Episode 16: Collapsing the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B

The Pre-Pottery Neolithic B was a time of great interaction and innovation across the ancient Near East. This period began with hunter-gatherers living in villages for some or all of the year in many parts of the Near East, but still reliant on collecting their food around the landscape. By the time this period ends, some 1500 years have passed and we have settled farming villages across the Near East with a wide range of domesticated plants and animals, as well as sophisticated techniques for both freshwater and ocean fishing.

The PPNB ‘World System’ as drawn by Bar-Yosef (Image taken from Bar-Yosef 2001).

People still lived in villages, although some of these had grown into massive megasites full of densely packed clusters of internally complex, sometimes multi-story houses. The farming and the fishing continue after the end of the PPNB, from about 7000 cal BCE. In terms of what else continues though, it very much depends on where in the Near East you look, because after this point we stop seeing common patterns and developments between the different regions of the Near East. This integrated ‘PPNB world system’, whether it was ever one single system or an overlapping series of different groups, breaks apart after the end of the PPNB. Raw materials and jewellery stops travelling all over the Near East over long distances. The megasites disappear – although everyone in small villages still lives in small villages – and in some areas sites are abandoned and others are founded in new locations.

In some parts of the Near East, such as northern Mesopotamia, pottery comes into common use for the first time. In other parts of the Near East, such as the southern Levant, pottery has not yet come into fashion – although it has been turning up very occasionally for a few hundred years already. Perhaps there was no real need for it just yet. Perhaps this was just a preference, and pottery had yet to come into fashion. Or, perhaps pottery technology had not yet improved enough to make it a useful thing to invest your time into making.

Pottery sherds from the Initial Pottery Neolithic (c.7000-6700 cal BCE) levels at Tell Sabi Abyad. Image from Nieuwenhuyse et al 2010.
Some of the larger pottery sherds found from Early, Middle and Late PPNB (c.8500-7000 cal BCE) contexts at Kfar HaHoresh. Image from Biton et al 2014.

One thing which also starts to change – although not at the same rate or in the same way in all regions – is the way that stone tools were made. In some areas, such as the southern Levant, naviform blade technology goes out of fashion. The new fashion is for unidirectional flake and blade technology, and a lot more use of flakes. People also took up a fashion for pressure-flaking – using the careful application of slow pressure to surfaces to ping off tiny slivers of stone. This meant that tools could not only be re-sharpened, but could also be given a serrated edge for extra cutting power.

Examples of denticulated blades made using the pressure-flaking technique. These denticulated sickle blades are some of the many examples recovered from PPNC contexts at Tel Ro’im West. Image adapted from Nadel and Nadler-Uziel 2011.

Pressure flaking was already around a little bit in northern Mesopotamia during the PPNB. After about 7000 cal BCE, though, it does become a bit more common, but doesn’t lead to a major turnover of stone tool technology like we see in the southern Levant. At least, not yet…

Episode Bibliography:

Altinbilek-Algül, C., Astruc, L, Binder, D. and Pelegrin, J. 2012. Pressure blade production with a lever in the Early and Late Neolithic of the Near East. In P. Desrosiers (ed.), The Emergence of Pressure Blade Flaking: From Origin to Modern Experimentation. London: Springer: 157-180.

Bar-Yosef, O. 2001. The world around Cyprus: from Epipalaeolithic foragers to the collapse of the PPNB civilization. In S. Swiny (ed.), The Earliest Prehistory of Cyprus. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research: 129-164.

Berger, J.-F. and Guilaine, J. 2009. The 8200 cal BP abrupt environmental change and the Neolithic transition: a Mediterranean perspective. Quaternary International 200: 31-49.

Biton, R., Goren, Y. and Goring-Morris, A.N. 2014. Ceramics in the Levantine Pre-Pottery Neolithic B: evidence from Kfar HaHoresh, Israel. Journal of Archaeological Science 41: 740-748.

Galili, e., Rosen, B., Gopher, A. and Horwitz, L.K. 2002. The emergence and dispersion of the eastern Mediterranean fishing village: evidence from submerged Neolithic settlements off the Carmel Coast, Israel. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 15(2): 167-198.

Henry, D.O. Cordova, C.E., Portillo, M., Albert, R.-M., DwWitt, R. and Emery-Barbier, A. 2016. Blame it on the goats? Desertification in the Near East during the Holocene. The Holocene 27(5): 625-637.

