|16 March 2010
Neolithic stone circles and alignments discovered in Syria
Dr. Robert Mason, an archaeologist with the Royal Ontario Museum, discovered an ancient landscape of stone circles, stone alignments and what appear to be corbelled roof tombs in Syria. From stone tools found at the site, it's likely that the features date to some point in the Middle East's Neolithic Period - a broad stretch of time between roughly 8500 BCE and 4300 BCE.
At a recent colloquium in Toronto, Canada, Mason described his shock at discovering the apparent tombs, stone circles and stone alignments: "I was standing up there thinking, oh dear me, I've wandered onto Salisbury Plain," At the southern end of the landscape there are three apparent tombs. They are about eight metres in diameter and each of them 'actually has a chamber in the middle'. The roof is corbelled which suggests that beneath them is 'something you would want to seal in.' Each of these corbelled structures had a stone circle beside it, which is about two meters in diameter.
Dr. Mason cautioned that the team did not have the chance to do more than survey the area, so it's still possible that these corbelled structures could have a purpose other than burial. More work also needs to be done to get a precise date of construction.
Dr. Mason set out to look for more stone circles and chambered structures and this time he brought a monk with him, from a nearby monastery. The two of them went to a rock outcrop - a place that would have been a good source of flint in ancient times - where he found the remains of several corbelled structures. In the valley below they found another corbelled structure with a stone circle right beside it. As Mason gazed at the landscape, from the height of the outcrop, he saw stone lines, also known as alignments, going off in different directions. Dr. Mason has a strong background in geology, and knew immediately that these could not be natural features. One of stone lines was 'very bizarre,' snaking its way up a hill. Mason followed the line and found that it led to the 'biggest complex of tombs of all.' This particular stone structure has three chambers and was probably the burial place for "the most important person." In the front of the tomb are the remains of a stone circle. Dr. Mason can't confirm for sure that this was used as a tomb, until further archaeological work takes place.
The lithics the team found in the landscape are also quite unusual - they don't seem to be made from local material. Mason explained that local flint is white or dark red, but the material they found is 'very good quality brown chert.'
Professor Edward Banning - a University of Toronto anthropology professor and Neolithic period expert - said that we need to be careful about drawing conclusions before more fieldwork is done. "Virtually all the burials that archaeologists have ever discovered from Neolithic sites in that part of the world come from inside settlements - in fact even below floors and houses," he said. If the corbelled structures are confirmed as burial structures, then this site will represent something new. "It's possible that this landscape that Dr. Mason has identified could be an example of off-site burial practices in the Neolithic which would be very interesting."
This would help settle a mystery that archaeologists have long faced. Banning said that while burials have been found in Neolithic settlements, "Those burials are not high enough in number to account for the number of people who must have died in those settlements. So a number of us for many years have assumed that there must have been off-site mortuary practices of some kind." Dr. Julian Siggers of the Royal Ontario Museum, another Neolithic specialist, pointed out that it has been argued that agriculture spread from the Near East to Europe. This find creates a question - could these stone landscapes have travelled with them?
Professor Banning said that Mason's site may not be entirely unique in the Near and Middle East. He said that archaeologists have detected, via satellite photos, what appear to be cairns and stone circles in other areas, including the deserts of Jordan and Israel. However, he admits that most of these things have not received a lot of archaeological investigation. That situation is about to change, as Dr. Mason plans to return to the Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi site this summer with a team of Neolithic experts.
Source: The Independent (1 march 2010)
Share this webpage: