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Tell Abu Hureyra

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Title: Tell Abu Hureyra  
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Tell Abu Hureyra

Tell Abu Hureyra
تل أبو هريرة
Tell Abu Hureyra is located in Syria
Tell Abu Hureyra
Shown within Syria
Alternate name Tell Mardikh (Arabic: تل مرديخ‎)
Location Ar-Raqqah Governorate, Syria
Region Lake Assad
Type settlement
Founded ca. 9,500 BC
Abandoned ca. 5,000 BC
Periods EpipaleolithicNeolithic
Cultures Natufian culture
Site notes
Excavation dates 1972—1973
Archaeologists Andrew Moore, Gordon Hillman, Anthony Legge
Condition flooded by Lake Assad

Tell Abu Hureyra (Arabic: تل أبو هريرة‎) is an archaeological site located in the Euphrates valley in modern Syria. The remains of the villages within the tell come from over 4,000 years of habitation, spanning the Epipaleolithic and Neolithic periods.[1] Ancient Abu Hureyra was occupied between 13,000 and 9,500 years ago in radio carbon years.[1] The site is significant because the inhabitants of Abu Hureyra started out as hunter-gatherers but gradually transitioned to farming, making them the earliest known farmers in the world.

History of research

The site was excavated as a rescue operation before it would be flooded by Lake Assad, the reservoir of the Tabqa Dam which was being built at that time. The site was excavated by Andrew Moore in 1972 and 1973. It was limited to only two seasons of fieldwork, because the site was due to be flooded by Lake Assad. However, despite the limited time frame, a large amount of material was recovered and studied over the following decades. It was one of the first archaeological sites to use modern methods of excavation such as 'flotation,' which preserved even the tiniest and most fragile plant remains.[1][2] A preliminary report was published in 1983 and a final report in 2000.[1]

Location and description

Abu Hureyra is a tell, or ancient settlement mound, located in modern-day Ar-Raqqah Governorate in northern Syria. It is located on a plateau near the south bank of the Euphrates, 120 kilometres (75 mi) east of Aleppo. The tell is actually a massive accumulation of collapsed houses, debris, and lost objects accumulated over the course of the habitation of the ancient village. The mound is nearly 500 metres (1,600 ft) across, 8 metres (26 ft) deep, and contains over 1,000,000 cubic metres (35,000,000 cu ft) of archaeological deposits.[2] Today the tell is inaccessible, drowned beneath the waters of Lake Assad.

Occupation history

First occupation

The village of Abu Hureyra had two separate periods of occupation: An Epipalaeolithic settlement, and a Neolithic settlement. The Epipaleolithic, or Natufian, settlement was established around 13,500 years ago.[1] During the first settlement, c. 13,000 BP, the village consisted of small round huts, cut into the soft sandstone of the terrace. The roofs were supported with wooden posts, and roofed with brushwood and reeds.[3] Huts contained underground storage areas for food. The population was small, housing a few hundred people at most.

The hunter-gatherers of Abu Hureyra obtained food by hunting, fishing, and gathering of wild plants. Gazelle was hunted primarily during the summer, when vast herds passed by the village during their annual migration.[4] Other prey included large wild animals such as onager, sheep, and cattle, and smaller animals such as hare, fox and birds, which were hunted throughout the year. Plant foods were harvested from "wild gardens,"[5] with species gathered including wild cereal grasses such as einkorn wheat, emmer wheat, and two varieties of rye.


The hunter-gatherers of the first occupation eventually abandoned Abu Hureyra, probably at the advent of the Younger Dryas, an intense and abrupt return to glacial climate conditions which lasted nearly 1,000 years.[5] The drought disrupted the migration of the gazelle, and decimated the forageable plant food sources. It is likely that the inhabitants had to give up sedentism and returned to life on the move. According to other scholars, Abu Hureyra was not abandoned but constantly inhabited for over 4000 years. It is during this harsher period that agriculture is first detected. [6]

Transition from foraging to farming

Some evidence has been found for cultivation of rye from 11,050 BC.[1] Peter Akkermans and Glenn Schwartz found this claim about epipaleolithic rye "difficult to reconcile with the absence of cultivated cereals at Abu Hureyra and elsewhere for thousands of years afterwards".[7] It has been suggested that drier climate conditions resulting from the beginning of the Younger Dryas caused wild cereals to become scarce, leading people to begin cultivation as a means of securing a food supply. Results of recent analysis of the rye grains from this level suggest that they may actually have been domesticated during the Epipalaeolithic. It is speculated that the permanent population was fewer than 200 individuals.[8] These individuals occupied several tens of square kilometers. From this land, they harvested wood, made charcoal, and may have cultivated cereals and grains for food and fuel.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e f  
  2. ^ a b Mithen, Steven (2006). After the ice : a global human history, 20.000 - 5.000 BC (1. paperback ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. p. 42.  
  3. ^ Mithen, Steven (2006). After the ice : a global human history, 20.000 - 5.000 BC (1. paperback ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. pp. 40, 41.  
  4. ^ Mithen, Steven (2006). After the ice : a global human history, 20.000 - 5.000 BC (1. paperback ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. pp. 41, 42.  
  5. ^ a b Mithen, Steven (2006). After the ice : a global human history, 20.000 - 5.000 BC (1. paperback ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. p. 41.  
  6. ^ Hillman 2000a: 420-1; Bar-Yosef 2002a, 2002b; Dow, Olewiler and Reed 2005
  7. ^ Peter M. M. G. Akkermans; Glenn M. Schwartz (2003). The archaeology of Syria: from complex hunter-gatherers to early urban societies (c. 16,000-300 BC). Cambridge University Press. pp. 72–.  
  8. ^ a b Hillman, Gordon C.; A. J. Legge; P. A. Rowle-Conwy (1997). "On the Charred Seeds from Epipalaeolithic Abu Hureyra: Food or Fuel?". Current Anthropology 38 (4): 651–655.  

External links

  • "World's first farming found in Near East". Retrieved 2008-05-09. 
  • "First farmers discovered". BBC News. 1999-10-28. Retrieved 2008-05-09. 
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