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Pre-History and Archaeology Glossary

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Man has been a mobile hunter-gatherer for most of his existence. This pattern was first modified during the Neolithic when sedentary societies were formed whose members lived in permanent villages and depended upon agriculture for their livelihood. These momentous developments were the most significant changes in man's way of life since his evolution as a species. They were also an essential first step in the subsequent evolution of civilization. The origins and development of this new social and economic system in the Levant will be the subject of my thesis.

The Levant was one of the regions in the Near East where these changes in society and economy began. This happened well before the adoption of the new way of life by mobile societies in Europe and Africa. Thus we should study the Neolithic in this region if we are to understand how the new pattern of existence came about and what its immediate consequences were.

The Levant is a distinct geographical region defined by natural frontiers. To the north the Taurus Mountains lie between it and the Anatolian plateau while to the east and south-east the Syrian desert separates it from Mesopotamia and Arabia. Sinai and the Gulf of Suez form the boundary between the Levant and Egypt. These geographical limits also served as cultural boundaries throughout the period that I shall consider. They reinforced the regional nature of Levantine culture and its development. Thus the Levant formed both a geographical and cultural unit throughout the Neolithic and indeed for some time before which makes it a particularly convenient region in which to study the emergence of the new way of life. It is also the region in the Near East which has been most intensively explored by archaeologists interested in Mesolithic and Neolithic communities so that we may consider the origins and development of the first agricultural societies in greater detail here than anywhere else.

Agriculture formed the basis of the new way of life so the evolution of this economy will be the first main theme of my thesis. Agriculture involves the controlled exploitation of plants and animals, the planting and harvesting of crops and the reproduction and regular culling of flocks and herds. I shall consider what species of plants and animals were selected for agriculture by man in the Levant. I shall also attempt to describe the systems of farming employed and how these species were exploited within them.

The change from a hunter-gatherer to a farming economy brought about considerable alterations in the way human groups were organized. At the beginning they were widely d:spersed across the landscape rarely remaining in one place for more than a few weeks at a time. Towards the end of the Neolithic by contrast most people were concentrated in villages where they spent all their lives. In the course of this fundamental change in social organization relations between members of each group were also greatly modified. These changes in social structure are to us perhaps the most important of all the consequences of the Neolithic since they concern the way in which members of our own species behave towards each other. Thus the changes that took place in social structure will be the second principal theme of my thesis.

We believe that the population grew during and after the period of transition from a hunter-gatherer to an agricultural way of life in the Levant. This increase would have been intimately connected with the change in economy and would have had an important influence on the modifications of the social structure. A consideration of the question of population growth will be the third theme of my thesis.

Such fundamental changes in economy, social structure and human numbers would be reflected in the pattern of settlement. The distribution of sites across the landscape and their nature would depend upon all these factors. The internal arrangements of each site might also be expected to reflect the social organization of its inhabitants and the size of the group which lived on it. Changes in settlement patterns will be one of the most important items of archaeological evidence that I shall consider and in themselves will form the fourth major theme of my thesis.

The transition from mobile hunting and gathering which had characterised man's existence throughout the Palaeolithic to a Neolithic agricultural society living in permanent villages took place about the time of the change from Pleistocene to Holocene. During this period the temperature began to rise world-wide, the glaciers retreated and the sea level rose. This coincidence is important for it may indicate that the two phenomena were related; that the environmental changes created conditions which were favourable for the development of the Neolithic way of life. It will therefore be necessary to examine in detail the climate and environment of the Levant in the late Pleistocene and to see how these were modified during the early Holocene. This will be the subject of Chapter 1. In subsequent chapters I will examine the effects of the environmental changes on the factors which form the main themes of the thesis. Man himself was not simply affected by alterations in his environment but contributed to these changes by exerting his own influence on his surroundings. During the Neolithic, perhaps for the first time, he came to play a significant role in determining the nature of his environment. I shall discuss the evidence we have for the effects of man on his surroundings in appropriate sections of the thesis.

The origins of the Neolithic way of life can only be understood if we know how the people of the Levant lived in earlier periods. To this end I shall consider the Mesolithic of the Levant, the stage preceding the Neolithic, in Chapter 2 of the thesis. I shall examine in outline the settlement pattern, economy, population and social structure of Mesolithic communities in the Levant since these concern the major themes of the thesis.

Changes in economy, social structure, population and settlement that occurred during the Neolithic can only be determined by a thorough enquiry into all the archaeological evidence. It will be necessary to consider most of the known sites themselves and their distribution as well as the remains that have been found on them in excavation, survey or by chance. The organic remains found on some sites are the most important source of evidence for the economy but I shall also consider other material that has a bearing upon this main theme. The relative dates when each change occurred provide the framework within which all the other kinds of evidence must be ordered. These dates depend upon the chronology of the evolution of the Neolithic derived from absolute dating and the comparative stratigraphy of sites and typology of artifacts. I shall consider these topics in detail at appropriate places in each chapter.

The enquiry into the archaeological evidence will form the bulk of the thesis from Chapters 3 to 6. It will be seen that I conclude from this that the evolution of the Neolithic of the Levant falls into four stages. In each chapter I shall first present the archaeological evidence for the successive stages. I shall then consider changes in settlement patterns, economy, social structure and population in relation to this evidence. My conclusions on how the Neolithic began and subsequently developed will be presented in Chapter 7.

Much of the thesis will be necessarily devoted to establishing through a detailed description of the archaeological material what happened in the Neolithic. I wish to take the enquiry further than this by attempting to explain why the changes that I shall present, particularly in economy, social structure and population, took place. The scope of the discussion will be broad since it concerns one of the most important changes that has taken place in man's way of life as it occurred in a large region and over a considerable span of time. It will afford an opportunity to consider one of the problems of modern archaeological theory: is there one all-embracing model or explanation by which the changes I shall describe may be understood? Is there any single event or cause to which all that followed may be attributed? Were there several factors which determined the course of events? On the other hand, did the Neolithic of the Levant come about as the result of some haphazard conjunction of circumstances? Or are there other explanations for this fundamental change which lie between the two extremes of these theoretical approaches ...

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium