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Near East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Fikirtepe Culture (Pre-Pottery Neolithic A-B) (Anatolia)
c.6500 - 5900 BC

The term 'Fertile Crescent' refers to a geographical area in the Near East which arcs between the Jordan Valley of the Levant and the Euphrates and Tigris estuary. It also reaches up into southern and central Anatolia (modern Turkey), which is part of the northern Syrian zone in which true farming first seems to have occurred. It was in this Fertile Crescent that the distant effects of the most recent ice age faded perhaps the quickest, which allowed Neolithic Farmer processes to be undertaken in small but significant steps.

Moves towards full-farming went through ever-improving steps being taken towards the creation of civilisation, most notably during the Natufian period. The subsequent Khiamian accelerated the process as an early phase of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (abbreviated to PPNA). In turn the PPNA evolved into the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B culture (or PPNB).

The Fikirtepe was an early copper-using culture in the north-eastern corner of Anatolia (today's Turkey). This was undoubtedly on the migrant route into Europe's Neolithic Farmer territories in the Balkans, and the Fikirtepe appeared at about the same time as the Sopot in Croatia.

The type site is at Fikirtepe itself, on the Sea of Marmara coast and now within eastern Istanbul. Many other sites have also been found by archaeologists. Pendik is another Sea of Marmara coastal site, again now within the eastern edges of Istanbul, while Ilıpınar and Aktopraklık are inland sites.

The spread of the Near East's slow-building farming revolution appears to have taken place in two directions from the central Anatolia of the PPNA, reaching the western edges by the time the Pottery Neolithic was starting. One of those directions of advance followed the valley of the River Sakarya towards the Sea of Marmara around modern Istanbul. There it met existing Mesolithic communities which bordered the south-western Black Sea coast.

That and the other westwards farming movement both appear to have contributed to the Fikirtepe. Were these people Levantine migrants who simply stopped where they found good land instead of continuing into Europe? Sadly that question cannot be answered. Dates are generally agreed but an end date of 6100 BC is sometimes given in place of 5900 BC.

The culture is characterised by the circular houses which were typical of the PPNA and earlier, hunter-gatherer communities, and also the rectangular houses of the PPNB. In this case they were mixed together, leading some experts to speculate about the local Mesolithic groups being integrated into a farmer settlement, a question for which an answer remains inconclusive.

It seems just as likely that PPNA roundhouse traditions were being employed by some settlers while others preferred the rectangular houses of the PPNB. However, the PPNA traditions appear much more frequently in the inland sites, while coastal sites largely prefer PPNB traditions. Possibly the PPNA sites were more likely to absorb Mesolithic elements into their populations.

The site of Ilıpınar near the town of Atkaracalar in northern Anatolian Turkey perfectly illustrates this mix. The economy was a full Fertile Crescent one, with female figurines and a monochrome chaff-tempered pottery type. When compiling a list of archaeologically-recovered tools it became clear that only certain categories in the original tools package were carried by the migrants, and those were mainly the culture's utilitarian components. The rest must have been developed locally.

The migrants also brought with them all the required domesticated animals and cultivated plants, not only cereals but legumes and lentils. Their carried goods were entirely lacking in cult and prestige objects. This strongly implies that the migrants came without a ruling elite or a form of priesthood. The migration was more a segregated movement of simple farmers or herders.

However, the picture is far more complex than these few observations. Some components occur at some sites, such as painted lime floors which were reminiscent of the terrazzo technique of the east. It is unclear whether this was done through habit or as a retained memory of what previous, pre-migratory generations had done.

Some specific tools appear in the culture's early stages which require special craftsmanship, such as flint arrow points. But then their manufacture disappears, suggesting that the skilled craftsman who were required to produce them had rejoined the migratory stream into Europe. With the disappearance of arrow points, all of a sudden clay sling missiles became a major component of the assemblage.

This is best documented in north-western Turkey, mainly along the southern and eastern parts of the Marmara region, where the 'archaic' phase ('Level 1', the final level of archaeology which ends around 5900 BC) and 'classic' phase describe these elements and changes.

When painted decoration first appears towards the later Fikirtepe, it is extremely rare. It displays thick bands in red which are made mainly by using differently-coloured slips rather than paint. This earlier stage is fairly common along the Turkish Aegean coast but is absent in the Balkans. The final stage of painted decoration with its vast range of geometric designs can be found all over the Balkans but is relatively insignificant in the fading Fikirtepe. Even its successor, the Yarımburgaz, largely preferred the older, dark-coloured pottery.

