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

The Origins of Agriculture in the Near East

Ofer Bar-Yosef and Richard Meadow

Chapter 2 Sub Heading -- The Near East and its PaleoClimate Record

Excerpts and Definitions and Addendums:

Studies of Lake Lisan in the Jordan Valley have demonstrated that late Pleistocene/Holocene rainfall distributions were similar to those of today. Rather than temperature changes ten-year and hundred-year fluctuations in the amount of precipitation were responsible for the expansion and contraction of vegetational belts that are reflected in the palynological sequences and lake levels (See #1 and #2 Below).

The following summary represents the most plausible reconstrution of the terminal Pleistocene [and] early Holocene paleoclimatic history of this region .....

During the Late Glacial Maximum (LGM or 24,000 - 16,000/14,000 BP) the climate of the entire region was cold and dry but the coastal hilly areas enjoyed winter precipitation and were covered by forests. Precipitation over the entire region increased slowly from 14,000 BP onward and more rapidly from 13,500/13,000 BP to a peak at about 11,500 BP. The decrease in rainfall from circa 11,000 to 10,000 BP is correlated with the Youger Dryas. The return to pluvial conditions around 10,000 BP [did not lead] to rainfall [levels] reaching [the] previous peak in the southern Levant (See #3 Below) even though it was higher in Anatolia and the Zagros Mountains. An early Holocene (10,000 - 8,000 BP) moister than today is recorded in pollen cores of the Levant and [is] supported by global climatic models (See #4 Below).

These climatic fluctuations meant that large and small lakes in closed basins such as Lisan Lake receded or dried up during the LGM. This receding was followed by an expansion of water bodies at about 14,000 - 13,000 BP with some fluctuations until 11,000 BP although the drier conditions of the Younger Dryas made certain parts of the Near East inhospitable. The rise in sea level after the LGM was gradual and continued until the mid Holocene. Over a period of about 10,000 radio-carbon years the Levantine coastal plain from the Bay of Iskenderum (southeast Turkey) to the Nile Delta lost to the sea a stretch 2 - 40 kilometres wide and about 600 kilometres long. Such a change would have affected the size of hunter-gatherer territories. Because this corner of the Mediterranean is particularly saline and [because] aquatic resources are minimal there probably was not much coastal settlement for the purpose of sustained marine exploitation [for food].

Early Holocene pluvial conditions may have fluctuated but appear to have lasted through the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) period (9500/9300-8000 BP) ..... Thus in some areas there may have been a significant amount of summer rainfall where little occurs today. This rainfall would have increased grazing opportunities particularly in semi-arid areas but would have had little effect on the growth of the winter cereals that formed a principal base of early agriculture.

The depopulation of large late PPNB settlements across the Levant may have been triggered as much by the warming and drying trend of the mid Holocene as by the environmental degradation caused by grazing animals and extensive woodcutting that has been suggested (See #5 and #6 Below). This mid Holocene trend was followed by a warm period with increased precipitation and the establishment of late seventh and sixth millennium Chalcolithic villages along the desert margins such as those in the northern Negev [Desert in Southern Israel] .....


1 The Near East and Southwest Asia (1993)
PreHistoric Archaeology Along the Zagros Flanks
Braidwood et al (Oriental Institute) [Pages 511 - 536]

2 Late Quaternary Geological History of the Dead Sea Area
Yechieli et al (1993) in Quaternary Research 39:59-67

3 Palynological Evidence for Climatic Changes
in the Levant Circa 17,000 to 9,000 BP
(1991) in
The Natufian Culture in the Levant [Pages 11 - 20]
Edited by Ofer Bar-Yosef and F. Valla

4 COHMAP (Cooperative Holocene Mapping Project)
Climate Changes of the Last 18,000 Years: Observations
and Model Simulations
in Science [1988] 241:1043-1052

5 Ain Ghazal: A Major Neolithic Settlement in Central Jordan
A. Simmons et al (1988) Science 240:35-59

6 The Collapse of Early Neolithic
Settlements in the Southern Levant

G. Rollefson and I. Keller-Rollefson (1989) in
People and Culture in Change [Pages 73-89]

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium