Known as the Fertile Crescent, the region of the Middle East that links the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea is thought to have been where agriculture began for this part of the world. With the domestication of crops allowing for the production of surplus food, it was in this area that early humans first started to make the shift away from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle towards a more settled existence. Archaeologists in Israel have now revealed the discovery of a prehistoric village that dates to the crossover of these two separate ways of living.
Before the domestication of plants and animals, during the Paleolithic humans are thought to have been predominantly nomadic foragers, living and traveling in small bands in tandem with their prey and the seasons. But sometime around 12,000 years ago in the Levant, people started to tame wild animals and selectively breed wild plants such as wheat and barley. This is considered the beginning of the Neolithic, as there was a cultural step up in terms of technological development.
The researchers found a village of permanent buildings, with a mix of cultural artefacts. Dr. Leore Grosman
As it is today, the Jordan Valley at the start of the Neolithic years ago was a lush, verdant land. It is in this setting that the archaeologists from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem have found a prehistoric village that seems to show characteristics in terms of tools and cultural evidence from both the Palaeolithic and the Neolithic. The village, called NEG II, contains human burials, art, and animal bones, as well as stone and bone tools. Dating the site, the researchers have found it comes in almost bang on when the shift from hunter-gathering to farming occurred 12,000 years ago.
“Although attributes of the [stone] toolkit found at NEG II places the site chronologically in the Paleolithic period, other characteristics – such as its artistic tradition, size, thickness of archaeological deposits and investment in architecture – are more typical of early agricultural communities in the Neolithic period,” explains Dr. Leore Grosman, who led the excavations and coauthored a paper discussing the find in PLOS ONE.
The discovery of the village is noteworthy because the transition to farming is one of the most significant moments in human history. It is thought that the advent of land tilling was what allowed communities to settle and grow in size and, in turn, started the development of towns and cities. What led to the shift, the researchers suspect, was a change in the climate of the region, as it became more stable, leading to higher cereal biomass production.
“Characterizing this important period of potential overlap in the Jordan Valley is crucial for the understanding of the socioeconomic processes that marked the shift from Paleolithic mobile societies of hunter-gatherers to Neolithic agricultural communities,” says Dr. Grosman.