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Episode 1: People and humans, a family story

Lucy
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 25: Transcaucasia Goes Neolithic

The Southern Caucasus, also known as Transcaucasia, sits to the north of northern Mesopotamia and is made up of the modern countries of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as northeastern part of modern Turkey and the northwestern tip of modern Iran. The region is made up of mountains and wide river valleys for the Kura and Araxes rivers, with the Black Sea to the west and the Caspian Sea to the east.

A general map of Transcaucasia showing the modern countries that make it up, as well as the major rivers and some of the archaeological sites that we find in different regions. Image from Nishiaki and Guliyev 2020.

In this mountainous landscape, hunter-gatherer groups at the end of the Pleistocene had to move around more often to find food without stripping any particular part of the landscape bare. Because of this, instead of living in a series of semi-permanent or permanent villages built of houses with stone foundations like Epipalaeolithic hunter-gatherers were able to do in Mesopotamia or the Levant, hunter-gatherer groups here after the end of the Ice Age continued to live in shorter-term camps of tents or small shelters. These differences mean that this time period in Transcaucasia is known instead as the Mesolithic, or middle stone age.

People of Mesolithic Transcaucasia, which here is often called the Trialetian Mesolithic made their camps both outside in the open air, as well as under rockshelters and at the entrance of caves. Here they hunted local deer and wild boar, as well as gathering wild plants from across the landscape. They also hunted bears, although based on the butchery marks we find on the bones of these bears these were not hunted to eat, but for their thick furs.

As Transcaucasia is home to many sources of obsidian, people of the Trialetian Mesolithic unsurprisingly made their stone tools almost entirely from obsidian. These tools share some general technological approaches with hunter-gatherer groups of the Epipalaeolithic and early farmers of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic to the south, with a focus on the production of blades and microlithic bladelets from unidirectional, prismatic and bullet cores and the finishing and shaping of tools using pressure flaking. This shaping can be seen on the heavily retouched and shaped tools favoured by these Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, such as those found at Klmo-2 rockshelter and other sites, called ‘Klmo tools’.

Examples of some of the obsidian tools found at Mesolithic sites of Transcaucasia. Image from Petrosyan et al 2014. Original caption included.

These Mesolithic hunter-gatherers continued to live in Transcaucasia until about 6000 cal BCE, when we start to find Neolithic farming villages turning up across the landscape. There is some debate as to whether these Neolithic farmers were groups of people from the south, east and west who moved into the region and founded villages, if these early farmers were Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who took up farming, or a mix of both. Unfortunately, this is a tricky question to figure out, so the debate as to who made the early Transcaucasian Neolithic continues.

When Neolithic settlements do start to appear in Transcaucasia from about 6000 cal BCE, they have a full ceramic Neolithic already in place. Villages show pottery, which seems to be rather limited in the first 100-200 years but soon becomes a more common part of everyday life. These villages also have the full set of domesticated plants and animals that we see elsewhere in the Near East. They also seem to have added something new, with pips of wild grapes and the oldest pips of domesticated grapes being found from Neolithic sites across Transcaucasia.

The Neolithic in Transcaucasia is generally known as the Shomutepe-Shulaveri Culture, after the sites of Shulaveris Gora in modern Georgia and the site of Shomtepe in modern Azerbaijan. Within this, though, there are several regional groups that do things a bit differently from one another. All of the Neolithic villages here are built of groups of small round or oval houses, connected together by walls and without stone foundations for the buildings. these probably would have functioned as individual houses with a larger round building for daily life and sleeping as well as smaller buildings for storage and other activities. In central Transcaucasia these are built with the floors slightly dug out inside to increase the interior height. The walls are built of mudbrick in dark brown or bright yellow, which was often arranged in contrasting patterns for visual effect. The insides of these houses could be left as exposed mudbrick or finished off with a plaster of with yellow clay, which is also sometimes used to finish off the floors as well. Occasional patches of staining on these plastered floors suggest that they may also have been painted red with red ochre. These groups of houses were clustered together in villages, with narrow paths between them. Sometimes they are set so close together that no path can be seen between these houses.

Part of a house from Aruchlo (central Transcaucasia) made with a colourful mix of dark brown mudbricks and bright yellow mortar. Image from Lyonnet et al. 2012.
A house group of round buildings from Göytepe (central Transcaucasia). Image from Nishiaki and Guliyev 2020.
A potential reconstruction of the village of Göytepe in central Transcaucasia, showing tightly packed groups of round house complexes. Image from Nishiaki and Guliyev 2020.

In southern and southwestern Transcaucasia, in the Ararat Plain, houses were also built as groups of circular structures connected by walls. In some of the earliest Neolithic levels here, we sometimes find rectangular buildings as well, but these seem to go out of fashion in favour of the groups of round structures. Unlike in central Transcaucasia, these houses are made with pisé (rammed mud) mixed with chopped straw known as chaff, and the floors of the buildings tended to be at ground level rather than dug down inside. The interior walls could be left in the exposed pisé or finished off with yellow clay plaster. Here we also find some traces of red ochre on floors as well. In the later stages of the Neolithic, this building style changes and more and more houses are made instead with mudbrick.

An early rectangular building made of pisé construction found from the early Neolithic levels at Aratshen. Image from Badalyan et al 2022.
A house complex of round buildings from the middle Neolithic levels at Aratshen. Image from Badalyan et al 2022.

In the east and southeast of Transcaucasia, in the regions of Nakhichevan, the Mil Plain and the Mugal steppes, villages were also made of tightly packed groups of round houses with courtyards. Over time, the architecture here also changes, with rectangular buildings appearing within round house groups, and becoming a more popular house shape through time.

These regions also show differences in their stone tools. Sites across this region continue to make most of their tools from obsidian, although local flint types are used as well. We also see a lot of groundstone axes. These are found to the south and west, but are not very common. In the villages of the Transcaucasian Neolithic we find them much more often. We also find slingstones, in common with Neolithic villages of the sixth millennium in Northern Mesopotamia, Anatolia and the Southern Levant. These are rarely made from fired clay, and are much more commonly collections of natural river pebbles of the right size and shape which were stored in caches within house compounds of the villages. We also get common use of lots of bone tools across Neolithic villages of Transcaucasia. These include antler hoes and picks as well as carved bone needles and awls, as well as more detailed tools such as carved bone spoons or even (in central Transcaucasia) bone arrowheads.

An example of a groundstone axe from the site of Aratshen on the Ararat Plain. Image from Badalyan et al. 2022.
Some of the carved bone spoons found at Aratshen in the Ararat Plain. Image adapted from Badalyan et al. 2022.

Villages of the east, in the regions of Nakhichevan, the Mil Plain and the Mugal steppes make mostly flakes and tools made from flakes, with little retouching or additional shaping used to finish off tools. In central Transcaucasia villages at the beginning of the Neolithic made mostly blades and tools made from blades. Over the centuries flakes become more and more common, and by the later stages of the Neolithic in this region most of the stone tools are made from flakes. When blades were made, they tended to be made with advanced techniques, such as indirect percussion and finished with pressure flaking.

Cores, blades and other stone tools of obsidian from Aknashen on the Ararat Plain. Image from Badalyan et al. 2022. Original caption included.

The most advanced techniques are found to the south and southwest at sites of the Ararat plain. In these sites, blades and tools made from blades continued to be popular throughout the entire course of the Neolithic. These were often finished off with careful pressure flaking, but it is the way that they were made initially which is the most advanced. Blades were removed using the more common methods of direct percussion and indirect percussion, as well as percussion using a crutch or lever – where a core was placed into a frame and struck with a point attached to a lever to produce identical long flakes in succession by slowly rotating the core.

A reconstruction of the pressure with a lever or crutch technique used to produce long blades at sites of the Ararat Plain in southern and southwestern Transcaucasia. Image adapted from Badalyan et al. 2022.

These differences in stone tools between regions are also seen in the pottery at villages of these different regions of Transcaucausia. As with stone tools, there are some overall patterns. Pottery from the early centuries of the 6th millennium cal BCE tends to be mineral tempered, using fine gravel or crushed stone. Pottery tempered with chaff (chopped up straw and other grain processing fragments) is less common. The proportion of chaff-tempered pottery used at sites increases through time, though, and by the middle of the sixth millennium it becomes the more common type of pottery found on sites.

A hole-mouth jar from Göytepe with relief decoration of dots along the rim. Image adapted from Nishiaki and Guliyev 2020.
Anthropomorphic (human shaped) decoration on vessels from Aruchlo (central Transcaucasia). Image from Lyonnet et al. 2012. Original captions included.

Over time in central Transcaucasia, we not only see this change from mineral to chaff-tempered pottery, but we also see a greater range of shapes of pottery and more decoration being used on pottery. This is not elaborate decoration, mostly simple applied relief designs of dots or ovals along the rim of jars and bowls, and at its most common is still only about 30% of the pottery. More rarely we find a more elaborate type of relief decoration of little anthropomorphic (human-shaped) figures along the sides of vessels. While not a massive proportion, this is a significant amount of decoration compared to sites to the south and southwest in the Ararat Plain, where pottery is almost entirely undecorated apart from the occasional burnished (polished) vessel.

This does not mean that decorated pottery was rare in all areas. In the east, at sites of Nakhichevan, the Mugal Steppes and the Mil Plain, painted geometric decorations are seen on some of the more finely made vessels. These are mostly bowls, with decoration along the rim and the interior, or tall jars and bottles, with decoration along the outside of the body.

A slipped and painted bottle from Kamiltepe (Mil Plain). Image adapted from Lyonnet et al. 2012.
A slipped and painted beaker (deep and narrow bowl for drinking) from Kamiltepe (Mil Plain). Image adapted from Lyonnet et al. 2012.

We also get the occasional find of Halaf-style pottery. This is either a local imitation of Halaf pottery – which someone would have seen and then tried to copy – or fragments of vessels that were imported in from the south. These seem to be more commonly found in the southern parts of Transcaucasia, such as along the Ararat plain, but they do also turn up occasionally in central Transcaucasia. Based on the designs of the fragments that have been found, most of the pieces of Halaf pottery found in Transcaucasia comes from the Late Halaf, or the last few centuries of the Neolithic in Transcaucasia. These are not the only imports that we start to see in Transcaucasia during the later stages of the Neolithic, as we also see connections to central and southern Asia in the form of fragments of imported turquoise and carnelian, which was often made into jewellery.

Carnelian beads from Aruchlo (central Transcaucasia). Image from Lyonnet et al. 2012. Original captions included.

Works Cited:

Badalyan, R., Chataigner, C. and Harutyunyan, A. 2022. The Neolithic Settlement of Aknashen (Ararat Valley, Armenia): Excavation Seasons 2004-2015. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Badalyn, R. and Harutyunyan, A. 2014. Aknashen – the Late Neolithic settlement in the Ararat Valley: main results and prospects for research. In B. Gasparyan and M. Arimura (eds.) Stone Age of Armenia: A Guidebook to the Stone Age Archaeology in the Republic of Armenia. Kanazawa: Kanazawa University: 161-176.

Baudouin, E. 2019. Rethinking architectural techniques of the southern Caucasus in the 6th millennium BC: a re-examination of former data and new insights. Paléorient 45(1): 115-150.

Berthon, R. 2014. Past, current and future contributions of zooarchaeology to the knowledge of the Neolithic and Chalcolithic cultures in the south Caucasus. Studies in Caucasian Archaeology 2: 4-30.

Hansen, S., Mirtskhulava, G., Bastert-Lamprichs, K., Benecke, N., Gatsov, I. and Nedelcheva, P. 2007. Aruchlo 2005-2006. Bericht über die Ausgrabungen in einem meolithischen Siedlungshügel. Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran und Turan 38: 1-34.

Harutyunyam, A. 2014. On Neolithic pottery from the settlement of Aknashen in the Ararat Valley. In B. Gasparyan and M. Arimura (eds.) Stone Age of Armenia: A Guidebook to the Stone Age Archaeology in the Republic of Armenia. Kanazawa: Kanazawa University: 191-204.

Hayrapetyan, A., Martirosyan-Oshansky, K., Areshian, G.E. and Avetisyan, P. 2014. Preliminary results of the 2012 excavations at Masis Blur. In B. Gasparyan and M. Arimura (eds.) Stone Age of Armenia: A Guidebook to the Stone Age Archaeology in the Republic of Armenia. Kanazawa: Kanazawa University: 177-190.

Helwing, B 2014. East of Eden? A review of Turkey’s eastern neighbours in the Neolitic. In M. Özdoğan and N. Başgelen (eds.), The Neolithic in Turkey: 10500-2000 BC: Environment, Settlement, Flora, Fauna, Dating, Symbols of Belief, with Views from the North, South, East and West. Istanbul: Archaeology and Art Publications: 321-377.

Helwing, B. and Aliyev, T. 2018. Same but different: a comparison of 6th millennium BCE communities in southern Caucasia and northwestern Iran. Origini 41: 55-82.

Hovsepyan, R. and Willcox, G. 2008. The earliest finds of cultivated plants in Armenia: evidence from charred remains and crop processing residues in pies from the Neolithic settlements of Aratashen and Aknashen. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 17(Suppl 1): S63-S71.

Kushnareva, K. 1997. The Southern Caucasus in Prehistory: Stages of Cultural and Socioeconomic Development from the Eighth to the Second Millennium B.C. Philadelphia: The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania.

Lyonnet, B., Guliyev, F., Helwing, B., Aliyev, T., Hansen, S. and Mirtskhulava, G. 2012. Ancient Kura 2010-2011: the first two seasons of joint field work in the Southern Caucasus. Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran und Turan 44: 1-190.

Nishiaki, Y. and Guliyev, F. 2020. Göytepe: Neolithic Excavations in the Middle Kura Valley, Azerbaijan. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Nishiaki, Y., Guliyev, F., Kadowaki, S., Alakbarov,V., Miki, T., Salimbayov, S., Akashi, . and Arai, S. 2015a. Investigating cultural and socioeconomic change at the beginning of the Pottery Neolithic in the southern Caucasus: the 2013 excavations at Haci Elamxanli Tepe, Azerbaijan. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 374: 1-28.

Nishiaki, Y., Guliyev, F. and Kadowaki, S. 2015b. Chronological contexts of the earliest Pottery Neolithic in the southern Caucasus: radiocarbon dates for Göytepe and Haci Elamxanli Tepe, Azerbaijan. American Journal of Archaeology 119(3): 279-294.

Petrosyan, A., Arimura, M., Gasparyan, B., Nahapetyan, S. and Chataigner, C. 2014. Early Hlocene sites of the Republic of Armenia: questions of cultural distribution and chronology. In B. Gasparyan and M. Arimura (eds.) Stone Age of Armenia: A Guidebook to the Stone Age Archaeology in the Republic of Armenia. Kanazawa: Kanazawa University: 135-159.

Ricci, A., D’Anna, M.B., Lawrence, D., Hlwing, B. and Aliyev, T. 2018. Human mobility and early sedentism: the Late Neolithic landscape of southern Azerbaijan. Antiquity 366: 1445-1461.

Sagona, A. 2011. Anatolia and the Transcaucasus: themes and variations ca.6400-1500 B.C.E. In S.R. Steadman and C. McMahon (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Anatolia: 10,000-323 B.C.E. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 683-703.

Sagona, A. 2018. The Archaeology of the Caucasus: from Earliest Settlements to the Iron Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Episode 24: Early Chalcolithic Anatolia

The sixth millennium in the Southern Levant – the Wadi Rabah culture – is the source of many arguments as to whether we are talking about the end of the Neolithic or the beginning of the Chalcolithic (copper stone age). When we look at the sixth millennium in Anatolia – at least the first half of the sixth millennium (c.6000-5500 cal BCE) we don’t have this problem of arguments and confusion about whether or not we are still in the Neolithic. There is general agreement that this period in Anatolia is the Early Chalcolithic. Unfortunately, this agreement does not help all that much.

The way that we divide up the past today sees the Chalcolithic starting in most of the ancient Near East when we see at least one of two things happening – people starting to smelt and manipulate copper and people starting to specialise in producing different items. Neither of these turns up in Anatolia during the Early Chalcolithic. The decision to put the start of the Chalcolithic at 6000 cal BCE here is Anatolia comes from an older way that we used to divide up the past, when the appearance of painted pottery was used to mark the beginning of the Chalcolithic. In other parts of the ancient Near East this way of dividing up the past went out of fashion as we learned more about societies in the past. In Anatolia, though, this way of dividing up time became habit and it stuck around. This means that while everyone working on the sixth millennium in Anatolia agrees that this is the beginning of the Chalcolithic, everyone also agrees that this first half of the sixth millennium is considered Early Chalcolithic more out of habit than because of any major changes to the societies here.

Anatolia in the Early Chalcolithic looks a lot like Anatolia in the Late Neolithic, with smaller regional cultures spread out across Asia Minor. These can be fairly similar between regions, or they can be very different from one region to another. For example, in central Anatolia we have two different Early Chalcolithic cultures in areas only about 130km (80 miles) apart. The large village of Çatatalhöyük that we looked at during the Late Neolithic is still the largest village on the Konya Plain, but after about 6000 cal BCE it stops being the only village on the plain as a series of small farming villages also turn up around it. Çatatalhöyük also gets smaller after this time, although at 8 hectares it is still something like ten times the size of the small villages on the plain. People living on the main settlement mound at Çatatalhöyük (the east mound) also begin to move out and build houses on an adjacent hill (the west mound) from about 6000 cal BCE. People lived on both mounds for about 150 years, until the older east mound was abandoned and people lived only on the west mound until Çatatalhöyük was abandoned at about 5500 cal BCE.

These houses are not built in the clustered neighbourhood style of the Late Neolithic, but are instead smaller groups of houses more with more space, alleys and streets between them, and even with doors visible at ground level. The insides of these houses, at least for the rooms at ground level, are not as fancy as the houses of the Late Neolithic. There is very little painted plaster and many of the rooms are even missing plaster on the walls. The walls of these houses are very thick, though, which is something that we also see at the nearby site of Canhasan. The walls of the houses here also are pretty plain and the rooms are largely lacking in normal domestic household features.

The walls of the Early Chalcolithic houses at Canhasan have slightly better preservation, and we have the remains of walls not only to the full height of the ground floor but even remains of some walls from an upper floor of houses. Where we have these upper floor walls, we can see that these were plastered and painted. This suggests that these plain ground floor rooms at Çatatalhöyük and Canhasan were plain because they were used as storage rooms, with people living and working on an upper floor.

Examples of painting styles from the pottery of Early Chalcolithic Canhasan. Image from During 2011.

The painted pottery which we find in central Anatolia at Çatatalhöyük and Canhasan is usually done with a re-brown paint on a vessel that has been slipped in cream or another pale colour. Painting is usually done in a repeating pattern of geometric shapes. This painting occurs on both jars and bowls, including carinated bowls, which become popular here as well as in Northern Mesopotamia and the Levant. We also have little L-shaped legs called ‘pot stands’ which would have been used to support these jars and bowls, which usually have flat bases.

Three pot stands supporting a bowl from Çatatalhöyük.

The second culture that we have in central Anatolia comes from Cappadocia, where we have two different phases of Early Chalcolithic. Here, painting on pottery is less common, although the shapes of the pottery are similar to what we see at Çatatalhöyük and Canhasan, including carinated bowls, necked jars and carinated jars. Instead, we have a different new style of decoration in the form of carved relief decoration along the tops of jars. This is usually scenes of people and animals, either hunting or dancing together, but sometimes is a parade of just animals. Sometimes this relief decoration is painted, but more often the pottery was just slipped in red.

An example of a relief-decorated jar from Tepecik-Ciftlik in Cappadocia. Image from During 2011.

The houses here in Cappadocia are also different to the ones at Çatatalhöyük and Canhasan. Villages here were laid out with individual houses set close together, but with a series of twisting streets and alleys running between them. Dorrs to these houses were also at ground level. Houses can be either one large room or divided up inside into two to four rooms. Either one room, or a portion of the main room, was set aside for cooking and storage, with ovens, a hearth and built-in storage bins. The floors were either paved in stone, or were plastered and then often painted in either white or orange. We also get large room complexes which look like storage buildings, made up of a series of small (1×1 metre, or about 1×1 yard) rooms with no decoration or signs of domestic life. These are believed to have been storage buildings, either providing storage for the nearby houses, or acting as a basement storage area for people which would have lived on an upper storey.

Two-room houses from the Early Chalcolithic site of Kosk Höyük in Cappadocia. Image from During 2011.

Just to the southwest of central Anatolia we have the Lakes district, which in the Early Chalcolithic as in the Late Neolithic had its own distinct culture. Here the Early Chalcolithic can be divided up into two phases, based on how the pottery was decorated. From 6000 to 5800 cal BCE we have what is called the Fantastic Style, which transitions into the Geometric Style from about 5800 cal BCE until the end of the Early Chalcolithic. These names come from the types of painting on pottery. Pottery here is also done with red-brown paint on a pale slipped vessel, but here the styles of decoration are more unique. The bottom of the pot was usually painted in solid red, with wavy abstract decorations free-flowing around the sides of the vessel (the Fantastic Style). Over time, these became more geometric and repeating and transition into the Geometric Style. Painting was done on both jars and bowls, including the carinated bowls which became popular here as well during the sixth millennium.

Some of the Fantastic style designs on pottery from Hacilar. Image from Yakar 2005.
Examples of Fantastic and Geometric style pottery from the Lakes district. Image from During 2011

The styles of pottery decoration is not the only thing that changes more than once during the Early Chalcolithic in the Lakes region. The way that villages and houses were laid out also changes during these different phases, as can be seen at the extensively excavated village of Hacilar. During the Late Neolithic the village at Hacilar was made of a series of houses with walls of either mudbrick or pisé, laid out along either side of a street. With the change to the Fantastic Style at the beginning of the Early Chalcolithic the shape of both houses and of the village changes. During the Fantastic style phase (c.6000-5800 cal BCE) Hacilar changed to a collection of house groups. These groups of houses were set out together around a central courtyard, with the back walls of the houses connected together to form a wall around the house group. Each house in the group had its door facing into the central courtyard, and most had two rooms. The back rooms of these houses sometimes had a hearth and an oven, but more commonly held built-in storage units.

Houses from the Fantastic Style phase at Hacilar. Image from During 2011.

With the change to the Geometric style phase (c.5800 to 56/5500 cal BCE) the village at Hacilar changed again. The house groups from the previous phase clumped together into large buildings made up of a series of square rooms, about 6x6m for each room. These were probably the ground floors of buildings which would have had at least one upper floor, as can be seen by the very thick walls – averaging about 2m or 6ft wide – and the internal buttresses on the interior walls to support floor joists for the upper floor. The walls of these ground floor rooms do not show much in the way of decoration or domestic features, which presumably were placed on the upper floor in the main living area for the series of families which would have had a house each in this complex.

When we look at western Anatolia, either to the southwest in the Aegean region of Anatolia or to the northwest at the Marmara region of Anatolia, then we are looking at areas which only started to get farming villages and pottery during the second half of the seventh millennium, while the more central areas of Anatolia (including the Lakes) had been settled with farming villages well before this. Much like in central Anatolia and the Lakes region, we don’t see major changes to the societies of western Anatolia in the Early Chalcolithic. In some ways, we see fewer changes here even that we see in other regions. Painted pottery – the hallmark of the Chalcolithic in Anatolia – is more rare in the Aegean region and missing from the Marmara region.

While we may not see the flourishing of painted pottery styles in these regions that we see elsewhere, it does not mean that western Anatolia continued on exactly as it had in the Late Neolithic. In Aegean Anatolia, at the extensively excavated site of Ulucak, we have a mix of styles of how villages were laid out. At Ulucak the houses were arranged like villages of the Late Neolithic, laid out in rows with the walls of houses often touching. At other villages though, we see houses arranged in groups around a central courtyard, similar to what we see in the Lakes region during the Fantastic Style phase. Houses in the Aegean region were built from a range of materials, with differences not only between villages but also between individual houses of the same village. Houses could be built from mudbrick or pisé, but also from wattle-and-daub construction. Houses usually had ovens and hearths, either inside the door in the front room or just outside the door in a little porch area. The walls and floors of houses were often plastered and sometimes were also painted.

Painted pottery from Early Chalcolithic levels at Ulucak. Image adapted from Çevik & Erdoğu 2020.

