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The Neolithic of the Levant began about 8500 BC. I have equated this stage with the development of a sedentary agricultural society but it will be evident now that it came about because of earlier changes that had taken place in Mesolithic 2. The most important stimulus was the growth in population that happened early in Mesolithic 2 at or soon after 10,000 BC. This expansion of the population occurred at a time of environmental affluence. Mesolithic 1 had coincided with a long phase of cold, dry climate during which the steppe had expanded at the expense of the Mediterranean forest. Then towards the end of Mesolithic 1 about 12,000 BC a major change took place. The climate became warmer and moister which brought about a considerable expansion of the Mediterranean and intermediate forest zones. This amelioration of the climate and consequent change in the vegetation preceded the Mesolithic 2 growth in popualtion on the chronoogy I have proposed. It appears to have created the favourablle circumstances in which the first expansion of population took place.

Why should the population have expanded then? Part of the answer must be that a much larger population could be supported on the increased resources that became available in the greatly extended forest zones. The edible wild food plants would have been much more abundant while the game population would have grown since the new environment could support a much higher biomass. Human populations tend to expand when the supply of food increases as appears to have happened in this instance.

The growth of population in Mesolithic 2 led to the formation of human groups larger than the composite bands of Mesolithic 1 and before. These groups inhabited relatively large settlements on a semi-permanent basis. They were thus more sedentary than their ancestors had been. The simple hunter-gatherer economy of earler stages while still adequate for many smaller Mesolithic 2 groups had to be modified in order to sustain the inhabitants of the larger semi-sedentary settlements. It was in these circumstances that the exploitation of plants and animals became more systematic. The larger human groups probably wished to maintain their size for as long as possible because this permitted them richer and more frequent social contacts than had been possible hitherto; certainly once these larger groups began to be formed in Mesolithic 2 the tendency was for the size of groups to [also] increase throughout the Neolithic [later]. The formation of such large groups under exceptionally favourable environmental conditions thus created a need for novel adaptations of traditional economic activities and the development of new ones.

I have been able to document the growth of population and group size which occurred in Mesolithic 2 from the archaeological evidence available. I have also been able to indicate how some traditional hunter-gatherer economic practices were refined and have pointed to evidence indicating that man may already have begun to control the reproduction of the plants upon which he depended for food. All this appears to be so novel partly because of the scarcity of economic evidence for Mesolithic 1 and the Aurignacian. Such evidence as has become available recently for the economy of human groups in these earlier stages indicates that these novel practices were but the culmination of broad-based patterns of exploitation that were correct far back in the Palaeolothic.

I have isolated two factors which I believe to have been of crucial importance in forming the conditions in which the development of the Neolithic took place: the improvement in the environment, particularly climate and vegetation, and increase in population. Other factors, for instance changes in economy and social organisation, were also critical. For the moment given the evidence we have it is only possible to single out the major factors and to see which, if any, had a preponderant influence. We must always remember that changes in each factor influenced the others continually so that the crystallizing of the Neolithic was a most complex process.

I have divided the Neolithic of the Levant into four stages. If one takes a broad view of the developments in economy, population levels and social organization it can be seen that these fall into two major phases. The first or archaic phase comprised Neolithic 1 and 2 and the second or developed phase Neolithic 3 and 4. In the first phase the embryo simple agricultural economy conbined with hunting and gathering was developed as far as possible under the environmental conditions of the Levant; this permitted a substantial growth in population. In the second phase this pattern was substantially modified; a more developed form of agriculture was adopted by the inhabitants of most settlements which has continued to be the basis of existence in the Levant down to modern times. Considerable adjustments in the settlement pattern accompanied this development while the population subsequently grew still more.

