The radiocarbon dates of Epipalaeolithic and early Neolithic sites in the Near East are here compiled and analysed in order to compare the sites in chronological context and check if differences between sites are due to chronological differences alone. This compilation does not intend to be complete but only comprises sites analysed within the frame of the SIGN Project (www.vorderasien.uni-freiburg.de/sign_benz).
The preliminary results provided here are intended as a working platform for all those who are interested in the comparison of cultural and environmental developments during the important transitional phase from foraging to farming. References to all radiocarbon dates are given in the descriptions of the sites: the references in the text are only to discussions and archaeological data. All authors and readers are welcomed to help complete and correct the files. The more researchers who offer us their cooperation, the better a basis for archaeological interpretation this compilation will be. Consequently, it has seemed useful to publish all the compiled files (OxCal) ready for calibration analyses, which will facilitate chronological analyses without the need to retype dates.
For comments on the radiocarbon data of each site all data were calibrated with the open download program OxCal Version 3.1/Intcal 04 (Reimer et al. 2004; Brook Ramsey 2005). All the data with standard deviations of more than 150 yrs have not been calibrated because the time ranges of calibrated years would become too wide: these dates would smear out rather than clarify changes. For the same reason, it was decided to use probabilities of the 1-sigma range, though keeping in mind that the uncertainties of dating are increased by neglecting the 2-sigma ranges. Data discarded by the excavators either because of methodological or stratigraphic problems were not calibrated. To use the OxCal calibration files you just have to click once the right mouse button on the Oxcal sign behind the site name. By choosing “save target as ..." you can download the file ready for further operations with OxCal.
Thanks to the cooperation with Bernhard Weninger, Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte, Radiocarbon Laboratory, University of Cologne, it will soon be possible to use also the up-dated version of CalPal 2007 (Weninger, B., et al. 2009, Wenigner et al. 2007). (www.calpal.de)
It would be a major aim to actualize these lists and to cooperate in an open mind in order to advance research on the early Neolithic. It is nearly impossible to avoid typing mistakes assembling all these data. In order to avoid popularizing wrong dates, the reader is asked for his/her support and we would be very grateful for information on mistakes that we can – at least in the online-lists – correct them.
It should be stressed that the time ranges of 14C-dates do not indicate the duration of occupation at a site (cf. Sayej 2004:63). The bars in the diagrams only provide, to a certain probability, a time range between which the site was most probably occupied. Whether this was a long continuous occupation, or several short ones, is a matter of interpretation not only of the 14C dates, but of the stratigraphy and the archaeological remains. In certain cases, e.g. Abu Hureyra, it could be suggested that there was not a continuous occupation of all parts of the site, but shifting areas of occupation (cf. Moore et al. 2000:157).
However, the more complex the organisation of societies becomes, the more complex the question of seasonal patterns of use becomes. Storage, trade or exchange of resources complicated the usage so much that it can be very difficult to determine seasonal occupations. Yet, especially during the transition to sedentism, it cannot be presumed that the construction of permanent houses caused mobility patterns to be suddenly altered. Unconspicuous hints, like the walls set into the entrances in the round buildings of the MPPNB phases of Beidha (Byrd 2005), could indciate that sites were abandoned briefly and then reoccupied during another season or a later year. Such scenarios might not only be suggested for the small round houses, but also for the long houses of PPNB sites like Abu Hureyra.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the ranges of calibrated 14C dates depend on the course of the calibration curve. During increasing atmospheric concentration of 14C, the curve will be quite steep: High concentrations of 14C correlate with low solar activity, generally meaning cooling or cold climatic conditions. In consequence, the chance of measuring a 14C-date during these phases is less than during phases of high solar activity, low 14C-rates, and a flat calibration curve. Thus a sudden decrease in the number of 14C-dates is often due to methodological reasons and to a climatic deterioration (Benz 2000:37-40). One of the major challenges for the archaeologist therefore is to clarify whether, during these phases of decreased 14C-dates, settlement activities were continued, continued in changed form, or whether the sites were abandoned.
Finally, it must be emphasized that this compilation of data would not have been possible without the support of numerous researchers and of teams with sampled dates of whole regions, such as the canew team (Bischof 2004; www.canew.org) for the Northern Levant and Ghattas Sayej (2004) for the early Neolithic in the Southern Levant – to say nothing of the published data bases of the laboratories. When discrepancies of dates occurred, we referred back to the originally published dates, making some minor corrections for typing errors.
We cordially thank Hans Georg K. Gebel for the opportunity to open this platform on the homepage of ex.oriente e.V. This discussion of radiocarbon dates draws on results from an ongoing research project commissioned by the LANDESSTIFTUNG Baden –Württemberg and the Albert-Ludwigs-University of Freiburg.
We are very grateful to Danielle Stordeur, Hans Georg K. Gebel, Gary O. Rollefson, Zeidan Kafafi, Ryszard Mazurowski and Danuta Michczynska for submitting us the then unpublished dates of Aswad, Basta and Tell Qaramel, and the correlation of radiocarbon dates with the stratigraphy of ‘Ain Ghazal.
Photographs of the sites, which were kindly provided by the excavators, may not be reproduced, stored in retieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without written premission from the authors. Comments and graphs should be cited: Benz, M. Comments on radiocarbon dates of Epipalaeolithic and Early Neolithic sites of the Near East. http://www.exoriente.org/associated_projects/ppnd.php.
Neolithic Heritage Trail
Basta (u.c.) Joint Archaeological Project
PIGPA Project (u.c.) Palaeoenvironmental Investiga-
tions in the Greater Petra Area
PPND Plattform for the publication of Neolithic Radiocarbon Dates