Archaeobotanical studies in the Levant. 3. Late-Palaeolithic Mureybit


  • W. van Zeist
  • J.A.H. Bakker-Heeres


Excavations at Tell Mureybit, on the North Syrian Euphrates River, have been carried out by M.N. van Loon (1964, 1965) and J. Cauvin (1971-1974). Four main habitation phases, covering a time span from 8500-6900 B.C. (conventional radiocarbon years), are distinguished. The foundations of round as well as of rectilinear houses were unearthed. The chipped stone industry of the lower levels (subphase IA) is of Natufian tradition. Polished stone axes appear in phase IV. The faunal remains are all of wild animals. The present-day natural vegetation of the uplands in the Mureybit area is a steppe, whereas the Euphrates valley was naturally covered by poplar forest.

From the various habitation levels samples were secured for botanical examination. Information on the Mureybit charred seeds and fruits is presented in section 3 (figs. 5-9). Grains of two-seeded wild einkorn wheat (Triticum boeoticum ssp. thaoudar) occur in all levels and are quite numerous in phase III samples. Wild barley (Hordeum spontaneum) is also well represented. The size class of the lentil seeds corresponds to that of the wild species. The question is discussed whether the cereal grains were collected in the wild or whether already some kind of plant cultivation (proto-agriculture) was practised. The plant remains themselves provide no conclusive evidence in this respect. On the other hand, the vegetable remains and the animal bones point both to a change in the exploitation of food resources in phase III.

Marked differences in mean seed and fruit frequencies occur not only between habitation phases but between different areas of the site within one phase. Most of the plant taxa demonstrated for Mureybit could have formed part of the upland steppe. In addition, various species from the river-valley vegetation are represented. The latter must have been of considerable economic importance because of the wood (poplar, tamarisk). It is impossible to determine to what extent the steppe vegetation was exploited by the inhabitants of the site. Pistacia fruits must have been collected rather intensively.