gazelle jar

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Essay of interpretation of a decorated ceramic vessel from a Early Bronze Age Near Eastern site .


The Gazelle Jar from Tell Qara Qzq (Syria): an essay of interpretation1Carmen Valds Pereiro I.P.O.A. (Barcelona)

1. Introduction. The purpose of this paper is the review of a ceramic jar excavated from the site of Tell Qara Qzq, in Northern Syria, during the 1991 season (fig. 1). From the beginning, this vessel was unofficially baptised as the gazelle jar, even if we were not sure of the specific meaning of the scene. Today, I would like to offer some hypothesis that would explain the meaning of the scene and its relation with the economic system of these small communities, which exist at the banks of the middle Euphrates during the middle and the end of the III millennium B.C. The symmetrical and schematic depiction give us the first impression of a group of dancing men under a row of caprids, but the nature of the interaction between the two groups could elude us. As is the case of the primitive rock art, schematic representation used to be full of symbolism, and the main issue to these people to represent through art is hunting and rituals, or rituals relating to hunting. In this paper we are going to argue that this jar supports the representation of a gathering/hunting technique used in the Near East during centuries by the people living the arid steppes to hunt large herds of gazelles. This technique requires a permanent or semi-permanent structure called desert-kites, that is not physically depicted on the jar, but whose symbolic or subconscious existence I would like to emphasize. 2. The archaeological background. Tell Qara Qzq has been excavated since 1989 by the Archaeological Mission of the Institute of Ancient Near East (University of Barcelona University of Murcia), directed by Gregorio Del Olmo Lete, as a part of the salvage project in the Tirin Dam area (Syria).2 The small tell is located on the left bank of the Euphrates river, some 30 km south of the Turkish border. The last season was carried out in 2000, when the site had to be abandoned by the rising of the flood level.1. I am very glad to have the opportunity to present this contribution to Prof. Sanmartn, with whom I have shared the unforgettable experience of digging in the Near East, at the site whose material I am analysing in this contribution. 2. See Del Olmo ed. 1993, Del Olmo Montero Valds eds. 2001, Olvarri 1995, Valds 1999, id. 2000, for more information about the site. In the lower town, - still not published - some remains of tombs and later settlement (Area C, LR/EByz period) were also detected.Studies Presented to Joaqun Sanmartn Aula Orientalis-Supplementa 22 (2006) 399-414



Fig. 1. Jar with incised decoration from Tell Qara Qzq.

Five main occupation periods were identified on the tell: I) Roman period; II) Middle Bronze I-II; III) end of Early Bronze; IV) middle of EB; V) beginning of EB. During the MB it was occupied by a huge complex of silos with a small temple in antis in the middle. Another larger temple in antis (locus 10) was in use during the second part of the III millennium.



