The hunter-gatherers of the Natufian culture, scattered in present-day Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, approximately 11,500 to 15,000 years ago, were among the first to build permanent houses and grow edible plants.
These innovations were probably crucial for the subsequent emergence of agriculture during the Neolithic era.
While previous research suggested that the center of this culture extended from the region of Mount Carmel and Galilee, a new study by a team of scientists and archaeologists now propose that Natufian had much more diverse and complex origins than originally it was believed.
The study, published in Nature Scientific Reports by a team of scientists and archaeologists from the Weizmann Institute of Science and the University of Copenhagen, defies the theory of the "central region" for a long time.
According to the researchers, the study is based on evidence from a Natufian site located in Jordan, about 150 km. northeast of Amman. The site, called Shubayqa 1, was excavated by a team from the University of Copenhagen led by Dr. Tobias Richter from 2012 to 2015.
The excavations discovered a well-preserved Natufian site, which included, among other findings, a large set of remains of charred plants. The botanical remains, which are rare at many Natufian sites in the region, allowed the Weizmann-Copenhagen team to obtain the most dates for any Natufian site in Israel or Jordan.
Using an accelerating mass spectrometry (AMS), Prof. Elisabetta Boaretto, director of the Dangoor Research Accelerator Mass Spectrometry laboratory (D-REAMS) at the Weizmann Institute, was able to accurately date the charred remains.
"This is one of the few laboratories in the world that works with technology and methods that can analyze even the smallest organic remains of a site and date them accurately," the Institute said Thursday.
"With the laboratory's specially designed mass spectrometer, Boaretto was able to reveal the amount of carbon-14 in a sample up to the individual atom, based on the half-life of the radioactive carbon-14 atoms, the dating done in The laboratory has an accuracy of about 50 years, more or less. "
To ensure maximum accuracy, the team selected only short-lived samples of plant species or their parts, for example, seeds or twigs, to obtain the dates.
"More than 20 samples have been dated from different layers of the site, making it one of the best Natufian sites with the most accurate age anywhere," Institute continued. "The dates showed, among other things, that the site was resolved not long after the earliest dates obtained for northern Israel."
According to the findings, the researchers concluded that Natufians quickly expanded to the region, or more likely, that settlement patterns emerged more or less simultaneously in different parts of the region.
"The early date of Shubayqa 1 shows that Natufian hunter-gatherers were more versatile than previously thought," Richter said.
Previous research had linked the emergence of the Natufian culture with the rich habitat of the Mediterranean forest area. But the early Shubayqa dates show that these Late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers could also live comfortably in steppe areas more open to the east. "
Richter noted that the researchers determined that a part of the Natufians' subsistence seems to have relied heavily on the exploitation of reed tubers, other wild plants and the hunting of birds, gazelles and other animals.
] He added that the new dates do not necessarily correlate with the idea that climate change was the main driver of abandonment or resettlement, although he said that clearly played a role.
According to Boaretto, the theory of the "central area" may have been produced, in part, because Mt. Carmel sites have been the best preserved and studied, so far.
"In addition to questioning the idea that the Natufian began in a settlement and spread outward, the study suggests that hunter-gatherers lived between 15,000 and 12,000 years. "They were ingenious and ingenious," said Boaretto.
"They learned to use numerous plants and animals wherever they were, and to tend to them in a way that led to an early settlement."
The authors concluded that their findings support the view that there were many paths to agriculture and that "the Neolithic way of life" was a highly variable and complex process that can not be explained on the basis of single cause models.