The Natufian culture was an Epipaleolithic culture that existed from 12,500 to 9,500 BC in the Levant, a region in the Eastern Mediterranean. It was unusual in that it was sedentary, or semi-sedentary, before the introduction of agriculture. Generally, though, Natufians exploited wild cereals. Animals hunted included gazelles.
By 10,200–8,800 BC, farming communities arose in the Levant and spread to Asia Minor, North Africa and North Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia is the site of the earliest developments of the Neolithic Revolution from around 10,000 BC.
It has been identified as having “inspired some of the most important developments in human history including the invention of the wheel, the planting of the first cereal crops and the development of cursive script, mathematics, astronomy and agriculture.”
The Natufian communities may be the ancestors of the builders of the first Neolithic settlements of the region, which may have been the earliest in the world. Some evidence suggests deliberate cultivation of cereals, specifically rye, by the Natufian culture, at Tell Abu Hureyra, the site of earliest evidence of agriculture in the world.
The Natufian developed in the same region as the earlier Kebaran complex, and is generally seen as a successor which developed from at least elements within that earlier culture.
There were also other cultures in the region, such as the Mushabian culture of the Negev and Sinai, which are sometimes distinguished from the Kebaran, and sometimes also seen as having played a role in the development of the Natufian.
More generally there has been discussion of the similarities of these cultures with those found in coastal North Africa. Graeme Barker notes there are: “similarities in the respective archaeological records of the Natufian culture of the Levant and of contemporary foragers in coastal North Africa across the late Pleistocene and early Holocene boundary”.
Ofer Bar-Yosef has argued that there are signs of influences coming from North Africa to the Levant, citing the microburin technique and “microlithic forms such as arched backed bladelets and La Mouillah points.” But recent research has shown that the presence of arched backed bladelets, La Mouillah points, and the use of the microburin technique was already apparent in the Nebekian industry of the Eastern Levant.
Maher et al. state that, “Many technological nuances that have often been always highlighted as signiﬁcant during the Natuﬁan were already present during the Early and Middle EP [Epipalaeolithic] and do not, in most cases, represent a radical departure in knowledge, tradition, or behavior.”
Authors such as Christopher Ehret have built upon the little evidence available to develop scenarios of intensive usage of plants having built up first in North Africa, as a precursor to the development of true farming in the Fertile Crescent. However, Weiss et al. have shown that the earliest known intensive usage of plants was in the Levant 23,000 years ago at the Ohalo II site.
According to Bar-Yosef and Belfer-Cohen, “It seems that certain preadaptive traits, developed already by the Kebaran and Geometric Kebaran populations within the Mediterranean park forest, played an important role in the emergence of the new socioeconomic system known as the Natufian culture”.
According to the genetic analyses done on six Natufian remains from Northern Israel, the Natufians carried the Y-DNA haplogroup E-Z380, which is ancestral to the modern-day E-M123 and were distinct, in terms of autosomal DNA, from northern, Anatolian populations, who contributed to the peopling of Europe, whilst the Natufians did not.
Anthropologist C. Loring Brace in a recent study on cranial metric traits however, was also able to identify a “clear link” to Sub-Saharan African populations for early Natufians based on his observation of gross anatomical similarity with extant populations found mostly in the Sahara.
Brace believes that these populations later became assimilated into the broader continuum of Southwest Asian populations. It is further speculated that the admixture process between Neolithic people and in situ foragers diluted any discoverable trace of Sub-Saharan ancestry that may have been present.
According to Christy G. Turner II, there is an archaeological and physical anthropological reason for a relationship between the modern Semitic-speaking populations of the Levant and the Natufians.
However, Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA), denoting the first stage in early Levantine and Anatolian Neolithic culture, dating around 9500 to 8000 BC, succeeded the Natufian culture of the Epipaleolithic (Mesolithic).
During this time, pottery was not yet in use. They precede the ceramic Neolithic (Yarmukian). Archaeological remains are located in the Levantine and upper Mesopotamian region of the Fertile Crescent.
Sites includes ‘Sultanian’ in the Jordan River valley and southern Levant with the type site of Jericho (other sites include Netiv HaGdud, El-Khiam, Hatoula and Nahal Oren), ‘Mureybetian’ in the Northern Levant, ‘Aswadian’ in the Damascus Basin, Çayönü and Göbekli Tepe (with the latter possibly being the oldest religious structural complex yet discovered), in ‘Upper Mesopotamia’, and Çatalhöyük, and the smaller but older site, rivaling even Jericho in age, Aşıklı Höyük, in central Anatolia.
Göbekli Tepe (“Potbelly Hill”), which is a direct translation of Armenian Portasar (“Mountain Navel”), is an archaeological site at the top of a mountain ridge in the Southeastern Anatolia Region of modern-day Turkey, approximately 12 km (7 mi) northeast of the city of Şanlıurfa.
Göbekli Tepe is connected with the initial stages of the Neolithic. It is one of several sites in the vicinity of Karaca Dağ, an area which geneticists suspect may have been the original source of at least some of our cultivated grains. It was here that the Neolithic revolution, i.e., the beginnings of grain cultivation, took place.
Recent DNA analysis of modern domesticated wheat compared with wild wheat has shown that its DNA is closest in sequence to wild wheat found on Karaca Dağ 20 miles (32 km) away from the site, suggesting that this is where modern wheat was first domesticated.
Mobile groups in the area were compelled to cooperate with each other to protect early concentrations of wild cereals from wild animals (herds of gazelles and wild donkeys).
Wild cereals may have been used for sustenance more intensively than before and were perhaps deliberately cultivated. This would have led to early social organization of various groups in the area. Thus, the Neolithic did not begin on a small scale in the form of individual instances of garden cultivation, but developed rapidly in the form of “a large-scale social organization”.
The cultural tendencies of Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), dating ca. 8000-6200 BC, differ from that of the earlier Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) period in that people living during this period began to depend more heavily upon domesticated animals to supplement their earlier mixed agrarian and hunter-gatherer diet.
Like the earlier PPNA people, the PPNB culture developed from the Earlier Natufian but shows evidence of a northerly origin, possibly indicating an influx from the region of north eastern Anatolia.
Early Neolithic farming was limited to a narrow range of plants, both wild and domesticated, which included einkorn wheat, millet and spelt, and the keeping of dogs, sheep and goats. By about 6,900–6,400 BC, it included domesticated cattle and pigs, the establishment of permanently or seasonally inhabited settlements, and the use of pottery.
Pyrotechnology was highly developed in this period. During this period, one of the main features of houses is evidenced by a thick layer of white clay plaster floors highly polished and made of lime produced from limestone. It is believed that the use of clay plaster for floor and wall coverings during PPNB led to the discovery of pottery.
The earliest proto-pottery was White Ware vessels, made from lime and gray ash, built up around baskets before firing, for several centuries around 7000 BC at sites such as Tell Neba’a Faour (Beqaa Valley).
The similarities of White Ware and overlapping time periods with later clay firing methods have suggested that Dark Faced Burnished Ware (DFBW), the first real pottery, came as a development from this limestone prototype.
DFBW is the earliest form of pottery developed in the western world. It has long been considered the forbear of the more polished examples such as Ancient Greek pottery.
The culture disappeared during the 8.2 kiloyear event, a term that climatologists have adopted for a sudden decrease in global temperatures that occurred approximately 8,200 years before the present, or c. 6200 BCE, and which lasted for the next two to four centuries.
Milder than the Younger Dryas cold spell that preceded it, but more severe than the Little Ice Age that would follow, the 8.2 kiloyear cooling was a significant exception to general trends of the Holocene climatic optimum.
During the event, atmospheric methane concentration decreased by 80 ppb or an emission reduction of 15%, by cooling and drying at a hemispheric scale.
Drier conditions were notable in North Africa while East Africa suffered five centuries of general drought. In West Asia and especially Mesopotamia, the 8.2 kiloyear event was a 300-year aridification and cooling episode, which may have provided the natural force for Mesopotamian irrigation agriculture and surplus production that were essential for the earliest class-formation and urban life.
However, multicentennial changes around the same period are difficult to link specifically to the approximately 100-year abrupt event as recorded most clearly in the Greenland ice cores.
The Neolithic 3 (PN) began around 6,400 BCE in the Fertile Crescent. By then distinctive cultures emerged, with pottery like the Halafian (Turkey, Syria, Northern Mesopotamia) and Ubaid (Southern Mesopotamia). This period has been further divided into PNA (Pottery Neolithic A) and PNB (Pottery Neolithic B) at some sites.
In the following Munhatta and Yarmukian post-pottery Neolithic cultures that succeeded it, rapid cultural development continues, although PPNB culture continued in the Amuq valley, where it influenced the later development of Ghassulian culture (c. 3800–c. 3350 BC) dating to the Middle Chalcolithic Period in the Southern Levant.
Ghassulian refers to a culture and an archaeological stage. Its type-site is located in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea in modern Jordan. It was characterized by small hamlet settlements of mixed farming peoples, who migrated southwards from today’s Syria into today’s Jordan, Israel and Palestine. Their pottery was highly elaborate, including footed bowls and horn-shaped drinking goblets, indicating the cultivation of wine.
Ghassulian culture has been identified at numerous other places in what is today southern Israel, especially in the region of Beersheba. The Ghassulian culture correlates closely with the Amratian of Egypt and may have had trading affinities (e.g., the distinctive churns, or “bird vases”) with early Minoan culture in Crete.
Work at the site of ‘Ain Ghazal in Jordan has indicated a later Pre-Pottery Neolithic C period which existed between 8,200 and 7,900 BP. Cultures practicing this lifestyle spread down the Red Sea shoreline and moved east from Syria into southern Iraq.
Juris Zarins has proposed that a Circum Arabian Nomadic Pastoral Complex developed in the period from the climatic crisis of 6200 BCE, partly as a result of an increasing emphasis in PPNB cultures upon animal domesticates, and a fusion with Harifian hunter gatherers in Southern Palestine, with affiliate connections with the cultures of Fayyum and the Eastern Desert of Egypt.
Domestication of sheep and goats reached Egypt from the Near East possibly as early as 6,000 BC. The first indisputable evidence for domestic plants and animals in the Nile valley is not until the early 5000 BC in northern Egypt and a thousand years later further south. In both cases as part of strategies that still relied heavily on fishing, hunting, and the gathering of wild plants”.
Graeme Barker suggests that these subsistence changes were not due to farmers migrating from the Near East but was an indigenous development, with cereals either indigenous or obtained through exchange.
Other scholars argue that the primary stimulus for agriculture and domesticated animals (as well as mud-brick architecture and other Neolithic cultural features) in Egypt was from the Middle East.
The Samarra culture is a Chalcolithic archaeological culture in northern Mesopotamia that is roughly dated to 5500–4800 BCE. It partially overlaps with Hassuna and early Ubaid.
It is speculated by some archaeologists that Sumerian speakers were farmers who moved down from the north, after perfecting irrigation agriculture there.
The Ubaid period pottery of southern Mesopotamia has been connected via Choga Mami transitional ware to the pottery of the Samarra period culture (c. 5700 – 4900 BC C-14) in the north, who were the first to practice a primitive form of irrigation agriculture along the middle Tigris River and its tributaries.
The connection is most clearly seen at Tell Awayli (Oueilli, Oueili) near Larsa, excavated by the French in the 1980s, where eight levels yielded pre-Ubaid pottery resembling Samarran ware.
According to this theory, farming peoples spread down into southern Mesopotamia because they had developed a temple-centered social organization for mobilizing labor and technology for water control, enabling them to survive and prosper in a difficult environment.
Others have suggested a continuity of Sumerians, from the indigenous hunter-fisherfolk traditions, associated with the Arabian bifacial assemblages found on the Arabian littoral.
The Sumerians themselves claimed kinship with the pre-Arab people of Dilmun, associated with modern Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. Professor Juris Zarins believes the Sumerians may have been the people living in the Persian Gulf region before it flooded at the end of the last Ice Age.
The Ubaid period is marked by a distinctive style of fine quality painted pottery which spread throughout Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf.
During this time, the first settlement in southern Mesopotamia was established at Eridu (Cuneiform: nun.ki), c. 6500 BC, by farmers who brought with them the Hadji Muhammed culture, which first pioneered irrigation agriculture.
It appears that this culture was derived from the Samarran culture from northern Mesopotamia. It is not known whether or not these were the actual Sumerians who are identified with the later Uruk culture.
Eridu remained an important religious center when it was gradually surpassed in size by the nearby city of Uruk. The story of the passing of the me (gifts of civilization) to Inanna, goddess of Uruk and of love and war, by Enki, god of wisdom and chief god of Eridu, may reflect this shift in hegemony.
Samarran material culture was first recognized during excavations by German Archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld at the site of Samarra. Other sites where Samarran material has been found include Tell Shemshara, Tell es-Sawwan and Yarim Tepe.
At Tell es-Sawwan, evidence of irrigation—including flax—establishes the presence of a prosperous settled culture with a highly organized social structure. The culture is primarily known for its finely made pottery decorated with stylized animals, including birds, and geometric designs on dark backgrounds.
This widely exported type of pottery, one of the first widespread, relatively uniform pottery styles in the Ancient Near East, was first recognized at Samarra. The Samarran Culture was the precursor to the Mesopotamian culture of the Ubaid period (ca. 6500 to 3800 BCE).
Sumer was one the first ancient urban civilization in the historical region of southern Mesopotamia, modern-day southern Iraq, during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze ages, and arguably the first civilization in the world.
Proto-writing in the region dates back to c. 3500 BC. The earliest texts come from the cities of Uruk and Jemdet Nasr and date back to 3300 BC; early cuneiform writing emerged in 3000 BC.
Modern historians have suggested that Sumer was first permanently settled between c. 5500 and 4000 BC by a West Asian people who spoke the Sumerian language (pointing to the names of cities, rivers, basic occupations, etc., as evidence), a language isolate.
These conjectured, prehistoric people are now called “proto-Euphrateans” or “Ubaidians”, and are theorized to have evolved from the Samarra culture of northern Mesopotamia (Assyria).
The Ubaidians (though never mentioned by the Sumerians themselves) are assumed by modern-day scholars to have been the first civilizing force in Sumer, draining the marshes for agriculture, developing trade, and establishing industries, including weaving, leatherwork, metalwork, masonry, and pottery.
However, some scholars contest the idea of a Proto-Euphratean language or one substrate language. It has been suggested by them and others, that the Sumerian language was originally that of the hunter and fisher peoples, who lived in the marshland and the Eastern Arabia littoral region, and were part of the Arabian bifacial culture.
Reliable historical records begin much later; there are none in Sumer of any kind that have been dated before Enmebaragesi (c. 26th century BC). Professor Juris Zarins believes the Sumerians were settled along the coast of Eastern Arabia, today’s Persian Gulf region, before it flooded at the end of the Ice Age.
Sumerian civilization took form in the Uruk period (4th millennium BC), continuing into the Jemdat Nasr and Early Dynastic periods.
During the 3rd millennium BC, a close cultural symbiosis developed between the Sumerians, who spoke a language isolate, and Akkadian-speakers, which included widespread bilingualism. Sumerian culture seems to have appeared as a fully formed civilization, with no pre-history.
In South Mesopotamia the period is the earliest known period on the alluvial plain although it is likely earlier periods exist obscured under the alluvium. In the south it has a very long duration between about 6500 and 3800 BCE when it is replaced by the Uruk period.
Spreading from Eridu the Ubaid culture extended from the Middle of the Tigris and Euphrates to the shores of the Persian Gulf, and then spread down past Bahrein to the copper deposits at Oman.
The archaeological record shows that Arabian Bifacial/Ubaid period came to an abrupt end in eastern Arabia and the Oman peninsula at 3800 BCE, just after the phase of lake lowering and onset of dune reactivation.
At this time, increased aridity led to an end in semi-desert nomadism, and there is no evidence of human presence in the area for approximately 1000 years, the so-called “Dark Millennium”. That might be due to the 5.9 kiloyear event at the end of the Older Peron.
Proto-Semitic is the hypothetical proto-language ancestral to historical Semitic languages of the Middle East. Locations which have been proposed for its origination include northern Mesopotamia, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Levant with a 2009 study proposing that it may have originated around 3750 BCE.
The Semitic language family is considered a component of the larger Afroasiatic macro-family of languages. The specific appearance of the donkey (an African animal) in Proto-Semitic but total absence of any reference to wheeled vehicles rather narrowly dates Proto-Semitic to between 3,800 BC and 3,500 BC.
In North Mesopotamia the period runs only between about 5300 and 4300 BCE. It is preceded by the Halaf period and the Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period and succeeded by the Late Chalcolithic period.
Previously, the Syrian plains were not considered as the homeland of Halaf culture, and the Halafians were seen either as hill people who descended from the nearby mountains of southeastern Anatolia, or herdsmen from northern Iraq. However, it has been demonstrated that Halaf culture was not sudden and was not the result of foreign people, but rather a continuous process of indigenous cultural changes in northern Syria, that spread to the other regions.
Halaf culture ended by 5000 BC after entering the so-called Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period. Many Halafians settlements were abandoned, and the remaining ones showed Ubaidian characters.
The new period is named Northern Ubaid to distinguish it from the proper Ubaid in southern Mesopotamia, and two explanations were presented for the transformation. The first maintain an invasion and a replacement of the Halafians by the Ubaidians, however, there is no hiatus between the Halaf and northern Ubaid which exclude the invasion theory. The most plausible theory is a Halafian adoption of the Ubaid culture.
The Leyla-Tepe culture of ancient Azerbaijan belongs to the Chalcolithic era. It got its name from the site in the Agdam district. Its settlements were distributed on the southern slopes of Central Caucasus, mostly in Agdam District, from 4350 until 4000 BC. The culture has also been linked to the north Ubaid period monuments, in particular, with the settlements in the Eastern Anatolia Region (Arslantepe, Coruchu-tepe, Tepechik, etc.).
Among the sites associated with this culture, the Soyugbulag kurgans or barrows are of special importance. The excavation of these kurgans demonstrated an unexpectedly early date of such structures on the territory of Azerbaijan. They were dated to the beginning of the 4th millennium BC.
The appearance of Leilatepe tradition’s carriers in the Caucasus marked the appearance of the ﬁrst local Caucasian metallurgy. This is attributed to migrants from Uruk, arriving around 4500 BCE.
Leilatepe metalwork tradition was very sophisticated right from the beginning, and featured many bronze items. Yet later, the quality of metallurgy declined with the Kura–Araxes culture.
It extends along the area from the Taman Peninsula at the Kerch Strait to near the modern border of Dagestan and southwards to the Kura River. The culture takes its name from a royal burial found in Maykop kurgan in the Kuban River valley.
It has been suggested that the Leyla-Tepe were the founders of the Maykop culture (ca. 3700 BC – 3000 BC), a major Bronze Age archaeological culture in the Western Caucasus region of Southern Russia.
Discovery of Soyugbulaq in 2004 and subsequent excavations provided substantial proof that the practice of kurgan burial was well established in the South Caucasus during the late Eneolithic.
The Leylatepe Culture tribes migrated to the north in the mid-fourth millennium, B.C. and played an important part in the rise of the Maikop Culture of the North Caucasus.