I briefly went over the Natufian culture within my term paper for an archaeological course this last fall semester. The following is a rough draft of the paper and has also been shortened. The Natufian culture is a rather new topic of study in the near East (roughly the Mediterranean area). The culture has been found to be rather important regarding the development of agriculture and further insight into the birth of humanity. I hope you enjoy reading my selections and feel free to comment, ask questions, or make an argument of your own.
I will warn you, I am sure there are grammar and spelling inaccuracies within this draft. I apologize in advance.
Also periodically refer to the sideshows above for visual representation of the data evidence within the essay.
Introduction and Background
What came first, sedentism or domestication? The location, time, and process in which sedentism and domestication emerged are leading topics of discussion within near eastern archaeology. However, in order to interoperate these topics more accurately, one must consider the culture of the Natufian.
The mass accumulation of interpretations seem to display variable conclusions, nevertheless they convey the insinuation of a regionally rooted emergence. The question is then, what is the Natufian culture and why is this culture significant to the emergence of sedentism and domestication?
The Natufian was originally discovered and defined by Dorthy Garrod. Garrod initially defined the Natufian near the Mediterranean coast at Shukbah Cave in Wadi en-Natuf and at Mugharet el-Wad in the Mount Carmel area. The notion in which the Natufian was characterized was further validated by the additional excavations at Kebarah Cave, the Judean Desert, and western Syria during the 1920s and 1930s. The Natufian culture stood out to Garrod due to the interpretation that they represented the earliest farmers, or the “Mesolithic with agriculture”. (Simmons, 2007) The distinct characteristics of the Natufian were further supported as more excavations took place, resulting in a geographic expansion of sites, negating the previous notion of a narrowly confined area.
The Natufian emerged during the Late Epipaleolothic and can be further split into three phases the Early Natufian (14,000-11,250 BP), the Early/Late Natufian (11,250-10,500 BP), and the Late Natufian (10,500-10,200BP). (See Fig. 3) The near eastern occupation of the Natufian can be additionally separated into three phytogeographic zones: the Mediterranean woodland, steppe, and desert. In correlation with environmental changes these phytogeographic zones shift throughout the Natufian occupation.
The Late Epipaleolithic and Environmental Change
The Late Epipaleolithic can be noted by optimal climatic conditions occurring shortly after ca 10,800 BP and was subsequent by an abrupt geomorphic change around 9,800 BP, the Younger Dryas. (Henry, MS) (See Fig. 1.1)
Determining correlations between geomorphic changes and human adaptations can be rather problematic. The process in which a community responds to environmental change determines their population density, advancement possibility (architecture, social organization, material culture, etc.), and territorial expansion (or depression). In regards to environmental (external) change communities must adapt to avoid further stress on their carrying and resource capacity. The methods in which human adaptations develop are dependent upon, but not limited to: long-term incremental trends; sudden climatic changes; and predictable annual fluctuations about a mean. In order for a community to successfully adapt a combination of technological, social, ideological, psychological, and idiosyncratic changes must be made. Gradual environmental changes could be accommodated more flexibly within the framework of existing adaptations of a community, as opposed to abrupt environmental changes, which would have demanded much more radical adaptations of a community. (Gorring-Morris and Belfer-Cohen, 1997)
Population densities should be analyzed in reference to the carrying capacity at any point in time: not all changes in population densities imply modifications of the entire demographic density. It can be said that the emergence of the Natufian culture is indeed not only regionally, but zonal specific, and therefore analyzed in a fragmental matter.
Before the emergence of the Natufian culture there was significant geomorphic change which enabled their commencement. From 15,800-12,000 BP (Bølling-Alleröd) sea levels rose from 120m to 94m, and in about 12,000 BP (the Early Natufian) there was a major rise to 75m below present, and by 8,000 BP sea levels were 15m below present. (Bard et al., 1990) During the Bølling-Alleröd the significant occurrences of dry and cold conditions were combined with prevailing winds in the north Sinai and western Negev area; with the manifestation of blocked drainage systems precipitation over the entire region slowly increased beginning in 14,000 BP and more rapidly from 13,500-13,000 BP. (Fig.1.1) The rate of precipitation reached a peak around 11,500 BP in the southern Levant. (Gorring-Morris and Goldberg, 1991) (See Fig. 2) During the Holocene widespread erosion of hillsides, combined with extensive alleviation of low-lying areas, occurred. (Gorring-Morris and Belfer-Cohen, 1997) These processes were essential for the replenishment of cultivable soils.
During the Early Natufian, about 13,000 years ago, an episode of greater available moisture and elevated temperature occurred in the southern Levant. This warm moist episode is marked by the pollen evidence, which reflected a rise of arboreal pollen at the sites Hayonim, Ein Mallaha, and Wadi Judayid. (Henry, 1989) (See Table 2)
The Early Natufian represents the culmination of subsistence and social processes of the adaptive radiation initiated at the beginning of the Middle Epipaleolithic. These processes were due to intense demographic pressures and climatic events, the scope and specifics of this cultural transformation differ from those that proceeded and succeeded it. The transformation consisted of significant shifts in subsistence, social and ritual organization, population size, and mobility. The cultural transformation to the Early Natufian utilized pre-existing technologies and knowledge, these were applied in various means, and leading to advancements is multiple domains.
According to previous interpretations it can be interpreted that the Early Natufian was a complex hunter-gatherer society, in which a hierarchy of large, sedentary through more mobile communities subsisted by intense plant exploitation and processing, as well as an association of broad spectrum foraging combined with specialized hunting.
Evidence for the first Natufian complex hunter-gatherer society can be identified in the Mediterranean woodland zone. Large-scale permanent settlements have been discovered on both sides of the central mountain ridge, while settlements of the coastal plain were largely abandoned. (See Fig. 3) The larger settlements became more self-sufficient, resulting from a decrease in subsistence risk, and exhibited a mixture of advancements, such as: architectural (with large, stone and wood built structures), the presence of cemeteries, pyrotechnical developments (plaster for architecture), increased and more varied groundstone tool assemblages, significant shifts in the composition and range of chipped stone and bone tool assemblages, as well as artistic endeavors. (Gorring-Morris and Belfer-Cohen, 1997) However there were only few sites known to have existed within the steppic zone throughout the Early Natufian. (See Fig. 3) The steppic zone possessed a low carrying capacity during the majority of the Natufian. Settlements in the steppic and desert zones would have endured intensive stress on their population and resource density, thus encouraging a more mobile and small-scaled occupation. (See Fig. 5)
The large-scale Early Natufian settlements were enabled the shift of low mobility through broad spectrum exploitation of local resources. (See Fig. 5) Evidence of sedentism can be further determined through the population density of coexisting animal life. The scale and duration of Natufian settlements directly influences the populations of commensal species. Also the proximity of intensive activities largely determined most of the other coexisting species, therefore low species diversity can be found around a less mobile settlement. (Tchernov, 1994) (See Fig. 4)
The Early/Late Natufian represents a transitional phase in response to adapting to an abrupt change in the environment and climate, which occurred throughout the duration of the Late Natufian. (See Fig. 1 and Table 2)
During the Late Natufian territory had expanded under suitable circumstance. Later Natufian settlements have been uncovered in the marginal phytogeographic zones, such as the steppe and desert. (See Fig. 1 and 3) Pollen recovered from the Late Natufian deposits indicates that drier conditions began to replace the Early Natufian moist phase by about 11,000 BP and prevailed until after 10,000 BP. However due to the low carrying capacity and the presence of other foraging groups, who had already exploited the region, only small scale Natufian sites were established within the desert zone. (Henry, 1989)It can be assumed that these smaller sites were most likely inhabited by a population that possessed a higher mobility pattern than the inhabitants of larger-scale sites like that of the woodland zone during the Early Natufian.
The Late Natufian coincides with the abrupt threshold of climatic deterioration, Younger Dryas, which proceeded on to be more stable and permanent after the end of the Natufian culture and into the next.
Site Name Period Zone
Beidha Early W/S
El Khiam Early S
Kebara Early W
Tabaqa Early S
Wadi Hama Early W
Khallat Anaza Late D
Mureybet Late S
Nahal Oren Late W
IRA 22 Late S
Rosh Horesha Late S
Rosh Zin Late D
Shukbah Late W
Tor Abu Sif Late W
Wadi Qalkha “B” Late W
Zoueitina Late W
Wadi Judayid Early S
Ein Mallaha Early/Late W
El Wad Early/Late W
Hayonim Cave & Terrace Early/Late W
Abu Hureyra Late W
Ain Rahub Late W
Fazel IV Late D
Hatoula Late W
Jabrud Late W
Jericho Late D
Rakefet Late W
Nahal Sekher VI Late S
J614 Late D
Wadi Ajib Late D
Bawwabah al-Ghazal Early D
Table 2: List of various Natufian archaeological sites indicating the Natufian period in which they occurred and the phytographic zone in which they existed.
According to various data presented above, it can be theorized that the Natufian communities practiced extensive and intensive harvesting of wild cereals as a part of a seasonal and regional dependent mobility pattern which was enabled by the climatic improvements that occurred around ca 13,000 BP, providing an increase in food resources.
In the southern regions the final climatic shift of the Late Natufian led to the emergence of the Harifian culture. The geographic range of the Harifian expanded slightly, encompassing the northern Sinai. This indicates an increasing range of seasonal, logistically organized mobility by the Harifian as opposed to the local Late Natufian.
What emerged first sedentism or domestication? It is apparent after analysis of the Natufian that they pose significance to determining a conclusion. Therefore further research and analysis should be conducted to answer definitively. However it is likely that there is not a single answer, but rather a combination of many contributing factors.
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Bar-Yosef, Ofer, and François Raymond. Valla. The Natufian Culture in the Levant. Ann Arbor, MI: International Monographs in Prehistory, 1991. Print.
Goring-Morris, Nigel and A. Belfer-Cohen. The Articulation of Cultural Processes and Late Quaternary Environmental Changes in CisJordan. Harvard University, 1997. Print.
Henry, Donald O. From Foraging to Agriculture: the Levant at the End of the Ice Age. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1989. Print.
Henry, Donald O. The Natufian and the Younger Dryas. Manuscript in possession of author.
Simmons, Alan H. The Neolithic Revolution in the Near East: Transforming the Human Landscape. Tucson: University of Arizona, 2007. Print.
Tchernov, E. An Early Neolithic Village in the Jordan Valley. Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, 1994. Print.