Episode 1: People and humans, a family story

Nariokotome boy

The long road between our last common ancestor with apes and modern humans is a fascinating area of archaeological research. Many different species of ancient people have been found from the last seven million years, including both our ancestors as well as some more distant cousins. I hope that you enjoyed the short (ish) summary of our evolution. Let me know if you have any questions or comments, and please come back and listen to the episode next week on the earliest archaeology of the ancient Near East.

If you would like to know more about the study of human evolution, or would like to see reconstructions of what our ancient family members may have looked like, there are some excellent resources available. Reconstructions and summaries of ancient people species by the Smithsonian Institution can be found on their Human Origins research page here. This page also has lovely examples of the Oldowan and Acheulean tools described in the episode.

If you would like to read more on human evolution – and what it is like to study – then I can recommend a couple of enjoyable books as well:

Lee Berger and John Hawks. 2017. Almost Human: The Astonishing Tale of Homo naledi and the Discovery that Changed our Human Story.

Mark Maslin. 2017. The Cradle of Humanity: How the Changing Landscape of Africa Made us so Smart.

Episode Bibliography:

Berger, L. and Hawks, J. 2017. Almost Human: The Astonishing Tale of Homo naledi and the Discovery that Changed our Human Story. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.

Bramble, D.M. and Lieberman, D.E. 2004. Endurance running and the evolution of HomoNature 432: 345-352.

Clarke, R.J. 2012. A Homo habilis maxilla and other newly discovered hominid fossils from Olduvai Gorge,Tanzania. Journal of Human Evolution 63: 418-428.

Domínguez-Rodrigo, M., Pickering, T.R., Semaw,S. and Rogers,M.J. 2005. Cutmarked bones from Pliocene archaeological sites at Gona, Afar, Ethiopia: implications for the function of the world’s oldest stone tools. Journal of Human Evolution 48: 109-121.

Haeusler, M. and McHenry, H.M. 2004. Body proportions of Homo habilis reviewed. Journal of Human Evolution 46: 433-465.

Haile-Selassie, Y., Saylor, B.Z., Deino, A., Alene, M. and Latimer, B.M. 2010. New hominid fossils from Woranso-Mille (Central Afar, Ethiopia) and taxonomy of early Australopithecus. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 141: 406-417.

Herries, A.L., Martin, J.M., Leece, A.B., Adams, J.W., Boschian, G., Johannes-Boyau, R., Edwards, T.R., Mallett, T., Massey, J., Murszewski, A., Neubauer, S., Pickering, R., Strait, D.S., Armstrong, B.J., Baker, S., Caruana, M.V., Denham, T., Hellstrom, J., Moggi-Cecchi, J., Mokobane, S., Penzo-Kajewski, P., Rovinsky, D.S., Schwarts, G.T., Stammers, R.C., Wilson, C., Woodhead, J. and Menter, C. 2020. Contemporaneity of Australopithecus, Paranthropus, and early Homo erectus in South Africa. Science 368(47): 1-19.

Hetherington, R. 2012. Living in a Dangerous Climate: Climate Change and Human Evolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hlubik, S., Berna, F., Feibel, C., Braun, D. and Harris, J.W.K. 2017. Researching the nature of fire at 1.5 Mya on the site of FxJj20 AB, Koobi For a, Kenya using high-resolution spatial analysis and FTIR spectrometry. Current Anthropology 58(Supplement 16): S243-S257.

Hublin, J.-J., Ben-Ncer, A., Bailey, S.E., Freidline, S.E., Neubauer,S., Skinner, M.M., Bergmann, I., Le Cabec, A., Benazzi,S., Harvati, K. and Gunz, P. 2017. New fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Moroccoand the pan-African origin of Homo sapiens. Nature 546: 289-292.

Lovejoy, C.O., Suwa, G., Simpson, S.W., Matternes, J.H. and White, T.D. 2009. The great diides: Ardipithecus ramidus reveals the postcrania of our last common ancestors with African apes. Science 326: 100-106.

Maslin, M. 2017. The Cradle of Humanity: How the Changing Landscape of Africa Made us so Smart. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Profico,A., Di Vincenzo,F., Gagliardi, L., Piperno, M. and Manzi, G. 2016. Filling the gap. Human cranial remains from GomboreII (Melka Kunture, Ethiopia; ca. 850ka) and the origin of Homo heidelbergensisJournal of Anthropological Sciences 94: 1-24.

Reno, P.L., Meindl, R.S., McCollum, M.A. and Lovejoy, C.O. 2003. Sexual dimorphism in Australopithecus afarensis was similar to that of modern humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 100(16): 9404-9409.

Rightmire, C.P. 2013. Homo erectus and Middle Pleistocene hominins: brain size, skull forms and species recognition. Journal of Human Evolution 65(3): 223-252.

Simpson, S.W., Quade, J., Levin, N.E., Butler, R., Dupont-Nivet, G., Everett, M. and Semaw, S. 2008. A female Homo erectus pelvis from Gona, Ethipoia. Science 322: 1089-1092.

Stout, D. Semaw, S., Rogers, M.J. and Cauche, D. 2010. Technological variation in the earliest Oldowan from Gona Afar, Ethiopia. Journal of Human Evolution 58: 474-491.

Henke, W. and Tattersall, I. 2013 Handbook of Paleoanthropology Volume 3: Phylogeny of Hominines. London: Springer.

Thoth, N. and Schick, K.2018. An overview of the cognitive implications of the Oldowan Industrial Complex. Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa 53(1): 3-39.

Thoth, N. and Schick, K. 2009. The Oldowan: the tool making of early hominins and chimpanzees compared. Annual Review of Anthropology 38: 289-305.

Ward, C.V. 2002. Interpreting the posture and locomotion of Australopithecus afarensis: where do we stand? Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 45: 185-215.

Ward, C.V., Plavcan, J.M. and Manthi, F.K. 2010. Anterior dental evolution in the Australopithecus anamensis-afarensis lineage. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 365: 3333-3344.

White, T.D., Asfaw, B., Beyene, Y., Haile-Selassie, Y., Lovejoy, C.O., Suwa, G. and WoldeGabriel, G. 2009. Ardipithecus ramidus and the paleobiology of early hominids. Science 326: 64-86.

Episode 17: Ceramic Neolithic Anatolia

Now that we have finished off the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, we can start to look at how the different regions of the Near East changed afterwards during the Pottery or Ceramic Neolithic. Today we can have a look at central and western Anatolia (mostly modern-day Turkey).

Contrary to the idea of a ‘Pre-Pottery Neolithic Collapse’, Anatolia expands at the end of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic. Farming villages turn up all over central and eastern Anatolia at the beginning of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, but they seem to stop at central Anatolia. This spread of farming villages pauses here in the highlands of central Anatolia for over a thousand years, and only starts to move westwards towards the Aegean (and, eventually, into and across Europe) after about 7000 cal BCE.

Asia Minor and the different geographic regions of Anatolia. Map taken from During 2000.

This wasn’t the post-PPN expansion either. One of the best known sites for the late Pre-Pottery Neolithic and Ceramic Neolithic in central Anatolia is Çatalhöyük (höyük essentially means ‘tell’). While a lot of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic ‘megasites’ either significantly contracted in size or were abandoned in other parts of the Near East, here in central Anatolia Çatalhöyük does the opposite. Over the course of the Early Ceramic Neolithic (about 7000 to 6500 cal BCE) Çatalhöyük grows, getting up to about 13 hectares in size. This growth seems to have come from swallowing up the other villages in it’s part of the Konya plain, as despite a lot of looking we don’t have evidence for other Early Ceramic Neolithic villages nearby.

The people at Çatalhöyük lived in what was called a clustered neighbourhood village, which is something that we see in central Anatolia during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic as well as throughout the Early Ceramic Neolithic (and beyond at some sites). This was community living at the level of the neighbourhood, with streets winding through the villages in between neighbourhood blocks of houses, but with no streets in between the houses of a neighbourhood. Instead, the houses were built directly next to one another with no space in between. The houses did not even have doors – at least not at ground level. Instead, all of the clustered-together houses had flat, open roofs. So if you wanted to get into your house from the street, you would need to climb up a ladder and walk across the rooftops of several of your neighbours to get to your own. These roofs also served as open communal spaces for activities, and visiting with neighbours.

Artists reconstruction of daily life in the neighbourhoods at Çatalhöyük. Image taken from the Çatalhöyük excavation website here.

Inside the houses, the walls would have been carefully plastered in fine loamy mud, as well as the floors. In some parts of the walls people might have used stamps to make decorative mouldings in geometric shapes. Or they might have painted the walls with colourful geometric patterns. These are not limited to Çatalhöyük either, but are found at houses in other sites across central Anatolia during the Early Ceramic Neolithic. Thus, life has continued here in Anatolia pretty much as it was in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, except now with communities using a bit of pottery.

The inside of a house from Ceramic Neolithic Çatalhöyük, showing the geometric shapes painted on the walls. Image from the Çatalhöyük excavation Flickr archive here.
A stamp seal in the shape of a bear excavated from Çatalhöyük in 2005. Image taken from the Çatalhöyük excavation Flickr archive here.
Female figurine from Late Ceramic Neolithic Çatalhöyük. Image from the Çatalhöyük excavation Flickr archive here.

It isn’t really until the Late Ceramic Neolithic (about 6500-6000 cal BCE) that we really start to see changes to societies. We get some changes in which colours or shapes of pottery were fashionable, and it also changes from being pretty rare to a lot more common. The villages themselves also change. Some keep the clustered neighbourhoods of earlier centuries, but many others changes to a more open layout of houses grouped together around courtyards or streets, each with their own front door. The painting and decoration inside the houses also gets more intricate, with geometric shapes joined by depictions of animals and even intricate hunting scenes. Sone tool production also changes, with more use of pressure-flaking of flakes and blades from ‘bullet’ shaped cores.

