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The spread of Natufian culture.
Remains of a wall of a Natufian house.
The Natufian culture ( ) existed in the Mediterraneanmarker region of the Levant. It was a Mesolithic culture, but 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 no evidence for the deliberate cultivation of cereals, but people at the time certainly made use of wild cereals. Animals hunted include the gazelles.

Although the picture may change as more research is done, there does not seem to have been any similarly advanced culture at the time in the whole Near East.

The name "Natufian" was chosen by Dorothy Garrod who studied the Shuqbamarker cave in Wadi an-Natuf, about halfway between Jaffamarker and Ramallahmarker.


Radiocarbon dating places this culture just before the end of the Pleistocene, in the period 12,500 to 9,500 BC.

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.

Precursors and associated cultures

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 Negevmarker and Sinaimarker, 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 Mediterranean Africa. Graeme Barker notes "the similarities in the respective archaeologicalrecords of the Natufian culture of the Levant and of contemporary foragers in coastal North Africa across the late Pleistocene and early Holocene boundary".

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”. There has also been evidence that parthenocarpic figs, were brought by humans from the direction of Sudanmarker in this period.

Authors such as Christopher Ehret have built upon the little evidence available to develop scenarios of intensive usage of plants building up first in Africa, and was 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.


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 Lebanonmarker and the Anti-Lebanonmarker, the steppe areas of the Negevmarker desert in Israelmarker and Sinaimarker, 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.

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, they contain a central round or subrectangular fireplace. In Ain Mallahamarker 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.


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 Negevmarker. 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 mortar as well.

Other finds

There was a rich bone industry, including harpoons and fish hooks. Stone and bone was worked into pendants and other ornaments. There are a few human figurines made of limestone (El-Wad, Ain Mallahamarker, Ain Sakhri), but the favourite subject of representative art seems to have been animals. Ostrich-shell containers have been found in the Negevmarker.


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 Rivermarker 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 , 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.

Domesticated dog

It is at Natufian sites that the earliest archaeological evidence for the domestication of the dog is found. At the Natufian site of Ein 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. At another Natufian site at the cave of Hayonim, humans were found buried with two canids.


Burials are located in the settlements, commonly in pits in abandoned houses but also in caves in Mount Carmelmarker and the Judean Hillsmarker. 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 Mallahamarker. 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 or witch doctor). The burial contained complete shells of 50 tortoises, which are thought to have been brought to the site and eaten during the funeral feast.

Long distance exchange

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


According to an analysis of a sample of human remains from Natufian sites, the inhabitants of the region appeared to have some Sub-Saharan influences. Ricaut et al. associate these Sub-Saharan influences with the dispersal of haplogroup E1b1b lineages from Africa.
The material culture of the Natufian also leaves open the possibility of some African influences.


Natufian sites include:

See also


Further reading

  • S6-S33.

External links

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