Early Village Life At Beidha
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(Early Village Life At Beidha: Neolithic, Brian Byrd, 2005 AD)
Site Setting, History of Excavations and Occupation Sequence
The fieldwork revealed that Beidha is a multicomponent site with three discrete periods of habitation: an early Natufian encampment (primarily during the 11th millennium BC); a PPNB village (primarily during the 7th millennium BC); and, ultimately, terraced Nabatean agricultural fields (during the 1st millennium AD). (All dates in this report are in uncalibrated radiocarbon years before 1950.) A considerable hiatus separates each of these occupations (Fig. 34).The Natufian encampment and the Nabatean agricultural terracing will be discussed briefly only in this chapter, and the remainder of the volume will focus on the extensive Neolithic village. The final report on the Natufian encampment was the subject of the first Beidha volume (Byrd 1989b).
The Natufian occupation at Beidha took place during an aggradation period of the Wadi el Ghurab (Field 1989: 86-90). The sediment that comprises the Natufian occupa-tion was largely deposited by streams with limited cultural input. Throughout the wadi, the level of the valley floor was considerably higher during the Natufian occupation than today. This aggradation formed the alluvial terrace in which the Natufian horizon is contained.
The PPNB village is situated on top of the alluvial terrace, and based on the elevation at the base of the Neolithic deposits (-6.0 m on the site elevation system), the old prehistoric surface is essentially equivalent to the present day height of the terrace. The erosion that created this stranded alluvial terrace formed a natural southern boundary for the PPNB village. An impressive Neolithic retaining wall, with steps leading into the village, lies along this edge of the site (Figs 31-32). Its function was, no doubt, primarily to retard continued erosion, and it appears to have been constructed during the initial phase of occupation. Bar-Yosef (1986: 161) has suggested that this wall was designed to protect the village terrace from floodwater damage. If during the PPNB the Wadi el Ghurab flowed along the south side of the valley (as it does today), then flooding may not have been a major concern.
The earliest PPNB stone dwellings were semisubterranean and dug into the loose sandy alluvial sediment of the terrace. The village was then occupied for a considerable period of time, perhaps as much as 500 years. Cultural debris accumulated and new buildings were constructed over old ones, allowing distinct phases of occupation to
be distinguished. Ultimately over 3 m of cultural material accrued within the limits of the village itself. This created a small, low Neolithic tell. A thinner veneer of associated cultural deposits extends beyond the limits of the village, particularly to the north and east, and this includes a series of off-site buildings in an area termed the eastern sector.
After the abandonment of the Neolithic village, erosion along the western edge of the site destroyed a portion of the Neolithic village. This was caused by lateral erosion of the Seyl Aqlat. The amount of the village destroyed is impossible to determine, but it could represent a con-siderable area (Field 1989).
Nabatean Agricultural Terraces
The site witnessed no human activity again until Nabatean (or possibly Roman) times when a series of agricultural terraces was constructed. This agricultural system was supplied with runoff water by a rock-cut aqueduct along the northeast sandstone face of the Seyl Aqlat (Fig. 5), and these terraces are only a portion of an extensive agricultural system in the Wadi el Ghurab. The now buried terrace surfaces have weakly developed soil horizons, and based on pollen recovered from them, the Nabateans may have grown cereals, olives, figs, and possibly pistachios (Fish 1989: 94).
The site of Beidha is situated on and within a remnant terrace formed by alluviation that began during the Late Pleistocene and ceased prior to the ninth millennium BP. Three periods of human occupation are present - Natufian, Neolithic, and Nabatean - with lengthy time periods devoid of occupation separating them. This resulted in a thick sequence of cultural and noncultural deposits up to 6 m in depth.The particulars of the occupation history of the Neolithic village are explored in detail within subsequent chapters.
Village Wall Excavations
The Neolithic village wall was primarily exposed in an excavation area that extended from N4 to L9, but was also located in squares L10-L11 and possibly squares L13-L14 (Figs 30-32, 59, 454). Remnants of this stone wall extended for at least 38 m and possibly up to 52 m. The village wall consisted of four main segments: a 15-m segment west of the steps, a flight of five to six steps over a meter wide, a 13-m segment immediately east of the steps, and a 7.5-m segment directly to the east in squares L10-L11 (Fig. 69). Another possible 9-m segment was exposed 5 m further to the east in squares L13-L14. In addition, wall remnants were attached to its northern side in squares L11-J13 and the largest one was preserved for 8 m in length and extended to the northwest.
The preserved height of the main village wall ranged from 1.0 m to 2.2 m west of the steps, and only a few courses remained east of the steps. Directly west and east of the steps, footing stones and a probable path were preserved along the base of the wall. The village wall was constructed during phase A, remodeled several times, and probably remained in use throughout the occupation span of the village.
Summary of Neolithic Village Occupation History
The history of the Neolithic village at Beidha, like most tells, was complicated, and its unraveling from the preserved remnants of the stratigraphy was a formidable task. Overall, the settlement had a long and apparently continuous occupation. There is no evidence to suggest that the village was ever abandoned for a period of time and then reoccupied. It was primarily occupied during the latter half of the Middle PPNB making it contemporaneous with occupation at a number of other southern Levantine sites including 'Mn Ghazal, Jericho, Ghwair I, Kfar HaHoresh, Nahal Hemar, Wadi Su'eib (Kuijt and Goring-Morris 2002: 387; Rollefson 1989b: 169) (Fig. 1). Nearby excavated sites such as Ba'ja, Basta, and Ayn el-Jammam do not appear to have been contemporaneous as they were occupied primarily during the Late PPNB (Gebel et al. 1997; Nissen et al. 1991; Waheeb and Fino 1997).
CHAPTER 8 Conclusion
A new style of architecture began in phase C and was used throughout the settlement. This novel corridor building architecture appeared fully developed without antecedents at the start of phase C. It was a distinctive technological and organizational development comprised of two internally subdivided stories - one as a basement and the other set slightly above ground level. Each story had a separate entrance. The upper stories were open in plan and had plastered floors. In contrast, the basements were comprised of multiple small rooms, with a variety of features (except hearths) within them, and had earthen floors. Several single-story quadrilateral buildings (both large and small), coexisted with these corridor buildings and provide evidence of continuity with earlier architectural traditions.
The establishment of two-story corridor buildings in phase C entailed virtually a three-fold increase in the interior area of domestic units. This size increase accompanied an expansion in the structural organization of individual dwellings and related household activities. This does not indicate an intrinsic change in the size of these households: nuclear families probably still constituted the fundamental domestic unit. The addition of basements to domestic dwellings allowed for storage and many household production activities to take place within spatially segregated small rooms within the dwelling. The upper stories of these dwellings were more open spatially and structurally and were no doubt the venue for eating, sleeping, and entertaining. The range and emphasis of activities varied little between households. The main exception to this pattern involved specialized production of personal adornment items in one dwelling (notably marine shell jewelry). This may indicate some preferential access to luxury items existed between households.
By Steve Rudd:Contact the author for comments, input or corrections.
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