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Concept: Syria


The Canaanites inhabited the Levant region during the Bronze Age and established a culture that became influential in the Near East and beyond. However, the Canaanites, unlike most other ancient Near Easterners of this period, left few surviving textual records and thus their origin and relationship to ancient and present-day populations remain unclear. In this study, we sequenced five whole genomes from ∼3,700-year-old individuals from the city of Sidon, a major Canaanite city-state on the Eastern Mediterranean coast. We also sequenced the genomes of 99 individuals from present-day Lebanon to catalog modern Levantine genetic diversity. We find that a Bronze Age Canaanite-related ancestry was widespread in the region, shared among urban populations inhabiting the coast (Sidon) and inland populations (Jordan) who likely lived in farming societies or were pastoral nomads. This Canaanite-related ancestry derived from mixture between local Neolithic populations and eastern migrants genetically related to Chalcolithic Iranians. We estimate, using linkage-disequilibrium decay patterns, that admixture occurred 6,600-3,550 years ago, coinciding with recorded massive population movements in Mesopotamia during the mid-Holocene. We show that present-day Lebanese derive most of their ancestry from a Canaanite-related population, which therefore implies substantial genetic continuity in the Levant since at least the Bronze Age. In addition, we find Eurasian ancestry in the Lebanese not present in Bronze Age or earlier Levantines. We estimate that this Eurasian ancestry arrived in the Levant around 3,750-2,170 years ago during a period of successive conquests by distant populations.

Concepts: Mediterranean Sea, Neolithic, Fertile Crescent, Lebanon, Levant, Syria, Mesopotamia, Mediterranean


Before the Syrian uprising that began in 2011, the greater Fertile Crescent experienced the most severe drought in the instrumental record. For Syria, a country marked by poor governance and unsustainable agricultural and environmental policies, the drought had a catalytic effect, contributing to political unrest. We show that the recent decrease in Syrian precipitation is a combination of natural variability and a long-term drying trend, and the unusual severity of the observed drought is here shown to be highly unlikely without this trend. Precipitation changes in Syria are linked to rising mean sea-level pressure in the Eastern Mediterranean, which also shows a long-term trend. There has been also a long-term warming trend in the Eastern Mediterranean, adding to the drawdown of soil moisture. No natural cause is apparent for these trends, whereas the observed drying and warming are consistent with model studies of the response to increases in greenhouse gases. Furthermore, model studies show an increasingly drier and hotter future mean climate for the Eastern Mediterranean. Analyses of observations and model simulations indicate that a drought of the severity and duration of the recent Syrian drought, which is implicated in the current conflict, has become more than twice as likely as a consequence of human interference in the climate system.

Concepts: Climate change, Atmospheric pressure, Jordan, Fertile Crescent, Lebanon, Iraq, Levant, Syria


We present the results of the microstratigraphic, phytolith and wood charcoal study of the remains of a 10.5 ka roof. The roof is part of a building excavated at Tell Qarassa (South Syria), assigned to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period (PPNB). The Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPN) period in the Levant coincides with the emergence of farming. This fundamental change in subsistence strategy implied the shift from mobile to settled aggregated life, and from tents and huts to hard buildings. As settled life spread across the Levant, a generalised transition from round to square buildings occurred, that is a trademark of the PPNB period. The study of these buildings is fundamental for the understanding of the ever-stronger reciprocal socio-ecological relationship humans developed with the local environment since the introduction of sedentism and domestication. Descriptions of buildings in PPN archaeological contexts are usually restricted to the macroscopic observation of wooden elements (posts and beams) and mineral components (daub, plaster and stone elements). Reconstructions of microscopic and organic components are frequently based on ethnographic analogy. The direct study of macroscopic and microscopic, organic and mineral, building components performed at Tell Qarassa provides new insights on building conception, maintenance, use and destruction. These elements reflect new emerging paradigms in the relationship between Neolithic societies and the environment. A square building was possibly covered here with a radial roof, providing a glance into a topologic shift in the conception and understanding of volumes, from round-based to square-based geometries. Macroscopic and microscopic roof components indicate buildings were conceived for year-round residence rather than seasonal mobility. This implied performing maintenance and restoration of partially damaged buildings, as well as their adaptation to seasonal variability.

