Contributions by Michael Freikman, Debi Hersman and Dov Levitte
Sha‛ar Hagolan is a major Pottery Neolithic site (dated to ca. 8400–8000 cal BP) that spreads over ca. 20 hectares near the Yarmuk River, Israel. Eleven excavation seasons (in 1989–1990 and 1996–2004) had been conducted at the site by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The excavations exposed ca. 3,000 sq.m. of the Yarmukian village. The site is well known for the planning of the settlement, specifically its courtyard buildings, each occupying several hundred meters and separated by systems of streets or alleys and passageways, and a well. The excavations yielded a wealth of archaeological material including pottery, flint, ground stone, very rich art objects and figurative items, as well as faunal and floral remains. These data supply a wealth of information on the Yarmukian economy and social life.
This book summarizes more than 20 years of research on the Neolithic art assemblage of Sha‘ar Hagolan. The site presents the largest known assemblage of prehistoric art in Israel and one of the largest in the Near East. The quantity and quality of the items allow a detailed understanding of the art assemblage of the site, the Yarmukian culture to which it belongs, and the Neolithic period in general.
The artistic tradition of Sha‘ar Hagolan, especially the cowrie-eye figurines, form part of a much more widespread phenomenon, which began in the Levant a millennium earlier, during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period. This tradition later spread through the entire Near East and is well represented in Mesopotamia, Iran and Anatolia. Its last manifestation in this region are the ‘Ubaid figurines of southern Mesopotamia, dated to the 5th millennium BCE. The tradition also defused to southeastern Europe and is known at a large number of sites in Greece, former Yugoslavia and Cyprus. For the benefit of readers, relevant items from Mesopotamia, Iran, Anatolia and southeastern Europe are presented here in Chapter 9.
Beyond its enormous contribution to better understanding the art and cult of the Neolithic period, the Sha‘ar Hagolan art assemblage includes the earliest representation of a standardized surrealistic human figure. This personage was shaped in accordance with clear conventions that dictated a specific final product. A single type of anthropomorphic figurine dominates the assemblage. This is an unparalleled phenomenon in early village communities, but is characteristic of subsequent urban societies in the Near East and beyond. Canonization occurs here for the first time in the history of art. This reflects a transition from personal imagination to social imagination, and indicates the existence of a formalized establishment that creates and controls religious beliefs. The Sha‘ar Hagolan figurines are the first clear evidence for the creation of gods in the ancient Near East. In addition to the physical characteristics of urban concepts such as size, density, streets and courtyard structures, we see that art and cult also underwent changes that characterized the much later urban societies of the Near East.