Tell Aswad
Tell Aswad Su-uk-su, Shuksa or Tell Sukas is a large prehistoric, Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

A tell or tel, is a type of archaeological mound created by human occupation and abandonment of a geographical site over many centuries. A classic tell looks like a low, truncated cone with a flat top and sloping sides.-Archaeology:A tell is a hill created by different civilizations living and...

, about 5 hectare in size, located around 48 kilometres (29.8 mi) from Damascus
Damascus , commonly known in Syria as Al Sham , and as the City of Jasmine , is the capital and the second largest city of Syria after Aleppo, both are part of the country's 14 governorates. In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major...

 in Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

, on a tributary of the Balikh River at the eastern end of the village of Jdeidet el Khass
Jdeidet el Khass
Jdeidet el Khass or Judaydat Al Khas is a village in southwestern Syria in the Rif Dimashq Governorate, close to the border with Lebanon. It is located Southeast of Lake Ateibe and near the archaeological site of Tell Aswad, known to locals as The Black Hill. Some of the flints that have been found...



It was discovered in 1967 by Henri de Contenson
Henri de Contenson
right|250px|thumb|Henri de ContensonHenri de Contenson , is a French Archaeologist and was Research Director at CNRS, The Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique , a research organization funded by France's Ministry of Research.A student of André Parrot, Raymond Lantier and André...

 who led excavations in 1971-1972. The Aswadian culture found by de Contenson was far too advanced for its calibrated dating than anything else found in the region, and the only example ever found of this culture. Further technical investigation of the lithic series by Frédéric Abbès
Frédéric Abbès
Frédéric Abbès is a French Archaeologist working on postdoctoral research, specialising in the stone or lithic industry of the Near East and Mediterranean...

 revealed inconsitencies so it was recently decided to re-excavate in six seasons by the French Permanent Archaeological Mission El Kowm-Mureybet
Mureybet is a tell, or ancient settlement mound, located on the west bank of the Euphrates in Ar-Raqqah Governorate, northern Syria. The site was excavated between 1964 and 1974 and has since disappeared under the rising waters of Lake Assad...

 under the co-direction of Danielle Stordeur
Danielle Stordeur
Danielle Stordeur is a French Archaeologist and Directeur de Recherche at the CNRS. She is also Director of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs permanent mission to El Kowm-Mureybet , replacing Jacques Cauvin in 1993 until 2010, when Frédéric Abbès is due to take over this position.-Positions...

 and Bassam Jamous between 2001-2006. Investigations into the materials found are ongoing at the National Museum of Damascus
National Museum of Damascus
The National Museum of Damascus is a large museum in the heart of Damascus, Syria. The most popular part of the museum is the reconstruction of the 2nd century CE Dura-Europos synagogue.- Location :...


The fieldwork at Tell Aswad has changed the dating system at this site, abolishing the Aswadian period in the PPNA (9500-8700 cal BC). The latest research has split the PPNB period into 3; PPNB Ancien from 8700 to 8200 cal BC and the PPNB Moyen from 8200 to 7500 BC. PPNB Récent has been equated with Dunand's "Néolithique ancien de Byblos".


The first PPNB period involved construction of massive earth architecture, layering soil with reeds to construct walls. The inhabitants of Tell Aswad invented the brick on site by modelling earth clods with beds of reeds, which they then formed raw bricks and eventually dried in later stages. Houses were round from beginning to the end of the settlement, elliptical or polygonal and were partly buried or laid. The orientation of the openings is most often to the East. This conforms with sites in the Southern Levant
The Levant or ) is the geographic region and culture zone of the "eastern Mediterranean littoral between Anatolia and Egypt" . The Levant includes most of modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and sometimes parts of Turkey and Iraq, and corresponds roughly to the...

, whereas Northern Euphrates
The Euphrates is the longest and one of the most historically important rivers of Western Asia. Together with the Tigris, it is one of the two defining rivers of Mesopotamia...

 Valley sites generally display rectangular houses.


