Episode 2: Natufian Villagers and Early Settlements
Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization
Dr Amanda H Podany
This lecture mainly concerns the first appearance of agriculture in the West, which Podany places around 8,500 BC in Northwest Syria and Southern Turkey. All archeological evidence suggests it developed totally independently in China, Africa and the Americas.
Previously ancient historians credited agriculture for prompting hunter gatherers to settle in villages and towns. This theory has now been discredited with the discovery that hunter gatherers also built permanent settlements in the present of abundant food sources. In fact archeological evidence suggests that hunter gathers lived much more satisfying lives than early farmers. They tended to enjoy 14 hours more leisure time than early farmers, as well as being taller, healthier and living longer than farmers of the same period and region.
Podany cites Natufian culture (15,000 – 11,500 BC in modern day Syria, Israel and Jordan) as a prime example of well-to-do settled hunter gatherers. Archeological evidence indicates a family of four could harvest a metric ton of wild Einkorn wheat (a year’s supply) in three weeks. However this meant they needed to store (and guard) the wheat and the decision to form village settlements possibly reflects this need.
According to Podany, Natufians lived in villages of 100 round houses and hunted birds and gazelles and caught fish. As hunter gatherers, they used fire and exquisite stone and bone tools (for fishing and dressing game) and wore necklaces made from beads. They also domesticated dogs and relied on shamans to heal them when they were sick.
There’s evidence that they domesticated some plants (pulses and grains) and animals (sheep, goats and animals) around 12,500 BC. Since they had such an easy life as hunter gatherers, many historians and archeologists speculate that were forced to grow additional food in years when climate change or overpopulation limited the supply of wild food.
She also gives the example of Gobleki Tepe (9500-8000 BC in southeastern Turkey) as a monumental complex (similar to Stonehenge) built by hunter gatherers for some religious or other ceremonial purpose. What makes Gobleki Tepe unique is that it was clearly built by large numbers of workmen. All had to be fed. Yet there is no evidence of agricultural settlements from the same period in the immediate vicinity.
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