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History of Tell Afis


The plain of Afis and its hilly flanks have been inhabited since prehistory (Afis I). The first groups of humans came up from the Rift Valley along the Orontes line and, moving through the wadis opening into the Ruj, the eastern branch of the Orontes plain, they settled down on terraces and hilly flanks, where they could take advantage of shelter and a rich landscape for hunting and for gathering plants. When agriculture became the main subsistence strategy, in the Neolithic period, farmers and herders moved from the outskirts down to the plain, gradually spreading and settling in the region of Tell Afis. In the course of the Late Chalcolithic Period (4000-3300 B.C.) the village of Afis (Afis II) grew into a town encircled by a massive wall (M. 1155). The wall, exposed over a length of 25 m, was preserved up to 4 m high. The floor in front of it sloped noticeably downward toward the lower city and a shallow ditch probably faced the wall, diverting run-off from rain for water collection. Materials and mainly pottery assign this sequence to the local Late Chalcolithic 2-3 phases, to be dated before the expansion of south Mesopotamian people (Uruk culture) along the Euphrates, currently fixed from the mid- to the late 4th millennium B.C. (Middle and Late Uruk periods). The town grew slowly during the course of the 3rd millennium in Early Bronze I-IV (Afis III-IV) and the 2nd millennium during the Middle (Afis V) and Late Bronze Ages (Afis VI). Sparse traces of occupation of the Early Bronze Age I were collected just above the debris of the Chalcolithic wall. The area of the acropolis was newly occupied in Early Bronze Age IV A (2400-2250 B.C.) and flourished in Early Bronze IV B (2250-2000 B.C.) (Afis IV). The citadel was then surrounded by a wall 1.80 m wide reinforced by a supplemental rampart covered by a glacis (Area N2) with large stones protecting its base. A private unit occupied the western acropolis (Area E2). In a later phase of the same period, this unit was extensively modified and enlarged. In an intermediate EB/MB phase the area was transformed into a pottery workshop. This unit was still in use in the following MB I (2000-1850). Rooms with domestic installations were separated by a cobbled street. In Middle Bronze I-II (Afis V) the site was once more strongly fortified reaching the physical extension of the tell. The central mound was also enclosed by town walls during MB IB-IIA (1850-1700 B.C.) and the lower town was surrounded by a thick brick wall, which is documented in Area B, on the outer northern edge of the lower tell. On its outskirts six graves were found. The site probably flourished in the early Old Syrian period, around 1800 B.C. when Ebla was the powerful capital of the area. Middle Bronze I-II was a period of major settlement increase and density in the plain. Some sites were located only a few km away, while others were on the fringe of the plain. The passage between Middle and Late Bronze Age is documented only by three inhumations in Area N2 and two in Area E3, which rather demonstrate a functional disruption of the occupation of the acropolis. This probably continued at least until the beginning of Late Bronze Age I (1500-1400 B.C.) when the area was pitted with sparse graves containing the remains of infants accompanied by simple burial objects. It was only in the Late Bronze Age II (1300-1200 B.C.) (Afis VI) that the site recovered its importance and was re-planned. Area E 4 furnishes a coherent sequence for the Late Bronze II and provides a set of primary contexts with well-deposited materials illustrating the cultural horizon of the area, especially concerning pottery technology, which was characterised by mass production and standardization for common wares. In phase VII (of the inner sequence of area E4) a considerable residence was built, which yielded a small archive of Hittite and Hurrian texts, dating back to the mid-13th century; seals and bronze objects attest to increasing internationals connections under the Hittite rule in the region. In phase VI the area was open with evidence of industrial activity in a small unit with a kiln and several fireplaces. In phase Vc-b the whole area was built over with three large residences separated by a cobbled street. To the south of the street lay the Pillared Building (B), to the north the Residency (A), a 300 square meter building; the third building (E) was adjacent to the Residency to the north.

In the last centuries of the 2nd and the beginning of the 1st millennium B.C. Afis increased its role in the region, probably because of its position on the routes linking the Mediterranean to the Euphrates. The lower city reached a maximum density between the 9th and the 7th century B.C., while the acropolis was occupied by ceremonial and residential buildings from the 12th to the 7th century: in other words, throughout the whole Iron Age. For this lengthy period Afis provides what is so far the longest and most complete sequence of occupation in Syria bridging the gap (once called "Dark Age") between the Late Bronze and Iron Age I. This was a crucial period for the history of Syria and Mesopotamia. Significant factors were the emergence of the Aramaean tribes, their slow integration into urban society and eventually their rise to political power. From the 10th to the 8th century B.C., until the time of the Assyrian conquest, a network of larger and smaller states, some of which were ruled by lords and kings of the Hittite dynasty and others by the more recently arrived Aramaeans, participated in a revival of the economy and culture of the region. In Area E, the earliest occupation of Iron Age I (IA) concerns some occasional and sparse reuse by squatters of the ruins of the Late Bronze II buildings, in the local phase Va. C14 dating of burnt seeds gives a calibrated date of 1280-1130 B.C. for this phase. The following Early Iron Age IB (phases IVc-a) documents the construction of a new well-planned domestic unit with buildings facing cobbled streets. The latest phase (Iron Age IC) is marked by a dense agglomeration of houses on the western side of the acropolis. The eastern side of the acropolis (Area G) and the eastern slope (Area N) were also densely occupied in this same period. In Iron Age II-III (900-600 B.C.) the site experienced a further re-planning and its size increased; a large lower town expanded around the base of the older acropolis and was surrounded by an outer wall. Official monumental buildings were erected on the top of the mound over the razed domestic units of Iron I. They were probably patronized by a new political élite that took power at the time of the emergence of the Aramaeans in northern Syria. In area A a sequence of three superimposed buildings has so far been brought to light, which could be identified as temples used from the Late Iron I (Temple AIII) to the late Iron III (Temple AI). The latter was a tripartite building with side rooms and towers on the front, resting on imposing stone foundations. Evidence of its furniture were found: small fragments of basalt sculptures and of a stela carrying an Aramaic inscription, as well as painted incense-burners and glazed architectural features. On the eastern side of Temple I traces of a sequence of another monumental building have been cleared (7th cent. B.C.). A further official building occupied the eastern rise of the acropolis; this is an enigmatic unique structure, an open-air almost square space defined as the Square Courtyard, with a carefully cobbled floor. Tell Afis could be identified with the city of Hazrek, mentioned in sources dating to the period from the mid-9th to the mid-8th century B.C. as the capital of the kingdom of Hamath and Lu‘ash. The long Aramic inscription on a fragmentary basalt stela carved with the figure of a man -maybe a king-, discovered on the site in 1908 (now in the Louvre museum, Paris), mentions the reconstruction of the city and the valiant defence made by king Zakkur against a coalition headed by Bar-Hadad, king of Damascus, and Bar-Gush, king of Bit-Agushi, possibly with the help of the Assyrians. The Assyrian king Adad-nirari III established the frontier between Atarshumki of Arpad and Zakkur of Hamath around 796 B.C. Hazrek, known as Hatarikka in the Assyrian sources and as Hadrach in the Bible, was conquered in 738 B.C. and transformed into a provincial centre. In the late Iron Age the city spread extensively south and east of the acropolis, filling an area already sparsely inhabited during the Middle Bronze Age. A few sites (Tell Serji, Tell Nuwaz) give evidence of the Achaemenid period, not well known at Tell Afis.