In western Anatolia, the first Neolithic villages come from the Ceramic Neolithic (that is, after 7000 cal BCE). Pottery is also either not very common (like at Çatalhöyük) or really rare here until about 6500 cal BCE. After 6500 cal BCE though, it becomes common everywhere. There is some evidence here to suggest that this change might be due to pottery starting to be used more in everyday cooking, making it a more common part of household goods. Some parts of western Anatolia (to the north) also share the use of pressure-flaking and bullet cores in the way that stone tools were made. Other parts of western Anatolia, though (the south) had less interest in this style. In both areas, the way that stone tools were made formed its own local tradition, rather than being a twin or a descendant of the way that tools were made in central Anatolia.

The Ceramic Neolithic village of Bademağaci in the Lakes region of western Anatolia. House foundations excavated in the foreground of this picture are covered in protective plaster during conservation, making it easier to see the layout of houses along one of the streets of the village. Image taken from Umurtak 2008.
Some of the early pottery recovered from excavations at Bademağaci in the Lakes region of Western Anatolia. The crenulation-type scale a the bottom of each drawing is in centimetres. Image taken from Umurtak 2008.

Households in western Anatolia also seem to share some patterns with those of central Anatolia after about 6500 cal BCE. This isn’t necessarily in how the houses were built, as that varies with a range of house-building methods including mudbrick, earthen/mud slabs and wattle-and daub (wooden posts with a woven wooden frame covered in mud plaster). What is common is the less tightly packed layout of houses, mostly opening out onto streets with spaces between the houses rather than all tightly packed together like central Anatolia before 6500 cal BCE. While we see a lot of regional and even individual variation in the way that people arranged their houses in western Anatolia, both of here and central Anatolia seem to share a greater focus of interest on the role of the household (rather than the neighbourhood or the whole village) in daily life and decision-making.

Episode Bibliography:

Arbuckle, B.S. 2013. The late adoption of cattle and pig husbandry in Neolithic Central Turkey. Journal of Archaeological Science 40: 1805-1815.

Bayliss, A., Brock, F., Farid, S., Hodder, I., Southon, J. and Taylor, R.E. 2015. Getting to the bottom of it all: a Bayesian approach to dating the start of Çatalhöyük. Journal of World Prehistory 28(1): 1-26.

Brami, M.N. 2014. A graphical simulation of the 2,000-year lag in Neolithic occupation between Central Anatolia and the Aegean basin. Journal of Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 7: 319-327.

Carter, T., Conolly, J. and Spasojevic, A. 2006. The chipped stone.  In I. Hodder (ed.), Changing Materialities at Çatalhöyük: reports from the 1995- 1999 Seasons. Cambridge: McDonald Institute Monographs: 221-83.

Çevik, Ö. 2019. Chaingin ideologies and community-making through the Neolithic period at Ulucak. In A. Marciniak (ed.), Concluding the Neolithic: the Near East in the Second Half of the Seventh Millennium BC. Atlanta, GA: Lockwood Press: 219-239.

Çevik, Ö. and Vuruskan, O. 2020. Ulucak Höyük: the pottery emergence in Western Anatolia. Documenta Praehistorica 47: 96-109.

Çilingiroğlu, Ç. 2009. Of stamps, loom weights and spindle whorls: contextual evidence on the function(s) of Neolithic stamps from Ulucak, Izmir, Turkey. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 22(1): 3-27.

Düring, B.S. 2000. The Prehistory of Asia Minor: From Complex Hunter-Gatherers to Early Urban Societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Düring, B.S. 2006. Constructing Communities: Clustered Neighbourhood Settlements of the Central Anatolian Neolithic ca. 8500-5500 cal BCE. Leiden: Nederlands Institut Vor Het Nabije Oosten.

Düring, B.S. 2013. Breaking the bond: investigating the Neolithic expansion in Asia Minor in the seventh millennium BC. Journal of World Prehistory 26: 75-100.

Fletcher, A., Baird, D., Spataro, M. and Fairbairn, A. 2017. Early ceramics in Anatolia: implications for the production and use of the earliest pottery. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 27(2): 351-369.

Gerritsen,. A.F., Özbal, R. and Thissen, L.C. 2013. The earliest Neolithic levels at Barcin Höyük, northwestern Turkey. Anatolica 39: 53-92.

Guilbeau, D., Kayacan, N., Altınbilek-Algül, Ç., Erdoğu, B. and Çevik, Ö. 2019. A comparative study of the Initial Neolithic chipped-stone assemblages of Ulucak and Uğurlu. Anatolian Studies 69: 1-20.

Karul, N. 2019. Early farmers in northwestern Anatolia in the seventh millennium BC. In A. Marciniak (ed.), Concluding the Neolithic: the Near East in the Second Half of the Seventh Millennium BC. Atlanta, GA: Lockwood Press: 269-286.

Thissen, L. 2010. The Neolithic-Chalcolithic sequence in the SW Anatolian Lakes region. Documenta Prehistorica 37: 269-282.

Umurtak, G. 2008. Some observations on a group of buildings and their finds from the Early Neolithic II/2 settlement at Bademağaci. Adalya 11: 1-23.

Vandam, R. 2019. Exploring the culture landscape of Neolithic Hacilar (6500-6100 cal BCE), southwestern Turkey. In A. Marciniak (ed.), Concluding the Neolithic: the Near East in the Second Half of the Seventh Millennium BC. Atlanta, GA: Lockwood Press: 193-217.

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.

Episode 15: Cyprus

Now that we have had a look at the Pre-Pottery Neolithic in most of the Near East, we can have a look at the arrival of people on Cyprus and what we know about the Pre-Pottery Neolithic societies there.

The earliest evidence that we currently have of people on Cyprus comes from the site of Akrotiri, from as early as 10,500 cal BCE. Cyprus never had a lot of the plants and animals that we associate with the Late Epipalaeolithic and Pre-Pottery Neolithic Near East. For example, Cyprus never had native versions of the plants and animals that we domesticated in the Near East during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic. However, at Akrotiri we do find evidence that the people who either visited the island, or moved there, brought over some of their favourite hunting animals from the mainland Near East.

A map of Cyprus showing some of the major Late Epipalaeolithic (Akrotiri) and Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites. Image from Manning et al. 2010.

At Akrotiri, in some of the last levels of its occupation, we find the bones of wild boar. Like I said, these were not animals that were native to Cyprus, so the only reasonable explanation is that they were imported to the island by people, probably from the coastal parts of the Levant or southern Turkey.

Wild boar bones that were found during excavations at Akrotiri. Bones from these excavations have been directly dated to confirm that wild boar were imported to Cyprus as early as 9700 cal BCE. Image from Vigne et al. 2009.

After Akrotiri, we don’t have any evidence of people on Cyprus for a few hundred years. This might be simply that we have not yet found the sites, or it might be that people stopped coming to Cyprus for a few centuries. When we start to find evidence of people on Cyprus again it is in the PPNA, what is called on Cyprus the Cypro-PPNA.

It is only in the last ten years or so that we have worked out that there was a specific PPNA phase of settlement on Cyprus, and that this took place only slightly later than the PPNA in the rest of the Near East. There are a lot of things in common between the PPNA of the mainland Near East and the Cypro-PPNA.

Projectile points recovered from PPNA Ayia Varvaria. Image from Manning et al. 2010.

We find round or oval houses, built with the same variety of materials and building techniques that we find on the mainland. We have public buildings in settlements just like we do on the mainland, and the chipped stone tools are also made in pretty much the same way as those of the Levantine part of the mainland. We have stone bowls, stone beads and shell jewellery, just like we find in the mainland although here these are made of local shells and stone. We do have imported stone though, in the form of obsidian from central Anatolia. We also have imported plants and animals. At PPNA sites on Cyprus we find the remains of wild boar (either those that were imported in the Late Epipalaeolithic and still living on the island, or animals that were freshly imported in the PPNA) as well as the remains of domestic dogs and small wild cats. We also find mice, who seem to have tagged along with people travelling from the mainland Near East and introduced themselves into the PPNA settlements on Cyprus. This might be because people also imported wild plants, like barley and wheat, and encouraged them to grow around the PPNA settlements on Cyprus so that they could be harvested, just like they were on the mainland.

Excavation of houses at early PPNB Akanthou Arkoosykos. In this image you can see part of the stone foundation for a wall (bottom left) as well as sections of preserved plastered floors (top left). Image from Seveketoglu and Hanson 2015.

Through time, the mainland Near East moved from the PPNA to the PPNB, with more complex houses and public buildings and increased trade in goods like obsidian. In Cyprus, we see this change as well at about the same time, moving from the Cypro-PPNA to the Cypro-PPNB, where we also get more complex architecture and more imported obsidian. We also see imports of more exotic materials, like beads made of carnelian. The PPNB in the mainland was also the time of the domestication of plants and animals, and on Cyprus we see this as well. From early on in the PPNB we see the importation of sheep, goats, cattle, and – a bit later – domestic pigs. We also see the importation of wild deer, which were let loose on Cyprus to be hunted and never show any signs of people trying to domesticate them. We seem domesticated grains, both barley and wheat as well as other plants, with different species of these turning up over time on Cyprus. This suggests that people were travelling back and for fairly regularly, as they were importing obsidian and occasionally carnelian, as well as animals and new varieties of domesticated grains from the mainland.

Carnelian beads from various PPNB settlements on Cyprus. Image from Moutsiou and Kassianidou 2019.
A bead made from local calcite to imitate imported carnelian beads. Image from Moutsiou and Kassianidou 2019.

