Tell Shiyukh Tahtani (North Syria)

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1 Tell Shiyukh Tahtani (North Syria) Report of the 2010 excavation season conducted by the University of Palermo Euphrates Expedition by Gioacchino Falsone and Paola Sconzo In the summer 2010 the University of Palermo expedition in North Syria carried out a fifteenth season of fieldwork and salvage excavation at Tell Shiyukh Tahtani, a site on the left bank of the Euphrates River south of Jerablus. This season lasted about seven weeks, from 3 August to 19 September. Our Representative of the DGAM was Mr. Khaled Ahmu from Hassake. As in 2006 and 2008, our work was concentrated in Area CD on the eastern slope of the tell, where two main operations were undertaken. The first, on the south-western corner of the mid-slope (squares D9-D10), Middle Bronze Age I remains (Phase 8) were explored and then completely removed; here the main purpose was to cut down a 1.50 thick deposit in order to reach a lower building of the EB IV period (Phase 10), where a rich hoard of small vessels had been partially excavated previously. The presence of a group of MB burials slowed down our work so much that the exploration of the lower EB IV structure and its associated hoard could not be fulfilled. This will be a goal of a future season. The second operation was conducted at the foot of the main tell on the southern side of the East Trench (Squares C3, D3), now over 7 m deep, where we continued the investigation of a large compound (South Building) datable to the very beginning of the EBA. Further occupation layers and fine mud-brick architecture of this period were elucidated here: however, there was no trace of the Late Calcholithic horizon which we had hoped to find. In spite of missing these aims, the results obtained during the last excavation season at Shiukh Tahtani were quite fruitful in many respects, and these will be described below in more detail. (G. Falsone) 1

2 Middle Bronze Age levels (D9-D10) The Middle Bronze Age occupation in Area C-D covers a surface of about 250 square metres and is located halfway the slope on the higher step of the large excavation field. Here a core sequence had been already established in the previous seasons, consisting of four main phases (CD - Ph. 9-6), covering almost entirely the first half of the second millennium. While the work of the 2008 season had been mainly focused in the central sector of the MB remains (squares D7 and D9), this year we concentrated our efforts mainly to explore the southern side (squares D9 and D10) where we proceeded to the investigation and subsequent removal of walls and layers of Phase 8 which were still kept in situ. The main aim of this season was to reach a deeper level in order to bring to light the western side of the so-called perfum room. This large room, datable to the late third millennium BC (Early Bronze IV), had already been partially cleared on its eastern side during the 2005 season: the room had turned out to be of great interest since it contained scattered on the floor a rich array of pots, mostly of small size, among which were over 70 miniature cups and a series of Syrian bottles of fine quality, after which the structure had been nicknamed. During the 2010 season unfortunately this operation was starkly slowed down by the discovery of four graves, all datable to the MB I period (Phase 8): these had been all dug in the abandonment layer separating the MB remains from the EB IV and even partially cutting trough the mud-brick collapse of the walls of the lower level (Figs. 1-6). The first was a jar burial (T. 117) containing the remains of an infant - about 1 month old - and of a foetus. The former was located inside the jar and covered by the bottom of a second vessel, laid upside down and used as a lid; the latter was instead placed outside, adjacent to the jar (Fig. 1 a-b). Fig. 1. Tomb 117 before and after the removal of the lid. 2

3 The second tomb (T.118), immediately to the south, was a large bipartite oval pit, subdivided by a row of square mud-bricks set across the middle of the pit, containing in one compartment the secondary deposition of two individuals mixed with animal bones and, in the other, the jar burial of an infant of about five months (Fig. 2). No funerary offerings were found. Fig. 2. Tomb 118 In the same spot, about 50 cm below, was identified a third pit grave, namely the Spinstress` Tomb (T. 120). The latter, oval in shape, was lined on one side by a mud-brick revetment and is of large interest since it contained a well preserved skeleton of a young girl (ca years old), lying supine on the back with the legs crouched on the left side. The girl still held in her left hand what seems to be a bronze spindle in which traces of a thread coiled up round the shank are clearly visible. A spindle-whorl, of unbaked clay, lay on her heap. Two vessels (a jug and a drinking cup) were placed near the knees and a flask in Gray Ware at the head (Figs. 3-4). Fig. 3. The Spinstress Tomb (T 120). Close-up views of the burial: notice the left hand holding the bronze spindle, and the clay spindle whorl placed below the heap. 3

4 Fig. 4. Tomb 120. (a) Spindle and spindle whorl (b) detail of the thread. The funerary offerings also included a wine (?) service (a carinated drinking cup and a jug with trefoil mouth) and a narrow-necked ovoid bottle in Gray Ware (Fig. 5). Fig. 5. Tomb 120: three pots. Last, another interesting feature was a kind of deep shaft enlarged at the bottom on one side (but not a real chamber), 1.7 x 0.9, over 1.5 m deep, cutting through the mud-brick collapse of the lower EB IV walls of the perfume room. The pit, filled with mud-brick debris, was lined with a mud-brick revetment on one side ending up in a kind of vault-like roofing (T. 119), of which not too much was preserved. The grave contained four adult individuals, three of which - in a primary state - were laid on one side facing west, while the fourth, set on top of the others, was partially disarticulated (Fig. 6). 4

5 Fig. 6. Tomb 119. (a) Full top view; (b) close-up of two skeletons. Among a few personal ornaments there were a single carnelian bead and a silver ring, found still encircling a finger of the right hand of an old woman (about years old). The funerary offerings, laid all around the edge of the pit, included two shallow bowls with inverted rim, three carinated tall cups with slightly everted vertical rim, a globular mug and a fine piriform flask in Gray Ware (Fig. 7). 5

6 Fig. 7. Tomb 120: the funerary offerings As already mentioned, the excavation of the graves was a long-lasting operation which lasted almost three weeks. Only in the last few days we were able to proceed to the total removal of the ashy layer separating the MB I level from the lower late-third millennium remains. This operation brought entirely to light the walls of the perfume room and the mud-brick collapse of the western wall which filled the room completely (Fig. 8). Fig. 8. Collapse of mud-brick wall inside the perfume room. The operation stopped at this level without reaching the floor below, upon which other cups and oil vessels fo the hoard are presumably scattered. The Early Bronze Age levels (East Trench) As far as concerns the earliest phases of life so far known at the site, dating to the beginning of the third millennium BC, the operations of this year were focused in the southeastern corner of the deep East Trench at the foot of the tell, both inside what has been called the South Building and in the adjacent area to the west. The South Building is a quite interesting mud-brick structure oriented N-S, only partially cleared during the earlier seasons since it is largely covered by the east section. The building is characterized by a buttressed façade, forming a fine example of niched architecture in a fine Mesopotamian tradition (Fig. 9) and seems to have been in use for a long time, as highlighted by a long, continuous stratigraphic sequence detected on the inner side and in the area immediately to the west outside. Two main phases of occupation could be distinguished: a later one (namely Phase 13), in which a doorway flanked by two buttresses led to an open court to the west; and an earlier one (Phase 14), in which the facade wall was not interrupted by an access and a second building of uncertain nature was located to the west. 6

7 Fig. 9. Buttressed façade of the South Building. As far as concerns the later Phase 13, apparently datable to the beginning of the third millennium B.C., we proceeded only to the removal of a flagstone pavement, located inside the main room in front of the entrance. This turned out to be the last good occupation layer connected with the doorway, while various new installations, uncovered immediately below, belonged to the earlier Phase 14 (Fig. 10). Fig. 10, a-b. South Building, Phase 14A: two views of the inner room. These consisted of a L-shaped mud-brick bench inserted in the north-west corner next to the door in which were embedded two cooking-pots filled with burnt barley and charcoal. Immediately to the east a few jars and bowls smashed on the floor were also found. During the 2008 season the courtyard remains of Phase 13 in the area to the west of the South Building had been already completely removed, and another building of a lower level (Phase 14) namely the SW Unit - had appeared. The latter consisted of a large room, rectangular in plan, containing a central square platform, built with bricks and a limestone slab on the top, 7

8 partially protruding from the west section (Fig. 12). The east and south mud-brick walls had been reinforced by inner additions of later sub-phases, which were also indicated by clear traces of fine white lime plaster in between, lining different wall faces. A small square annex had been uncovered to the south, separated by a narrow cross-wall: its floor was plastered, but no doorway apparently existed (Fig. 12b, foreground). Fig. 11. South-West Building, Phase 14: fireplace of main room and window-like opening of storage room. The building was closed to the east by a thick mud-brick wall running parallel to the façade. Both structure, close to each other, formed a kind of a narrow trench filled with a homogeneous brownish soil, over 1 m deep. At the bottom of the trench we uncovered the line of an earlier wall which served as a foundation to support the pillared façade of the South Building of Phase 14. During the 2010 campaign we focused mainly in the clearing and removal of the mud-brick debris, as well as the ash layers filling the main room. Below a thick fill ca. 1.5 m deep, a plastered beaten-earth floor was reached at the end of the season (Fig. 12). A tannur came to light in the central/southern side of the room, while a mud-brick pavement was located to the north. Moreover, a small window-like opening, filled with mud-bricks, led to the small annex to the south. Some inner additions were removed, suggesting three different sub-phases. 8

9 Fig. 12. (A-B). South-West Building, Phase 14. To conclude, the SW Unit seems to have lasted for a long time and according to ceramic finds is contemporary with the South Building. It can be assigned to the very beginning of the Early Bronze I Period (Phase 14). No pure Uruk levels were uncovered, a hypothesis which hopefully may be verified next season. (P. Sconzo) DAMASCUS, 15 September

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