[main] : [Excavations] : [Tell Aray] [Tell Abd el-Aziz] [Tell el-Kerkh]

Fig.1 (70.1 KB)

Excavations at Tell Ain el-Kerkh 1997 - 1999
We started the excavations in three areas of Tell Ain el-Kerkh, the northern part of the tell complex at Tell el-Kerkh. Three 9 x 9 m squares (Squares E270, 290 and E310) in the Central Area, a 9 x 4.5m trench (Square E10) in the North Area, and a 9 x 2m trench (Square A386) in the Northwest Area were excavated in 1997. In 1998, the excavation of three squares in the Central Area was a continuation from the first season, and two new 9 x 9m squares (Squares D6 and D26) were prepared in the Northwest Area. In addition to the excavations of these areas, seven small sounding trenches were prepared and dug in various places in the northern part of tell in the second season. In 1999 we concentrated our activities on the same squares in the Central and the Northwest Areas, and another 9 x 9m square (E271) was newly opened (fig.1).

All of the areas and sounding trenches produced plentiful Neolithic layers, although we did not reach the virgin soil in every operation. The cultural layers were arranged in order following the names of the Rouj Basin chronology, which we have already established and proposed based on our previous research in 1990-1992. The approximately presumed dates of each period are outlined below. All dates here are uncalibrated, and these are tentative assumption.

El-Rouj 1 period.....Late PPNB (c.6500-6200 b.c.)
El-Rouj 2a period.....Beginning of Pottery Neolithic (c.6200-6000 b.c.)
El-Rouj 2b period.....Early phase of Pottery Neolithic (c.6000-5700 b.c.)
El-Rouj 2c period.....Middle phase of Pottery Neolithic (c.5700-5300 b.c.)
El-Rouj 2d period.....Late phase of Pottery Neolithic (c.5300-5000 b.c.)

The cultural layer of each area could be placed into the following chronological order.

___ Area-square Northwest Central North
Chronology ___ A386, D6, D26 E270, 271, 290, 310 E10
___ El-Rouj 2d ___ Layers 1-2 ___
Pottery El-Rouj 2c ___ Layers 4-6 Layers 5-6
Neolithic El-Rouj 2b Layers 1-2 ___ ___
___ El-Rouj 2a ___ ___ ___
Late PPNB El-Rouj 1 Layers 3-5 ___ ___

Fig.2-1 (85.5 KB)

Fig.2-2 (62.2 KB)

Fig.3 (59.9 KB)

Fig.4-1 (59.1 KB)

Fig.4-2 (83.0 KB)

El-Rouj 1 Period
El-Rouj 1 is the oldest phase which we have already reached at Tell el-Kerkh. Layers 3-5 of Squares D6 and D26 (Northwest Area) belong to this period. No single potsherds were discovered in these layers. Relatively large-tanged Ugarit point and Byblos points (fig.2-1, 2-2) are predominant besides sickle elements among the chipped stones. As thick cultural debris below Layer 5 remain unexcavated, the oldest occupation at Tell el-Kerkh probably dates back earlier than Late PPNB. Though Layers 3 and 4 merely produced fragments of structures, such as pis
walls, clustered stones, shallow ash pits and infant burials, two solid stone foundations of rectangular buildings were discovered in Layer 5 of Square D6 (fig.3). They were built side by side, facing the same direction. The most conspicuous find is a chache of flints, consisting of 86 blade blanks for sickle elements (fig.4-1, 4-2), found under the floor-level at the northeastern corner of the southern room of Structure 244.

El-Rouj 2b Period
El-Rouj 2b layers were found directly on the El-Rouj 1 layers in Squares D6 and D26. So, it is probable that the Northwest Area of Tell Ain el-Kerkh lacks El-Rouj 2a layers, which were attested in the sounding pit of Tell el-Kerkh 2. Some rows of stones for the rectangular buildings and a large expanse of stone floor measuring about 5 x 4m are the main structures of these layers. Dark-faced Burnished Ware (DFBW) decorated with nail impressions is quite dominant among potsherds in these layers. Ten flint micro-borers and some unfinished stone beads were found together within a small area in Layer 1 of Square D26. All of the micro-borers were made of fine-grained flint, and they were flaked off from the special type of bladelet cores. All of the unfinished stone beads are oval or square-shaped serpentinite type with lozenge section. Therefore, we can suppose that some specialized bead production was operated there.

El-Rouj 2c Period
The following El-Rouj 2c period were captured in Layers 5-6 of the North Area (E10) and Layers 4-6 of the Central Area (E270,271,290,310), although thick Neolithic layers still remain unexcavated below these layers again. The pottery found from Layers 4-6 of the Central Area mainly consists of DFBW and Coarse Ware. Most of DFBW does not have any decoration, but some have applied horizontal bands or small impressed decorations. Nail impression, which was an extremely popular decoration for DFBW of the El-Rouj 2b period, has almost disappeared in these layers.

Fig.5 (29.1 KB)

Layer 6 of the Central Area was excavated in Squares E290 and E310. We discovered two main structures in this layer. One is a square-planed pisbuilding measuring 4 x 3.6m (Str. 124). The floor was paved with fist-sized limestone, then lime plaster was spread over the stones carefully. A rectangular hearth was found in the second floor along the eastern wall. Another building (Str. 167, fig.5) has not been fully excavated. Although it was considered merely as a lime-plastered floor at first, it was becoming clear that the lime-plastered floor was not only the pisbuilding floor but also the covering for another lower pisbuilding. If it is a case, this structure was a two-storied building. We dug the half of the western two square spaces under the floor, and both walled spaces produced rich materials including three stamp seals, one stone mace head, one stone lamp-like object, one large stone disc, one stone spindle-whorl, four flint points and many flint blades.

Fig.6 (33.8 KB)

Fig.7 (52.7 KB)

We researched Layer 5 in three squares (Squares E270, E290 and E310), and this layer produced similar buildings to those of Layer 6. One of the large rectangular multiple-room buildings, Str. 72, was completely excavated (fig.6,7). This building was made of pisand mud-brick walls without stone foundation, and it consists of a narrow rectangular central room being lined with small square rooms on both sides. Though four of these small square rooms were paved with fist-sized limestone, other rooms lack a clear floor. The limestone floors have rugged surfaces, and could not have been suitable for living. One of the rooms produced some animal bones, including a large complete cow mandible, the pelvis of a small cow and the ulna of a pig, which were placed intentionally on the floor. Although some flint points and many potsherds were also found from the floors or floor levels of other rooms, few materials were found in situ from this building. The building was extremely burnt, and all of the rooms are too small to live in. So, we supposed that this type of building had been store-houses or the foundations for the upper structures. Two more buildings similar to Str. 72 were discovered, although most parts of the buildings were out of the excavated squares.

Another square-planed pis
building was discovered among these large rectangular multiple-room buildings. This building (Str.74) is rather small, measuring 3 x 2.6m, and characterized by a carefully made lime-plastered floor above the fist-sized stone pavement. Although the building itself was completely vacant, a unique structure was discovered under the floor. It is a small square-planed pit covered with stones and mud-plaster. One skeleton of a newly-born human infant and many animal bones were buried in the uppermost layer of this pit. An Amuq point was placed on the infant probably as a funeral gift. One complete suid remain and the horns of fallow deer were also discovered in connection with Str.74. Therefore, this square-planed building was not only a residence but also the place for some ritual purpose.

Fig.8 (54.2 KB)

El-Rouj 2d Period
?El-Rouj 2d, the last Neolithic period of the Rouj Basin, was researched in Layers 1-3 of four squares of the Central Area (Squares E270, E271, E290, E310). The most conspicuous characteristics for pottery of this period is the pattern burnish decoration on DFBW. A new type of ware group, Cream Ware, also appear in this period for the first time. This ware is characterized by a red-washed whitish surface and smooth paste. Although points mostly disappear among the chipped stones in this period, it is notable that two complete "daggers" were discovered (fig.8). One is made of red flint and another of transparent high-quality quartz. They are elaborately worked by pressure flaking on both surfaces.

Building remains of this period were mostly damaged by rebuilding activities. A one-roomed pis
building, having a rectangular plan and lime-plastered floor, and a rectangular multiple-room pisbuilding were discovered besides many circle or straight-shaped rows of stones for building foundations, tannors, and ash pits in Layers 1-3.

Fig.9 (70.5 KB)

Fig.10 (73.7 KB)

The most exciting findings of this period are ritual pits found from Layer 2 of Square E310. Three small shallow pits (Structures 21, 22 and 38), full of broken pottery, were discovered closely each other. Str. 21 produced a pedestal bowl, cream bowl and a cylindrical-necked jar (fig.9), Str. 38 produced a pedestal bowl and a cylindrical-necked jar (fig.10), and Str. 22 produced a shallow bowl and a hole mouthed jar. All of these pottery are restorable pieces, and they were intentionally broken and carefully placed in the shallow pits. The red-colored pedestal bowl of Str. 21 was broken into the bowl part and the pedestal part, and then the bowl part was broken again and placed around the pedestal part which was placed upside down. The black-colored pedestal bowl of Str. 38 was also broken into two parts, and the bowl part and the pedestal part were laid sideways separately. The shallow bowl of Str. 22 was carefully broken and combined with the large painted jar like a puzzle ring. Besides pottery, these three pits were filled with carbonized ash and burnt clay. A few burnt infant bones were also discovered in Str. 22. Although we cannot conclude the function of these shallow pits, the evidence indicates that they must have been used for ritual purposes, such as offerings to the dead.

Besides the above mentioned main excavated squares in the Northwest, North and Central Areas, we made one 9 x 2m and three 2 x 1m sounding trenches along the northern axis of Grids DEF for the east-west section and three 2 x 1m sounding trenches along the middle axis of Grids BE for the north-south section in 1998 season (fig.1). We could grasp the rough Neolithic mound shape of the northern part of Tell Ain el-Kerkh (Tell Section). The shape of Neolithic mound was slightly different from that of today. The settlement of each period varies in size and the layers overlapped intricately. Though the PPNB and early Pottery Neolithic settlements of the northwestern part were suspected to be relatively limited in size, simultaneous cultural layers were discovered in the eastern slope of the mound (Square F1). All of the sounding trenches showed the existence of thick Neolithic cultural layers, and we reconfirmed the existence of successive huge Neolithic settlements at Tell el-Kerkh.

Fig.11-1 (27.5 KB)

Fig.11-2 (17.3 KB)

Fig.12 (40.9 KB)

Some Remarks
A great number of chipped stones and pottery obtained from three seasons' excavations at Tell el-Kerkh provide us with rich materials not only for chronological studies but also for considering social aspects of the Late PPNB and Pottery Neolithic periods. For example, the people adapted the qualities of flint material and flaking technique to make each type of tool. In the Late PPNB and early Pottery Neolithic, fine-grained flints were flaked into straight and relatively long blades from the opposed-platform cores (fig.11-1), and they were made into points, scrapers and other tools. Coarse limy flints were chosen to make sickle elements which were flaked from prismatic or pyramidal shaped single-platform cores (fig.11-2). Micro-borers were made on bladelets which were flaked from other type of cores (fig.12) by using pressure flaking. This evidence indicates the existence of some kinds of craft specialization in producing chipped stones in the Neolithic societies at Tell el-Kerkh.

Fig.13 (53.5 KB)

Some 150 beads, most of which were made from non-local stones, such as turquoise, serpentinite and agate, are notable materials. Many unfinished stone beads were discovered besides finished beads (fig.13). Some serpentinite unfinished beads were found together with broken flint micro-borers as mentioned above. The Neolithic people of Tell el-Kerkh imported various kinds of precious stone from outside of the Rouj Basin and bead production was executed within the settlement.

Fig.14 (19.6 KB)

Fig.15 (30.1 KB)

The excavations produced some thirty stamp seals, made of stones, bones and terra-cotta, until now (fig.14). Although most of them were discovered in El-Rouj 2c layers, other periods also produced a few specimens. Three clay sealings which have the seal impressions on the front and trace of string and cord marks on the reverse side were also discovered in El-Rouj 2c and 2d layers (fig.15). In additions to seals and sealings, there are some unfinished stone stamp seals. Therefore, it is certain that a sealing system, as protecting ownership, worked within the Neolithic settlements at Tell el-Kerkh.

We are deeply grateful to Dr. Sultan Muhesen and Dr. Adnan Bunni for the opportunity to make a Syro-Japanese Archaeological mission to Tell el-Kerkh. We also thank to Mr. Mohammad Qador, Dr. Bassam Jamous and other staffs of Diretorate-General of Antiquities and Museums. The great deal of help was given by the staff of Department of Antiquities in Idlib, especially Mr. Abdo Asfari. We also appreciate Dr.Antoine Suleyman of Aleppo National Museum for his consistent cooperation. Finally, we are especially indebted to Dr.Giro Orita, adviser of ICARDA, for his inestimable support to our mission. The financial support of the investigations came from the grant under the International Scientific Research Program of Japanese Ministry of Education and Culture, Grant No. 08041004

The 1999 Tell Ain el-Kerkh Excavation Members (98.9 KB)

Copyright (c) 2000, Univ. of Tsukuba Archaeological Missions to Syria. All rights reserved.
Currently designed and constructed by Shannon Gibbs, Osamu MAEDA.
Last edited 25th of December 2000