Pottery in the Aegean region was more likely to be slipped or decorated with incised decoration or impressions, such as rows of fingernail impressions or rows of seashell impressions along the sides. Shapes were simple, including hole-mouth jars and bowls. The carinated bowls that we see becoming popular in other parts of Anatolia as well as in Mesopotamia and the Levant do not seem to have come into fashion here. When pottery was painted, it was decorated with repeating lines and geometric shapes, such as chevrons or cross-hatching.

Pottery in the Marmara region to the north continues to use many of the simple shapes that we see here in the earlier Late Neolithic, although the use of seashells to impress designs onto the outsides of vessels seems to have gone out of fashion after about 6000 cal BCE. While the shapes of vessels continue to be fairly simple, new shapes such as carinated bowls also come into fashion here in the Early Chalcolithic.

The remains of a wattle-and-daub house at Ilipinar in the Marmara region. Image from During 2011.

In the Marmara region, we see houses continuing to be built with much more wooden support and framework than we see in other regions of Anatolia. At Ilipinar, for example, houses in the Late Neolithic were often built with a series of wooden posts put into the ground, more branches woven between them and the whole frame plastered over with mud. Many of the houses had raised wooden floors, with cross-beams set out along and earthen floor and then wooden boards or small poles stretched out to make the floor, which was then plastered over. After about 5700 cal BCE the layout of the Late Neolithic/Early Chalcolithic village changes. Houses in this later stage of the Early Chalcolithic change to being made mostly from mudbrick, although still contain the raised wooden floors that we saw before. Houses in the village were arranged in a circle at the edge of the village, facing into a central open area. Some houses have the preserved remains of an upper floor, so it is believed that many or possibly all of the houses in this phase of the village had at least one upper storey. Some buildings do seem to have been present in this central open area, but it is unclear whether these were more houses or were storage buildings. A local spring at the site may have emptied into the middle of this area during the sixth millennium BCE, which would have provided residents at the village with a convenient source of clean water for their everyday needs.

Episode Bibliography:

Anvari, J. 2021. Rethinking Late Neolithic and Early Chalcolithic Architecture in Central Anatolia. British Archaeological Reports International Series 3061. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Biehl, P.F., Franz, I., Ostaptchouk, S., Ortn, D., Rogasch, J. and Rosenstock, E. 2012. One community and two tells: the phenomenon of relocating tell settlements at the turn of the 7th and the 6th millennia in Central Anatolia. In R. Hofmann, F.-K. Moetz and J. Müller (eds.), Tells: Social and Environmental Space. Bonn: Verlag Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH: 53-66.

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: 221-283.

Çevik, Ö. And Erdoğu, B. 2020. Absolute chronology of cultural continuity, change and break in western Anatolia between 6850-5450 cal BCE. Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 20(1): 77-92.

Cutting, M.V. 2003. The Neolithic and Early Chalcolithic Farmers of Central and Southwest Anatolia: Household, Community and the Changing Use of Space. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University College London.

Düring, B.S. 2011. The Prehistory of Asia Minor: From Complex Hunter-Gatherers to Early Urban Societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Düring, B.S. 2005. Constructing Communities: Clustered Neighbourhood Settlements of the Central Anatolian Neolithic ca.8500-5500 cal BCE. Leiden: Nederlands Instituut Voor Het Nabije Oosten.

Gatsov, I. 2003. The latest results from the technological and typological analysis of chipped stone assemblages from Ilipinar, Pendik, Fikirtepe and Menteş. Documenta Praehistorica 30: 153-158.

Lichter, C. 2005. Western Anatolia in the Late Neolithic and Early Chalcolithic: the actual state of research. In C. Lichter (ed.), How Did Farming Reach Europe? Anatolian-European Relations From the Second Half of the 7th Through the First Half of the 6th Millennium cal BC. Istanbul: Ege Yayinlari: 59-74

Marciniak, A. and Czerniak, L. 2007. Social transformations in the Late Neolithic and Early Chalcolithic periods in Central Anatolia. Anatolian Studies 57: 115-130.

Orton, D., Anvari, J., Gibson, C., Last, J., Bogaard, A., Rosenstock, E. and Biehl, P.F. 2018. A tale of two tells: dating the Çatalhöyük west mound. Antiquity 363: 620-639.

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

Ostaptchouk, S. 2020. The non-obsidian knapped stone assemblages from Çatalhöyük West (Central Anatolia, Early Chalcolithic): contribution of a multi-scale approach to the question of chert sourcing. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 30: 102171.

Episode 23: Wadi Rabah

In the southern Levant, the first part of the Pottery/Late Neolithic is known for the 7th millennium BCE Yarmukian Culture. The Yarmukian culture has a lot of variation within it, such as in the shapes of houses (rectangular houses, rectuangular and round houses, rectangular, round and curvilinear houses, all curvilinear houses, etc.) and also in the way that the pottery was decorated. Pottery in the Yarmukian could be slipped or not, burnished (polished) or not, decorated with incised (cut in) decoration in different geometric patterns and sometimes even painted. Towards the end of the Yarmukian culture, from about 6000 cal BCE, things get a bit more complicated.

In the southern part of the Yarmukian culture, after about 6000 cal BCE we get the development of something slightly different which is generally called either the Lodian (after the site of Lod) or the Jericho IX (after the site of Jericho). There is a lot of argument as to whether the Lodian/Jericho IX and other local variations are different cultures, or whether it is just a slightly different fashion within the later part of the Yarmukian. The main difficulty with this argument is that the main bit of evidence that tends to get looked at is the slightly different fashions in how the pottery is decorated. This is because pottery tends to get the most attention when we look at and identify cultures that developed after pottery became a common part of daily life, and it is also because the differences in pottery decoration are basically the only differences that we see between the Lodian/Jericho IX and the Yarmukian culture. The difference in the pottery – the big argument that the Lodian/Jericho IX was a distinct culture – is that the pottery is still decorated with incised patterns and/or painting, but that painted decoration is more popular than it was before, and the painted decorations tend to be burnished. That is pretty much it as far as differences between the Yarmukian and the Lodian/Jericho IX.

So, while there are still arguments, it is becoming more and more accepted that the Lodian/Jericho IX is just an example of some changes in fashion that we see towards the end of the Yarmukian, which – if we include the Lodian/Jericho IX – continues in the southern Levant until somewhere around 5800-5600 cal BCE. After this, more fashions change across the southern Levant and we get the development of the Wadi Rabah culture, which continues in the southern Levant until about 5100 cal BCE.

Just like the arguments as to whether the Lodian/Jericho IX is part of the Yarmukian culture, we also have some arguments with the Wadi Rabah as to exactly how large of an area of the southern Levant was part of the Wadi Rabah culture. Like the Lodian/Jericho IX, some of this is from archaeologists who look at small differences in the fashion for things like pottery decoration and argue that there were a lot of little local cultures that were very similar to the Wadi Rabah. Some of these arguments, though, come from differences in the way that archaeological sites have been studied over the decades, and also from modern political differences. This is because archaeological sites from the southern and central parts of what is now Lebanon have villages, houses, stone tools, figurines and pottery that all look very much like the Wadi Rabah sites of what is now western Jordan and Israel/Palestine. Modern politics can make it a little tricky to talk about a single archaeological culture existing across the borders of different countries though, and the Near East is not alone in sometimes having different names (in the case of Lebanon, Byblos moyen or Néolithique moyen) for what is pretty much the same culture.

Just like the Yarmukian culture, the Wadi Rabah culture was mostly made up of small farming villages dotted around the landscape. While villages of the Yarmukian culture had a lot of variation in the shapes of houses that people built – sometimes even within the same village – in the Wadi Rabah pretty much everyone seems to have built themselves rectangular houses. These were sometimes designed as a single long room, and sometimes the houses were divided into a series of internal rooms. Not very many of the Wadi Rabah sites which have been excavated have been able to expose a large area of the village, so it is hard to tell exactly how people liked to arrange these rectangular houses in their villages. As far as we can tell, the houses seem to have been mostly scattered around the village, with the occasional small clusters of houses together but mostly spread out with plenty of space between each house. The houses were usually built from stone foundations, with the upper parts of the walls built of either mudbrick or pisé (rammed earth). Sometimes these houses had paved patio areas around them, or courtyard areas between adjacent houses.

Houses from Wadi Rabah levels at the site of Munhata. Image after Banning 2010
Houses from Neolithique moyen (Wadi Rabah) levels at Byblos. Image after Banning 2010.

As before, people got the majority of their food from growing domesticated crops and herding domesticated animals. One new development in this, though, seems to be an increase in olives at some Wadi Rabah sites. Olives were domesticated long before the Wadi Rabah, and we do find olive pits in small numbers at some Yarmukian sites. Where things change in the Wadi Rabah is that some sites have a lot more olives – although not enough to have drastically changed people’s diets. It’s not that people were living off of olives, but it does seem that people in at least a few Wadi Rabah villages had figured out how to press the oil out of olives and store it to use throughout the year.

Other fashions in and around the house change in the Wadi Rabah. In the Yarmukian people tended to keep female figurines in or around their houses. These are believed to have been either good lick charms, fertility symbols, or images of local deities or mythic figures. Female figurines continue to be kept in the Wadi Rabah, probably for these same reasons. The figurines themselves though, looks rather different. Instead of the naturalistic human depictions of women with coffee-bean or cowrie shaped eyes we have more schematic female figurines carved onto stone or bone which primarily depict a pair of eyes and a triangle to represent the genitals.

Wadi Rabah female figurine from the site of New Yam. Image from Milevski et al. 2016 (original caption included).
Wadi Rabah female figurine from the site of Hagoshrim. Image from Milevski et al. 2016 (original caption included).

Pottery from the Wadi Rabah has a lot in common with pottery from the earlier Yarmukian culture. It is handmade, which is not necessarily the case later in the Chalcolithic (copper stone age) period. Pottery may still also be slipped or not, burnished or not, and decorated with incised geometric shapes or painting (or neither). In the Wadi Rabah, painted decoration on pottery becomes more common than incised decoration. A fashion starts to appear in the Wadi Rabah for painting a red band around the rims of jars, which is something that will continue to be in fashion later in the Chalcolithic. We also see a new type of decoration on some of the pottery, with extra clay added to the outside of vessels and shaped into designs or even figures.

A slipped and burnished carinated jar from Ein el-Jarba decorated with a human figure made from applied clay. Image from Streit 2011.

The shapes of the pottery also change from the Yarmukian. Like the Yarmukian we still have mostly a mix of bowls and jars, although we also have some plate-like flat platters and some cups (some of which have small pedestal bases almost like a winestem). We also start to get a type of jar called a bow-rim jar, where the base of the neck where it meets the body of the jar is pinched in – like a little waist. The shapes of bowls change as well. Bowls come in a range of sizes just like they did in the Yarmukian, but there is also a new fashion – with bowls but also sometimes for pots -for something called carination. This is where the angle of the bowl changes sharply partway up the side to create a distinct angle in the side of the vessel. Carination is something that was popular at this same time in the Halaf culture to the north and east of the Wadi Rabah. The fashion for carination in the Wadi Rabah has been argued to be something that indicates contacts and the exchange of ideas between Halaf villages of northern Mesopotamia and Wadi Rabah villages of the Levant.

Examples of Wadi Rabah bow-rim jars. Image from Garfinkel 1999 (original caption included).
Examples of Wadi Rabah carinated bowls. Image from Garfinkel 1999 (original caption included).

Of course, it is not just the increased fashion for painting pottery (although not to anything like as much detail as Halaf pottery) and for carinated bowls that suggests some sort of contact between people living in Wadi Rabah villages and people living in Halaf villages. We also have a couple fragments of Halaf pottery, which were found at the site of Ein el-Jarba. And, of course, if we want to talk more generally about connections between the Wadi Rabah and people living in villages to the north we have obsidian. Imported obsidian is still pretty rare – with Wadi Rabah sites having nothing like as much obsidian as villages from most of the Halaf culture (which were closer to the obsidian sources) but we seem to have more obsidian making its way into the southern Levant than we did earlier on in the Yarmukian. It seems that this obsidian did not always travel alone either. From the site of Hagoshrim we have several carved stone bowls made of soapstone – the closest sources for which are the very north of Syria or Anatolia. These bowls probably arrived at Hagoshrim already made, as the excavators at the site did not find any debitage – the little flakes and fragments of stone that come off during the process of making either chipped stone tools or carved stone bowls.

