Friday, November 26, 2010

Northern Fertile Crescent Hunter Gatherers

Archaeological Sites in Anatolia and the Fertile Crescent

During the Younger Dryas, that thousand year reversal of fortune at the end of the last ice age, weather in Anatolia and the Northern Fertile Crescent became colder and dryer than the preceeding period.  Perhaps for this reason, the development of agriculture had to wait for a warmer and wetter period.

Europe During the Younger Dryas: 
Steppe-forest: pink, Steppe Tundra: salmon, Open Woodland: purple, Steppe: yellow

Europe at the end of the Holocene: 
Coniferous Woodland: blue-green, Open Woodland: green, Steppe: yellow, Dense Shrubland: red, Grass steppe and Pistacio Scrub: lime green

As conditions for farming had not yet developed, Anatolians and Northern Fertile Crescent inhabitants stuck to their hunter-gatherer past.  Evidence for this can be found in the earliest settlements of the Late younger Dryas and early Holocene:

Hallan Çemi Tepesi

"Hallan Cemi, Pig Husbandry, and Post-Pleistocene Adaptations along the Taurus-Zagros Arc (Turkey)", M. Rosenberg, R. Nesbitt, R. W. Redding and P. L Peasnall  (Link)

Abstract:  "Recent work at Hallan Çemi Tepesi and other round house horizon sites in eastern Anatolia indicates that the Taurus-Zagros flanks were a second autochthonous center of neolithization in southwestern Asia.  Fully settled complex hunter-gatherer societies are in existence in this area by the late Younger Dryas.  These settled village societies were based on adaptations that did not involve cereal exploitation, presumably because cereals were absent in this area during the Younger Dryas.  Instead, these adaptations revolved around the exploitation of nuts and pulses, plus the hunting of ovicaprids and deer supplemented by early experiments with animal husbandry involving pigs . . ."

Hallan Çemi Tepesi, Demirkoy, Qermez Dere and M’lefaat

"The role of wild grasses in subsistence and sendentism: new evidence from the Northern Fertile Crescent", Manon Savard, Mark Nesbitt and Martin K. Jones   (Link)

Abstract:  "Sedentism is usually regarded as a pre-condition for the development of crop husbandry in Southwest Asia and, consequently, sedentary pre-agrarian sites are an important focus of research on the origins of agriculture. It is often assumed that wild grasses were as important for huntergatherers as domesticated cereals were for early farmers, and that wild grass exploitation may therefore have had a critical role in enabling sedentism. Results from the analysis of archaeobotanical assemblages from Hallan Cemi, Demirkoy, Qermez Dere and M’lefaat, and comparison with those of other sedentary pre-agrarian sites in Southwest Asia, challenge the role often attributed to the exploitation of grasses at this time. Archaeobotanical and ethnographical evidence instead suggests that hunter-gatherers took an opportunistic approach to the resources available and their subsistence strategies were not necessarily centred on grasses and ‘wild cereals’."


The Hunters of Nemrik, Theya Molleson (Link)

"The faunal evidence indicates a hunting economy. An enormous amount of animal bone was recovered. It was all kitchen waste. Wild animals, especially antelope, predominated over domestic. The fauna comprises some sheep, cattle and pig but mainly antelope. Horse, deer, wild cattle, boar, beaver, badger, buffalo, jackal and panther are present. The people also hunted migrating geese, cranes, bustards as well as resident francolin, chukars and sandgrouse. The presence of birds of prey, notably the eagle owl, hint at falconry. Both bustards and crows, depicted among the sculptures, were well known to the inhabitants of the settlement (Lasota-Moskalewska 1994).

   "Agriculture as a subsistence seems to have been adopted during the late phase c. 9500–9000 BP and grinding stones, rubbers, mortars and pestles are then part of the lithic assemblage. The range of artifacts includes grindstone, polishing plates, awls, bone needles, a whetstone, pounders, shaft straighteners and bolas stones (Kozowski and Aurenche 2005). The subsistence technology can be, to some extent, inferred from the artifacts for pounding grain (mortars), rather than grinding. No pottery has been recorded. The technique of hunting is less clear. There are bolas stones, but few ‘spear’ straighteners. Arrow heads are exceptional and exotic, occurring only in some burials."


Göbekli Tepe

"Paleozoological and paleobotanical studies running parallel to the excavation indicate that the population whose achievements we see at Göbekli Tepe represented an economic stage of development still dependent upon wild prey. The economic motor of the Neolithic village, forerunner of the oriental city, still lay far beyond the horizon. Only a collection of hunters who assembled on the mountain as if to attend an "Olympic council" could have been responsible for the outlay of labor necessary to erect this architecture. "First came the temple, then the city" would seem descriptive of the phenomenon we see here. It remains the role of future excavation either to confirm or discredit this conclusion."

"The most recent building phase at Göbekli Tepe (Level II) has been dated both comparatively and absolutely (C14) to ca 8000 BC, with an earlier primary building phase (Level III) ending as early as 9000 BC. The age of the earliest occupation cannot yet be determined; the depth of the deposit, however, would suggest a period of several millennia, which signifies that the site had already existed in early Paleolithic times."

Aşıklı Höyük

"Project directors, M. Ozbasaran and G. Duru propose that the earliest layer could represent a seasonal settlement, in contrast to the later occupations of Layer 2, and that permanent settlement did not occur at the site until about 8000 cal BC."

"Subsistence:  According to the analyses, game from the hunt and vegetables and fruit collected by the inhabitants constituted the basis sources of diet at Aşıklı. The amount of cultivated einkorn, emmer and durum wheat eaten was minimal, as was also true of the barley and legumes planted by the population. Wild wheat and barley was also reaped, however, and brought into the village, where it was husked. Most popular among the wild fruits were the red hack-berry (Celtis tournefortii)."

"The most frequently consumed wild animals were sheep, goat, pig and cattle. Horse, deer, rabbit and different kinds of birds and fish were also among their consumption list. Animals such as the sheep and goats may have been at a stage of proto-domestication although there is no evidence of truly domestic animals at Aşıklı. Because farming had only recently come into practise, it was mainly wild grain that was being consumed."


These archeological sites demonstrate that hunters had settled in villages during the Younger Dryas. They exploited the abundant game of their surroundings as well as wild berries, nuts and cereals. They were not yet farmers, but they had a varied and substantial diet and they were poised to take advantage of the warmer, wetter weather of the Holocene.

Constellation of Orion, The Hunter
Photography credit: Mouser

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