Metallurgic Findings from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic at Tell Halula, Syria

In this post we present selected parts of the very interesting paper titled “New Metallurgic Findings from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic: Tell Halula (Euphrates Valley, Syria)“, by Molist Miquel et al. (2009).

NovoScriptorium: Please see here for Tell Halula.

“Halula is a large site, located at 150 km east from the modern city of Aleppo, covering an area of 8 ha and having more than 11 m of stratigraphic sequence. The site was almost continuously occupied from 7800 to 5200 cal. BC, that is, from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period (Middle and Late PPNB) to the Pottery Neolithic (Amuq A-B, and Pre-Halaf), and the transition between the Neolithic and the Chalcolithic periods (Halaf and Obeid cultures)

The excavations, along with the study of the records from the last archaeological seasons, have revealed the remains of a PPNB village at Tell Halula. Houses are placed in the same location, with one house parallel to another in an east-west axis and with wide circulation space of about 1 m in between them. In front of the houses, we also found wide open spaces used in multiple ways as, for example, an area for processing food or manufacturing tools. All these houses, made of mudbrick, are rectangular and identical in organization with three, four or five rooms. The main room consists of a large rectangular space, with some of the floors and walls covered with a lime plaster. In some houses, these floors and walls are also painted with geometric or human motifs. The burials have been found inside the main room of the houses.”

“PPNB burials at Halula are mainly primary individual interments and correspond to subfloor pits inside the main room of the houses, just behind the doorway. Pits are generally a circular hole in the floor, although we have also unearthed some pits with rectangular or oval plan. Usually, they also have straight walls and a concave or flat base. The opening of the pits is relatively small, with a mean diameter of 45 cm and values ranging from 16 to 100 cm. The mean depth of the pits is 40 cm, with values ranging from 8 cm to more than 1 m.”

“The excavation of many of the burial pits has unearthed organic remains of sacks, textiles and, to a lesser extent, vegetable mats and some basketry. It is possible that some of the preserved organic materials are clothing or wrapping of the bodies. Sacks and textiles are generally found next to the body or in the walls of the pits, while vegetable mats are found just below the clay sealing, and the basketry at the bases. The recovery of these organic materials at Halula stands out since they are rarely well preserved on archaeological sites.

The analysis of textile remains has determined that the raw material used is linen, and it also shows the complexity of their manufacturing.”

“The grave goods inside the burials are the subject of new research at Tell Halula. More than half of the burials at the site (59%) contain some type of grave goods. Preliminary analyses have shown that, with varying frequencies, women and men as well as all age classes were buried wearing adornments, and/or had objects placed in their graves. Moreover children younger than four years had the greatest number of personal ornaments. Grave goods at Halula mainly include stone and bone tools, lime or clay cones, balls with textile impressions, ochre and various ornamental stones.”

“Personal adornments constitute the larger category of grave goods, with more than 500 beads and pendants made of shell, stone, copper and bone.”

“Necklaces and bracelets can be made of different raw materials available. Thus, necklaces can be made of stone, copper or even shell, the former being the most abundant. Different combinations of raw materials in the same object are remarkable, even if the combination of red chalcedony and turquoise is most often used. Generally, bracelets combine more raw materials than necklaces. These were made of stone beads, stone and copper beads, only copper beads, and stone and shell beads as well. Pendants were made of bone or shell, while headdresses and belts were mainly made of Cypreae sp. shells.”

“Two kinds of metal raw materials were used for making objects at Tell Halula: galena and copper, with copper being the most abundant. Both galena and copper items have been found only as part of grave goods.”

“So far, excavations at Tell Halula have provided 32 copper beads, one copper pectoral pendant and three galena balls. In general, copper beads are small, cylindrical or circular, with a central perforation; just in one case, we found a small copper plaque that was folded to obtain a cylindrical bead.”

Copper bead

“It is also worth noticing the great variety of raw materials used to make ornamental objects. Thus, only one bracelet was exclusively made of copper beads (burial 4I-E222); two more bracelets were made of both copper and semi-precious stones (burials 4H-E107 and 4I-E206); and, finally, four necklaces were made of stone beads together with copper beads and/or pendant (burials 4J-E46, 4J-E47, 4J-E48, and 4J-E32).”

“Copper objects have been recovered in eleven burials (14% of the burials at the site), as being part of necklaces, bracelets or pendants. The analysis of their distribution among the burials shows a clear concentration of this type of objects in the latest PPNB phases of occupation.

The galena balls are globular-shaped objects. The base of the balls is flat, while the top is slightly dented and the body has a light protuberance. The surface is whitish and shows textile impressions. So far, only three galena balls have been recovered at the site, from which two of them are complete and the other one is smashed. The latter has allowed us to observe the core of these galena balls. Like the copper objects, these are found in the latest PPNB phases, in two child burials and in a young adult female burial.”

“results suggest that native copper could have been used at Halula, according to the low concentrations of elements such as Co, Sb, Ag and Au, traditionally associated with native copper.”

“copper found at Halula is purer than copper found at Çayönü Tepesi, especially according to arsenic and, to a lesser extent, silver contents. Metal objects from Aşıklı have much less arsenic than the ones from Çayönü Tepesi, although some of them have similar values compared to ones from Halula. However, the main difference between copper from Aşıklı and Halula is the amount of silver and iron impurities.”

“The study of copper objects at Tell Halula has also been completed with metallographic studies of three metal objects (…)

Lunula pendant: According to the observation of the section of a small sample by Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), the sheet of native copper contains no perceptible impurities (…) The microstructure shows deformation-oriented (elongated) grains of copper, irregular in size. This kind of microstructure is a consequence of plastic deformation by cold hammering of the metal sheet (…)

Bead E222: a spherical-like bead obtained from a small rolled up native copper sheet (…) No noticeable impurities all over the metallic section have been observed. The microstructure shows large copper crystals, irregular in size. Some rectilinear twin grains (grains with parallel borders) have been formed; they clearly indicate that the metal was annealed after being cold worked (…)

Bead E109: an item similar to bead E222, both in the material and in the manufacturing process. Differences of copper grain sizes are more striking in this case, probably due to a lack of skilfulness in annealing during this period.”

“the technology level showed by our samples can be classified as pre-metallurgical, since metal smelting was not reached yet.”

Copper beads

“these metal objects are exclusively found in the burials and, meaningfully, inside specific burials, houses and occupation phases. Thus, burials with metal objects essentially belong to the 11th-13th occupation phases; they are not recorded in any of the earliest phases, from which we also have unearthed a significant number of burials. Moreover, their exclusive location in three houses might also suggest a concentration of these objects in some particular social households (…)

Considering the distribution of adornments, copper objects, such as beads or pendants, seem to be mainly associated with child burials. On the contrary, if these ornaments are part of necklaces, they usually belong to adult burials of both sexes. The distribution of lime balls with galena inner cores follow the same pattern as the copper objects (…)

The great variety of objects belonging to PPNB grave goods at Halula confirms the existence of important and complex exchange networks during this chronological phase, especially between Anatolia and the Euphrates valley. In fact, it seems that this chronological period consolidates the common networks and the movement of raw materials and finished products. Some of these networks and exchanges are being documented from earlier periods (…)

In the middle and late PPNB horizons, this interconnection is consolidated as highlighted by the circulation of obsidian in the area of the Euphrates valley, showing a significant increase of the products as well as of the sources. Moreover, as records found at Halula show, movement of pearls and other ornamental elements indicate a wide circulation of products between these two regions (…)

The esthetical characteristics of native copper would be well known during the Neolithic period. In spite of the controversial case of Shanidar site (level B1), other archaeological parallels for Halula come from Central and Eastern Anatolia: Çayönü and Aşıklı (Turkey) are the sites with the highest number of findings of metal objects. “Cobble-Paved Buildings” and “Cell Plan” phases of Çayönü, and the main level of occupation with burials in Aşıklı, are contemporary or even slightly more ancient than Halula. In fact, native copper beads have been recovered in both sites, and they have been cold-hammered or annealed. Besides, two different manufacturing techniques have been documented: the first technique is based on a small copper sheet which is rolled up; the second one is based on the manufacturing of the bead from a small biconical mass of copper (nugget-like) with a perforation. At both sites, those beads are found only inside the burials and are part of necklaces, bracelets or pendants. Other types of metal objects are scarce, although some needles or punches have been also found.”

Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Philaretus Homerides

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