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Chapter 6: Neolithic 4 ECONOMY (Pages 469-475)

Pre-History and Archaeology Glossary

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There is even less evidence for the economy of Neolithic 4 sites than there was for Neolithic 3. Few sites have been excavated and several of these were dug long ago when economic evidence was considered of little importance. In some excavated more recently such as Jericho little organic material was found to have survived in the Neolithic 4 levels. For these reasons it is possible to reconstruct the economy of Neolithic 4 sites in outline only.

I have already mentioned that the catchments of most lowland sites consisted of land suitable for agriculture and grazing. This implies that the economy of these sites was based upon mixed farming as in Neolithic 3. Some of the Bekaa tells such as Tell Ard Tlaili, Tell Ain Nfaikh and Tell Jisr were surrounded entirely by potential arable land. The catchments of most other Neolithic 4 sites such as Beth Shan, Munhatta in the Jordan Valley and Wadi Rabah on the coastal plain of Palestine included some land of more varied quality which was probably better suited for grazing. Other sites like Kubbah I on the Lebanese coast, Tell Hashbai and Kaukaba in the Bekaa, Megiddo and the Hazorea sites in the Plain of Esdraelon had almost as much grazing as arable land in their catchments. We should remeber however that the often bare limestone slopes to be found near these sites now which we class as grazing land probably carried a thin soil cover then that the inhabitants of these settlements may have found quite easy to cultivate.

Jericho is the only Neolithic 4 site from which plant remains have been recovered. Grains of hulled two-row barley, emmer and einkorn were found as well as several field weed seeds. We know that these cereals had become the staples of most agricultural settlements throughout the Levant by the end of Neolithic 3. The Jericho evidence reinforces the probability that this pattern was maintained during Neolithic 4. We do not know for certain what legumes were grown during Neolithic 4 but it is likely that lentils and vetch were planted most frequently although others would also have been regularly grown.

The animal bones from several Neolithic 4 sites have been studied so we have a general idea of the prevailing patterns of animal husbandry. The fullest account is the report by Jarman on the animal bones from Sheikh Ali. He found that the main food animals were sheep, goat, pigs, cattle and gazelle. A few deer, onager, fish and a canid were also present in the sample. The number of cattle and gazelle killed at Sheikh Ali remained relatively stable throughout Neolithic 4. Cattle made up about 20% of the bones and gazelle about 12% although these declined towards 5% at the end of the stage. The pigs increased from about 32% to 45% while the ovicaprines fell from about 35% to under 30%, a continuation of a trend that was more marked during the Neolithic 2 occupation of the site. The increase in the proportion of pigs balanced that of the decline in the numbers of both ovicaprines and gazelle killed.

The age at which each species of animal was slaughtered remained fairly constant throughout the occupation sequence at Sheikh Ali. Jarman believes that the ovicaprines, pigs and cattle were subject to control by man and it is probable that the gazelle were also. He suggests that in Neolithic 2 the ovicaprines here were exploited for wool and dairy products as well as meat since most were not killed off until they were at least two years old. Milk may have also been an important by-product of the cattle. Nearly all the pigs were killed young for their meat.

Jarman has offered an interesting explanaton for the increase in the importance of pigs and the relative decline of ovicaprines and gazelle. He has pointed out that there is good reason to suppose that the population of the region in which Sheikh Ali is situated would have risen during the period when the site was occupied. We have seen that there is evidence for this in both Neolithic 2 and Neolithic 4 though in Neolithic 3 Sheikh Ali was deserted and the population of the region was temporarily reduced. The growing population of Neolithic 2 and 4 could have been fed by increasing the quantity of cereals that was produced. This might have reduced the amount of land available on which the ovicaprines and gazelle would have grazed so threatening the meat supply. Any forced reduction in the numbers of sheep, goat and gazelle that were kept could have been compensated for by increasing the herd of pigs. These animals do not need to graze on potential arable land and can feed off foods not consumed by the ruminants.

The fauna of Munhatta 2A has not been published seperately from that of 2B so we do not know if there was any difference in the exploitation of animals between Neolithic 3 and Neolithic 4. The main food animals killed in phase 2 were gazelle, cattle, ovicaprines and pigs as we saw in the laast chapter. Ducos believes that both the pigs and ovicaprines were domesticated. Cattle were killed in about equal proportions at Munhatta and Sheikh Ali. Pigs were less numerous at Munhata while ovicaprines and gazelle were more abundant than at Sheikh Ali but there were no striking differences between the proportions of the animals killed at each site. Thus animals were probably exploited in a similar manner at both these sites.

Very few bones were found in the Pottery Neolithic at Jericho and no seperation was made between those from phase A and B, that is Neolithic 3 and Neolithic 4. The most numerous species in Neolithic 4 as in Neolithic 3 were probably sheep and goat while gazelle and cattle were also present. No pigs were found. The pattern of exploitation at Jericho would thus appear to differ in certain details from that at Sheikh Ali and Munhatta further north in the Jordan Valley but we cannot be sure since the faunal sample was so small.

Animal exploitation at the Neolithic 4 sites for which we have evidence was principally based on herds of domesticated animals. The most important species were usually sheep and goats. Cattle also provded a significant amount of meat while pigs were particularly important at some sites.

