Academic journal article Antiquity

A Day in the Life of an Ubaid Household: Archaeobotanical Investigations at Kenan Tepe, South-Eastern Turkey

Academic journal article Antiquity

A Day in the Life of an Ubaid Household: Archaeobotanical Investigations at Kenan Tepe, South-Eastern Turkey

Article excerpt


The Ubaid period in south-west Asia (7300-6100 BP) was a time of rapid political, economic and social change. The production of larger amounts of agricultural produce and privatisation of crop surpluses are thought to have accompanied increased social complexity (Huot 1989; Algaze 2001; Stein 2010) but, to date, the nature of Ubaid agricultural production has not been thoroughly assessed using archaeobotanical evidence, and publications reporting plant remains from Ubaid period sites are scarce. Critical assessment of any relationship between intensified agricultural production and social change cannot be achieved until more archaeobotanical data from Ubaid period (and earlier) sites across Mesopotamia are available. This paper presents the contents of 30 archaeobotanical samples retrieved from an Ubaid house structure at Kenan Tepe. The house burned down in a catastrophic fire which resulted in excellent preservation of charred plant remains across the structure. The excellent preservation combined with spatial patterning of plant remains allow us to discuss crop storage, crop processing, household economy and the social and economic organisation of labour at the site. Currently, this assemblage represents the largest published corpus of Ubaid plant remains examined from a single site and, as such, contributes towards a much needed regional dataset.

Ubaid Structure 4: the burnt house

Under the direction of Bradley Parker, excavations at Kenan Tepe, a 4.5 hectare, multi-period tell located on the banks of the Tigris River in the Diyarbakar Province of south-eastern Anatolia, took place between 2000 and 2008 as part of the Upper Tigris Archaeological Research Project (UTARP). Excavations revealed occupations dating to the Ubaid, Late Chalcolithic, Early and Middle Bronze Ages and Iron Age (Figures 1 and 2; Parker et al. 2009 and other Parker et al papers cited therein). The Ubaid remains were restricted to the eastern side of the main mound and have been divided into four stratigraphic phases, all dating to between 6700 and 6400 BP (a breakdown of phasing is provided by Parker et al 2008: 4). Structure 4, examined here, dates to Phase 3, placing it within the Ubaid 3/4 transition, a time that witnessed an Ubaid expansion throughout northern Mesopotamia.

Excavations of Structure 4 revealed 15 rooms of a domestic tripartite house, the western portion of which was not preserved (Figure 3). The fire that destroyed the structure was concentrated within the core of the house (Rooms 1 to 4), resulting in excellent preservation of dense quantities of plant remains in this area (Parker et al 2009:90-91; Graham 2011). 14 samples were examined from the core (Table 1). During the conflagration, the roof of Room 1 collapsed. Within Room 1, distinct layers of roof collapse and room collapse lay atop the floor. The roof collapse layer contained very large amounts of well-preserved, charred cereals, some of which were spilling out of a partially preserved reed basket (Parker pers. comm. 2010). Unfired clay tubs and basins were also intermixed within the roof collapse (Parker et al. 2009), indicating that the roof served as a workspace containing multiple activity areas. From the thickness of collapse deposits in other rooms, Parker concluded that the roof workspace did not extend beyond Room 1.

Outside the core, the fire was less intense, resulting in sub-optimal preservation conditions. Unfortunately, samples were not collected from Rooms 8, 9, 11 and 15. Individual samples taken from Rooms 6, 7, 10, 12, 14 and Outside Surface 2 yielded no charred remains at all. Sizeable concentrations of plant remains were recovered from Outside Surfaces 1 and 3, providing information on the nature of plant-related activities conducted around the house (Table 1; Figure 3).

Crop processing and plant use

The 30 samples associated with Structure 4 yielded 68 794 specimens from 22 genera. …

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