Thursday, October 25, 2007

Epipalaeolithic mural found in Syria

"Deep in the heart of northern Syria, close to the banks of the Euphrates River, archaeologists have uncovered a series of startling 11,000-year-old wall paintings and artifacts. "The wall paintings date back to the 9th millennium BC. They were discovered last month on the wall of a house standing 2 meters high at Djade," said Frenchman Eric Coqueugniot, who has been leading the excavations on the west bank of the river at Djade, in an area famous for its rich tradition of prehistoric treasures.

The etchings are "polychrome paintings in black, white and red. The designs are solely geometric, and only figurative. The composition is made up of a system [of] cross-hatched lines, alternating between the three colors," said Coqueugniot.

They were found in a circular building, around 7.5 meters in diameter. The excavated house features three solid blocks where the paintings were located.

The main pillar has been completely excavated and stands almost 2 meters high displaying the new murals, said Coqueugniot, a researcher for the Paris-based National Centre for Scientific Research.

The remains of the building, much larger than the small and rectangular domestic dwellings of the period, "must have been used as a meeting place for the whole village or for a clan," Coqueugniot added.

Apart from the organic artifacts, which have decomposed over time, the site has provided many well-preserved treasures.

Carved stone tools, flints, seed-grinding implements and brick-grinding stones have been recovered. Many bone objects were also found - both remnants of the animals that made up part of the daily diet and intricately fashioned tools.

The dig also uncovered several figurines made of gypsum, chalk, bone and clay. The most recent discovery, an 11,000-year-old statue of a man is "particularly important and well preserved," Coqueugniot said.

This item will allow comparisons with other similar sculptures found on sites in the Urfa region of southern Turkey, added the French scientist, who has overseen archaeological projects at Djade for 15 years.

"The figures could have had religious significance. The female statuettes could also have been fertility symbols. But they could have had entirely different ritual meanings," Coqueugniot said.

"We can only offer hypotheses," he added. "It is still very difficult to [determine] the significance of this 11,000-year-old statue of the woman."

The latest discoveries date back to the start of the Neolithic era, in a period known as the Epipalaeolithic. Many artifacts from this period have been discovered in northern Syria, in particular at Jerf al-Ahmar"