1. By the middle of the 20th century interest began to turn from recovering large centers of civilization of the historic period to studying their earlier pre-historic foundations. In a small way the predynastic periods of Egypt were studied following Petrie's pioneering work of the early 20th century.
2. More intensive work was conducted on early sites of the Levant and Zagros Mts. and revealed very early emergence of plant and animal domestication and settled village life based on farming. This in turn gave rise to various theories about what caused Man to settle down in the Middle East, and later, why this process continued until cities emerged in the region.
3. The first great scholar who attempted to synthesize all the know work on early sites and discuss their significance in the emergence of settled life was Vere Gordon Childe. His 1925 theory of sedentism was first in a continuing effort to discover the cause of the Neolithic (sedentary farming life).
General Theoretical Influences
1. One major direction in 20th century historical theory within which the specific theories of Middle Eastern development emerged included various general theories of cultural evolution that their proponents believed could be applied throughout the world to explain the appearance of agriculture.
2. This trend was anticipated by late 19th and early 20th century historians such as Oswald Spengler, E.B.Tylor and Lewis Morgan. These scholars all believed that, while cultures may differ in detail, their ultimate trajectories were similar.
3. Generalists propose a variety of approaches. However, they all believe in the existence of general laws that direct the shape of cultural development just as there are laws like the Law of Gravity that direct physical phenomena.
4. They also generally believe that cultural development, or evolution, occurs along a set universal course from small-scale bands to great civilizations.
A. Julian Steward
Steward saw culture as part of a wider ecological adaptation in which interaction of particular physical environments with human societies caused change along set evolutionary trajectories. While different societies contrive different details of how to adapt to similar physical environments, the resulting changes are very similar in their evolutionary effects no matter the society.
B. Leslie White
White regarded culture as a set of internal systems working together to effect progressive change along a determined universal trajectory. The societies that are most successful in harnessing the energy available to them and their environment through technological invention are the societies that evolve faster and further. Thus culture is an adaptive system and technology its driving force.
These two approaches together set a priority on environmental determinism, technology, systemic culture change and general cultural evolution in specific theories of the Middle East.
Specific Theories of Origins of Sedentary Life
There are basically four theories with various modifications:
- Nuclear Zone
- Marginal Highland Zones
- Population Pressure
Vere Gordon Childe:"Oasis Theory (1925)"
1. While Childe formulated his theory prior to the others his concentration on environmental determinism conforms to their trend.
2. He posited that at the end of the last Ice Age there was a climatic crisis following the retreat of the glaciers after 10,000 BC. Rains retreated north and the region dried causing people to move into oases (especially the Nile Valley). Here their familiarity with animals and abundant wild plants allowed them to easily understand their growth cycles while their relative crowding stimulated them to invent agriculture in order to maximize food production. Hence Childe's "Neolithic Revolution."
Kathleen Kenyon (1950s)
1. Kenyon was a follower of Childe in asserting the Oasis theory based on her work at Jerico where farming goes back to at least 7000 BC. Great argument ensued with Braidwood (see below) over the merits of this theory.
2. On the basis of more recent archaeological research in the Fertile Crescent the Oasis Theory is largely discredited today as a general explanatory theory although it may explain some instances of sedentism.
Robert Braidwood: "Nuclear Zone Hypothesis."
1. Braidwood believes that domestication must have arisen in the natural habitats of wild ancestors of domesticated plants and animals. These were located in hilly regions adjacent to the Fertile Crescent (Zagros, Anatolia). He excavated Jarmo to prove this and to test Childe's Oasis theory.
2. Also, through multi-disciplinary research (botany, geology, zoology), Braidwood believed that he had established that the climatic crisis of Childe did not in fact occur, thus undermining the Oasis Theory.
3. However, Braidwood's theory did not explain why this development occurred, it just described the setting for its emergence. Later theories of the New Archaeology era tried to explain.
Ester Boserup: Direct Population Pressure.
1. Boserup and others believe that population growth is the major determining factor in forcing people to invent new ways to intensify food production. They assume population growth to be consistent and irreversible unlike the earlier Malthusian view that food availability determined population. Given rising population pressure, people invented sedentary life in order to feed themselves.
Cuyler Smith & Philip Smith: Nuclear Zone Variant
1. They accepted that population pressure was the causal factor for the emergence of domestication but saw it as occurring in widely separated episodes, each of which stimulated technological invention and cultural evolution.
2. Thus, climatically induced population growth in the Late Palaeolithic stimulated domestication, initially in the Nuclear Zones where most people were already accustomed to the life habits of the future domesticates. This was followed by a similar episode in 5th millennium which caused the move from the highlands, the invention of irrigation agriculture and rise of civilization.
Lewis Binford and Kent Flannery: "Marginal Zone Theory."
1. These scholars explain the emergence of agriculture as response to cyclical population pressure on the edges of the Nuclear Zones. This is a systemic theory that focuses on the relationship between population pressure, environment and subsistence strategies.
2. The theory assumes that human groups normally exist in balanced equilibrium with their physical environment. They don't normally intensify their food supplies and live normally in a state of systemic balance where change is the exception. Thus they keep their numbers below the carrying capacity of their food resources.
3. In hunting/gathering groups there is normally no pressure to change, so the question becomes: “What will stimulate change in this static situation?”
4. By 10,000 BC the Nuclear Zones were comfortably full of intensive hunter/gatherers. They then experienced population growth because of local environmental disruption.
5. This development forced migration into areas of less optimum food resources - the Hilly Flanks or Marginal Zones. This overpopulation created systemic imbalance in these zones where there were inadequate wild food resources for the expanded populations.
6. The invention of agriculture occurred in these regions to recover systemic equilibrium at a different subsistence/ organizational level.