Neolithic farmers in the Levant

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The spread of Neolithic plant economies from the Near East to northwest Europe: a phylogenetic analysis, Fiona Coward, Stephen Shennan, Sue Colledge, James Conolly, & Mark Collard (Journal of Archaeological Science, Vol 35, Issue 1, January 2008, pp 42-56), from First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies, Peter Bellwood (Second Ed, Wiley-Blackwell, 2022), from Archaeological Evidence on the Westward Expansion of Farming Communities from Eastern Anatolia to the Aegean and the Balkans, Mehmet Özdoğan (Current Anthropology, Vol 52, Supplement 4, October 2011), and from External Links: Tracing the Origin and Spread of Agriculture in Europe, Ron Pinhasi, Joaquim Fort, & Albert J Ammerman (PLOS Biology, published online 29 Nov 2005), and Archaeobotany: Plant Domestication, Chris Stevens & Leilani Lucas (Reference Module in Social Sciences, 2023, available via Science Direct), and Neolithic pottery from Bahçelievler settlement, Savaş Sarıaltun, Barış Semiz, Sümeyya Ağaç, & Erkan Fidan (Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports Vol 53, Feb 2024, 104387, available via Science Direct).)

c.6500 BC

The Fikirtepe culture of north-western Anatolia is founded by Neolithic Farmer migrants from the Levant or eastern-central Anatolia. They bring with them what seems to be both Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) house-building styles (and in two migratory streams which may be at different levels of development).

A body from the Fikirtepe settlement of Pendik
Excavations at the Fikirtepe cultural settlement of Pendik (now within the eastern boundaries of Istanbul) have revealed that the settlement's ancient residents placed mussel shells below their houses to provide permeability, while burials were in the foetal position

They settle down in true colonising mode, with their domesticated crops and animals but no ruling elite. They build themselves small, uncrowded settlements which quickly expand both in terms of size and population numbers. Mud brick is less often used in buildings, with lighter materials being preferred such as wattle-and-daub.

c.6200 BC

Pottery in parts of Fikirtepe cultural territory appear to be common to recent cultural expressions in the Balkans, such as the Kakanj and Karanovo. More easterly areas of the Fikirtepe culture appear to be left out of this advance, perhaps suggesting that they are relatively isolated from the migratory flow and developments which no doubt pass along it in both directions.

Map of the Fertile Crescent of the Neolithic
This map shows the general area of the Fertile Crescent from where - especially along its northern edges - the origins of agricultural farming emerged between about 10,000-6000 BC (click or tap on map to view full sized)

The late PPNB is continuing its agricultural and economic decline, especially in the southern Levant. Towns also decline and pastoralism appears to flourish (especially with sheep and goats). Black clay pottery has come into common use, which is also to be found in PPNB migrant cultures in Africa, Europe, and adjacent regions of Asia.

The '8.2 kiloyear event' is a recognised climatic cooling event which persists for two hundred years and, when it relents, provides a climatic bounce-back which in the Near East triggers the start of the Pottery Neolithic.

c.6000 BC

By this time the Fikirtepe's Bahçelievler settlement has entered its last phase, the 'archaic'. The site has been occupied from some point between 7192-7052 BC, well before the start of migration into Europe but perhaps part of the initial spread of agriculture into western Anatolia.

Fikirtepe pottery samples
Bahçelievler's Neolithic settlement was inhabited for the first time between 7192-7052 BC and continued to be used until 6063-5971 BC, making it important in the development of the subsequent Pottery Neolithic, especially in north-western Anatolia

Some specific tools which had appeared at the early stages and which had required special craftsmanship, such as flint arrow points, have since disappeared, presumably as the skilled craftsmen who have been needed to make them have joined the migratory flow into the Balkans.

Recently-founded cultures there include the Criş, Kakanj, Karanovo, Starčevo, Arukhlo, Shengavit, Shulaveri-Shomu (in approximate order of founding), any of which could be the beneficiaries of the Fikirtepe's loss. The Fikirtepe quickly fades in its later years.

c.5900 BC

Anatolia's Fikirtepe culture of Neolithic Farmers has survived in the Near East despite apparently losing some of its best people to the migratory stream into Europe's Balkans region. Now it fades to be succeeded by the closely-related Yarımburgaz culture.

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