chapter  7
Aspects of the historical geography of the Middle East
Pages 50

Early political units in their geographical setting The change generally from nomadic wandering as hunters or gatherers to settled occupation of the soil with the development of plant cultivation as the first real stage in growth of civilization, is generally thought to have taken place first in some part of the Middle East, though opinions as to more precise locality differ, and the date at which such changeover on a significant scale would seem to have occurred is being pushed steadily further backwards as more results of archaeological investigation become available. This is not the place to enter into detailed discussion, but the present view is that the Natufian peoples of western Palestine were among the first known to have developed a way of life based on cultivation, (with some herding of animals) as a secured and fixed, rather than nomadic, base. The time of this development is put very close after the last glacial period, 12000-10500 b .p ., with other developments c. 8000 b .p . at < a^tal Hliyuk (Asia Minor) and Jericho (Palestine). Rapidly improving ecological conditions, from previously near peri-glacial in many parts of the central zone of the Middle East, gave first, a warm, temperate, lightly wooded environment (Mediterranean oak, olive and carob, with swamp reeds in the riverine areas) that later became drier and still warmer. One theory first advanced to explain the origins of agriculture by V. Gordon Childe was that this desiccation led to crowding of plant species, animals and humans into certain small but favoured areas: oases of a kind; where domestication by humans then occurred. Other researchers

have since put forward views that cultivation arose from growth in population numbers in certain areas which were increasingly affected by climatic deterioration towards aridity: one argument is that marginal hunters and gatherers, faced with more numerous competitive communi­ ties, were driven to adopt domestication of animals and plants; another interpretation is that, with such ecological pressures, it was the ‘ c o re ’ communities living in the better spots in greater numbers which exper­ ienced demographic pressure and therefore evolved a more complex social structure that then led to cultivation and closer dependence on the local area.