Tar al-Sbai on the Edge of Jebel Bishri

The area of Tar al-Sbai (the Circle of the Sbai [tribe]) is the remotest and most difficult to reach across the steppe; therefore the area has remained fairly untouched by modern humans.

The Finnish team was overwhelmed by the density of the ancient structural remains on the escarpment. The sites were even interlocking with each other. Besides modern tent bases and hunters' blinds, the ancient remains mainly consisted of Palaeolithic rock shelters, stone circles from different periods and tumuli or cairns.

Mapping on Landsat-7 ETM panchromatic channel images by Minna Lönnqvist 2000 © Eurimage, SYGIS – Jebel Bishri, the Finnish Project in Syria

Tar al-Sbai offers several Palaeolithic rock shelters the roofs of which have collapsed due to erosion. Above the shelters there exist several flint workshops. Open Palaeolithic sites cover the western plateau towards Qasr al-Hair (the Eastern Qasr al-Hair) and El-Kowm, where Swiss teams are carrying out archaeological explorations.

Besides Palaeolithic sites, stone circles ranging from ca. 8 m to 20 m in diameter formed another major set of site types in the Tar al-Sbai area. Some of the stone circles consisted of agglutanated houses with visible door entrances. Some circles formed megalithic complexes with cairns, straight walls, rows of small stone circles and parallel radiating stone constructions. The complexes were situated on the edge of the escarpment offering a fine view over the plateau below. The circles offered some Epipalaeolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic flints, some obsidian and Early Bronze Age potsherds. Samples of the small finds were collected and their positions were recorded by tachymeter (EDM).

Stone cairns/tumuli formed the third major site category of the structures at Tar al-Sbai. They were usually situated on higher hill tops or associated with the stone circles. Whether they were contemporary or secondary to the construction age of the circles (some seemed to be secondary as they utilized stones removed from the earlier features) is hard to say without excavation. Some of the cairns were opened and looted; some contained cists.

Videoclip: Archaeological documentation / Muhammed al-Taha prepares flint tools using ancient methods © SYGIS and Ghadi Boustani