The Natufian culture (/nəˈtuːfiən/) is a Late Epipaleolithicarchaeological culture of the Levant, dating to around 15,000 to 11,500 years ago. The culture was unusual in that it supported a sedentary or semi-sedentary population even before the introduction of agriculture. The Natufian communities may be the ancestors of the builders of the first Neolithic settlements of the region, which may have been the earliest in the world. Some evidence suggests deliberate cultivation of cereals, specifically rye, by the Natufian culture at Tell Abu Hureyra, the site of earliest evidence of agriculture in the world. The world's oldest known evidence of the production of bread-like foodstuff has been found at Shubayqa 1, a 14,400-year-old site in Jordan's northeastern desert, 4,000 years before the emergence of agriculture in Southwest Asia In addition, the oldest known evidence of possible beer-brewing, dating to approximately 13,000 BP, was found at the Raqefet Cave in Mount Carmel near Haifa in Israel, although it may simply be a result of an organic and unintentional fermentation.
Generally, though, Natufians exploited wild cereals and hunted animals, including gazelles.Archaeogenetic analysis has revealed derivation of later (Neolithic to Bronze Age) Levantines primarily from Natufians, besides substantial admixture from Chalcholithic Anatolians.
Over the next two decades Garrod found Natufian material at several of her pioneering excavations in the Mount Carmel region, including el-Wad, Kebara and Tabun, as did the French archaeologist René Neuville, firmly establishing the Natufian culture in the regional prehistoric chronology. As early as 1931, both Garrod and Neuville drew attention to the presence of stone sickles in Natufian assemblages and the possibility that this represented a very early agriculture.
The period is commonly split into two subperiods: Early Natufian (12,000–10,800 BC) and Late Natufian (10,800–9,500 BC). The Late Natufian most likely occurred in tandem with the Younger Dryas (10,800 to 9,500 BC). The Levant hosts more than a hundred kinds of cereals, fruits, nuts, and other edible parts of plants, and the flora of the Levant during the Natufian period was not the dry, barren, and thorny landscape of today, but rather woodland.
Precursors and associated cultures
The Natufian developed in the same region as the earlier Kebaran industry. It is generally seen as a successor, which evolved out of elements within that preceding culture. There were also other industries in the region, such as the Mushabian culture of the Negev and Sinai, which are sometimes distinguished from the Kebaran or believed to have been involved in the evolution of the Natufian.
More generally there has been discussion of the similarities of these cultures with those found in coastal North Africa. Graeme Barker notes there are: "similarities in the respective archaeological records of the Natufian culture of the Levant and of contemporary foragers in coastal North Africa across the late Pleistocene and early Holocene boundary". According to Isabelle De Groote and Louise Humphrey Natufians practiced the Iberomaurusian and Capsian custom of sometimes extracting their maxillary central incisors (upper front teeth).
Mortars from Natufian Culture, grinding stones from Neolithic pre-pottery phase (Dagon Museum)
Ofer Bar-Yosef has argued that there are signs of influences coming from North Africa to the Levant, citing the microburin technique and "microlithic forms such as arched backed bladelets and La Mouillah points." But recent research has shown that the presence of arched backed bladelets, La Mouillah points, and the use of the microburin technique was already apparent in the Nebekian industry of the Eastern Levant. And Maher et al. state that, "Many technological nuances that have often been always highlighted as significant during the Natufian were already present during the Early and Middle EP [Epipalaeolithic] and do not, in most cases, represent a radical departure in knowledge, tradition, or behavior."
Authors such as Christopher Ehret have built upon the little evidence available to develop scenarios of intensive usage of plants having built up first in North Africa, as a precursor to the development of true farming in the Fertile Crescent, but such suggestions are considered highly speculative until more North African archaeological evidence can be gathered. In fact, Weiss et al. have shown that the earliest known intensive usage of plants was in the Levant 23,000 years ago at the Ohalo II site.
Anthropologist C. Loring Brace (1993) cross-analysed the craniometric traits of Natufian specimens with those of various ancient and modern groups from the Near East, Africa and Europe. The Late Pleistocene Epipalaeolithic Natufian sample was described as problematic due to its small size (consisting of only three males and one female), as well as the lack of a comparative sample from the Natufians' putative descendants in the Neolithic Near East. Brace observed that the Natufian fossils lay between those of the Niger-Congo-speaking populations and the other samples (Near East, Europe), which he suggested may point to a Sub-Saharan influence in their constitution. Subsequent ancient DNA analysis of Natufian skeletal remains by Lazaridis et al. (2016) found that the specimens instead were a mix of 50% Basal Eurasian ancestral component (see Archaeogenetics) and 50% West-Eurasian Unknown Hunter Gatherer (UHG) population related to European Western Hunter-Gatherers.
According to Bar-Yosef and Belfer-Cohen, "It seems that certain preadaptive traits, developed already by the Kebaran and Geometric Kebaran populations within the Mediterranean park forest, played an important role in the emergence of the new socioeconomic system known as the Natufian culture."
Settlements occur mostly in Israel and Palestine. This could be deemed the core zone of the Natufian culture, but Israel is a place that has been excavated more frequently than other places hence the greater number of sites. During the years more sites have been found outside the core zone of Israel and Palestine stretching into what now is Lebanon, Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula and the Negev desert. The settlements in the Natufian culture was larger and more permanent. Some Natufian sites had stone built architecture; Ain Mallaha is an example of round stone structures. Cave sites are also seen frequently during the Natufian culture. El-wad is a Natufian cave site with occupation in the front part of the cave also called the terrace. Some Natufian sites were located in forest/steppe areas and others near inland mountains. The Natufian settlements appear to be the first to exhibit evidence of food storage; not all Natufian sites have storage facilities, but they have been identified at certain sites.
Remains of a wall of a Natufian house
The Ain Sakhri lovers, from Ain Sakhri, near Bethleem (British Museum: 1958,1007.1 )
The Natufian had a microlithic industry centered on short blades and bladelets. The microburin technique was used. Geometric microliths include lunates, trapezes, and triangles. There are backed blades as well. A special type of retouch (Helwan retouch) is characteristic for the early Natufian. In the late Natufian, the Harif-point, a typical arrowhead made from a regular blade, became common in the Negev. Some scholars[who?] use it to define a separate culture, the Harifian.
Sickle blades also appear for the first time in the Natufian lithic industry. The characteristic sickle-gloss shows that they were used to cut the silica-rich stems of cereals, indirectly suggesting the existence of incipient agriculture. Shaft straighteners made of ground stone indicate the practice of archery. There are heavy ground-stone bowl mortars as well.
Natufian burial – Homo 25 from el-Wad Cave, Mount Carmel, Israel (Rockefeller Museum)
Natufian grave goods are typically made of shell, teeth (of red deer), bones, and stone. There are pendants, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and belt-ornaments as well.
Schematic human figure made of pebbles, from Eynan, Early Natufian, 12,000 BC
In 2008, the 12,400–12,000 cal BC grave of an apparently significant Natufian female was discovered in a ceremonial pit in the Hilazon Tachtit cave in northern Israel. Media reports referred to this person as a shaman. The burial contained the remains of at least three aurochs and 86 tortoises, all of which are thought to have been brought to the site during a funeral feast. The body was surrounded by tortoise shells, the pelvis of a leopard, forearm of a wild boar, wingtip of a golden eagle, and skull of a stone marten.
There was a rich bone industry, including harpoons and fish hooks. Stone and bone were worked into pendants and other ornaments. There are a few human figurines made of limestone (El-Wad, Ain Mallaha, Ain Sakhri), but the favorite subject of representative art seems to have been animals. Ostrich-shell containers have been found in the Negev.
In 2018, the world's oldest brewery was found, with the residue of 13,000-year-old beer, in a prehistoric cave near Haifa in Israel when researchers were looking for clues into what plant foods the Natufian people were eating. This is 8,000 years earlier than experts previously thought beer was invented.
A study published in 2019 shows an advanced knowledge of lime plaster production at a Natufian cemetery in Nahal Ein Gev II site in the Upper Jordan Valley dated to 12 thousand (calibrated) years before present [k cal BP]. Production of plaster of this quality was previously thought to have been achieved some 2,000 years later.
Mortar and pestle from Nahal Oren, Natufian, 12,500–9500 BC
The Natufian people lived by hunting and gathering. The preservation of plant remains is poor because of the soil conditions, but at some sites such as Abu Hureira there has been excavated substantial large amounts of plant remains discovered through flotation. However wild cereals like legumes, almonds, acorns and pistachios have been collected through out most of the Levant. Animal bones show that gazelle (Gazella gazella and Gazella subgutturosa) were the main prey. Additionally, deer, aurochs and wild boar were hunted in the steppe zone, as well as onagers and caprids (ibex). Waterfowl and freshwater fish formed part of the diet in the Jordan River valley. Animal bones from Salibiya I (12,300 – 10,800 cal BP) have been interpreted as evidence for communal hunts with nets, however, the radiocarbon dates are far too old compared to the cultural remains of this settlement, indicating contamination of the samples.
Development of agriculture
A pita-like bread has been found from 12,500 BC attributed to Natufians. This bread is made of wild cereal seeds and papyrus cousin tubers, ground into flour.
According to one theory, it was a sudden change in climate, the Younger Dryas event (c. 10,800 to 9500 BC), which inspired the development of agriculture. The Younger Dryas was a 1,000-year-long interruption in the higher temperatures prevailing since the Last Glacial Maximum, which produced a sudden drought in the Levant. This would have endangered the wild cereals, which could no longer compete with dryland scrub, but upon which the population had become dependent to sustain a relatively large sedentary population. By artificially clearing scrub and planting seeds obtained from elsewhere, they began to practice agriculture. However, this theory of the origin of agriculture is controversial in the scientific community.
Grinding tool from Gilgal, Natufian culture, 12,500–9500 BC
Basalt sharpening stones, Eynan and Nahal Oren, Natufian Culture, 12,500–9500 BC
Bovine-rib dagger, HaYonim Cave, Natufian Culture, 12,500–9500 BC
Stone mortars from Eynan, Natufian period, 12,500–9500 BC
Stone mortar from Eynan, Natufian period, 12,500–9500 BC
Limestone and basalt mortars, Eynan, Early Natufian, circa 12,000 BC
At the Natufian site of Ain Mallaha in Israel-Palestine, dated to 12,000 BC, the remains of an elderly human and a four-to-five-month-old puppy were found buried together. At another Natufian site at the cave of Hayonim, humans were found buried with two canids.
Principal component analysis showing ancient and modern samples. The Natufians are characterized by predominant Levant_Neolithic ancestry. The Epipaleolithic Taforalt sample from Northern Africa harbors the same West-Eurasian associated ancestry found among Natufians, but also some ancestry found among West and East Africans.
Principal component analysis of ancient West-Eurasian populations, including the Natufians. Natufians cluster together with modern Middle Eastern populations.
A PCA model of Proper West-Eurasians, Basal-Eurasians, and Africans, based on published genome data.
Ancient DNA analysis has confirmed the genetic relationship between Natufians and other ancient and modern Middle Easterners and the broader West-Eurasian meta-population (i.e. Europeans and South-Central Asians). The Natufian population displays also ancestral ties to Paleolithic Taforalt samples, the makers of the Epipaleolithic Iberomaurusian culture of the Maghreb, the Pre-Pottery Neolithic culture of the Levant, the Early Neolithic Ifri n'Amr or Moussa culture of the Maghreb, the Late Neolithic Kelif el Boroud culture of the Maghreb, with samples associated with these early cultures all sharing a common genomic component dubbed the "Natufian component", which diverged from other West-Eurasian lineages ~26,000 years ago, and is most closely linked to the Arabian lineage.
Individuals associated with the Natufian culture have been found to cluster with other West-Eurasian populations, but also have substantial higher ancestry that can be traced back to the hypothetical "Basal Eurasian" lineage, which contributed in varying degrees to all West-Eurasian lineages, except the Ancient North Eurasians, and peaks among modern Gulf Arabs. The Natufians were already differentiated from other West-Eurasian lineages, such as the Anatolian farmers north of the Levant, that contributed to the peopling of Europe in significant amounts, and who had some Western Hunter Gatherer-like (WHG) inferred ancestry, in contrast to Natufians who lacked this component (similar to Neolithic Iranian farmers from the Zagros mountains). This might suggest that different strains of West-Eurasians contributed to Natufians and Zagros farmers, as both Natufians and Zagros farmers descended from different populations of local hunter gatherers. Contact between Natufians, other Neolithic Levantines, Caucasus Hunter Gatherers (CHG), Anatolian and Iranian farmers is believed to have decreased genetic variability among later populations in the Middle East. Migrations from the Near-East also occurred towards Africa, and the West-Eurasian geneflow into the Horn of Africa is best represented by the Levant Neolithic, and may be associated with the spread of Afroasiatic languages. The scientists suggest that the Levantine early farmers may have spread southward into East Africa, bringing along the associated ancestral components.
According to ancient DNA analyses conducted in 2016 by Iosif Lazaridis et al. and discussed in two articles "The Genetic Structure of the World's First Farmers" (June 2016) and "Genomic Insights into the Origin of Farming in the Ancient Near East (July 2016) on Natufian skeletal remains from present-day northern Israel, the remains of 5 Natufians carried the following paternal haplgroups:
E1b1b1 - originally classified as CT but further defined as E1b1b1 by Martiniano et al. 2020.
A 2018 analysis by Daniel Shriner, using modern populations as a reference, suggested that the Natufians carried a small amount of Eastern African ancestry (~6.8%) associated with the modern Omotic-speaking groups of southern Ethiopia. The study also suggested that this component may be the source of Y-haplogroup E (particularly Y-haplogroup E-M215, also known as "E1b1b") among Natufians.
^Kottak, Conrad P. (2005), Window on Humanity: A Concise Introduction to Anthropology, Boston: McGraw-Hill, pp. 155–156, ISBN978-0-07-289028-0
^Lazaridis, Iosif; Nadel, Dani; Rollefson, Gary; Merrett, Deborah C.; Rohland, Nadin; Mallick, Swapan; Fernandes, Daniel; Novak, Mario; Gamarra, Beatriz; Sirak, Kendra; Connell, Sarah; Stewardson, Kristin; Harney, Eadaoin; Fu, Qiaomei; Gonzalez-Fortes, Gloria; Jones, Eppie R.; Roodenberg, Songül Alpaslan; Lengyel, György; Bocquentin, Fanny; Gasparian, Boris; Monge, Janet M.; Gregg, Michael; Eshed, Vered; Mizrahi, Ahuva-Sivan; Meiklejohn, Christopher; Gerritsen, Fokke; Bejenaru, Luminita; Blüher, Matthias; Campbell, Archie; Cavalleri, Gianpiero; Comas, David; Froguel, Philippe; Gilbert, Edmund; Kerr, Shona M.; Kovacs, Peter; Krause, Johannes; McGettigan, Darren; Merrigan, Michael; Merriwether, D. Andrew; O'Reilly, Seamus; Richards, Martin B.; Semino, Ornella; Shamoon-Pour, Michel; Stefanescu, Gheorghe; Stumvoll, Michael; Tönjes, Anke; Torroni, Antonio; Wilson, James F.; Yengo, Loic; Hovhannisyan, Nelli A.; Patterson, Nick; Pinhasi, Ron; Reich, David (2016). "Genomic insights into the origin of farming in the ancient Near East"(PDF). Nature. 536 (7617): 419–424. Bibcode:2016Natur.536..419L. doi:10.1038/nature19310. PMC5003663. PMID27459054. Fig. 4.
