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The excavation of an early Canaanite home is taking place right next door to the moshav homes.
Photo Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority

Topic: Canaanite agriculture settlement:

Archaeological excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority done prior to laying down a sewer line turned up evidence of human habitation 9,000 years ago.

Archaeological excavations which were conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Judean foothills moshav (cooperative village) of Eshta’ol, before laying a sewer line, have unearthed evidence that the area where the moshav houses sprawl started attracting agricultural entrepreneurs as far back as 9,000 years ago.

According to Benjamin Storchen, the excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “the ancient findings we unveiled at the site indicate that there was a flourishing agricultural settlement in this place, and it lasted for as long as 4,000 years.”

The archaeological artifacts discovered in the excavation site indicate that the first settlers arrived here about 9,000 years ago. This period is called by archaeologists the Pre-Ceramic Neolithic period, which includes the earliest evidence of organized agriculture.

The site continued to flourish, and reached the peak of its development in the early Canaanite period, about 5000 years ago. This period is characterized by the consolidation of large rural communities, which were dispersed all across the country. The economy of these villages relied on field crops, on orchards and on livestock farming, which continue to characterize in today’s typical Mediterranean agriculture.

This period is credited with some technological innovations in agriculture which upgraded man’s ability to process extensive areas of crops more efficiently.

It appears that the Canaanite site being excavated at the moshav Eshta’ol was part of a large settlement bloc, which came to an end for reasons that are not sufficiently clear some 4,600 years ago.

Stortz’n explains that “these findings indicate a broad and well-developed settlement in the area of the Judean foothills, near the spot where two local rivers, the Kislon and the Ishwa, meet.”

He claims that “these two riverbeds, which today are dry, were alive with streaming water in ancient times, which provided the necessities of life for the local community and allow them to develop thriving agricultural systems alongside an economy based on hunting. The evidence to that are flint warheads, discovered in the same excavation.

These early farmers developed a rich culture, which was reflected, among other things, in the plan of the Canaanite residence exposed at the site, right next to one of the moshav homes. There’s also an abundance of findings: pottery and stone tools, flint tools, including those used to harvest wheat and for housework, and arrowheads used for hunting animals and as weapons, as well as beads and bone artifacts.

Original article:
Jewish press

By: Jewish Press Staff
Published: June 30th, 2013

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Benjamin Storchen holding up a bronze period bowl.

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Topic: Early Man

In the middle of an African desert, with no water to be found for miles, scattered shells, fishing harpoons, fossilised plants and stone tools reveal signs of life from the water’s edge of another era. In 40°C heat, anthropologists Dr Marta Mirazón Lahr and Professor Robert Foley from Cambridge’s Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies (LCHES) are painstakingly searching for clues to the origin and diversification of modern humans, from the artefacts they left behind to the remains of the people themselves.

Kenya, East Africa, has long been known as the ‘cradle of mankind’ following the discovery of fossils thought to be of the first members of the human family, which arose in Africa around 6–7 million years ago. Various distinct species evolved from these ancestors over millions of years, including our own – Homo sapiens – around 250,000 years ago.

Tip of a massive population expansion

“A lot of the research on the origins of modern humans has focused on defining their point of origin, then understanding why humans left Africa about 60,000 years ago to colonise the rest of the world – known as the Out of Africa model,” said Mirazón Lahr. “But we have no idea what happened between 200,000 years and 60,000 years ago. We also have very little information on what occurred inside Africa after 60,000 years, when the different population groups and languages we see today evolved. The genetics suggest that the expansion out of Africa is just the tip of a massive population expansion inside the continent.”

Mirazón Lahr’s In Africa project, recently awarded five-year funding from the European Research Council, is investigating the evolutionary history of modern human populations. “The challenge is to find the sites where evidence of these early people can be recovered – their stone tools, the animals they hunted, their ornaments and, ultimately, the fossils of the people themselves,” she said.

East Africa has played a central role in all earlier phases of human evolution. She has chosen to focus on this region based on the theory that its past environment was suitable for sustained occupation over time. But East Africa is huge, and finding the right place to look is absolutely crucial. Mirazón Lahr used satellite technology to find the first clues.

