Tag Archives: ancient farmers

Eugen Strouhal’s summary of Pre-dynastic Badarians racial affinites.

Eugen Strouhal

The Journal of African History, Vol. 12, No. 1. (1971), pp. 1-9.

In Nubia, according to the analysis of physical anthropology, the original Europoid (Caucasoid) stock of the population was several times overrun by Negroid waves, flowing from the South. Negroes and Negroids penetrated to Egypt only sporadically, and their frequency, uneven according to time, place and the diagnostical knowledge of the investigator, has been estimated as 1 to 5 per cent. An increase in the number of Negroes was observed only in the New Kingdom, in connexion with the expansion of Egyptian domination to the south. From that time onwards, they were pictured as symbols of the south. The perfect portrayal of their morphological features shows that the Egyptian artists knew them very well.”

“By the individual analysis of nasal measurements and indices of the first Badarian series in comparison with the mixed Europoid-Negroid series from Wadi Qitna in Nubia (fourth-fifth century AD), with the Europoid series from Manfalout in Upper Egypt (Ptolemaic period) and with a series of recent Nilotes, I came to the conclusion that the distribution of the Badarian skulls extends from the Europoid to the Negroid range.”

“Of the total 117 skulls, 15 were found to be markedly Europoid, 9 of these were of the gracile Mediterranean type, 6 were of very robust structure reminiscent of the North African Cromagnon type. Eight skulls were clearly Negroid… We may conclude that the share of both components was nearly the same, with some overweight to the Europoid side.”

“In some of the Badarian crania hair was preserved, thanks to good conditions in the desert sand. In the first series, according to the descriptions of the excavators, they were curly in 6 cases, wavy in 33 cases and straight in 10 cases. They were black in 16 samples, dark brown in 11, brown in 12, light brown in 1 and grey in 11 cases.”

This is the study I saw Keita misquote, as saying ‘80% of the hair was negroid’. I’m pretty sure ‘black’ is the only colour you see in Africans without admixture.

EARLY NILE VALLEY FARMERS FROM EL-BADARI, Aboriginals or “European”Agro-Nostratic Immigrants? Craniometric Affinities Considered With Other Data.

I also want to know why Keita didn’t use the neighboring Caucasians as a base line… he used Nordic-types from as his baseline instead of the nearby North Africans (quite a difference facially and in skull shape) and omitted one nasal measurement, which is a dead giveaway as far as racial relationships go. Essentially, this study contains one very dubious quote, and a dubious methodology. In another paper he says that NW Europeans show no relationship to European phenotype Mahgrebians, so his choice of them as his European baseline is very odd indeed.

Since I’m pretty familiar with the neolithic expansion by now, I’ll simplify it for all.

 About 8,000 BP, the Neolithic farmers arrived in Northern Egypt (from Turkey, originally) and then spread across the North of Africa, and down the Nile (minorty contributors to North Africa, but still there). At the same time, the other branches of the expansion were reaching Pakistan, the Ukraine and the Balkans. 

Modern Egyptians are; upper Egypt still 80% native African, and in lower Egypt 60%, with a large proportion of the rest traceable to the incoming neolithic farmers. Prior to that the people along the Nile were a mix of an ancient Eurasian back migration, and east African, who expanded slowly out as far as Somalia and the Levant at varying times.

This makes the ancient Egyptians pretty similar to the modern ones. In fact, they show themselves to be so every time you compare things like limb length, teeth, hair and skulls. At least one of the studies I have on Nubian teeth shows a major population influx before pre-dynastic Egyptian times, and one on Egyptian teeth that shows a ‘continuity of population from pre-dynastic times to present’.

So, I’d like to see this Keita study re-done with South Eastern Europeans, Berbers and modern Egyptians and  as some of the baseline populations, including the nasal measurements!


The Turkish domestication of the chickpea.

One of the neolithic farmers founder crops.

Chickpeas (Cicer arietinum) are large roundish legumes, that look rather like a large round pea with an interesting bumpy surface. A staple of Middle Eastern, African and Indian cuisines, domesticated chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) come in two main groups called desi and kabuli, but you can also find varieties in 21 different colors and several shapes. The wild version of chickpeas (Cicer reticulatum) is only found in parts of what is today southeastern Turkey and adjacent Syria, and it is likely that it was first domesticated there, about 10,500 years ago. Chickpeas store really well, and are high in nutritive value, and were part of the farming culture that grew out of the Neolithic of the Fertile Crescent.

Domesticating Chickpeas
There are some interesting features about the domestication of chickpeas that were pointed out in a 2007 article by Zohar Kerem and colleagues at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences. The wild form of chickpea ripens only in the winter, while the domesticated form can be sown during the spring for summer harvest. Chickpeas grow best in winter when there is adequate water available; but during the winters they are susceptible to Ascochyta blight, a devastating disease which has been known to wipe out entire crops.

In addition, according to recent studies, the domesticated form of chickpea contains nearly twice the tryptophan of the wild form, an amino acid that has been connected with higher brain serotonin concentrations and higher birth rates and accelerated growth in humans and animals.

Chickpea Varieties and Archaeological Sites
The oldest variety of chickpea is the desi form; desi are small, angular, and variegated in color. Scholars believe desi originated in Turkey and was subsequently introduced into India where the most common form of chickpea is the kabuli. Kabuli have large beige beaked seeds.

Domesticated chickpeas have been found at several archaeological sites, including Tell el-Kerkh in Syria; Cayönü (7250-6750 BC), Hacilar (ca 6700 BC), and Akarçay Tepe (7280-8700 BP) in Turkey; and Jericho (8350 BC to 7370 BC) in the West Bank. The earliest to date is Tell el-Kerkh, in the late 10th millennium BC, and scholars suspect that since el-Kerkh is a considerable distance from the native lands of the wild chickpea, the domestication took place somewhat earlier than that.

So, the  domestication seems to be Turkish, about 10,000 plus years ago.

The Turkish/Northern Syrian origin of lentils.

Identification of the lentil’s wild genetic stock

  The origin of lentil from the taxon Lens culinaris subsp. orientalis has been proved by morphological evidence and breeding experiments. This wild form exhibits variation in many characters and is distributed over a vast area from the Middle-East to central Asia. Characters that are polymorphic in the wild progenitor but monomorphic in the cultigen can be utilized for better identification of the genetic stock which gave rise to the domesticated lentil. Three characters of that kind have been identified in lentil: chromosomal architecture, crossability potential and restriction pattern of chloroplast DNA. Nearly all accessions of the cultivated lentil tested to these three characters have been found monomorphic, but considerable polymorphism exists in the wild accessions. Three subsp. orientalis accessions have been shown to share the above characters with the cultigen and hence can be regarded as members of the genetic stock from which lentil was domesticated. These three accessions originated from eastern Turkey and northern Syria.

Also, the oldest lentils found were 11,000 years old from a Greek cave. Since the lentil is not native to Greece, it’s not a stretch to figure out these must have been cultivated. This would mean the growing of lentils predates cereals in Greece, meaning farming started earlier than believed in Europe (by about two thousand years) and that cultivation of lentils predates the cultivation of cereals.

Hallan Cemi Tepe, home of the first pork chop

Some Preliminary Observations Concerning Early Neolithic Subsistence Behaviors in Eastern Anatolia

Michael Hosenberg, .Clark Nesbitt, Richard K Redding, Thornas F Strasser

In 1991 a salvage excavation was begun at Hallan Cemi Tepesi, a largely aceramic (so some pottery) site in the Taurus foothills of eastern Turkey.’ The results of the 1991 through 1993 field seasons permitted some preliminary observations concerning the material culture of the site’s early Neolithic inhabitants. Of particular note was the relatively high degree of cultural complexity implied by that material culture (see Rosenberg and Davis 1992; Rosenberg 1994). Also of note was the evidence suggesting that, at its earliest stages, the Neolithic tradition in eastern Anatolia evolved with only minimal influence from the contemporaneous Levantine complex.

Excavations at Hallan Cemiare ongoing and the results of the 1994 field season make it necessary to once again modify some of the tentative conclusions concerning the site’s stratigraphy. More importantly, the ongoing analyses of the botanical and fauna1 remains, as well as of relevant aspects of the artifact assemblage, now make it possible to begin making some preliminary observations about the subsistence behaviors of the site’s inhabitants. The picture that is emerging from these ongoing analyses is often at odds with prior expectations. For example, though sedentism is indicated, it was apparently not based on the exploitation of cereals. The site’s inhabitants also appear to have been experimenting with animal domestication. In all. the Hallan Cemi data promise to significantly alter our understanding of the origins of food production and animal husbandry in south-western Asia.
The Botanical Assemblage Carbonized plant remains are consistently well preserved in the Hallan Cemi depos- its. Collection was largely by means of flotation involvinga sample of the site’s deposits, though individual seeds, nuts, etc. were also collected by hand in some instances. What follows is for the most part based on the formal analysis of a limited number of flotation samples from the 1992 season  as well as more preliminary analysis of samples from other contexts. Analysis of the sample balance is ongoing.

In the samples analyzed to date, relatively few seeds of wild grasses were found and most were in fragmentary condition. None have yet been identified as belongingto the cereal grasses. Compared to other sites of this period in Iraq and the Levant, this relative paucity of wild grasses is surprising It is, however, consistent with the dearth of sickle blades in the Hallan Cerni chipped stone assemblage (Rosenberg 1994: 128).

In contrast, pulses are common. They are mostly fragmentary and thus cannot be identified beyond I Viciailarlgrzis. However, identifiable examples of both lentils (Lens sp.) and bitter vetch (l’icia enilia) were found. Nuts are also common. These include wild almond (Anq@alussp.), pistachio (Pisracia S-.) and another thin-walled nut that remains to be identified. During both the 1993 and 1994 seasons, deposits in several parts of the mound yielded concentrations of wild almond (Fig. 5). Wild almonds contain potential toxins, yet almonds were clearly of great economic importance at Hallan Cemi despite that latent toxicity. This suggests the existenc eof processes for mitigating that latent toxicity and rendering almonds into an edible product. Judgingfrom the concentrations of charred almonds encountered in 1993 and 1994, roasting seems to have played a part in the processing of almonds.

It is also perhaps noteworthy that small, shallow sand and gravel pits occur scattered about the site. Though it is not clear whether these shallow pits were used for food preparation and, if so, for what foods, it is conceivable that these sand pits also played a role in the processingof almonds. Also common in the botanical assemblage are the seeds of sea club-rush (Bolboschoems ntaririnzus), a species of Po&gonzim, and Gundelia tournefortii. The presence of Guidelia totirizefortii is particularly interesting, as it is not often reported to be found at sites of this period. Gztndelia is a perennial tumbleweed belonging to the daisy family (Composirae). Though typically native to steppe habitats, it does occur in open woodland, such as appears to have then existed in the vicinity of Hallan e m i .The fruit consists of a woody and fibrous capitulum enclosing a single waxy achene (weight ca. 0.03 gm) in the single fertile floret at the center of the capitulum. The achene, as its waxy appearance suggests, is rich in fatty oils.

‘ According to Rouena Gale, who graciously provided these data, Fraxinus, Quercus, Prunus, Pistacia, and Salix or Popuftrs are represented in the wood charcoal from the site. Questionably, buckthorn (cf. Frangula alnus) is also present. The SalidPopults charcoal probably indicates the proximity of riverine forests to the site, ivhilc the olhrr specics are consistent \vith a mixed oak forest. 

 Collectingthe fruit simply involves shaking the plant upside down, as this causes the fruits to drop out. The achene, however, is tightly enclosed at the base of the capitulum and cannot be extracted without breaking open the fruit. One widely used method for extract- ing fat-rich seeds from tough shells in nuts is roasting. It is, therefore, noteworthy that, in addition to being found as scattered single fruits, a 5 cm thick lens, consisting of hundreds of more or less intact charred Grtndelia fruits, was found in the central open area. Perhaps a batch was being roasted and, for whatever reason, the fruits were burnt too completely for consumption of the seed, resulting in them being discarded as a unit.

The Fauna1 Assemblage

Animal exploitation was an important subsistence activity at Hallan Cemi, as attested to by the more than 2 tons of animal bone thus far unearthed. Of the 22,000+ bones (in- cluding small fragments) examined to date, 2,097 could be assigned to mammalian taxa and 91 1 to non-mammalian taxa. The bones and horn cores of sheep (Ovis sp.) and goats (Capm sp.) are the single most numerous mammalian component of the fauna1 assem- blage, comprising ca. 43% of all mammalian bone. Sheep outnumber goats at approxi- mately 6: 1. Red deer (Cervus elephlrs) follow at ca. 27% of all mammalian bone, followed in turn by canids (including two species of fox – L’zrlpes vrrlpes and Ciirlpes corsac – and either dog or jackal) at ca. 13%, pig (Sus sp.) at ca. 12%, brown bear (Ursus arclos) at ca. 3%, cape hare (Lepus capensis) at 2%. Stone marten (Martesjiona), wild cat (Fefis catzrs), beaver (Castor jiber), and European hedgehog (Erinacerrs ezrropaeus) also occur, but at less than 1% each. The remains of wild cattle (Bos primigenizrs) were not present in the samples analyzed so far, but are known to be present at the site (see Rosenberg 1994:Fig. 10). Non-mammalian taxa include two types of fish (catfish and a species of cyprinid), lizards, turtles of the genus Marrremjs and birds. Of these, turtle bones are by far the most numerous at 84% of the non-mammalian bone, followed by bird (10%), fish (6%), and lizard.

 Morphologically, the sheep and goats are wild. Moreover, approximately 66% of the sheep-goat remains (for which an age could be determined) come from individuals that survived to at least 42 months of age. This is a pattern consistent with the results of the hunting of a wild population (cf. Hesse 1982).

 In the case of pigs, the sample analyzed to date contains two measurable lower third molars and one measurable upper second molar. The two lower third molars measure 38.4 and 40.0 mm in length, which places them in the area of overlap between wild and domes- tic taxa. The upper second molar, however, measures 21.8 mm in length, within the range for domestic pig (cf. Flannery 1982). While this sample is obviously small, other lines of evidence are consistent with incipient pig domestication. The survivorship curve for pigs is in marked contrast to that for sheep-goats (Fig. 6). At least 10% of the individuals were less than 6 months of age when consumed, 29% never reached the age of 12 months, and only 3 1% survived to the age of 36 months. This pattern of consumption is similar to that found by one of the authors (Redding) at sites in Egypt, Iraq, and the Levant that yielded domestic pigs.

The present day economic importance of sheep and goats in the Near East has tended to foster the implicit presumption that they were the earliest animal domesticates in that area. However, the possible early domestication of pigs is not surprising when one considers certain facts. As Redding (n.d.) has noted: 1) the fecundity and growth rate of pigs make them superior producers of protein relative to all other native Near Eastern domesticates; 2) the labor required for pig maintenance is lower than for other Near Eastern domesticates; 3) young pigs tame readily and will imprint on humans; and, 4) juvenile or neonate pigs are relatiely easy to obtain. These qualities make the pig an ideal candidate for early experiments with animal domestication.

However, as also noted, pigs are more difficult to control or herd than sheep or goats. This makes pigs a poor choice of domesticate (relative to sheep and goats) in situations where intensified production of animals is desired. Pigs are also competitors with humans for cereals. This makes pigs a poor choice of domesticate (relative to sheep and goats) in contexts where cereal Ygrass exploitation is a significant component of the human subsis- tenceeconomy. However, in situationswhere, for whatever reason, cereals were not a significant component of the human subsistence economy (as was apparently the case at Hallan Cemi), pigs would seem superior to sheep and goats at the early stages of animal domestication.

Lastly, it should be noted that domesticated pigs are present at Cayonii(Lawrence 1980) and pigs, in general, are particularly common (relative to sheep and goats) in the lower levels of that site (Lawrence 1982). Whether domesticated pigs precede domesti cated sheep and goats at that site is not made clear in the published reports.

The Ground Stone Assemblage

Ground stone tools of types generally thought to be subsistencerelated constitute the next largest tools artifact assemblage after chipped stone tools. Sandstone of varying types appears to have been the most commonly used raw material for both mobile (i e., hand stones, pestles) and stationary (i.e., querns, mortars) types. Limestone and various kinds of metamorphic rocks were also used. While much of this assemblageremains to be analyzed in detail, it is now possible to make some preliminary observationsabout the assemblage as a whole.

The handstonesare typically ovate to sub-rectangular in form – having often been purposehlly ground or pecked to shape – with either one or two flat to slightly convex workingsurfaces. They rarely exceed 15 cm on the longest dimension. In many cases, one or both of the horizontal surfaces were reused as what are sometimes informally called ‘nuttingstones’.’ Such ‘nuttingstones’ also occur on simple water-worn pebbles and stones ‘ As a rule ‘nutting stones’ are characterized by relatively small, very shallow, irregularly circular deprcssi- ons produced by batteringthat appear to have been shaped into a variety of configurations. Pestles are less common than handstones.

 They are typically cylindrical to slightly conical in form and circular to slightly squared in section. They rarely exceed 30 cm in length and are usually less well shaped than are the handstones. The querns are of both trough and basin type and range up to 50+ cm in overall length on the intact examples. The exteriors of these are also often pecked or ground to shape, with ovate and sub-rectangular forms the most common (Fig. 7). Bowl mortars are less common than querns and they range up to almost 20 cm in depth. The most common forms are ovate and sub-rectangular/squared, but the evidence for purposehlexterior shaping is less clear than for the querns.

 It has been suggested (Moore 1985; Goring-Morris 1987) that a prevalence of quernsover mortars in an assemblage implies an emphasis on the exploitation of seeds, as op- posed to nuts. Though Wright (1994:241) notes that the ethnographic record provides cause to question such a strict correlation, she does go on to note (1994:242-243) that grinding (as opposed to pounding) is most beneficial in the processing of cereals. In view of the preliminary botanical evidence (see above) suggesting that at Hallan Cemi grasses played a smaller dietary role than did nuts and pulses, the higher frequency of quernsover mortars in the ground stone assemblage is puzzling.

 Lastly, it was earlier suggested (Rosenberg and Davis 1992) that many of the querns and mortars were purposehllyrendered useless through intentional perforation of the bottoms. At that time, this conclusion was based solely on the fact that the perforationswere very often relatively large and that their edges were thick and not convergent with the base (see Fig. 7). This conclusion has now been supported by two new lines of evidence. First, during the 1994 season, we recognized for the first time four intact bases that had been punched out of stationary grinding stones by a (presumably) heavy blow to the interior working surface. Second, during the 1994 season, several (intact) perforated grindingstones were found that had apparently been spirally scored near the base of the interior surface. Such scoring would no doubt facilitate breakage and may have been carried out for precisely that purpose. No unperforated grinding stones exhibit this scarring. Why these grinding stones were intentionally rendered useless remains unknown. However, destruction associated with human death is an obvious, albeit untestable, possibility that is brought  to mind by a similar destruction pattern for prehistoric Mimbres ceramic vessels in the American southwest (e.g., see Fiedel 1987:213).

Concluding Comments

The subsistencepatterns emerging from the Hallan Cemidata are significant for two reasons. First, they are the first clear indication that we have for the existence of subsis- tence systems in southwestern Asia that did not revolve around reliance on the exploitation of grasses. Hallan Cemiwas, nevertheless, occupied year-round. This would appear to challenge theories that place cereal grass exploitation at the center of explanations (e.g., cr cdri Henry 1989) for the increased sedentism we see in southwestern Asia at the end of the Pleistocene. Second, the Hallan Cemi data suggest that pigs were the earliest animal domesticate, at least in eastern Anatolia. The data from Cayonii have long obliquely hinted at this. However, the consistently greater economic importance of ovicaprids in southwestern Asia aceramic sites has tended to foster the presumption that the earliest attempts at animal domestication would focus on these economically more important animals. The fauna1 data from Hallan Cemi are consistent with the data from these other sites, in that ovicapridswere here too much more intensively exploited than were pigs. It would appear, though, that factors other than economic importance (see above) were paramount in the selection of the earliest food animal domesticate. It is perhaps only with subsequent changes in plant food subsistence (to the exploitation of grasses), or the subsequent need to further intensify food animal production, that the knowledge gained in working with pigs was applied to ovicaprids.


The appalling spelling, the authors, not mine!

So, it looks like lentils preceded grains. Were these grains domesticated or wild?

First farmers ate bacon before bread.

From the NY Times

DIGGING at the ruins of a village in southeastern Turkey, where people lived more than 10,000 years ago, archeologists expected to turn up the usual traces of a society on the verge of the agriculture revolution. There should be leftover grains of wild wheat and barley and perhaps the bones of butchered sheep and goats in some early stage of domestication.

The archeologists found nothing of the kind. Instead, to their complete surprise, they dug up the ample remains of pig bones.

The discovery, they said, strongly suggests that the pig was the earliest animal that people domesticated for food. The diminished size of the molars was one of several clues that the transformation of wild boars into pigs was under way at that time. Radiocarbon analysis put the date at 10,000 to 10,400 years ago.

So in the foothills of the Taurus Mountains at a site known as Hallan Cemi, the domestication of the pig appeared to have occurred 2,000 years earlier than once thought — and 1,000 years before the taming and herding of sheep and goats.

Much earlier, at least 12,000 years ago, wolves more or less invited domestication as the dog, developing a symbiotic relationship with people. They became camp followers, sentinels and “best friend.” Only in a few cultures later on were dogs served as food.

A broader significance, archeologists said, was the absence of any sign of wheat or barley at the settlement. The prevailing assumption, based mainly on research to the south in Syria and the Jordan River Valley, has been that with the end of the last ice age, wild grains were abundant in the more temperate climate over the entire Middle East. People settled down to harvest them, and this led to agriculture, animal husbandry and eventually the rise of cities and civilization.

“All early agricultural models are predicated on the assumption that people gathered wild wheat and other grains,” said Dr. Michael Rosenberg, an archeologist at the University of Delaware and director of the Hallan Cemi excavations. “But this is the earliest settlement site so far north, and it has no cereals. So another resource must have made it possible to settle down.”

In a report at a recent meeting of the Society for American Archeologists, Dr. Richard W. Redding, a University of Michigan archeologist and member of the discovery team, said that a heavy reliance on data from southern sites in the Levant might have resulted “in a very narrow view of the origin of food production.” There may have been a variety of ways by which people made the transition from foraging to farming, and some of them did not include the intensive use of wild cereals as a crucial first step.

Dr. Patricia Wattenmaker, a University of Virginia archeologist with wide experience in Middle East excavations, said the new findings were among the first from this part of the Turkish highlands in prehistory and were certain to force a serious rethinking of theories regarding human subsistence patterns leading up to agriculture. Roles of Environment and Culture

“It looks as if the pattern varies from place to place,” Dr. Wattenmaker said. “This takes the punch out of arguments that environmental factors” over a wider area triggered the transition toward agriculture, she added, and suggested that “cultural factors were really the key.”

Dr. Robert J. Braidwood, a professor emeritus of archeology at the University of Chicago who is a specialist in research on early agriculture, praised the Hallan Cemi excavations for providing a much-needed examination of pre-agricultural cultures beyond the Levant. But the Turkish village of no more than 150 inhabitants was extremely small, he cautioned, and evidence from three or four more sites in the area might be necessary before drawing any sweeping conclusions.

The Hallan Cemi site is scheduled to be flooded next year by a new dam on the Batman River.

In three years of excavations at Hallan Cemi, though, archeologists have established that people there had left the wandering life of hunting and gathering for a more sedentary village existence. Ruins of small stone houses and stone sculptures indicated a permanent settlement, and the growth pattern in fresh water clam shells at the site revealed year-round occupation. Evidence of long-distance trade in obsidian, copper and Mediterranean shells reflected the expansion of economic horizons by an increasingly complex society.

All this was happening at the time of the Natufians, people in the Jordan Valley who were probably the first to adopt settling down as a permanent way of life. But if wild cereals were critical to the Natufians’ transition, the people at Hallan Cemi apparently depended on gathering nuts and seeds, hunting wild sheep and deer and raising pigs. The absence of any wild grains at the site was determined by Dr. Mark Nesbitt, a paleobotanist at University College, London.

No single piece of the pig evidence is conclusive, Dr. Redding reported, but all the clues together “are congruent with the early phases of the domestication of pigs.” Clue on Domestication

Not only are the bones plentiful and the molars smaller, he said, but they show that the people appeared to favor young male pigs more than would be expected if they were hunting wild animals. A preponderance of the bones were of male pigs under one year of age. If they were raising pigs, they would spare most of the young females for breeding. Survivorship patterns of hunted animals reveal a more normal age distribution.

Pigs may have been the villagers’ insurance against famine caused by any sudden shortage of nuts and fruits and wild game. In a pre-agricultural sedentary culture, Dr. Rosenberg said, such shortages posed a greater risk because the people had a more limited foraging and hunting range.

“We think they fiddled around with maintaining animals to decrease that risk,” he said, “and pigs make sense if they are not gathering and growing grains.”

For one thing, young pigs are easily obtained and tamed. They require little labor to control since they can be left to forage for themselves throughout the community. And they are the most efficient domesticated animal, Dr. Redding said, in that they convert 35 percent of food energy into meat, compared with 13 percent for sheep or a mere 6.5 percent for cattle.

Pigs, the archeologist concluded, may have represented one more transitional step in some pre-agricultural societies; the pattern was not always a direct progression from settling down to growing cereals to raising animals. Perhaps the subsistent strategy of the highland villagers was to supplement their diets of nuts, fruits and grasses with pigs until cereal production was adopted. In time, Dr. Redding said, the highlanders took up grain cultivation, probably as an innovation borrowed from the south. Decline of Pigs

In any case, the archeologists said, as soon as the people of Hallan Cemi began growing grain, there was a sharp decline in domestic pigs, which were gradually replaced by domestic sheep and goats. It was a necessity. Pigs compete with people for cereals. They could no longer be left to forage unattended near the village and fields, and they are not as easily herded as sheep and goats.

Although some of the interpretations are tentative and more research is required, Dr. Rosenberg and Dr. Redding said they were increasingly confident in their evidence for the early domestication of the pig. And contrary to previous findings in the Levant, they said, there could be sedentary village life without an abundance of grains, wild or cultivated.

“Hallan Cemi is almost a mirror image of what’s going on at this time in the Levant,” Dr. Redding said. “We will have to rethink all the models we’ve been developing about early food production.”

As a side comment to this article, the oldest domesticated wheat has been found just south of the Turkish border, but originates in Turkey.  It didn’t seem to spread into the Natufian culture particularly quickly, as 2,000 years later some were still eating  wild wheat. Also originating in Turkey is the wild chickpea, another neolithic staple crop. I’m really starting to doubt the Natufians were the originators of the farming revolution. More so, in the light that the farmers of the Neolithic expansion didn’t seem to look like them(Natufians were part Negroid), they seem to resemble to Anatolians more.

Also, the temple at Gobekli Tepe predates farming in most of the Natufian Levant by a few hundred, years, and that kind of stone temple building is not entry level civilisation (11,500 years ago).

It seems to me that the south east of Turkey needs to be thoroughly dug up so we can track down the original sites!

Ancient Natufian farmers in Syria, at Abu Hureyra

The first farmers grew wheat and rye 13,000 years ago in Syria and were forced into cultivating crops by a terrible drought, according to UK archaeologists.

Professor Gordon Hillman, at University College London, has spent over 20 years investigating the remains of ancient food plants at a unique site at Abu Hureyra, in the middle Euphrates.

“Nowhere else has an unbroken sequence of archaeological evidence stretching from hunter-gatherer times to full-blown farming,” he told BBC News Online.


The evidence for cultivated crops comes from seeds carefully sifted from the material excavated at Abu Hureyra. These had survived because they had been accidentally charred in domestic fires before eventually becoming buried. 

Farming crisis: drought drove the hunter-gatherers into cultivation
Many years of ecological field work assessing present day vegetation was also necessary to provide a basis for interpreting the material found.

“What we expected to find from the hunter-gatherer levels at the site was lots of wild cereals. These are characteristically very skinny and we found plenty of them,” explains Professor Hillman.

“But then, at higher and later levels, we found things that did not belong there. There were these whacking, great fat seeds, characteristic of cultivation.”

The cultivated seeds found at Abu Hureyra are the oldest yet found.

Grindstone from about 9500-9000 BC
Excavated at Abu Hureyra, northern Syria.

A dry death

Professor Hillman and his team found that, as they looked through the archaeological record, the wild seed varieties gathered as food gradually vanished, before the cultivated varieties appeared. Those wild seeds most dependent on water were the first to die out, followed one by one by the more hardy ones.

This was a clue to why the hunter-gatherer people turned to cultivating some of the foods they had previously collected from the wild, and prompted Professor Hillman to look at independent climate records for the period.

What he found was evidence for a terrible drought: “It was very sharp and would certainly have been felt within a human lifetime, perhaps even in the space of 10 or so years.”

Geologist call this period the Younger Dryas, a 1000-year spell of cold and dry weather with interrupted the planet’s gradual warming from the last ice age. 
The land had to be cleared before planting
Professor Hillman’s team suggest that as the wild grasses and seeds that the people relied on for food died out, they were forced to start cultivating the most easily-grown of them in order to survive.

Professor David Harris, also at UCL, said: “There came a point when this community had no option – they were stuck with agriculture.”

The archaeologists found no evidence that the irrigation was used to grow the first crops as the drought set it. Professor Hillman explains: “What they did was to take seed of the wild cereals from higher areas to the West, and sowed it close to Abu Hureyra in areas such as breaks in slope, where soil moisture was greatly enhanced naturally.”

“Wild stands of these cereals could not have continued to grow unaided in such locations because they would have been out-competed by dryland scrub. Therefore, these first cultivators had to clear the competing vegetation.”

Abu Hurerya, now under lake Assad, near the Turkish border in Syria.

These articles always ignore that the Koreans were farming rice about 15,000 years ago!

There does seem to be some dispute over the age of these grains, as the 12,700 BP date is so much older than the other grain domesticates and this doesn’t seem to have a sensible place in the chronology of the evolution of the Neolithic, it’s possible the dates are wrong (it happens) or that they were just an usually fat bunch of seeds. Also against this is that the Natufians generally show no other signs of agriculture at this era, and that the expanding Neolithic farmers who definitely were growing grain don’t show any cranial similarity to the Natufians.  And there’s the issue that Abu Hurerya is debatable as a Natufian site….

Also against this being agriculture is that the grain in question, rye, really doesn’t feature in the Neolithic expansion as a founder crop. So, hmmm. Reserving judgement here.

Abu Hureryae

Abu Hurerya  link 2

Abu Hurerya link 3

New evidence of Lateglacial cereal cultivation at Abu Hureyra on the Euphrates