Natufian culture

Natufian culture
The Stone Age
This box: view · talk · edit

before Homo (Pliocene)

Wild Animals Stone tool

Lower Paleolithic
Early Stone Age
Control of fire by early humans
Middle Paleolithic
Middle Stone Age
Homo neanderthalensis
Homo sapiens
Recent African origin of modern humans
Upper Paleolithic
Late Stone Age
Behavioral modernity, Atlatl,
Origin of the domestic dog


Microliths, Bow, Canoe


Heavy Neolithic
Pre-Pottery Neolithic
Neolithic Revolution,
Pottery Neolithic

The Natufian culture (play /nəˈtjfiən/) was a Mesolithic culture that existed from 12,500 to 9,500 BC in the Levant, a region in the Eastern Mediterranean. It was unusual in that it was sedentary, or semi-sedentary, before the introduction of agriculture. The Natufian communities are possibly the ancestors of the builders of the first Neolithic settlements of the region, which may have been the earliest in the world. There is some evidence for the deliberate cultivation of cereals, specifically rye, by the Natufian culture, at the Tell Abu Hureyra site, the site for earliest evidence of agriculture in the world.[1] Generally, though, Natufians made use of wild cereals. Animals hunted include gazelles.[2]

The term "Natufian" was coined by Dorothy Garrod who studied the Shuqba cave in Wadi an-Natuf, Israel, about halfway between Tel Aviv and Ramallah.



Radiocarbon dating places this culture from the terminal Pleistocene to the very beginning of the Holocene, from 12,500 to 9,500 BC.[3]

The period is commonly split into two subperiods: Early Natufian (12,500–10,800 BC) and Late Natufian (10,800–9500 BC). The Late Natufian most likely occurred in tandem with the Younger Dryas (10,800 to 9500 BC). In the Levant, there are 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 parkland and woodland.[4]

Precursors and associated cultures

The spread of Natufian culture

The Natufian developed in the same region as the earlier Kebaran complex, and is generally seen as a successor which developed from at least elements within that earlier culture. There were also other cultures in the region, such as the Mushabian culture of the Negev and Sinai, which are sometimes distinguished from the Kebaran, and sometimes also seen as having played a role in the development of the Natufian.

More generally there has been discussion of the similarities of these cultures with those found in Northeast 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".[5]

Ofer Bar-Yosef has argued that there are signs of influences coming from Africa to the Levant, citing the microburin technique and “microlithic forms such as arched backed bladelets and La Mouillah points.”[6] There has also been evidence that parthenocarpic figs were brought by humans from the direction of Sudan in this period.[7]

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 Africa, as a precursor to the development of true farming in the Fertile Crescent, but such suggestions are considered speculative until more African archaeological evidence can be gathered.[8][9] Anthropologist C. Loring Brace in a recent study on cranial metric traits however, was also able to identify a "clear link" to African populations for early Natufians based on his observation of gross anatomical similarity with extant populations found mostly below the Sahara.[10] Brace believes that these populations later became assimilated into the broader continuum of Southwest Asian populations.


Remains of a wall of a Natufian house

Settlements occur in the woodland belt where oak and Pistacia species dominated. The underbrush of this open woodland was grass with high frequencies of grain. The high mountains of Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon, the steppe areas of the Negev desert in Israel and Sinai, and the Syro-Arabian desert in the east were much less favoured for Natufian settlement, presumably due to both their lower carrying capacity and the company of other groups of foragers who exploited this region.[11]

The habitations of the Natufian are semi-subterranean, often with a dry-stone foundation. The superstructure was probably made of brushwood. No traces of mudbrick have been found, which became common in the following Pre-Pottery Neolithic A, abbreviated PPN A. The round houses have a diameter between 3 and 6 meters, and they contain a central round or subrectangular fireplace. In Ain Mallaha traces of postholes have been identified. "Villages" can cover over 1,000 square meters. Smaller settlements have been interpreted by some researchers as camps. Traces of rebuilding in almost all excavated settlements seem to point to a frequent relocation, indicating a temporary abandonment of the settlement. Settlements have been estimated to house 100–150, but there are three categories: small, median, and large, ranging from 15 sq. m to 1,000 sq. m of people. There are no definite indications of storage facilities.


Natufian burial, Nahal Me'arot stream, Israel

A semi-sedentary life may have been made possible by abundant resources due to a favourable climate at the time, with a culture living from hunting, fishing and gathering, including the use of wild cereals. Tools were available for making use of cereals: flint-bladed sickles for harvesting, and mortars, grinding stones, and storage pits.


The Natufian had a microlithic industry, based 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 use it to define a separate culture, the Harifian.

Sickle blades appear for the first time. The characteristic sickle-gloss shows that they have been used to cut the silica-rich stems of cereals and form an indirect proof for incipient agriculture. Shaft straighteners made of ground stone indicate the practice of archery. There are heavy ground-stone bowl mortars as well.