Examples of some of the imported soapstone vessels found at Hagoshrim. Image from Rosenberg et al. 2010.

There is also a unique find from the site of Tel Tsaf of a copper awl (a long and thin point used to make holes in something tough – like leather – before the pieces are sewn together with a needle and thread). What separates copper from bronze is that to make bronze you need to add either arsenic or tin to copper. The copper that this awl was made from contains both tin as well as a small amount of arsenic and even lead. As there is no evidence of people using the smelting process needed to make bronze for about another two thousand years, though, this awl was probably made from copper which naturally contains tin, and was probably hammered into shape from a pure source of this copper. This sort of copper does exist, in Tajikistan as well as possibly in the Caucasus. The awl found at Tel Tsaf is not in good enough shape to allow us to tell exactly where its copper comes from, but in any case it would have travelled a long way before reaching Tsaf.

The copper awl from Tel Tsaf. Image from Garfinkel et al. 2014 (original caption included).

We also see a more common sign of connections between people living in Wadi Rabah villages and people living in villages to the north in the form of sling stones. These are flat oval or egg-shaped stones, usually carved from limestone but occasionally from other local stones like basalt or flint (as well as two examples made of baked clay). Slingstones are also found on Halaf sites as well as at sites from about this same time in Anatolia. These were probably not weapons that people used to fight one another, as while they would hurt they probably would not do much more than break a limb or give someone a bad bruise. The best theory for the use of slingstones here in the Wadi Rabah, as well as elsewhere during the sixth millennium BCE, is that they were used by people herding livestock as a way to drive off any predators that might try to come and steal one of the family goats.

This does not mean that people living in Wadi Rabah villages didn’t ever keep any weapons. While we do not find many – and while arrowheads are actually a lot less common during the Wadi Rabah than they were previously – we do have chipped and carved stone axes as well as carved stone maceheads. A mace is essentially a weight on the end of a stick that you can use to club people with. These were used as weapons across many parts of the world well into even the more recent historic periods. While maceheads have been very occasionally found from Yarmukian sites and even from one later Pre-Pottery Neolithic site (Ain Ghazal) they seem to be more common in the Wadi Rabah (and more common still later on in the Chalcolithic). These were carved balls or cylinders of stone about four to six centimetres (two to three inches) across with a hole drilled through the centre to insert a stick. These were almost always made from local stone, usually limestone.

Wadi Rabah stone axes from Nahal Yarmut. Image from Khalaily et al. 2011.
A carved stone macehead from the Wadi Rabah site of Neve Yam. Image from Rosenberg 2010.

So, depending on who you are talking to, the Wadi Rabah was present either across the southern Levant as far east as the Jordan valley, or it was present across the central and southern Levant as far east as the highlands of Jordan to the east of the Jordan valley – an area which is nearly twice the size. How much area the Wadi Rabah covered, though, is actually not the biggest argument that we have about it. While we have a pretty good idea of the radiocarbon dates BCE during which we have the Wadi Rabah, there is still an ongoing argument about WHEN the Wadi Rabah happened. After the end of the Pottery/Late Neolithic we move into a new phase of how we divide time in prehistory – the Chalcolithic. There is a lot of debate as to whether we should consider the Wadi Rabah to be the very end of the Neolithic, or the very beginning of the Chalcolithic. This is because there are some things which become more popular in the southern Levant during the Chalcolithic (maceheads, red rims on pottery, olive oil) which first turn up in the Wadi Rabah. The other side of this argument, though, is that there are a lot more things which the Wadi Rabah has in common with the Yarmukian (pebble figurines, rectangular house designs, handmade pottery, and the absence of metal working). For my vote, the Wadi Rabah represents the end of the Neolithic in the southern Levant and not the beginning of the Chalcolithic. About half of archaeologists working on the Neolithic or Chalcolithic would back me up in this view, but then again, half would not. As for you – you get to choose too.

Episode Bibliography:

Banning, E.B. 2007. Wadi Rabah and related assemblages in the Southern Levant: interpreting the radiocarbon evidence. Paléorient 33(1): 77-101.

Banning, E.B. 2010. Houses, households and changing society in the Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic of the Southern Levant. Paléorient 36(1): 48-87.

Garfinkel, Y. 1999. Neolithic and Chalcolithic Pottery in the Southern Levant. Jerusalem: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Garfinkel, Y., Klimscha, F., Shalev, S. and Rosenberg, D. 2014. The beginning of metallurgy in the Southern Levant: a late 6th millennium cal BC copper awl from Tel Tsaf, Israel. PLoS One 9(3): e92591.

Khalaily, H. 2017. Nahal Yarmut: a Late Pottery Neolithic site of the Wadi Rabah culture, south of Nahal Soreq. ‘Atiqot 67: 1-29.

Koadowaki, S. 2005. Designs and production technology of sickle elements in Late Neolithic Wadi Ziqlab, northern Jordan. Paléorient 31(2): 69-85.

Lovell, J.L. 2001. The Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic Periods in the Southern Levant. BAR International Series 974. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Milevski, I., Getzov, N., Galili, E., Yaroshevich, A. and Horwitz, L.R.K. 2016. Iconographic motifs from the 6th-5th millennia BC in the Levant and Mesopotamia: clues for cultural connections and existence of an interaction sphere. Paléorient 42(2): 135-149.

Rosenberg, D. 2009. Flying stones – the slingstones of the Wadi Rabah culture of the Southern Levant. Paléorient 35(2): 99-112.

Rosenberg, D. 2010. Early maceheads in the southern Levant: a “Chalcolithic” hallmark in Neolithic context. Journal of Field Archaeology 35(2): 204-216.

Rosenberg, D., van den Brink, E.C.M., Shimelmitz, R., Nativ, A., Mienis, H.K., Shamir, O., Chasan, R. and Shooval, T. 2017. Pits and their contents: the Wadi Rabah site of Qidron in the Shephela, Israel. Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society 47: 33-147.

Rosenberg, D., Getzov, N. and Assaf, A. 2010. New light on long-distance ties in the Late Neolithic/Early Chalcolithic Near East: the chlorite vessels from Hagoshrim, Northern Israel. Current Anthropology 51(2):281-293.

Rowan, Y. and Golden, J. 2009. The Chalcolithic period of the Southern Levant: a synthetic review. Journal of World Prehistory 22: 1-92.

Schechter, H.C., Avi, G., Nimrod, G., Rice, E., Alla, Y. and Milevski, I. 2016. The obsidian assemblages from the Wadi Rabah occupations at Ein Zippori, Israel. Paléorient 42(1): 27-48.

Siggers, J.F.C. 1997. The Lithic Assemblage from Tabaqat al-Bûma: a Late Neolithic Site in Qadi Ziqlab, Northern Jordan. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Toronto.

Streit, K. 2016. The Near East before borders: recent excavations at Ein el-Jarba (Israel) and the cultural interactions of the sixth millennium ca. B.C.E. Near Eastern Archaeology 79(4): 236-245.

Episode 20: Mine! Advances in the Seventh Millennium BCE

Now that we have had a look at the seventh millennium BCE in Anatolia, the Levant and Mesopotamia (the Ceramic Neolithic, Pottery Neolithic or late Neolithic, depending on where you are) there are a few common things which we can see happening across these regions.

While this time period is best known for the breakup of the earlier Pre-Pottery Neolithic B Interaction Sphere into a series of regional and local cultures – each following its own patterns – there are still common trends that we can see across the range of local cultural developments that make up these regions.

One of these is pottery, which turns up across all of these regions between about 7000 and 6500 cal BCE. In all of these regions pottery turns up first in more limited numbers, and in a more basic set of shapes. Over time (whether quickly or slowly depending on the region) pottery becomes a more common part of daily life, and the numbers of pottery sherds found in excavations of these sites increases. The range of shapes and types of decoration which we see on the pottery of any given area also goes up, generally speaking.

While the appearance of pottery is very important for archaeologists studying these later parts of the Neolithic in the Near East (and also for all time periods which come after the Neolithic), the appearance of pottery may very well not have been the most important change that we see happening to human societies during the seventh millennium.

While pottery is very good for looking at which settlements were communicating with each other – through their shared common use of different types of pottery and also through the trade in pottery from one area to another – it is the growth of the idea of private property which would have had a more profound change on the groups of people living in villages across at least these parts of the Near East during the seventh millennium.

Early pottery vessels from Bademağaci in Anatolia. Image taken from Umurtak 2008.

We can see evidence across these regions during the seven millennium BCE for the development of the idea of property as belonging to individual people (or individual families) rather than to the village or community as a whole. This evidence is not the same in every part of the Near East, but takes different forms depending on the region. In some parts of the Near East, such as Anatolia and the southern Levant, we can see the houses in villages changing to form smaller groups rather than one large cluster or a couple of large neighbourhoods. In some cases this takes the form of clusters of houses spread out together around each village, and in others it takes the form of larger walled houses for an extended family surrounding a private courtyard. Regardless of the specific form, we see an increase in clusters of small groups of one or a few families, often with their own private storage built into each cluster. In other areas, such as the northern Levant and northern Mesopotamia, private property is suggested by the use of stamped seals to marks and close off stored resources which may have then been either privately or communally stored.

The site of Bademağaci, with the walls of buildings in a house cluster outlined in white in the foreground. Image taken from Umurtak 2008.
Four different houses from Yarmukian deposits at Sha’ar Hagolan. The individual houses and outside storage rooms can be seen clustered around each central courtyard, numbered one to four. Image from Garfinkel 2006.
A Cluster of Proto-Halaf houses from Tell Sabi Abyad. Image from Akkermans 2013
Fragments of seals with stamped impressions recovered from Proto-Halaf Tell Sabi Abyad. Image from Duistermaat 2013.

This growth in the idea of private property gives us the idea of MINE – of food and other resources belonging to an individual person or family rather than to the village as a whole. This means that it becomes possible for individuals or families to have possessions, and wealth, and that individuals or families might be able to built up more possessions and wealth than their neighbours. This makes it possible over time to develop families of different degrees of wealth, and of different status. In future we will see the development of societies where people have different degrees of status – such as the rise of elites. The development of the idea of private property ultimately allowed for these later changes to societies, allowing them over time to become more complex – all beginning here in the seventh millennium with the idea that there are some things which are MINE.

Episode Bibliography:

Akkermans, P.M.M.G. 2013. Living space, temporality and community segmentation: interpreting Late Neolithic settlement in northern Syria. In O. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 63-76.

Bernbeck, R. and Nieuwenhuyse, O. 2013. Established paradigms, current disputes and emerging themes: the state of research on the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. In O. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 17-37.

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.

Duistermaat, K. 2010. Administration in Neolithic societies? The first use of seals in Syria and some considerations on seal owners, seal use and private property. In W. Müller (ed.), Die Bedeutung der minoischen und mykenischen Glyptik: VI. Internationales Siegel-Symposium, Marburg, 9–12 Oktober 2008 (CMS Beiheft 8). Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern: 167-182.

Duistermaat, K. 2013. Private matters: the emergence of sealing practices in Neolithic Syria. In O. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 315-322.

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.

Garfinkel, Y. 2006 The social organisation at Neolithic Sha’ar Hagolan: the nuclear family, the extended family and the community. In E.B. Banning and M. Chazan (eds.), Domesticating Space: Construction, Community and Cosmology in the Late Prehistoric Near Neast. Berlin: Ex Oriente: 103-111.

Gopher, A. (ed.) 2012. Village Communities of the Pottery Neolithic Period in the Menashe Hills, Israel: Archaeological Investigations at the Sites of Nahal Zehora. Tel Aviv: Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University. 

Green, A.S. 2020. Debt and inequality: comparing the “means of specification” in the early cities of Mesopotamia and the Indus civilisation. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 60: 101232.

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.

Maeda, O. Cultural affinities and the use of lithics during the 8th to 7th millennia cal BCE in the northern Levant and northern Mesopotamia. In O. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 267-276.

