Halai in History

The Neolithic at Halai

Test trenches were excavated in Areas A, B, F, G and H in order to determine the limits of the Neolithic mound which underlies the Classical and later remains. Besides the trenches in Area F (see below), Neolithic strata were encountered in trenches A2, A3, B1, H1 and H4. Trench H2, excavated to stereo, produced no Neolithic remains, nor did trench G1, the lowest level of which was at or near stereo at the end of the digging to date. In general, the trenches so far excavated suggest that the Neolithic settlement extended at least 60 m. NW-SE (from Area F to Area H) and at least 40 m. NE-SW (from Area A to Area F), but that it may not have extended so far toward the southwest as the later acropolis.

In all trenches where Neolithic deposits have been encountered, they immediately underlie deposits of the Archaic period or later and the uppermost Neolithic layers usually contain many small worn sherds suggesting that there was a long hiatus during which the site was abandoned. To date we have found not a single recognizable Bronze Age sherd at Halai, either in our surface survey or during excavation. The report of Simpson and Dickinson of the existence of Bronze Age material is therefore almost certainly erroneous.

The Neolithic deposits are most accessible in the temple area, our Area F, at the northwest side of the site, because the earlier excavations removed later deposits from above them. Before our excavations began, two pits from the earlier excavations were visible passing through the Neolithic deposits: a larger one near the center of the temple area to the south of the foundations of the Archaic temple, which represents the combined trenches excavated on behalf of Goldman by Virginia Grace in 1931 and which we have not yet re-excavated, and a smaller one immediately adjacent to the SW corner of the large church, about which we have found no records and which became our trench F3.

Currently in Area F, some eleven trenches have been excavated (F1-F11). By the end of the 1991 season three of our trenches (F2-F4) had been combined to form an area of ca. 44 sq. m. and two others (F5 and F6) had also been combined to form a further area of ca. 32 sq. m. (Fig. 5). Five new trenches were excavated in Area F in 1992 (F7-F11). Trenches F5-F8 were subsequently combined and designated F101. One trench, F9, comprised the re-excavation of a large trench first excavated by the Goldman/Walker Kosmopoulos expedition. This was cleared of the debris that had accumulated since then and new soundings were made. The results generally confirmed the findings of the earlier expedition, as recorded in the notebook of Virginia Grace in 1931. By the end of the season all trenches in Area F except F1 were linked to one another, giving a total area of Neolithic exposure of more than 200 square meters.

Trench F3, at the southernmost end of combined trenches F2-F4, has been cleared almost completely to bedrock, which was encountered at 0.74 masl. Several cuttings are visible in the bedrock. Most of the deposit was debris that has fallen in since the earlier excavations, but in the lowest 0.20-0.30 m. some undisturbed deposit was encountered containing pottery of Early Neolithic types ("Rainbow" ware; EN Black Burnished ware). The pottery from Late Neolithic levels in trenches F2-F4 includes Black Burnished wares like those of the Tsangli-Larissa phase in Thessaly, Matt Painted wares, and red on white painted pottery like that from Elateia. A few sherds of coarse paste with white filled incised and punctated decoration have their closest parallels with finds from a cave at Tharounia in Euboia (Adamantios Sampson, personal communication).

Our excavations have now produced a reasonably complete sampling of the Neolithic sequence as it survives at Halai. The earliest levels were reached in trench F2 (at the eastern side of the Neolithic exposure just to the southwest of the later Archaic altar; Pl. A, b), in trench F3 and probably in Room 11 in trench F9. In trench F2 and F3 these levels occurred immediately above "stereo," a yellow hardpan undisturbed by human activity which was encountered about +0.70 masl. Since the top of the uppermost Neolithic levels preserved in trenches F2 and F3 is at about +2 .70 masl., the depth of the Neolithic deposits is roughly 2.0 m. These deposits probably represent a more or less continuous span of time encompassing part of the Early Neolithic period, the Middle Neolithic period and the first phase of Late Neolithic I and dating roughly ca. 5900-5300 B.C. (see below).

It is clear, despite the generally fragmentary condition of the architecture, that standard Aegean building methods were employed (mudbrick superstructures on socles built of small and medium-sized stones. Some stone walls still stand to heights of 1 m. or so. House plans are generally rectilinear . The best preserved room plan is that of Room 11, near the middle of trench F9, which was initially excavated in 1931 by Virginia Grace. Most of the structures shown in schematic form in Figures 4 and 5 are parts of similar rectangular rooms and houses. Some rooms, particularly those of the latest architectural phases, had pavings or platforms of small stones and hearths were built of stones and clay. White mud-plaster floors also occur. A long sequence of hearths and pits has been documented in trench F2, much of which may have been unroofed space for much of its history. Almost all the useful radiocarbon samples came from this sequence.