Tools and weapons were made of Flint
Flint is a hard, sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of the mineral quartz, categorized as a variety of chert. It occurs chiefly as nodules and masses in sedimentary rocks, such as chalks and limestones. Inside the nodule, flint is usually dark grey, black, green, white, or brown in colour, and...

 including Aswadian and Jericho
Jericho ; is a city located near the Jordan River in the West Bank of the Palestinian territories. It is the capital of the Jericho Governorate and has a population of more than 20,000. Situated well below sea level on an east-west route north of the Dead Sea, Jericho is the lowest permanently...

 point arrowheads. Other finds included grinding equipment, stone and mud containers, and ornaments made of various materials. Obsidian
Obsidian is a naturally occurring volcanic glass formed as an extrusive igneous rock.It is produced when felsic lava extruded from a volcano cools rapidly with minimum crystal growth...

 was imported from Anatolia
Anatolia is a geographic and historical term denoting the westernmost protrusion of Asia, comprising the majority of the Republic of Turkey...

. Basketry, weaving
Weaving is a method of fabric production in which two distinct sets of yarns or threads are interlaced at right angles to form a fabric or cloth. The other methods are knitting, lace making and felting. The longitudinal threads are called the warp and the lateral threads are the weft or filling...

 was commonplace with the imprint of embroidered fabric recorded on a fragment of plaster. Modelling clay and stone figurines of people, animals and geometric shapes such as spheres, cones, discs took place since the beginning of the settlement, these were sometimes mixed with vegetables.

The graves of more than one hundred well preserved individuals were found. In the first half of occupation these were found in or around the homes, in later stages cemeteries are isolated outside the village. A collection of 9 technically and stylistically similar, over-modelled, Natufian skulls were retrieved from 2 areas. Detailed study of the skulls is currently underway to provide insight into the traditions and social ties of the villagers. The residents of Tell Aswad reserved a very sophisticated treatment for the dead; skulls were removed and cleaned, with a face modelled directly onto the bone with lime plaster and then painted.

Agriculture & Animal Domestication

Tell Aswad occupies a special location in the central Levant as connecting region between northern and southern expansions of agriculture. Apparently a stronger trade relation is present to the southern cultures, although they had many things in common with the cultures existed in the northern Levant. It is an example of one of the oldest sites of agriculture with domesticated emmer
Emmer wheat , also known as farro especially in Italy, is a low yielding, awned wheat. It was one of the first crops domesticated in the Near East...

Wheat is a cereal grain, originally from the Levant region of the Near East, but now cultivated worldwide. In 2007 world production of wheat was 607 million tons, making it the third most-produced cereal after maize and rice...

 dated by Willem van Zeist
Willem van Zeist
Willem van Zeist is an Archaeologist, Palynologist and Professor of Paleobotany. He was the Director of the Biologisch-Archaeologisch Instituut, Rijksuniversiteit of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.-Biography:...

 and his assistant Johanna Bakker-Heeres to 8800 BCE. Peter Akkermans and Glenn Schwatrz suggested on this evidence that Tell Aswad shows "the earliest systematic exploitation of domesticated cereals (emmer wheat) c. 9000-8500 BC". They suggest that the arrival of domesticated grain came from somewhere in the vicinity of "the basaltic highlands of the Jawlan (Golan
Golan was a biblical city in Land of Israel. It was in the territory of Manasseh in the Bashan.Golan was the most northerly of the three cities of refuge east of the Jordan River . Manasseh gave this city to the Gershonite Levites .According to the Bible, the Israelites conquered Golan from the...

) and Hawran
Mount Hermon
Mount Hermon is a mountain cluster in the Anti-Lebanon mountain range. Its summit straddles the border between Syria and Lebanon and, at 2,814 m above sea level, is the highest point in Syria. On the top there is “Hermon Hotel”, in the buffer zone between Syria and Israeli-occupied...

. The claim is based on the discovery of enlarged grains, absences of wild grains and on the presumption that the site was beyond the usual habitat of the wild variety of emmer wheat. The earliest postulated evidence for einkorn wheat at Jericho was not dated until at least five hundred years later than Aswad's emmer. Flax
Flax is a member of the genus Linum in the family Linaceae. It is native to the region extending from the eastern Mediterranean to India and was probably first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent...

 seeds were also present. Fruit
In broad terms, a fruit is a structure of a plant that contains its seeds.The term has different meanings dependent on context. In non-technical usage, such as food preparation, fruit normally means the fleshy seed-associated structures of certain plants that are sweet and edible in the raw state,...

, fig
Common fig
The Common fig is a deciduous tree growing to heights of up to 6 m in the genus Ficus from the family Moraceae known as Common fig tree. It is a temperate species native to the Middle East.-Description:...

s and pistachio
The pistachio, Pistacia vera in the Anacardiaceae family, is a small tree originally from Persia , which now can also be found in regions of Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Sicily and possibly Afghanistan , as well as in the United States,...

s, were apparently very popular because they were found in large quantities. Stationary containers of mud and stone were found with carbonized grain found on the interior of one designating them as silo
A silo is a structure for storing bulk materials.Silo may also refer to:* Silo , a 3D modeling software* Silo , a defunct chain of retail electronics stores* SILO , used in Linux...

s. Finally, reeds were widely used, especially as reinforcement in the architecture, but also for mats
Mats is a masculine given name, the Swedish form of Matthew.MATS as an acronym may refer to:*Montgomery Area Transit System, the public transportation in Montgomery, Alabama...

[ and baskets and perhaps as bedding
Bedding refers to the materials laid above the mattress of a bed for hygiene, warmth, to protect the mattress, and for decorative effect. Bedding is the removable and washable portion of a human sleeping environment. It is more easily and economically replaced than the bed itself...

 or fodder
Fodder or animal feed is any agricultural foodstuff used specifically to feed domesticated livestock such as cattle, goats, sheep, horses, chickens and pigs. Most animal feed is from plants but some is of animal origin...


A large number of goat
The domestic goat is a subspecies of goat domesticated from the wild goat of southwest Asia and Eastern Europe. The goat is a member of the Bovidae family and is closely related to the sheep as both are in the goat-antelope subfamily Caprinae. There are over three hundred distinct breeds of...

s was evident in the early stages indicating they were either hunted or herded. This is an important issue because the period when animal domestication first took place is still an open question. From the middle PPNB, the presence of pets is evident. There are pigs
PIGS is a four letter acronym that can stand for:* PIGS , Phosphatidylinositol glycan anchor biosynthesis, class S, a human gene* PIGS , the economies of Portugal, Italy , Greece and Spain...

, sheep, goats and cattle
Cattle are the most common type of large domesticated ungulates. They are a prominent modern member of the subfamily Bovinae, are the most widespread species of the genus Bos, and are most commonly classified collectively as Bos primigenius...

. For the latter two, production of meat
Meat is animal flesh that is used as food. Most often, this means the skeletal muscle and associated fat and other tissues, but it may also describe other edible tissues such as organs and offal...

 and milk
Milk is a white liquid produced by the mammary glands of mammals. It is the primary source of nutrition for young mammals before they are able to digest other types of food. Early-lactation milk contains colostrum, which carries the mother's antibodies to the baby and can reduce the risk of many...

 has been noted. In addition, cattle often show diseases resulting from their use for labour. The image that results from the study of the archaeozoological
Zooarchaeology, also known as Archaeozoology, is the study of animal remains from archaeological sites. The remains consist primarily of the hard parts of the body such as bones, teeth, and shells...

 is a village of farmer
A farmer is a person engaged in agriculture, who raises living organisms for food or raw materials, generally including livestock husbandry and growing crops, such as produce and grain...

s and herders in full possession of food production techniques. Hunting is well represented with two species of horse
The horse is one of two extant subspecies of Equus ferus, or the wild horse. It is a single-hooved mammal belonging to the taxonomic family Equidae. The horse has evolved over the past 45 to 55 million years from a small multi-toed creature into the large, single-toed animal of today...

s, two gazelle
A gazelle is any of many antelope species in the genus Gazella, or formerly considered to belong to it. Six species are included in two genera, Eudorcas and Nanger, which were formerly considered subgenera...

s (mountain gazelle and Persian gazelle), wild boars, many water birds and some birds of the steppes. Finally, fishing
Fishing is the activity of trying to catch wild fish. Fish are normally caught in the wild. Techniques for catching fish include hand gathering, spearing, netting, angling and trapping....

 is practiced throughout the occupation of the site. The presence of flora
Flora is the plant life occurring in a particular region or time, generally the naturally occurring or indigenous—native plant life. The corresponding term for animals is fauna.-Etymology:...

 such as water reeds, rushes
Juncaceae, the rush family, are a monocotyledonous family of flowering plants. There are eight genera and about 400 species. Members of the Juncaceae are slow-growing, rhizomatous, herbaceous plants, and they may superficially resemble grasses. They often grow on infertile soils in a wide range...

 and tamarisk shows that the site was close to a very humid environment. The presence of bone
Bones are rigid organs that constitute part of the endoskeleton of vertebrates. They support, and protect the various organs of the body, produce red and white blood cells and store minerals. Bone tissue is a type of dense connective tissue...

s of fish
Fish are a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic vertebrate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups...

 and aquatic birds like duck
Duck is the common name for a large number of species in the Anatidae family of birds, which also includes swans and geese. The ducks are divided among several subfamilies in the Anatidae family; they do not represent a monophyletic group but a form taxon, since swans and geese are not considered...

s, cranes
Crane (bird)
Cranes are a family, Gruidae, of large, long-legged and long-necked birds in the order Gruiformes. There are fifteen species of crane in four genera. Unlike the similar-looking but unrelated herons, cranes fly with necks outstretched, not pulled back...

 and geese, indicated that the site was located near a lake and the inhabitants of Neolithic Aswad fully exploited its resources.

Tell Aswad has been cited as being of importance for the evolution of organised cities due to the appearance of building materials, organized plans and collective work. It has provided insight into the "explosion of knowledge" in the northern Levant during the PPNB Neolithic stage following dam
A dam is a barrier that impounds water or underground streams. Dams generally serve the primary purpose of retaining water, while other structures such as floodgates or levees are used to manage or prevent water flow into specific land regions. Hydropower and pumped-storage hydroelectricity are...

 construction. Aswad has been suggested to be amongst the ten probable centers for the origin of agriculture.

Sue Colledge gives dates for the earliest domesticated cereal use at Tell Aswad from approximately 9150 to 8950 BCE. This is preceded by an earlier and smaller cave site called Iraq ed-Dubb
Iraq ed-Dubb
Iraq ed-Dubb, or the Cave of the Bear, is an early Neolithic archeological site northwest of Ajlun in the Jordan Valley, in modern-day Jordan. The settlement existed before 8000 BCE and experimented with the cultivation of founder crops, side by side with the harvesting of wild cereals...

 in Jordan showing evidence of domestic cereals possibly as far back as 9600 BCE.

Jacques Cauvin
Jacques Cauvin
Professor Jacques Cauvin was a French archaeologist who specialised in the prehistory of the Levant and Near East.-Biography:...

 clarifies that Aswad was not the center for the origin of agriculture, stating that it's first inhabitants "arrived, perhaps from the neighboring Anti-Lebanon
The Anti-Lebanon mountains is the Western name for the Eastern Lebanon Mountain Range , which are a southwest-northeast-trending mountain range between Syria and Lebanon. Its Western name comes from the Greek word for ‘opposite’. The majority of the mountain range lies in Syria. The border between...

, already equipped with the seeds for planting, for their practice of agriculture from the inception of the settlement is not in doubt. Thus it was not in the oasis itself that they carried out their first experiments in farming."


  • Cauvin, Jacques
    Jacques Cauvin
    Professor Jacques Cauvin was a French archaeologist who specialised in the prehistory of the Levant and Near East.-Biography:...

    , The Birth of the Gods and the origins of agriculture, Cambridge, 2000.
  • Kuijt, Ian and Goring-Morris, Nigel., Foraging, Farming, and Social Complexity in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic of the Southern Levant: A Review and Synthesis, Journal of World Prehistory, Volume 16, Number 4.


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