What is so interesting about Cyprus is not that it is so very similar to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic in the rest of the Near East. That is interesting, as the common traditions and material goods between this island and the mainland, and the fact that they change at similar times in both places, suggests that there were well established sea travel practices in communities along the coasts of both the mainland and Cyprus. What is particularly interesting for how we think of the Neolithic, and how much people controlled their environment during the Neolithic, is the movement of wild plants and animals, and domestic plants and animals, onto Cyprus from even the very early part of people living there. We don’t tend to think of Epipalaeolithic people as actively managing the animals that they hunted. But, moving a population of wild boar across the Mediterranean to stock Cyprus as a game park is exactly that – game management. We see this in the PPNA, and also with plants. We see sheep and goats appearing on Cyprus right at the beginning of when we think of them as starting to be domesticated, which suggests that people may have had more control over these animals (and possibly had control for longer) than we generally give them credit for.

The most important thing about the Pre-Pottery Neolithic of Cyprus, then, is that it reminds us not to under-estimate the capabilities of early Neolithic communities in the Near East. People may have mostly lived in simple villages, but we should not make the mistake of thinking about these people as simple.

A fragment of carved stone figurine from PPNB Ais Giorkis. The original caprion for this figure has been included, as it is priceless. Image from Simmons et al. 2012.

Episode Bibliography:

Barzilai, O. and Goring-Morris, A.N. 2013. An estimator for bidirectional (naviform) blade productivity in the Near Eastern Pre-Pottery Neolithic B. Journal of Archaeological Science 40: 140-147.

Lucas, L., Colleges, S., Simmons, A. and Fuller, D.Q. 2012. Crop introduction and accelerated island evolution: archaeobotanical evidence from ‘Ais Yorkis and Pre-Pottery Neolithic Cyprus. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 21: 117-129.

Manen, C. 2017. Manufacturing and use of the stone vessels from PPN Shillourokambos in the context of Cypriot and Near Eastern PPN stone vessel production. In J.-D. Vigne, F. Briois and M. Tengberg (eds.), New Data on the Beginnings of the Neolithic in Cyprus. Paris: Société Préhistorique Française: 167-182.

Manning, S. 2011. Temporal placement and context of Cypro-PPNA activity on Cyprus. Eurasian Prehistory 11(1-2): 9-28.

Manning, S.W., McCartney, C., Kromer, B. and Stewart, S.T. 2010. The earlier Neolithic in Cyprus: recognition and dating of a Pre-Pottery Neolithic A occupation. Antiquity 84:693-706.

Moutsidou, T. 2019. A compositional study (pXRF) of Early Holocene obsidian assemblages from Cyprus, eastern Mediterranean. Open Archaeology 5: 155-166.

Moutsiou, T. and Kassianidou, V. 2019. Geochemical characterisation of carnelian beads from Aceramic Neolithic Cyprus using portable X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometry (pXRF). Journal of archaeological Science: Reports 25: 257-265.

Sevketoglu, M. and Hanson, I. 2015. Akanthou-Arkosykos, a ninth millennium BC coastal settlement in Cyprus. Environmental Archaeology 20(3): 225-238.

Simmons, A.H. 2012. Ais Giorkis: an unusual early Neolithic settlement in Cyprus. Journal of Field Archaeology 37(2): 86-103.

Vigne, J-D., Briois, F., Cucchi, T., Franel, Y., Mylona, P., Tengberg, M., Touquet, R., Wattez, J., Willcox, G., Zazzo, A. and Guilaine, J. 2017. Klimonas, a late PPNA hunter-cultivator village in Cyprus: new results. In J.-D. Vigne, F. Briois and M. Tengberg (eds.), New Data on the Beginnings of the Neolithic in Cyprus. Paris: Société Préhistorique Française: 21-46.

Vigne, J.-D., Briois, F., Zazzo, A., Willcox, G., Cucchi, T., Thiébault, S., Carrère, I., franel, Y., Touquet, R., Martin, C., Moreau, C., Comby, C., and Guilaine, J. 2012. First wave of cultivators spread to Cyprus at least 10,600 y ago. PNAS 109(22): 8445-8449.

Vigne, J.-D., Zazzo, A., Saliège, J.-F., Poplin, F., Guilaine, J. and Simmons, A. 2009. Pre-Neolithic wild boar management and introduction to Cyprus more than 11,400 years ago. PNAS 106(38): 16135-16138.

Episode 14: Networks and Inventions in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic

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.

An example of blade blanks made from a naviform core. Image from Barzilai and Goring-Morris 2013.
A reproduction of a naviform core, showing the overlap between the blades (viewed from their bases) that were taken off during the knapping process. Image taken from Barzilai and Goring-Morris 2013.

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.

A series of the finished and unfinished stone beads that were found at the PPNB site of Jilat 7 in the southern Levant. Image taken from Wright and Garrard 2002.
An example of a carnelian bead found at PPNB Nahal Hemar in the southern Levant. The bead itself is shown on the left, with a drawing on the right highlighting the way that this bead was drilled from both directions. Image taken from Groman-Yaroslavski and Bar-Yosef Mayer 2015.

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.

An undecorated but highly polished carved limestone bowl from PPNA Gilgal I in the southern Levant. The scale given here is in centimetres. Image taken from Rosenberg 2008.
Several fragments of carved and decorated lomestone bowls from Gobekli Tepe insoutheastern Turkey from the late PPNA and early PPNB. Image taken from Dietrich et al 2020.

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.

Episode Bibliography:

Asouti, E. 2006. Beyond the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B interaction sphere. Journal of World Prehistory 20: 87-126.

Barzilai, O. and Goring-Morris, A.N. 2013. An estimator for bidirectional (naviform) blade productivity in the Near Eastern Pre-Pottery Neolithic B. Journal of Archaeological Science 40: 140-147.

Clarke, J. 2012. Decorating the Neolithic: an evaluation of the use of plaster in the enhancement of daily life in the Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B of the southern Levant. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 22(2): 177-186.

Dietrich, L., Götting-Martin, E., Hertzog, J., Schmitt-Kopplin, P., McGovern, P.E., Hall, G.R., Petersen, W.C., Zarnkow, M., Hutzler, M., Jacob, F., Ullman, C., Notroff, J., Ulbrich, M., Flöter, E., Heeb, J., Meister, J. and Dietrich, O. 2020. Investigating the function of Pre-Pottery Neolithic stone troughs from Göbekli Tepe – An integrated approach. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 34: 102618

Frahm, E., Campbell, S. and Healey, E. 2016. Caucasus connections? New data and interpretations for Armenian obsidian in Northern Mesopotamia. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 9: 543-564.

Goren, Y. and Goring-Morris, A.N. 2008. Early pyrotechnology in the Near East: experimental lime=plaster production at the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B site of Kfar HaHoresh, Israel. Geoarchaeology 23(6): 779-798.

Groman-Yaroslavski, I., Bar-Yosef Mayer, D.E. 2015. Lapidary technology revealed by functional analysis of carnelian beads from the early Neolithic site of Nahal Hemar Cave, southern Levant. Journal of Archaeological Science 58: 77-88.

Ibañez, J.J., Ortega, D., Campos, D., Khalidi, L. and Méndez, V. 2015. Testing complex networks of interaction at the onset of the Near Eastern Neolithic using modelling of obsidian exchange. Journal of the Royal Society Interface 12: 20150210.

Kuijt, I. 2014. Lithic inter-assemblage variability and cultural-historical sequences: a consideration of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A occupation of ‘Dhra, Jordan. Paléorient 27(1): 107-125.

Rosenberg, D. 2008. Serving meals making a home: the PPNA limestone vessel industry of the southern Levant and its importance to the Neolithic revolution. Paléorient 34(1): 23-32.

Schmidt, K.2011. Göbekli Tepe. In Özdogan, M., Başgelen, N. and Kuniholm, P. (eds.), The Neolithic in Turkey: New Excavations and New Research. The Euphrates Basin. Istanbul: Archaeology & Art Publications: 41-83.

Wright, K. and Garrard, A. 2003. Social identities and the expansion of stone bead-making in Neolithic Western Asia: New evidence from Jordan. Antiquity 77: 267-284.

Episode 13: It takes a village

The Pre-Pottery Neolithic in the Near East was a time of many firsts. In addition to changing the way that we lived and got our food, it was also the time when we got villages and village life.

The first recognizable houses appear in the later part of the Epipalaeolithic. However, we don’t really think of the development of settled communities of both related and unrelated people – villages – until the early part of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, the PPNA. This is when we get not only permanent houses but also public or community structures. What exactly these buildings-which-were-not-houses were is not always entirely clear. Some of them seem to have had some role in food storage for the community, and some seem to have been places where community events and rituals took place. Some were both of these.

The most famous of these public buildings, especially for the sort which seems to have had some sort of religious or ceremonial function, are the ones from Gobekli Tepe in what is now southeastern Turkey. These have been broadly interpreted as shrines, and each seems to have been used for a certain limited period before it was carefully buried and a new shrine was made and used nearby. This means that we not only have a nice sequence of shrines to look at through time, but thanks to the previous inhabitants of Gobekli Tepe’s decision to bury these shrines at the end of their use, they are very well preserved.

Gobekli Tepe, showing the excavated shrines and new areas still under excavation. Image taken from here.
Some of the animals carved onto pillars at Gobekli Tepe. Image from here.

These buildings change over time, as do the houses that we find in Neolithic villages of the PPNA and PPNB. In the PPNA, we are mostly looking at small, round or oval shaped buildings with a variety of building methods. In the PPNB, the buildings are still made using a variety of methods, but they are almost always rectangular. Houses are not only rectangular, but over the course of the PPNB they also start to get more internal divisions, with added rooms and storage areas. Public buildings also start to get more internal architectural details, but not always.

