Yarmukian Pottery Imagery and Interpretations

The Yarmukian imagery assemblage was described originally by Stekelis (1950/1951, 1972) and more recently by Garfinkel (1992, 1995), with alternative interpretations offered by Gopher and Orrelle (1996). The assemblage comprises a number of categories of stone and clay items representing males, females, and androgynous persons, as well as sexual organs. A concentration of genital imagery characterizes both the stone and clay items. We have argued elsewhere (Gopher and Orrelle 1996) that some elements of the Yarmukian imagery encode information associated with age and reproductive status relating to gender categorization and social discourses such as control of reproduction. Other elements engage, we believe, in symbolic contest between male and female blood rituals. The Yarmukian pottery assemblage is distinctive mainly in form and decoration. Types include bowls of various sizes, including short pedestal bowls, amphora, platters, necked jars and hole-mouth jars. A variety of handles include knobs, pseudoledge handles, and loop types.

Analysis of the technology of Yarmukian vessels reveals no evidence of heat resistance for cooking, and it has been suggested that production was aimed mainly at achieving a visual effect and not a pyrotechnological one (Goren and Gopher 1995). Most of the vessels are plain, but there is a highly decorated element on some 12.5%of the assemblage, for example at Munhata layer 2B (Garfinkel 1992:12). The decoration found on the pottery runs the gamut of variations from plain incised, to painted with plain incised, to painted only. It includes combinations of red painted triangles arranged in zigzag formations and interspersed with plain bands incised with nested V motifs (usually referred to as herringbone motifs); this design appears with or without the red paint. There is a plain incised weave design in varying degrees of complexity. Bands appear in a variety of formations, and some vessels bear the red painted design with no incised element. The assemblage is very much dominated by the undulating variations of triangles and V motifs and the contrasting red and white grounds. The Lodian, though identified as an independent cultural unit appearing at the end of the Yarmukian, is still relatively unclear (e.g.,Blochman 1997; Gopher and Gophna 1993). Characteristic features of its pottery assemblage are a burnished glossy paint motif in brown and red-brown hues on unburnished cream background and a long narrow converging neck to the jars. The painted motifs of red triangles are absent. The practice of burnishing starts most probably at the end of the Yarmukian, continues, and grows in the Lodian and becomes more frequent in the Wadi Raba culture pottery assemblage.

What we have here, then, is a new category of produced artifact made of a transformed raw material, common clay, that has been mixed with temper and water, formed, individually decorated, and passed through fire to produce an artifact with a high degree of investment. It is found in domus contexts as described by Hodder (1990:44-45, 52). Its decoration consists of the triangle and V motif appearing with and without red color. We believe that the triangle, V motif, and zigzag are actually the same motif and derive from age old 'Paleolithic shorthand'vulvar representations that appear in Ice Age symbol systems (e.g., Marshak 1991). Triangles appear in Upper Paleolithic European cave and mobile art sometimes engraved in pubic position on images of women, and more often alone as near iconic images. We interpret these as vulvae, especially in view of fourth millennium bc Sumerian pictorial script where the slit triangle icon means ''woman" (Green and Nissen 1987). Often traces of red color are found on these images and, thus, can be interpreted as menstruating vulvae.

We have argued elsewhere (Gopher and Orrelle 1996) that these and similar almond shapes near iconic motifs stand as symbols for a social system governing rules of access to women. They are what Ortner describes as "summarizing symbols," visual meaning-laden symbols, schematized ver sions of the natural model (thus near iconic) that have entered a sacred category and stand for a complex system of ideals in communities. They form part ofwhat Knight describes as a "transformational template" (Knight 1991)—a time-resistant hunter-gathererdivision cf labor, the meaning of which these symbols represent. By the Neolithic, these schematized versions of vulvae have become incorporated into patterns and appear on a large range of artifacts in many countries (e.g., Gimbutas 1991). Synchronized vulva triangles bearing red color, traditionally blood, must still suggest menstruating vulvae, female ritual symbols connected with female inviolability during menstruation, a taboo deeply embedded in hunter-gatherer symbolic systems (Knight 1991; Knight et al. 1995). Given that these symbols were related to ancient female hunter-gatherer rituals expressed on an innovative artifact in an agricultural-horticultural-pastoral society, then this probably represents deliberate attempts to defend the old order (Gopher and Orrelle 1996). High investment in decoration of any artifact class suggests "loudritual" (elaboration is employed to support the claims of a particular social group) (Sperber 1975; Knight 1994; Peltenberg 1994). It can serve to introduce change or to defend against change in the battle of symbols (Harrison 1992). We believe that the recovery of several different kinds of artifact classes in the Yarmukian illustrates that discourse of this kind occurred simultaneously on several different levels.

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