Miyake, Y. 2013. Recent progress in the Neolithic investigations of the Anatolian Tigris Valley. In Y. Nishiaki, K. Kashima and M. Verhoeven (eds.), Neolithic Archaeology in the Khabur Valley, Upper Mesopotamia and Beyond. Berlin: Ex Oriente:171-187.

Nieuwenhuyse, O. 2013a. The social uses of decorated ceramics in Late Neolithic Upper Mesopitamia. In O. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 135-145. Nieuwenhuyse, O. 2013b. The Proto-Hassuna culture in the Khabur headwaters: a western neighbour’s view. In Y. Nishiaki, K. Kashima and M. Verhoeven (eds.), Neolithic Archaeology in the Khabur Valley, Upper Mesopotamia and Beyond. Berlin: Ex Oriente: 110- 137.

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.

Episode 22: Halaf

The Halaf culture develops in northern Mesopotamia at the beginning of the sixth millennium cal BCE from its origins in the Pre-Halaf culture of the seventh millennium. At the same time, the Proto-Hassuna culture to the east also looses its prequel name, changing into the Hassuna culture in eastern Syria and into the Standard Hassuna culture in northern Iraq.

Neither of these changes in the way that we name cultures involves a dramatic change in the cultures themselves, and mostly has to do with the pottery. In the Hassuna culture this change is in the style of decoration seen on painted and carved pottery, with bowls and jars getting bands of decoration along the tops of bowls and towards the tops of jars. Painted pottery also becomes more common. The Hassuna culture continued in eastern Syria and northern Iraq until probably the middle of the sixth millennium, continuing to consist of villages of large, rectangular multi-roomed houses but changing to also incorporate the use of stamps and seals similar to those of the neighbouring Halaf culture. By sometime around the middle of the sixth millennium BCE, the Hassuna culture was replaced by the Halaf culture as people in eastern Syria and northern Iraq decided instead to take up the traditions, styles and ways of life of their western neighbours.

A decorated Hassuna bowl from Hakemi Use. Image adapted from Tekin 2013
Styles of decoration on Hassuna pottery from Yarim Tepe I. Image adapted from Merpert & Munchaev 1987.
Illustration of some of the ground stone axes found from Hassuna levels at Yarim Tepe I. Image adapted from Merpert & Munchaev 1987.
A group of multi-roomed Hassuna houses from Yarim Tepe I. Image adapted from Merpert & Munchaev 1987.
Examples of sealing stamps and a lead bracelet recovered from Hassuna period layers during excavations at Yarim Tepe I.
Image adapted from Merpert & Munchaev 1987.

In the Halaf this change from the Pre-Halaf is less in the style of decoration and more in the amount of decorated pottery pieces that we find during excavation. The proportion of pottery which is painted grows significantly, from only a small percentage of pot sherds found to half or more of the pottery found during excavations.

A Halaf bowl from Arpachiyah, on display in the British Museum.
A small Halaf jar from Arpachiyah, on display in the British Museum.
A large Halaf jar from Arpachiyah, on display in the British Museum.
Carved and decorated Halaf stone bowls from Domuztepe. Image adapted from Campbell 2013.
Examples of Halaf anthropomorphic (people-shaped) figurines. Image adapted from Belcher 2014.

It was this painted pottery which originally made the Halaf culture so popular in the archaeology of the ancient Near East, as these sixth millennium phases of the Halaf were found decades before the discovery of the seventh millennium Pre-Proto-Halaf and Pre-Halaf early phases. The Halaf culture was first discovered by Baron Max von Oppenheim during his excavations at Tell Halaf in the years just before the first world war. The discovery of so much beautiful, elaborately painted and finely made pottery was a big surprise at the time, as the general view was that fancy pottery was something that appeared later after societies had gotten more complex. At the time the though was that people living in small early farming villages without rulers would have used dull, undecorated, coarsely made pottery and that the finely made and painted stuff only came along when elites wanted to compete with one another. This meant that early studies of the Halaf culture included theories that it might have been an early experiment in more complex societies. We now know that this idea was wrong. Nothing about Halaf society has any real indications of people having noticeable differences in social status or rank or even in their access to resources, at least not at the level of individual people.

The current view of Halaf society is that all of this elaborately painted pottery was used for eating, both for quiet meals at home as well as for getting together with friends, neighbours and extended family for social events. The majority of painted Halaf pottery is in shapes associated with the eating and serving of food, and these painted pots also don’t tend to have evidence of being used for cooking or the storage of food and supplies.

Painted pottery is not the only thing that we see as making the Halaf culture distinctive. Another distinctive feature of the Halaf is something that we also saw in the Pre-Halaf – stamps and seals to mark private property. With these we also find what are called tokens, which are little lumps of clay or broken sherds of pottery which have been carved into little disks. These would have served as counters to indicate how many of something – such as how many sheep you sent off to summer pasture with someone else. The third distinctive feature of the Halaf is newer – round houses called tholos houses, which sometimes are found on their own and sometimes have multi-roomed structure built onto one side called an annex. These usually do not have a door into them from inside the tholos house but instead have their own entrance from the outside, and are considered to have been storage structures for the tholos house.

Halaf jewellery and seals from Arpachiyah, on display in the British Museum.
Halaf tholos houses found during recent excavations at Tell Tawila in Syria, with part of an annex visible attached to the upper left of the larger tholos. Details of these excavations can be found here.

The Halaf culture emerges from the Pre-Halaf at around 5950 or 5900 cal BCE and lasts until about 5300 cal BCE. During this time it expands outwards from its homeland in central and western Syria. By the middle of the sixth millennium cal BCE the Hassuna culture of eastern Syria and western Iraq develops into an expansion of the Halaf culture, along with the very southeastern corner of modern Turkey. Other societies around the Halaf are also considered to be variations of the Halaf or at least ‘Halaf influenced’, especially those of the northern Levant. Despite the large area covered by the Halaf, it was not a single uniform blob of culture. Comparisons of the decorations commonly used on Halaf pottery shows that this culture was instead a network of smaller overlapping groups, each limited to a small series of villages across a stretch of river or along part of a valley or plain. While the distribution of local styles of pottery decoration were each small, these overlapped with one another to create a web of closely related interacting cultural groups which together shared not only similar styles of pottery, architecture and the marking of personal property but also similarities in the organisation of villages, manufacture and use of figurines, jewellery and other artefacts, and ways of life. We can thus see the Halaf as a large cultural interaction network which, while not centrally ruled and controlled over its large area, created a common culture throughout its small farming villages across all of northern and central Mesopotamia.

At the end of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, the large area of the ancient Near East which made up the ‘Pre-Pottery Neolithic Interaction Sphere’ broke down into the many smaller regional cultures of the seventh millennium BCE. The growth of the Halaf over the sixth millennium BCE reversed this trend, with the development once again of a large interaction sphere – a Halaf interaction sphere – once again covering a large area of the ancient Near East.

Episode Bibliography:

Becker, J. 2013. Tell Halaf: new results on the Late Neolithic period in northeastern Syria. In O.P. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 455-466.

Belcher, E.H. 2014. Embodiment of the Halaf: Sixth Millennium Figurines from Northern Mesopotamia. Unpublished PhD Thesis, Columbia University.

Bernbeck, R. 2013. Multisited and modular sites in the Halaf tradition. In O.P. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 51-61.

Bernbeck, R. and Nieuwenhuyse, O. 2013. Established paradigms, current disputes and emerging themes: the state of research on the Late Neolithic in Upper Mesopotamia. In O.P. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 17-37.

Campbell, S. 2007. Rethinking Halaf chronologies. Paléorient 33(1): 103-136.

Campbell, S. 2013. Stone bowls in the Halaf: manufacture, function and breakage at Domuztepe. In O.P. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 241-249.

Campbell, S. and Fletcher, A. 2013. Scale and integration in Northern Mesopotamia in the early 6th millennium cal. BCE. In O.P. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 39-50.

Castro Gessner, G 2013. Sequencing practices, revealing traditions: a case study on painters’ brushwork. In O.P. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 125-134.

Costello, S.K. 2002. Tools of Memory: Investigation of the Context of Information Storage in the Halaf Period. Unpublished PhD Thesis, Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Croucher, K. 2013. Bodily identity: mortuary practices and bodily treatment in the Upper Mesopotamian Late Neolithic. In O.P. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 191-202.

Cruells, W., Gómez, A., Bouso, M., Guerrero, E., Tornero, C., Saña, M., Molist, R., Buxó, R., el-Masih Baghdo, A. and Tunca, Ö. 2013. Chagar Bazar in northeastern Syria: recent work. . In O.P. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 467-477.

Forest, J.-D. 2013. The birth of a new culture: at the origins of the Halaf. In O.P. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 101-105.

Healey, E. 2007. Obsidian as an indicator of inter-regional contacts and exchange: three case-studies from the Halaf period. Anatolian Studies 57: 171-189

Healey, E. 2013. Exotic, aesthetic and powerful? The non-tool use of obsidian in the Late Neolithic of the Near East. In O.P. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 251-265.

Hole, F. 2013. Constrained innovation: Halafian ceramics. In O.P. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 77-87.

Hopwood, M. 2013. Food, community and the archaeological past: creating community during the Halaf period at Fistikli Höyük, Turkey. In O.P. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 183-190.

Hopwood, M. 2017. More than just a pretty face: the meaningful use of painted pottery in the Halaf period. In W. Cruells, I. Mateicuiucova and O. Nieuwenhuyse (eds.), Painting Pots – Painting People: Late Neolithic Ceramics in Ancient Mesopotamia. Oxford: Oxbow Books: 166-176.

Frangipane, M. 2013. Societies without boundaries: interpreting Late Neolithic patterns of wide interaction and sharing of cultural traits: the case of Halaf communities. In O.P. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 89-99.

Mallowan Max E. L and J.C. Rose 1935 ―Excavations at Tell Arpachiyah, 1933.‖ Iraq 2: 1-178.

Merpert, N.Y. 1993. The archaic phase of the Hassuna culture. In N. Yoffee and J.J. Clarke (eds.), Early Stages in the Evolution of Mesopotamian Civilization: Soviet Excavations in Northern Ira. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press: 115-128.

Merpert, N.Y. and Munchaev, R.M. 1987. The earliest levels at Yarim Tepe I and Yarim Tepe II in Northern Iraq. Iraq 49: 1-36.

Merpert, N.Y. and Munchaev, R.M. 1993. Yarim Tepe I. In N. Yoffee nd J.J. Clarke (eds.), Early Stages in the Evolution of Mesopotamian Civilization: Soviet Excavations in Northern Ira. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press: 73-114.

Molist, M., Anfruns, J., Bofill, M., Borrell, F., Clop, X., Cruells, W., Faura, J.M., Ferrer, A., Gómez, A., Guerrero, E., Saña, M., Tornero, C., Vicente, O. and Buxó, R. 2013. Tell halula (Euphrates Valley, Syria): new data from the late Neolithic Settlement. In O.P. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 443-453.

Mortensen, P. 1980. Tell Shimshara: the Hassuna Period. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.

Nishiaki, Y. 2018. The Late Halafian lithic industry of Tell Kashkashok I, the Upper Khabur, Syria. Orient 53: 1-21.

Nieuwenhuyse, O. 2013. The social uses of decorated ceramics in Late Neolithic Upper Mesopotamia. In O.P. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 135-145.

von Oppenheim, Max. 1931. Tell Halaf: A New Culture in Oldest Mesopotamia (Translation into English by G. Wheeler). London: Putnam and Sons.

Pollock, S. 2013. Defining a Halaf tradition: the construction and use of space. In O.P. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 171-181.

Spataro, M. and Fletcher, A. 2010. Centralisation or regional identity in the Halaf period? Examining interactions within fine painted ware production. Paléorient 36(2): 91-116.

Starzmann, M.T. 2013. Spontaneity and habitus: stone tool production in communities of practice at Fıstıklı Höyük. In O.P. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 161-170.

Tekin, H. 2013. The contribution of Hakemi Use to the prehistory of Upper Mesopotamia. In O.P. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 493-502.

Episode 21: Cyprus and the Khirokitia Culture

After the end of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B in the Levant, Mesopotamia and Anatolia, we can see many changes to daily life happening across these regions. Pottery becomes a part of everyday life in villages across these regions of the Near East, although when it appears and when it becomes commonplace is not necessarily the same everywhere. The structure of life seems to continue a pattern first begin in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, with the organisation of everyday life and its activities moving from the level of the entire village to the level of the family, or the extended family. We also see signs of the spread of the idea of private property, and the measures taken to mark and protect this property. While these things were common across many regions of the Near East, though, each region – and even in some cases each valley or group of valleys – developed a more independent and distinctive local culture.

