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Last Hunters-First Farmers (1995)
School of American Research Press
Price and Gebauer (GN 799 A4 L37)

Chapter 2 -- The Origins of Agriculture in the Near East

Ofer Bar-Yosef and Richard Meadow


Excerpts and Definitions and Addendums:

Agriculture in the Near East is a mixed economy that incorporates both cultivation and animal husbandry. The two emerged one after the other and became part of a single system during the ninth millennium *bp. In this chapter we discuss first the origins of cultivation, which began as an innovation in the Levantine Corridor, probably in its southern portion between Damascus and Jericho. Secondly we discuss issues involved in the domestication of goats, sheep, cattle and pigs, all of which began to be kept and bred by humans practicing cultivation.

Several lines of evidence indicate that what has been suggested by van Zeist (See #1 Below) and Zohary (See #2 Below) is correct: namely that a small region within the Levantine Corridor was the original locus of cultivation during the late eleventh or early tenth millennium. In contrast, goats could have been domesticated in various parts of the Near East no earler than the late tenth millennium and sheep probably began to be herded in the foothills or plains below the Zagros and Taurus ranges. Cattle and pigs seem to have been somewhat later domesticates, appearing over a large area in the late ninth millennium.

The sequence of socioeconomics changes is relatively well dated by radiocarbon determinations, particularly in the Levant. (In this chapter) we stress the coexistence of the early farmers with hunter-gatherers and argue that the development of agriculture involved a series of threshold events. We identify these events in the context of resource availability in the Near East and attempt to explain them on the basis of what is known today about the social and economic behavior of hunter-gatherers [See Chapter 9: ProtoAgricultural Practices Among Hunter-Gatherers by Lawrence Keeley]. [The authors] contend that in the Near East sedentism was a prerequisite for cereal cultivation and both were essential preconditions for animal husbandry. {In addition) we believe that agriculture both depended upon and intensified a concern for real as well as productive and alienable property a concern that was the essential foundation for the development of complex urban societies in the region during subsequent millennia.

A particulary thorny problem is that of the spread of cultivation into the neighbouring regions of Anatolia and Iran. We find that the archaeological record from these areas is much less complete than that for the southern Levant, making it difficult to identify the mechanisms involved whether diffusion or migration or a combination of the two. That there may have been independent invention seems to us unlikely although the cultivation and domestication of local plant and particularly animal forms almost certainly took place after the initial introduction from the outside. That there was a wave of rapid movement of the new subsistence system into regions bordering the Levant seems likely although we think this wave was actually an uneven series of movements affecting different areas at different times.

In order to provide a baseline for understanding the nature of the changes we lead off by discussing the Near East, its paleoclimate record and its currently available resources. Within the Near East the special characteristics of the coastal Levant enable us to reconstruct the foraging strategies of the last hunter-gatherers and allow us to suggest reasons for the establishment of the Natufian Culture. In retrospect, this entity, with its homeland in the southern Levant, marked in evolutionary terms a point of no return (See #3 Below). Unfortunately it is the least well understood part of that culture the last phase of the Natufian that was the brewing period for the emergence of systematic cultivation and significant population growth (See 3, 4, 5, and 6 Below) .....

*Years Before Present: the lower case bp is used
to indicate the uncalibrated radiocarbon years


1 Some Aspects of Early Neolithic
Plant Husbandry in the Near East

W. van Zeist (1988) Anatolia 15:49-68

2 Domestication of the Southwest Asian
Crop Assemblage of Cereals, Pulses and
Flax: The Evidence from the Living Plants

D. Zohary (1989) in [Pages 359 - 73] of
Foraging and Farming: The Evolution of
Plant Exploitation
- Edited by Harris and Hillman

3 The Origins of Sedentism and Farming
Communities in the Levant
O. Bar-Yosef and A. Belfer-Cohen
Journal of World PreHistory 3:447-98

4 From Sedentary Hunter-Gatherers to
Territorial Farmers in the Levant
O. Bar-Yosef and A. Belfer-Cohen
[Pages 181 202] In Between Bonds and States

5 From Foraging to Farming in the Mediterrannean Levant
O. Bar-Yosef and A. Belfer-Cohen (1992) [Pages 21 48]
in Transitions to Agriculture in PreHistory
Edited by Gebauer and Price

6 The Pleistocene to Holocene Transition
and Human Economy in Southwest Asia:
The Impact of the Youger Dryas
A. Moore and G. Hillman in American Antiquity
Volume 57 [Pages 482494]

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium