Research History of the Wadi Rabah culture and the contribution of Ein el-Jarba
Over half a century has passed since the term “Wadi Rabah culture” was coined by Kaplan in his publication on the excavation of the toponymous site (Kaplan 1958). The progress of Early Chalcolithic research since Kaplan’s findings is rather dissatisfactory. Little is known about this long period, which stretches over most of the 6th millennium BCE. This period suffers an institutional bias, not fully belonging neither in prehistory, nor Biblical archaeology. While salvage excavations yielded important assemblages in the last years, the Early Chalcolithic does currently not stand in the focus of long term research endeavours. This project, as part of a more detailed doctoral study, is intended to remedy this. It is envisaged that renewed excavations at Ein el-Jarba will provide a better understanding of Kaplan’s exceptional, yet preliminary excavation results, as well as contribute to our understanding of chronology and material culture of the Protohistory of Israel.
Chronological phases or regional variants?
Gopher and Gophna (1993: 327) identified 37 Wadi Rabah assemblages. They distinguish a Wadi Rabah culture sensu stricto, and “Wadi Rabah variants”, pointing out that their dating is unclear. Indeed, the radiocarbon record for the Early Chalcolithic period is dissatisfying, (Banning 2007).
The chrono-spacial definition of the Wadi Rabah culture is still preliminary. Excavations at Nahal Yarmut (Khalaily 2011) expanded the geographic range of the “normative” Wadi Rabah further south. Further, some assemblages like the “Bethshean-Tell Tsaf variant” were interpreted by Gopher and Gophna (1993: 336) as possible regional variants, while renewed excavations and absolute dating (Garfinkel et al. 2007) support rather a chronological explanation, distinguishing two separate phases.
At Ein el-Jarba, Kaplan analyzed one bone (4920 ± 240) and one charcoal sample (5690 ± 140) but was dissatisfied by the results because of their great discrepancy (Kaplan 1969: 25,26). The renewed excavations intend to achieve a more precise absolute date, contributing to the chronological debate of the Early Chalcolthic. Further, renewed excavations will allow a quantitative analysis, comparing the Ein el-Jarba assemblage to other quantified assemblages from the closer region of Ein el-Jarba at Nahal Zehora I and II (Orrelle 1993) and Abi Zureiq (Garfinkel and Matskevich 2002), and both north (e.g. at Nahal Beset (Gopher et al. 1992), Tell Teo (Sadeh and Eisenberg 2001) or Horbat Uza (Getzov et al. 2009)), as well as south of the Jezreel valley, e.g. at Asawir (Yannai et al. 2006).
Relation between Wadi Rabah culture and the northern Levant
Connections with the northern Levant were first suggested by Kaplan (1960), who pointed out major similarities between the pottery assemblages of the south Levantine Chalcolithic and the Halaf phase of the northern Levant and Mesopotamia. Main features linking the two regions were e.g. bowl shapes, lids, egg-cups, omphalos bases, bow rim jars, straight walled cups, spoons or surface manipulations characteristic for the Wadi Rabah ware (fig. 3). This connection between the Halaf culture and the southern Levant has been confirmed (Kirkbride 1971: 287; Garfinkel 1999: 150-151), yet not explored in detail. Excavations at HaGoshrim yielded Halafian seals (Getzov 2011) which support a model reconstructing closer relations to the north than previously assumed. The jar with applied decoration uncovered by Kaplan (1969: 16) points to a similarly close connection of Ein al-Jerba to the north. Parallels were identified in Turkey at sites like Tülintepe, Norşuntepe or Korucutepe (for a detailed debate see Garfinkel (2003: 157-159). This excavation project thus also intends to explore this over-regional interaction.
Chalcolithic Megasites in the southern Levant?
As mentioned above, several small excavations uncovered Early Chalcolithic remains in the Jezreel valley. 75 m to the west, Meyerhof (1982) uncovered remains of the same period. Ca. 400 m to the south, in 1962 by Perrot (Garfinkel and Matskevich 2002) and in 1968 by Anati (1973: 49-68). Just over one kilometre north, the excavations at Tell Qiri (Baruch 1987) and Hazorea (Anati 1973:25; Meyerhof 1988/1989) yielded Early Chalcolithic remains as well. This density of Early Chalcolithic remains is surprising, and it seems unlikely that several Early Chalcolithic settlements coexisted within less than two kilometres. Therefore, it seems possible that these sites belong in fact to the same settlement, forming a “mega site” as known from the Neolithic (e.g. Sha’ar HaGolan). In this first excavation season, I intend to explore the potential of the site.
Courtyard houses are the dominant design of dwellings in the southern Levantine prehistoric society. They have been found from the Pottery Neolithic e.g. at Sha’ar HaGolan throughout the Middle Chalcolithic and Late Chalcolithic period (Garfinkel 2010). No courtyard house has been found dating to the Early Chalcolithic period so far. In fact, no complete houseplan is known from the Early Chalcolithic period so far, and consequently little is know about domestic life. If trusting Kaplans excavation plan, one might reconstruct a courtyard house. The remains uncovered at Teluliot Batashi (Kaplan 1958: 11, fig.5) might be interpreted in the same way. The target of this excavation project is thus to uncover domestic architecture and to document complete houseplans. The remains excavated by Kaplan suggest that domestic architecture is indeed present at the site and that preservation conditions are favourable.
The Wadi Rabah period remains ill-defined until today. Very little is known about architecture, burial or ritual in the early Chalcolithic period. This project will provide the chronological frame necessary for future research.