The Natufian culture and the origins of agriculture

The Natufian culture and the origins of agriculture


[ Music ] The Natufian culture was a
group of people that lived in this part of the world,
today’s Israel, Lebanon, Syria, the Levant, around 15,000
to 11,000 years ago. Now these people were
not agriculturists. They were hunter-gatherers. But they were systematic
collectors. They were hunting and gathering
on a massive diversified scale and that diversification,
the different kinds of food that they were collecting in
their natural environment, their beginnings of a
systematic collection of grains and creation of compound little
sickle tools to harvest grains, and systematic collection not
only of you know large mammals, the gazelles and oryx and other
kinds of large mammals that live in this area, but also
small mammals and fish with dedicated fishing villages. That kind of diversification, it’s been called the
broad spectrum revolution. When we think about how
agriculture emerged, that emergence was not
initially because of the actions of a really smart inventor
who figured out that if we plant seeds in a
certain way they will grow and we can harvest them
and collect a share of them and keep some to
plant the next year. No. This is a process that
emerged over thousands of years as people began to use
resources more systematically in particular places. Natufian people were among
the first in the world to be sedentary hunter
gatherers. They lived in permanent or
semi-permanent settlements. They built structures that
were simple by the standards of later peoples in this
area but still had huts that were made of branches
and leaves and with circles of stones forming
their foundations. They buried people in
context immediately in or around their villages. They were coming back to
these places and using them for long periods of time. And they were investing
resources, labor, work, social ties, into these places. Because they were using
these places so intensively, they began to use the resources around these places
more intensively. They were increasing, if
you like, the efficiency of extraction of foods and other
resources from these places. They were trading
over longer distances. They were developing denser,
more stable populations. And we now recognize that all of those changes were really
precursors to the invention of agriculture where you’re
staying in a place long enough to store foods there, to
replant seeds the next year, and to stay there or
return there to harvest them in the following year. That kind of cycle of
life really necessitates that you have already adapted
to a more sedentary lifestyle. The Natufian people
in this area were some of the first peoples
anywhere in the world to make that transition. El-Wad is the site of
a Natufian village. And the people were using the
cave, this is a very deep cave. It goes way back
into the hillside. But they were living outside
of the cave on terraces. And those terraces they
were investing work in. They began to build walls to retain the soils
on the terraces. They began to build little
structures on the terraces. They began to bury their
dead on the terraces. When we talk about the
Natufian, what we’re talking about is the shift from small
groups in nomadic hunters and gatherers to fully
sedentary occupation. Yeah, yeah. Right? One of the
reasons we can say that is you’ve got these
permanent installations. Yeah. You don’t invest
that much time and effort if in two weeks you’re
going to be leaving again. Yeah. Right? Yeah. [laughter] You see here
this terrace wall, right? Also, investment in time
and energy, permanency. The number of variables
that we have here, Yeah. Again I mentioned that we
have 115, 120 individuals now, minimum number of, and we
have evidence from microfauna, commensals, which you don’t see in smaller more nomadic
oriented sites. Oh so you’ve got like
rats that are living here. Rats, mouse, sparrow,
right, beautiful and they’re well documented. Yeah. We’ve got an MA and
a dissertation have come out of our department
so it’s a… They don’t live away from
human habitation now. The humans create this
magnificent habitation for these kinds of animals. Yeah. Yeah so and you see them
in other kinds of sites but not in the kinds of densities
you see here. Sure, yeah. They’re living out here. Yeah. They’re using
the cave for something but they’re living out here. They’ve got houses out here. That’s a bonus. You can live definitely
without the cave. The cave is nice. Another thing that’s changing
in Natufian times is politics. If you’re going to have
large sedentary populations, you have to negotiate the
use of space, you’re going to encounter more
different kinds of people doing more different
kinds of things around you and you’re going to have to have
ways of regulating those people so that the society
is able to subsist. We see in Natufian times
many pieces of evidence about the development of
these political systems. We have a copy of one of the
individuals that was found from here, it wasn’t
an exact spot. You notice that on the
skull there was a Yeah. An Italian shell headdress
and other materials were used for its decorative
elements, jewelry. One thing that’s very,
very interesting is that there are individuals,
male, female, sometimes youngsters
even that have this kind of decoration, others
that do not. So we’re thinking you
know, your treatment in death somehow reflects
your standing in life. Right. Maybe seeing also
the shift from some kind of egalitarian hunter
gatherers to some kind of hierarchical social
organization. We make a big deal when we
see, you know, a little bit of ornamentation in Neandertals. Here it’s systematic. I mean this is helping to
organize their society. Right, yeah. We’re still trying to work out
as to who may have gotten it, who may not have gotten it. And you find Italian
shells scattered out throughout the excavation
also, lonely pieces, whatever. And it’s mostly in the early
Natufian that we see this. Very, very little of
this kind of decoration that you see in the
late Natufian. So they just give it up
or just different social? The hypothesis right now is
that for whatever reason, we’re not sure why, there’s
a bit of dispersal again and a shift from a
little bit more mobility, you lose some of the sedentism. Some people related this to the
younger dryer and poor economic, environmental conditions. That doesn’t really fit
now with what we have with the dates, whatever. So it’s a question that
we’re trying to deal with. What happened between the early
Natufian going into the late. But as we’re getting into our
late Natufian here we’re finding that it wasn’t such a kind of flimsy sort of
settlement either. So again there’re a
number of questions that we’re trying to deal with. Sure, yeah. So the Natufian people really
give us the best evidence we have about what lifestyles were like among the last
sedentary hunter gatherers in this part of the world. And archeologists and
anthropologists now understand that as we go to study
how agriculture emerged, the social structures,
the use of time and place, the yearly cycle. All of these things are things that hunter gatherers were
understanding for thousands of years before we begin to see
the development of domestication of plants and animals that enabled agriculture
to begin in earnest. Agriculture, as a change
in the subsistence pattern, is fundamentally economic. It’s about the relationship
of humans to each other and to their environments. But the social changes
that enabled it are changes that happened without
domesticated plants and animals. They were changes that
represent innovations in human social systems. Those social systems are what
began to change not only here in the near East but
elsewhere in the world as agriculture was emerging.

