The Most Important Neolithic Site
The Neolithic period began in 9500 B.C.E and is traditionally considered the last part of the Stone Age. This era began with the rise of farming and ended with the use and manufacturing of stone tools. This era consists of three parts; Pre Pottery Neolithic A, Pre Pottery Neolithic B and Pottery Neolithic (McNamara 2005: 51).
In 1974, the construction of a highway in Jordan revealed a large Neolithic site called ???Ain Ghazal. For almost ten years ???Ain Ghazal went untouched and the site became compromised by natural forces and additional construction projects. ???Ain Ghazal is a large Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period. There have been two seasons of excavations at this site targeting the most exposed areas. It is one of the most significant Neolithic sites in the Near East (Simmons/Rollefson 1982-83: 387). Archaeologists methodically went through the process of using the archaeological record which has enabled them to accurately make cultural inferences about the people that lived at ???Ain Ghazal during the Neolithic period.
In ???Ain Ghazal, archaeologist have made conclusions about the way that these people lived through the analysis of their culture. The first aspect of culture is technology which can be defined as the means by which human societies interact most directly with the natural environment (class notes, 2/2/11). There have been nine habitation dwellings excavated; they all consist of two rooms which are made from stone and mud mortar. The walls inside the buildings were coated with lithium and decorated with red ochre. The floors consisted of high quality plaster and were also painted with red ochre. The second room within these dwellings were often used for storage or in the preparation of food. But not all were the same; there was a degree of individuality that existed within each building (Simmons/Rollefson 1982-83: 389). The people of ???Ain Ghazal displayed the ability to construct stable and efficient dwellings.
In ???Ain Ghazal hunting was important, but their main economic stability depended mainly upon food production. This was concluded from all of the animal bones that were found from many different species of birds, fish, and mammals. There is also evidence that leads archaeologists to believe that animals were also used in a domestic sense (Simmons/Rollefson 1982-83: 390).
Over one quarter of a million stone artefacts were recovered; they mainly consisted of tools in which there was a great degree of variation among their designs. Stone tools and blades were common and they were made of mainly the native limestone and basalt which was not locally available. Experimentation with pottery was also evident from the remains of pottery and bowls that were found (Simmons/Rollefson 1982-83: 390). This evidence shows that these people worked very well with the land. They were able to take many raw materials and turn them into finished products. They displayed an intricate knowledge of agriculture as well as the ability to manufacture stone tools.
Every society from the most primitive to the most complex consists of social systems which assign roles within the society as well as define relationships that exist within a society (Class Notes, 2/9/11). ???Ain Ghazal consists of twenty eight acres of land which makes it much larger in relation to other Neolithic sites. When you look at this site it is evident that it was economically shaped around food production (Simmons/Rollefson 1982-83: 390). This shows that there was inequality within this society as only a fraction of the population would have access to the favourable farming land.
There were four types of burial styles that were practiced at ???Ain Ghazal (Simmons/Rollefson 1982-83: 390). Again this points toward a hierarchal system within their society because not all people received equal treatment upon burial. The manufacturing of stone tools and pottery shows us that there are defined roles within this society. This is because not every person would have the skills necessary to produce these tools; this means that there was a select group whose role was to produce the finished products for the majority of the population. The materials in which there tools were made from is also important. Some tools were made from basalt which could not be found locally. This means that the people of ???Ain Ghazal must have had some means of trading with other groups in order to acquire this foreign rock.
The third aspect of culture is ideology, this defines the how human societies codify their beliefs about the natural and super natural world (Class Notes, 2/2/11). A lot of evidence derives from the funerary customs of the people from ???Ain Ghazal. The sacrificing of infants suggests that it is some sort of offering to either their leader of the community or a god. There was also a skull found which had the skull carved off and was painted red, this also leads archaeologists to infer that these people had some sort of belief system.
Where an artefact is found and what surrounds the artefact is also very important to archaeologists; this is called context and association. The context of an artefact consists of the matrix, the material surrounding the artefact, the providence, the horizontal and vertical positioning within the matrix, and its association. Association is the co-occurrence of this artifact with other archaeological remains in the same matrix (Class Notes, 2/14/11).
For example when looking if you were to look at the tool fragments found you would see that they were spread out all over ???Ain Ghazal. How deep these tools were buried in the ground would allow archaeologists to pin point the period in which they came from. And since there was an abundance of tools it also allowed them to conclude that these tools were not rare and were used in everyday life.
The figurine of the pregnant women was buried in a special cache; this makes it clear that this figurine is of significant importance. The providence of the cache and an analysis of the figurine would allow archaeologists to date the figurine. With association to other archaeological remains this figurine was the only one that depicted a pregnant woman. The rarity of the figurine shows how important it is.
The formation process has the ability to affect the way that artifacts have come to be buried and this process can also affect them after burial. Cultural formation allows archaeologists to determine an artifacts importance by the use of the object and its disposal (Class Notes 2/14/11). Burials are crucial to understand how important a person or artifact is. The statutes and busts were carefully arranged and buried in a single deposit with the statutes laying on their front or back. This cache consisted of ten statutes and twelve busts (Simmons/Rollefson 1982-83: 392). This specific burial of these objects show archaeologists that these statues were some sort of sign or symbol with significant importance.
Human action has also caused exposure and deterioration at ???Ain Ghazal. During construction in 1974 this site was exposed, but it sat dormant for ten years and fell victim to the forces of nature. Further construction projects have damaged the site as well as a failure to acknowledge the sites importance when it was first detected.
Natural formation process consists of natural events that can affect burial, condition, and survival of the archaeological record (Class Notes 2/14/11). The environment took its toll on the exposed areas of ???Ain Ghazal. But the extreme heat has also helped to preserve ???Ain Ghazal because the warm climate does not allow micro-organisms to live that would break down artifacts. The formation process has affected the exposed parts of the site, but overall the climate helped to preserve the archaeological remains of ???Ain Ghazal.
After analysing the data found I can now make cultural inferences about the people at ???Ain Ghazal. The size of this site is crucial since most Neolithic settlements were simple and egalitarian I feel that ???Ain Ghazal had a more complex social system. The domestication of animals points towards a wide range of inequality. This possession of livestock would allow these people to transfer wealth through generations, and this would also fuel competition. Burials also lead toward inequality amongst these people. Some people were buried inside the dwellings while others were buried outside in the ground. This means that not all people were ceremoniously buried after death. This again reveals the social inequalities that existed amongst the inhabitants at ???Ain Ghazal.
Archaeologists methodically went through the process of using the archaeological record which has enabled them to accurately make cultural inferences about the people that lived at ???Ain Ghazal during the Neolithic period. Context and association within artifacts helped them to determine an items rarity and purpose. The site was affected by the formation process but that did not hinder the archaeologist??™s ability to analyze the site. Through the proper use of the archaeological record archaeologists were able to make cultural inferences about the lives of people living in one of the most important Neolithic sites.