War conditions in the Near East have interrupted the plans of Harvard archaeologists to search out evidence about the little known people of five to six thousand years ago who were among the first to domesticate plants and animals and thus develop a settled agricultural economy, Derwood W. Lockard, of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology, reported last night in a lecture here.
In a reconnaissance expedition two years ago, Lockard said, University archaeologists examined in northern Syria and Iraq the "mounds" of about 120 ancient, now buried town sites, some of which are believed to contain cultural remains of this early people. Members of this party were Lauriston Ward, curator of Asiatic Archaeology at the Museum, and director of the Expedition, and Mr. and Mrs. Lockard.
5-Year Expedition Postponed
The Museum completed plans last year to put a five-year expedition in the field to excavate the mounds, but the area lies close to the Near Eastern oil fields, and war conditions have made archaeological work impossible for the present, he explained.
The Harvard scientists hope, through the excavations, to fill in a gap in the early history, of mankind in the Near East, where the early human records are probably the most complete in the world.
Previous excavators and explorers in this region, according to Lockard, have reconstructed relatively completely the picture of the early food-hunting peoples who lived in the region in the Paleolithic periods, some ten to twenty thousand years ago, nomadic people with rough stone tools and no agriculture.
Other excavations have laid bare the relatively high culture, the so-called Tell Halaf civilization of the period roughly about four thousand years B.C., which had all the marks of a relatively highly developed agricultural economy, with sophisticated painted pottery designs and elaborate building constructions. Also, the sequence of cultures from the Tell Halaf period down through to written history and the periods of the great dynasties, and down to the present, are also fairly well traced by now, Lockard said.
But a noticeable gap in this story of Near Eastern human development lies in the so-called Neolithic period, lying between the Palaeolithic nomadic hunters, and the highly developed Tell Halaf peoples, Lockard remarked.
This Neolithic period, during which animals and plants were first domesticated and settled agricultural life began, is the object of the Harvard inquiry.
One reason for the conjecture that man's first agricultural economy developed in the Near East is that botanical and zoological evidence points to this area as the one place where there existed all the wild plants and animals which became the basis of an agricultural economy, Lockard said.