Using satellite images

“In the past there were periods of enormous rainfall in the tropics. When glaciers melted in the northern hemisphere, due to climate change, the water evaporated and then fell in the tropics as monsoon rains,” she said. “The lakes were much higher and their margins were wider. We are using satellite images of the region to reconstruct where the ancient lake margins would have been when the lakes were last high, and that’s where we look.”

Mirazón Lahr and Foley have already carried out three field expeditions, in 2009, 2010 and 2011, to investigate their two chosen sites: the Turkana and the Nakuru-Naivasha basins of the Rift Valley in Kenya, and have made some spectacular finds on the ancient Turkana beaches.

“Ten thousand years ago, this area was wetter, with gazelles, hippos and lions, and the beaches are still there even though the water is long gone. We’ve found shells on the surface, and harpoons the people used to fish with. We go there and we just walk,” said Mirazón Lahr. “A lot has already been exposed by the wind, and occasionally we find sites where things are buried, and then we dig.”

“We’re looking at the lithics – stone tools – and how these relate to times of particularly high lake levels,” said Mirazón Lahr. “Then we’re looking at the fauna and, if we’re lucky, we find actual human fossils. The oldest fossil ever found that looks like a modern human is 200,000 years old, and comes from the basin of Lake Turkana. We’re trying to find the fossils that mark the origin of Homo sapiens. The ancient Turkana beach is an incredibly fossil-rich site, and we’ve already found such exciting things!

“We have many human remains – about 700 fragments – mostly dating from between 12,000 and 7,000 years ago, which match the age of this beach. To do the population biology and answer the questions about diversity we need these large numbers. This is already the biggest collection of this age in Africa.”

Changing technologies

The primitive technologies that our early ancestors left behind change over time, and comparing finds dated to different times can advance understanding of our evolutionary trajectory. “We think the evolution to modern humans is associated with changes in behaviour and in technology, for example in their tool use,” said Mirazón Lahr. “We’ve already found evidence that they started using animal bones to make tools, which was rare in earlier populations.”

“The people who lived around this lake 10,000 years ago used microliths – a form of miniaturised stone tool technology,” said Foley. “Instead of producing one or two big flakes like the earliest modern humans, they produced lots of very small flakes to make composite tools. This is a sign of the flexibility of the way modern humans adapted to different conditions. We’ve also found a beach in the Turkana Basin from about 200,000 years ago and that has its own very different fossilised fauna, and very different stone tools. The technology and the people changed a lot over the past 200,000 years.”

Geography and climate played a critical role

Mirazón Lahr emphasises that geography and climate played a critical role in the origins and diversification of modern humans. “The times when the lakes were high were periods of plenty in East Africa,” she said. “When it was very wet there were lots of animals, the vegetation could grow, and you can imagine that the people would have thrived.” East Africa had a unique mosaic environment with lake basins, highlands and plains that provided alternative niches for foraging populations over this period. Mirazón Lahr believes that these complex conditions were shaped by varying local responses to global climate change.

“We think that early modern humans could live in the region throughout these long periods, even if they had to move between basins.” With a network of habitable zones, human populations survived by expanding, contracting and shifting ranges according to the changing conditions. By comparing the fossil records from different basins over time, Mirazón Lahr hopes to establish a spatial and temporal pattern of human occupation over the past 200,000 years.

Her approach is a multidisciplinary one, combining genetic, fossil, archaeological and palaeoclimatic information to form an accurate picture of events. Drawing on her wide-ranging interests from molecular genetics to lithics and prehistory, she believes that the way to find novel insights is to consider each problem from various angles.

This approach is intrinsic to the In Africa project, in which she and Foley are not just searching for new fossils, but also trying to build a complete picture of our early ancestors’ lives and the external forces that shaped their evolution, both biological and behavioural. “The project will be one of the first investigations into humans of this date in East Africa,” said Foley. “Given Africa is where we all come from, that’s critical.”