Kabukco, C. 2017. Woodland vegetation history and human impacts in south-central Anatolia 16,000-6500 cal BP: anthracological results from five prehistoric sites in the Konya Plain. Quaternary Science Reviews 176: 85-100.

Kadowaki, S. 2012. A household perspective towards the Pre-Pottery Neolithic to Late Neolithic cultural transformation in the southern Levant. Orient 47: 3-28.

Khalaily, H. 2009. The “Ghazalian culture”, a transitional phase from Pre-Pottery to the Early Pottery Neolithic periods: technological innovation and economic adaptation. In S.A. Rosen and V. Roux (eds.), Techniques and People. De Boccard: Paris: 179-191.

Kislev, M.E., Hartmann, A. and Galili, E. 2004. Archaeobotanical and archaeoentomological evidence from a well at Atlit-Yam indicates colder, more humid climate on Israeli coast during the PPNC period. Journal of Archaeological Science 31: 1301-1310.

Kuijt, I. and Goring-Morris, N. 2002. Foraging, farming and social complexity in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic of the southern Levant: a review and synthesis. Journal of World Prehistory 16(4): 361-440.

Maher, L.A., Banning, E.B. and Chazan, M. 2011. Oasis or mirage? Assessing the role of abrupt climate change in the prehistory of the southern Levant. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 21(1): 1-29.

Nadel, D. and Nadler-Uziel, M. 2011. Is the PPNC really different? The flint assemblages from three layers at Tel Roim West, Hula Basin. In E. Healy, S. Campbell and O. Maeda (eds.), The State of the Stone: Terminologies, Continuities and Contexts in Near Eastern Lithics. Studies in Near Eastern Production, Subsistence and Environment 13. Berlin: Ex Oriente: 243-255.

Nieuwenhuyse, O.P., Akkermans, P.M.M.G. and van der Plicht, J. 2010. Not so course, nor always plain – the earliest pottery of Syria. Antiquity 84: 71-85.

Nissen, H. 1993. The PPNC, the sheep and the hiatus Palestinian. Paléorient 19(1): 177-182.

Rollefson, G.O. 2019. Tumultuous times in the eighth and seventh millenia BC in the southern Levant. In A. marcinial (ed.), Concluding the Neolithic: the Near East in the Second Half of the Seventh Millennium BC. Atlanta, GA: Lockwood Press: 41-59.

Rollefson, G.O. and Köhler-Rollefson, I. 1993. PPNC adaptations in the first half of the 6th millennium B.C. Paléorient 19(1): 33-42.

Tsuneki, A., Nieuwenhuyse, O. and Campbell, S. (Eds.). 2017. The Emergence of Pottery in West Asia. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Yasuda, Y., Kitagawa, H. and Nakagawa, T. 2000. The earliest record of major anthropogenic deforestation in the Ghab valley, northwest Syria: a palynological study. Quaternary International 73-74: 127-136.

3 thoughts on “Episode 16: Collapsing the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B

  1. I was sorry to hear that you have not been well. I hope you are on the mend, Jane. I gobbled up this podcast which I appreciated very much. There really isn’t anything like this out there in the podcast world for we frustrated followers of archeology. Your storytelling style is informative and engaging. Thank you. I hope that there are more episodes to come!

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  2. I am absolutely riveted and fascinated by your work! I’m also sorry that you haven’t put your name on it and that you’ve been feeling poorly, I feel like praise and renown should rain down upon you!

    If you ever do a reader-mailbag episode, I have some questions! 1) Could you talk about currently occupied cities like Paris or Cairo. What do you think are the chances that they were occupied in neolithic and paleolithic times? What’s under, for instance, Paris, and do we have any hope of finding out? 2) Megafauna extinctions. You mention them quite often, and also megafauna replacements, say, boars for mini hippos. Can you talk about what you see vis a vis interrelations between megafauna and people – do people need megafauna, or is that uncertain? 3) Finally, I’d love to hear your thoughts on pre-history boats and undersea archaeology. Like here: https://en.natmus.dk/historical-knowledge/denmark/prehistoric-period-until-1050-ad/the-mesolithic-period/the-dugout-boat-from-broksoe/the-dugout-boats-of-the-stone-age/ I know that’s not the near-east, but I bet you have thoughts! And thanks for all this, your podcast is a true joy. I know it must take hours and weeks to do each one, I really appreciate all your work and time!

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