There is little other evidence for the economies of the remaining lowland Neolithic 4 sites though they were probably organized along the same general lines I have already indicated. Bones of gazelle were found at Ziqim adding to the evidence that this animal was still commonly exploited in Neolithic 4. Fishing contributed some food to the diet of the inhabitants of this and other coastal sites such as Byblos. Such supplements were probably still of some importance in the economy of many Neolithic 4 sites. Hunting in general though seems to have declined even further than in Neolithic 3. Arrowheads comprised a smaller percentage of the chipped stone assemblage on Neolithic 4 sites than in preceding phases. The few arrowheads found at Byblos were of the tranchet type found also on some coastal Palestinian sites. These were probably used to shoot birds and small game rather than the larger ruminants. It is interesting in this connection to note that bird bones were also found at Ziqim.

The economies of the sites in the uplands could not have been based upon mixed agriculture and herding like the sites in the lowlands. The catchments of sites such as Kleat, Asfurieh II, Muktara, Ain Hannine and Wadi Salhah consisted for the most part of steep hill slopes with relatively thin soil covered by Mediterranean forest. The only land which could have been cultivated without extensive terracing was the flat hilltops, gentler slopes and narrow valley bottoms of adjacent wadis. All except the steepest hillsides could, once cleared, have made excellent pasture for sheeps and goats. Niches would always have been available for pasturing a few cattle. Thus the economies of these sites would from their very positions have been better suited to pastoralism than to agriculture.

The material remains from these sites are always scanty since no structures and few organic remains have been found on them. In itself the absence of buildings suggests that these sites were occupied relatively briefly. The flint assemblages from most of these sites included numerous axes, adzes, chisels and large flake scrapers. Most of these cutting tools were probably used to open up the forest for grazing and to work the timber that was cut down. Many arrowheads were found at Muktara which may indicate that hunting was a significant aspect of the economy but this is the only one of the upland sites for which we have such evidence.

What these sites appear to represent is a major penetration of the upland zone often to a high elevation and in areas not settled earlier in the Neolithic. The evidence suggests that their economies depended upon pastoralism. This expansion is almost certainly connected as we have seen with the rise in population that took place in Neolithic 4. Would such sites have been permanently viable on a mainly pastoral basis? I think that this would have been unlikely. Some of them are situated in areas that would have been inhospitable during the winter months. I suggest that many of these sites were settlements inhabited during the late spring and summer by groups which brought flocks and herds up from the lowland sites. In this way larger flocks and herds could have been maintained than would have been possible on the lowlands alone, especially as some of the grazing land near many settlements may have been taken into cultivation. We have seen that transhumance was probably a feature of earlier stages of the Neolithic and that it may have been practised on a modest scale in Neolithic 3. Its great expansion in this phase was a corollary of the growth of population that took place.

Some of these upland sites may have been inhabited on a semi-permanent basis and their inhabitants may have practised some agriculture as seems to have been the case at Muktara. There were other settlements in the foothills and in the broken country of the southern Bekaa such as Naccache, Amuq I, Tahun ben Aissa and Beidar Chamout which may have depended upon their flocks and herds to a greater extent than the lowland settlements but whose inhabitants did not practise long-distance transhumance. These settlements, probably including Sahl Khoussin in Samaria, may have been established by breakaway groups from sites in the lowlands who sought new land in areas that were prevously thinly populated if at all. These groups were relatively small judging by the size of the sites and they did not remain long enough to leave much material.

The evidence suggests that some groups penetrated the hilly, forested regions and settled in small villages while others, probably based at lowland sites such as Byblos, Tell Arslan and Munhatta exploited the uplands at higher elvations by taking their flocks and herds up to temporary camps each year. The Heavy Neolithic stations were yet another type of site connected with this expansion. I suggest that the inhabitants of the upland settlements and seasonal camps themselves roughed out the tools they needed to clear the forest on the Heavy Neolithic factory sites. Thus all these sites were part of a pattern of intensive exploitation of the upland zone which took place in Neolithic 4.

The agriculture of Neolithic 4 settlements in the lowlands was probably based on a short fallow system as I have suggested for Neolithic 3. This would have been further intensified so that sufficient food was produced to feed the growing population. The same system was probably adopted in Palestine as a result of population growth in preference to the less intensive bush fallow system practised there in Neolithic 3. The system was obviously a stable one since many sites in Lebanon and Palestine were occupied for much or all of Neolithic 4 and on into the Chalcolithic. This was so at Byblos and several of the Bekaa tells such as Tell Ain Saouda, Mejdel Anjar II and Tell Jisr. The Neolithic 4 settlements in the Jordan Valley such as Jericho and Sheikh Ali were equally long-lived as were Wadi Rabah, Beth Shan, Megiddo and several of the Hazorea sites on the Plain of Esdraelon.

We know little more about how the Neolithic 4 farmers worked their fields than we did for Neolithic 3. The discovery of basalt hoes at Kubbah I, Muktara and Kaukaba and flint ones at Tell Arslan is particularly intersting since they are the earliest good evidence we have that heavy digging tools were being made to till the soil. These were needed to increase the productivity of the soil to feed the growing Neolithic 4 population. We can only presume otherwise that these farmers used wooden spades and perhaps ards as I postulated for Neolithic 3 ...

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