the structure) was dated by thermoluminescence dating (hereafter TL) to 13.335 ± 855 BP (MAD-5826BIN; Terradas et al. 2013a).

Fig. 5 – View from the east of the Natufian circular structure 9

Fig. 5 – View from the east of the Natufian circular structure 9

Photo J.J. Ibáñez

Fig. 6 – View from the south-east of the Natufian circular structure 9 and 10

Fig. 6 – View from the south-east of the Natufian circular structure 9 and 10

Photo J.J. Ibáñez

11Two long, rectangular, paved platforms, parallel to each other, adjoin the round structure on the south-eastern side. These platforms were more or less similar in size, though the western one was slightly longer and narrower (3.8 × 1.6 m) than the eastern one (3.5 × 1.75 m). However, they need to be excavated to confirm whether they are contemporaneous with the dwelling or are later additions.

12The knapped lithic assemblage recovered from Structure 10 is exclusively flint. A preliminary study of the 2,455 lithic artefacts recovered has shown that the knapper(s) sought to obtain flakes and bladelets. In the case of flake debitage, the cores exhibit unipolar knapping frequently repeated by changing the position of the striking platforms until the cores took on the appearance of cubes. The edges were heavily abraded, which demonstrates an intensive exploitation of the raw material. Bladelets were detached carefully from conical cores. Together with this technique we report another, more opportunistic and expedient approach to obtaining small series of bladelets from the sides of flakes.

13There is a substantial number of microliths in the assem- blage, including 31 lunates, most of which are fragmented. Sixteen of these were made with simple bifacial retouch (Helwan), and fifteen with abrupt retouch. The remaining retouched products are backed bladelets with inverse retouch, borers, and some end-scrapers and burins. Some artefacts were made from other raw materials, including basalt and bone.

14The faunal remains, analysed by L. Gourichon (Terradas et al. 2013a), consist of wild species with a predominance of gazelle (Gazella sp.), wild goat (Capra sp.), and tortoise (Testudo graeca), along with different species of waterfowl. This assemblage represents the typical hunting spectrum of the last hunter-gatherers settled in a lacustrine environment, which probably described the micro-area of Tell Qarassa during the Natufian phase.

15As demonstrated by two excavation seasons, this is a relatively complex and well-organised settlement layout. Indeed, the layout of the dwellings, aligned with each other in an arc formation, would suggest that they are contemporary to one another. It is clear that building such structures requires time as well as skill. Eventually, periodic maintenance was performed on the structures that shows a wide range of building knowledge and mastery of construction techniques. Undoubtedly, this was not the result of improvisation but rather an indication of the intensive use of the location and its surroundings. Therefore, the Qarassa 3 settlement might be regarded as a basecamp.

16Despite the certain level of imprecision of the TL date, the data currently available supports the attribution of the circular structures to a Natufian occupation. As we stated in previous publications (Ibáñez et al. 2013, 2014a and 2014b), the proportion of lunates made with abrupt retouch compared with those made with simple bifacial retouch (Helwan) suggests a quite late phase. Likewise, the shape and size of the round structures—similar to some found at Ain Mallaha—allow us to attribute the Natufian occupation of Qarassa 3 to the Recent Natufian, specifically the 11th millennium BC.

The PPNB occupation

17In 2007, a trench 10 m long and 2 m wide, along the north- south axis, was excavated by C. Nicolle at the East of the mound. In 2009, Area 1 was excavated with two distinct sectors separated by 7 m of unexcavated archaeological deposits, Squares XYZ/65 to 69 with a surface area of 65 m2, and Squares UV/67 with a surface area of 12 m2. In 2010, the excavation continued in Area 1, towards the south in sector XYZ, affecting squares XY/67-68, enlarging the surface area to 72 m2. At the same time, a new excavation unit with a surface area of around in 60 m2 was opened in Area 2 on the north side of the mound, in Squares JKLMN/41 to 44. There, beneath the Chalcolithic and PN levels, Early PPNB levels were found (fig. 2).

Area 1

18In the trench excavated in 2007, the remains of two buildings characterised by square rooms with rounded corners were excavated. These buildings were partially built into the slope of the mound such that the western part (upslope) was embedded in the slope while the eastern part (downslope), where the buildings were accessed, was visible on the surface. The extension of the excavated area in 2009 and 2010 provided a better understanding of the eastern building. It is divided into two spaces connected by one doorway. Space A is a rectangular room with rounded corners and a floor of rammed earth, and two distinct ossupation layers. The oldest occupation phase ended when the house caught fire, which preserved the roof structure well (Balbo et al. 2012). The walls of this room (fig. 7) correspond to the second phase of occupation and were not dismantled during excavation that continued below the first phase of occupation. Indeed, our purpose was to safeguard this well-preserved architecture and, for this reason, while the interior living surface corresponding to the first phase of occupation was excavated, the walls corresponding to this phase were not documented. However, we can state that the layout of the house during the older phase was similar to that documented in its recent phase, as a posthole to support the roof was found in associated with the earth floor of the original phase in the center of the space. To the south and south-west of Space A, parts of two other rectangular rooms with rammed earth floors were uncovered, Spaces C and D, which are most probably contemporaneous with the second phase of occupation documented in Space A. To the west of Space A, a doorway led to Space B, which was of similar dimension on the north-south axis but longer on the east-west axis. This space revealed a stratigraphy of rammed earth floors and levels of sedimentary deposits, but the layers contained neither stones from the destruction of walls nor levels formed by the fallen or burnt roof, suggesting it was an open courtyard. Two occupation levels were also detected in this space, consisting of successive layers of rammed earth.

19After the second phase of use, these structures were abandoned, leading to the accumulation of a first layer of architectural and colluvial debris. Above this level, a second layer of debris including large blocks that had fallen from the sidewalls was deposited inside the perimeter of the buildings. It is within this second layer of fill that a funerary area was located (Santana et al. 2015), from which a bone wand with the depiction of two human faces was recovered (Ibáñez et al. 2014a and 2014b).

20In Squares UV, the stratigraphy consisted of a lower level associated with a wall overlain by a thin layer of charcoal, on top of which an upper occupation level is associated with another wall. This upper level was used as a burial area.

21In all, six occupation levels can be distinguished in area XYZ (corresponding to Spaces A and B; see table 1) and two in area UV (table 2 and fig. 7). The upper phase of area UV and phase 5 of area XYZ, both used as a cemetery, are most probably contemporaneous. The analysis of the 14C dates suggest that the two phases of occupation of the house and the patio found in XYZ occurred around the middle of the 9th millennium BC, during the Early PPNB, while the funerary area located in the ruins of the abandoned structure dates to the second half of the 9th millennium BC.

Fig. 7 – The PPNB excavation in Area 1

Fig. 7 – The PPNB excavation in Area 1

Figure previously published in Antiquity; CAD MAFSS

Table 1 – Phases and chronology of the area XYZ in zone 1 of Tell Qarassa North

Table 1 – Phases and chronology of the area XYZ in zone 1 of Tell Qarassa North

J.J. Ibáñez

Table 2 – Phases and chronology of the area UV a in zone 1 of Tell Qarassa North

Table 2 – Phases and chronology of the area UV a in zone 1 of Tell Qarassa North

J.J. Ibáñez

Area 2

22In Area 2 (fig. 8), the first Early PPNB level consisted of curved stone walls beneath which another level with two rooms was revealed. Both levels show similar chronology, dated to the second half of the 9th millennium BC. As in Area 1, the EPPNB site seems to be established on terraces at different heights, suggesting that the two levels of architecture documented in Area 2 were contemporaneous. Thus, the village would have been comprised of buildings that were embedded in the slope on their southern sides (upslope) and fully exposed on their northern sides (downslope). Buildings were arranged on terraces at different heights along the slope of the hill (table 3).

Fig. 8 – From the PPNB to the Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic in Area 2

Fig. 8 – From the PPNB to the Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic in Area 2


Table 3 – Absolute dating of the upper and lower terraces

Table 3 – Absolute dating of the upper and lower terraces

J.J. Ibáñez

23The excavation of the sediment filling both of the spaces defined by curved walls in the upper terrace (trench L41) showed that there was a mixture of EPPNB and PN materials. This was especially clear because of the presence of pottery sherds throughout the sequence, up to the earth floor associated with the walls. At the base of the walls, some sediment affected by fire was found adhered to the walls. This type of sediment could be clearly distinguished from the rest of the sediment, unaffected by fire, where the mixed EPPNB-PN materials were found. It was from this burnt sediment that the two charcoal samples used to date the original occupation of this structure were taken.