Jerf el-Ahmar, showing the large PPNA public building. Different houses from some of the many occupation levels of this village are also visible, including later rectangular houses with rooms and earlier oval-shaped houses. Image from Belfer-Cohen and Goring-Morris 2010.
Changes to the shape and internal layout of houses through the different phases of PPNA and PPNB Cayonu (southeastern Turkey). House shapes and designs move through time with the oldest to the left and the younger styles to the right. Image from here.

In many sites, we also start to see more than one public building in different parts of the village. This suggests that we might be starting to see more storage of food happening at home, rather than at the level of the community as a whole, and that the social groups of villages might be getting large enough that they are starting to divide into multiple social sub-units (extended families or clans) that live together in the same village. One of the ways that these groups within the same village may have distinguished themselves is through shared ancestry and relationships between their ancestors.

This might explain the use of skulls in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic. It was not unusual across the Near East for people to bury their relatives under the house floor. In the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, it was also not unusual to go back later and retrieve a particular skull, or to keep the skull back while the rest of the person was buried. These are found in both houses and public buildings, and can be highly polished from repeated handling. These can also be decorated with plaster to better resemble the living people which they once were.

A plastered skull excavated from Jericho in the southern Levant. Image from here.
Three plastered skulls as they were found at Yiftahel in the southern Levant. Image from Slon et al 2014.

Episode Bibliography:

Atakuman, Ç. 2014. Architectural discourses and social transformation during the Early Neolithic in southeast Anatolia. Journal of World Prehistory 27: 1–42.

Balbo, A.L., Iriarte, E., Arranz, A., Zapata, L., Lancelotti, C., Madella, M., Teira, L., Jiménez, M., Braemer, F. and Ibáñez, J.J. 2012. Squaring the circle. Social and environmental implications of Pre-Pottery Neolithic building technology at Tell Qarassa (South Syria). PLOS One 7(7): e42109.

Belfer-Cohen, A. and Goring-Morris, N. 2010. The initial Neolithic in the Near East: why it is so difficult to deal with these PPNA… Mitekufat Haeven: Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society 40: 149-166.

Birch-Chapman, S. and Jenkins, E. 2019. A Bayesian approach to calculating Pre-Pottery Neolithic structural contemporaneity for reconstructing population size. Journal of Archaeological Science 112: 105033.

Byrd, B.F. 2005. Reassessing the emergence of village life in the Near East. Journal of Archaeological Research 13(3): 231-290.

Dietrich, O., Heun, M., Notroff, J., Schmidt, K., and Zarnkow, M. 2012. The role of cult and feasting in the emergence of Neolithic communities. New evidence from Göbekli Tepe, south-eastern Turkey. Antiquity 86: 674-695.

Finlayson, B., Mithen, S.J., Najjar, M., Smith, S., Maričević, D., Pankhurst, N. and Yeomans, L. 2011. Architecture, sedentism and social complexity at Pre-Pottery Neolithic A WF16, southern Jordan. PNAS 108(20): 8183-8188.

Goren, Y., Goring-Morris, A.N. and Segal, I. 2001. The technology of skull modelling in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB): regional variability, the relation of technology and iconography and their archaeological implications. Journal of Archaeological Science 28(7): 671-690.

Hadad, R. 2019. Ruin dynamics: architectural destruction and the production of sedentary space at the dawn of the Neolithic. Journal of Social Archaeology 19(1): 3-26.

Kuijt, I. 2001. Place, death and the transmission of social memory in early agricultural communities of the Near Eastern Pre-Pottery Neolithic. In M.S. Chesson (ed.), Social Memory, Identity, and Death: Anthropological Perspectives on Mortuary Rituals. Arlington, Virginia: American Anthropological Association: 80-99.

Love, S. 2013. Architecture as material culture: building form and materiality in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic of Anatolia and Levant. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 32: 746-758.

Ortiz, A., Chambon, P. and Molist, M. 2013. “Funerary bundles” in the PPNB at the archaeological site of Tell Halula (middle Euphrates valley, Syria): analysis of the taphonomic dynamics of seated bodies. Journal of Archaeological Science 40: 4150-4161.

Schirmer, W. 1990. Some aspects of building at the “aceramic‐neolithic” settlement of Çayönü Tepesi. World Archaeology 21(3): 363–387.

Schmidt, K.2011. Göbekli Tepe. In Özdogan, M., Başgelen, N. and Kuniholm, P. (eds.), The Neolithic in Turkey: New Excavations and New Research. The Euphrates Basin. Istanbul: Archaeology & Art Publications: 41-83.

Slon, V., Sarig, R., Hershkovitz, I., Khalaily, H. and Milevski, I. 2014 The Plastered Skulls from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B Site of Yiftahel (Israel) – A Computed Tomography-Based Analysis. PLoS ONE 9(2): e89242.

Verhoeven, M. 2001. Ritual and ideology in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B of the Levant and southeast Anatolia. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 12(2): 233-258. Verhoeven, M. 2002. Transformations of society: the changing role of ritual and symbolism in the PPNB and PN of the Levant, Syria and south-east Anatolia. Paléorient

Episode 12: Domestication on the Hoof in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic

After we had a look last week at how we went from gathering to farming plants, this week we are finishing off the change from getting our food in the wild to growing it at home by looking at the process of animal domestication in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPN) of the Near East.

As with plants, there are several things that we can look at to figure out if a particular animal species is domesticated, and how we can see the domestication process happening. Unlike with plants, where a lot of different species were domesticated in the PPN of the Near East, for animals we only have four species that were domesticated here – sheep, goats, cattle and pigs. As domesticates go, these have been pretty successful, and form a large part of people’s diets all over the world today.

When we look at whether or not an animal is domesticated, or if it is in the process of being domesticated, or if it is arriving into a new area having been domesticated somewhere else, there are a few things that we look for. One of these – as with plants, is the species turning up in new areas where it was not found in the wild. A good example of this is the southern Levant, or southern Mesopotamia.

In the southern Levant, we have a lot of studies of what animals people were eating in the Epipalaeolithic and the PPNA, and it was mostly gazelle. During the course of the PPNB, however, we see sheep and goats turning up as well, and over time these become more and more common, eventually replacing gazelle as the main food animals eaten at archaeological sites.

Another clue that an animal is getting domesticated is that for each of these four species the domesticated versions are smaller than the wild ones. When we look at sites during the PPNB, we see sheep and goats reaching a smaller size by about 7500 or as early as 8000 cal BCE and cattle and pigs reaching a smaller size by about 7000 or as early as 7500 cal BCE. These smaller animals are what we call “morphologically domestic”, meaning domestic in size and shape. This isn’t the end of the story, though.

Changes in the size and appearance of wild and domestic sheep. While not exactly to scale, this picture is pretty close, although note that the wild sheep here are males and the domestic sheep are females.

For sheep and goats – which are more common on Epipalaeolithic and PPNA sites in the Taurus and Zagros mountains – we see differences in the age and sex of the animals eaten between these periods before domestication started and during the early parts of the PPNB when people started to domesticate them. What we see at this early point is animals that are still wild in size and shape (what we call “proto-domestic”) but which are being controlled by people. We know that they are being controlled by people because we people made choices in which animals to eat. What we see is a larger number of animals being killed before 18 months to 2 years of age, compared with the Epipalaeolithic. Most interestingly, based on the measurements most of these animals being eaten young were males, and the females were left alive for a few extra years. This allowed the females to have several babies each to keep the herd growing, but gt rid of the excess males before they got old enough to try to fight to breed with the females. You don’t need very many adult male sheep or goats in order to keep getting new generations, and the males can be more aggressive and difficult to control when they reach adulthood – so they got the chop before (or when) they became difficult. We start to see this pattern of management happening about 8300 cal BCE, so several hundred years before the animals got smaller.

We know that cattle and pigs got smaller also when they were domesticated, and we are pretty sure that they must also have had a period of being “proto-domestic” before this happened. The difficulty with cattle and pigs is that their wild relatives turn up all over the Near East, as well as all over Europe and a lot of Asia. We know from genetic studies that they came from the Near Eastern populations of these wild relatives (at least for taurine cattle – Bos taurus, cattle were also domesticated independently in India from Indian populations of wild cattle to become what is now zebu cattle, Bos indicus). Figuring out exactly where in the Near East their domestication started is harder, because neither wild cattle nor wild pigs were ever the main hunted animal in the Epipalaeolithic or the PPNA. So we don’t have any hints as to areas where they might have started to be herded differently, and because they don’t turn up in huge numbers at Epipalaeolithic or Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites it is hard to tell if any site or region from the Near East was doing proto-domestic herd management like we see with sheep and goats.

The size of a male wild cattle (aurochs, or Bos primigenius) compared against people. While the females were smaller, they would still have stood at about head-height compared with most humans today. Image from here.

We have similar problems with dogs. We know that by the Late Epipalaeolithic in the Near East we have domestic dogs. We have some dogs in burials from this time but that is not the only clue. The difficulty is that all of the things that we use to look at domestication in sheep, goats, cattle and pigs do not work with dogs. Dogs do not get smaller when they were first domesticated – small dogs do not come along until after the Neolithic, so thousands of years later. Also, we were not keeping dogs as food sources the way that we were with the other animals, so there was no reason to kill them off based on their age or sex. What we do know, is that all domestic dogs are descended from eurasian grey wolves. And I do mean ALL domestic dogs – including the ones from pre-contact North and South America. The only way that this could have happened is if dogs were already domesticated before people moved into the Americas from Asia, bringing their dogs along with them. Thus, we know that dogs must have been domesticated before this happened, or before the start of the Late Epipalaeolithic in the Near East.

Episode Bibliography:

Arbuckle, B.S. 2014. Pace and process in the emergence of animal husbandry in Neolithic southwest Asia. Bioarchaeology of the Near East 8: 53-81.

Arbuckle, B.S. and Makarewicz, C.A. 2009. The early management of cattle (Bos taurus) in Neolithic central Anatolia. Antiquity 83(321), 669-686

Arbuckle, B.S., Price, M.D., Hongo, H. and Öksüz, B. 2016. Documenting the initial appearance of domestic cattle in the Eastern Fertile Crescent (northern Iraq and western Iran). Journal of Archaeological Science 72 1-9.

Buitenhuis, H. 1997. Aşikli Höyük: a “protodomestication” site. Anthropozoologica 25-26: 655-661.

Davis, S.J.M. and Valla, F.R. 1978. Evidence for domestication of the dog 12,000 years ago in the Natufian of Israel. Nature 276: 608–610.

Hongo, H. Meadow, R.H., Öksüz, B. and Ilgezdi, G. 2002. The process of ungulate domestication in Prepottery Neolithic Çayönü, southeastern Turkey. In H. Buitenhuis, A.M. Choyke, M. Mashkour and A.H. Al-Shiyab (eds.), Archaeozoology of the Near East V. Gronigen: ARC-Publicaties: 153-165.

Hongo, H., Pearson, J., Öksüz, B. and İlgezdi, G. 2009. The process of ungulate domestication

at Çayönü, Southeastern Turkey: a multidisciplinary approach focusing on Bos sp. and Cervus elaphus. Anthropozoologica 44(1): 63-78.

Horwitz, L.K. and Ducos, P. 2005. Counting cattle: trends in Neolithic Bos frequencies from the Southern Levant. Revue de Paléobiologie 10: 209-224.

Larson. G., Karlsson, E.K., Perri, A., Webster, M.T., Ho, S.Y.W., Peters, J., Stahl, P.W., Piper, P.J., Lingaas, F., Fredholm, M., Comstock, K.E., Modiano, J.F., Schelling, C., Agoulnik, A.I., Leegwater, P.A., Dobney, K., Vigne, J.-D., Vilà, C., Andersson, L., and Lindblad-Toh, K. 2012. Rethinking dog domestication by integrating genetics, archaeology and biogeography. PNAS 109(23): 8878-8883.

Legge, A.J. and Rowley-Conwy, P.A. 2000. The exploitation of Animals. In A.M.T. Moore, G.C. Hillman and A.J. Legge (eds.), Village on the Euphrates: From Foraging to Farming at Abu Hureya. London: Oxford University Press: 423-471.

Marom, N. and Bar-Oz, G. 2013. The Prey Pathway: A Regional History of Cattle (Bos taurus) and Pig (Sus scrofa) Domestication in the Northern Jordan Valley, Israel. PLoS ONE 8(2): e55958.

Munro, N.D., Bar-Oz, G., Meier, J.S., Sapir-Hen, L., Stiner, M.C. and Yeshurun, R. 2018. The emergence of animal management in the southern Levant. Nature Scientific Reports 8: 9279.

Price, M.D. and Arbuckle. B.S. 2015. Early Pig Management in the Zagros Flanks: Reanalysis of the Fauna from Neolithic Jarmo, Northern Iraq. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 25: 441-453.

Zeder, M.A. and Hesse, B. 2000. The initial domestication of goats (Capra hircus) in the Zagros mountains 10,000 years ago. Science 287: 2554-2557.

Episode 11: Bright Ideas? Experiments with Plant Domestication

Last week we looked at the second, Holocene half of the Epipalaeolithic. We saw that people in many parts of the Near East seem to have been settling down a bit more, and were building more permanent houses to live in. These houses also have evidence for storage, which may well have been happening in earlier periods, but this is the first solid (and literally built in stone) evidence that we have for it. This week we are moving forward into the Neolithic, specifically into the Early or Pre-Pottery Neolithic, which runs in the Near East from about 9600 cal BCE (about 11,600 years ago) to between 7000 and about 6500 cal BCE, depending on where you are in the Near East.

The Pre-Pottery Neolithic saw a lot of changes in the way that people lived in the Near East. One of these, one of the most important ones and one of the earliest changes that we have evidence for, is the domestication of plants. We used to think of this as some ‘bright idea’ that was had by one group of people, or a few neighbouring groups of people. They experimented with domesticating plants, domesticated a whole package of plants, and then these spread out across the Near East and beyond.

We now know that this concept of a single origin of domestication, and also of a ‘package’ of domesticated plants, is wrong. People seem to have been experimenting with cultivating wild plants, and with starting to domesticate a range of plants, across the Near East starting in the first part of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A or PPNA, which runs from about 9600 cal BCE to about 8500 cal BCE or 8300 cal BCE, depending on where in the Near East you are) where people in the Levant and northern Mesopotamia as well as potentially in other regions started to cultivate wild plants closer to home. Beginning in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (or PPNB, which runs from about 8500 or 8300 cal BCE until the end of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic) we start to see evidence of changes to plants consistent with domestication. These changes vary depending on the plant in question, but the most common signs that we have are an increase in the size of seeds and – in grains – changes to the outer casing of the seed where it attaches to the stalk.

The increase in the size of seeds, and the change in grains from mostly having the shattering-spikelet type of stalks to mostly having the non-shattering-spikelet type of stalks, was not a very fast change. It is not until about 7500 cal BCE that we start to see these larger, domesticated type of grains and pulses being the dominant type found on sites. The collection of wild plants, including the collection of wild grains and pulses of the same type that were being grown at the same site, also continued throughout the Pre-Pottery Neolithic. The amount of wild plants being collected varied, both through time as well as between different regions of the Near East. The big focus on grains and grain domestication seems to have been something mostly seen in the Levant, although early domestic grains also turn up in smaller or greater quantities in northern Mesopotamia, the Taurus mountains, the Zagros mountains and – after the start of the PPNB – in Anatolia.

The importance of pulses to the diets of people in PPNA and PPNB communities was also different in different regions as well as through time. Pulses were not completely ignored anywhere, but they do seem to have been a bigger part of the diet in the southern Levant. In the case of one pulse, the faba bean (Vicia faba), recent research suggests that it might have been domesticated in the southern Levant. This has been harder to pin down, as the wild ancestor of the faba bean isn’t around any more. However, the oldest examples that we have of the domesticated faba bean come from the southern Levant, from PPNB sites such as Ahihud, Nahal Zippori and Yiftahel. Recently, wild versions of the faba bean were found in excavations of the late Epipalaeolithic site of El-Wad Terrace, dating to about 14,000 years ago.

The location of the site of el-Wad terrace, where the Late Epipalaeolithic wild faba beans were found, as well as the locations of the southern Levantine PPNB sites where some of the oldest ever domestic faba beans were found. Image taken from Caracuta et al 2016.
Late Epipalaeolithic wild faba beans found at the site of el-Wad Terrace in the southern Levant. Image from Caracuta et al 2016

Episode Bibliography:

Abbo, S. and Gopher, A. 2020. Plant domestication in the Neolithic Near East: the humans-plants liaison. Quaternary Science Reviews 242: 106412.

Abbo, S., Peleg, Z., Lev-Yadun, S. and Gopher, A. 2021. Does the proportion of shattering vs. non-shattering cereal remains in archaeobotanical assemblages reflect Near Eastern Neolithic arable fields? Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 284: 104339.

Arranz-Otaegui, A., College, S., Ibañez, J.J. and Zapata, L. 2016. Crop husbandry activities and wild plant gathering, use and consumption at the EPPNB Tell Qarassa North (south Syria). Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 25: 629-65.

Asouti, E. and Fuller, D.Q. 2012. From foraging to farming in the southern Levant: the development of Epipalaeolithic and Pre-Pottery Neolithic plant management strategies. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 21: 149-162.

Asouti, E. and Fuller, D.Q. 2013. A contextual approach to the emergence of agriculture in southwest Asia: reconstructing Early Neolithic plant-food production. Current Anthropology 54(3): 299-345.

Belfer-Cohen, A. and Goring-Morris, N. 2010. The initial Neolithic in the Near East: why it is so difficult to deal with these PPNA… Mitekufat Haeven: Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society 40: 149-166.

Caracuta, V., Weinstein-Evron, M., Kaufman, D., Yeshrun, R., Silvent, J. and Boaretto, E. 2016. 14,000-year-old seeds indicate the Levantine origin of the lost progenitor of faba bean. Nature: Scientific Reports 6: 37399.

Edwards, P.C., Meadows, J., Sayej, G. and Westway, M. 2004. From the PPNA to the PPNB: new views from the southern Levant after excavations at Zahrat adh-Dhra’ 2 in Jordan. Paléorient 30(2): 21-60.

Fairbairn, A.S., Jenkins, E., Baird, D. and Jacobsen, G. 2014. 9th millennium plant subsistence in the central Anatolian highlands: new evidence from Pinarbaşi, Karaman Province, central Anatolia. Journal of Archaeological Science 41: 801-812.

Fuller, D.Q. 2007. Contrasting patterns in crop domestication and domestication rates: recent archaeobotanical insights from the Old World. Annals of Botany 100: 903-924.

Fuller, D.Q., Asouti, E. and Purugganan, M.D. 2012. Cultivation as slow evolutionary entanglement: comparative data on rate and sequence of domestication. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 21: 131-145.

Riehl, S., Benz, M., Conard, N.J., Darabi, H., Deckers, K., Nashli, H.F. and Zeidi-Kulehparcheh, M. 2012. Plant use in three Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites of the northern and eastern Fertile Crescent: a preliminary report. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 21: 95-106.

