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2006 – 2007

2006 – 2007

A Dating Framework for the Lower Palaeolithic Occupation of Northern Syria

[Funded by the Council for British Research in the Levant]

Work has been undertaken on the terrace sequences in the Nahr el Kebir, NW Syria, and the terraces along the Syrian reach of the River Euphrates. In the latter case it was not possible to work downstream of Deir ez-Zor (because of the situation in neighbouring Iraq) but a detailed differential GPS survey was undertaken (March 2007) between Ar Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor under the guidance of, and with logistical support from, the Syrian National Earthquake Center in Damascus. This recent GPS survey in the Euphrates used the same equipment as previously but with new Leica processing software (Leica Geo Office 1.1 instead of Leica SKI 2.3). The data obtained are of a much higher standard than from earlier surveys; the processing algorithm used by Leica Geo Office 1.1 has been redesigned to give improved results for surveys where the distances between the base station and roving stations are relatively high, as in our work. Nevertheless, it was also found that Space Shuttle-derived (SRTM) radar altimetry imagery can be used to enhance and corroborate GPS height measurements.

Thus by a combination of SRTM imagery and differential GPS survey a detailed reconstruction of these river terrace sequences in the Levant, which are of considerable significance on account of the Palaeolithic artefacts they contain, is being achieved. Highlights in respect of the latter, in the case of the Euphrates, are as follows:

The earliest appearance of Levallois technique is in the topmost part of Euphrates Terrace QfI at Abu Chahri, ~50 km upstream of Deir ez-Zor. This locality was included within the GPS survey. The occurrence of the artefact assemblage within the top of fluvially-deposited floodplain deposits at the extreme right-bank edge of the terrace was verified. The GPS survey showed that the Ayash basalt is interbedded within the top of this terrace, thus providing a constraining date for the appearance of Levallois technique in this region. The eruption, dated to MIS 12, probably occurred just before the Levallois occupation, which would seem to have appeared here at least one 100ka climate cycle earlier than in NW Eurpe.

Work on the Euphrates during this season led to the publication of a preliminary report of the deformed terraces in the raqqa – Dier ez-Zor reach, in the CBRL Newsletter.

Fieldwork in the Kebir revealed that the terrace gravels here, like in the Orontes (see earlier reports) are consistently cemented by calcrete and thus form prominent landscape features. The raised beach deposits that run parallel with the Syrian coast in this area were also noted to be calcreted and so have the potential for U-series dating, along with the fluvial sediments. Previous workers have suggested that the fluvial and marine terraces here cut across one another rather than linking, suggesting that they represent different episodes. Since by definition the raised beaches, being markers of the highest sea-levels, must be of interglacial origin, this suggests that the fluvial sediments represent the cold stages. It is hoped that U-series dating will verify or refute this.


  • Sanlaville, P., 1979. Quaternaire et préhistoire du Nahr el Kebir septentrional. CNRS, Lyon, 162 pp
  • Van Liere, W.J., 1961. Observations on the Quaternary in Syria. Berichten Rijksd. Ovdheidk. Bodemonderzoek, 11, 7-69