Seen in this way the change from Mesolithic 2 to Neolithic 1 was less abrupt than that from Nellithic 2 to Neolithic 3. The developments in social organisation, settlement patterns and economy which had been initiated in Mesolithic 2 were simply taken further in Neolithic 1. Sites grew larger and the groups inhabiting them more numerous. A few sites, notably Jericho but also Tell Aswad, were very large indeed. These larger sites were also inhabited for longer. The types and sizes of sites were more varied than in Mesolithic 2. The inhabitants of the larger sites now depended for food upon the deliberate planting and harvesting of cereals as well as the collection of numerous species of wild plants. Herds of certain animals were selectively exploited but much other game was still hunted. The economy of the larger sites was thus based upon simple sgriculture and the continued exploitation of wild resources. The economy of the smaller sites was still probably little different from the broadly-based hunting and gathering of many Mesolithic sites.

In favourable circumstances the developed agricultural/hunting and gathering economy permitted the formation of unprecedently large settlements but we should remember that there is no evidence that its population increased further. Neolithic 1 on the sites of medium size was little more than a consolidation of the pattern of existence that began in the previous stage.

The modifications to the settlement pattern and economy in Neolithic 1 took place against a relatively stable environmental background. Conditions were still particularly favourable for a way of life partly dependent upon wild food resources. About 8000 BC, that is during Neolithic 1, the temperature rose a little and rainfall noticeably decreased but this did not have a marked effect on the new pattern of life.

The new agricultural techniques were not widely adopted until Neolithic 2. During this stage a range of cereals and legumes came to be regularly planted and harvested on most settlements. Animals were also exploited more systematically than in Neolithic 1. The inhabitants of these settlements still relied on wild plants and animals for part of their subsistence but to a lesser extent than before. Thus the economy of most settlements was still a mixed one, combining a range of agricultural practices and also continued hunting and gathering.

It was not until this stage that the full potential of this simple agricultural system was realised. Only now did the population greatly increase as a result of the larger amounts of food that could be produced. It is possible that fully sedentary settlements were first established in this phase as a corollary of these developments in economy and population. The greater degree of control now exercised over herds of animals also permitted the population to expand much further into the steppe by following a pastoral way of life. This was the only stage during the Neolithic in which the steppic interior of the Levant was systematically exploited.

The greatly expanded Neolithic 2 population lived in settlements which were more varied in size than ever before. A few like Abu Hureyra and Jericho were amongst the largest of all Levantine Neolithic settlements. At the other extreme were some which were still only small hunting stations. The great growth in population and diversity of settlement types were accompanied by considerable technological changes in and elaboration of material culture. The developments in chipped stone industries and other stone tools were closely linked with changes in exploitation practices. The growth of crafts and the greater richness of objects of adornment, stone bowls and other personal possesions were the result of the concentration of relatively large numbers of people in permanent settlements. The economy of these settlements now allowed many inhabitants extended periods of leisure in which to pursue these crafts; grater sedentism made it possible for them to accumulater personal possesions.

Neolithic 2 coincided approximately with another preiod of environmental change. The temperature continued to rise, rainfall became more seasonal and probably slightly diminished. Thus the Mediterranean and intermediate forest zones retreated while the steppe expanded. This apparent worsening of conditions probably did not adversely affect the Neolithic 2 pattern of existence until quite late in the stage. The opening up of the forest zones was a process that man himself was hastening through clearance. His farming methods were better suited to the lighter soils and more open conditions of the intermediate forest which was not densely populated at this stage.

The second or developed phase of the Neolithic comprising Neolithic 3 and 4 saw the rapid emergence of a way of life that was recognisably modern. This only happened after an agricultural economy had already been practised for two and a half millennia in the archaic Neolithic and probably in a very simple form for at least another millennium and a half before that, as far back as 10,000 BC.

The people of the Levant came to depend on a fully agricultural economy in Neolithic 3. This was based upon the cultivation of wheat, barley, lentils and vetch although some other cereals and legumes were also grown. The principal domesticated animals were sheep, goat, cattle and pigs. Gazelle, hares, birds and other game continued to be eaten in small quantities as they had been down to the present but they were no more than a modest supplement on the settlement sites. I explained in Chapter 5 that I believe this pattern might have come about in time simply because of man's pressure on the land and the interaction between economy and population growth in Neolithic 2. In fact the change was precipitated by the deterioration in the environment that took place during the 7th millennium. The settlements in the steppe zone could not continue on the basis of the Neolithic 2 economy once the rainfall diminished since this undermined both simple farming and grazing land for herded animals. Man had contributed to this by clearing the vegetation around his settlements and damaging the soil cover.

The Neolithic 3 settlement pattern differed markedly from that of the preceding stages. Sites were confined to the forest zones and were situated mostly near cultivated land. They were in general larger than many Neolithic 2 settlements but also more uniform in both size and type. These major adjustments in the way of life of the people of the Levant did not lend immediately to any major change in population levels.

The next phase of populaton growth came in Neolithic 4 as a result of the new adaptation worked out in Neolithic 3. A fully agricultural economy based almost exclusively on sedentary settlements situated in areas with the most fertile land could support a greater populaion than even that of Neolithic 2 and 3. This could only happen, of course, if the agricultural sytem was more intensive than anything practised earlier. The increase in population during Neolithic 4 took place at a time when the forest zones were contracting as the environment deteriorated still further. The new economic system allowed communities in each region of the Levant to increase and prosper in spite of adverse environmental circumstances although they lacked the means to adapt their system so that they could once more inhabit the steppe.

The review of the main variables which contributed to the formation and development of the Neolithic of the Levant will have emphasized that the stages of economic and cultural change that I have defined coincided approximately with periods of environmental change. Mesolithic 1 was coeval with the last severe cold phase of the Pleistocene while Mesolithic 2 coincided with a period of greatly improved environment. A slight deterioration in conditions occurred during Neolithic 1 which grew more marked in Neolithic 2. Both Neolithic 3 and Neolithic 4 corresponded with phases of accentuated environmental pressure. The coincidence was never exact, the improvement of conditions in Mesolithic 2 for example began late in Mesolithic 1 while the deterioration in climate in Neolithic 2 began well after that phase was underway. The correspondence is important nevertheless since it suggests at once that changes in environment were intimately connected with the succession of cultural and economic stages. I have explored this relationship in detail in the thesis but the important general point to note here is that there was no general cause-and-effect relationship between the two. I have suggested that the environmental improvement which began late in Mesolithic 1 was the principal cause of the rise in population in Mesolithic 2 and subsequent developments in economy. The environmental deterioration which began in Neolithic 2 was also partly responsible for the changes in settlement pattern and economic strategy in Neolithic 3 though even here several other factors played an important part. The human response to the great growth in population that took place in Neoithic 2 and man's own impact of the environment were both of crucial significance. The worsening of conditions during Neolithic 4 had no further deleterious effect on man's way of life since the evolved Neolithic economy was able to suport the greatly enlarged population even under circumstances of environmental stress. The changes in environment during the 8th and 7th millennia brought about by more seasonal rainfall and a reduction in the total amount which fell had no immediate damaging effect on the pattern of settlement or economy, perhaps the reverse since at first it opened up the vegetation as man himself was trying to do.

Similarly the changes in environment were not only reaponsible for the growth in population. I have explained that I believe the improvement in conditions at the end of the Pleistocene was principally responsible for the rise in population during Mesolithic 2. Quite different factors were responsible for the growth in population in Neolithic 2 and Neolithic 4 since both coincided with phases of environmental deterioration. Here population growth was a consequence of the economic changes which took place in preceding stages. Alterations in environment however caused were one of the most imporatant variables involved in the origins and development of the Neolithic but their effect depended on the interaction of the other three principal variables I have considered; economy, social organization and population growth.

The transition from one Neolithic cultural and economic stage to the next occurred rapidly. Each of the four stages I have identified began almost simultaneouly throughout the Levant with the exception only of Neolithic 3 and 4 in Palestine. The main cultural changes also took place very rapidly. To take two of the most striking examples: the change from the Neolithic 1 to Neolithic 2 chipped stone industry took place over a few centuries at most while the making of pottery spread quite as swiftly throughout the central and northern Levant at the beginning of Neolithic 3. The rapidity of the change from one stage to the next throughout the Levant emphasises the cultural and geographical unity of this region during the Neolithic.

Each swift progression from one stage to the next was followed by many centuries of adjustment and consolidation, at least so far as the development of cultural material was concerned. The principal changes in the shape of houses, chipped stone industries, craft products and other artifacts occurred in the transition from one phase to another. Thus the development of the Neolithic appears to have taken place in a series of sharp advances followed by long pauses.

There is evidence that the changes in economy followed the same pattern. The general adoption of simple agriculture and herding in Neolithic 2 and the coming of developed agriculture in Neolithic 3 both occurred in this way. Yet the reality was probably much more complex than this as I have suggested at several points in the thesis. Each period of apparent adjustment to the principal economic changes would have been a time of continued interaction between all the factors influencing the development of the Neolithic. The marked increases in population in Neolithic 2 and Neolithic 4 for example would each have taken place over several centuries. They would have caused major changes in settlement patterns as they took place. Part of the difficulty in understanding what was happening at particular moments lies in our insubstantial chronological framework. For the moment we have barely enough chronological information from carbon 14 determinations, stratigraphical sequences and comparitive typology to date the main stages of the Neolithic. There is all two little dating evudence to pinpoint other changes within each stage. Even when more information becomes available I believe the principal economic and cultural innnovations will be seen to have been adopted almost simultaneously throughout the Levant but many other important changes might appear to have become about at various times within each of the four main stages.

One further point should be made about the pace of development of the Neolithic in the Levant and that is that it took place over a long period of time. The developed agricultural economy based on the growing of cereals and legumes and herding of sheep, goat and cattle was only generally adopted after 6000 BC. It was evolved after a long period of development from Mesolithic 2 to Neolithic 2. Even then many of the important constituents of the new way of life had their origin in practices current in Mesolithic 1. It is particularly important to remember the length of time it took for the developed Neolithic way of life to evolve in the Levant when the speed of its spread into Europe and Egypt is considered, a process which was of course quite different from the indigenous evolution we have been considering.

The long period of development of the Neolithic in the Levant does not detract from the revolutionary nature of the change; nor does the very long period in which some of the essential preconditions of population growth and economic adaptation took place, stretching for back through the Upper Palaeolithic and beyond as we can now begin to discern. The new way of life permitted far higher levels of population than ever before and consequently much more complex patterns of social organization. It was the essential precondition of the development of civilization. These changes were so far-reaching in their implcation that they still constituted a revolution as Childe vividly describes them.

Now that I have considered the origins and development of the Neolithic in the Levant in detail and isolated several variables which seem to me to have played a preponderant part in what took place I will return to the questions of theory that I proposed in the Introduction. Firstly, is there any single model which may be applied to explain what happened and which could be used to predict the outcome? I think there is not. We have seen that the processes at work were complex and that much depended upon the interaction of each variable, none of which exerted the same influence throughout. Changes in one stage made possible development in the next but even if one considers the principle variables alone it would not be possible to predict developments in succeeding stages.

If we cannot establish that the development of the Neolithic followed a general model or Grand Design can we discern any regularities in the principal variables and especially in the human response to changing circumstances? Here I think we can isolate certain general influences which partly determined what happened. The Neolithic of the Levant took shape as the world emerged from the last glacial epoch. This was only the most recent of many previous cold cycles (See Figure 9 in #1 Below) and the same general factors were at work then as in earlier times. The principal one of these was the rise in temperature while consequent upon this was the return of water to the oceans. The rise in temperature caused the environmental change which precipitated the development of the Neolithic. It continued to exert an important influence on man's activities thereafter. The particular circumstances of the environment may have differed somewhat from those of earlier cycles and the fluctuations in temperature that occurred were also unique but the general effects must have been the same. Man himself had confronted the end of a glaciation several times in the past but that had happened in different circumstances well before the evolution of Homo sapiens.

