Farming arrived in the fertile lowlands of Mesopotamia
from 8000 BC
onwards, and it transformed human society.
For the first time, people were able to see the revolutionary potential of an
agricultural way of life. Between the appearance of the first farms
in around 10,000 BC and the seventh millennium, farming villages in
this region had been confined to the Zagros
Now they began to appear on the rain-fed north Mesopotamian plain,
and by around 6000 BC they were firmly established in areas where
there was enough rainfall to allow for "dry" agriculture.
Within a few centuries the development of irrigation allowed
the idea of creating settlements to spread into central Mesopotamia, ultimately reaching
the rich alluvial lands in the south, where the first cites were
eventually to emerge. The expansion of farming settlement is
reflected in a sequence of prehistoric cultures, each of which was characterised
by a distinctive pottery style: Hassuna (which lasted from 6000-5500
BC), Samarra (which dates to 6000-5500 BC), Halaf (5500-5000 BC),
and Ubaid (5300-3900 BC).
The Hassuna was the earliest of these cultures. It was
centred on Hassuna in northern Mesopotamia, a few kilometres to the south of
Ninevah, and extended eastwards to the base of the Zagros Mountains.
Subsistence was based on cereal crops;
cultivated wheat (emmer and
einkorn), and two-rowed hulled barley, but crucially there is no
evidence of irrigation being used. They kept domesticated sheep, goats, cattle
and pigs, but their diet was supplemented by hunting cattle, gazelle and onager
(a type of wild ass).
Houses were originally simple structures of sun-dried mud. They
may only have been semi-permanent, with the builders perhaps being
intensive foragers who may have left the area in years in which the
level of rainfall was too low. As farming methods improved, movement
of this nature became unnecessary and houses gradually
began to evolve into more spacious and sophisticated permanent dwellings, with
small rooms which had plastered floors for work
and living, store rooms and internal courtyards with outdoor ovens.
This style of house-building may have set the pattern used by
Samarra and Early Ubaid cultures.