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Neolithic mural, Djade al Mugahara, Syria Volume 61 Number 1, January/February 2008
by Eric A. Powell

Neolithic Mural • Syria



In the fall of 2006, French archaeologists digging at the Neolithic site of Djade al Mugahara in northern Syria announced the discovery of a remarkable mural. Made up of red, black, and white geometric shapes painted 11,000 years ago, the small panel bore an uncanny resemblance to the early work of modernist masters Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee.

The discovery didn't make our list last year, but further excavation this past summer revealed that the team had only uncovered the very top of the mural in 2006. "During the 2007 campaign we excavated the complete panel, about three and a half feet by six feet," says expedition leader Eric Coqueugniot. "We also discovered a new wall with similar geometric patterns in a very good state of preservation." The paintings decorate the walls of a round communal building about 25 feet wide that probably served some ritual purpose. In the same structure Coqueugniot's team discovered anthropomorphic figurines made of gypsum and chalk.

An abstract Neolithic mural at the Syrian site of Djade al Mugahara was fully exposed in 2007 by a French team led by Eric Coqueugniot. A detail of a similar mural that the expedition discovered during last summer's field season. (E. Coqueugniot, CNRS, Dja'de Excavations, Ministere Francais des Affaires Etrangeres)

The rules guiding our selection of the top discoveries of 2007 disqualified the Djade al Mugahara mural from being included, since archaeologists announced the discovery of the masterwork in 2006. But archaeology is an incremental science, every season of excavation builds on the one before it, and the significance of a discovery made one year may only become apparent after further work. This year Coqueugniot's team not only gave us a more vivid glimpse into the ritual life of Djade al Mugahara, but a sense of just how close Neolithic aesthetic sensibilities were to those of early European modernists, the kind of eerie connection with the past that only archaeology can make.

More Top Discoveries of 2007

© 2008 by the Archaeological Institute of America