Concepts: Neolithic, Fertile Crescent, Building, Syria, Pre-Pottery Neolithic A, Jericho, Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, History of pottery in the Southern Levant


The power of visual imagery is well known, enshrined in such familiar sayings as “seeing is believing” and “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Iconic photos stir our emotions and transform our perspectives about life and the world in which we live. On September 2, 2015, photographs of a young Syrian child, Aylan Kurdi, lying face-down on a Turkish beach, filled the front pages of newspapers worldwide. These images brought much-needed attention to the Syrian war that had resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and created millions of refugees. Here we present behavioral data demonstrating that, in this case, an iconic photo of a single child had more impact than statistical reports of hundreds of thousands of deaths. People who had been unmoved by the relentlessly rising death toll in Syria suddenly appeared to care much more after having seen Aylan’s photograph; however, this newly created empathy waned rather quickly. We briefly examine the psychological processes underlying these findings, discuss some of their policy implications, and reflect on the lessons they provide about the challenges to effective intervention in the face of mass threats to human well-being.

Concepts: Psychology, Empathy, Emotion, Turkey, Photography, Photograph, Syria, A picture is worth a thousand words


In July 2015, a 26-year-old pediatrician described to our team of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) investigators his experiences in Aleppo, Syria’s most populous city. When he was a medical student in 2012, government forces detained and severely beat him. He now works as an emergency medicine physician and surgery resident in a hospital that has twice been bombed by the Syrian government. He lives in fear of being killed by bombs on his way to work or while there. His family wants him to leave Syria as they did, but he explained, “It’s our country, and if we leave, it . . .

Concepts: Health care, Medicine, Surgery, Physician, Pediatrics, Medical school, Specialty, Syria


The Intermediate Bronze Age (IB) in the Southern Levant (ca. 2350-2000 BCE) is known as the “Dark Ages,” following the collapse of Early Bronze urban society and predating the establishment of the Middle Bronze cities. The absence of significant settlements and monumental building has led to the reconstruction of IB social organization as that of nomadic, tribal society inhabiting rural villages with no central governmental system. Excavation in the Shamir Dolmen Field (comprising over 400 dolmens) on the western foothills of the Golan Heights was carried out following the discovery of rock art engravings on the ceiling of the central chamber inside one of the largest dolmens ever recorded in the Levant. Excavation of this multi-chambered dolmen, covered by a basalt capstone weighing some 50 tons, revealed a secondary multi-burial (of both adults and children) rarely described in a dolmen context in the Golan. Engraved into the rock ceiling above the multi-burial is a panel of 14 forms composed of a vertical line and downturned arc motif. 3D-scanning by structured-light technology was used to sharpen the forms and revealed the technique employed to create them. Building of the Shamir dolmens required a tremendous amount of labor, architectural mastery, and complex socio-economic organization well beyond the capacity of small, rural nomadic groups. The monumental megalithic burial of the Shamir dolmens indicates a hierarchical, complex, non-urban governmental system. This new evidence supports a growing body of recent criticism stemming from new discoveries and approaches that calls for rethinking our views of the Levantine IB “Dark Ages.”

Concepts: Israel, Lebanon, Golan Heights, Yom Kippur War, Syria, Mount Hermon, Gamla


