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Near East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


M'lefaatian Industry (Pre-Pottery Neolithic A) (Anatolia & Mesopotamia)
c.8700 - 7600 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 M'lefaatian (or M'lefaat) culture or industry emerged in the eastern arm of the Fertile Crescent. Dating is uncertain due to a lack of finds, although a general picture can be formed from what evidence there is. It succeeded the Zarzian to usher in the Neolithic, but it was the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A which informed it, even though that was soon to be succeeded in the Levant itself by the PPNB and its several large advances in technology and living conditions.

The type site of M'lefaat is a tell, or archaeological settlement mound, which is located in upper Mesopotamia. The site covers 0.7 hectares, as part of the local 'Taurus-Zagros Round House Horizon'. Such 'round houses' were circular with stone foundations in the usual hunter-gatherer style, and with a single shared space inside. Community buildings were similar, but often larger, and all buildings generally had lime-plastered floors.

Archaeological excavations at Tepe Rahmatabad in today's Fars province of south-western Iran have revealed aceramic Neolithic stone tools which can be dated between the later 7000s BC to the early 6000s BC, immediately after the presumed end of the M'lefaatian. The site also contains some of the earliest samples of tools from the south-easternmost reach of the M'lefaatian itself (at the very eastern end of the Fertile Crescent).

M'lefaatian tools contain non-geometric microliths and a well-developed technology which produced relatively standardised bladelet cores. When compared to the older Zarzian, M'lefaatian sites tended to be open-air, such as the M'lefaat site, rather than caves and rock shelters. Living standards for anatomically modern humans had taken a big step forwards.

This industry was also responsible for a notable degree of cultural infusion - or possibly even physical migration - into the Caucasus mountain area and beyond where it influenced the development of several Mesolithic cultures, including the Black Sea, Chokh, Gubs, Imereti, and Trialetian. All of these were driven gradually towards the firm adoption of farming by about 6000 BC, ahead of many Mesolithic cultures in Europe.

The Kobuleti culture was to be found in what is now the autonomous republic of Adjara in south-western Georgia, at the boundary with the Caucasus foothills. This played an important role in the development of Neolithic practices in Eastern Europe. It was a transit region through which were transmitted Near East Neolithic innovations. This view is supported through a large number of early Holocene sites which have been studied relatively recently, and which are located within the borders of Armenia and Georgia.

There occurred a process of migration into the Caucasus from ancient Anatolia, modern Iran, and ancient Mesopotamia, even before the development of Neolithic culture. This served to establish routes through which could follow later developments, not only once but frequently. Excavations of the Kobuleti site have determined that it was involved in one of these instances, since materials here reflect an undoubted connection with the migration of elements of the early M'lefaatian population.

Neolithic farmers in the Levant

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by ChatGPT 4.0 (finalised dates only), 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 Late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Settlement of the European North: Possible Linguistic Implications, Christian Carpelan, 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 When the First Farmers Arrived... (Scientific American), and The Palaeolithic of the Western Steppe Zone, Karol Szymczak (Reference Module in Social Sciences, 2023, available via Science Direct), and Kobuleti site: The Evidence of Early Holocene Occupation in Western Georgia, Guram Chkhatarashvili & Valery Manko (Documenta Praehistorica, No 47, 28-35, and available via ResearchGate), and Stone Assemblage from Tepe Rahmatabad, Yoshihiro Nishiaki, Mohamad Hossein Azizi Kharanaghi, & Masashi Abe (Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies Vol 51, 2013, Issue 1), and The Zagros Epipalaeolithic (World History).)

c.8700 BC

Although it emerges as a successor to the Zarzian culture, the M'lefaatian industry is generally counted as being a descended form of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A culture (or PPNA), brought in by Neolithic Farmer migrants from the west.

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)

c.8000 BC

By this time multi-hectare agricultural villages have become widespread throughout the Fertile Crescent's wild cereal zone. Indigenous development has increased these settlements from much smaller earlier settlements of the Natufian and PPNA with their populations of foragers and incipient pre-domestication farmers.

Agricultural villages have also begun to appear further afield as this burgeoning population gradually migrates outwards. Cyprus of the Early Aceramic Neolithic in the west and the pre-Sumerian Persian Gulf now both show the arrival of migrant early farmers.

M'lefaatian tools
M'lefaatian groups or culture (including tools shown here - but which of these options is uncertain at present) migrated northwards into the Caucuses to influence cultures such as those of the Trialetian group, and also the Kobuleti, and with the latter in turn spreading into the Pontic steppe Kukrek culture to influence that and edge Mesolithic groups towards an adoption of early Neolithic ideas about pastoralism and basic farming

c.7600 BC

With the tools of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) or M'lefaatian cultures now heavily infiltrating the South Caucasus, the localised culture of the Eastern European Trialetian fades out, presumably in favour of others such as the Chokh and Imereti. The Kobuleti culture is also directly influenced.

Neolithic Farmers of the PPNB are about to enter a phase of fully-domesticated cultivation, by which time non-shattering grains account for eighty percent or more of total archaeological remains, with other, wild plant foods retreating into minor status.

Crop-based agricultural communities may already have appeared in the foothills of the Zagros mountains as part of the M'lefaatian industry. Western Iranian sites such as Ganj Dareh, Tepe Guran, and Ali Kosh all have PPNB-like rectangular architecture and food-producing economies.

Map of Mesolithic Europe 8000 BC
Although culturally and technologically continuous with Palaeolithic cultures, Mesolithic cultures in Europe quickly developed diverse local adaptations for special environments, as this map shows (click or tap on map to view full sized)

In fact goat-herding in Ganj Dareh may date back to about 8200 BC, while Ali Kosh contains finds which suggest an early adoption of sheep domestication ahead of agriculture.

Both are signs that pastoralism may have been adopted by people of the late Zarzian or at the very dawn of M'lefaatian influence. The dry Deh Luran plain in which Ali Kosh is located does not contain any of the pre-domestication wild cereals, so pastoralism may have been the only logical choice.

c.7600 BC

The M'lefaatian's end in the eastern arm of the Near East's Fertile Crescent reach of Neolithic Farmers is uncertain due to a lack of finds. The culture is more than likely to be succeeded around this point by the PPNB.

To the south-west, in early Mesopotamia and following a millennia and-a-half of Pottery Neolithic farming practices, variations take hold in the form of the Hassuna and Samarra cultures.

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