HOME / Table of Contents = Civilizations - Cultures - Areas - Regions - Prehistory
Other Archaeological Sites / The Neolithic of the Levant (500 Page Book Online)

Chapter 3: Neolithic 1 Discussion (Pages 149-159)

Excerpts and Definitions and Addendums:

Having considered the archaeological evidence for Neolithic 1 I now wish to examine further the way of life of the people who lived in the Levant at that time. In particular I would like to look at the changes which were taking place in economy and society and attempt to explain them. We have seen that the culture of Neolithic 1 throughout the Levant was derived directly from the Mesolithic. Neolithic 1 sites were also situated in the same general regions as Mesolithic sites. If we disregard chronological subdivisions and regional differences between sites in Neolithic 1 but look at them together we see that the pattern of settlement had nevertheless been modified. Assuming as we did when comparing Mesolithic 1 with Moesolithic 2 that the ratio of sites found to those destroyed was the same in Neolithic 1 as in Mesolithic 2, an assumption that seems reasonable given the similarities in cultural remains, we see that there were fewer Neolithic 1 sites than in the preceding stage but that most of them were larger. The number of Neolithic 1 settlements found so far is about one third that of known Mesolithic 2 sites. It would seem that many fewer sites were inhabited now but that the population of each site was much greater than before. We must remember too that the more mobile groups of Mesolithic 2 may have visited two or more sites in the course of a year while the more sedentary Neolithic 1 population may have remained at their settlements for much or all of the time. This in itself would account for part of the reduction in the number of sites which were used. Although considerable changes were taking place in the pattern of settlement there is no reason to suppose that the population in Neolithic 1 either increased or decreased markedly.

If we look at the distribution of sites in more detail we see that certain zones were no longer inhabited. The slopes of the Judean hills, the Transjordan uplands and the mountains of Lebanon were all avoided in Neolithic 1 although they had been occupied in the Mesolithic. Post Neolithic 1 sites were on lower ground in more open country. This noticeable modification of the Mesolithic settlement pattern can be linked to the changes in economy which were taking place. The Neolithic 1 population relied more on cereals, either wild or cultivated, and in some cases the control of herds of gazelle and other herbivores. As a truly agricultural economy developed there was a need for more open land suitable for pasture and the growing of cereals. The Mediterranean vegetation zone was still wooded so this would have required the clearance of trees even on lower ground; there are indications of such disturbance of vegetation before this in the Mesolithic layers at Abu Hureyra (See Page 73 in *1 Below).

Neolithic 1 sites are situated in the Mediterranean and intermediate forest zones and also on the edge of the open steppe beyond. These environments offered a wide range of food resources and this variety is reflected in the diversified economy of Neolithic 1 sites. The economy was based on two or more of the following: agriculture, herding, collecting and hunting. As in the Mesolithic many plants and animals within the catchment of each settlement were exploited but the main difference now was that agriculture made an important contribution to the food supply at some sites. As a result Jericho seems to have been inhabited permanently. That is to say a proportion of the population lived there all the year round although some parties engaged in herding, hunting and gathering may have spent time away from the site at certain seasons. At least two other sites, Mureybat and Tell Aswad, may also have been occupied permanently but the economy of Mureybat was based upon wild resources to a greater extent than at Jericho. Deliberate planting of wild-type cereals probably took place at Mureybat but animals were hunted there not herded. We do not know what farming techniques if any were us ed at Tell Asvad but the environment there was rich enough to support substantial occupation for a long period of time. The catchments of all three of these sites included much potential arable and grazing land. This was also the case at Saidnaya, Poleg 18M and the sites in the Halutza dunes so it is possible at least that a little agriculture was practised at these sites. In view of the scanty remains found on them it is more probable that they were attractive because the woodland was thinner in their vicinity so that these areas would have offered better grazing for herbivores and a more suitable habitat for wild cereals.

The catchments of other Neolithic 1 sites were much less suitable for agriculture. Occupation on all of these, the Harifian sites in the Har Harif and Jebel Meghara, El Khiam, Nahal Oren, Mugharet Wad and Nacharini was semi-sedentary as if many or all of their inhabltants were practising transhumance. The settlement pattern suggests that transhumance was a more regular way of life than it had been in the Mesolithic. Although there is evidence for agriculture and the herding of goats at Nahal Oren the inhabitants of these sites seem to have relied on wild resources for much of theIr food even if these were exploited intensively. These differences in the way of life are reflected in the size and aspect of Neolithic 1 settlements. At one extreme is Nacharini, a very small seasonal hunting or herdsmen's camp and at the other Jericho, a great agglomeration of tightly packed dwellings inhabited by a population of farmers. The range of settlement types was much greater in Neolithic 1 than in the Mesolithic.

In attempting to explain these developments in economy and type of settlement it will be useful to consider the question of population growth. We have already seen that there appeared to have been a considerable increase in population during Mesolithic 2. The adoption of a more sedentary way of life would have increased the birthrate because women no longer had to carry their infants long distances when gathering food or moving camp. This eased the pressure on them to restrict the nunber of children born and shortened the interval between births.

The environment was also much richer in plant and animal foods than it had been during Mesolithic 1 and this increased food supply would have encouraged sedentism and a higher population. The increase in population and the formation of large concentrations of people in bigger settlements would in time have led to pressure on the food supply. This is reflected in the more intensive food procuring activities of the people of Mesolithic 2 compared with their predecessors. A point would have been reached when even these activities would have been insufficient to feed the population. It would then have been necessary to develop new ways of increasing the food supply which we see in the changes of economy in Neolithic 1. What happened was not really new but a further intensification of Mesolithic 2 practices. The agriculture of Jericho and Nahal Oren was simply a developmant of the manipulation of cereals that had begun earlier. Herding of gazelle at some sites is but a more regular control of a species that had been the subject of intensive selective hunting for many centuries. The first serious killing of goats at Jericho and Nahal Oren also took place in Neolithic 1 which may have been an attempt to enlarge the basis of the food supply. Transhumance is another way of increasing the available food by exploiting the resources of two environmental zones instead of one. The evidence for more widespread transhumance in Neolithic 1 may also be a reflection of increased demand for the available resources.

The change to a more formal agricultural economy at some sites was reflected in the artifacts. The hollow querns made now on several sites would have been used for grinding cereals rather than pigments for which they were much less suitable. It should be noted too that mortars have hardly been found at all on Neolithic 1 sites. This may be because acorns were no longer eaten as a staple food, having been replaced by cereals. Acorns may anyway have been scarcer around the larger settlements because of land clearance.

The development of agriculture was associated with a greater degree of sedentism than had been customary before. Most of the population of a site would have been involved in the labour intensive activities of land preparation for sowing and the harvest. The yield of crops could have fed the inhabitants for the rest of the year making it possible for them to continue living there. Once a large group had been broueht together in this way it could only be supported by the products of agriculture. Any further increase in the population would have to be sustained by more intensive farming. We have seen that the Neolithic 1 population does not seem to have increased overall, itself a sign that once the new economic arrangements were established they were sufficient to maintain the population at a new higher level. The population at Jericho did increase however during Neolithic 1 from the relatively modest Proto-Neolithic site to the extensive settlement of the mid-PPNA. The economy of the settlement must have been further modified during this stage in order to feed the growing population but the evidence is too meagre for us to document it. The artifacts give a slight indication of what was happening. Sickle blades became more numerous later in the PPNA; by now these were probably being used for reaping and this increase may have been associated with a change in reaping techniques. Interestingly enough a similar increase in sickle blades occurred in phase III at Mureybat as though the same change was taking place there.

The beginning of Neolithic 1 approximately coincided with the onset of the Holocene so we should consider what part climatic and environmental changes played in the developments in economy, settlement and artifacts. Climatic change cannot be invoked as a primay cause if only because this happened about 8000 B.C. or a little after whereas Neolithic 1 seems to have begun about 8500 B.C. It may have had some effect however on the development of Neolithic 1. After 8000 B.C. the temperature increased and there wat a slight drop in rainfall. These two factors could have brought about a slight contraction of the Mediterranean forest zone. This trend would have aided the Neolithic 1 population whose economy now depended more on cereals and herds of animals, both of which needed open country to flourish. Land cleared for crops or grazing would not have been recolonized by shrubs and trees quite so quickly now.

Although the changes in population, economy and settlement which were taking place were very important we should remember that almost all Neolithic 1 sites were in the Mediterranean and open forest zones and that none was situated far out in the steppe or desert regions. Approximately the same areas were occupied as in Mesolithic 2 so that the increase in population which had taken place then could be accommodated by exploiting the resources of the region more intensively or in a different way. It was not necessary for any group to expand into the marginal zones in order to survive.

These alterations in population, settlement and economy also affected the social system. If one examines the area of Neolithic 1 sites then the smaller ones, group A, can have been occupied by very few people. Nacharini may have been inhabited by one family and other group A sites by composite bands. Thus composite bands still existed as a form of social organization even if their economy was in certain instances somewhat different from what it had been during the Mesolithic.

Group B sites tended to be larger than even the biggest Mesolithic 2 sites so that their inhabitants were correspondingly more numerous. The grouping of bands which I suggested was a feature of the larger Mesolithic 2 settlements was taken further here. Most of these larger communities still to have been semi-sedentary so they may have split into their component bands and left the settlement at certain seasons.

One might next ask what were the social arrangements within Group B and C settlements? In a recent article Flannery has pointed out that most of the huts in these sites were so small that they can only have been occupied by one or two people (See Page 30ff in *2 Below). Any large buildings may have been communal meeting or guest houses while the smallest structures were probably used for storage and other activities, not as dwellings. The population of such settlements might have been smaller than one would suppose and certainly much less than if one assumed that every hut was occupied by a nuclear family. On ethnographic analogy polygyny may have been practised, husband and wives living in separate huts. The men at least would have been related. Life in the settlement would have been organized on a communal basis, stored food supplies being shared. Most tasks would have been performed by groups of males or females rather than families.

The communal nature of the settlement, close kinship ties and the sexual division of labour are basic patterns carried over from composite bands which may be assumed to have characterised most Neolithic 1 sites. Polygyny cannot be demonstrated as we do not yet know if the contents of huts in Neolithic 1 sites were functionally distinct (See Page 33 ibid). The problem of how many people occupied each hut and thus how families were organized is more complex than Flannery suggests. He relies heavily on the work of Naroll who after comparing settlements of 18 modern primitive societies calculated that each person needed about 10 square metres of floor space in a dwelling (See 588 in *3 Below). This figure may be a convenient one to use but Naroll's own data show that in certain societies the norm may be several square metres more or less than this. When Naroll's mean was applied to a study of a modern Fulani village inhabited by a group organized in precisely the way Flannery envisaged it was found to underestimate quite considerably the area required by each individual. In a study of California Indians it was shown that each requIre as little as 20 square feet of floor space so the parameters here are uncomfortably wide. The important point to establish is whether it is reasonable to suppose each hut was occupied by one or two people at most or a family of parents and children.

The structures of the Neolithic 1 sites we are considering were clustered together to form a nucleated settlement. They differed in this respect from the extensive spread of structures in a Fulani compound or in a Tiv village, one of the examples quoted by Flannery (See Page 30 in *2). The huts were more substantial, took more time to build and would have lasted longer than these African ones. Their inhabitants may have been content with less covered space than Flannery proposed. Bearing this in mind let us look again at Neolithic 1 huts. Those 2 metres in diameter or less could only have housed a single person or served as stores. Huts from 2 to 4 metres in diameter (3 - 12.5 square metres floor area) could have been inhabited by one or two people. The larger ones from 4 to 6 metres in diameter (12.5 - 28 square metres) are more problematical. These might still have been occupied by one or two people if they wanted the space but there was enough floor area for several people to sleep in these. The large huts certainly could have housed a nuclear family but were not big enough for an extended family, a form of social grouping which does not seem to have been chsracteristic of Neolithic 1 settlements.

Turning now to the settlements themselves the pattern is more varied than Flannery allows. At Nahal Oren the core of the site was a group of small huts 2 to 3 metres in diameter See Figure 12 ibid. These were surrounded by several larger huts 4 to 5 metres in diameter; one excavated by the Cambridge team was also about this size (See Figure 2b in *4 in Below). This settlement could be interpreted in the way Flannery suggests but I think it likelier that the larger huts in the outer ring were inhabited by more than two people, perhaps a married couple and their children. This would mean that the nuclear family was already crystallizing as the fundamental social grouping. Looked at in this way the population of Nahal Oren would still have been quite small, no more than that of a composite band. The structures at Abu Salem were also of two sizes, small ones like those at Nahal Oren and larger ones 3 or 4 metres in diameter. As these were smaller than the large ones at Nahal Oren they are less likely to have been occupied by families. The buildings at Mureybat fall into the same groups, the larger ones being about 4 metres in diameter. There was an interesting development here in phase III when much larger circular structures 10 metres in diameter (78.5 square metres) were built for the first time; these almost certainly housed complete nuclear families and provided enough space indoors for domestic and even some craft activities.

The size range of the houses at Jericho was slightly different. Most of these are from 4 to 6 metres in diameter, some even more. At least one of the excavated houses had more than one room. Few if any smaller structures were found. These houses, slightly larger than was usual elsewhere, probably housed nuclear families. This would be appropriate for the larger tightly knit community which the archaeological evidence suggests inhabited Jericho.

Nucleated villages were the characteristic settlement type of Neolithic 1. The earliest examples such as Rosh Zin, Ain Mallaha, Abu Hureyra and Mureybat were formed during Mesolithic 2. This kind of settlement has remained the dominant type in the Levant ever since. Nucleated villages have certain characteristics in common, the most important being a degree of communal and economic and social organization with regular social intercourse between the inhabitants. Historically the land around nucleated villages was frequently divided up by the cormunity so that. each family had an approximately equal share. This often included plots of both relatively good and relatively poor land scattered around the environs of the village. In such nucleated villages some land was sometimes farmed communally. The inhabitants of the nucleated agricultural villages of Neolithic 1 may have apportioned land among themselves and worked it in a similar way. The concept of territoriality has always been stronger in village communities than among more mobile groups that one would expect it to have been more developed among the inhabitants of Neolithic 1 villages than among the hunter-gatherer bands of the Mesolithic. This concept found expression in the burial of the dead within the settlement as far back as Mesolithic 1 but was given greater emphasis in the special treatment of skulls which began in Neolithic 1 (See Page 29 in *2 Below).

All these features are found at Jericho to a greater degree than anywhere else. The PPNA settlement was densely settled and had a form of community organization which arranged the building of the circuit wall and tower and probably also the distribution of land. The rooms around the tower may have been communal stores. The other buildings excavated were all of much the same size and type but one would expect that there would have been public buildings such as a large communal meeting house in the unexcavated part of the site. The settlement had an unusually high populaticn and its situation was a particularly favourable one: the combination of rich alluvial soil, abundant water and a high water table was not repeated elsewhere in the Jordan Valley between Jericho and the Beth-Shan Lake. These unique circumstances gave the site a special position and may have created a need for defence. Although other suggestions have been made to explain the purpose of the circuit wall (See Page 469 in *5 Below) the most probable is still that it was intended to defend the settlement even if it also served to delimit the site. It should be remembered that for much of its later existence Jericho was a walled settlement and that its inhabitants would always have wished to control access to the spring.

Most if not all Neolithic 1 communities may by now have been linked by tribal affiliations. This system of social organization which, as we have seen, probably began in Mesolithic 2, may have included even the composite bands who inhabited the group A sites. The ties of kinship and lineage which united the members of a tribe would have been reinforced by the prevalence of nucleated settlements.

It is now possible to see certain tribal territories in the Neolithic 1 pattern of settlement. Tribes by definition share certain cultural attributes and occupy a particular region (See Page 22 in *6 Below). One such tribe might have been composed of the inhabitants of the Harifian sites in the Negev and northern Sinai.

Another tribe might have existed in Palestine, inhabiting Jericho, El Khiam and Nahal Oren. The problem here about this postulated tribe is the diversity of terrain and environment within its territory although there were close cultural links between these sites. A third tribe might have lived in the Damascus basin, Tell Aswad being the key site here, and a fourth in the Euphrates valley, Mureybat being the representative settlement.

One further observation can be made about the social system of Neolithic 1 communities. When attempting to reconstruct prehistoric social organization it is usually assumed that flint-knapping is a male activity (See Page 341 in *7 Below) and this may be used as a means of defining descent rules in a given society. If the flint industry of a site occupied for a long time shows much homogeneity in technology and the making of each tool type then it may be assumed that this tradition was handed down from father to son within the settlement. Strong homogeneity of flint working can be seen in the Neolithic 1 occupation at both Nahal Oren and Jericho. The same is true at Mureybat where the basic tradition was continued from phase to phase and where the distinctive notched arrowheads were also made in the same way over a long period of time. From this one may argue that on these sites residence and descent were organized on a patrilocal basis and the same way have been true of other Neolithic 1 sites .....


(Only References in English are Included)

*1 The Excavation of Tell Abu Hureyra: A Preliminary Report
G. C. Hillman [1975] Volume 41 (Pages 70 - 73)
im Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
Library of Congress # DA 670 E13 P8

*2 The Origins of the Village as a Settlement Type
in Meso-America and the Near East

K. Flannery [1972] (Pages 23 - 53)
in Man, Settlement and Urbanism
Library of Congress # HT 111 R48

*3 Floor Area and Settlement Population
R. Naroll [1962] Volume 27 (Pages 587 - 589)
in American Antiquity LV # E 51 A52

*4 Recent Excavations at Nahal Oren in Israel
T. Noy et al [1973] Volume 39 (Pages 75 - 99)
in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
Library of Congress # DA 670 E13 P8

*5 Territorial Demarcation of Pre-Historic Settlements
R. Tringham [1972] (Pages 463 - 475)
in Man, Settlement and Urbanism

*6 Tribesmen by M. Sahlins [1968]
Library of Congress # GN 490 S3

*7 Attribute Analysis and Social Structure of
Chassey-Cortaillod-Lagozza Populations

A. Phillips [1971] Volume 6 (Pages 341 - 352)

in MAN Library of Congress # GN 1 M252 

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium