The time frame of today’s lecture includes the so-called Upper Palaeolithic (ca. 30,000-12,000 BC), especially its later part, and Epi-Palaeolithic (ca. 12,000-8,000) periods the latter being the period which directly anticipated settled life based on farming (sometimes called the period of Incipient Agriculture).
1. The Palaeolithic Period covers vast spans of time and space in the Middle East from 500,000 years ago until about 10,000 years ago. Given the generally sparse archaeological remains of hunting bands and inconsistent coverage, (by far the most work done in the Levant and northern Zagros) it’s easy to confine interpretations to specific regions where work is done and to ignore others.
2. The Palaeolithic archaeological record, with all of its inconsistencies and huge gaps is not one of stasis as somewhat depicted. In fact it represents a general trend continuing over many thousands of years in which a dominant nomadic hunting way of life changed to one in which sedentary villagers depended on domesticated plants and animals. The many stone tools types and settlement forms from this period are the scant remains of the universal human drive to sustain and where necessary improve its condition.
3. Specifically, we see this long trend driven by constant experimentation with different food producing strategies and their accompanying social developments that confronted the specific opportunities raised by particular ecological conditions. Again we see general trends characterized by diversity - human creativity applied to specific challenges.
4. We can best trace this process in its entirety in the archaeological record of the Levant with some important but localized input from Anatolia, the Zagros Mts. and Upper Egypt. Elsewhere archaeological research on the area is too incomplete to be very helpful although we can assume that similar processes were occurring.
Upper and Epi-Palaeolithic Cultures of the Levant
1. The Upper Palaeolithic was marked by the spread of the Aurignacian-like tool industries and their successors into the Middle East after 35,000 BP. These industries represented a much more diverse set of tool forms that probably accompanied the move from a primary subsistence base of generalized big-game-hunting to a more varied base as other food resources came into play.
2. For much of the Upper Palaeolithic the Middle East area was occupied by mostly by hunters who were depended largely on the killing of deer and wild cattle. Their sites were distributed widely through the Levant, mostly in highland caves and rock shelters.
3. Because the coastal areas of the Levant offered a rich and varied environment for prehistoric hunters, they did not have to move around over large distances like the hunters further east or to move as often because of the greater access by animals to a wide range of food. Thus from the earliest times the Levant promoted a relatively stable settlement pattern by contrast to the wide-ranging seasonal migrations seen elsewhere. This pattern intensifies in the later, Epi-Palaeolithic, Period
5. The Mount Carmel Cave Sites illustrate the history of the region. Here a long occupation dates back through the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic with Tabun and Shkul and finally Kebara Caves.
1. The Kebaran occupation of the Mt. Carmel area spans the late Upper Palaeolithic and the early Epi-Palaeolithic (ca 15,000-11,000 BC), a time of increasing rainfall in the Levant. Kabaran populations could exploit a wide range of hunting in a small area, enabling a fairly stable life-style. Goats were plentiful on the mountains and cliffs, deer and wild cattle in the wooded wadis, gazelle herds on the coastal plains; pigs and fowl in the swampy coastal areas.
2. However, while Kabaran people primarily depended on hoofed animals for their subsistence, they also began to exploit the wider micro-environmental potential of the Levant. Thus their subsistence base expanded to include the specific local resources of neighboring environmental zones such as fish, mollusks, birds and plant food. This Kebaran development was centered in the Southern Levant where conditions were wettest and most favorable to a variety of wild resources.
8. The Kabaran tool inventory reflect this specialization process and include small microlithic blades of geometric form, a series of long narrow pointed blades. Also bone awls and hooks.
9. Very significantly, some Kebaran blades have been found with silica sheen, (deposit caused by cutting plants) and grinding stones - indicate that wild cereals were being processed, a development that anticipates plant domestication.
10. After 12,000 BC a warming and wetter climate caused by receding ice sheets allowing the spread of grasslands into the plains adjacent to the Levant highlands. A minority of late Kabaran sites are found in open areas of the plains with the beginnings of rudimentary settlements i.e: Ein Gev - with grinding stones showing wild barley use, and circular semi-subterranean house and formal pit burial suggesting incipient sedentism.
1. From 11,000-8000 BC. this pattern of semi-sedentism and micro-environmental exploitation of a select number of plants and animals intensified throughout the Levant, introducing incipient village life to the entire region including all physical zones.
2. Large, mostly-permanent settlements with satellite hunting camps were located near lowland springs (Jericho), lakes (Mallaha), and on the rain-fed wooded hills (Wadi Natuf cave). Permanent Natufian villages comprised semi-circular houses (50 at Mallaha with 200-300 people) with central hearths arranged around an open area with in-house burials under the floors. Indicates social groupings and ancestral reverence that sets up a long lasting tradition in the Levant.
3. Natufian technology included more elaborate blade industries, with small “microliths” set into sickle handles, grinding stones and storage pits showing the harvesting and storage of cereals.
4. Hunting and gathering continued to play a major role in the subsistence with gazelle, deer, wild cattle, wild pigs, wild goats, fish, wild wheat, barley, nuts and fruits all being used in large quantities. Indeed, for a considerable time following the initial emergence of villages, hunting vied with cereal use and ultimately farming as the primary food technology with domestication only gradually reaching the point where the process became irreversible.
5. The first domesticate – the dog – appears in Natufian times, probably to help in hunting.
6. Art now appears with elaborate headdresses on female burials, animal and human figurines (esp. female),and bead ornaments. This possibly heralded the beginning of a widespread Neolithic ideology centered on ancestral reverence and on female-centered religious cults that later developed into the great Earth goddesses of the Middle East civilizations.
7. Finally, around 9,000 BC renewed aridity caused the successors of the Natufians to either revert to nomadic hunting/gathering or intensify specialized agriculture in the available areas. The result was full-scale sedentary life.
Epi-Palaeolithic Cultures of the Zagros Mts.
1. The transition from Neanderthals of the Middle Palaeolithic to modern humans by 30,000 BC is documented in the immensely long occupation of Shanidar Cave in Northeast Iraq.
2. Shanidar Cave and other open sites of the higher Zagros Mountains where rainfall was greatest show the transition to the Epi-Palaeolithic in the Zarzian Culture (ca. 15,000-9,000 B.C.).
3. While, as in the Levant, the inhabitants of the Zagros gradually exploited a greater variety of plants and fauna, this activity involved longer distance seasonal travel because of the less intensively diversified topography (and environment). However by the late Zarzian a pattern consisting of central base camps with seasonal movement around it had emerged.
4. Zarzian peoples hunted wild cattle and red deer on wooded hills, wild sheep on mountains, horse and onager in open valley below, gazelle on lower distant plains.
5. In the lower dryer areas of the Zagros rainfall was insufficient to support the quantities of wild animals and plants founder at higher altitudes. It appears on the basis of the little archaeological evidence available for this period that only temporary camps were located in these peripheral areas. These were badly located to exploit the entire broad spectrum of resource areas. Thus, according to Lewis Binford's Theory of Marginal Zone agricultural invention, when people began to be packed into this area they could not maintain the Broad Spectrum food exploitation pattern and had to develop new subsistence strategies based on domesticated plants and animals.
5. Again we see a move toward more intensive use of wild cereals with the introduction of micro-blade industries, grinding tools and storage pits (at Shanidar Cave).
Upper and Epi-Palaeolithic Cultures of Egypt
1. There was very early appearance of specialized intensive wild cereal exploitation in Upper Egypt (ca. 15,000-12,000 BC, contemporary with Kebaran of the Levant) at Kom Ombo in the Nile Valley (Philip Smith) and the Wadi Kubbaniya and Nubia (Fred Wendorf).
2. The climate in the Late Upper Palaeolithic was probably quite dry after a Mousterian wet period so population concentrated in the Nile Valley with its abundance of wild resources. There was little exploitation of the Western Sahara.
3. The Nile Valley at Kom Ombo consists of a large plain with swamps near the river giving refuge to fowl, large game (hippo, crocodile, elephant), small game (deer, pig) and fish. There was also lush vegetation of fruits and nuts and, on the peripheries, rich grasslands. This lush Nilotic Zone remained the basis for a traditional life-style for millennia. The Wadi Kubbaniya situation was similar although in a wide valley entering the Nile Valley proper.
4. These occupations represent an incipient agricultural phase much like the slightly later Kabaran Culture of the Levant and Zarzian Culture of the Zagros.
1. After 10,000 BC the climate became wetter, somewhat later than in the Levant, bringing large lakes and grasslands to the oases and deserts west of the Nile.
2. Populations responded by evolving a dual way of life - nomadic pastoralism in the Western Sahara region and semi-sedentary hunting/gathering in the Nile Valley:
3. The groups that moved out onto the western plains developed a nomadic pastoral way of life based on exploitation of the grasslands and large oases and lakes that permitting fishing, hunting and cereal exploitation. Most significant the domestication of cattle created the basis for a nomadic life-way that characterized North Africa for many centuries.
4. People remaining in the Nile Valley continued to rely on the very rich hunting/gathering way of life provided by the river (large game, fish, fowl) and surrounding flood plain (rich vegetation - fruits nuts, wild vegetables) and peripheral grasslands (cereals).
8. Consequently Egypt did not adopt agriculture until 7-6000 BC, much later than the areas farther east. It developed a particular, different and equally successful response to its specific ecological challenges that did not involve domestication with the exception of cattle.