Original article:

past horizons
Source:Cambridge university

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Topic:Ancient stone tools

(Phys.org) —Stone Age man’s gradual improvement in tool development, particularly in crafting stone handaxes, is providing insight into the likely mental advances these early humans made a million years ago. Better tools make for better hunting, and better tools come from more sophisticated thought processes. Close analysis of bits of chipped and flaked stone from across Ethiopia is helping scientists crack the code of how these early humans thought over time.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellow Giday WoldeGabriel and a team of Ethiopian, Japanese, American and German researchers recently examined the world’s oldest handaxes and other stone tools from southern Ethiopia. Their observation of improved workmanship over time indicates a distinct advance in mental capabilities of the residents in the entire region, with potential impacts in tool-development skills, and in overall spatial and navigational capabilities, all of which improved their hunting adaptation.

“Even though fossil remains of the tool makers are not commonly preserved, the handaxes clearly archive the evolution of innovation in craftsmanship, acquired intelligence and social behavior in a pre-human community over a million-year interval,” said WoldeGabriel.

The scientists determined the age of the tools based on the interlayered volcanic ashes with the handaxe-bearing sedimentary deposits in Konso, Ethiopia. Handaxes and other double-sided or bifacial tools are known as the first purposely-shaped tools made by humanity and are closely associated with Homo erectus, an ancestor of modern humans. A paper in a special series of inaugural articles in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “The characteristics and chronology of the earliest Acheulean at Konso, Ethiopia,” described their work.

Some experts suggest that manufacturing three-dimensional symmetric tools is possible only with advanced mental-imaging capacities. Such tools might have emerged in association with advanced spatial and navigational cognition, perhaps related to an enhanced mode of hunting adaptation. Purposeful thinning of large bifacial tools is technologically difficult, the researchers note. In modern humans, acquisition and transmission of such skills occur within a complex social context that enables sustained motivation during long-term practice and learning over a possible five-year period.

Making the right tools for the job

Researchers observed that the handaxes’ structure evolved from thick, roughly-manufactured stone tools in the earliest period of Acheulean tool making, approximately 1.75 million years ago to thinner and more symmetric tools around 0.85 Ma or megaannum, a unit of time equal to one million years. The Acheulean is a stone-age technology named after a site in France where handaxes from this tradition were first discovered.

The chronological framework for this handaxe assemblage, based on the ages of volcanic ashes and sediments, suggests that this type of tool making was being established on a regional scale at that time, paralleling the emergence of Homo erectus-like hominid morphology. The appearance of the Ethiopian Acheulean handaxes at approximately 1.75 Ma is chronologically indistinguishable from similar tools recently found west of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, more than 125 miles to the south.

“To me, the most intriguing story of the discovery is that a pre-human community lived in a locality known as Konso at the southern end of the Ethiopian Rift System for at least a million years and how the land sustained the livelihood of the occupants for that long period of time. In contrast, look at what our species has done to Earth in less than 100,000 years – the time it took for modern humans to disperse out of Africa and impose our voracious appetite for resources, threatening our planet and our existence,” WoldeGabriel said.

More information: http://www.pnas.org/content/110/5/1584.full

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Provided by Los Alamos National Laboratory

Original article:
Phys.org
March 14, 013

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Topic: Stone Age settlement

Plans to build a new railway line in the north have lead to the discovery of an ancient Stone Age settlement with evidence of flint and stone tools and cultic sexual symbols.

Prior to work on the rail line to Karmiel, east of Haifa, the Israel Antiquities Authority excavated the Ahihud Junction and unearthed remains and artifacts from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period and the Early Chalcolithic period, dating from the seventh to the fifth millennium BCE.

“For the first time in the country, entire buildings and extensive habitation levels were exposed from these early periods, in which the rich material culture of the local residents was discovered,” said excavation directors Drs. Yitzhak Paz and Yaakov Vardi

They found remains of a village and “a large number of pottery vessels indicative of a highly developed pottery industry, flint tools, stone objects, as well as a number of unique artistic artifacts, among them a phallic figurine and a palette on which female genitals are schematically etched – these symbols also represented the fertility of the earth.”

“The ancient settlement remains ascribed to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period were discovered on top of the bedrock in which the ancient inhabitants hew different installations, and even built plaster floors in several spots. We found a large number of flint and obsidian arrowheads, polished miniature stone axes, blades and other flint and stone tools,” the archaeologists added.

One of the materials for the tools is not found in Israel, indicating that trade flourished with other regions, including Turkey.

