Evidence for food storage and predomestication granaries 11,000 years ago in the Jordan Valley

Science Daily report on a paper published back in June which I appear to have missed, and as it’s freely accessible at PNAS, I’m pleased to be able to link to it here. This is the abstract:

Food storage is a vital component in the economic and social package that comprises the Neolithic, contributing to plant domestication, increasingly sedentary lifestyles, and new social organizations. Recent excavations at Dhra’ near the Dead Sea in Jordan provide strong evidence for sophisticated, purpose-built granaries in a predomestication context 11,300–11,175 cal B.P., which support recent arguments for the deliberate cultivation of wild cereals at this time. Designed with suspended floors for air circulation and protection from rodents, they are located between residential structures that contain plant-processing instillations. The granaries represent a critical evolutionary shift in the relationship between people and plant foods, which precedes the emergence of domestication and large-scale sedentary communities by at least 1,000 years.

One of the authors is Ian Kuijt, who in the current edition of Current Anthropology authored a paper addressing the same subject, namely ‘What Do We Really Know about Food Storage, Surplus, and Feasting in Preagricultural Communities?’ which is behind a subscription paywall, so here’s a brief extract from that:

Food production, social inequality, and storage are interrelated. Despite the general acceptance of this proposition, the roles of storage in emerging social inequality and the development of food production remain poorly understood. Food storage is an awkward topic for researchers as it is not always manifested in ways that are visible or material (see Forbes and Foxhall 1995; Ingold 1983; Stopp 2002; Testart 1982). The reconstruction and definition of what is storage is highly complex, and centers on practices and materials that are not always well preserved.

The identification of storage features, as well as the scale of storage, is undermined by several constraints. First, due to differential preservation, not all food storage can be identified in the archaeological record. While not random, direct preservation of foods through burning or other agents of conservation is inconsistent and unlikely to be representative of the entire range of foods used and stored in a prehistoric economy.

Second, ethnographic accounts of hunter‐gatherers and farmers provide evidence for a wide range of storage practices, some of which occur off site (Stopp 2002). Third, while we can use ethnography to help us understand the past use of architectural features, it is possible that Neolithic storage practices differed from our comparative cases. The archaeological understanding of past storage practices is based largely on preserved features and structures that are empty, and burned paleobotantical remains are rarely recovered. Researchers are often left with no alternative but to develop circumstantial arguments that specific features were used for food storage.

Some researchers (e.g., Hayden 2009, in this issue) argue that the pre‐agricultural Near Eastern Early (14,500–12,800 cal BP) and Late Natufian periods (12,800–11,500 cal BP) were characterized by sufficient food storage and surplus to allow for individuals to gain social power over others. The Natufian periods, which are distinctly different from each other, were characterized by significant seasonal residential sedentism and the extensive harvesting of wild plants (Bar‐Yosef 1998). As with earlier peoples, the Early and Late Natufians were focused on intensive and extensive harvesting of wild cereals (Bar‐Yosef 1998). Natufian people utilized a remarkably wide range of wild plants and animals and probably had a detailed knowledge of the seasonality and availability of these resources. Certainly the increased degree of sedentism in the Early Natufian period suggests that people were able to reduce seasonal food risks to the point where they could live in the same areas for one or more season of the year.

References: Evidence for food storage and predomestication granaries 11,000 years ago in the Jordan Valley, by Ian Kuijt and Bill Finlayson, Published online before print June 22, 2009, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0812764106

Rethinking the Origins of Agriculture: What Do We Really Know about Food Storage, Surplus, and Feasting in Preagricultural Communities? by Ian Kuijt, Current Anthropology Volume 50, Number 5, October 2009 © 2009 by The Wenner‐Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved. 0011-3204/2009/5005-0009$10.00 DOI: 10.1086/605082

2 thoughts on “Evidence for food storage and predomestication granaries 11,000 years ago in the Jordan Valley

  1. Thanks for the link. I had already read the SD article but had no direct link to the paper, so I was like missing info.

    What puzzles me a bit in this issue is that all the granary data comes from PPNA sites, which are by definition already Neolithic (transitional if you wish). The emphasis seems to be in that they still did not have the modified plants we see later on but only wild variants.

    So I’m kind of confused: is Kuijt trying to re-define PPNA as Mesolithic (not fully Neolithic but transitional)? Or is just a technical matter?

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