30 thoughts on “The Natufian culture and the origins of agriculture

  • I'm having a hard time trying to get to grips with your last few sentences…
    "But the social changes that enabled it [agriculture] are changes that happened without domesticated plants and animals.  They were changes that represent innovations in human social systems."
    Are you saying that the change from nomadic hunter-gatherer to semi-sedentary to full blown sedentism/agriculture was driven by social changes rather than the other way round?

  • I want to study archaeology but in my country Chile, is hard, so you have some idea or advice to tell me where can i study? and what I need to study in another country for instance USA or some country of Europe. please help me. I love archaeology.

  • Dear  Professor Hawks:  I had  the  pleasure  to be  one of your  students – in  a MOOC  course,  around  2 ys ago.  Now  minding  things around with  other courses that I've took,  I would like  very much  to have   the  title of  a book(s)  so that I could look  around  to buy.    Sincerely yours -an  awed  student,  Marcela Santander.

  • Is it just me or were no dates given? Gobekli Tepe dates back to 11,500 years or so. Shows a high level of social organization that seems to further support Dr. Hawks statements that cultural changes and organization were the driving forces for agriculture and not the other way around. We were already organized and had complex social interaction. It is in Turkey.

  • Yes, the entire emergence of the agricultural revolution was not the result of the actions of a really smart inventor. But, John, that revolution was just as much a product of the inspirations, innovations and inventions of individuals and really smart inventors as any dung-heap is the accumulation of only individuals' digestive tracts — no matter how long it took to create it, how many generations it took, how big the heap is or how high an altitude we observe it from. Sorry for the colorful analogy, but: all thinking is as individual as all crapping. There is no such thing as some "collective" process of thinking other than the sharing of thoughts that were, each and every one of them, originally the product of individual minds. The individuality of thinking, innovating and inventing is irreducible to some social porridge because we observe it happening over a long period of time among lots of individuals. Surely, the fact that so many technologies such as the process of stone tool manufacturing stayed the same for so many millennia proves, more than anything, that it was individuals who, rare indeed, provided the exceptional inspirations that effected progress. Incrementally, and together, these changes added up to revolutions, it is true. A Marxist dialectic (ironically another idea that can be sourced to an individual) might discount the individual source of ideas. But ALL social progress, of any kind, must be sourced to individuals in the same way that crap is. There is no such thing as a collective colon or a collective brain no matter how big the pile or movement. Concepts like "progress" and even "society" can be reified beyond reality if we're careless. They are, however, merely the conceptual lumping of individual creations and actual people. Nothing more. (By the way, I love your videos and I'm just giving you shit.)

  • Seasonal events have brought animals together for millions of years. But until scientists are hit over the head with archaeological evidence, it seems it could not have happened. Evidence of religious rituals, systematic burial of gathering places, and the advance stone work by "primitive" hunter gatherers is what I find interesting. I have always believed that man was far more advanced than science has ever been willing to admit. Arrogance or just ignorance?

  • I wonder if one went back in time to Natufuian times, how similar would the sights (Cliffs,cave,landscape) seen in this video look?
    I live in Phoenix AZ and I have a good view of "Lookout Mountain" here and I'll often wonder how long that mountain has looked like it does. Like if I went back in time 2000 years there would still be a Lookout mountain sitting there minus the roads and suburban sprawl. It is mind-bending to think how many generations of people come and go and all the cultural changes yet the landscape barely changes.

  • my brother are from Eritrea, and he put is dna test in gedmatch and it showed Admix Results (sorted):

    # Population Percent
    1 NATUFIAN 41.13
    2 SUB_SAHARAN 40.07
    3 IRAN_NEOLITHIC 7.48
    4 ANATOLIA_NEOLITHIC 5.16
    5 CHG_EEF 4.22
    6 ANCESTRAL_INDIAN 1.94

    we are 100% from Eritrea, but the Dna test showed Ethiopian jew and Yemenite jew (85%)

  • Natufian – just did my gedmatch and found that I have 8% Natufian in my ancient dna of this more than my Khoisan which is 3% dna. I wonder how many African Americans can trace this. Go to gedmatch use your kit and find out.

  • Interesting, but I wish those people were kept from the site, and another country would be in charge of investigating the history here. It's just a peeve of mine.

  • Have the Natufian been shown to be related to the Egyptians? If so,have any matches between the two cultures been found as far as language and religion?

  • According to my Ancient Eurasia K6 Admixture Proportions on GEDMatch site, I'm:

    Ancestral_North_Eurasian 13.82 Pct

    Ancestral_South_Eurasian 1.70 Pct

    East_Asian 6.11 Pct

    West_European_Hunter_Gartherer 28.82 Pct

    Natufian 30.79 Pct

    Sub_Saharan 18.76 Pct

    By the way, I'm from Brazil.

  • Is this still a chicken or egg question? Did existing social systems (hunter/gatherer), beget agriculture, or did the beginnings of agriculture beget specific social systems? Or both?

  • Im half Russian half Christian Jordanian (from Madaba and Al Salt) got 41.6% Natufian through GEDmatch. This was so interesting, thank you!

  • Thanks…and also I always find it funny there are actually people (8 as of now) who give videos like this the thumbs down. Do they disagree with the interpretation or dislike Natufians?

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