Weide, A., Riehl, S., Zeidi, M. and Conard, N.J. 2018. A systematic review of wild grass exploitation in relation to emerging cereal cultivation throughout the Epipalaeolithic and aceramic Neolithic of the Fertile Crescent. PLOS One 13(1): e0189811.

White, C.E. and Makarewicz, C.A. 2012. Harvesting practices and early Neolithic barley cultivation at el-Hemmeh, Jordan. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 21: 85-94.

Episode 10: Settling down in the Later Epipalaeolithic

Last time we saw how the earlier part of the Epipalaeolithic differed from the Upper Palaeolithic mostly in terms of the degree of changes which had been gathering over the course of the later Upper Palaeolithic, rather than the sudden appearance of new techniques and traditions. The later Epipalaeolithic is more of a change than we saw in this previous transition.

First, the later Epipalaeolithic takes place largely at the end of the Pleistocene and the beginning of the Holocene. While the exact point where the earlier and later Epipalaeolithic are divided differs in different parts of the Near East, the later Epipalaeolithic usually falls during this stage at the beginning of the Holocene. This first part of the Holocene has two phases, the Bølling Allerød is the first of these from about 14,500 to 12,750 years ago, when things began to warm up, more rain fell, glaciers in northern Europe began to melt and sea levels began to rise. Then came the Younger Dryas from about 12,750 to 11,500 years ago, when the climate changed its mind a little bit and went back towards a time of cold and dry for a thousand years. This meant that communities across the Near East had to deal with more than one major change in climate during the later Epipalaeolithic.

Many trends which we saw from the Upper Palaeolithic and earlier Epipalaeolithic continued and grew in the later Epipalaeolithic. The trade of exotic goods – such as sea shell beads and obsidian – continued to happen between communities across the Near East. In the later Epipalaeolithic we actually see a wider range of things being traded around, with the addition of stone beads to the repertoire of travelling exotics.

Some of the later Epipalaeolothic stone beads found at Direkli Cave, Turkey. Images adapted from Baysal et al 2018.

The later Epipalaeolithic also continued the earlier trends of greater use and greater processing of plant foods. The finds of grinding stones, mortars and pestles and other tools for processing plant remains not only continue in the later Epipalaeolithic of the Near East, but these tools become more common and more varieties are seen on sites across the region. One potential use of these tools has been found from the later Epipalaeolithic, making it by far the oldest evidence of its kind in the archaeological record – bread. Lumps of charred food remains were found at the site of Shubayqa 1 in Jordan dating from about 14,400 years ago were identified as preserved lumps of charred bread, making them the oldest evidence for the making of bread anywhere in the world.

These preserved chunks of charred bread were found inside the fireplace of Structure 1 at Shubayqa 1, which links this site not only to the oldest evidence for bread but to another new development which we see across the Near East in the later Epipalaeolithic – houses. Stone house foundations begin to appear across sites in the later Epipalaeolithic, indicating that people were routinely putting greater effort into setting up house, and is one of the lines of evidence which suggests that people were more permanently living within one site rather than moving frequently across the landscape between camps.

Structure 1 from Shubayqa 1. This is both a good example of Natufan houses as well as the fireplace wherein the oldest remains of bread ever found were discovered. Image adapted from Arranz-Otaegui et al 2018.

This increased sedentism – staying in one place rather than constantly moving – is suggested by a series of other things which either resulted from this longer-term residence or allowed it to continue. The first of these is evidence for storage – for the storing of food reserves for times of the year when food might not be as plentiful around the site. Another of these is some slight indications of over-hunting in the areas around a few sites in the southern Levant, although such evidence of over-hunting is not consistently seen across the Near East during the later Epipalaeolithic, and is not necessarily even seen across all of the southern Levant in this period. Another indication of less frequent human movement is the appearance of the house mouse, which changes during the late Epipalaeolithic from a local species of wild mouse to a commensal species with humans. This means that mice took advantage of our longer residences and our stored food and moved themselves in alongside us to help themselves when we were not looking, ultimately domesticating themselves into animals adapted to living alongside and off of human communities.

Episode Bibliography:

Arranz-Otaequi, A., Gonzalez Carretero, L., Ramsey, M.N., Fuller, D.Q. and Richter, T. 2018. Archaeobotanical evidence reveals the origins of bread 14,400 years ago in northeastern Jordan. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115(31): 7925-7930.

Asouti, E., Baird, D., Kabukcu, C. Swinson, K., Martin, L., Garcia-Suarez, A., Jenkins, E. and Rasheed, K. 2020. The Zagros Epipalaeolithic revisited: new excavations and 14C dates from Palegawra cave in Iraqi Kurdistan. Public Library Of Science One 15(9): e0239564.

Atici, L. 2009. Specialisation & diversification: animal exploitation strategies in the terminal Pleistocene, Mediterranean Turkey. Before Farming 2009(3): article 1.

Baird, D., Asouti, E., Astruc, L., Baysal, A., Baysal, E., Carruthers, D., Fairbairn, A., Kabukcu, C., Jenkins, E., Lorentz, K., Middleton, C., Pearson, J. and Pirie, A. 2013. Juniper smoke, skulls and wolves’ tails. The Epipalaeolithic of the Anatolian plateau in its south-west Asian context; insights from Pinarbaşi. Levant 45(2): 175-209.

Baysal, E. 2013. Epipalaeolithic marine shell beads at Pinarbaşi. Central Anatolia from an eastern Mediterranean perspective. Anatolica 39: 261-276.

Baysal, E.L. and Erek, C.M. 2018. Material movement in the Near Eastern Epipalaeolithic: implications of the shell and stone beads of Direkli Cave, Turkey. Journal of Field Archaeology 43: 591-603.

Belmaker, M. and Brown, A.B. 016. A new look at “on mice and men”: should commensal species be used as a universal indicator of early sedentism? In N. Marom, R. Yeshurun, L. Weissbrod and G. Bar-Oz (eds.), Bones and Identity: Zooarchaeological Approaches to Reconstructing Social and Cultural Landscapes in Southwest Asia. Oxford: Oxbow Books: 25-44.

Boyd, B. 2018. Settled? Recent debates in the archaeology of the Epipalaeolithic and Pre-Pottery Neolithic of southwest Asia. Asian Archaeology 1: 63-73.

Cuchi, T., Papayianni, K., Cersoy, S., Aznar-Cormano, L., Zazzo, A., Debruyne, R., Berthon, R., Bălăşescu, A., Simmons, A., Valla, F., Hamilakis, Y., Mavridis, F., Mashkour, M., Darvis, J., Siahsarvi, R., iglari, F., Petrie, C.A., Weeks, L., Sardari, A., Maziar, S., Denys, C., Orton, D., Jenkins, E., Zeder, M., Searle, J.B., Larson, G., Bonhomme, F., Auffray, J.C. and Vigne, J.D. 2020. Tracking the Near Eastern origins and European dispersal of the western house mouse. Nature: Scientific Reports 10: 8276.

Delage, C. 2018. Revisiting rolling stones: the procurement of non-local goods in the Epipalaeolithic of the Near East. Quaternary International 464: 159-172.

Flannery, K. V. (1969). Origins and ecological effects of early domestication in Iran

and the Near East. In P.J. Ucko and G.W. Dimbleby (eds.), The Domestication and Exploitation of Plants and Animals. Chicago: Aldine: 73–100.

Hartman, G., Bar-Yosef, O., Brittingham, A., Grosman, L., Munro, N.D. 2016. Hunted gazelles evidence cooling, but not drying during the Younger Dryas in the southern Levant. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113(5), 3997-4002.

Henton, E., Martin, L., Garrard, A., Jourdan, A.-L., Thirwall, M. and Boles, O. 2017. Gazelle seasonal mobility in the Jordanian steppe: the use of dental isotopes and microwear as environmental markers, applied to Epipalaeolithic Kharaneh IV. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 11: 147-158.

Jones, M.D., Abu-Jaber, N., AlShdaifat, A., Baird, D., Cook, B.I., Cuthbert, M.O. et al. 2019. 20,000 years of societal vulnerability and adaptation to climate change in southwest Asia. WIREs Water 6, e1330, doi: 10.1002/wat2.1330.

Martinoli, D. 2004. Food plant use, temporal changes and site seasonality at Epipalaeolithic Öküzini and Karain B caves, southwest Anatolia, Turkey. Paléorient 30(2): 61-80.

Munro, N. 2009. Epipalaeolithic subsistence intensification in the southern Levant: the faunal evidence. In J.J. Hublin and M.P. Richards (eds). The Evolution of Hominin Diets: Integrating Approaches to the Study of Palaeolithic Subsistence. London: Springer: 141-155.

Munro, N. and Bar-Oz, G. 2005. Gazelle bone fat processing in the Levantine Epipalaeolithic. Journal of Archaeological Science 32: 223-239.

Munro, N. and Br-Oz, G. 2007. Gazelle bone marrow yields and Epipalaeolithic carcass exploitation strategies in the southern Levant. Journal of Archaeological Science 34: 946-956.

Peasnall, B.L. 2000. The Round House Horizon Along the Taurus-Zagros Arc: a Synthesis of Recent Excavations of Late Epipalaeolithic and Early Aceramic Sites in Southeastern Anatolia and Northern Iraq. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Michigan.

Richter, T. and Maher, L. 2013. Terminology, process and change: reflections on the Epipalaeolithic of South-West Asia. Levant 45(2): 121-132.

Ridout-Sharpe, J. 2015. Changing lifestyles in the northern Levant: Late Epipalaeolithic and early Neolithic shells from Tell Abu Hureya. Quaternary International 390: 102-116.