“Another unique find that can be attributed to this period is the thousands of charred broad bean seeds that were discovered together inside a pit. The Neolithic and Chalcolithic societies were agrarian societies that resided in villages, and it was during these periods that the agricultural revolution took place, when plants and animals were domesticated. This is one of the earliest examples of the proper cultivation of legumes in the Middle East,” they explained.

A preliminary analysis of the animal bones discovered at the site shows that pigs were a principal staple in the diet of the inhabitants.

Original article:
Jewish press
By Tzvi Ben – Gedalyahu

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Topic: More on Neanderthal

The Lozoya River Valley, in the Madrid mountain range of Guadarrama, could easily be called “Neanderthal Valley,” says the paleontologist Juan Luis Arsuaga.

“It is protected by two strings of mountains, it is rich in fauna, it is a privileged spot from an environmental viewpoint, and it is ideal for the Neanderthal, given that it provided the with good hunting grounds.”

This is not just a hypothesis: scientists working on site in Pinilla del Valle, near the reservoir, have already found nine Neanderthal teeth, remains of bonfires and thousands of animal fossils, including some from enormous aurochs (the ancestor of cattle, each the length of two bulls), rhinoceros and fallow deer.

The Neanderthal is a human species that is well known and unknown at the same time. It is well known because numerous vestiges have been found from the time when they lived in Europe, between 200,000 and 30,000 years ago. But it is also unknown because of the many unresolved issues that keep cropping up, including, first and foremost: why did they become extinct just as our current species made an appearance on the continent?

Nobody knows for sure whether the Neanderthal was able to talk, or whether they shared territory with Homo sapiens, or whether both species ignored each other until one – ours – proliferated while the other got lost forever… Scientists in charge of the sites at Pinilla del Valle could make significant contributions to finding the answers to these and other questions about the lives of the Neanderthal people.

“There are around 15 sites in Spain: in the Cantabrian mountain range, along the eastern Mediterranean coast and in Andalusia, but none on the plateau, where there are no limestone formations and no adequate caves to preserve human remains for thousands of years,” adds Arsuaga. But Pinilla del Valle is an exception to the rule. “There is limestone here. It was like a cap made of stone under which the Neanderthal presumably took refuge to prepare for the hunt, to craft their tools, to eat… It’s not that they lived inside in the sense of a home; they wandered in the fields, and this was probably more like a base camp to take refuge when they needed to.”

It is clear that the Neanderthals took care of their dead in some way

“The site, which has great potential, extends some 150 meters and we are now working in three areas: the cave of Camino, the refuge of Navalmaillo and the cave of Des-Cubierta, which cover three different time frames,” says Enrique Baquedano, director of the Regional Archeology Museum in Madrid.

It was on the floor of Des-Cubierta that the Neanderthal must have placed the dead body of a small child aged two-and-a-half to three years old. They placed two slabs of stone and an aurochs horn on top, and set the body on fire. Baquedano explains that they found some of the child’s teeth – they call it a little girl, although they have no scientific evidence of its gender – as well as a piece of coal that turned up just a few days ago and which will enable precise dating. “Complete burials, with a clear structure that allows [researchers] to reconstruct behaviors, is a very rare thing in any part of the world,” says Arsuaga, who is also co-director of the excavations at the major prehistoric site of Atapuerca.

Standing next to him, Baquedano points at the spot where they found the coal from that bonfire, perhaps a ritual of some sort, and which will be subjected to carbon 14-dating techniques.

“We are convinced that it was an intentional deposition of the girl’s body; perhaps there were more burials at Neanderthal sites but they were not recognized as such,” says the museum director.

The fact is, the Neanderthal took care of their dead in some way. Traces of them have also been found in France and Israel.

Here at the Madrid valley, archeologists and paleontologists get busier as the days go by. A total of 70 people scattered over three sites dig among the sediment with chisels and brushes; they clear through the rock with jackhammers, they wash kilograms of extracted earth so that not even the smallest noteworthy piece will go by unnoticed, and every excavated centimeter is documented. This scientific work has been going on every summer for a decade, “for 40 days, in two shifts,” explains César Laplana of the regional museum.

The nine Neanderthal teeth discovered so far are between 60,000 and 90,000 years old, and several of them appeared in what must have been hyena dens, where the animals probably devoured and destroyed the bodies. “Teeth are the most resistant of all organic tissue; they keep better than the rest of the skeleton, and they provide lots of information about the diet, the diseases, and the passage from childhood to adulthood,” continues Laplana.

“The Neanderthal lived both in the interglacial and the glacial periods,” explains Arsuaga. After an ice age that made half of Europe look like Greenland does today, the interglacial period began around 130,000 years ago with a climate that was actually warmer than today’s; then, 85,000 years ago the last ice age began, ending 11,500 years ago. The excavations at Pinilla corresponding to the interglacial period produced many remains of fallow deer (a Mediterranean species), tortoises, porcupines and brown bears, as opposed to the cave bears of the glacial period.

Over at the cave of Des-Cubierta, Javier Somoza, a student at Salamanca University, walks up to Baquedano and shows him an artifact wrapped in white paper: it is a tool that he has just found in the ground. “Yes, I was very excited,” says Somoza about the bit of pink quartz.

Thousands of stone tools have already been found. “The best stone for sculpting is flint, but there’s none in this area, so they had to make do with what they had handy. So they adapted their technique to quartz. “It’s worse, but it works and it represents an admirable technological adaptation.”

And what about hunting? “They used wooden lances with fire-hardened tips.”

“Here, in this valley so full of rich sites, we can find out lots of things about the Neanderthal, their lives and their deaths, their climate, their technology and their economy,” concludes the archeologist. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Original article:

elpais.com

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Topic early hunting- tools

At a site in the Homa Peninsula of Lake Victoria, Kenya, scientists are uncovering stone tools and fossils that are shedding new light on their manufacture and use, as well as early human habitat and behavior.
Led by co-directors Dr. Thomas Plummer of Queens College, City University of New York and Dr. Rick Potts of the Smithsonian Institution, excavations at the site, called Kanjera South, have revealed a large and diversified assortment of Oldowan stone tools, fossil animal remains and other flora and faunal evidence that is building a picture of hominin, or early human, life and behavior in a grassland environment about 2 million years ago. Oldowan stone tools represent the earliest known human or hominin stone tool industry, named after the Olduvai Gorge, where Louis Leakey first discovered examples in the 1930’s. This early industry was typically composed of simple “pebble tools” such as choppers, scrapers and pounders, a type of technology used from about 2.6 to 1.7 million years ago.
According to Plummer, the site “has yielded approximately 3700 fossils and 2900 artifacts…….This represents one of the largest collections of Oldowan artifacts and fauna found thus far”.
But more significant than the numbers is what the analysis of the finds and the site has revealed.
Says Plummer, “the ca. 2.0 Ma sediments at Kanjera South…..provide some of the best early evidence for a grassland dominated ecosystem during the time period of human evolution, and the first clear documentation of human ancestors forming archaeological sites in such a setting”.
The site thus shows clear evidence that early humans of this time period were inhabiting and utilizing a grassland environment, in addition to other types of environments, a signal of critical adapatation that led to evolutionary success. Moreover, analysis of the makeup of the tools and the geography and geology of the area suggested that these hominins were transporting what they must have consideed to be the highest quality materials from relatively distant locations to produce the most effective and efficient tools for butchering animals. Cut marks made by stone blades on fossil bones, particularly small antelopes, showed signs that the animals may have been hunted, or at least encountered first, by the early humans before other preying animals reached the carcasses.
“The overall pattern of hominin access to the complete carcasses of small antelopes may be the signal of hominin hunting”, writes Plummer. “If so, this would be the oldest evidence of hunting to date in the archaeological record”.
Use of stone tools by these early humans apparently went beyond butchery.
“Thus far, the use-wear on the quartz and quartzite subsample of Kanjera artifacts confirms that animal butchery was conducted on-site, but also demonstrates the processing of a variety of plant tissues, including wood (for making wooden tools?) and tubers. This is significant, because the processing of plant materials appears to have been quite important, but would otherwise have been archaeologically invisible”.

Plummer’s detailed article about the research and findings is published in the June 12, 2012 issue of Popular Archaeology Magazine.

