Friday, December 3, 2010

The Levantine Corridor

Figure 10 (Bar-Yosef paper):  A map showing the distribution of Pre-Pottery Neolithic A sites, the area of the Levantine Corridor, and the presence of other socio-economic entities

From the Zeder paper, we have good estimates for the domestication of sheep, pigs, cattle and goats.  The earliest dates are sheep: 10,000ya, pigs: 10,500ya, cattle: 10,000ya and goats: 11,000ya.  Zeder sites estimates for the arrival of goats, sheep, pigs and cattle in the Southern Levant:  goats: 9,600ya, sheep 9,000ya, cattle 8,500ya and pigs 8,500ya.

One may wonder why the domestication of these animals occured later in the Southern Levant than further north.  The reason may be that there was already an established hunter-gatherer culture in the Southern Levant that did not experience the effects of the Younger Dryas as radically as those in the Taurus-Zagros Arc.  This culture is known as the Natufian culture.

In this light, I site an important paper regarding the Natufian hunters of the Levant:

The Natufian Culture of the Levant, Threshold to the Origin of Agriculture
Ofer Bar-Yosef

Link (Full text PDF publicly available)

The paper makes the central point that "Early Neolithic farming communities in the Levant were geographically distributed along today’s boundary between the Mediterranean and the Irano-Turanian steppic vegetationalbelts. However, the environmental conditions during the early Holocene were entirely different from those of today. Hence, these sites were located within the Mediterranean woodland, which was, at that time, the richest in vegetal and animal resources (Fig. 10). Recognition that the early farming communities were actually stretched along a rather narrow north-to-south belt led us to identify the Levantine Corridor as the locus of the origins of agriculture.  On both sides of that corridor, in the coastal range on the west and the steppic region in the east and south, small bands of foragers continued to survive (Fig. 10). Sites of these hunter-gatherers were excavated in the Anti-Lebanon mountains and in southern Sinai. Both areas provide ample evidence for the continuation of old life ways and the adoption of specific projectile tools from the neighboring farmers."

Additionally, there is evidence of a trade along the Levantine Corridor:  "Long-distance exchange is demonstrated by the central Anatolian obsidian found in Jericho and in smaller quantities in Netiv Hagdud, Nahal Oren, and Hatoula."

The very rapid adoption of domestic animals would suggest that Northern Fertile Crescent herder and farmer cultures expanded with their animals through the Levantine Corridor into the Southern Levant shortly after the Younger Dryas (9,600ya-8,500ya).  The pre-existing forager population of the Levant moved to occupy the coastal region on the west and steppe region on the east and south.

While it is unclear if the Natufian culture was replaced by the Northern Fertile Crescent farmer pastoralists, the relatively homogeneous genetic distribution of the Levant, circled in red below, suggests a founder effect by those ancient southward bound pastoralists and farmers. 

However, the gradual slope of the distribution from north (Assyrians) to south (Samaritans) of the West Asian (navy)-South European (blue)-Southwest Asian (turquoise) components leaves open the possibility of a limited absorption of a pre-existing people in the Southern Levant.   Alternatively, the marginal increase of the Southwest Asian component among Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Palestinians and Samaritans could simply be due to demic diffusion in the last 8000 years.

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