Stutz, A.J., Munro, N.D. and Bar-Oz, G. 2009. Increasing the resolution of the Broad Spectrum Revolution in the southern Levantine Epipalaeolithic (19-12 ka). Journal of Human Evolution 56: 294-306.

Weide, A., Riehl, S., Zeidi, M. and Conard, N.J. 2018. A systematic review of wild grass exploitation in relation to emerging cereal cultivation throughout the Epipalaeolithic and aceramic Neolithic of the Fertile Crescent. Public Library of Science One 13(1): e0189811.

Episode 9: Distinguishing the Early Epipalaeolithic

The Epipalaeolithic is a bit of a tricky period in the prehistory of the Near East. This is especially the case for the first half of the Epipalaeolithic. As a period, the Epipalaeolithic in the Near East runs from the Last Glacial Maximum at the end of the Pleistocene (beginning about 24/23-20,000 years ago), through the change from the Pleistocene to the Holocene and into the first part of the Holocene up until the beginning of the Neolithic, about 11,500 years ago. Not only does this mean that the Epipalaeolithic covers a little over ten thousand years, it also covers the change from the last ice age in the Pleistocene to the much warmer climates of the early Holocene.

The Epipalaeolithic was also identified a long time ago. This means that a lot of the features which were used as hallmarks of the Epipalaeolithic (microlithics and microbladelets, shell beads, emphasis on eating a wide range of resources in particular from plants, and the burial of people with grave goods) have since been found to originate before the Epipalaeolithic. In some cases, these start long before the Epipalaeolithic.

This expansion of our knowledge about the Upper Palaeolithic has meant that the line between the Palaeolithic and the Epipalaeolithic has become pretty blurred in archaeology. As a result of this, a lot more attention is given to the later part of the Epipalaeolithic, when the change from the Pleistocene to the Holocene is accompanied by more significant changes in lifestyle for people across the Near East. There is no call for playing favorites in archaeology, and thus many researchers have worked to ensure that equal attention is paid to the earlier part of the Epipalaeolithic, so that we can understand how we moved from the Upper Palaeolithic into the end of the last ice age. Changes in the earlier part of the Epipalaeolithic may not be as clearly defined as we once thought, but the differences are still there if you look.

Microlithics are a big part of the Epipalaeolithic. These come in different shapes, and in some parts of the Near East the change in which shape is most popular can be used to divide the up the first part of the Epipalaeolithic into the Early and Middle parts, or into the Kebaran (long and thin bladelets) and the Geometric Kebaran (bladelets in geometric shapes). In other parts of the Near East, such as on sites of the Zarzian technocomplex in the Zagros mountains, the shape of bladelets doesn’t mean as much and very little change is seen in which shapes are more popular between the early and late Zarzian.

Different shapes ofbladelets from the Near Eastern Epipalaeolithic. In Zarzian sites of the Zagros there is little difference through time between the long and thin bladelets (left) and the geometric bladelets (right). In the Levant the change in popularity from one of these types to the other is used to divide the Kebaran (c.23,000-17,5000 years ago) from the Geometric Kebaran (c.17,500-14,000 years ago). Image adapted from Asouti et al 2020.

So, while we see some significant changes between the earlier half of the Epipalaeolithic and the later half, we don’t see so much of a dramatic change between the end of the Upper Palaeolithic. What we see instead are increases in the scale of developments that we saw in the Upper Palaeolithic. In the Upper Palaeolithic we have a few sites with grinding stones for processing plant remains. In the first stage of the Epipalaeolithic we have grinding stones turning up fairly commonly across sites, and during the earlier half of the Epipalaeolithic we also see mortar and pestles (which are much harder to make than flat grinding stones) appearing on sites. Taken together these suggest that, while people were eating plants in the Near East long before the Epipalaeolithic, people in the Epipalaeolithic were putting more effort into processing plants – and presumably therefore also putting more effort into getting these plants, meaning that they were more important than they were before.

In the Upper Palaeolithic, we see shell beads and other types of jewellery turning up at sites all over the Near East. In the early Epipalaeolithic we still see these shell beads, but they – like the grinding stones – have moved on a bit. We now see shell beads all over the Near East, even in areas really far from the coast. Some of these beads are made out of freshwater shellfish or land snails, but some of these are Mediterranean shellfish beads that have just traveled a really long way to get to eastern Iraq or western Iran. Shell beads are pretty common all over the Near East, and they often now have been made out of only part of a shell (rather than just piercing a hole into a complete shell) and shaped into what we would typically think of as a ‘bead’ shape.

Shaped sea shell beads found in recent excavations at Palegawra gave in the Zagros mountains of Iraq. Image from Asouti et al 2020.
Some of the goodies which moved around the Near East during the Epipalaeolithic.
Mortar and pestle from Wadi Hammeh 27 (1) and fragments of flat grinding stone from Hayonim Terrace (2), both basalt. Examples of trade objects are also here, including obsidian from ‘Eynan (3) and Antalis shells from Wadi Hammeh 27(4). Image adapted from Delage 2018.

It’s not only shells which are travelling long distances in the Epipalaeolithic. Obsidian was moved around in some parts of the Near East (like the Caucasus) in the Upper Palaeolithic. As with the shells and plant processing, this trend has grown as well in the Epipalaeolithic. Obsidian is found across the Near East. In the earliest part of the Epipalaeolithic this is mostly just moving around in the inland parts of the Near East (like the Caucasus and the Zagros), although it is still moving several hundred kilometres (a couple hundred miles). Soon we also see obsidian from the old volcano sources of Anatolia and the Caucasus moving even into the Levant, where obsidian could be moving 500-1000 kilometres (300-600 miles) from its source. There are even some indications that the basalt used to make mortar and pestles in the Levant was being moved around the landscape as well (although distances are less certain because basalt is a lot harder to identify to source)

These difference show that the change from the Upper Palaeolithic to the Epipalaeolithic was not a dramatic revolution, but it was a change in degree. Bladelets and microlithics were a part of the tool kit in the Upper Palaeolithic, but in the Epipalaeolithic they have grown to become the dominant part of the toolkit. Plant foods were eaten all through the Upper Palaeolithic, but in the Epipalaeolithc they seem to have become a bigger part of the diets of communities, who at the very least were putting a lot more effort into processing them. Objects of value – like beads and obsidian – were moved across pretty long distances in the Upper Palaeolithic of the Near East. By the Epipalaeolithic these also have increased in degree, with more things moving even longer distances.

Episode Bibliography:

Asouti, E., Baird, D., Kabukcu, C. Swinson, K., Martin, L., Garcia-Suarez, A., Jenkins, E. and Rasheed, K. 2020. The Zagros Epipalaeolithic revisited: new excavations and 14C dates from Palegawra cave in Iraqi Kurdistan. PLOS One 15(9): e0239564.

Barge,O., Kharanaghi, H.A., Biglari, F., Moradi, B., Mashkour, M., Tengberg, M. and Chataigner, C. 2018. Diffusion of Anatolian and Caucasian obsidian in the Zagrosmountains and the highlands of Iran: elements of explanation in ‘least cost path’ models. Quaternary International 467: 297-322.

Baysal, E.L. and Erek, C.M.2018. Material movement in the Near Eastern Epipalaeolithic: implications of the shell and stone beads of Direkli Cave, Turkey. Journal of Field Archaeology 43: 591-603.

Dubreuil, L. and Nadel, D. 2015. The development of plant food processing in the Levant: insights from use-wear analysis of Early Epipalaeolithic ground stone tools. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 370: 20140357.

Delage, C. 2018. Revisiting rolling stones: the procurement of non-local goods in the Epipalaeolithic of the Near East. Quaternary International 464: 159-172.

Frahm, E. and Tyron, C.A. 2018. Origins of Epipalaeolithic obsidian artifacts from Garrod’s excavations at Zarzi cave in the Zagros foothills of Iraq. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 21: 472-485.

Martin, L., Edwards, Y. Garrard, A. 2010. Hunting practices at an Eastern Jordanian Epipalaeolithic aggregation site: the case of Kharaneh IV. Levant 42(2): 107-135.

Nadel, D., Piperno, D.R., Holst, I., Snir, A. and Weiss, E. 2012. New evidence for the processing of wild cereal grains at Ohalo II, a 23000-year-old campsite on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Israel. Antiquity 334: 990-1003.

Richter, T. and Maher, L. 2013. Terminology, process and change: reflections on the Epipalaeolithic of South-West Asia. Levant 45(2): 121-132.

Stutz, A.J., Munro, N.D. and Bar-Oz, G. 2009. Increasing the resolution of the Broad Spectrum Revolution in the southern Levantine Epipalaeolithic (19-12 ka). Journal of Human Evolution 56: 294-306.

Episode 8: Social Networking in the Upper Palaeolithic

Last week we looked at new inventions of the Upper Palaeolithic. We also saw how while many of these new developments appear all over the Near East in the Upper Palaeolithic, much of the evidence that we have for people across the Near East suggests differences between groups of people within the individual regions of the Near East, and that these groups and their interactions changed through time.

This week we have looked at the impact of these new inventions on how people ate, and what they ate, in the Upper Palaeolithic. The new hunting weapons that we talked about last week, the atlatl and possibly the bow and arrow – if it was indeed invented here in the Upper Palaeolithic and not later – are not the only changes to hunting that we can see in this period. In the Middle Palaeolithic both humans and Neanderthals focused much more on hunting large animals, whereas here in the Upper Palaeolithic we see us humans changing to focus much more on hunting more medium-sized animals, like deer, gazelle, and the wild ancestors of sheep and goats. These are still not exactly easy animals to get for the dinner table, but they would have been easier for only a couple of to the whole animal carry home. With larger animals, you would have either needed many people to carry home dinner – as well as needing those people to work together to get it in the first place – or you would have needed to leave some of it behind to go to waste.

So, we may have had Upper Palaeolithic people hunting in smaller groups than Neanderthals and Anatomically Modern Humans did in the Middle Palaeolithic. This would have left more of the community free to either go on other hunting trips – doubling your chances of success that day – or to go and collect plant foods or to do other tasks of daily life. Or, they could have gone to the coast – of they lived near the coast – and collected shellfish or went fishing. We have shellfish turning up very occasionally in the Middle Palaeolithic, but in the Upper Palaeolithic we start to see shellfish and even fish turning up on sites more often, with fish becoming a regular (if minor) part of the diet of people living near lakes or the sea by the end of the Upper Palaeolithic.

Speaking of plant foods, we have a much better idea of what plant foods people were eating in the Upper Palaeolithic than we do for earlier periods. There can be two reasons for this – either the plants collected by Upper Palaeolithic people had a greater change of getting partially burned to preserve them, or because the Upper Palaeolithic is a lot more recent than the Middle and Lower Palaeolithic and even protectively charred seeds might have preserved better from the Upper Palaeolithic than from these much older times. Having these remains means that we can be pretty confident about what Upper Palaeolithic people ate, and that a large part of our diets came from wild plants. This does not mean that we were eating mostly lettuce and nuts. We did eat these, but we also had the wild relatives of wheat, oats and barley, as well as lentils, chickpeas, peas, carrots, onions, and tree fruit like apples, pears and cherries. This means that, while we many not be as familiar with the idea of having to go and collect our food from out in the wild, we would absolutely be familiar with what Upper Palaeolithic people were eating.

Preserved Upper Palaeolithic seeds from Ghar-e Boof Cave in Iran. These seeds were accidentally burned, which gave them a protective charred coating and allowed them to survive in the cave deposits for the last 30,000 years. The grid of blue lines in this picture is a scale of 1 millimetre squares, showing just how tiny many of the plant remains from archaeological sites can be. Image from Baines et al 2015.

We would also have been familiar with the jewellery that people wore. From the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic, we see small sea shells turning up at sites near the Mediterranean which have been carefully pierced through in order to be strung as beads. These holes do not occur naturally in the shells, they have been carefully made by people in order to convert a small and pretty shell into a bead. The specific shell which were in ‘fashion’ changed over the course of the Upper Palaeolithic, and towards the end of the Upper Palaeolithic we see an increase in the range of shellfish which get turned into beads, with even some larger shells being cut down and shaped into long and thin beads rather than using whole shells.

Sea shells found from Upper Palaeolithic layers at Üçağizli Cavein Turkey, showing the holes humans made in the shells in order to string them as beads. Image adapted from Stiner et al 2013.

Of course, not everyone in the Upper Palaeolithic of the Near East lived near the sea, and had good access to sea shells for making beads. In these areas, people took advantage of an odd quirk of anatomy in some of the animals that they were hunting. Red deer have little vestigial canines. These are not your classic long, sharp and pointy canines, but look instead like little teardrop-shaped lumps. We can think of them a little bit like pearls, if maybe not the classic pearl shape. People in the Upper Palaeolithic would carefully drill a little hole through the root of these teeth and could then string these as beads. We see these red deer canine beads all over the Near East in groups with broadly Aurignacian-like stone tools, including communities of the Zagros and Caucasus regions as well as the coastal communities of the Levantine Aurignacian.

Examples of the canine teeth of red deer which have been drilled to turn them into beads. These teeth come from Levantine Aurignacian layers at Hayonim cave, although similar drilled teeth are found in many parts of the Near East during the Upper Palaeolithic. Image adapted from Tejero et al 2020.

In addition to sharing jewellery design and fashion over large parts of the Near East, there are other aspects of the archaeology which suggest that over the course of the Upper Palaeolithic people were interacting with their neighbours and friends in large-ranging social networks. We can see these through the movement of some items as gifts from person to person, eventually covering really long distances. Sea shells in the Levant have been found on Upper Palaolithic sites over 100 kilometers from their original shores. Looking at the movement of stone for making stone tools, we can see some extra-nice types of stone for making tools moving increasingly longer distances. In the Caucasus mountains of Armenia, studies of the stone tools made from obsidian at Aghitu-3 cave has shown that early on in the Upper Palaeolithic (up until about 30,000 years ago), all stone including obsidian came into the site from within the local area. After about 30,000 years ago, though, we start to see some of the obsidian at the site having come from much farther away. While most of the stone tools at Aghitu still come from the local area, some of the obsidian tools comes from multiple stone sources in different parts of Armenia between 100 and 200 kilometers from the site. For stone to have moved this far and from such a range of directions away from Aghitu-3 suggests that the people who visited this cave had friends and neighbours – and their friend and neighbours – and social networks stretching for hundreds of kilometers across the region.

Examples of stone tools made of chert (top) and obsidian (bottom) from Aghitu-3 cave in Armenia. Image adapted from Taller et al 2018.

Episode Bibliography:

Baines, J.A., Riehl, S., Conard, N. and Zeidi-Kulehparcheh, M. 2015. Upper Palaeolithic archaeobotany of Ghar-e Boof cave, Iran: a case study in site disturbance and methodology. Journal of Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 7: 245-256.

Bosch, M.D., Buck. L., and Strauss, A. 2019. Location, location, location: investigating perforation locations in Tritia gibbosula shells at Ksâr Akil (Lebanon) using micro-CT data. PaleoAnthropology 2019: 52-63.

Bosch, M.D., Mannino, M.A., Prendergast, A.L., Wesselngh, F.P., O’Connell, T.C. and Hublin, J.J. 2018. Year-round shellfish exploitation in the Levant and implications for Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer subsistence. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 21: 1198-1214.

Bosch, M.D., Wesselingh, F.P. and Mannino, M.A., 2015. The Ksâr Akil (Lebanon) mollusc assemblage: zooarchaeological and taphonomic investigations. Quaternary International 390: 85-101.

Frahm, E., Kandel, A.W. and Gasparyan, E. 2019. Upper Palaeolithic settlement and mobility in the Armenian highlands: agent-based modelling, obsidian sourcing and lithic analysis of Aghitu-3 cave. Journal of Palaeolithic Archaeology 2: 418-465.

Hardy, K. 2018. Plant use in he Lower and Middle Palaeolithic: food, medicine and raw materials. Quaternary Science Reviews 191: 393-405.

Kadowaki, S., Kurozumi, T. and Henry, D.O. 2019. Marine shells from Tor Fawaz, southern Jordan, and their implications for behavioural changes from the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic in the Levant. In Y. Nishiali and O. Jöris (eds.), Learning Among Neanderthals and Palaeolithic Modern Humans: Archaeological Evidence. London: Springer: 161-178.

Kadowaki, S., Tamura, T., Sano, K., Kurozumi, T., Maher, L.A., Wakano, J.K., Omori, T., Kida, R., Hirose, M., Massadeh, S. and Henry, D.O. Lithic technology, chronology and marine shells from Wadi Aghar, southern Jordan, and Initial Upper Palaeolithic behaviours in the southern inland Levant. Journal of Human Evolution 135: 102646.

Kndel, A.W., Gasparyan, B., Allue, E., Bigga, G., Bruch, A.A., Cullen, V.L., Frahm, E., Ghukasyan, R., Gruwier, B., Jabbour, F., Miller, C.E., Taller, A., Vardazaryan, V., Vasilyan, D. and Weissbrod, L. 2017. The earliest evidence for Upper Palaeolithic occupation in the Armenian highlands at Aghitu-3 Cave. Journal of Human Evolution 110: 37-68.

Nadel, D., Piperno, D.R., Holst, I., Snir, A. and Weiss, E. 2012. New evidence for the processing of wild cereal grains at Ohalo II, a 23,000-year-old campside on the shore of the Sea of Galile, Israel. Antiquity 86: 990-1003.

Rabinovich, R. 2003. The Levantine Upper Palaeolithic faunal record. In A.N. Goring-Morris and A. Belfer-Cohen (eds.), More than Meets the Eye: Studies on Upper Palaeolithic Diversity in the Near East. Oxford: Oxbow Books: 33-48.

Snir, A., Nadel, D., Weiss, E. 2015. Plant-food preparation on two consecutive floors at Upper Paleolithic Ohallo II, Israel. Journal of Archaeological Science 53: 61-71.

Stiner, M.C., Kuhn, S.L. and Güleç, E. 2013. Early Upper Palaeolithic shell beads at Üçağizli Cave (Turkey): technology and the socioeconomic context of ornament life-histories. Journal of Human Evolution 63: 380-398.

Taller, A., Gasparyan, B. and Kandel, A.W. 2018. Living on the edge: the earliest modern human settlement of the Armenian highlands in Aghitu-3 cave. In Y. Nishiaki and T. Azakawa (eds.), The Middle and Upper Paleolithic Archaeology of the Levant and Beyond. London: Springer: 119-131.

Tejero, J.-M., Rabinovich, R., Yeshurun, R., and Abulafia, T., Bar-Yosef, O., Brzilai, O., Goder-Goldberger, M., Hershkovitz, I., Lavi, R., Shemer, M., Marder, O. and Belfer-Cohen, A. 2020. Personal ornaments from Hayonim and Manot caves (Israel) hint at symbolic ties between the Levantine and European Aurignacian. Journal of Human Evolution doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2020.102870 Yeshurun, R., Schneller-Pels, N., Barzilai, O. and Marder, O. 2019. Early Upper Palaeolithic subsistence in the Levant: zooarchaeology of the Ahmarian-Aurignacian sequence at Manot Cave, Israel. Journal of Human Evolution doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2019.05.007