The island of Cyprus has this very much in common with these mainland regions of the Near East. Just like we saw more local variation and the development of local cultural traditions on the mainland after 7000 cal BCE, Cyprus also develops its own local post-Pre-Pottery Neolithic culture- the Khirokitia culture (circal 7000 to 5200 cal BCE).

The Khirokitia culture has been known for nearly 100 years, since the first excvations at the site of Khirokitia in the 1930s. In these early days it was thought to be the oldest human habitation on the island of Cyprus. We now know that this happened several thousand years earlier, from at least as early as the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A. But, these earlier sites were unknown until the 1980s and for several decades in between the Khirokitia culture was thought to be the first permanent human settlement on Cyprus.

Once earlier sites were discovered, for another few decades there were so few pre-7000 cal BCE sites known that some argued that the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B occupation of Cyprus had been ultimately unsuccessful, and that people disappeared from the island until it was re-occupied by colonists from the mainland with the Khirokitia culture. With time, though, we found more sites, which provided radiocarbon dates, and which showed that people were living on Cyprus all the way through from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A until the beginning of the Khirokitia culture (and beyond). So this theory has also fallen away and we now see the Khirokitia culture as a continuation of a long tradition of local Neolithic societies on Cyprus.

Now, the big question has been whether or not the Khirokitia culture existed in a vacuum. Or, rather, how much interaction people on Cyprus during the Khirokitia culture had with people living in Pottery Neolithic/Ceramic Neolithic/Late Neolithic villages on the mainland. This is because there are a couple of things about the Khirokitia culture which make it different from the cultures that we have seen at this time on the mainland. For a start, people in the Khirokitia culture built rounded houses rather than the rectangular ones that were built by nearly everyone on the mainland at this time. They also had some differences in the way that they made their stone tools. For example, the fashion for pressure flaking that we have seen across Anatolia, the Levant and Mesopotamia never really seems to have come into fashion on Cyprus.

The big difference, though, is the pottery. Pottery appears and then becomes a part of daily life at different times across the mainland of the Near East. On Cyprus though, it appears a bit late. Or rather, it appears REALLY late, since it doesn’t really turn up in villages (apart from the rare experimental piece) until after the end of the Khirokitia culture (or, after about 5000 cal BCE). Instead of pottery, people living on Khirokitia Cyprus made carved stone bowls. These existed on Cyprus during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, as well as on the mainland. The stone bowls made on Cyprus before 7000 cal BCE, however, tended to be made of softer stone (like limestone). During the Khirokitia culture, this changed to a fashion for much harder igneous stone, usually of a grey-green colour. These also seem to have become more elaborately decorated, with designs carved in relief to the outsides of bowls. This stone was also used to carve figurines. Like on the mainland these were mostly figurines of humans. Unlike on the mainland these figurines are much more pared-back and even abstract depictions of people, and usually lacking in the details of anatomy which would tell us if the figurines were supposed to be male or female (unlike the figurines commonly seen across the mainland). Stone was also carved into elaborate designs on pebbles, which seem to have been associated with specific people and which have been argued to have acted as sealing stamps,much like what we have also seen from this time in the northern Levant and northern Mesopotamia.

A carved and decorated stone bowl from Khirokitia
An example of the human figurines found on Cyprus during the Khirokitia culture.
Examples of carved stone pebble ‘stamps’ from the Khirokitia culture.

So while carved stone was able to perform just about all of the functions that we see pottery being used for on the mainland, the Khirokitia culture still forms avery long additional time that Cyprus spent without this new pottery technology. The people of Khirokitia Cyprus spent an extra 1500 to 2000 years still living a Pre-Pottery Neolithic lifestyle after the mainland has changed to the Pottery Neolithic. This long delay in the spread of pottery, along with a reduction in the amount of obsidian being imported into Cyprus after 7000 cal BCE, has led to the argument that Cyprus became isolated after the ‘collapse’ of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B interactions sphere.

Unlike with the two previous theories about the Khirokitia culture – that it was the first occupation of Cyprus and that it was a re-occupation after previous villages died out – the question of the isolation of Cyprus can’t be easily solved by finding more sites and getting more radiocarbon dates.

Happily, this is because the question of the isolation of Khirokitia can be solved already, just by looking at the evidence that we already have.

The evidence which is used to suggest that Khirokitia Cyprus was isolated from mainland societies of the Near East is that (a) they retained burial patterns – with single burials under floors and head shaping – from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic; (b) they had round houses, which went out of fashion on the mainland during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic; (c) there is a drop in the amount of obsidian imported into Cyprus; and (d) they did not incroporate pottery into daily life until after the end of the Khirokitia culture.

Curvilinear stone buildings at the site of Khirokitia

Arguing about how much contact Cyprus had with the mainland after 7000 cal BCE using obsidian is a ticky subject. Cyprus did not get as much imported obsidian after about 7000 cal BCE, but then again many of the regions of the mainland that we have talked about – like the Levant and Mesopotamia – also saw a drop in the levels of imported obsidian at this same time. The obsidian that is coming into Cyprus during the Khirokitia culture is also coming from the Cappadocia region of what is now Turkey, which is the same source of obsidian that we see for Ceramic Neolithic cultures in the Levant as well as in some parts of northern Mesopotamia. So we can’t really use the levels of imported obsidian to argue about how much contact Cyprus may have had with the mainland during the time of the Khirokitia culture, since it gets the same decrease in how much obsidian is being traded around, and is getting obsidian from the same sources as its nearest neighbours on the mainland.

If we ignore obsidian, then we are left with the burial practices, the architecture and the absence of pottery. The current counter-argument to this view of isolation uses these same pieces of evidence to argue that Cyprus wasn’t isolated – it was just independent, and had been independent since the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B. This view sees Cyprus as a land where the traditions of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A – including round communal buildings and houses and greater levels of use of wild plants and animals – continued to be kept throughout the Pre-Pottery Neolithic instead of being fashionable only in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and then disappearing over the course of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B like we see on the mainland. Remember, round buildings were common on the mainland in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A but then went out of fashion. On Cyprus, they kept this – and probably other older traditions alive. The burial traditions are also a sign of this independence of Cyprus, with people maintaining their traditions of burial regardless of what was currently fashionable over on the mainland.

So, if Cyprus has been doing its own independent thing throughout the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, then it should be no real surprise that they decided to continue to do their own thing during the time of the Khirokitia culture, and just were not interested in adopting pottery technology the way that people did on the mainland. If we look at the adoption of pottery into daily life as something that people may have chosen to do or not to do, then the absence of pottery on Khirokitia Cyprus becomes another in a series of choices about daily life and society that the people of Cyprus made over the course of several thousand years of human settlement which were different from the choices that people made on the mainland. So Cyprus almost certainly was not completely isolated from the mainland (after all, they were still getting imported obsidian). Instead, the people of the Khirokitia culture chose what they imported over from their neighbours on the mainland. Obsidian, yes. Pottery, not quite yet.

Episode Bibliography:

Clarke, J. 2010. Contextualising Neolithic Cyprus: preliminary investigations into connections between Cyprus and the Near East in the Later Neolithic. In D. Bolger L. and Maguire (eds.), The Development of Pre-state Communities in the Ancient Near East. Studies in Honour of Edgar Peltenburg. Oxford: Oxbow Books: 199-208.

Clarke, J. and Wasse, A. 2019. Time out of joint: a re-assessment of the Cypriot Aceramic Neolithic site of Kalavasos-Tenta and its regional implications. Levant 51(1): 26-53.

Constantinou, C. 2011. 7th and 5th millennium Eastern Mediterranean: an introduction to the identification of interactions between Cyprus and the North Levant after Pre-Pottery Neolithic times. Cahiers di Centre d’Etudes Chypriotes 41: 53-78.

Fox, W.A. 1988. Kholetria-Ortos: a Khirokitia culture settlement in Paphos district. Report of the Department of Antiquities Cyprus 1: 29-42.

Kardulias, P.N. and Yerkes, R.W. 1998. Defining the Cypriot Aceramic Neolithic: the lithic evidence. Lithic Technology 23(2): 124-138.

Keach, L.L. 2018. Investigating the Role of Liminality in the Cultural Transition of the Eighth Millennium BC on Cyprus. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Knapp, A.B. 2013. The Archaeology of Cyprus: From Earliest Prehistory Through the Bronze Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hourani, F. 2017. Khirokitia (Chypre, VIIe-VIe millénaires av. J. C.), la séquence stratigraphique dans son context. In J.-D. Vigne, F. Briois and M. Tengberg (eds.), New Data on the Beginnings of the Neolithic in Cyprus. Paris: Société Préhistorique Française: 229-240.

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

Episode 19: The Many Faces of Late Neolithic Mesopotamia

We have looked thus far at the transition to the Pottery Neolithic over the seven millennium BCE in Anatolia and the Levant. This time I wanted to look at the third major central area of the Near East – Mesopotamia, or the land between the rivers. Mesopotamia is a big region, and includes not only the land directly in between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers but also areas to the north as far as the foothills of the Taurus and Zagros mountains, and lands to the south into the Syrian desert. This big area generally gets divided into northern (or upper) Mesopotamia and southern (or lower) Mesopotamia, although a central region between these can sometimes be divided out depending on what time periods or cultures we are looking at.

Map of Mesopotamia showing the northern/upper, central and southern/lower parts of the region as well as nearby regions of the Near East. Image from Bernbeck & Nieuwenhuyse 2013.

Seventh millennium BCE Mesopotamia, which here is called the Late Neolithic, is home to multiple archaeological cultures. The Late Neolithic archaeological cultures and developments from later in the sixth millennium BCE have traditionally gotten more attention from archaeologists, so the names of cultures that form here in Mesopotamia during the seventh millennium have mostly been given in reference to these later developments. Thus, in the western parts of northern Mesopotamia in what is now Syria, we have first the Initial Pottery Neolithic and Early Pottery Neolithic, which turns into the Pre-Proto-Halaf and then Proto-Halaf (or Pre-Halaf). This is named for the later Halaf culture which turns up here after the end of the seventh millennium. We have a similar pattern of names for the more eastern and southern parts of northern Mesopotamia (and central Mesopotamia), with the cultures here being the Pre-Proto-Hassuna, Proto-Hassuna and (at the very end of the seventh millennium) the Hassuna culture. These names also come from a focus in the Hassuna culture as it develops after the end of the seventh millennium.

In southern Mesopotamia, we don’t have a very clear idea of what sort of archaeological societies we have during most of the seventh millennium, so we don’t have specific names for cultures of this region until the last century or two of the seventh millennium when we see the emergence of the Samarra culture.

Examples of Proto-Halaf bowls and jars from Tell Sabi Abyad. Image from Nieuwenhuyse & Cruells 2004.

So by the last couple of centuries of the seventh millennium BCE in Mesopotamia we have three main cultures that we think were around – the Proto-Halaf, the Proto-Hassuna (or in some areas the Archaic Hassuna) and the Samarra. But these were not groups with fixed boundaries between them, such as where villages in one valley have completely Proto-Halaf style houses, pottery, stone tools, and other artefacts, and villages in the next valley over have all Proto-Hassuna style things. Instead, what we have is a big fuzzy mix across Mesopotamia, with groups and styles blending together and gradually changing across different parts of Mesopotamia. So we see sites more to the western part of northern Mesopotamia mostly having Proto-Halaf style pottery with some Hassuna or Samarra items, then villages in the eastern parts of northern Mesopotamia having mostly Proto-Hassuna style pottery with some Proto-Halaf and Samarra mixed in, and then villages in southern Mesopotamia having mostly Samarra style pottery with some Proto-Hassuna or Proto-Halaf styles mixed in.

Examples of Proto-Hassuna jars, from Tell Sotto (left) and Yarim Tepe (right). Image from Petrova 2019
Examples of Proto-Hassuna ‘carinated’ bowls from Umm Dabaghiyah,. Image from Kirkbride 1972.

The earliest pottery that we get in Mesopotamia doesn’t necessarily show these sorts of divisions between different parts of the region. Mostly, early pottery in Mesopotamia is mineral tempered and comes in a fairly basic set of shapes. This changes pretty quickly though to either mostly plant tempered pottery or a combination of plant and/or mineral tempered pottery. The shapes that are more common between different parts of Mesopotamia also develop after this earliest stage of pottery, with bowls and jars from the Proto-Halaf areas of northern Mesopotamia having different shapes and different types of decoration (open bowls, jars with necks and incised decoration) from the Proto-Hassuna parts of northern and central Mesopotamia (jars with little to no neck, carinated bowls and decoration pieces stuck onto the outside of vessels).

Of course, these are the ‘classic’ or stereotypical shapes for each of these cultures, and there is in reality a lot of overlap in shapes and styles within individual villages, especially those in the middle area of northern Mesopotamia where the boundaries of Proto-Halaf and Proto-Hassuna blur. This is also the case with the “husking tray”, which is considered to be a characteristic item of Hassuna pottery, but which is found also during the seventh millennium Proto-Hassuna and is also found occasionally all over northern Mesopotamia – including in the Pre-Halaf western parts. These trays were first thought to have been used to remove the husks (tough outer coatings) of cereal grains. We now know that they absolutely were not used for this, but the name has stuck. Some recent experiments actually make a good argument for these as tins for baking bread – with the ridges on the bottom of the trays helping the bread to bake evenly and not stick to the bottom.

Examples of ‘Husking Trays’ – complete or fragments – from Shimsharah and other Hassuna-area sites. Image from Restelli 2021.
An example of a white ware vessel from Tell Sabi Abyad. Image from Nilhamn & Koeck 2013.

Pottery was, of course, not the only sort of container that was available in the seventh millennium. Plaster vessels, known as white ware, were around in the Near East since the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (9500-8500 cal BCE), although these had gone mostly out of fashion in Mesopotamia during the later part of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B. During the Late Neolithic though, starting from about 6900 cal BCE these start to come back into fashion. In the eastern Proto-Hassuna part of northern and central Mesopotamia these white ware vessels are fashionable again for only a few hundred years, loosing their appeal when pottery became common across sites. In the western Proto-Halaf part of northern Mesopotamia though, they stay fashionable for much longer, including after pottery becomes commonplace, only becoming less fashionable towards the very end of the seventh millennium, but still turning up on sites for another five hundred years of so after that.

Apart from the appearance and spread of pottery across Mesopotamia, in some ways life remained exactly the same as during the late Pre-Pottery Neolithic, and in other ways there were major changes to societies. The villages where people lived, and the houses in these villages, show very little change between the end of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic and over the seventh millennium. People live mostly in small villages made up of rectangular houses grouped together, with the houses mostly divided into multiple internal rooms.

A Cluster of Proto-Halaf houses from Tell Sabi Abyad. Image from Akkermans 2013.
A group of Proto-Hassuna houses from Umm Dabagiyah. Image from Kirkbride 1975.

One thing which was around before the seventh millennium in the Near East but which is seen a bit more commonly during the seventh millennium is a practice called skull shaping. This – as the name suggests – is the practice of winding a cord or other object around the head of a baby so that the bones will grow into an elongated rather than a round shape. This doesn’t hurt the baby, as it does not affect the brain. But we don’t exactly know why people chose to do this, as shaped skulls don’t seem to relate to a certain social role in society (such as shamans), or relate to a particular gender or kinship group. It seems to just have been an occasional practice, like a fashion or a certain aesthetic taste in appearance.

A burial from Choga Sefid with a modified skull. Image from Hole et al 1969.
A modern example of a person with a modified skull. Image from Croucher 2013 (original caption shown here).

One thing which does change during the seventh millennium is the use of seals and stamps in at least the Proto-Halaf part of northern Mesopotamia. Seals were the wet clay or putty that could be used to cover a jar or seal a basket. This sealing clay would then be stamped with a carved stamp of ceramic, stone, bone, or another material. Once a container had been sealed and stamped, it would then be impossible to open it without breaking the seal. If this seal was broken, you would need to re-seal the jar or basket with a fresh layer of wet clay or putty and stamp it again with an identical stamp. Otherwise, it would be obvious that the container had been tampered with. This is a system which we will see much more of through time in the Near East, as a way of protecting private property as well as an administrative system for storage, control of resources and trade. It is here in the seventh millennium BCE that it seems to begin, suggesting that it is here in the seventh millennium that people started to have the idea of property belonging to a single family or a single person rather than to the village or social group as a whole, and they wanted to protect this property and make sure that none of their neighbours helped themselves to it when no one was looking.

Fragments of seals with stamped impressions recovered from Proto-Halaf Tell Sabi Abyad. Image from Duistermaat 2013.

Episode Bibliography:

Akkermans, P.M.M.G. 2013. Living space, temporality and community segmentation: interpreting Late Neolithic settlement in northern Syria. In O. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 63-76.

Astruc, L. and Russell, A. 2013. Trends in early Pottery Neolithic projectiles and wild fauna exploitation at Tell Sabi Abyad I, northern Syria. In O. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 331-343.

Bader, N. and Le Mière, M. 2013. From Pre-Pottery Neolithic to Pottery Neolithic in the Sinjar. In O. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 513-520.

Bernbeck, R. 2017. Merging clay and fire: earliest evidence from the Zagros Mountains. In A. Tsuneki, O. Nieuwenhuyse and S. Campbell (eds.), The Emergence of Pottery in West Asia. Oxford: Oxbow Books:97-118.

Bernbeck, R. and Nieuwenhuyse, O. 2013. Established paradigms, current disputes and emerging themes: the state of research on the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. In O. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 17-37.

Croucher, K. 2013. Bodily identity: mortuary practices and bodily treatment in the Upper Mesopotamian Later Neolithic. In O. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 191-202.

Cruells, A., Fara, J.M. and Molist, M. 2017. Akarçay Tepe and Tell Halula in the context of the earliest production of ceramics in west Asia. In A. Tsuneki, O. Nieuwenhuyse and S. Campbell (eds.), The Emergence of Pottery in West Asia. Oxford: Oxbow Books: 27-42.

Duistermaat, K. 2010. Administration in Neolithic societies? The first use of seals in Syria and some considerations on seal owners, seal use and private property. In W. Müller (ed.), Die Bedeutung der minoischen und mykenischen Glyptik: VI. Internationales Siegel-Symposium,

Marburg, 9–12 Oktober 2008 (CMS Beiheft 8). Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern: 167-182.

Duistermaat, K. 2013. Private matters: the emergence of sealing practices in Neolithic Syria. In O. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 315-322.

Erdal, Y.S. Life and death at Hakemi Use. In O. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 213-223.

Evershed, R.P., Payne, S., Sherratt, A.G., Copley, M.S., Coolidge, J., Urem-Kotsu, D., Kotsakis, K., Özdoğan, A.E., Nieuwenhuyse, O., Akkermans, P.M.M.G., Bailey, D., Andeescu, R.-R., Campbell, S., Farid, S., Hodder, I., Yalman, N., Özbaşaran, M., Biçakci, E., Garfinkel, Y., Levy, T. and Burton, M.M. 2008. Earliest date for milk use in the Near East and southeastern Europe linked to cattle herding. Nature 455: 528-531.

Hole, F., Flannery, K.V. and Neely, J.A. 1969. Prehistory and Human Ecology of the Deh Luran Plain: An Early Village Sequence from Khuzistan, Iran. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan.

Jotheri, J. Altaweel, M., Tuji, A., Anma, R., Pennington, B., Rost, S. and Watanabe, C. 2018. Holocene fluvial and anthropogenic processes in the region of Uruk in southern Mesopotamia. Quaternary International 483: 57-69.

Kadowaki, S., Nagai, K. and Nishiaki, Y. 2013. Technology and use of space in the production of obsidian bladelets at Tell Seker al-Aheimar. In O. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 147-159.

Kirkbride, D. 1972. Umm Dabaghiyah 1971: a preliminary report. An early ceramic farming settlement in marginal north central Jazira, Iraq. Iraq 34(1): 3-15.

Kirkbride, D. 1975. Umm Dabaghiyah 1974: a fourth preliminary report. Iraq 37(1): 3-10.

Kozbe, G. 2013. The Late Neolithic in the Şirnak area (southeast Turkey). In O. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 479-492.

Le Mière, M. 2013a. Uniformity and diversity of pottery in the Jazirah and the northern Levant during the Early Pottery Neolithic. In O. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 323-330.

Le Mière, M. 2013b. Neolithic pottery from the Khabur basin: a reassessment in the light of recent discoveries. In Y. Nishiaki, K. Kashima and M. Verhoeven (eds.), Neolithic Archaeology in the Khabur Valley, Upper Mesopotamia and Beyond. Berlin: Ex Oriente: 96-109.

Maeda, O. Cultural affinities and the use of lithics during the 8th to 7th millennia cal BCE in the northern Levant and northern Mesopotamia. In O. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 267-276.

Miyake, Y. 2013. Recent progress in the Neolithic investigations of the Anatolian Tigris Valley. In Y. Nishiaki, K. Kashima and M. Verhoeven (eds.), Neolithic Archaeology in the Khabur Valley, Upper Mesopotamia and Beyond. Berlin: Ex Oriente:171-187.

Molist, M., Anfruns, J., Bonfill, M., Borrell, F., Buxó, R., Clop, X., Cruells, W., Faura, J.M., Ferrer, A., Gómez, A., Guerrero, E., Saña, M., Tornero, C. and Vicente, O. 2013. Tell Halula (Euphrates Valley, Syria): new data from the Late Neolithic settlement. In O. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 443-453.

Nieuwenhuyse, O. 2013a. The social uses of decorated ceramics in Late Neolithic Upper Mesopitamia. In O. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 135-145.

Nieuwenhuyse, O. 2013b. The Proto-Hassuna culture in the Khabur headwaters: a western neighbour’s view. In Y. Nishiaki, K. Kashima and M. Verhoeven (eds.), Neolithic Archaeology in the Khabur Valley, Upper Mesopotamia and Beyond. Berlin: Ex Oriente: 110- 137.

Nieuwenhuyse, O.P. 2017. The Initial Pottery Neolithic at Tell Sabi Abyad, northern Syria. In A. Tsuneki, O. Nieuwenhuyse and S. Campbell (eds.), The Emergence of Pottery in West Asia. Oxford: Oxbow Books: 17-26.

Nieuwenhuyse, O. and Cruells, A. 2004. The Proto-Halaf period in Syria. New sites, new data. Paléorient 30(1): 47-68.

Nieuwenhuyse, O.P., Roffet-Salque, M., Evershed, R.P., Akkermans, P.M.M.G and Russell, A. 2015. Tracing pottery use and the emergence of secondary product exploitation through lipid residue analysis at Late Neolithic Tell Sabi Abyad (Syria). Journal of Archaeological Science 64: 54-66.

Nieuwenhuyse, O.P. and Akkermans, P.M.M.G. 2019. Transforming the Upper Mesopotamian landscape in the Late Neolithic. In A. Marcinial (ed.), Concluding the Neolithic: the Near East in the Second Half of the Seventh Millennium BC. Atlanta, Georga: Lockwood Press: 101-135.

Nilhamn, B. and Koek, E. 2013. Early Pottery Neolithic white ware from Tell Sabi Abyad. In O. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 289-295.

Nishiaki, Y. and Marie Le Mière, M. 2005. The oldest pottery Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia: new evidence from Tell Seker al-Aheimar, the Khabur, northeast Syria. Paléorient 31(2): 55-68.

Nishiaki, Y. and Le Mière, M. 2017. The oldest Neolithic pottery from Tell Seker al-Aheimar, Upper Khabur, Northeeastern Syria. In A. Tsuneki, O. Nieuwenhuyse and S. Campbell (eds.), The Emergence of Pottery in West Asia. Oxford: Oxbow Books: 43-54.

Odaka, T. and Kozlowski, S. 2013. The Jeziran Neolithic “market”. In Y. Nishiaki, K. Kashima and M. Verhoeven (eds.), Neolithic Archaeology in the Khabur Valley, Upper Mesopotamia and Beyond. Berlin: Ex Oriente:218-236.