The jar has already been published in the first volume of the final reports.3 The archaeological context was inside a stone-built silo (S-40) from level IV, smaller in size than those of the silo complex from the Middle Bronze Age. For this level we have no good layers of buildings or settlement, being mostly characterized by the pottery assemblage. This is mostly composed of wheel-made Simple Ware, along with an interesting group of the so-called Euphrates Ware or Euphrates Red-Banded Jars. The Reserved Slip Ware or the post-Ubaid Multiple-brush Painted Ware from the previous phase are completely lost, and we have not yet the EBIV caliciform assemblage. In fact, during level IV the decoration is almost absent, especially the paint has completely disappeared. The only decoration is incised, sometimes applied, but in small quantities, and this type seems to be more conspicuous when we are nearing the end of the III millennium. 3. The vessel and its decoration. The vessel4 is a globular medium-sized jar with narrow neck, everted rim and slightly rounded lip. The incised and impressed decoration is laid on the upper part of the body, under the neck. The motifs are framed by two parallel horizontal bands: the upper one a row of impressed circles, and the lower one a band of obliquely incised strokes. In between, two registers with scenes with a repetitive motive arranged in horizontal series: in the upper register is a four-legged animal, possibly a gazelle, shown in profile, and, in the lower one, an anthropomorphic figure alternating with a circular design filled with strokes, more or less converging in the centre. The human figure seems to be also in profile except for the upper body with the raised arms, but it is difficult to discern due to the high level of schematism. The only impressed motifs are the circles of the upper line, the rest is all incised with deep and broad strokes, the whole applied when the vessel was leather-hard. The depiction is quite outstanding in account of its geometrical, schematic and static approach. The design is figurative and linear but, unlike those figurative motives of the jars from this period in the Syrian Euphrates, the intention is not naturalistic. The motives are scarcely outlined with simple basic strokes, rigidly standing and not interacting between themselves. Nevertheless, we are not dealing with a still image, a scene frozen in time. The stillness of the scene stands out its symbolic character. Our knowledge of the meaning of the symbol will provide the movement. The sensation of scene is then created by the repetition of the same motive. If a lone figure represents a man, the repetition of almost the same figure creates a multitude. The interaction will be apparent through the relative position of the characters. Here we have the depiction of a man, of an animal and of a round wheel-like object, all three of them repeating themselves. The composition is aware of the morphology of its support. Like in a primitive zoetrope or praxinoscope, also the circular nature of the vessel helps to create the illusion of infinite movement thanks to the phenomenon of the retinal persistence. But, unlike those image devices, here the figures do not basically change, so, for us, the perspective doesnt matter. Whatever the side from where one held the vessels, the scene will always be the same. Therefore, what we really understand viewing the jar is a strongly vivid scene, a crowd of men scaring, guiding, and possibly shouting, a big herd of gazelles running ahead.

3. Valds 1994: fig. 27, p. 54, 121, pl. VIe. 4. Technical data: Reg. N. QQ91C1-208; location: Trench 311 SE, silo S-40; Simple Ware, wheel-made. Hard clay, slightly porous, reddish orange colour. Grit temper (fine, middle density). Cream slip on exterior surface, lost at the base of the jar. Incised and impressed decoration.



4. The hunting technique of the desert-kites. A desert-kite is a large stone construction consisting in an irregular enclosure with an opening from which two or more long walls ran out, diverging and opening up forming a kind of tails, recalling from the air the shape of a kite, reason why that was the name given to them by the British pilots who fly the Air Mail route across Transjordan on the 1920s. Along the exterior face of the enclosure a series of circular cells were attached. The general assumption, using ethnographic parallels,5 is that they were hunting structures, to gather and mass-kill wild animals, especially gazelles.6 The animals were separated from the herd by groups of men scaring and herding them towards the funnel-shape passage (the guide walls) that, narrowing at the end, lead into the enclosure where the animals were gathered and killed, maybe by the men hiding at the peripheral cells.7

Fig. 2. A view of a desert-kite from a; 4) Halawa.

The most striking parallel of the ceramic vessel with its decoration as a whole, can be found in another jar known to be originated from Syria, specifically from the Euphrates Tabqa Dam area (fig. 3: 2).11. Legge Rowley-Conwy 1987: 79. 12. Ibidem, 81-83. 13. Echallier Braemer 1995: 55.



The shape of the profile is almost exactly the same, a medium-sized globular jar, with narrow neck and everted rim, the lip a bit different in shape. The incised decoration is also developed on the upper part of the body, and it represents a gazelle-hunting scene. The essential difference between both jars is in the artistic style, figurative rather than schematic, and the overall disposition, movement and almost threedimensional rather than rigid and flat. Based on shape and style, the author proposes a chronology in the middle of the III millennium, even if she found the zenith of the decorative style during the EBIVB period.14 In this case the scene is easier to interpret. Unfortunately the jar belongs to that category of archaeological objects without context, bought for a museum and published from the point of view of its decoration and style. The jar from Tell Bi>a (fig. 3: 3)15 does not depict a hunting scene, nor does it present any human figure, but the shape of the vessel, the technique of the decoration and the distribution of the scene are the same. If we add the provenience (Euphrates valley, south but still near to the Tabqa dam region) and the chronology (end of EBIII or EBIVA), we are talking about the same cultural context. Instead, the Halawa sample (fig. 3: 4)16 is similar in the technique, the distribution of the motives and, in my opinion, the subject displayed. The men are above and the animals below, the animals are equids and the men are dressed, with the arms upside down. The postur

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