Stone Age Mesopotamia

10,000 year old tower from Jericho

Episode 3: Neolithic Farming, Trading and Pottery

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization

Dr Amanda H Podany

Film Review

This lecture covers the Neolithic (new Stone Age) period in Mesopotamia (9,000 – 5,000 BC). During this period, plants and animals domesticated by pre-Neolithic settlers provided the bulk of people’s diet. However most residents added to their diet by fishing, hunting and gathering berries and other plant-based food.

Remains from the first farming settlements are found in northern Mesopotamia and the Levant [1], both areas with sufficient rainfall not to require irrigation. Peas and Lentils were grown close to the Eastern Mediterranean and Einkorn wheat in the Western Levant. Sheep, pigs, goats and cattle were herded in northern Mesopotamia. The rest of region was uninhabited prior to the advent of irrigation technology, except for Jericho. The latter relied on Persian Gulf agricultural settlements fed by a natural spring.

Tools used during this period relied on obsidian (which made the best knives), imported from Anatolia,[2] and bitumen (made from petroleum deposits), used to waterproof baskets and boats. Early inhabitants of Mesopotamia also adopted a new use of fire, which was first discovered by pre-human hominids. They burned limestone to make plaster, and to cover walls and floors and for food storage vessels and human figurines.[3]

Around 6,000 BC, Mesopotamian farmers moved south into flood plains lying between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Thanks to thousands of years of silt laid down by the two rivers, they found the soil there extremely fertile. Moreover with the fields lying downhill from the rivers, it was easy to exploit early summer floods by building simple dykes, levees and reinforced irrigation channels.

The city of Samarra dates from this later period. Samarra culture is characterized by distinctive clay pots (repaired with bitumen) and figurines. The Samarrans grew barley and several kinds of wheat and herded sheep, goats and cattle. They also hunted and fished.

Tel Halaf in Northeastern Syria was another city (5700 – 5000 BC) appearing during this period. Thanks to abundant rainfall, no irrigation was necessary.

Jericho and a second settlement known as Catal Huyuk grew large enough to qualify as towns (defined as hundreds of residents) during this period.

[1]The Levant is an approximate historical geographical term referring to a large area in the Eastern Mediterranean region of Western Asia.

[2]Anatolia is a large peninsula in Western Asia that constitute the major part of modern-day Turkey.

[3]Although clay was used to make bricks, there was no clay pottery as yet. The advantage of clay pots is you can use them for cooking (plaster vessels disintegrate when they come in contact with fire. With clay pots, it became possible to make porridge out of grains, as well as clay ovens to cook flatbread.

Film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy.

The Origins of Agriculture

10 Things About the Agricultural Revolution, History's ...

Episode 4 The Origins of Agriculture

The Big History of Civilizations

Craig G Benjamin (2016)

Film Review

In this presentation, Benjamin offers an interesting perspective on a question that has long bothered me: why our hunter gatherer ancestors gave up foraging 12,000 years ago for agriculture. There is strong evidence that life was much easier for our nomadic ancestors before they took up farming. According to skeletal remains, hunter gatherers were better nourished, lived longer and had lower infant mortality and more leisure time. They were also free of all the viral epidemics domesticated animals have transmitted to us (measles, mumps, chickenpox, influenza, etc).

According to Benjamin, sudden global warming at the end of the last Ice Age (11,500 BCE) led to a big increase in the availability of food. This gave rise to what Benjamin refers to as “affluent foraging” cultures.* Food was so abundant that human beings in many regions abandoned nomadic lifestyles to establish permanent settlements. Benjamin believes this led our ancestors to abandon “natural” forms of population control (including infanticide and senicide*) that characterize nomadic hunter gatherers.

After a few generations, the sedentary affluent foraging cultures lost the skills essential for a successful nomadic lifestyle. Stressed by growing populations and scarce food resources, they were forced to produce their own by domesticating plants and animals. .

According to Benjamin, only 100 plants species and 14 animals species have proved suitable for domestication. The first domesticated plants were barley and emmer and enkorn wheat in Syria around 11,500 BCE. The first domesticated animal was the dog, somewhere between 23,000 and 15,000 years ago.

*The world’s first city, Jericho, was built by affluent foragers around 14,000 BCE.

**Senicide is the killing or abandonment of the elderly


The film can be viewed free on Kanopy

Jericho: Oldest City on Earth?

Jericho: Oldest City on Earth?

Magellan TV (2019)

Film Review

This documentary explores the ancient history of Jericho, based on archeological remains and carbon dating.

Recent evidence suggests that the city of Jericho dates nearly to 10,000 BC. The first known settlement (10,000 – 9,000 BC) contains some of the earliest examples of domesticated plants and animals. It’s believed Jericho was originally founded by “affluent” hunter gatherers, who came across the regions abundant grain grasses when the last Ice Age receded. Cultural artifacts suggest they had extensive trading relationships with other communities throughout the fertile crescent, including Göbekli Tepa Turkey.

The next settlement at Jericho (8,500 – 7,300 BC) is referred to as the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A Settlement. It seems to have had a much stronger religious focus (with evidence both of the “mother goddess” and male animalistic gods. Residents still mostly relied on wild gazelle for meat, though there’s some evidence they ate sheep and goats. It’s not clear whether these animals were domesticated or if people caught them and kept them in pens before eating them. They also ate domesticated wheat, barley, peas, and beans.

This city was replaced by the larger Pre-Pottery Neolithic B settlement (7300 – 5800 BC), housing roughly 2,000 people. Here the homes were rectangular, with clear evidence of domesticated pigs, goats, sheep, and oryx. The residents engaged in ancestor worship. Some major natural catastrophe (flood?) depopulated all of Palestine around 6000 BC, with human settlement resuming in the 5th century BC. Archeologists believe that between 5800 and 4000 BC, the region’s residents were nomadic herders, continually moving domesticated animals between pastures rather than settling in specific region.

During Jericho’s copper period (4,000 – 3,000 BC), the settlement was more like a small village than a city. Residents imported their copper (and obsidian) from the region that is modern day Turkey.

During Jericho’s bronze age (3100 – 1400 BC), it was clearly a city again, with defensive walls, an army and evidence of written Mesopotamian and Egyptian language. The city lost its independence in 2000 BC and for three and a half centuries was occupied by multiple competing powers, including Egypt, Assyria, the Mittanites and other regional powers. In 1550 BC the city was destroyed and would not reappear as an urban center for 100 years.

In 1400 BC the city was destroyed once again during wars with Israelite tribes. This would be consistent with the Biblical account in the book of Exodus.