24The excavation of the sediment inside the two rooms located on the lower terrace did not show the admixture of periods observed on the upper terrace. All of the materials were coherent with EPPNB occupation. Inside the northern room, on the floor, one deposit of long bones belonging to one individual and two caches of crania were found (Santana et al. 2012).

25The presence of PN materials in EPPNB structures on the upper terrace is a phenomenon also observed in the EPPNB structures excavated in the M squares. This suggests that abandoned EPPNB houses were reoccupied by squatters during the PN. As we mentioned in a previous paper (Godon et al. 2015) the reuse of abandoned domestic structures has been discovered in Basta (Gebel 2009: 41), Jericho (Kenyon 1981: 92), and Ba‘ja (Gebel and Hermansen 2004: 16), from the Final PPNB to the PPNC and the Early PN. This could indicate the existence of a widespread squatting behaviour during the Late 8th millennium and the first half of the 7th millennium BC in the Southern Levant.

26Overall, the EPPNB occupations of Tell Qarassa North began in the mid-9th millennium BC, and lasted for around 400 years, up to the end of that millennium. The significant extent of the occupation and the good state of preservation of the archaeological structures and materials qualify Tell Qarassa North as a major EPPNB site, where the first experiments with the domestication of emmer and barley took place (Arranz-Otaegui et al. 2016a and 2016b). The analysis of environmental proxies (Arranz-Otaegui et al. 2017) showed that the exploitation of the environment around the site spanned four centuries, including some climatic changes at the end of the 9th millennium BC that are reflected in the vegetation that surrounded the Early Neolithic village.

27With regard to material culture, these Early PPNB levels include extremely fine lithic artefacts produced with bipolar knapping methods. Among the retouched tools, very distinctive Jericho and Aswad points (fig. 9.1-2) are noteworthy for their craftsmanship. As for sickle blades, their micro-denticulated edges and gloss-distribution reveal that they were inserted in slightly curved sickles and polished axes (fig. 9.3).

The Neolithic/Chalcolithic occupation

28In 2009, a stratigraphic section was made in the slope corresponding to Area 2, revealing different phases of colluvial accumulation as well as embedded Neolithic and Chalcolithic materials and poorly preserved architectural features overlying the PPNB occupation (fig. 8). While the PPNB investigation was extended to this part of the tell in 2010, fieldwork related to the Final Neolithic and the Chalcolithic occupations was extended beyond the edge of the tell, covering an extensive area of some 90 square meters in squares L42, M41 to M44 and N44, according to the topographic grid of the site (Godon et al. 2015: fig. 5 and 9).

Fig. 9 – Lithic remains from the EPPNB phase

Fig. 9 – Lithic remains from the EPPNB phase

1. Jericho points; 2. Tell Aswad points; 3. Polished axe

Figure previously published in Antiquity, photo J.J. Ibáñez

29Four occupation layers were identified, spanning the Final Neolithic to the Late Neolithic:

  • The Final Neolithic seems to have been deposited directly in the remnants of the upper architectural layer of the PPNB. Even though only a limited area was excavated, it seems that the PPNB structure was reused and refurbished with the installation of a doorway and possible internal partitions. The 2010 campaign highlights an installation (US 24) located approximately 1 m deep within the PPNB structure (US 25). To further define the nature of this particular layout, a limited excavation allowing us to expand our investigation inside the PPNB structure would be necessary, at the very least.
  • The Early Chalcolithic layer is only identified in a limited area directly overlying the deposits from the Final Neolithic reuse of the PPNB structure. Due to the limited extent of the trench and its location near the slope, any undisturbed sediments or subsoil could be identified. Architectural remnants are embedded in a matrix of ash, rubified earth, and colluvial sediments. Associated pottery sherds present major typological characteristics pointing to dates around 4800 BC. 

  • The Middle Chalcolithic horizon is distinguished by a long period of oven-use, possibly for culinary purposes. Identified in three squares (M42, M43 and M44), they overlie the Final Neolithic layer without any special preparation of the ground or tamping of the earth. Ash is abundant in the matrix of the Final Neolithic layer. Several phases of use have been identified, with periods of hiatus evidenced by encrusted ashes characteristic of rainwater flow, later covered by new layers of ash. 

  • The Late Chalcolithic layer sees the use of kilns come to an end. These layers are filled with gravel, and all the sediment is levelled by a layer of gravel, probably originally embedded in clay and used as an apron for new structures. The structures are of two types: In M41, the structure sits directly on the slope of the tell, intruding on the PPNB layer by forming a terrace that is now partially destroyed. Its walls are massive and the floors unpaved. We identified less massive structures, with interior spaces paved with small slabs of shaped basalt, in M42 and among the deposits in M43 and M44.

