1.1.3.1 Natufians (13,000-9,500 BCE)

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Natufian mortars
Natufian house
Natufian burial
Jericho plastered skull

Mortar and pestle
Urfa Man
Natufian carved face
Natufian bovine-rib dagger
Ain Sakhri Lovers

Around 20,000 BP (Before Present), the Ice Age was at its coldest and reduced the availability of wild game as vegetation became sparse.  Our ancestors needed to innovate, they began to trap small game and became inventive with cereal grains and nuts by grinding them to provide useful non-perishable foodstuffs. They became aware of, and tracked, the seasonal changes in these ‘crops’ growth patterns. This did little to stop their nomadic lifestyle because even small groups soon exhausted local wild supplies and moved on.

Around 16,000 BP the world heated up, oscillating somewhat for the next six millennia, this made it necessary for our ancestors to become foragers and hunters. These early peoples moved out of the forests and onto the savannahs. Physiologically they shed their body hair and that led to physiological changes in body heat and hydration. Scientists don’t agree as to why this change may have occurred, certainly other predators in equatorial regions remained hairy. But this reduced the need for water, because hair increased evaporation of water through sweating. The disadvantage was becoming cold at night which led to a need to fabricate clothing for warmth. Rain water is such an unreliable irregular source that it was rivers and lakes that became the vital resources for our ancestors and this led to them ‘camping’, and then progressively settling, beside them.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

From 15,000 BP there are traces, in the Eastern Mediterranean area, of the very earliest settlements. Dating to 13,400 BP is the Natufian culture, merely named for where the first research into them was undertaken, Wadi an-Natuf in the Judaean mountains,

Natufians, had a semi-sedentary population that prospered and survived in that region for three millennia, That is, until the return of a cold period, the ‘Younger Dryas’ or ‘Big Freeze’. Natufians are odd in that they did not develop agriculture and yet were able to lead a settled life. Agriculture proved unnecessary because they were located in a pleasant climate that contained a plentiful supply of wild cereals and they had large herds of gazelle to hunt. Finds of bone fishhooks and harpoons show that they also fished in rivers and the sea.

Early humans also settled In Aswad close to today’s Damascus, Syria. At the oasis of Damas, barley grew wild in the marshland around the local water source and this appears to have been what led to the settlement and subsequent experimentation with agriculture. From as early as 14,500 BP humans began planting and harvesting grains for themselves.

Natufians were among the first to learn how to cultivate edible plants, vital to the subsequent development of agriculture. They are also credited with domesticating dogs.

By 12,000 BP the total world human population has been estimated as around ten million, that’s less than two-hundredths of one percentage point of today’s population. [1131-10]

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Source: factsanddetails.com
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Natufian Grinding stones: It is proposed that the earliest known intensive usage of plants was in the Levant 23,000 years ago at the Ohalo II site near the Sea of Gallilee.
One theory is that it was the act of growing crops, and the need to grind these, that began to suppress the nomadic way of life.
The large grinding stones that were used proved none too portable. The ones pictured are from Dagon Museum, in Haifa Israel.
Natufians were among the first people to build permanent homes. Pictured are the remains of a Natufian house supporting wall. This was found at El Wad, near Mount Carmel in Israel.
Image source: Wikimedia commons
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Image source: Wikimedia commons
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Natufians evolved some quite specific burial practices. The picture is of burial remains on show at the Rockefeller Museum – also from El Wad.
Perhaps the oddest practice was that of plastering the skulls of their loved ones. These people had yet to learn to use clay to make pottery, yet they were using clay in these offbeat sculptures.
It is belived that they sought to create more lifelike faces, shells were inset for eyes, and paint was used to represent facial features and facial hair, This is one of a number discovered in Jericho. The remains were usually buried beneath the floor of their homes.

This is said to be the oldest form of art yet found in the Middle East. The British Museum considers its Jericho head as the oldest portait in its collection.

Some have suggested this may be the inspiration for Babylonian’s Gilgamesh and the Bible’s Adam-and-Eve creation myths. I both local cases, ‘God’ created the first people from clay.


Image source:
Wikimedia commons


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Image source: Wikimedia commons

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Natufian basalt and limestone mortar and pestle from Nahal Oren, Natufian, 12,500–9500 BCE, it is on show at the Natufian Culture Israel Museum, Jerusalem Israel.
The Urfa man, also known as the Balıklıgöl statue, is an ancient human shaped statue found in excavations in Balıklıgöl near Urfa, in the geographical area of Upper Mesopotamia, in the southeast of modern Turkey. It is dated to c9,000 BCE and the period of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic.

It is considered to be’the oldest naturalistic life-sized sculpture of a human‘.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

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Image source: cambridge.org – Antiquity magazine

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This carved limestone pebble (90mm x 60mm) was found as a late Natufian site, Nahal Ein Gev II (NEGII), just east of the Sea of Galilee, Israel. It is a simple yet realistic depiction of a human face. It has been dated to late Natufian, as 10,550 – 10,000 BCE. It is one of a small group of such carvings – one from El-Wad cave, two from Eynan – they all share the eye-brow ridge, and may represent a Natufian cultural convention.
This bovine rib has been fabricated as a dagger. It was found at HaYonim Cave. They also used bones as harpoons and fish hooks.
Image source: Wikimedia commons
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Image source: wikimedia commons

This sculpted piece of calcite stone, known as the Al Sakhri Lovers, is the oldest found depiction of sex. The artist Marc Quinn opined that the item can resemble a couple, a penis, breasts, or a vagina depending on the viewer’s perspective. See also here.

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