Adumatu 1 (2000) pp. 7-28.
Holocene Environmental Change and the Origins and Spread of Food Production in the Middle East

Fekri A. Hassan
< back
The emergence and spread of food production in the Levant, North Africa and Arabia was closely linked with the climatic changes that characterised the transition from the first Glacial Maximum to the Holocene as well as subsequent events of severe droughts that punctuated the early and mid-Holocene wetter climate. At first, following the establishment of quasi-agrarian communities with permanent base camps ca. 1 5,000 cal BP in the southern Levant, onset of drier conditions from 13,000 to 11,500 cal BP led to a dramatic reduction in the number of Natufian settlements and tile emergence of small-scale cultivation cereala. However, establishment of fully agrarian communities and the hording of sheep and goats did not take place until the climax of post-glacial warming associated with wetter conditions from 10,500 cal BP to 8800 cal BP in the Levant (coinciding with the Early and Middle pre-pottery Neolithic). During this period founder crops were established, and the population grew and expanded. From 8800 to 7800 cal BP, arid spoils led to the abandonment of occupations in the southern Levant, the establishment of agropastoralism and dispersal of population from the Levant into Arabia and Northeastern Africa. At that time, food production also spread from Anatolia to southeastern Europe. In North Africa, cattle-keeping spread westward from the Nubian desert into the central Sahara. A return to arid conditions from 7800 to 6800 cal BP, marking a trend toward desertification, with interludes of increased rainfall led to the emergence of regional variants of food procurement strategies and further dispersal of agropastoralists. During this interval, food producing communities occupied most of the central Sahara, as well the Arabian peninsula. This phase was characterized by a florescence of rock art. Food producing communities appeared along the banks of the Nile Egypt and the Sudan at the end of this phase (6900-6800 cal BP). From 6800 to 5200 cal BP (6000-4500 bp), the period which ends with the establishment of the current desert conditions in North Africa and Arabia, communities clung to well-watered parts of the desert depressions developing an Oasis economy. Desiccation in many areas forced people to leave or congregate in the oases. The end of this period coincided with the rise to power of nation and city-states in Egypt and Mesopotamia, respectively. Trade, exchanges, and contact between these agrarian states and the desert and oases dwellers revitalised desert communities and instigated subsistence and political changes which may have included in Arabia the domestication of camels and the cultivation of date-palms.