Biblical Paleoarcheology

The Pre-Pottery Generation (G3)

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According to Genesis 10, seventy names are given of people who founded nations. Only three heads of nations were born in this third generation. Thirty-six patriarchs from the second generation, however, were becoming adults and growing their own families. Added to the 16 first-generation leaders, this makes 55 proud nations on the rise. Each would have had its own distinctive culture. Our population model in the chart below shows a world population growth from 244 to 1,085, mostly children. This would have resulted in a variety of permanent settlements, seasonal and temporary sites, and hunting camps. Sheep-herders and big game hunters, on the other hand, would have left little evidence of their presence. In fact, containers made from perishable materials, e.g., gourds from animals skins, would not leave any evidence of their existence. It should not surprise us to find early settlements without clay containers. Archeology lumps settlements without pottery into the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period (PPN).

Kenyon invented the terms
Kathleen Kenyon excavated Jericho from 1952 to 1958. Although she was meticulous in her work, many have questioned her conclusions. Her known bias against Israel (1) undoubtedly resulted in a bias against the Bible. Although John Garstang had previously identified Joshua’s victory at Jericho, Kenyon reinterpreted the strata and declared that the Bible is fiction. Archeologist Bryant Wood later studied both Kenyon’s notes and the actual site of Tel es-Sultan and has concluded that it truly is Biblical Jericho (2).

Kenyon also invented the term Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPN) and divided it into parts A and B. She called the people in Canaan Natufians. These people, located in small camps like one near Jericho, became known as the PPN-A culture that turned into the PPN-B culture. The Natufians were wandering hunters who harvested a less fertile strain of wheat, called “wild” rather than “domesticated” wheat. The PPN-A culture was both hunting and farming, with small round houses. The PPN-B culture built rectangular houses out of mud bricks and added animals to their farms. Popular thinking likes to stretch the PPN over2400 to 2900 years and break it down into many sequential periods. Christians should recognize how much philosophical bias is involved both in setting dates and in creating a maximum number of successive periods to give the appearance of age. How long does it really take to build a house out of mud? Could different cultures represent different family groups that existed at the same time, rather than following one another? Worldview has much to do with one’s conclusions.

Where do we find settlements without pottery?
PPN sites began to extend beyond the Middle Euphrates region and the Levant. People made boats and sailed far out in the Mediterranean Sea in order to discover the island of Crete. We’re talking about at least 50 miles on open sea. These people transported animals in their boats in order to raise them on an island in an enclosed space. Since there were so few large animals in the years after the Flood, keeping them corralled was a real problem. The island of Crete was an ingenious solution.

This is also the time when people ventured west into Turkey and east along the Tigris River. Obsidian was found in the mountains of Turkey near Catalhoyuk, which probably created a sort of “gold rush” that opened up that area to early miners. Obsidian from Turkey, and also from Lake Van, was soon traded and found all over the Near East. In the opposite direction, 350 miles to the east of Karacadag, in the Zagros Mountains, we find Jarmo. This was a mountain-top perch where hunters could look down on the river valley and spot migrating herds of wild animals. As they often did back in those times, they would trap animals in ravines and either kill them or domesticate them. We know from bones found there that they hunted onager, gazelle, sheep, goat, cattle, pig, deer, hare, wolf, fox, bear, birds, and fish. As the hunters came back year after year during the migration season, they eventually raised crops and produced their own local pottery.

Hajji Firuz Tepe, also in the East, has 12 levels without pottery. Being near passes in the Zagros Mountains, it became an important crossroads in all directions, especially between Mesopotamia, the Caucasus region, and the East. It also benefitted from the advantages of being in a wetlands area beside Lake Urmia, with all the wildlife that would be attracted to it.

Ali Kosh
On the far eastern side of the Fertile Crescent, 600 miles from Karacadag, farming and animal management was also taking place. Ali Kosh was located in a very fertile plain at the eastern extremity of the Fertile Crescent. The plain called Deh Luran is famous for having the first canals used for crop irrigation, which evidently inspired the giant canal systems of southern Mesopotamia (3). It appears that people from Ali Kosh were the ones who came from the East to build the city and tower of Babel in the land of Shinar.

Ras Shamra, which later became the Phoenician city of Ugarit, was founded to the west of the Euphrates at this early time. The lowest of five levels was founded on bedrock. It had a mixture of no pottery, stone pottery, clay pottery, and farming. It included both the PPN period and the PN period that we will cover next. So, we see that these periods can overlap or be contemporaneous. The next higher level, level 4, contained fine Halaf pottery that became popular across the Near East and replaced local pottery styles. (4)

Tell Aswad
Located in a lush area on the edge of a lake, and in the northern Levant, Tell Aswad served as a major link between the upper and lower fertile crescent regions. The site, which began towards the end of the PPN period, presents evidence of mud brick housing, farming, hunting, the use of animals, diverse tools, basketry, and weaving. More than 100 individuals were found buried in the cemetery.(5)

Ain Ghazal was located in today’s Jordan. It had diverse farming but no pottery until the Ubaid period. It supposedly grew from 250 to 1350, guessing from the size of the town. Its people were genetically Natufians who settled there. This prosperous town, 4-5 times the size of Jericho, began at the end of the PPN generation, which would have allowed for this large population. Although it had no early pottery, it probably continued to grow through the following periods until it was mostly abandoned in the Ubaid. (6) This would coincide with the migration of many people toward Sumer for the building of Babel in the Ubaid period.

Cayonu, in the center, “is the only excavated site that has a continuous sequence running from substantial layers of pre-pottery to the pottery neolithic” (7). That means that all other sites for this period are camps or small settlements that cannot be dated by the most reliable method, which is studying strata. Even this site is “poorly understood”. “What was happening at this transitional stage, we can only speculate for the time being.” Cayonu reached a “high degree of sophistication” with technologies such as early metallurgy, lime plaster, and terrazzo flooring. The settlement was well-planned in advance, being rebuilt with six different styles of houses. When pottery appeared at Cayonu, it was fully developed and in good quantity, which means it was imported. There was no clay around Cayonu from which to make pottery, which implies that pre-pottery and pottery settlements must have existed at the same time. A large, sophisticated, stable settlement like Cayonu is what we would expect to find at the center of the early post-Flood expansion. (8)

Summary
The pre-pottery sites that have been found reveal a small population rapidly expanding over a large area, spreading out from the Middle Euphrates region. Not enough meaningful layers exist to build a chronological framework, which means that these sites called pre-pottery could have partially overlapped with Natufian hunters, considered earlier, and pottery sites that are considered to be later. The real conclusion is that the population sizes and locations are consistent with the Biblical timeframe and events of a recent Flood.

Resources

(1) Kathleen Kenyon’s Anti-Zionist Politics—Does It Affect Her Work? · The BAS Library 

(2) The Fall of Jericho with Dr. Bryant Wood: Secrets of the Bible

(3) Ali Kosh | Frank Hole (yale.edu)

(4) The Ras Shamra Discovery (apologeticspress.org)

(5) Publication of the Neolithic site of Tell Aswad (Damascus Region, Syria) | The Shelby White and Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications (harvard.edu) 

(6) ʿAin Ghazal wiki | TheReaderWiki

(7) “Pre-Halafian Potter of Southeastern Anatolia” by Mehmet Ozdogan 1993, p. 102.

(8) The German map below confirms that people went out from the Middle Euphrates area in at least three different directions. The Natufians went south into the Levant. Others went west into the Taurus Mountains and east into the Zagros Mountains.

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