I. Prehistoric Times > K. Early Food Production in the Old World (c. 10,000 B.C.E. and Later)
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
K. Early Food Production in the Old World (c. 10,000 B.C.E. and Later)
1. First Farmers in the Near East
In 10,000 B.C.E., most human settlement in the Near East was confined to the Levant (the easternmost Mediterranean shoreline) and to the Zagros Mountains of Iran and Iraq and their western foothills. Some locations, like the Jordan Valley and the Middle Euphrates Valley, were more densely populated, often by large hunter-gatherer communities located at the margins of several ecological zones. They foraged on wooded hill slopes for cereal grasses and nuts, hunting game on open grasslands and floodplains.  1
One such settlement was at Abu Hureyra in the Middle Euphrates Valley, where a permanent hunter-gatherer base camp exploited gazelle migrations between 10,500 and 9000 B.C.E. About 8500 B.C.E., a new settlement appeared on the same site, this time a permanent village of rectangular mud-brick houses connected by narrow alleyways. At first the inhabitants hunted gazelle intensively. About 8000 B.C.E., they switched abruptly to domestic sheep and goats and to growing einkorn, pulses, and other cereal crops.  2
Abu Hureyra was not, of course, unique. Contemporary farming settlements have come to light in Syria and the Levant, most of them on low ground close to fertile soils. By 6500 B.C.E., farming communities were trading with each other, passing such exotic materials as obsidian (fine-grained volcanic glass for toolmaking) from village to village over long distances. Obsidian contains distinctive trace elements, which have enabled archaeologists to track even tiny fragments of this much-prized volcanic glass back to sources in central Turkey and elsewhere.  3
Some settlements, notably Jericho in the Jordan Valley, reached an impressive size. By 6500 B.C.E., Jericho covered nine acres, its small beehive-shaped houses clustered behind massive stone walls. It was a small town, perhaps in constant fear of marauders after its large grain stocks and stored trade goods, bartered from the coast and interior deserts.  4
By 6000 B.C.E., farmers were living throughout the Zagros Mountains of Iran and Iraq in small permanent villages of mud-brick houses. Below, other cultivators dwelt by the edges of the low-lying plains of central and southern Mesopotamia. By at least 8000 B.C.E. some farmers settled at Ali Kosh, north of the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. As time went on, Ali Kosh grew until it became a substantial village, with wide lanes and rectangular houses. The people herded sheep and goats, perhaps driving them to the nearby highlands in the hot summer months. They relied on hunting and fishing in nearby marshes and were using irrigation to grow cereal crops by at least 6000 B.C.E. Such irrigation techniques were to prove of vital importance for early civilization in Mesopotamia (See Economy, Technology, Society, and Culture).  5
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.