Analysis of the Archaeological Record

Course Number: 
61 Barrows
Maher, L
M W 9 - 12 pm

This course will acquaint students with various analytical techniques to study the prehistoric material culture of Southwest Asia. In particular, we will focus on the Palaeolithic, Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic periods, spanning from 30,000 to 9000 years ago, and examine the archaeological record from sites in Southwest Asia (especially Jordan) that document shifts in aggregation, sedentism, architecture, exchange networks and technology that many argue mark the beginnings of the transition from forager to farmer.

One of these sites, Kharaneh IV, is an aggregation site with multi-season, prolonged and repeated habitation that created a 2 m mound of dense archaeological deposits, making it one of the largest Palaeolithic sites in Southwest Asia. In addition to the well-preserved, rich, high-resolution stratified deposits, the site contains some of the region’s earliest evidence for hut structures, widespread on-site caching, carvings in stone and bone, human burials, intensive exploitation of gazelle including evidence for possible feasting and meat storage, and long-distance trade in marine shells extending to the Mediterranean and Red Seas.

During this course students will gain both theoretical background on the hunter-gatherer and early farming record in the region and experience in the analysis of excavated remains from these hunter-gatherer sites. Through this material we will explore issues of sedentism and settlement, elaborate art and decoration, economic intensification, and long-distance exchange networks. The first part of the course will provide hands-on training in several laboratory methods, including artefact sorting and curation, lithic analysis, processing flotation samples to recover charcoal and other plant remains, working with faunal and shell assemblages, and soils analysis.

Following this, students will conduct research projects using the materials from these sites, working intensively with a collection based on one of the methods covered in the first portion of the term. The primary product of the course will be a research paper based on their analyses.