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Isotopic evidence for diet and mobility during the Neolithic transition to farming in the Near East

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ISONEO (Isotopic evidence for diet and mobility during the Neolithic transition to farming in the Near East)

Reporting period: 2017-10-01 to 2019-09-30

The Neolithic transition represents perhaps the most significant development in human history. In Europe the ‘Neolithic package’ arrived as a whole, and has been studied in detail using isotopic and genetic methods, but few isotopic studies have addressed the earlier and more complex transition in the Near East. Thus currently we know little about the changes in diet and mobility of individuals and cannot compare this crucial region to the later transition in Europe or to parallel transitions elsewhere. ISONEO has investigated the composition of diet in selected Neolithic populations of the Near East using carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis. Using strontium and oxygen isotopes in human tooth enamel ISONEO has explored the importance of migration in creating and sustaining the population of Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites in Jordan, Israel and Syria. The archaeological sites used are Ain Mallaha (Natufian), Tell Qarassa North (Early Pre-Pottery Neolithic B), Kharaysin (Middle PPNB), ‘Ain Ghazal (MPPNB-PPNC) and Beisamoun (PPNC). Our results demonstrate a significant level of human mobility in the Natufian period of ‘Ain Mallaha. These populations were hunter-gathered groups that became more sedentary over time. On the contrary, our results argue that aggregation of population was not a significant factor in the development of Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites in southern Levant. Indeed, this study reinforces the role of demographic growth as a driving force of the consolidation of farming villages.
WP1. I created a database of the bibliography of the Neolithic transition in the study region, and isotopic and biomolecular papers in the wider Near East collected in an EndNote software file.
WP2. I created a database of samples using a specific software (Microsoft Excel software). I compiled 170 human samples from the following archaeological sites: ‘Ain Ghazal, Tell Qarassa North, Beisamoun, Ain Mallaha and Kharaysin. These data will be published in the Supplementary Information of the paper ‘Strontium and stable isotopes reveal low levels of human mobility during the origin of the Neolithic in the Near East’.
WP3. I carried out bone collagen δ13C and δ15N analyses on 133 human bone samples at the Department of Archaeology, Durham University. In addition, I carried out carbonate δ13C analyses on 67 tooth enamel samples at the Department of Earth Sciences at Durham University. I created a database with the results. This database will be published as Supplementary Information in the two papers: ‘Strontium and stable isotopes reveal low levels of human mobility during the origin of the Neolithic in the Near East’ and ‘Multi-isotope approach to investigate human migration and mobility in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic site of ‘Ain Ghazal’.
WP4. I developed δ18O and Sr analyses in the carbonate of 67 tooth enamel at the Department of Earth Sciences at Durham University. I created a database with the results. This database will be published as Supplementary Information in the two papers: ‘Strontium and stable isotopes reveal low levels of human mobility during the origin of the Neolithic in the Near East’ and ‘Multi-isotope approach to investigate human migration and mobility in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic site of ‘Ain Ghazal’.
WP5. I organized an international workshop entitled ‘The pathways of the Neolithic in southern Levant’ at the Department of Archaeology at Durham University on the 30th of October of 2019. Proceedings will be published in a Special Issue in ‘Levant: The Journal of the Council for British Research in the Levant’ in the second semester of 2020.
WP6. I am finishing a manuscript as a major synthesis of the ISONEO project. This paper will be submitted to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) during the first trimester of 2020. Moreover, one paper on the materials from Ain Ghazal will be published in the Special Issue of Levant. In addition, two papers on the materials from Kharaysin are currently under review in Anthropological and Archaeological Sciences Journal and Journal of Archaeological Sciences: Report. Ultimately, a paper on Kharaysin is accepted for being published in Antiquity. In addition, preliminary results have been published at several major international conferences: 1) 24th EAA Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologist 2018; 2) the British Association of Near Eastern Archaeology Annual Conference 2019; 3) the 18th Conference of the International Workgroup for Palaeoethnobotany 2019; 4) the 25th EAA Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologist in 2019; 5) the International Workshop ‘The pathways of the Neolithic in southern Levant’ in 2019.
We are able to demonstrate a significant level of human mobility in the Late Natufian period of ‘Ain Mallaha. Late Natufian populations were hunter-gathered groups that became more sedentary over time. In ‘Ain Mallaha there is clearly evidence of growing sedentarisation. Therefore, our results suggest that the aggregation of population was a significant factor to explain the emergence of sedentarisation during the Natufian period.
Our findings demonstrate that most individuals from Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites were locals in their respective villages. I am only able to consider two individuals as nonlocal in Tell Qarassa North and Beisamoun. We are not able to identify a potential area of origin for Tell Qarassa North nonlocal since there is overlap in values between different regions in southern Levant, although Jordanian Rift Valley or coastal areas are probable candidates. Interestingly, the Sr isotope data of the nonlocal individual from Beisamoun exhibits a different value than nonlocal individuals from ‘Ain Mallaha, which is located at the same area. This suggests different regions of origin that changed from Epipaleolithic to PPNC. Furthermore, this individual was buried with a wild boar cranium as a grave good which is a unique example in the Near East along with a similar burial in ‘Ain Ghazal.
The Pre-Pottery Neolithic period portrayed the consolidation and expansion of the domestication and sedentarism processes in southern Levant. The development of sedentary villages occurred from small PPNA hamlets of around one ha and 100 inhabitants, to extended mega-sites of up to 30 ha in the Middle and Late PPNB of southern Levant (8th to early 7th millennia BC). ISONEO demonstrates that most individuals grew up in or near their villages in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites selected for this study. Therefore, my results argue that aggregation of population was not a significant factor in the development of Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites in southern Levant. Indeed, this study reinforces the role of demographic growth as a driving force of the consolidation of farming villages.
This study suggests low or local human mobility patterns in Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites. This contrasts with strong and direct evidence of short and long-distance networks (i.e. Anatolian obsidian exchange) and cultural transmission across the Near East. Our findings prefer a model of interaction based on mobility of few individuals/tasks groups in southern Levant. Low mobility could be beneficial to become sustainable and resilient farming villages during the Neolithic transition. Our results suggest that migration or inter-site exchange of people were not paramount to yield solid, long-term and resilient networks of interactions.
Secondary burial of an adult female at Kharaysin, Pre-Pottery Neolithic B