A massive band of stones in the southwestern side of trench F101 is difficult to interpret. It dates to the latest period of Neolithic occupation of the site, in the Late Neolithic I phase, and we are suggesting as a working hypothesis that it represents a bounding circuit wall. It is about 3.5 m. wide and has a height from top to bottom of at least 0.70 m. A similar construction of stones in trench F1 (best preserved at the north corner of the trench) may have been another stretch of the wall, which in that case would have circumscribed an area little more than 30 m. in width from north to south. It is not yet clear whether the existing remains of these constructions originally projected above the surface of the ground or whether they are foundations. If the hypothesis of a bounding wall is correct, the town would have covered a significantly smaller area in the Late Neolithic I phase than in earlier periods. The circuit is unlikely to have extended westward beyond the line of the later Archaic/Hellenistic fortifications and, since the pottery associated with the Neolithic wall reported earlier in Area A is exclusively Middle Neolithic, it is also probable that the Late Neolithic town did not extend as far eastward as Area H. Late Neolithic sherds have been found in soundings in Area A (trenches A2 and A4), but they tend to be worn and may have reached their final position after Neolithic Halai was abandoned.

A child's skeleton, partly disturbed and probably not a formal burial, has been studied by Drs. Egon Reuer and Susanne Fabrizii-Reuer. It was found in Middle Neolithic levels near and partly within the southeast scarp of trench F2; only part of the skeleton was retrieved because of the danger that the scarp would collapse.

Study of the chipped stone tools has been continuing, first by Melanie Pomeroy and  Kerill O'Neill and more recently by Lia Karimali. Jeremy Yielding also carried out a trial low-power microscopic use-wear analysis in 1993. In general, obsidian is by far the most frequent material used and cherts, of several colors and almost certainly imported, are less common. The inhabitants of Neolithic Halai clearly had access to obsidian in abundance and they worked it extensively at the site. Michèle Miller studied the Neolithic beads for ten days or so in the summer of 1993 as part of a Ph.D. dissertation.

Specialized studies on Palaeozoology and Palaeoethnobotany are in progress. Richards has identified the bones of sheep, goats, pig, cattle, bird, fish and rodents. So far she has concentrated on detailed study and analysis of the sheep and goat bones. Near has identified among the food and possible food remains several varieties of wheat (including a free threshing wheat), cultivated and wild barleys, lentils and other pulses, pistachio, fig, and pomegranate. The one flax seed so far identified may be either of a wild or of a cultivated variety.

Preliminary studies of the Neolithic pottery have been completed. The pottery has been provisionally subdivided for initial sorting into eleven categories ("wares") based in the first instance on the appearance of the exterior surface: PL (Plain); LS (Light Slip); DS (Dark Slip); RB (Red Burnished); BB ( Black Burnished); PB (Pattern Burnished); OB (Other Burnished); RW (Red on White); DW (Dark on White); DB (Dark on Buff); DR (Dark on Red). The range of each category was described by eye and with a hand lens in terms of the technical categories of color, hardness, mineral inclusions (grit), surface finish, and decoration. Scientific analyses have also been initiated that may provide more objective criteria by which true wares may be distinguished. Petrographic analysis and neutron activation analysis have so far been employed in a pilot study. Further scientific analysis, and probably combination of some of the initial categories based on exterior appearance, should be carried out before they are accepted as final ones for the Halai project. By the use of a combination of technical and stylistic criteria, we hope eventually to develop ceramic categorizations that would have been meaningful for ancient potters and users as well as modern scholars.

Detailed phasing of the Neolithic deposits in terms of relative and absolute chronology has yet to be completed. A relative sequence of architectural phases is gradually emerging for the whole of Area F and three strata of deposits have been distinguished by Mary Eliot for trench F2 which serve as the basis for O'Neill's preliminary analysis of chipped stone described in Appendix 3. Final phasing will involve determining the chronological relationship of the various stratigraphic stages to the general Neolithic sequence in Greece, and it will ultimately depend in part on comparisons between the artifacts from Halai and those from other sites in Greece and in part on the radiocarbon determinations (see below). The general summary of the Neolithic sequence and chronology that follows must therefore be regarded as tentative.

The earliest finds are early in the Middle Neolithic. The radiocarbon determinations (see below) suggest that the site was first occupied no later than a century or two after 6000 B.C. The early Middle Neolithic levels are followed by extensive deposits of later Middle Neolithic. There is much Red-on-White painted pottery in the Middle Neolithic deposits reminiscent of that found at Orchomenos, in the Valomenou mound at Chaironeia and at Elateia. Some Red-on White pieces also resemble pottery of the Sesklo sequence in Thessaly. Late Neolithic I levels represent the latest stage of occupation. Initial study of the latest pottery suggests that the site was abandoned during the first stage ("Tsangli-Larissa") of LN I, ca. 5300 B.C.

In general, the finds suggest considerable continuity of material culture throughout the Neolithic occupation of Halai. There are no sharp breaks that might indicate abandonments or the arrival of new people. The abundance of sea shells and Melian obsidian throughout the Neolithic levels suggest that the sea was important as a source of food and for procurement of resources lacking in the immediate region of the site. Since sea level is likely to have been rising continuously with respect to the land during the period of Neolithic occupation it is possible that the loss of arable land may have been a factor in the eventual abandonment of the site. In any case, there is no evidence to suggest that the abandonment was a result of hostile action or an immediate natural disaster.

Six Neolithic small finds are catalogued in the project's second preliminary report in Hesperia (published in 1999).

Go on to the Bronze Age

Last modified 2.5.98