The previous post in this series can be read here where we explore the closing of the Ice Age and beginning of agriculture.
The earliest human settlements are found in and around the Fertile Crescent – a crescent shaped region in the Middle East with moist and fertile soil that is suitable for agriculture. This region received an average of 300mm (12in) rain a year. It is here where the concept of agriculture originated.
Between 10,000 and 4000 BC, humankind had gone through three critical revolutions: sedentary instead of a nomadic lifestyle, developing methods of farming and the formation of first cities or civilisations. A fourth revolution, often dubbed as the “symbolic revolution”, was equally significant. The origin of ritual & superstition was of great importance when it came to social malleability. Evidence of this was found at the Qermez Dere site in Northern Iraq. 9th Millennium villages in Anatolia (modern day Turkey) containing impressive ritual buildings in the settlements of Nevalı Çori and Çayönü provided further evidence on the subject.
The Fertile Crescent offered a greatly varied set of resources to our early settlers. The rivers & lakes provided fish and waterfowl while the southern marshes in Mesopotamia offered date palms. The Ain Mallaha in Jordan was affluent in Emmer wheat while the Euphrates food plain, lush in grass, offered wildlife.
While the period of rudimentary farming & agriculture is known as the Neolithic period (12,000-9000 BC) the era after that is called pre-pottery Neolithic period (9000-6500 BC). This was the period in which the first villages are said to have been built.
Perhaps the best known pre-pottery Neolithic site is Jericho, now in Palestinian territories near the Jordan River in West Bank. By 9000 BC, it was already a settlement of 4 acres in size with ditches, stone walls and a tower that could be ascended with the help of an internal circular stair.
Painted human skulls were found in Basta and Ain Ghazal in Jordan – two sites that were farming settlements a thousand years after Jericho. Cultic statues were also discovered from these sites.
It was not until 7000 to 6000 BC that the first villages graced the landscape of that region. These villages were technologically more advanced than any of their ancestors. For example, there is evidence of a two-stage pottery kiln and the presence of lead and copper at Yarim Tepe in Iraq dating as far back as 6000 BC.
Çatalhöyük in southern Anatolia, harbours one of the first pottery sites. The area, spanning 32 acres, was rich in obsidian and semi-precious stones. The houses contained elaborate ornaments, wall paintings and plastered skulls of animals.
Beginnings of Trade
The concept of transactions and social contracts were first originated in these Neolithic villages in Mesopotamia and Assyria. Clay tokens and stone seals were built to validate these contracts. Trade flourished in Mesopotamia as it established colonies in Anatolia, in the Persian Gulf and even as far as the Musandam Peninsula in northern Oman, because of its lack of metals and semi-precious stones. Mesopotamian culture gave rise to the first stages of urbanisation. The city of Eridu in southern Mesopotamia is considered to be the oldest city in the world. There was a temple in Eridu that stood for 3,500 years straight giving evidence to Mesopotamia and that region’s continuity of tradition.
While Jericho and Çatalhöyük had a slight head start in development, it was in Mesopotamia that the word civilisation actually made full sense. They controlled raw materials, focused on policy making, and were organised in virtually anything they did. This was the birth of the first truly great civilisation.