Around 15,000 years ago, the Natufian culture appeared in what is today's Middle East. This culture, which straddled the border between nomadic and settled lifestyles, had diverse, complex origins – much more than researchers had assumed. This finding arises from the research of a team of scientists and archaeologists from the Weizmann Institute of Science and the University of Copenhagen.
The hunter-gatherers of the Natufian culture were spread over modern-day Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria around 14,500 – 11,500 years ago. They were some of the first people to build permanent houses and tend to edible plants. These innovations were most likely crucial to the subsequent emergence of agriculture during the Neolithic era. Previous research had suggested that the center of this culture was the Mount Carmel and Galilee region, and that it had spread from there to other parts of the region. The new study by the Copenhagen-Weizmann team, published in Scientific Reports challenges this "core region" theory.
The new paper is based on evidence from a Natufian site located in Jordan, some 1
Over twenty samples from different layers of the site were dated, making it one of the best and most accurately dated Natufian sites anywhere. The data showed, among other things, that the site was first settled not long after the earliest data obtained for northern Israel. Either Natufians expanded very rapidly into the region (which is the less-likely explanation), or the settlement patterns emerged more or less simultaneously in different parts of the region.
"The early date of Shubayqa 1 shows that Natufian hunter-gatherers We were more versatile than previously thought, Past research had linked the emergence of Natufian culture to the rich habitat of the Mediterranean woodland zone, but the early date from Shubayqa show that these late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers were also able to live comfortably in more open parkland steppe zones further east, "says Richter. Some of their subsistence appears to have relied heavily on the exploitation of rush tubers, as well as other wild plants and the hunting of birds, gazelle and other animals.
was the main driver of abandonment or resettlement, although it clearly plays a role.
Boaretto says that the "core area" theory may have come about, because the Mt. Carmel sites have been the best preserved and studied, until now. In addition to calling into question the idea of the Natufian beginning in one settlement and spreading outwards, the study suggests that the hunter-gatherers who lived 15,000 to 12,000 years ago were ingenious and resourceful. They learned to make use of numerous plants and animals where ever they were, and to tend them in a way that led to early settlement. The authors say that this supports a view in which there were many pathways to agriculture and "the 'Neolithic way of life' was a highly variable and complex process that can not be explained on the basis of single-cause models."
Prof. Elisabetta Boaretto's research is supplied by the Helen and Martin Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science, which she heads; and the Dangoor Accelerator Mass Spectrometer Laboratory.
The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, is one of the world's top-ranking multidisciplinary research institutions. Noted for its wide-ranging exploration of the natural and exact sciences, the Institute is home to scientists, students, technicians and supporting staff. Institute research efforts include the search for new ways of fighting disease and hunger, examining leading questions in mathematics and computer science, probing the physics of matter and the universe, creating novel materials and developing new strategies for protecting the environment.
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