The Late Epipalaeolithic Natufian (~14,600 - 11,500 cal BP) is a key period in the prehistory of southwest Asia. Often described as a complex hunting and gathering society with increased sedentism, intensive plant exploitation and associated with an increase in artistic and symbolic material culture, it is positioned between the earlier Upper- and Epi-Palaeolithic and the early Neolithic, when plant cultivation and subsequently animal domestication began. The Natufian has thus often been seen as a necessary pre-adaptation for the emergence of Neolithic economies in southwest Asia. Previous work has pointed to the Mediterranean woodland zone of the southern Levant as the ‘core zone’ of the Early Natufian. Here we present a new sequence of 27 AMS radiocarbon dates from the Natufian site Shubayqa 1 in northeast Jordan. The results suggest that the site was occupied intermittently between ~14,600 - 12,000 cal BP. The dates indicate the Natufian emerged just as early in eastern Jordan as it did in the Mediterranean woodland zone. This suggests that the origins and development of the Natufian were not tied to the ecological conditions of the Mediterranean woodlands, and that the evolution of this hunting and gathering society was more complex and heterogeneous than previously thought.

Concepts: Israel, Western Asia, Jordan, Neolithic, Fertile Crescent, Levant, Syria, Mesolithic


Effectiveness of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) for smoking cessation has not been evaluated in low income countries, such as Syria, where it is expensive and not widely available. We evaluated whether nicotine patch boosts smoking cessation rates when used in conjunction with behavioral support in primary care clinics in Aleppo, Syria.

Concepts: Smoking, Tobacco smoking, Nicotine, Smoking cessation, Nicotine patch, Nicotine gum, Syria, Damascus


The Druze are an aggregate of communities in the Levant and Near East living almost exclusively in the mountains of Syria, Lebanon and Israel whose ~1000 year old religion formally opposes mixed marriages and conversions. Despite increasing interest in genetics of the population structure of the Druze, their population history remains unknown. We investigated the genetic relationships between Israeli Druze and both modern and ancient populations. We evaluated our findings in light of three hypotheses purporting to explain Druze history that posit Arabian, Persian or mixed Near Eastern-Levantine roots. The biogeographical analysis localised proto-Druze to the mountainous regions of southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq and southeast Syria and their descendants clustered along a trajectory between these two regions. The mixed Near Eastern-Middle Eastern localisation of the Druze, shown using both modern and ancient DNA data, is distinct from that of neighbouring Syrians, Palestinians and most of the Lebanese, who exhibit a high affinity to the Levant. Druze biogeographic affinity, migration patterns, time of emergence and genetic similarity to Near Eastern populations are highly suggestive of Armenian-Turkish ancestries for the proto-Druze.

Concepts: Middle East, Israel, Jordan, Fertile Crescent, Lebanon, Iraq, Levant, Syria


This paper re-examines lithic technological variability of the Early Ahmarian, one of the early Upper Palaeolithic cultural entities in the Levant, which has often been regarded as a precursor of the Protoaurignacian (the early Upper Palaeolithic in Europe) in arguments for the occurrence of a cultural spread in association with the dispersal of Homo sapiens from the Levant to Europe. Using quantitative data on several lithic techno-typological attributes, we demonstrate that there is a significant degree of variability in the Early Ahmarian between the northern and southern Levant, as previously pointed out by several researchers. In addition, we suggest that the technology similar to the southern Early Ahmarian also existed in the northern Levant, i.e., the Ksar Akil Phase 4 group (the KA 4 group), by introducing new Upper Palaeolithic assemblages from Wadi Kharar 16R, inland Syria. We then review currently available stratigraphic records and radiocarbon dates (including a new date from Wadi Kharar 16R), with special attention to their methodological background. As a result, we propose alternative chronological scenarios, including one that postulates that the southern Early Ahmarian and the KA 4 group appeared later than the northern Early Ahmarian with little or no overlap. On the basis of the alternative scenarios of chronological/geographical patterns of the Early Ahmarian variability, we propose four possible relationships between the Protoaurignacian and the Early Ahmarian, including a new scenario that the appearance of the Protoaurignacian preceded those of similar technological entities in the Levant, i.e., the southern Early Ahmarian and the KA 4 group. If the last hypothesis is substantiated, it requires us to reconsider the model of a Levantine origin of the Protoaurignacian and its palaeoanthropological implications.

Concepts: Scientific method, Human, Technology, Stone Age, Prehistory, Levant, Syria, Upper Paleolithic