The human response to the postglacial rise in temperature and its environmental effects was conditioned by one prncipal regularity. That was the tendency of human populations to increase towards the maximum which could be supported by the available food supply. The amount of food which could be obtained from the environment depended upon the techniques used. Man's technological capacity was thus a powerful constarint upon the level to which the population could rise.

We have seen that population growth was the principal human cause of the development of the Neolithic so this regularity was of great importance. When the population rose during Mesolithic 2 and Neolithic 2 man intensified his means of obtaining food so that the population could be maintained at the new higher level. This in turn led to further population growth.

These two regularities, the one environmental and the other human, had together a determining influence on the origins and development of the Neolithic. They were the principal factors responsible for what took place but the development of the Neolithic did not depend on them alone. The other main variables I have discussed, particularly economy and social structure, also played an important part. The human response to environmental change was complex so that I do not think that the Neolithic was necessarily an inevitable outcome of the influence of the two regularities I have described. Thus far-reaching change in man's way of life arose from the interaction of all the variables I have mentioned.

The pattern of human settlement and social organization altered quite as markedly as the economy during the Neolithic. I have considered the great growth of population in detail but wish to emphasize here how the distribution of human groups across the landscape was modified. During Mesolithic 2 and Neolithic 1 the population was spaced out through the Mediterranean and intermediate forest zones as far as the edge of the steppe. The Neolithic 2 economy permitted a considerable expansion of settlement outward so that the steppe was occupied as well as tthe forest zones. This was reversed in Neolithic 3 and 4 when the area of settlement became restricted to the forest zones once more, although it did extend up the mountains to higher elevations than before. By Neolithic 4 when the population was greatest the people of the Levant were concentrated in a smaller area of the region than in any previous period. This greatly increased social intercourse between communities and was one of the reasons why there were such fundamental changes in social organization.

Another feature of the changes in social organization was the complete alteration in settlement pattern during and after Mesolithic 2. The population began to be concentrated in relatively large settlements which provided a semi-permanent home. Then in time the size of the villages increased and hence the number of inhabitants. By Neolithic 2 many of these villages were permanently occupied and this became the general rule in Neolithic 3 and 4.

The change in settlement pattern was one result of the transition from a band to a tribal system of social organization. I have pointed out that I believe the inhabitants of the Levant in Mesolithic 1 and at least as far back as the Aurignacian had lived together in composite bands. During Mesolithic 2 this pattern began to change as some of the composite bands coalesced to form larger groups based on semi-permanent settlements. The evidence suggests to me that these larger groups rapidly began to be linked together in tribes. This new tribal system, once formed, remained the characteristic pattern of social organization throughout the Neolithic. It did not however replace the composite band system completely for several millennia since these continued to exist throughout Neolithic 1.

The most common type of building on village sites from Mesolithic 2 on was a small, discrete building, at first circular and later rectangular. I believe that these were inhabited by individual families, quite small nuclear families at first but probably extended families later. If one accepts this correspondence then it will be clear that from the beginning of the transformation of the social system, that is in Mesolithic 2, the nuclear family became the basic social unit. I have also suggested that such households were the basic economic unit, at least in the later stages of the Neolithic. It also follows that the transition from a composite band to tribal system was a direct one; society was not organized in some other way during a lengthy transition period.

The evidence we have from burials and other sources indicates that society was egalitarian throughout the Neolithic. At first there was little enough in the way of desirable material possessions or economic surpluses to be differentially acquired by individuals. Later during the developed Neolithic when the decorative products of several crafts were available on most sites there is still little indication that a few individuals were acquiring these objects in preference to other inhabitants of the community. The slight differences in burial customs that I have noted are hardly sufficient to suggest that a group of higher status was a regular component of every community. In the developed Neolithic most villages seem to have been inhabited by peasant farmers of approximately equal status.

The growth in poulation, its concentration in a relatively small area of the Levant and the grouping of families in permanent villages, themselves linked together in a tribal system, represent a complete transformation of society as it existed at the beginning of Mesolithic 2. Yet the new social system which was established in Neolithic 2 remained apparently stable even inder the impact of further population growth in Neolithic 4. The potential for further development in the direction of civilization was there but that had to await a still greater population, its concentration in even larger settlements and the emergence of groups of higher status with preferential access to the resources of the community.

