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EXCAVATIONS IN OPERATION J


For the first time in Central Western Syria, in Operation J, on the summit of the Mishrifeh acropolis, an 8 m deep trial trench excavated down to the bedrock has made it possible to establish a complete sequence of occupation phases and archaeological materials, spanning the entire existence of the site, from its foundation during the Early Bronze Age III to its abandonment in the Iron Age.

Around 2700/2600 BC, at the centre of the rocky spur which was to become the Mishrifeh acropolis, the dwellings of a village were built. The houses were rather large and had several rooms equipped with domestic installations and food storage pits.

Towards 2400 BC, at the beginning of the Early Bronze Age IV, on the levelled ruins of these houses, numerous granaries, silos and storage pits devoted to the intensive and long-term warehousing of agricultural surplus were built. In some cases, the storage installations were associated with structures used for the cleaning and processing of cereals and their transformation into food.

The size of the installations, the extent of the surface covered by them and their organisation and complexity suggest already from this period the existence of an accumulation and redistribution system of the agricultural surplus controlled by a public institution.

At the beginning of the second millennium BC, the function of this part of the acropolis was radically changed by the construction of a monumental building – unfortunately very badly preserved – in which at least two basalt statues of Qatna kings sitting on the throne, representing dead and deified royal ancestors, were probably originally located. Beside this large building, which certainly played some kind of central public function, a vast and complex intensive pottery manufacturing area controlled by it was created.

This ceramic manufacturing area is the largest and most complete factory for pottery mass production known so far from second millennium BC Syria. All stages of the pottery manufacturing process have been documented: the preparation of the raw material in large settling tanks, its levigation in smaller basins fed with water by a network of underground canals, its storage in pits, the forming of the vessels on the wheel, their drying and especially firing in various types of kilns.

It is possible that in this pottery factory the vessels – mainly medium-sized storage jars – necessary for the storage of the agricultural produce for whichever public institution had its seat in the monumental building adjacent to the pottery manufacturing area were produced.

The pottery manufacturing area remained in use until the Late Bronze Age I (1600-1400 BC). After its abandonment, the summit of the acropolis was deserted until the Iron Age II (900-700 BC), when it was settled and used again as a vast and intensive storage area of cereals, grapes and other agricultural produce, which were stockpiled in hundreds of storage pits and in at least two granaries, one of which was very large in size.

Finally, during the last phase of use of the area, on the summit of the acropolis small farmsteads associated with domestic installations, such as bread ovens, weaving and ground stone agricultural tools, appeared; these were then abandoned at the end of the 8th or at the beginning of the 7th century BC.

 




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