Özdoğan, M. 2013. Reconsidering the Late Neolithic period in southeastern Turkey: a regional perspective. In O. Nieuwenhuyse, R. Bernbeck, P.M.M.G. Akkermans and J. Rogasch (eds.), Interpreting the Late Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia. Turnhout: Brepols: 377-385.

Petrova, N.Y. 2019. The development of Neolithic pottery technology in the eastern Jazira and the Zagros mountains. Documenta Praehistorica 66: 128-136.

Restelli, F.B. 2021. Group perception and identity markers in the Neolithic communities of Western Asia: the case of husking trays in 7th millennium Upper Mesopotamia. In A. Abar, M.B. D’Anna, G. Cyrus, V. Egbers, B. Huber, C. Kainert, J. Köhler, B. Öğüt, N. Rol, G. Russo, J. Schönicke and F. Tourtet (eds.), Pearls, Politics and Pistachios: Essays in Anthropology and Memories on the Occasion of Susan Pollock’s 65th Birthday.Berlin: Ex Oriente: 33-45.

Tekin, H. 2007. New discoveries concerning the relationship between the upper Tigris region and Syro-Cilicia in the Late Neolithic. Anatolia Studies 57: 161-169.

Episode 18: a Tale of Two Pottery Neolithic Levants

Anatolia, or rather the bulge of Asia Minor, is the westernmost part of the Near East. If we move south of Asia Minor we get the Levant, which is the region of the Near East along the Mediterranean coast.

At the end of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), around 7000 cal BCE, the Levant sees two different patterns of life, one in the northern part of the Levant and another in the southern Levant. In the northern Levant, the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B ends at about 7000 cal BCE with the transition to the early Pottery Neolithic (also called the Late Neolithic). As with Anatolia, the change from the end of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic to the Pottery Neolithic was not dramatic, with the adoption of pottery being the most significant single change to societies.

Some changes, of course, did take place even if they were more gradual than dramatic. People mostly lived in small farming villages of one or two hectares. This was not very different to life in the PPNB except that the large villages or ‘megasites’ from this earlier period were either abandoned or shrank down to the size of the other small villages. Community life also shrank, contracting down more to the scale of the single family or the extended family rather than the level of the entire village. As with Anatolia we have evidence of this from the way that houses in villages were arranged. Instead of large neighbourhoods or whole villages grouped together, farming villages of the Pottery Neolithic were made of one or more clusters of a few groups of houses arranged together around a communal space. These houses could be made of one large room, or have smaller internal rooms. Over time, the houses themselves got a little bit bigger and had more internal rooms – such as bedrooms or (more commonly) storage rooms. The large communal buildings and communal granaries that we saw in the PPNA and PPNB have now changed, with storage mostly seeming to take place in the home or within the extended family neighbourhood.

A reconstruction of one of the house clusters at Pottery Neolithic Shir in Syria, from the middle of the seventh millennium cal BCE. Image from Bartl 2018.

Pottery also became common across these farming villages. As with this period in Anatolia, pottery in the northern Levant was initially a bit less common and then became more common later on. Unlike with Anatolia (where this change took about 500 years) pottery became a common part of everyday life more rapidly, within one or two hundred years of the beginning of the Pottery Neolithic. The earliest pottery had a lot of variation from one site to the next, and was often pale in colour. What this pottery is called also varies from one valley or one site to the next, but in general it came in simple shapes, was light in colour (although not always) and was mostly mineral tempered. Another type of early Pottery that we see in the northern Levant is called Dark Faced Burnished Ware, which is dark in colour and had a polished (or burnished) surface. Apart from being burnished, these pots were decorated in several ways – including adding bands of clay to the outer surfaces, cutting little lines into the surface of the pots or wrapping them in textiles to leave impressions in the clay before firing. Over time- mostly by about 6600 cal BCE – this darker burnished becomes the more popular type of pottery, especially for the fancier (or fineware) pottery, although some lighter coloured or coarser pottery remained. How much Dark Faced Burnished Ware came to replace other types of pottery varies across the northern Levant. In the northern parts of the northern Levant it seems to go mostly out of fashion, being almost completely replaced by a pale coloured coarser pottery called ‘Pinkish Gritty Ware’ by the end of this period around 6000 cal BCE. In the more southern parts of the northern Levant though, Dark Faced Burnished Ware and coarser wares continued to be present in mostly equal proportions all the way though to 6000 cal BCE.

Examples of Dark Faced Burnished Ware and earlier light coloured pottery from Pottery Neolithic Shir in Syria. Image from Nieuwenhuyse et al. 2017.
An example of a short-necked jar of Dark Faced Burnished Ware from the Pottery Neolithic site of Shir in Syria. Image adapted from Nieuwenhuyse 2009.
Fragments of pottery from Pottery Neolithic Shir in Syria with textile impressions pressed into the outer surface of the pot. These markings not only provided decoration to the pottery but form some of our earliest evidence of the way that textiles were made in the Near East. Image from Nieuwenhuyse et al. 2012.

There were also changes to the way that stone tools were made, although these also were not dramatic. Older techniques of making chipped stone tools – like naviform blades and cores – were still used, with the added use of new techniques such as pressure flaking.

In the southern Levant, the change from the PPNB to the Pottery Neolithic is both slower and more dramatic. It is dramatic in the sense that the changes which we see in the few hundred years after 7000 cal BCE were not part of the early Pottery Neolithic but were instead part of another stage of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic called the PPNC. This period sees a lot of changes which are very similar to what we see in other parts of the Near East, but at the same time are different and happening in the absence of the adoption of new techniques and materials like pottery.

The most noticeable thing that happens in the southern Levant during the PPNC is that the megasites either were abandoned or shrank down to the size of a small village (just like in the northern Levant) and houses were also often grouped together, sometimes around a courtyard shared by a few different families or one big extended family. Houses continued to be rectangular, and were often made up of just one room although some also have internal rooms.

There is also less obsidian coming into the southern Levant from Anatolia. What obsidian is travelling south is also no longer coming from the very east of Anatolia (almost the southern Caucasus) but is now coming from farther west in Capadoccia. Other things that were moving around the southern Levant in the PPNB though – like shell jewellery and beads – are still moving between sites across the southern Levant.

Some examples of sea shell beads from PPNC Beisamoun, including shells from both the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. Image from Bocquentin et al. 2020.

Old methods of making chipped stone tools also did not completely die away, but there was a lot more use of newer fashions and techniques such as the use of pressure flaking and more use of flakes in making tools. This continued not only throughout the PPNC but also the later Pottery Neolithic, with more use of pressure flaking and also more use of flakes and tools made from flakes. Other types of worked stone also continue on from the PPNB, such as carved stone bowls, which were often decorated or painted. There are also gradual changes in the way that people buried their dead. Cremation burials start to appear in the southern Levant in the PPNC, and burials of all kinds become a lot more rare. Over the course of the PPNC people seem to change where they buried their relatives. Instead of under the house floor or in a nearby part of the village, people seem to have moved to burying their dead in other places – ones that were presumably outside of the village and which we have not been able to find.

Fragments of a lmestone bowl from PPNC Beisamoun. Red painted decoration can be seen along the rim of the bowl. Image from Bocquentin et al. 2020.

After a few hundred years people living in these small farming villages start to make and use pottery, and we move into the early Pottery Neolithic, which in most of the southern Levant is called the Yarmukian culture. There is a lot of variation in the Yarmukian culture, in both the styles of the pottery associated with it as well as in the way that people built their houses and organised their villages. Some people continued to build rectangular houses like the ones that we saw in the PPNC. Other people built rectangular houses but made one side rounded. Others built houses in an oval shape or even completely round. Some villages had houses all of one of these shapes, and some villages could also have several or even all of these shapes being used together at the same time. These houses sometimes were set apart, and sometimes had private walled courtyards set off to one side. In many villages several of these houses would be clustered together around a communal courtyard, providing them with more privacy and their own space for outside activities. Yarmukian pottery was most popularly red or reddish, and could have any of a large variety of decorations including burnishing, painting, coloured slips or carved decorations to the outside (such as honeycomb or herringbone patterns) or a combination or decoration styles.

Four different houses from Yarmukian deposits at Sha’ar Hagolan. The individual houses and outside storage rooms can be seen clustered around each central courtyard, numbered one to four. Image from Garfinkel 2006.
A human figurine from Yarmukian Sha’ar Hagolan, showing the classic ‘coffee bean’ or ‘cowrie’ eyes popular on Yarmukian figurines. Image from Garfinkel et al. 2010.
A pink Yarmukian jar from Sha’ar Hagolan. Image from the Levantine Ceramics project which can be found here.
A collection of bowls and jars from Yarmukian Sha’ar Hagolan. Image from the Levantine Ceramics project which can be found here.

Episode Bibliography:

Balossi Restelli, F. 2017. Yumuktepe early ceramic production: dark versus light coloured wares and the construction of social identity. In A. Tsuneki, O. Nieuwenhuyse and S. Campbell (eds.), The Emergence of Pottery in West Asia. Oxford: Oxbow Books: 83-96.

Bartl, K (ed.). 2018. The Late Neolithic Site of Shir/Syria. Volume 1: The Excavations at the South Area 2006-2009. Berlin: Philipp von Zabern.

Bocquentin, F., Khalaily, H., Boaretto, E., Dubreuil, L., Schechter, H.C., Bar-Yosef Mayer, D.E., Greenberg, D.,Berna, F., Anton, M., Borrell, F., Le Bourdonnec, F.-X., Davin, L., Noûs, C., Samuelian, N., Vieugué, J. and Horwitz, L.K. 2020. Between two worlds: the PPNB-PPNC transition in the central Levant as seen through discoveries at Beisamoun. In H. Khalaily, A. Re’em, J. Vardi and I. Milevski (eds.), The Mega Project at Motza (Moza): the Neolithic and Later Occupations up to the 20th Century. Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority: 163-199.

Dietrich L., Rokitta-Krumnow D. and Dietrich O. 2019. The meaning of projectile points in the Late Neolithic of the Northern Levant. Documenta Praehistorica 46: 340-350.

Garfinkel, Y. 2006 The social organisation at Neolithic Sha’ar Hagolan: the nuclear family, the extended family and the community. In E.B. Banning and M. Chazan (eds.), Domesticating Space: Construction, Community and Cosmology in the Late Prehistoric Near Neast. Berlin: Ex Oriente: 103-111.

Garfinkel, Y., Ben-Shlomo, D. and Korn, N. 2010. Sha’ar Hagolan, Volume 3: Symbolic Dimensions of the Yarmoukian Culture: Canonisation in Neolithic Art. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society.

Gopher, A. (ed.) 2012. Village Communities of the Pottery Neolithic Period in the Menashe Hills, Israel: Archaeological Investigations at the Sites of Nahal Zehora. Tel Aviv: Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University. 

Nieuwenhuyse, O.P. 2009. The Late Neolithic ceramics from Shir: a first assessment. Zeitschrift für Orient-Archäologie 2: 310-356.

Nieuwenhuyse, O.P. 2017. The early pottery from Shir, northern Levant. In A. Tsuneki, O. Nieuwenhuyse and S. Campbell (eds.), The Emergence of Pottery in West Asia. Oxford: Oxbow Books: 73-82.

Nieuwenhuyse, O.P., Bartl, K., Berghuijs, K. and Vogelsang-Eastwood, G. 2012. The cord-impressed pottery from the Late Neolithic northern Levant: case-study Shir (Syria). Paléorient 38(1): 65-77.

Odaka, T. 2017 (a). The emergence of pottery in the northern Levant: a recent view from Tell el-Kerkh. In A. Tsuneki, O. Nieuwenhuyse and S. Campbell (eds.), The Emergence of Pottery in West Asia. Oxford: Oxbow Books: 61-71.

Odaka, T. 2017 (b). Decoration of Neolithic pottery in the northern Levant: a view from the Rouj basin. In W. Cruells, I. Mateiciucová and O. Nieuwenhuyse (eds.), Painting Pots – Painting People: Late Neolithic Ceramics in Ancient Mesopotamia. Oxford: Oxbow: 177-185.

Tsuneki, A. and Miyake, Y. 1996 The earliest pottery sequence of the Levant: new data from Tell el-Kerkh 2, northern Syria. Paléoriejnt 22(1): 109-123.

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.