Located within the fertile plain of the Jezreel valley in northern Israel, the archaeological site known as Ein el-Jarba has been yielding finds that are beginning to tell a story of a people who lived there more than 6,000 years ago, before the pyramids arose in Egypt and before the ancient Canaanites dominated the region.
Archaeologist Katharina Streit, a PhD student with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has been leading a team of archaeologists, students and volunteers through full-scale excavations at the site to uncover evidence of an Early Chalcolithic (or Copper Age) human settlement. Before implements of bronze were even invented, a community with skills enough to produce distinctive pottery, other ceramic ware, and tools made of obsidian, lived and died in this place.
“Little is known about this long period, which stretches over most of the 6th millennium BCE,” says Streit. “This period suffers an institutional bias, not fully belonging neither in prehistory, nor Biblical archaeology.”*
In a way, one can hardly fault the scholarly establishment for the ‘oversight’. In a region so rich in biblical history, prehistory, place-names and historical headline-grabbing archaeological discoveries, the attention has often been diverted to those things that have captured the public imagination, funding, and the draw of the popular press.
Among her goals with the project, Streit hopes to change that bias.
“It is envisaged that renewed excavations at Ein el-Jarba will provide a better understanding of Kaplan’s exceptional, yet preliminary excavation results, as well as contribute to our understanding of chronology and material culture of the Protohistory of Israel,” Streit ads. It was under J. Kaplan that a one-season excavation at the site was initially conducted in 1966, yielding four phases of Chalcolithic occupation with architectural remains and burials. And although the site was visited and researched to a limited extent since then, comparatively little had been done since the Kaplan excavation.
As a part of her dissertation research, Streit returned twice to the site in the Spring and Summer of 2013 with a small team to begin the first renewed excavations. The results of these initial efforts solidly met her hopes and expectations. Systematic digging turned up an intact Early Bronze Age floor, house architecture remains, a possible silo and complete ceramic vessels and, most important to their research designs, an Early Chalcolithic level “yielding a rich assemblage of finds and several floor levels”.*
Among the many finds were retouched flint tools, sling stones, incised pottery, and numerous blades and fragments of obsidian.
She takes special note of the obsidian artifacts, mainly because of the original source of the material.
“There are no obsidian sources in Israel or in the surrounding areas. The closest potential sources are in Anatolia, so each piece of obsidian we find must have been imported from at least that distance,” says Streit.* This could say something about the culture and capabilities of the people who lived here.
View of the 2013 excavation at Ein el-Jarba. Wikimedia Commons
The richest yield, however, consisted of numerous sherds of what is designated as ‘Wadi Rabah’ pottery, a distinctive marker for the “Wadi Rabah culture”. In 1958 Kaplan coined this term as a categorical or chronological descriptor for artifacts he uncovered in the 1960’s at the protohistoric site of Wadi Rabah, located on the southern bank of its namesake tributary of the Yarkon River near the present-day Israeli city of Petah Tiqva in central Israel. Generally dated to the 5th millennium BCE, this cultural phase in Levantine archaeology has yet to be fully defined. It has been variously described as a material culture that falls within the “bridge” period between the Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age of the Middle East, or the Chalcolithic (“Copper” Age). Other sites where artifacts attributed to the Wadi Rabah culture have been found in Israel include Munhata, Nahal Zehora, Tel Tsaf, Teluliot Batashi, Jericho, Tell Farah North, and Nahal Yarmut.
But while the small finds for the Early Chalcolithic are significant, very little in the way of domestic structures for this period have yet been found at the site. Of particular interest would be the presence of courtyard houses, as these structures are considered to be the dominant type of dwellings in the prehistoric southern Levant. But “no courtyard house has been found dating to the Early Chalcolithic period so far,” says Streit. “In fact, no complete houseplan is known from the Early Chalcolithic period so far, and consequently little is known about domestic life…….The target of this excavation project is thus to uncover domestic architecture and to document complete houseplans. The remains [previously] excavated by Kaplan suggest that domestic architecture is indeed present at the site and that preservation conditions are favourable.”*
Another of Streit’s goals includes uncovering evidence to clarify the dating of the Early Chalcolithic in the region.
“At Ein el-Jarba,” writes Streit, “Kaplan analyzed one bone (4920 ± 240) and one charcoal sample (5690 ± 140) but was dissatisfied by the results because of their great discrepancy. The renewed excavations intend to achieve a more precise absolute date, contributing to the chronological debate of the Early Chalcolthic. Further, renewed excavations will allow a quantitative analysis, comparing the Ein el-Jarba assemblage to other quantified assemblages” recovered from other sites.*
Streit and her team, consisting of 8 to 10 Israelis and 16 volunteers from other countries, will be returning during the summer of 2014 to continue the excavations. The successful completion of their task in this and future seasons could have an important impact on research in this area of Levantine archaeology.
“The Wadi Rabah period remains ill-defined,” states Streit. “Very little is known about architecture, burial or ritual in the Early Chalcolithic period. This project will provide the chronological frame necessary for future research.”*
Although the 2014 season is filled, those interested in participating in future seasons may visit the website for more information and application requirements.
 The archaeological work at Ein el-Jarba has been renewed in 2013 on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, directed by Katharina Streit, in cooperation with the Jezreel Valley Regional Project.
*Source: publicly available website: http://eineljarba.wordpress.com/wadi-rabah/
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