One of the consequences of the concentration of large groups in sedentary settlements was the possibilities this afforded for the development of crafts. We have seen that this process began as early as Mesolithic 2. By Neolithic 2 stone vessels, stone and bone jewelry, baskets, mats, textiles and even clay objects were all being made in quantity. The preparation of lime plaster and perhaps mud-brick making were organized on quite a large scale. These crafts were developed further in subsequent stages, the principal addition being the making of pottery in Neolithic 3. I have indicated that the practice of these crafts was accompanied by a degree of specialisation. Certain individuals were probably making some of these objects for the rest of the community. In most instances however these crafts probably remained part-time activities practised by individual households. The emergence of the full-time craftsman practising his craft in a workshop with the help of assistants came later, probably during the Chalcolithic.

The Neolithic communities of the Levant formed an open society which was ready to adopt new techniques at once should they appear advantageous. The most striking example of this is the speed with which the cultural innovations of succeeding stages spread almost simultaneously throughout the Levant. Innovations in economic practices were generally adopted more slowly but the spread of sheep and goat herding in Neolithic 2 seems to have been quite rapid as was the adoption of a fully agricultural economy on settlements throughout the Levant at the beginning of Neolithic 3.

These communities were also in contact with neighbouring regions through the medium of exchange. The Neolithic was the first stage in the Levant in which exotic raw materials were regularly exchanged over great distances. The traffic in obsidian is the best illustration of this; the exchange of this material bagan in Neolithic 1. Obsidian was also the only material which continued to be exchanged throughout the Neolithic. Other raw materials were obtained from distant regions during the archaic Neolithic but there was a noticeable dimunition in these long-distance exchanges in the developed Neolithic. By then full agriculture formed the basis of the economy and most of the population was firmly settled in villages. A consequence of this was that cultural differences from one part of the Levant to another became more marked. These trends may have caused a lessening in long-distance movements of individuals and thus of the exchange of exotic raw materials from distant sources. The cultural changes of Neolithic 4 when north Syria moved into the Halaf sphere also contributed to this since from that time on contact with regions to the north-east of the Levant almost ceased.

The evidence suggests to me that the development of the Neolithic of the Levant was almost entirely a regional process. The growth in population, the development of the new economy and the associated change from a band to a tribal society based on permanent villages all took place in the Levant and were little affected by influences from other regions. The bringing into cultivation of the principal cereal crops and the increasing control over gazelle, sheep, goat and cattle also seem to have taken place in the Levant and not to have been introduced from other regions. The same was true of almost all the cultural innovations; the modifications of the chipped stone industry in successive stages and the introduction of new kinds of houses for example, were of local inspiration. The only apparent exception to this rule is the introduction of pottery possibly from Anatolia but even this is far from certain on present evidence.

An essential part of the local development of the new economy and culture was the absence of large-scale immigration from other regions. At no stage was the long process of local cultural and economic development interrupted by elements introduced abruptly from elsewhere. At times there were considerable movements of population within the region, notably early in Neolithic 3, but these phenomena occurred within the region as a result of changes that took place there.

The Levant then was one of the centres in which the Neolithic way of life was formed. The same regularities that played such a large part in its development there, postglacial environmental change and population growth, affected other regions of the Near East also but in different ways. Anatolia and eastern Mesopotamia rising into the Zagros were two other centres in which a Neolithic way of life developed apparently independently but it seems to me that innovations in these regions had little impact upon the evolution of the Neolithic of the Levant in spite of the evidence of contacts between them .....


Oxygen Isotope and Palaeomagnetic Stratigraphy
of Equatorial Pacific Core V28-238

N. J. Shackleton and N. D. Opdyke [1973] in
Quaternary Research Volume 3 (Pages 39 - 55)
Library of Congress # QE 696 Q35

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium