The Pre-Pottery Neolithic of the Near East is known for a lot of changes to daily life compared with the earlier Epipalaeolithic. We have already looked at some of these major changes to the way that people lived, with the change from gathering to growing your own food, and settling down to live in villages with a community social life.
However, these were not the only changes that came about in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic. There were also a lot of less well-known changes and improvements to technology and society, and the way that communities interacted and shared information and goods between themselves. Some of these are improvements to technologies and networks that existed in the Epipalaeolithic, and some seem to be new things that came about here in the PPN.
Stone tools were not new in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, we have already seen them for millions of years. As with most other periods though, the PPN saw changes in the way that stone tools were made. Starting in the PPNA, and becoming widespread all over the Near East in the PPNB, we see technique for making stone tools with blades made using what is called a naviform (‘boat-shaped’) core. This method allowed people to get a lot of nice and fairly standard sized blades off of a single core without having to stop and re-shape the core in between blades. It proved to be a popular technique, spreading across the Near East in the early part of the PPNB and the chipped stone tools made in the PPNB changed over to be often made from naviform core blades which were used as blanks to be further shaped into tools.
Other things that we have seen before int he Near East saw improvements in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic. Stone beads started to turn up at sites in the Near East in the later part of the Epipalaeolithic, and were traded around, sometimes over long distances. Well, those beads, and the movement of beads, didn’t stop with the change to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic. Quite the opposite, in fact. Stone beads are more common in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, and are found in a wider range of styles and made from a wider range of types of stone. They are also still travelling around the Near East, much like they were before if now in slightly larger numbers.
Another thing which we saw very occasionally in the Epipalaeolithic of the Near East starts to turn up across the Near East in the PPNA. Unlike beads, which only become a bit more common, stone vessels become a lot more common across many parts of the Near East. These are most often made of different types of limestone or other easily-worked stone. Sometimes they are plain, sometimes they are highly polished, and sometimes they are covered in decoration. They are usually closer in size to a large soup bowl, but sometimes we find big versions, like limestone platters up to one meter (three feet) across.
Limestone was not only used to make vessels in the PPNA and PPNB. It also started to be common, at least in Anatolia and the southern Levant, to use limestone to make limewash plaster for making the walls and floors of houses brighter, cleaner, and easier to maintain. This was not only a nice decorative improvement, but it meant that people would have needed to have the technology to make very hot fires which could stay hot for a long time, in order to convert limestone into lime (or quicklime), which could be mixed with water to dissolve into limewash plaster.
The spread of these new technologies across the Near East, as well as the movement of stone beads and increasing amounts of obsidian, have led archaeologists to suggest that the PPNB saw a large social network spread across the Near East. In this “PPNB Interaction Sphere” people lived in houses organised into villages, grew their own food rather than collecting it in the wild (more or less), made stone tools with the naviform core technology, and traded ideas and goodies with one another. On the surface, this does look like one very large social network.
Of course, that is on the surface. If we look deeper into the different valleys and rivers of the Near East we can see that these general things which were common across the Near East hide a lot of detail and regional variation. Everyone lived in houses, but the shape and design of these houses is the same in a single valley, or in a pair of connecting valleys, but is different from the houses built by people in a different area. Stone beads and arrowheads were made in a wide range of shapes, and certain shapes were also more common in some areas and not very popular in others. Stone vessels were made in slightly different shapes, and with different types of decoration, in different regions. The details of daily life do not mean that communities of the Near East did not share information and trade goodies like obsidian with one another, but they do mean that people and communities maintained more than one level of social network. At the broad level, they lived within the interaction network of the PPNB Near East. But at the more personal and community scale, they lived in a smaller social bubble of their village and their region. Not every new invention, house shape or decoration was adopted. People chose to adopt what they wanted, and what would help them to feel a part of their social bubble and different from people outside of it. Archaeologists have argued for years about whether the PPNB Near East was a single interaction sphere or a mosaic of smaller cultural groups. Really, both of these are true. It just depends on what level of detail you look at.
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