"Our data document continuity across the transition between hunter– gatherers and farmers, separately in the southern Levant and in the southern Caucasus–Iran highlands. The qualitative evidence for this is that PCA, ADMIXTURE, and outgroup f3 analysis cluster Levantine hunter–gatherers (Natufians) with Levantine farmers, and Iranian and CHG with Iranian farmers (Fig. 1b and Extended Data Figs 1, 3). We confirm this in the Levant by showing that its early farmers share significantly more alleles with Natufians than with the early farmers of Iran"
Epipaleolithic Natufians were substantially derived from the Basal Eurasian lineage.
"We used qpAdm (ref. 7) to estimate Basal Eurasian ancestry in each Test population. We obtained the highest estimates in the earliest populations from both Iran (66±13% in the likely Mesolithic sample, 48±6% in Neolithic samples), and the
Levant (44±8% in Epipalaeolithic Natufians) (Fig. 2), showing that Basal Eurasian ancestry was widespread across the ancient Near East. [...] The idea of Natufians as a vector for the movement of Basal Eurasian ancestry into the Near East is also not supported by our data, as the Basal Eurasian ancestry in the Natufians (44±8%) is consistent with stemming from the same population as that in the Neolithic and Mesolithic populations of Iran, and is not greater than in those populations
(Supplementary Information, section 4). Further insight into the origins and legacy of the Natufians could come from comparison to Natufians from additional sites, and to ancient DNA from North Africa."
^ abBoyd, Brian (1999). "'Twisting the kaleidoscope': Dorothy Garrod and the 'Natufian Culture'". In Davies, William; Charles, Ruth (eds.). Dorothy Garrod and the progress of the Palaeolithic. Oxford: Oxbow. pp. 209–223. ISBN9781785705199.
^Weiss, E; Kislev, ME; Simchoni, O; Nadel, D; Tschauner, H (2008). "Plant-food preparation area on an Upper Paleolithic brush hut floor at Ohalo II, Israel". Journal of Archaeological Science. 35 (8): 2400–2414. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2008.03.012.
^Brace, C. Loring; et al. (2006). "The questionable contribution of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age to European craniofacial form". PNAS. 103 (1): 242–247. Bibcode:2006PNAS..103..242B. doi:10.1073/pnas.0509801102. PMC1325007. PMID16371462. The Natufian sample from Israel is also problematic because it is so small, being constituted of three males and one female from the Late Pleistocene Epipalaeolithic (34) of Israel, and there was no usable Neolithic sample for the Near East... the small Natufian sample falls between the Niger-Congo group and the other samples used. Fig. 2 shows the plot produced by the first two canonical variates, but the same thing happens when canonical variates 1 and 3 (not shown here) are used. This placement suggests that there may have been a Sub-Saharan African element in the make-up of the Natufians (the putative ancestors of the subsequent Neolithic)
^Bender ML (1997), Upside Down Afrasian, Afrikanistische Arbeitspapiere 50, pp. 19–34
^Militarev A (2005) Once more about glottochronology and comparative method: the Omotic-Afrasian case, Аспекты компаративистики – 1 (Aspects of comparative linguistics – 1). FS S. Starostin. Orientalia et Classica II (Moscow), p. 339-408. http://starling.rinet.ru/Texts/fleming.pdf
Bar-Yosef, Ofer; Belfer-Cohen, Anna (1999). "Encoding information: unique Natufian objects from Hayonim Cave, Western Galilee, Israel". Antiquity. 73 (280): 402–409. doi:10.1017/s0003598x00088347. S2CID160868877.
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