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The Early PreHistory of Mesopotamia (Subartu)
(500,000 to 4500 BC) by Roger Matthews

Pre-History and Archaeology Glossary

Excerpts and Definitions and Addendums:

Editorial Note: Subartu is the region to the northwest of Assyria that is referred to in southern Mesopotamian texts of the 3rd and early 2nd millennia BC. Shamshi-Adad of Assyria established his short-lived capital Shubat-Enlil in Subartu in about 1800 BC but the region was otherwise of little political or cultural significance in this period ..... (Andromeda Oxford Ltd 1998)

The early prehistory of Mesopotamia provides a uniquely rich and significant contribution to the study of the human past. Early forms of hominid - probably Homo erectus and certainly Neanderthal - passed innumerable millennia in this part of the world to be succeeded by anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens). Following the end of the last Ice Age at circa 10000 BC the pace of human activity in Mesopotamia increased. Settled communities appeared for the first time followed by the extensive exploitation and domestication of plants and animals .....

By 4500 BC human communities in northern Mesopotamia had been evolving in a continuum of occupation which had lasted for many millennia back into the Upper Palaeolithic Period ...

Early Hominids and Modern Humans: The Hunting
and Gathering Life Circa 500,000 to 10,000 BC

Prior to the time of the arrival of Homo sapiens, earlier hominids lived in northern Mesopotamia for countless millennia, leaving little in the way of material evidence to testify to the extent and nature of their occupation. The available data indicates an extremely slow rate in change of material culture throughout the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic Periods. In many ways this is a reflection of the considerable evolutionary success which early hominids enjoyed. Homo erectus appears to have survived largely unchanged for at least one and a half million years and Neanderthal forms also seem to have led an essentially consistent mode of life for tens of millennia. Anatomically modern humans have found success by employing a different strategy; that of the ability to change [manipulate] material and social culture [to their own liking] to meet widely differing circumstances.

In the very long term it remains to be seen whether this strategy will meet with the success attained by earler hominid forms .....

The Lower Palaeolithic Period:
Circa 500,000 to 100,000 BC

Direct evidence of Lower Palaeolithic occupation in Mesopotamia proper is extremely scant. As for excavated sites the sole example is Barda Balka near Chemchemal in northeastern Iraq. Site locations clearly demonstrate a preference for open air habitation with ready access to lakes - swamps - woodlands - open grasslands. Cave sites are extremely rare in contrast to Middle and Upper Palaeolithic occupation. Animals exploited included large herbivores such as elephant and hippopotamus with substantial use of equid - gazaeele - deer. Early hominids also made use of a range of plant foodstuffs such as nuts - fruits - tubers ...

The Middle Palaeolithic Period:
Circa 100,000 - 40,000 BC

This period in the Near East is defined principally by the appearance of distinctive stone tool assemblages of Mousterian type.

NOTE: The Mousterian is traditionally a tool culture traditionally associated with Neanderthal man in Europe but was adopted as a framework for use in the Near East as well ...

In general these assemblages mark a transition away from hand-axes and irregular flake tools towards a wider range of more specialised tools made from carefully produced flakes such as points - side scrapers - perforators - engravers.

The cave sites of Shanidar and Hazar Merd in northern Iraq represent the only excavated Middle Palaeolithic sites in this region but survey work has revealed an extensive distribution of sites across almost the entire span of Mesopotamia excepting only the southern alluvium where relatively recent river deposits now cover any evidence which may once have existed.

The sites can be divided into two categories based upon their stone tool assemblages. The northeastern or Zagros [Mountain] group of sites and comparable ones in western Iran share a generally similar stone tool assemblage which does not make extensive use of the Levallois core preparation technique. The other group includes sites in western and southern Iraq which have tool assemblages showing frequent use of the Levallois technique. These have their best parallels to the Middle Palaeolithic sites of the Levant ...

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium