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Fundacja im. Kazimierza Michałowskiego


Pre- and Protohistory

Tell Arbid (Syria)

TELL ARBID PROJECT, Poznań University, Spring Season 2008

Dates: June 10 – July 3, 2008


Assist. Prof. Rafał Koliński – field director, archaeologist (Institute of Prehistory, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań)

Jowan Kassim - co-director, archaeologist (Regional Direction of Antiquities and Museums, Qamishli)

Saud Hussein - archaeologist (Regional Direction of Antiquities and Museums, Qamishli)

Xenia Kolińska - archaeologist, documentalist

Dr. Łukasz Rutkowski - archaeologist (Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw, Poland)

Jerzy Wierzbicki - archaeologist, photographer (freelance)

Iwona Barczyńska, Adam Michałowski, Kajetan Polakowski, Katarzyna Sztompka, Marika Święszkowska, Ewelina Wyszkowska - students of archaeology (Institute of Prehistory, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań)

In June 2008, a new project “Collapse, regress or progress. The settlement and cultural landscape of the Syrian Jezirah at the end of the Early Bronze Age”, planned for three field seasons, was started under the auspices of PCMA’s Polish-Syrian Mission to Tell Arbid. It was aimed at researching Post-Akkadian (or Early Jezirah V) remains identified previously in Sector SR, on the eastern slope of the main tell.
Fieldwork concentrated in an area south of Sector SR, where seven 10x10 m squares were opened, three of them being a continuation of previous work by the PCMA mission. An additional test trench was dug to the north of a formerly excavated quarter of houses dated to the Khabur Ware period in order to evaluate the extent of the settlement at that time, and to determine the possible presence of earlier remains. Remains belonging to three main cultural phases were discovered: Khabur Ware Period (OJ I-II), Post-Akkadian Period (EJ V) and Ninevite 5 Period (EJ I-II).

General view of Sector P during excavations (Photo J. Wierzbicki)

Khabur Ware Period – houses and graves
Plans of two newly discovered Khabur Ware period houses were cleared on the easternmost terrace of the slope. One of them was preserved at the level of its pisé foundations (House 4), while the other (House 3) had mud brick walls preserved to a height of about 1.10 m over its floors. Another set of pisé foundations stood on the middle terrace (House 5), farther to the west. All the houses were relatively small and consisted of three or four rooms.
Graves from this period were encountered among the houses. Two shaft graves containing child burials were spotted under the floor of House 4. In both cases large vessels placed on their sides served as coffins. They contained, beside the skeletons, relatively rich sets of burial goods, mainly pottery vessels.

Khabur Ware Period child burial G2 (in square 37/62) with five miniature vessels in situ and photographed as a set (Photo J. Wierzbicki)

In grave G1 (square 37/62), a cylinder seal (Dia. 8 mm, H. 17 mm) was found along with some beads. The seal shows a simplified “Contest Scene” with two rampant lions attacking two ruminants. The style and composition of the seal suggest a quality local product dating to the late EJ III period, much earlier than the grave itself. It seems unlikely that the child had used the seal for any administrative or economic purposes in its life. The seal must have ended up as an amulet or an extra ornamental bead, and as such found its way into the grave.

Cylinder seal dating from the EJ III period found in a child’s grave G2 (square 37/62) from the Khabur Ware period (modern seal impression on left) (Photo J. Wierzbicki)

A small cemetery of cist graves was identified on the middle terrace of the slope, north of House 5 (square 37/60). The graves were covered with horizontally laid bricks. Of eight graves identified there, only four were explored. One tomb was empty, but the others yielded one or two pottery vessels, a bronze pin and a few beads each. They all belonged to adults or adolescents.

Superimposed cist-graves G4 and G5 in square 37/60 (Photo J. Wierzbicki)
Burial in grave G5 after clearing and documentation photo of the Early Khabur Ware jar from the grave (Photo J. Wierzbicki)

Two graves of another type were identified in the northernmost of the excavated squares. They were vaulted chamber graves with an arched opening acting as an entrance. Only one of them, L2, was explored (square 35/61). The vault over the chamber was constructed of two layers of bricks. The inner layer, which formed the actual vaulted ceiling, consisted of small, trapezoid bricks. The outer layer of bigger, hard, square bricks covered the vault’s structure. A pile of human bones was cleared in the eastern part of the chamber. The grave, which held remains of at least two individuals, was used for consecutive burials and was most probably robbed already in antiquity.

Khabour Ware Period vaulted chamber grave L2 (square 35/61) during exploration (Photo J. Wierzbicki)

Post-Akkadian Period – residence and industrial zone
Remains of the Post-Akkadian period were identified in squares 37/60 and 37/61 already during the 2001 season. Relatively well preserved architectural remains of this date were found in the central part of Sector P.
A large, finely built structure composed of relatively large rooms (“Residence”) stood in the central part of the sector. Its focal point was a courtyard paved with baked bricks and tightly packed pebbles from which a door provided with a stone threshold led into a spacious chamber (5.25 x 4.50 m at the least) located towards the north-west. On the northern side of the courtyard, separated by a very thin wall (c. 0.40 m in width) there was an annex for household activities. At least one bread oven stood there.

Paved courtyard of Post-Akkadian “Residence” in square 37/62 (Photo J. Wierzbicki)

Remains of two more rooms belonging to the same structure were located further west, unfortunately cut deeply by pisé foundations of the Khabur Ware period House II. The building with wide, well executed walls (1.20 m or three bricks in width) seems to continue towards the east and south.

Remnants of Post-Akkadian walls cut by the pisé foundations of 2nd millennium BC houses in square 37/61 (Photo J. Wierzbicki)

To the west, another structure (or structures) composed of at least five small rooms was present (“Extension”). It was obviously added to the “Residence”, the outer wall of which served as one of the walls of the newly constructed rooms. The pottery assemblage from a late phase of the usage of this structure included a decorative and characteristic “snake-vessel”. This small jug with rounded body is decorated with applications in the form of two snakes, a scorpion, two still unidentified motifs (probably a sun-disc and a crescent) and an incised palm-leaf design.

Post-Akkadian pottery vessel with snake and scorpion applications (Photo J. Wierzbicki)

The westernmost area of the Post-Akkadian settlement (explored in 2001) is clearly of a different character. In this part of the site, small rooms are enclosed by very thin walls (only one-brick wide), giving the appearance of squatter occupation. The presence of numerous bread ovens is typical of this area.
Further to the west (square 38/60), behind what looks like a retaining wall, a large pottery kiln was discovered (Locus 3). Its superstructure had a horseshoe shape (2.40 x 1.90 m), but its subterranean part had a round outline (c. 1.80 m in diameter). The walls of the fire chamber were made of rectangular bricks (40x13x11 cm), heavily burned by use, they were red in colour and the entire inner surface of the wall was covered with a thick coat of dark-green vitrified slag. No remains of the grill were found, although traces of two supports could suggest its original position. A chamber was found below, c. 2 m deep and 1.20 m in diameter at the bottom, but bearing no traces of fire on the earthen walls. It probably served as a repository for ashes from the fire chamber as ash filled its bottom with a layer more than 0.70 m thick. A nearly complete Post-Akkadian bowl found in the ashes, overfired and warped by the high temperature, provides us with a date for this structure.

Ninevite 5 Period – high on the slope
To the researchers considerable surprise, extensive deposits dating to the Ninevite 5 period were discovered (but not explored) in two squares located in the most elevated part of Sector P. This situation probably reflects the original shape of the tell which must have been changed by later terracing of the slope, first by the site’s inhabitants in the Post-Assyrian period and later by Khabur Ware period settlers. A few bullae with impressions of Piedmont Style seals corroborate an early 3rd millennium BC date for these deposits.

[Text: R. Koliński]

Polish-Syrian Mission to Tell Arbid (Poznań University Project), spring 2008: upper row, from left: Mrs. Xenia Kolińska, Dr. Rafał Koliński, Mr. Saud Hussein, Mr. Kajetan Polakowski, Ms Ewelina Wyszkowska; middle row: Ms Marika Święszkowska, Ms Iwona Barczyńska, Mr. Adam Michałowski, Ms Katarzyna Sztompka, Mr. Jerzy Wierzbicki; in front: Dr. Łukasz Rutkowski (Photo J. Wierzbicki)

About the project: The project “Collapse, regress or progress. The settlement and cultural landscape of the Syrian Jezirah at the end of the Early Bronze Age”, is carried out in the field jointly by a team of the Adam Mickiewicz University of Poznań, Poland, headed by Dr. Rafał Koliński acting as field director, and the Direction Générale des Antiquités et Musées of the Syrian Arab Republic, headed by Mr. Jowan Kassim, Project co-director. The work was sponsored by a research grant from the Polish Ministry of Science (no. N 109 3983 33) and supported by the Foundation for Polish Science, Adam Mickiewicz University and private sponsors.

R. Koliński: kolinski@amu.edu.pl