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Near East Kingdoms

Early Cultures

 

Shepherd Neolithic Culture (Epi-Palaeolithic) (Levant)
c.10,200 - 8800 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.

The bridge between the Palaeolithic and the Neolithic in the Near East and, specifically, in the Levant is the Epi-Palaeolithic. This period can also be referred to as the proto-Neolithic. Starting with late Epi-Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers, the move towards full-farming went through ever-improving steps being taken towards the creation of civilisation.

Early wheat types had grain which was contained in spikelets with tightly adhering glumes, but this had to be domesticated in stages before wheat could be made fully productive. This process took a few millennia on its own, starting during the Natufian culture. The Shepherd Neolithic style or industry of Lebanon could be a localised expression of this culture. Like the later contemporary Khiamian it provides a filler between the Natufian and the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A cultures.

Study of it has been poor so dates are uncertain - although they certainly cover the entire duration of the Khiamian, and beyond in either direction. The name is also increasingly inappropriate given its designation as an Epi-Palaeolithic culture but, as mentioned, even Epi-Palaeolithic cultures in the Near East can be classed as a form of proto-Neolithic. Similarly to the Qaraoun, the culture is localised in an area which is close to Lebanon's Beqaa Valley.

Materials from the culture are thinly scattered across a wide area of the northern Beqaa Valley. Billaux and Fleisch suggested that flints here were higher quality than the prevailing brittle flint, which indicated an outside origin. Nomadic shepherds were put forward as the source of that outside origin, which also gave the culture its name. Much more work needs to be carried out on this culture and its territory before any firm conclusions can be drawn.

Ahmarian tools

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Village People, Matti Friedman (Smithsonian, July-August 2023), from First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies, Peter Bellwood (Second Ed, Wiley-Blackwell, 2022), from Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions & Discoveries of the Ancient World, Robert E Krebs & Carolyn A Krebs (Greenwood Press, 2003), from Inventory of Stone-Age Sites in Lebanon: North, South and East-Central Lebanon, Lorraine Copeland & Peter J Wescombe (UniversitÚ Saint-Joseph (Beirut, Lebanon, 1966), and from External Links: Evidence for domestication of the dog 12,000 years ago in the Natufian of Israel, S Davis & F Valla (Nature 276, 608-610, 1978), and Farming Was So Nice, It Was Invented at Least Twice, Michael Balter (Science, 2013), and The emergence of the Neolithic in the Near East: A protracted and multi-regional model, Juan José Ibáñez, Jesus González-Urquijo, Luis Cesar Teira-Mayolini, & Talía Lazuén (Science Direct, 2018), and The flow of ideas: shared symbolism during the Neolithic emergence in Southwest Asia: WF16 and G÷bekli Tepe, Steven Mithen, Amy Richardson, & Bill Finlayson (Cambridge University Press, 2023).)

c.10,200 BC

The localised Epi-Palaeolithic Shepherd Neolithic culture emerges in the Levant's Beqaa Valley (Lebanon), while the related but much more widespread Natufian dominates the region. Around the same time, hunter-gatherers become active on the island of Cyprus, which they probably reach from the Levantine coast, although this is disputed.

Early Neolithic folk with their domesticated animals
Animal domestication began in the later Palaeolithic, and by the time the Shepherd Neolithic emerged that practice has spread to include sheep and goats

c.9800 BC

It is possible that domesticated wheat which has been found in the Zarzian culture's early farming village of Chogha Golan has been introduced there from farther west, specifically the western Fertile Crescent of the Natufian. The Chogha Golan wheat is several hundred years younger than the earliest known domesticated species.

With its large amphitheatre-like building (Structure O75), the site of WF16 is another candidate for a seasonal or periodic gathering place in the southern Levant. WF16 is located at the head of the Wadi Faynan in southern Jordan.

The site is excavated between AD 2008-2010 and is dated to the period between 9800-8200 BC, with a focus of activity between 9400-9100 BC (see sources for the full report on 'The flow of ideas').

Palegawra cave in Iraqi Kurdistan
Palegawra cave, which sits alongside the neighbouring Zarzi, type site for the Zarzian culture, has been an emblematic site of the Epi-Palaeolithic cultural horizon in the north-western Zagros Mountains

c.9700 BC

FeatureThe transition to agricultural and plant/animal domestication in the Fertile Crescent takes a significant step forwards. The glacial climate cooling of the Younger Dryas from about 10,800 BC now begins to fade. Now the early Holocene sees a transition to a warmer, wetter, and arguably more stable climate between this point and about 7500 BC (and see feature link).

The Fertile Crescent is blessed with its location in what is now becoming a region of winter rainfall with marked rainfall seasonality. People here begin the process of evolving out of an Epi-Palaeolithic/Mesolithic baseline of complex hunting and gathering.

North American large mammals
The Younger Dryas cold spell hit North America hard, just when things were starting to warm up at the end of the ice age - not only did many of the large mammals die out but so did the Clovis culture (click or tap on image to view full sized)

Alongside this they begin to develop sedentary settlements. Wild and eventually domesticated cereals, legumes, and herd animals acquire dominant roles in human subsistence throughout the Near East, in association with human population growth and the rise of cooperative activities which lead to the growth of villages and towns.

c.8800 BC

The Levant's Pre-Pottery Neolithic A culture of Neolithic Farmers in the Fertile Crescent transitions into its next stage as the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, seemingly taking the Epi-Palaeolithic Shepherd Neolithic culture along with it.

 
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