The Syria of today offers tourists as much a cultural experience as a sightseeing one, where ancient history provides a fascinating backdrop to everyday life on the streets                          

 


Syria

Archaeological Sites

Abu Hureyra

Abu Hureyra is an archaeological site first excavated in 1972 and 1973 in the area currently known as Northern Syria. The excavation was supervised by Andrew M.T. Moore, shortly before the site was going to be flooded by the reservoir (Lake Assad) for the newly built Tabqa Dam.

Most 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.

The 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.

Abu 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 in spring.

The 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.

The 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.

During 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.

It 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.

The 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.

The 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.

All 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.

In 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.

At 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.

Village 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.

Abu 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.

Abu 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. modern 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.

 
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