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Pre-Pottery Neolithic

The Origins of Agriculture in the Levant

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Excavations at the PPNA site of Gesher, Israel

Photo of excavations of a dwelling at the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A site of Gesher

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The Pre-Pottery Neolithic (abbreviated PPN) is the name given to the people who domesticated the earliest plants and lived in farming communities in the Levant and Near East. The PPN culture contained most of the attributes we think of Neolithic--except pottery, which was not used in the Levant until ca. 5500 BC.

The designations PPNA and PPNB (for Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and so forth) were first developed by Kathleen Kenyon to use at the complex excavations at Jericho, which is probably the best known PPN site. PPNC, referring to the terminal Early Neolithic was first identified at 'Ain Ghazal by Gary O. Rollefson.

Pre-Pottery Neolithic Chronology

PPN Rituals

Ritual behavior during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic is quite remarkable, indicated by the presence of large human figurines at sites such as 'Ain Ghazal, and plastered skulls at 'Ain Ghazal, Jericho, Beisomoun and Kfar HaHoresh. A plastered skull was made by modeling a plaster replica of skin and features onto a human skull. In some cases cowry shells were used for eyes, and sometimes they were painted using cinnabar or other iron-rich element.

Crops of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic

Crops domesticated during the PPN include the founder crops: the cereals (einkorn and emmer wheat and barley), the pulses (lentil, pea, bitter vetch, and chickpea), and a fiber crop (flax). Domesticated forms of these crops have been excavated at sites such as Abu Hureyra, Cafer Hüyük, Cayönü and Nevali Çori.

In addition, the sites of Gilgal and Netiv Hagdud have produced some evidence supporting the domestication of fig trees during the PPNA. Animals domesticated during the PPNB include sheep, goats, and possible cattle.

Domestication as a Collaborative Process?

A recent study at the site of Chogha Golan in Iran (Riehl, Zeidi and Conard 2013) has provided information concerning the apparently wide-spread and perhaps collaborative nature of the domestication process. Based on the exception preservation of the botanical remains, the researchers were able to compare the Chogha Golan assemblage to other PPN sites from all over the Fertile Crescent and extending into Turkey, Israel and Cyprus, and have concluded that there might very well have been inter-regional information and crop flow, which might account for the nearly simultaneous invention of agriculture in the region.

In particular, they note that crop domestication of seed plants (such as emmer and einkorn wheats and barley) seems to have arisen throughout the region at the same time, leading the Tübingen-Iranian Stone Age Research Project (TISARP) to conclude that inter-regional information flow must have occurred.

Sources

This Guide to Prehistory is part of the About.com Guide to the Neolithic and the Guide to European Prehistory.

Bar-Yosef Mayer, Daniella E. 1997 Neolithic shell bead production in Sinai. Journal of Archaeological Science 24:97-111.

Byrd, Brian F. 1994 Public and private, domestic and corporate: The emergence of the southwest Asian village. American Antiquity 59(4):639-666.

Goren, Yuval, A. N. Goring-Morris, and Irena Segal 2001 The technology of skull modelling in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB): Regional variability, the relation of technology and iconography and their archaeological implications. Journal of Archaeological Science 28:671-690.

Haber, Annat and Tamar Dayan 2004 Analyzing the process of domestication: Hagoshrim as a case study. Journal of Archaeological Science 311:587-1601. Free download

Hardy-Smith, Tania and Phillip C. Edwards 2004 The Garbage Crisis in prehistory: artefact discard patterns at the Early Natufian site of Wadi Hammeh 27 and the origins of household refuse disposal strategies. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 23(3):253-289.

Kuijt, Ian 2000 People and Space in Early Agricultural Villages: Exploring Daily Lives, Community Size, and Architecture in the Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 19(1):75-102.

Pinhasi, Ron and Mark Pluciennik 2004 A Regional Biological Approach to the Spread of Farming in Europe: Anatolia, the Levant, South-Eastern Europe, and the Mediterranean. Current Anthropology 45(S4):S59-S82.

Riehl S, Zeidi M, and Conard NJ. 2013. Emergence of agriculture in the foothills of the Zagros mountains of Iran. Science 341:65-67.

Simcha Lev-Yadun, Avi Gopher, and Shahal Abbo. The cradle of agriculture. Science 288(5471):1602-1603.

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