30The limits of the trench prevent us from establishing the overall layout of these structures, but the vestiges uncovered indicate that the structures were closely packed. 

New comparative data on the evolution of the ceramic assemblages

31After the 2010 campaign, the ceramic assemblages of the different phases (Late Pottery Neolithic; Early, Middle, and Late Chalcolithic) of the long sequence at Tell Qarassa North were compared with those from several sites in the Central and Southern Levant (Godon et al. 2015). From a chrono-cultural point of view, the conclusions were clear. In a long-term perspective, the ceramic products of Tell Qarassa North are entirely consistent with those of the 6th, 5th, and early 4th millennia BC in the Levant, but they also reflect the diversity of this region. Namely, the assemblage displays specific features that fit well with the Southern Syrian tradition and its very close parallels with the Jordan Valley. These results, which remain completely valid, suggest that significant ceramic similarities have to be sought according to a logic of “proximity networks” of production and distribution in relatively small mesoregions. Consequently, comparison of very recent data from the Lebanese region with the assemblage from Tell Qarassa North provides some clarifications.

  • 1 With the exception of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic “white wares”, that are actually plaster container (...)

32In this sense, dark faced burnished ware (DFBW) is ubiquitous in the Late Neolithic assemblage at Tell Qarassa North (TN2 Sector), as it is throughout Levant. In the absence of clear stratigraphic data from a substantial number of Lebanese and Syrian sites, demonstrating a strict diachronic development of DFBW in the Central and Northern Levant is impossible, but the general impression is that DFBW constitutes a broad, supra-regional homogeneity of tradition. DFBW similar to the samples from Tell Qarassa North (fig. 10.1-4) was found among the survey materials at Labwa I asch-Schmāl and Labwa III al-Yamīn in the northern sector of the Beqaa Valley, as well as at Tell Nab‘al-Fā‘ūr in the Southern Beqaa and at Tell Ramad Phase III, in Southern Syria (Badreshany 2016: 9 and fig. 3-5 and 7). These carefully burnished, and sometimes slipped, specimens can vary from light brown to a deep chocolate or black colour. In any case, the colours of pottery during this period are more restricted than those observed in later phases. In much the same way, the morphological repertoire is broadly shared, probably because it is quite elementary. The assemblage is essentially composed of globular or hemispherical bowls with flattened or plain- rounded rims (pl. I.1-3), and holemouth (pl. I.5), short-necked, or neckless jars, sometimes with cord-impressed decorations and/or loop, ledge, or lug handles (pl. I.4 and 6). The presence of these decorative and functional elements represents the first meso-regional idiosyncrasy within the DFBW koiné, since they are sporadically present in North Lebanon and in Levantine Syria, for instance at Shir and Ras Shamra (Balossi Restelli 2006: 219). Moreover, the presence of “Sha’ar Hagolan jars” and herring-bone incisions (pl. I.7-8) indicates that the Late Pottery Neolithic assemblage from Tell Qarassa North also represents a local variant of the so-called Southern Levantine “Yarmoukian culture” (Garfinkel 1993 and 1999). Compared with the Lebanese region, where yarmukian sherds are extremely rare, their quantity in the Late Pottery Neolithic assemblage from Tell Qarassa North indicates that Southern Syria was a border area between two distinct ceramic provinces. Since DFBW and Yarmukian pottery are the first ceramic traditions evidenced in the Northern and in the Southern Levant,1 respectively, the oldest ceramic assemblage identified at Tell Qarassa demonstrates for the first time that Southern Syria was structurally integrated into both of these ceramic traditions.

Fig. 10 – Dark faced burnished ware samples from Late Neolithic (1-4) and Early Chalcolithic (5-6) contexts

Fig. 10 – Dark faced burnished ware samples from Late Neolithic (1-4) and Early Chalcolithic (5-6) contexts

Photos MAFSS

  • 2 As in the whole Wadi Rabah panorama throughout the Levant, at Tell Qarassa North in this period th (...)
  • 3 Baldi J.S. and Boustani M. (forthcoming), Collections céramiques du musée de Préhistoire libanaise (...)

33During the Early Chalcolithic at Tell Qarassa North, the ceramic typology is more complex than before. Along with basic shapes like holemouths (pl. II.3) and plain bowls, thinned-wall open containers (pl. II.1), carinated vessels (pl. II.2), bow-rim (pl. II.6) and flaring-rim (pl. II.5) jars are widely attested, as well as thumbnail or punctuated impressed decorations. A substantial presence of red-slipped or burnished sherds (16%) also characterizes this Wadi Rabah-related assemblage (Banning 2007: 81).2 Nevertheless, a red-slipped or burnished surface is not necessarily a Wadi Rabah trait: rather, this kind of surface treatment constitutes a late version of DFBW (fig. 10.5-6), as also documented in the Amuq (Braidwood and Braidwood 1960: 159 fig. 123.4) and Beqaa Valley (at Tell ‘Ayn asch-Schmāl, Tell Arḍ at-Tlail and Tell ‘Ayn as-Sa‘ūda, see Badreshany 2016: fig. 14.A-B and D) and on the Lebanese coast (Baldi 2017: pl. IV.I.3, IV.3 and V.13). Parallels with the Lebanese region are not limited to typological aspects, but also include technical characteristics. Both at Tell Qarassa North and in Lebanon,3 amongst red-slipped or burnished ceramics, organic and vegetal tempers are recognizable for the first time. In addition, firing processes become increaslingly accurate and long, with higher firing temperatures often inducing spalling of calcareous inclusions on the surfaces (Badreshany 2013: 231 and chap. 4).

34On one hand, the fact that Tell Qarassa North represents a specific version of the Wadi Rabah repertoire is not surprising in itself, since the existence of multiple local variants within the Wadi Rabah tradition has already been observed (Gophna and Sadeh 1988-1989: 20; Baldi 2013: 19). On the other hand, the presence in this period of a substantial amount of DFBW (as in Lebanon) seems to suggest a completely new scenario in which the transition from the Late Pottery Neolithic DFBW to the Wadi Rabah tradition appears to have happened slowly both in Southern Syria and in the Lebanese region with the spread of a late version of red coated or burnished DFBW.

  • 4 During the Late Chalcolithic and at the beginning of the Early Bronze, Sidon is quite well integra (...)
  • 5 Links with the Amuq become weaker and weaker, especially when, in the 4th millennium BC, the Amuq (...)
  • 6 See also Baldi and Boustani forthcoming (see footnote 3). 

35During Middle, Late and Terminal Chalcolithic (respec- tively Sector TN Phase II, TN Phase I and Sector TN3), within an apparent ceramic continuity, several changes occur. Red- slipped and burnished pottery decreases in number and actually disappears during the Terminal Chalcolithic, typical 5th millennium V-shaped bowls (pl. II.7-8) become a common product, and the wheel-coiling technique rises as an increasingly widespread innovation (Godon et al. 2015: 164 and 169; Baldi and Roux 2016). Typology continues to be more and more complex with regard to shapes, rims, and bases, while amongst decorations applied bands, rounded knobs, and “spatula indented” incisions (pl. II.9) are widely attested. Assemblages from Southern Syria (Tell el-Khazzami; Contenson 1968) and Southern Lebanese Beqaa (as Kāmid el-Lōz, Marfoe 1995: 87, fig. 44-47) offer closest parallels. Several similarities can also be identified with Énéolithique Ancien and Récent Phases of Byblos (Dunand 1973; Baldi 2017: pl. II), while parallels become quite sporadic with Sidon Stratum 1,4 as well as with the Amuq valley.5 Even from a technical point of view, Late Chalcolithic sherds from Tell Qarassa North closely resemble samples from Central and Northern Lebanon both for their yellowish fabrics (that clearly display oxidizing firing processes) and their abundant calcite inclusions (Badreshany 2013: 252, fig. 3.29 from Tell Ghasīl; Baldi 2017: 134).6 The overall picture that can be drawn on the basis of these parallels shows a slow technical and typological evolution between the Early and Late Chalcolithic that involves not only Southern Syria, but also Central and Northern Lebanon. A clear division appears between this area, chara- cterised by highly symmetrical curvilinear shapes and short vertical or everted rims in yellow calcareous pastes (Baldi 2017: pl. II.iii.12 et ii.7), and the Southern Levant, where churns and cornets with a streaky wash treatment are the most distinctive types (Commenge et al. 2006). This is not just a matter of mesoregional fragmentation of ceramic variation within a generic Ghassulian Levantine repertoire (that reaches its peak during the last centuries on the 5th millennium). Indeed, it reflects a substantial typological divide between the Northern and Southern Levant wherein, once again, Southern Syria presents closer ties with the North than with the South.

  • 7 See at Byblos Dunand 1973: pl. CXCII, CXCIII, CXCVII.6697, CXCVII.5591, CXCVII.6700 and CXCVII.669 (...)
  • 8 The so-called “Line-Painted Ware” is a specialised production typical of the Palestinian proto-urb (...)

36The existence of an occupation around the middle of the 4th millennium is suggested by some hundreds of sherds (some of them out-of-context) showing both a clear continuity with the Chalcolithic repertoire and some very specific features. The assemblage remains essentially composed of everted-rim jars, holemouths, and plain bowls. But the presence of high-necked, everted-rim jars with vertical handles7 is typical of this phase, as represented by two sherds of “Line-Painted Ware”.8

37Additional evidence for an increasingly North Levantine orientation is offered by the presence, in this late phase at Tell Qarassa North Sector TN3, of the so-called hammerhead bowls of the mid-4th millennium BC (Godon et al. 2015: fig. 18.7 and pl. II.10), a widespread North Mesopotamian shape that has no parallels in the Southern Levant and is largely documented in the Amuq Phase F (Braidwood and Braidwood 1960: fig. 174.380 and 400).

38From all of these new comparative data it appears quite clear that, while Northern and Southern Levantine ceramic features are equally represented at the end of the 7th millennium BC at Tell Qarassa, relations with the Lebanese region and the Northern Levant begin to strengthen in the Early Chalcolithic of Southern Syria. Later, during the 5th and 4th millennia, the north-oriented ceramic network of Tell Qarassa attests to the emergence of an increasingly clear separation from the South.


39The results of only two field seasons have already supported a rather detailed interpretation of the Qarassa North Tell archaeological sequence in regional, diachronic context. Excavations on the northern slope provided valuable insights into the cultural and environmental dynamics associated with the climatic changes that occurred between the 7th and 4th millennia BC. Moreover, a substantial amount of information on the archaeological potential of the site is currently available and could be expanded with further excavation. As for the phases of human occupation, not only has a clear chronology been established, but, for each period a wide range of materials from extensively excavated areas has also presented new potential for regional comparisons. Exploitation of basaltic-plateau ecological niches during the Natufian phase, large and well-planned settlement patterns in a complex social and economic setting during the PPNB, as well as social developments toward increasing craft specialisation from the Final Neolithic to the Chalcolithic periods have emerged as corollaries of the dense regional cultural networks that are slowly coming to light in Southern Syria.

Pl. I – Late Neolithic ceramics

Pl. I – Late Neolithic ceramics


Pl. II – Early Chalcolithic (1-6) and Middle-Late Chalcolithic (7-10) ceramics

Pl. II – Early Chalcolithic (1-6) and Middle-Late Chalcolithic (7-10) ceramics


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1 With the exception of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic “white wares”, that are actually plaster containers (Nilhamn et al. 2009).

2 As in the whole Wadi Rabah panorama throughout the Levant, at Tell Qarassa North in this period there is also a small amount (1%) of painted pottery (pl. II.4). For parallels see for instance Tell ‘Ayn as-Sa‘ūda, in Lebanon (Badreshany 2013: fig. 3.22.13 and 3.26.2), or ‘Ein Jarba in the Southern Levant (Garfinkel 1999: 142).

3 Baldi J.S. and Boustani M. (forthcoming), Collections céramiques du musée de Préhistoire libanaise : une étude technique des manières de faire la poterie au Liban proto-urbain, Tempora. See also J.S. Baldi, Collections céramiques du Musée de Préhistoire libanaise : une étude technique, Archéorient – Le Blog, May 5, 2017 [online:].

4 During the Late Chalcolithic and at the beginning of the Early Bronze, Sidon is quite well integrated in the ceramic panorama of the Southern Levant (Doumet-Serhal 2006). 

5 Links with the Amuq become weaker and weaker, especially when, in the 4th millennium BC, the Amuq is strongly influenced by the Mesopotamian Uruk tradition (Braidwood and Braidwood 1960). 

6 See also Baldi and Boustani forthcoming (see footnote 3). 

7 See at Byblos Dunand 1973: pl. CXCII, CXCIII, CXCVII.6697, CXCVII.5591, CXCVII.6700 and CXCVII.6699.

8 The so-called “Line-Painted Ware” is a specialised production typical of the Palestinian proto-urban phase (Early Bronze I) and very rare in the Central Levant. See at Jericho-Tell es-Sultan (Nigro 2007: fig. 21).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 – Regional map showing Qarassa and the settlements mentioned in the text
Crédits Map L.C. Teira-Mayolini
Fichier image/jpeg, 583k
Titre Fig. 2 – The Qarassa sites: the Natufian occupation on the plateau’s edge (Q3)
Légende The PPNB occupation on the North Tell, Area 1 and 2; the Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic occupations on the North Tell, Area 2 and 3; the Bronze and Iron Age sequence on the Southern Tell
Crédits CAD L.C. Teira-Mayolini
Fichier image/jpeg, 589k
Titre Fig. 3 – The Natufian occupation of Qarassa 3, on the edge of the Leja plateau
Crédits Map L.C. Teira-Mayolini
Fichier image/jpeg, 857k
Titre Fig. 4 – Aerial photograph of the Qarassa 3 Area
Crédits Photo G. Davtian
Fichier image/jpeg, 733k
Titre Fig. 5 – View from the east of the Natufian circular structure 9
Crédits Photo J.J. Ibáñez
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Titre Fig. 6 – View from the south-east of the Natufian circular structure 9 and 10
Crédits Photo J.J. Ibáñez
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,1M
Titre Fig. 7 – The PPNB excavation in Area 1
Crédits Figure previously published in Antiquity; CAD MAFSS
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Titre Table 1 – Phases and chronology of the area XYZ in zone 1 of Tell Qarassa North
Crédits J.J. Ibáñez
Fichier image/png, 64k
Titre Table 2 – Phases and chronology of the area UV a in zone 1 of Tell Qarassa North
Crédits J.J. Ibáñez
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Titre Fig. 8 – From the PPNB to the Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic in Area 2
Fichier image/jpeg, 245k
Titre Table 3 – Absolute dating of the upper and lower terraces
Crédits J.J. Ibáñez
Fichier image/jpeg, 61k
Titre Fig. 9 – Lithic remains from the EPPNB phase
Légende 1. Jericho points; 2. Tell Aswad points; 3. Polished axe
Fichier image/jpeg, 316k
Titre Fig. 10 – Dark faced burnished ware samples from Late Neolithic (1-4) and Early Chalcolithic (5-6) contexts
Crédits Photos MAFSS
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Titre Pl. I – Late Neolithic ceramics
Fichier image/jpeg, 323k
Titre Pl. II – Early Chalcolithic (1-6) and Middle-Late Chalcolithic (7-10) ceramics
Fichier image/jpeg, 257k
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Johnny S. Baldi, Juan José Ibáñez, Xavier Terradas, Martin Godon, Frank Braemer et Luis C. Teira-Mayolini, « From the Natufian to the Chalcolithic in Southern Syria: The Qarassa archaeological evidence »Paléorient, 45-1 | 2019, 33-52.

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Johnny S. Baldi, Juan José Ibáñez, Xavier Terradas, Martin Godon, Frank Braemer et Luis C. Teira-Mayolini, « From the Natufian to the Chalcolithic in Southern Syria: The Qarassa archaeological evidence »Paléorient [En ligne], 45-1 | 2019, mis en ligne le 08 septembre 2021, consulté le 21 juillet 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Johnny S. Baldi

Institut français du Proche-Orient, Rue de Damas BP 11-1424 Beyrouth – Lebanon

Articles du même auteur

Juan José Ibáñez

Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, IMF, Archaeology of Social Dynamics 15, Egipcíaques Barcelona – Spain

Xavier Terradas

Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, IMF, Archaeology of Social Dynamics 15, Egipcíaques Barcelona – Spain

Martin Godon

Institut français d’Études anatoliennes Palais de France, Nuru Ziya sok, 10 3443 Beyoğlu, Istanbul – Turkey

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Frank Braemer

CNRS CEPAM – Université Nice Sophia Antipolis Pôle universitaire Saint Jean d’Angely 24 avenue des Diables bleus, 06300 Nice – France

Luis C. Teira-Mayolini

IIIPC (Gobierno de Cantabria, Universidad de Cantabria y Santander) Avenida de los Castros s/n, 39005 Santander– Spain

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