Golan - A Unique Chalcolithic Culture
by Hillel Geva
Remains of an unknown culture of the Chalcolithic period (4th millennium BCE) have been discovered in the Golan in the past thirty years. This culture has unique characteristics, but also shares features common to the Chalcolithic culture that flourished in other parts of the Land of Israel. So far some 25 sites have been found in the Golan, and several have been excavated. Most of the sites are located in the central Golan, east and northeast of the Sea of Galilee.
The Golan is a region of basaltic rock with plentiful rainfall, and its extensive pasturelands have attracted transient herders in all periods of time. During the Chalcolithic period, they settled in small permanent villages and in isolated farmsteads, built on the banks of valleys with small perennial springs.
The villages consisted of between 20 to 40 dwellings, built on broad terraces in several rows of chain formation, sharing a common wall. The typical dwelling was rectangular, measuring 15 x 6 m. with the entrance in one of the long walls. The house itself was lower than the surrounding ground and was reached by descending several steps. The walls were particularly thick, built of large, unhewn basalt stones found nearby; the floors were also of stone, with an occasional stone-lined silo built into them. The interior of the house consisted of a main living room and a small room next to it, sometimes sub-divided to serve for storage of food and equipment. This subdivision also facilitated roofing the house with short wooden beams, since trees do not grow tall in the Golan. The roof was supported by a row of wooden columns positioned across the main room. Branches of trees and bundles of reeds were placed over the wooden structure and possibly also covered with skins.
Numerous artifacts were found in these Chalcolithic-period houses of the Golan. Pottery was simple and hand made, using the reddish-brown clay with many grits from the volcanic soil of the Golan. Jars, bowls, jugs and spouted large bowls were found, many of them decorated with bands of impressed rope, or with incised or pierced horizontal and diagonal lines, circles or spirals. The assemblage contained a large number of storage jars for food and also spindle whorls of fired clay, which attest to widespread spinning and weaving activities.
Vessels made of local basalt were also very common in this culture. Forms include deep flower-pot shaped bowls, shallow bowls, basins and vessels for grinding. Tools were also made of basalt: hammers, hoes and axes. Flint was used for borers, fan-shaped scrapers and sickle blades, which were inserted into handles of bone or wood.
The Chalcolithic population in the Golan relied for survival on agriculture and herding. Animal bones found in the excavations attest to domesticated sheep and goats, but also to game animals as food sources. The botanical findings indicate that the inhabitants consumed wheat, peas and lentils, amongst other crops. Olive wood was widely used in construction and olives were, undoubtedly, a food source. The excavators also believe that some of the basalt and pottery vessels were used for the production and storage of olive oil.
Figurines of household gods
Characteristic of the Golan Chalcolithic culture are pillar figurines made of basalt, of which some 50 have been found to date. The figurines measure 20-25 cm. in height, are carefully sculpted and variously decorated. Their form is a round pillar with a shallow offering bowl on top, with sculpted human facial features: eyes, ears and protruding nose, apparently symbolizing the breath of life. Several have pronounced horns and even goat beards. These pillar figurines were part of the local household cult; by offering grain, seeds, olives, milk and milk products in the bowls on top of the figurine, the family hoped to satisfy the gods and receive their blessing. These household figurines are of great value for understanding the beliefs and the cult of the Chalcolithic period, as well as its art.
It is not clear why the Golan Chalcolithic culture came to an end. Some claim that climatic changes impaired the subsistence farming of the region. The inhabitants abandoned their homes, took the small objects necessary for their daily lives with them, and left behind the heavy vessels which they could not carry. A gap in the settlement of the Golan, which lasted several hundred years, followed.
The survey and archeological excavation of the Chalcolithic remains in the Golan were carried out by C. Epstein on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Hillel Geva studied archeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, participated in excavations in the Jewish Quarter and the Citadel in Jerusalem, and is author of the entry "Jerusalem" in the New Encyclopedia of Archeological Excavations in the Holy Land and editor of Ancient Jerusalem Revealed.
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs