Seminar für Orientalische Archäologie und KunstgeschichteMartin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg
Institut für Altertumswissenschaften
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Excavations at Tell Chuera, Syria

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Tell Chuera 1997
The 20th Campaign of Excavations

The 20st field campaign at Chuera was conducted between July, 27 and October, 4. Participants were: Heike Dohmann-Pfälzner, Ilka Eichner, Dorothea Erbe, Georgia Heinzle, Jan-Waalke Meyer (field director), Peter Pfälzner, Angelina Poppke, Alexander Pruß, Sandra Schmidt, Annett Sonntag, Rebecca Wegener, Anne Wissing, Jens Zulauf, coming from the universities of Frankfurt, Tübingen and Halle.

One main task of the campaign was the registration and further treatment of the pottery collections from the recent years. More than 20.000 sherds were registrated, classified by shape and ware, measured by colour and dimensions.

Fieldwork in Area K

In area K ("Kleiner Antentempel") a full excavation campaign took place. A team from Tübingen University was directed by Peter Pfälzner. There were two main aims. First, the habitation quarter already dug in 1995 should be excavated in levels deeper than level 7 to find out if even the earlier houses have a standardized ground-plan. A second goal was the investigation of the city center proper, covered by a big garbage heap.

The habitation quarter

Within the habitation quarter in field K, an area of about 350 square meters consisting the remains of 6 houses was investigated. First task was the full uncovering of the level 7 houses, which were reached only in the northern part of that area in 1995. House IV is a good example for the parcelled houses of the Chuera type, its main room was equipped with a carefully plastered fireplace. This house was founded during the time of level 8.

The outlay of the houses of level 9 is different, they are no longer standardized by structure or size. Houses XVIII and XIX show a irregular composition of rooms around a central court. But the lane, providing access to these houses was during level 9 alredy at the place where it remains until the abandoning of the quarter. The transition from level 9 to level 7 was thus no abrupt break. Not only the lanes, but also some walls and even some house boundaries remain at the same position. Some houses were vacant during this period - a common urban phenomenon. Since the houses with standardized layout appeared from level 8 onward, one may suppose that greater parts of urban ground were divided in regular housing plots and distributed at that time. This is a clear indication for a deliberte town-planning process.

Not only the houses, but also the finds of level 9 differ from those of the younger structures. The Pottery is distinguished from that of phase IC, it is thus seen as belonging to phase IB, hitherto unknown from the site. The share of hand-made and straw-tempered wares is generally higher than in the younger stages. Small, open vessels are dominating in this assemblage, too. But they have now a nearly vertical rim and rather frequently a slightly mis-shaped oval mouth. Some sherds of the so-called "Karababa Painted Ware" were found, belonging to vessels presumably imported from the north. The levels 9 and 10 of area K are older than everything excavated at Chuera before 1997, they belong to the period Early Jazirah II (ca. 2600-2500 BC).

The town center

The inhabitants of the houses in field K were used to throw their domestic waste (mostly oven ashes) on a rubbish heap immediately north of this quarter's boundary. This heap was discovered already in 1995, it was cut with a bulldozer in 1996 in order to reach the levels covered by this refuses, but after 4 meters depth still no end was visible. In 1997 the bulldozer work was thus resumed and the trench was cut down until a floor level was reached. But this was no less than 11m under the recent tell surface, the rubbish heap was more than 10m high! The refuse accumulated continuously for a considerable span of time, at least 200 years. During this time, the northern border of the residential quarter K remained virtually unchanged at the same place. The subsequently built walls of several house levels form a highly impressive, more than 8m high facade.

Originally it was supposed that the rubbish has covered an abandoned habitation quarter of the early third millenium BC. But instead of this the excavations yielded a huge flat open space which could be uncovered in 30 meters length. Obviously this has been a square, carefully cleaned for some time. It existed since the time of the founding of the residential quarter K. The gravel-paved main street of the town crossed the square which we call, in honour of the first excavator of Chuera, "Anton-Moortgat-Square". When this square lost its original function and was converted into a refuse dump, a wall was erected to prevent the street from being filled up.

When excavation continued, it became clear that Moortgat Square is nothing else than the levelled surface of a prehistoric tell. Due to the limited space, only small structures could be uncovered. But the pottery from these levels (horizon X) can be dated to the 4th millenium. Comparisons with the well-documented sequence of Hammam at-Turkman suggest a dating between 4000 and 3600 BC. About 20% of the horizon X pottery is even older, these are sherds from the late Halaf period (early 5th millenium) which can be easily recognized by their characteristic painting. There must have been a tell from the Halaf period under the late chalcolithic levels of horizon X.

After the abandoning of the prehistoric village in the middle of the 4th millenium the site remains unsettled for several centuries. The precise date of the re-settling is difficult to establish, with the oldest levels of the residential quarter K still unexcavated and the lack of well stratified material from the rubbish layers. One may approximate a date around 2800 BC which is period Early Jazirah I. What was founded then was no small village which grows with the time. It was a town from the very beginning, provided with a main street, a big central square and surrounding houses. Elements of deliberate town-planning are clearly recognizable, they provide us with a impressive picture of the urbanization of 3rd millenium Northern Mesopotamia.

Compilation: A.Pruß

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update: 1998-07-31
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