Hureyra is an archaeological site first excavated in 1972 and 1973
in the area currently known as Northern Syria. The excavation was
Andrew M.T. Moore, shortly before the site was going to be flooded
by the reservoir (Lake Assad) for the newly built Tabqa Dam.
of the archaeological work was done on site. However, skeletons
were studied at the University of Oxford in England. The skeletons
were of people who lived in Abu Hureyra between 10,000 and 7000
years ago. The most significant finds on the site were the
skeletal remains of about 162 individuals. Among those, 75 were
children and 87 were adults. Among the adults 44 were females and
27 males and the remaining 16 were of undetermined sex. All of
them were from seven trenches dug at Abu Hureyra.
bones and skeletal remains divulged details of daily life at Abu
Hureyra along with the social activities and details of other
Neolithic cultures who had made the transaction from hunting and
gathering to an agriculture based economy. By comparing the change
in shapes of bones and teeth among the people of Abu Hureyra,
examinations have provided ample information about their major
activities and social responsibilities.
Hureyra was populated in two periods. The first period spanned
about 11,500 to 10,000 years just before the agricultural
development. The people of this time gathered a variety of wild
seeds, such as barley, lentils, rye, hackberries and pistachios
and also hunted gazelles that migrated towards the Euphrates River
second period stretched from about 10,500 to 7000 years ago.
During this time Abu Hureyra was inhabited by settlers who had
cultivated a variety of domesticated seeds, such as oats,
domesticated barley, chickpeas, emmer and lintels. These plants
required preparation before they could be eaten, thus, needed much
labor and time.
evidence of vigorous food preparation was found in studies of bone
structure. Some of the notable changes were signs of extra and
excessive strain by carrying loads of grain and possibly building
materials. One such deformity that was found commonly in women was
their big toe of the right foot was bent upward. It was the heavy
and hard work the people had to do which caused these deformities.
the unearthing, Moore found saddle querns in the rooms of the
houses. These tools were used to grind the grains on a long flat
piece of stone where the grains were placed and then ground with
the help of a cylindrical pestle.
was the grinding of grain for eating that was the most strenuous
and labor-intensive activity of the inhabitants of Abu Hureyra.
The grain had to be produced every day because the seeds would not
keep once they were de-husked. The de-husking with mortar and
pestle and the subsequent grinding in a saddle quern would have
taken many hours. What was found with the bones were the
meaningful signs of long hours spent at such labor. Querns and
rubbing stones found at Abu Hureyra suggest how such wear and tear
came about. The querns were set directly on the ground rather than
mounted on a plinth or other raised structure, a practice followed
in later times (debris surrounding the querns supports the
conclusion that each was found where it had been used). Thus, the
individual using the quern would have had to kneel.
grinding process placed great strain on the body of the person
doing the grinding, which was a woman. Grain was placed on the
quern and the rubbing stone, the cylindrical pestle, was held with
both hands. Then, kneelings with toes bent forward, the stone was
pushed toward the far end of the quern until the woman's upper
body was almost parallel to the ground, then, the woman herks back
to the starting position. The movement that raises the arms as the
grinder pushes forward employs the deltoid muscles of the
shoulder. During this stroke, the arms also turn inward, a motion
accomplished by the biceps muscles. It is precisely where the
deltoid muscles attach to the humorous (the long bone of the upper
arm) and the biceps muscles to the radius (one of the two forearm
bones) which are markedly developed in these individuals. The
over-development of the muscles was symmetrical, affecting both
arms equally. On the forearm of these individuals, the radial
tuberosity, the bulged area of the radius where the biceps muscle
attaches is particularly noticeable.
process of bending for many hours strains the toes and knees,
grinding puts additional pressure on the hips and, especially, the
lower back. The characteristic injuries found on the last dorsal
vertebra were disk damage and crushing. Such injuries could occur
if the grinder overshot the far end of the saddle quern during the
forward push or recoiled to the starting position too quickly or
vigorously. During grinding, the body pivots alternately around
the knee and hip joints. The movement subjects the femurs
(thighbones) to considerable bending stresses. Thus, these bones
develop a distinct buttress along the back to counteract the
bending movements imposed from the hip and the knee as the weight
of the body swings back and forth across the saddle quern. The
knee also takes a lot of pressure because it serves as the pivot
for the movement. Thus, the joint surfaces enlarge.
of these affects appear on a set of bones which was studied. The
femurs were curved and buttressed. The knees showed bony
extensions on their articulate surfaces. The feet were also
subjected to heavy pressure as one grinds grain on a quern. The
toes were curled forward to provide leverage, which was supplied
in large part by the big toes.
the remains from Abu Hureyra, the first metatarsal joints of the
toes are enlarged and often injured. There are also signs of
cartilage damage: smooth, polished surfaces at the metatarsal
joint indicate that bone had rubbed on bone. In some individuals,
a gross osteoarthritis had developed. In one case, the right big
toe is much more severely affected than the left. Although an
infective origin for this condition cannot be ruled out, perhaps
the grinder was in the habit of resting one foot on the other to
relieve the pain.
Abu Hureyra, we see a progression of changes that can be
understood in the light of such innovations. The improvements
brought problems that called for further innovations. There was a
constant progress toward a better life, a striving that continues
to this day. Abu Hureyra represents the first step on the path
toward modern civilization.
on the Euphrates; the archaeological site in the Euphrates valley
of northern Syria, dated 9000-6000 BC, before, during and after
the introduction of agriculture in the region.
Hureyra was located in the valley of the Euphrates River in modern
Syria. It was inhabited from c. 11,500 to 7,000 years ago in
radiocarbon years. The village was founded by a group of hunters
and gatherers who adopted agriculture c. 11,000 BP, becoming the
first known farmers in the world. Following the development of
farming, the population grew and the village of Abu Hureyra
expanded until it became one of the largest settlements of its age
in the Middle East.
Hureyra is significant because it documents the transition from
foraging to farming in one of the world's primary centers of
agricultural development. Abu Hureyra was inhabited during the
transition from Pleistocene to Holocene, a major climatic event
that caused significant environmental change. The village was
occupied for over 4,500 radiocarbon years, an extraordinary span
of continuous habitation that has provided a unique record of
early village life. Because Abu Hureyra was occupied for so long,
we have been able to study the impact of the changes in climate
and environment on the development of a farming way of life at a
single site. The adoption of agriculture had profound effects on
the community of people that lived there and was largely
responsible for the extraordinary growth of the village.
methods of recovery used on an unusually large scale to ensure
maximum recovery of artifacts and food remains. All the excavated
soil was passed through dry sieves to recover artifacts and bones.
Large soil samples from each level were processed further by
flotation to extract carbonized plant remains and small bones.
These huge samples of organic remains have enabled to study the
economic changes at Abu Hureyra in unprecedented detail.