open space) and the like."
Sedentism must also have included a response to the most pressing of human social needs, defense against other human groups. For hunter-gatherers, the essence of security is mobility. For the first settlers, defense must have rested on some other basis, which was presumably that of population size. Because the settlers had learned to live together in larger groups, they would have outnumbered the attackers. With greater manpower than the usual foraging group, together with fortifications and perhaps the guard dogs that first became available 15,000 years ago, settlers would have been able to even the odds against the raiding parties after their food and women. This new form of social organization preceded and perhaps prompted such innovations as the cultivation of wild cereals, and the penning and herding of wild animals like sheep and goats. These steps led in turn, perhaps more by accident than design, to the domestication of plants and animals and to the beginnings of agriculture. Settled life and the new hierarchical form of society paved the way for complex societies, cities, civilization and, in rudimentary form, the institutions of today's urban life. Almost all subsequent human history and development seems in one sense a consequence of the pivotal transition from the foraging lifestyle to a settled, structured society. The innovations of settled life and agriculture started to spread through Europe 10,000 years ago, a date that marks the beginning of the Neolithic age. Because the two inventions became so visible in the Neolithic, archaeologists long assumed that the improving climate made agriculture possible, which in turn opened the gateway to settled living. But in part because of improved dating techniques, they have come to see that the reverse is true: it was not agriculture that led to settlement, but rather sedentary life came first, well before the Neolithic age began, and agriculture followed in its train. "Until recently, the beginning of the Neolithic was thought to occur with the inception of village farming," write the archaeologists Peter Akkermans, of Leiden University in Holland, and Glenn Schwartz of Johns Hop-kins University. "We are now aware, however, that sedentary village life began several millennia before the end of the late glacial period, and the full-scale adoption of agriculture and stock rearing occurred much later, in the late ninth and eighth millennia BC. It is now evident that agriculture was not a necessary prerequisite for sedentary life, nor were sedentary settlers always farmers."149 Some signs of sedentary life can be seen as early as the Gravettian mammoth bone houses of 18,000 years ago, and it may be that sedentary systems were attempted when people came across an abundant food source, such as hazelnuts or salmon, together with a method of storing it. But these early instances of settlement were sporadic and may not have required any deep behavioral changes. True sedentism did not catch on as a permanent way of life until toward the end of the Upper Paleolithic. The first clear evidence of a successful and long term settled community comes from people called the Natufians, who lived in the Near East from about 15,000 to 11,500 years ago. They occupied lands on the eastern side of the Mediterranean, in the region that is now Israel, Jordan and Syria. The early Natufians gathered the wild emmer wheat and barley that grew there. They made stone sickles to cut the cereal grasses, and the sickles bear signs of the characteristic polish caused by the silica in cereal stalks.150
Bar-Yosef suggests that the Natufians may have started to cultivate these wild cereals, including einkorn and emmer wheats, rice and barley, during the Younger Dryas when the natural yields of these cereal grasses would have been reduced. There is little evidence on the point, and in any event the Natufians did not develop the domesticated forms of the cereals. But in gathering, preparing and storing these grains, they were laying the technical basis for their successors to do so. It is of interest that the Natufians, as the earliest known settled people, were no strangers to war or to religion, two characteristic human activities that shaped societies before and since. The Natufians have consistently been portrayed as peaceful but closer examination of remains from one site has recently shown evidence of violent conflict between Natufian groups.151 Natufian society is interesting for its burial practices, which indicate the emergence both of social inequality and of a disconcertingly intimate form of ancestor worship. Some 10% of early Natufian burials include decorations of marine shells and pendants made of animal teeth, suggesting the presence of a richer elite. In the later Natufian period, as the rigors of the Younger Dryas began, the society was forced to become more mobile, and their mortuary practices reflect a shift back toward a more egalitarian society. The early Natufians also began a practice that became common in the ensuing Neolithic period, that of separating the skull from the body before burial. The corpses were buried but the skulls were covered with plaster, given new faces, and kept in the houses to serve as a close bond
Was this article helpful?