Other finds

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 favourite subject of representative art seems to have been animals. Ostrich-shell containers have been found in the Negev.


The Natufian people lived by hunting and gathering. The preservation of plant remains is poor because of the soil conditions, but wild cereals, legumes, almonds, acorns and pistachios may have been collected. 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). Water fowl and freshwater fish formed part of the diet in the Jordan River valley. Animal bones from Salibiya I (12,300 – 10,800 BP) have been interpreted as evidence for communal hunts with nets.

Development of agriculture

According to one theory,[12] it was a sudden change in climate, the Younger Dryas event (ca. 10800 to 9500 BC), that inspired the development of agriculture. The Younger Dryas was a 1,000-year-long interruption in the higher temperatures prevailing since the last ice age, 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.[13]

Domesticated dog

It is at Natufian sites that some of the earliest archaeological evidence for the domestication of the dog is found. At the Natufian site of Ain Mallaha in Israel, dated to 12 000 BP, the remains of an elderly human and a four-to-five-month-old puppy were found buried together.[14] At another Natufian site at the cave of Hayonim, humans were found buried with two canids.[14]


The Ain Sakhri lovers. British Museum: 1958,1007.1

The Ain Sakhri lovers, a carved stone object held at the British Museum, is the oldest known depiction of a couple having sex. It was found in the Ain Sakhri cave in the Judean desert.[15]


Burials are located in the settlements, commonly in pits in abandoned houses but also in caves in Mount Carmel and the Judean Hills. The pits were backfilled with settlement refuse, which sometimes makes the identification of grave-goods difficult. Sometimes the graves were covered with limestone slabs. The bodies are stretched on their backs or flexed, there is no predominant orientation. There are both single and multiple burials, especially in the early Natufian, and scattered human remains in the settlements that point to disturbed earlier graves. The rate of child mortality was rather high—about one-third of the dead were between ages five and seven.

Skull removal was practiced in Hayonim cave, Nahal Oren and Ain Mallaha. Sometimes the skulls were decorated with shell beads (El-Wad).

Grave goods consist mainly of personal ornaments, like beads made of shell, teeth (of red deer), bones and stone. There are pendants, bracelets, necklaces, earrings and belt-ornaments as well.

In 2008, the grave of a Natufian 'priestess' was discovered (in most media reports referred to as a shaman[12] or witch doctor).[16] The burial contained complete shells of 50 tortoises, which are thought to have been brought to the site and eaten during the funeral feast.[17]

Long distance exchange

At Ain Mallaha (in Israel), Anatolian obsidian and shellfish from the Nile-valley have been found. The source of malachite-beads is still unknown.


While the period involved makes it difficult to speculate on any language associated with the Natufian culture, linguists who believe it is possible to speculate this far back in time have written on this subject. As with other Natufian subjects, opinions tend to either emphasize African connections or Eurasian connections. Hence Alexander Militarev and others have argued that the Natufian may represent the culture which spoke Proto-Afroasiatic which he in turn believes has a Eurasian origin associated with the concept of Nostratic languages.

Most scholars, for example Christopher Ehret, Roger Blench and others, contend that the Afroasiatic Urheimat is to be found in Africa, probably in the area of the Horn of Africa and Sudan[18][19][20][21][22] Within this group, Christopher Ehret, who like Militarev believes Afroasiatic may already have been in existence in the Natufian period, would associate Natufians only with the pre-Proto-Semitic branch of Afroasiatic.


Natufian sites include:

See also


  1. ^ Moore, Andrew M. T.; Hillman, Gordon C.; Legge, Anthony J. (2000), Village on the Euphrates: From Foraging to Farming at Abu Hureyra, Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 019510806X 
  2. ^ Kottak, Conrad P. (2005), Window on Humanity: A Concise Introduction to Anthropology, Boston: McGraw-Hill, pp. 155–156, ISBN 0072890282 
  3. ^ Munro, Natalie D. (2003), "Small game, the Younger Dryas, and the transition to agriculture in the southern Levant", Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Urgeschichte 12: 47–71, 
  4. ^ Bar-Yosef, Ofer (1998), "The Natufian Culture in the Levant, Threshold to the Origins of Agriculture", Evolutionary Anthropology 6 (5): 159–177, doi:10.1002/(SICI)1520-6505(1998)6:5<159::AID-EVAN4>3.0.CO;2-7, 
  5. ^ Barker G (2002) Transitions to farming and pastoralism in North Africa, in Bellwood P, Renfrew C (2002), Examining the Farming/Language Dispersal Hypothesis, pp 151–161.
  6. ^ Bar-Yosef O (1987) Pleistocene connections between Africa and SouthWest Asia: an archaeological perspective. The African Archaeological Review; Chapter 5, pg 29-38
  7. ^ Kislev ME, Hartmann A, Bar-Yosef O (2006) Early domesticated fig in the Jordan Valley. Nature 312:1372–1374.
  8. ^ Ehret (2002) The Civilizations of Africa: A History to 1800. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia
  9. ^ Bellwood P (2005) Blackwell, Oxford. Page 97
  10. ^ Brace, C.L., Seguchi, N., Quintyn, C.B., Fox, S.C., Nelson, A.R., Manolis, S.K., and Qifeng, P. (2006). The questionable contribution of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age to European craniofacial form. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 103, 242–24
  11. ^ Ofer Bar-Yosef, The Natufian culture and the Early Neolithic: Social and economic trends in Southwestern Asia, chapter 10 in Peter Bellwood and Colin Renfrew (eds.), Examining the Farming/Language Dispersal Hypothesis (2002), p.114.
  12. ^ a b "Oldest Shaman Grave Found". National Geographic 04-Nov-2008
  13. ^ Balter, Michael (2010), "Archaeology: The Tangled Roots of Agriculture", Science 327 (5964): 404–406, doi:10.1126/science.327.5964.404, PMID 20093449, 10.1126/science.327.5964.404,;327/5964/404, retrieved 4 February 2010 
  14. ^ a b Clutton-Brock, Juliet (1995), "Origins of the dog: domestication and early history", in Serpell, James, The domestic dog: its evolution, behaviour and interactions with people, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521415292 
  15. ^ BBC. A History of the World. Ain Sakhri Lovers
  16. ^ "Archaeologists discover 12,000 year-old grave of witch doctor". Daily Mail 04-Nov-2008
  17. ^ "Hebrew U. unearths 12,000-year-old skeleton of 'petite' Natufian priestess". By Bradley Burston. Haaretz, 05-Nov-2008
  18. ^ Blench R (2006) Archaeology, Language, and the African Past, Rowman Altamira, ISBN 0759104662, 9780759104662,
  19. ^ Ehret C, Keita SOY, Newman P (2004) The Origins of Afroasiatic a response to Diamond and Bellwood (2003) in the Letters of SCIENCE 306, no. 5702, p. 1680 10.1126/science.306.5702.1680c
  20. ^ Bernal M (1987) Black Athena: the Afroasiatic roots of classical civilization, Rutgers University Press, ISBN 0813536553, 9780813536552.
  21. ^ Bender ML (1997), Upside Down Afrasian, Afrikanistische Arbeitspapiere 50, pp. 19-34
  22. ^ 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.

Further reading

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Natufian culture —       Mesolithic culture of Palestine and southern Syria dating from about 9000 BC. Mainly hunters, the Natufians supplemented their diet by gathering wild grain; they likely did not cultivate it. They had sickles of flint blades set in straight… …   Universalium

  • Natufian — Das Ausbreitungsgebiet Natufiens. Das Natufien /natʏˈfjẽː/, das sogenannte Protoneolithikum, auch Natufium genannt, ist eine epipaläolithische Kultur der Levante. Sie ist nach Fundorten im Wadi an Natuf im Westjordanland in Palästina benannt, die …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Natufian — 1. adjective Of, or relating to a Mesolithic era hunter gatherer people in the Mediterranean area around Levant. 2. noun Someone of, or pertaining to, the Natufian culture …   Wiktionary

  • Natufian — [nə to͞o′fē ən] adj. 〚after Wady en Natuf, valley in Palestine + IAN〛 designating or of a Mesolithic culture of the Near East characterized by microliths, sickles, pestles, etc.: it offers the first evidence of reaping and grinding cereals * * * …   Universalium

  • Natufian — [nə to͞o′fē ən] adj. [after Wady en Natuf, valley in Palestine + IAN] designating or of a Mesolithic culture of the Near East characterized by microliths, sickles, pestles, etc.: it offers the first evidence of reaping and grinding cereals …   English World dictionary

  • Natufian — [nα: tu:fɪən] adjective Archaeology relating to or denoting a late Mesolithic culture of the Middle East, dated to about 12,500–10,000 years ago. Origin 1930s: from Wadi an Natuf, the type site (a cave north west of Jerusalem), + ian …   English new terms dictionary

  • natufian — I. nəˈtüfēən adjective Usage: usually capitalized Etymology: Wadi en Natuf, valley in Palestine + English ian : of, relating to, or having the characteristics of a food gathering, cave dwelling Mesolithic culture of Palestine characterized by… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Mushabian culture — The Mushabian culture (alternately, Mushabi or Mushabaean) is suggested to have originated along the Nile Valley prior to migrating to the Levant, due to similar industries demonstrated among archaeological sites in both regions but with the Nile …   Wikipedia

  • Zarzian culture — is an archaeological culture of late Paleolithic and Mesolithic in Iraq, Iran, Central Asia. The period of the culture is estimated about 18,000 8,000 years BC. It is succeeded Baradostian culture in the same region and was related to Imereti… …   Wikipedia

  • Mesolithic — microliths The Mesolithic The Epipaleolithic This box …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.