About the project The Younger Dryas and the Origins of Agriculture – University of Copenhagen

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About the Project

The Late Epipalaeolithic and Early Neolithic Occupation of the Black Desert (Jordan): Investigating the Origins of Food Production in the Marginal Zone

Towards the end of the last Ice Age hunter-gatherers of the Natufian culture in southwest Asia established the first sedentary communities. This was made possible on the basis of abundant plant and animal resources encouraged by the warm and wet conditions. They were amongst the first hunter-gatherers worldwide to settle in semi-permanent hamlets.

An abrupt climatic deterioration about 12,900 years ago (known as the Younger Dryas) introduced cooler and dryer conditions which depleted these key food resources. This is believed to have forced these hunter-gatherers to both abandon their permanent settlements and begin cultivating wild plants to sustain population numbers. These events marked the beginnings of the agricultural revolution – the transition from using wild plants and animals to domesticated plants and livestock.

The idea that the Younger Dryas forced hunter-gatherers towards the adoption of incipient plant cultivation has, however, recently been challenged by a number of scholars. The present project focuses on the study of the Shubayqa area in the Harra basalt desert of northeastern Jordan. It is designed to evaluate the impact of the Younger Dryas climatic event on human societies in southwest Asia during the Late Epipalaeolithic period (c. 12,500-9,500 BCE), by studying its cultural, economic and environmental effects in the semi-arid to arid zone of the southern Levant.

In the past three years excavations and surveys in this area as part of the FKK-funded "The Younger Dryas and the Origins of Agriculture Project" have produced remarkable new evidence concerning the settlement history of this marginal zone from the Late Epipalaeolithic Natufian into the early Neolithic. Excavations have revealed some of the region's earliest examples of stone-built architecture and very rich and informative archaeobotanical assemblages.

Further excavations in this region, as well as detailed laboratory studies, will now be undertaken under the auspices of this new Sapere Aude DFF-Forskningsleder project. Our ongoing work will offer an unprecedented insight into last hunter-gatherers and first farmers in the desert zone of eastern Jordan and will gain a better understanding of the economic, environmental and social factors that underlay the transition to agriculture.