Mugharat an-Nachcharini: A specialized sheep-hunting camp reveals high-altitude habitats in the earliest Neolithic of the Central Levant.
ABSTRACT: The earliest Neolithic of southwest Asia is generally perceived and portrayed as a period of emerging economic practices that anticipated full-fledged food-producing economies. This first Neolithic, however, can also be seen as the last gasp of an earlier way of life that remained fundamentally Epipaleolithic in character. While people at this time had begun to cultivate some of the plant foods gathered in preceding periods, and to live for lengthy periods in sites with substantial architecture, they also relied on hunting for a significant portion of their diet and logistical movement across landscapes to exploit diverse environments. The objective of our research on Nachcharini Cave, the only excavated early Neolithic site in the high mountains of northeastern Lebanon, is to evaluate its role in a form of logistical organization not well attested at other sites in the Levant during this period. On the basis of material that Bruce Schroeder excavated in the 1970s, we present here for the first time analyses of faunal and lithic evidence from Nachcharini Cave, along with new radiocarbon dates that place the major occupation layer of the site firmly in the earliest Neolithic. We conclude that Nachcharini was a short-term hunting camp that was periodically used over some two centuries.
Project description:Our compilation of zooarchaeological data from a series of important archaeological sites spanning the Epipaleolithic through Pre-Pottery Neolithic B periods in the Mediterranean Hills of the southern Levant contributes to major debates about the beginnings of ungulate management in Southwest Asia. The data support an onset of ungulate management practices by the Early PPNB (10,500-10,000 cal. BP), more than 500 years earlier than previously thought for this region. There is a clear developmental connection between reduced hunting intensity and the uptake of ungulate management, confirming that this process began in response to local, density-dependent demographic factors. The early process of goat domestication in the southern Levant appears to have been overwhelmingly local. This may have been true for cattle and pigs as well. Nevertheless, the loose synchrony of animal management trends across Southwest Asia was undoubtedly enabled by large-scale social networks that transmitted knowledge. The results add to growing evidence that animal management processes followed multiple regional evolutionary pathways within the Fertile Crescent.
Project description:The extent to which prehistoric migrations of farmers influenced the genetic pool of western North Africans remains unclear. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Neolithization process may have happened through the adoption of innovations by local Epipaleolithic communities or by demic diffusion from the Eastern Mediterranean shores or Iberia. Here, we present an analysis of individuals' genome sequences from Early and Late Neolithic sites in Morocco and from Early Neolithic individuals from southern Iberia. We show that Early Neolithic Moroccans (?5,000 BCE) are similar to Later Stone Age individuals from the same region and possess an endemic element retained in present-day Maghrebi populations, confirming a long-term genetic continuity in the region. This scenario is consistent with Early Neolithic traditions in North Africa deriving from Epipaleolithic communities that adopted certain agricultural techniques from neighboring populations. Among Eurasian ancient populations, Early Neolithic Moroccans are distantly related to Levantine Natufian hunter-gatherers (?9,000 BCE) and Pre-Pottery Neolithic farmers (?6,500 BCE). Late Neolithic (?3,000 BCE) Moroccans, in contrast, share an Iberian component, supporting theories of trans-Gibraltar gene flow and indicating that Neolithization of North Africa involved both the movement of ideas and people. Lastly, the southern Iberian Early Neolithic samples share the same genetic composition as the Cardial Mediterranean Neolithic culture that reached Iberia ?5,500 BCE. The cultural and genetic similarities between Iberian and North African Neolithic traditions further reinforce the model of an Iberian migration into the Maghreb.
Project description:This study presents the results of a major data integration project bringing together primary archaeozoological data for over 200,000 faunal specimens excavated from seventeen sites in Turkey spanning the Epipaleolithic through Chalcolithic periods, c. 18,000-4,000 cal BC, in order to document the initial westward spread of domestic livestock across Neolithic central and western Turkey. From these shared datasets we demonstrate that the westward expansion of Neolithic subsistence technologies combined multiple routes and pulses but did not involve a set 'package' comprising all four livestock species including sheep, goat, cattle and pig. Instead, Neolithic animal economies in the study regions are shown to be more diverse than deduced previously using quantitatively more limited datasets. Moreover, during the transition to agro-pastoral economies interactions between domestic stock and local wild fauna continued. Through publication of datasets with Open Context (opencontext.org), this project emphasizes the benefits of data sharing and web-based dissemination of large primary data sets for exploring major questions in archaeology (Alternative Language Abstract S1).
Project description:Feasting is one of humanity's most universal and unique social behaviors. Although evidence for feasting is common in the early agricultural societies of the Neolithic, evidence in pre-Neolithic contexts is more elusive. We found clear evidence for feasting on wild cattle and tortoises at Hilazon Tachtit cave, a Late Epipaleolithic (12,000 calibrated years B.P.) burial site in Israel. This includes unusually high densities of butchered tortoise and wild cattle remains in two structures, the unique location of the feasting activity in a burial cave, and the manufacture of two structures for burial and related feasting activities. The results indicate that community members coalesced at Hilazon to engage in special rituals to commemorate the burial of the dead and that feasts were central elements in these important events. Feasts likely served important roles in the negotiation and solidification of social relationships, the integration of communities, and the mitigation of scalar stress. These and other social changes in the Natufian period mark significant changes in human social complexity that continued into the Neolithic period. Together, social and economic change signal the very beginning of the agricultural transition.
Project description:Wild sheep (Ovis orientalis) bones recovered from the Natufian site of Shubayqa 1 demonstrate a wider distribution of mouflon in the Late Pleistocene of the Southern Levant than previously known. Early Epipalaeolithic sites are common in the limestone steppe region of eastern Jordan but have yielded only a handful of caprine bones that cannot be identified to species level and few faunal remains from excavated Late Epipalaeolithic sites have been reported. Analysis of animal bone from Shubayqa 1 suggests a significant population of wild sheep could be found concentrated in the basalt desert environment of eastern Jordan during the Late Pleistocene, especially where higher rainfall over the Jebel Druze provided more water. A population of wild sheep was still present in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A when the nearby site of Shubayqa 6 was occupied. Hunting of diverse, locally available resources including wild sheep at the end of the Pleistocene illustrates the flexible and adaptive exploitation strategies that hunter-forager groups engaged in. This provides further evidence to the increasing body of data showing the creative and opportunistic approach of terminal Pleistocene groups allowing continued occupation even in more marginal environments in a period of environmental change.
Project description:The impact of the Neolithic dispersal on the western European populations is subject to continuing debate. To trace and date genetic lineages potentially brought during this transition and so understand the origin of the gene pool of current populations, we studied DNA extracted from human remains excavated in a Spanish funeral cave dating from the beginning of the fifth millennium B.C. Thanks to a "multimarkers" approach based on the analysis of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA (autosomes and Y-chromosome), we obtained information on the early Neolithic funeral practices and on the biogeographical origin of the inhumed individuals. No close kinship was detected. Maternal haplogroups found are consistent with pre-Neolithic settlement, whereas the Y-chromosomal analyses permitted confirmation of the existence in Spain approximately 7,000 y ago of two haplogroups previously associated with the Neolithic transition: G2a and E1b1b1a1b. These results are highly consistent with those previously found in Neolithic individuals from French Late Neolithic individuals, indicating a surprising temporal genetic homogeneity in these groups. The high frequency of G2a in Neolithic samples in western Europe could suggest, furthermore, that the role of men during Neolithic dispersal could be greater than currently estimated.
Project description:Due to its numerous environmental extremes, the Tibetan Plateau--the world's highest plateau--is one of the most challenging areas of modern human settlement. Archaeological evidence dates the earliest settlement on the plateau to the Late Paleolithic, while previous genetic studies have traced the colonization event(s) to no earlier than the Neolithic. To explore whether the genetic continuity on the plateau has an exclusively Neolithic time depth, we studied mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genome variation within 6 regional Tibetan populations sampled from Tibet and neighboring areas. Our results confirm that the vast majority of Tibetan matrilineal components can trace their ancestry to Epipaleolithic and Neolithic immigrants from northern China during the mid-Holocene. Significantly, we also identified an infrequent novel haplogroup, M16, that branched off directly from the Eurasian M founder type. Its nearly exclusive distribution in Tibetan populations and ancient age (>21 kya) suggest that M16 may represent the genetic relics of the Late Paleolithic inhabitants on the plateau. This partial genetic continuity between the Paleolithic inhabitants and the contemporary Tibetan populations bridges the results and inferences from archaeology, history, and genetics.
Project description:Microliths-small, retouched, often-backed stone tools-are often interpreted to be the product of composite tools, including projectile weapons, and efficient hunting strategies by modern humans. In Europe and Africa these lithic toolkits are linked to hunting of medium- and large-sized game found in grassland or woodland settings, or as adaptations to risky environments during periods of climatic change. Here, we report on a recently excavated lithic assemblage from the Late Pleistocene cave site of Fa-Hien Lena in the tropical evergreen rainforest of Sri Lanka. Our analyses demonstrate that Fa-Hien Lena represents the earliest microlith assemblage in South Asia (c. 48,000-45,000 cal. years BP) in firm association with evidence for the procurement of small to medium size arboreal prey and rainforest plants. Moreover, our data highlight that the lithic technology of Fa-Hien Lena changed little over the long span of human occupation (c. 48,000-45,000 cal. years BP to c. 4,000 cal. years BP) indicating a successful, stable technological adaptation to the tropics. We argue that microlith assemblages were an important part of the environmental plasticity that enabled Homo sapiens to colonise and specialise in a diversity of ecological settings during its expansion within and beyond Africa. The proliferation of diverse microlithic technologies across Eurasia c. 48-45 ka was part of a flexible human 'toolkit' that assisted our species' spread into all of the world's environments, and the development of specialised technological and cultural approaches to novel ecological situations.
Project description:The Late Epipalaeolithic Natufian (~14,600?-?11,500?cal BP) is a key period in the prehistory of southwest Asia. Often described as a complex hunting and gathering society with increased sedentism, intensive plant exploitation and associated with an increase in artistic and symbolic material culture, it is positioned between the earlier Upper- and Epi-Palaeolithic and the early Neolithic, when plant cultivation and subsequently animal domestication began. The Natufian has thus often been seen as a necessary pre-adaptation for the emergence of Neolithic economies in southwest Asia. Previous work has pointed to the Mediterranean woodland zone of the southern Levant as the 'core zone' of the Early Natufian. Here we present a new sequence of 27 AMS radiocarbon dates from the Natufian site Shubayqa 1 in northeast Jordan. The results suggest that the site was occupied intermittently between ~14,600?-?12,000?cal BP. The dates indicate the Natufian emerged just as early in eastern Jordan as it did in the Mediterranean woodland zone. This suggests that the origins and development of the Natufian were not tied to the ecological conditions of the Mediterranean woodlands, and that the evolution of this hunting and gathering society was more complex and heterogeneous than previously thought.
Project description:Even though the faba bean (Vicia faba L.) is among the most ubiquitously cultivated crops, very little is known about its origins. Here, we report discoveries of charred faba beans from three adjacent Neolithic sites in the lower Galilee region, in the southern Levant, that offer new insights into the early history of this species. Biometric measurements, radiocarbon dating and stable carbon isotope analyses of the archaeological remains, supported by experiments on modern material, date the earliest farming of this crop to ~10,200?cal?BP. The large quantity of faba beans found in these adjacent sites indicates intensive production of faba beans in the region that can only have been achieved by planting non-dormant seeds. Selection of mutant-non-dormant stock suggests that the domestication of the crop occurred as early as the 11(th) millennium cal BP. Plant domestication| Vicia faba L.| Pre-Pottery Neolithic B| radiocarbon dating| ?(13)C analysis.