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21 October 2013
Bronze Age obsidian sources in Syria

An archaeologist at the University of Sheffield has found evidence that, contrary to a widely held theory, ancient Syrians made their stone tools locally instead of importing finished tools from Turkey. The discovery has implications for our understanding of how early cities developed in these regions and how the geographic origins of raw materials affect developing states.
     During the Early Bronze Age, around 5300 to 3100 years ago, blades made of chert and obsidian remained important despite the advent of metal tools. Much sharper than bronze tools, the stone blades were used for various cutting and scraping purposes. Dr Ellery Frahm from the University's Department of Archaeology explained: "There is a prevalent idea that these blades were not made locally in Northern Mesopotamia, what is now Syria. It has been widely claimed that the blades were made in specialised workshops in southeast Turkey and then exported to villages and early cities throughout what is now Turkey, Syria, and Iraq."
     However, Dr Frahm studied the origins of obsidian tools from various archaeological sites, including Tell Mozan where he has excavated, and showed that their raw materials originated from a variety of geological sources across Turkey, not merely those nearest the proposed workshop sites. "The diverse obsidian origins, when combined with stone tool debris from the sites, suggests local production. Rather than arriving at the cities as finished blades, obsidian instead arrived as chunks, what are known as cores or preforms, and were brought by visitors either from diverse regions or with diverse itineraries. Instead of distant 'industrial' manufacturing, the materials for the blades reached the hands of the cities' specialists involved in household production principally for the local market," said Dr Frahm.
     He explained: "Knowing where these stone blades were produced allows us to start answering questions regarding the social relations linked to their production and distribution. Was there large-scale production under government control, or were the blades made by entrepreneurs working out of their homes? Who had the skills to made the blades, and where did they live and work? There were also effects on activities linked to these blades. Was agricultural output dependent on shipments of tools made by distant labourers, or were the tools made by the farmers themselves during the off season?" Dr Frahm concluded: "Archaeological research can demonstrate that there are broad societal effects due to our choices regarding which raw-material sources to use and where our goods are produced."

Edited from EurekAlert! (16 October 2013)

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