Original article:
popular archaeology
June 13, 2012

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Topic: Ancient Irish Settlement

Archaeologists find oldest evidence of human habitation ever dicovered in region

Radiocarbon dating of an artifact found in the Burren in County Clare has redefined the time line of human inhabitance in Ireland. A shellfish cooker found in 2009 has been identified to be around 6,000 years old, predating the nearby Poulnabrone dolmen by hundreds of years.

The Irish Examiner reports that a midden, “a cooking area where nomad hunter-gatherers boiled or roasted shellfish,” was discovered at Fanore Beach in Clare in 2009 by local woman Elaine O’Malley. Along with the midden were axes and smaller stone tools, artifacts of the Stone Age.

Also found at the site was “mysterious black layer of organic material” which researchers believe could have been from a tsunami that struck the Western coast of Ireland during the Stone Age, possibly wiping out the population of the area.

“This is the oldest settlement in Clare,” said Michael Lynch, field monument adviser for Co Clare. “We have always thought hunter-gatherers existed in Clare but this is the first real evidence of that.”

“We know that they were cooking and eating shellfish here,” said Lynch of the pre-farming settlement discovered, “but we don’t know yet exactly what method they were using to cook it. So hopefully that is one of the things we can uncover in the weeks ahead.”

The mysterious black layer found at the site remains under investigation. “We have not been able to identify exactly what this black layer is yet but, as it happens, it is this layer which helped to protect the ancient settlement that we are currently excavating,” said Lynch.

“If we can establish a date for this black material, it will help us to piece together more of the mystery of this site and it could tell us a bit about what happened here that brought the use of the midden to an end.

“It is possible that this is the result of a major climatic event, a massive storm or possibly a tsunami, or some other major event of that sort, which would have thrown up a large amount of debris all at one time.”
Original article:

Irishcentral.com

By KERRY O’SHEA, IrishCentral Staff Writer
May 10, 2012

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The moment when the hunter-gatherers laid down their spears and began farming around 11,000 years ago is often interpreted as one of the most rapid and significant transitions in human history – the ‘Neolithic Revolution’.

By producing and storing food, Homo sapiens both mastered the natural world and took the first significant steps towards thousands of years of runaway technological development. The advent of specialist craftsmen, an increase in fertility and the construction of permanent architecture are just some of the profound changes that followed.

Of course, the transition to agriculture was far from rapid. The period around 14,500 years ago has been regarded as the point at which the first indications appear of cultural change associated with agriculture: the exploitation of wild grains and the construction of stone buildings. Farming is believed to have begun in what is known as the Fertile Crescent in the Levant region, which stretches from northern Egypt through Israel and Jordan to the shores of the Persian Gulf, and then occurred independently in other regions of the world at different times from 11,000 years ago.

Recent evidence, however, has suggested that the first stirrings of the revolution began even earlier, perhaps as far back as 19,000 years ago. Stimulating this reinterpretation of human prehistory are discoveries by the Epipalaeolithic Foragers in Azraq Project (EFAP), a group of archaeologists and bioarchaeologists working in the Jordanian desert comprising University of Cambridge’s Dr. Jay Stock, Dr. Lisa Maher (University of California, Berkeley) and Dr. Tobias Richter (University of Copenhagen).

Over the past four years, their research has uncovered dramatic evidence of changes in the behaviour of hunter-gatherers that casts new light on agriculture’s origins, as Dr. Stock described: “Our work suggests that these hunter-gatherer communities were starting to congregate in large numbers in specific places, build architecture and show more-complex ritual and symbolic burial practices – signs of a greater attachment to a location and a changing pattern of social complexity that imply they were on the trajectory toward agriculture.”

Fertile Crescent

Working at the fringes of the Fertile Crescent, at sites in the Azraq Basin and the marshlands of Jordan, the EFAP team is excavating the archaeological remains of the hunter-gatherers who occupied the region. Such sites have been under studied, said Dr Stock: “Because these early hunter-gatherers have been perceived as building only transient camp sites, they have been largely disregarded in explanations of the development of agriculture. Instead, excavations have focused on the later ‘Natufian’ period, beginning around 14,500 years ago, since this period more clearly shows cultural precursors of the transition to agriculture.”

Today, the Azraq Basin is a 12,000 sq km area of dusty, wind-blown desert, and a very challenging place to work. Temperatures can soar to 45°C, requiring the researchers to start field work at 5 am and finish by midday when the heat and winds become too strong to allow work to continue.

But when the first humans were leaving Africa, the open grasslands and lush marshlands of the Fertile Crescent teemed with gazelle, antelope and plant life. Given this region is situated at the crossroads between Africa and the rest of the world, it is perhaps unsurprising that it should be the site of regional agricultural innovation.

Few previous archaeological excavations have been carried out in this inhospitable terrain, most instead focusing on regions closer to the Mediterranean. With funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the researchers set out four years ago to redress the balance.

Complex burials

Dr. Stock’s expertise lies in the analysis of hunter-gatherer bones. Over the past 15 years, he has analysed over 1,400 skeletons from around the world to understand what it is about early humans that made them such successful colonisers of the natural environment.

One of the most startling of the researchers’ findings in Jordan has been the hunter-gatherer graves. Evidence suggests that, far from simple burials, the hunter-gatherers had elaborate mortuary and sociocultural practices. In one grave in ʻAyn Qasiyya, an adult male was placed in marshland in a sitting position, and was likely to have been tightly wrapped in cloth. A previous finding by another archaeologist at Kharaneh IV was a burial of an older man underneath a hut floor, his age suggesting that he would have required the care of others in life.

At another site, ‘Uyun-al-Hammam, a University of Toronto-based project led by Dr. Maher has excavated a total of 11 burials, some of which show elaborate mortuary treatments. Indeed, one grave that includes a human buried together with a fox, said Dr. Maher: “suggests a close emotional or symbolic tie between humans and foxes prior to the first domesticated animal – the dog – and shows continuity in burial and social practices with the later Neolithic”. Dr. Stock’s study of the human remains demonstrates that these people were ancestral to the later farmers.

The researchers argue that these examples may represent an increasing cultural sophistication and a greater complexity in the relationship between humans and animals – trends that had only previously been identified in later time periods.

Mega camp site

A major focus of the work of the EFAP team over the past four years has been the excavation of the site of Kharaneh IV, in the Azraq Desert of eastern Jordan. The site is much more than the sort of temporary camp site normally ascribed to hunter-gatherer groups. Covering almost two hectares, the 19,000-year-old site was occupied for 1,200 years and is, as Dr. Stock described, “so huge, it’s the earliest sign of human activity that is large enough to be visible on Google Earth.”

“To produce the debris of stone tools and bones, in some places almost 3 m deep, we believe that many groups of hunter-gatherers would meet and live together for several months of the year before splitting into mobile groups at other times.”

The team is researching the area in astonishing detail – in a technique known as 100% flotation, every square centimetre excavated is floated to check for plant remains and charcoal. As Dr. Richter pointed out: “even very small remains are providing very important clues towards our understanding of the relationship between prehistoric humans and their habitat”.

To date, they have found plant remains, animal bones carved with repeated incised motifs, stones carved with geometric patterns, stone tools in their thousands, hearths, pierced shells and, just recently, oval hut structures. As the work continues, all indications point towards an advanced cultural and technological complexity in the exploitation of bone, shell, plants and architecture. “The size of the site, combined with evidence for huts and other symbolic goods, imply that Kharaneh IV was long-term and repeatedly occupied,” said Dr. Stock. “It could be regarded as a precursor to later farming villages.”

The revolution that wasn’t

The team’s discoveries extend many aspects of the behavioural complexity associated with the Neolithic to about 10,000 years earlier, pushing back the true roots of the transition to agriculture.

“On evolutionary timescales, the transition to agriculture can undoubtedly be regarded in revolutionary terms,” said Dr Stock. “But, we can now see this as a culturally dynamic process that began much earlier than previously thought.”

“This picture would not have come together through the excavation of one site alone,” he added. “The burial complexity of ʻUyun-al-Hammam and ʻAyn Qasiyya, together with the architecture and size of the settlement at Kharaneh IV, collectively offer glimpses of a protracted period in which humans worked through the cultural and biological changes that needed to happen before village life and the systematic exploitation of grain could emerge.”

Provided by University of Cambridge (news : web)

Original article:
physorg.com

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Bamboo tool-making study shines light on East Asia’s Stone Age tool scarcity (SMU Research)#more.

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