Pre-Pottery Neolithic - Farming and Feasting Before Pottery

The First Farmers of the World

House in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic Village of Beidha, Jordan, 7200-6500, 7th-6th Millenium B.C., stone, clay and wood building'
House in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic Village of Beidha, Jordan, 7200-6500, 7th-6th Millenium B.C., stone, clay and wood building'. Getty Images / Mondadori Portfolio

The Pre-Pottery Neolithic (abbreviated PPN and often spelled as PrePottery Neolithic) is the name given to the people who domesticated the earliest plants and lived in farming communities in the Levant and Near East. The PPN culture contained most of the attributes we think of Neolithic--except pottery, which was not used in the Levant until ca. 5500 BC.

The designations PPNA and PPNB (for Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and so forth) were first developed by Kathleen Kenyon to use at the complex excavations at Jericho, which is probably the best known PPN site.

PPNC, referring to the terminal Early Neolithic was first identified at 'Ain Ghazal by Gary O. Rollefson.

Pre-Pottery Neolithic Chronology

PPN Rituals

Ritual behavior during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic is quite remarkable, indicated by the presence of large human figurines at sites such as 'Ain Ghazal, and plastered skulls at 'Ain Ghazal, Jericho, Beisomoun and Kfar HaHoresh. A plastered skull was made by modeling a plaster replica of skin and features onto a human skull. In some cases, cowry shells were used for eyes, and sometimes they were painted using cinnabar or other iron-rich elements.

Monumental architecture--large buildings constructed by the community for use as gathering spaces for those communities and allied people--had it's very first beginnings in the PPN, at sites such as Nevali Çori and Hallan Çemi; hunter-gatherers of the PPN also constructed the significant site of ​Göbekli Tepe, an apparently nonresidential structure built for ritual gathering purposes.

Crops of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic

Crops domesticated during the PPN include the founder crops: the cereals (einkorn and emmer wheat and barley), the pulses (lentil, pea, bitter vetch, and chickpea), and a fiber crop (flax). Domesticated forms of these crops have been excavated at sites such as Abu Hureyra, Cafer Hüyük, Cayönü and Nevali Çori.

In addition, the sites of Gilgal and Netiv Hagdud have produced some evidence supporting the domestication of fig trees during the PPNA. Animals domesticated during the PPNB include sheep, goats, and possibly cattle.

Domestication as a Collaborative Process?

A recent study at the site of Chogha Golan in Iran (Riehl, Zeidi and Conard 2013) has provided information concerning the apparently wide-spread and perhaps collaborative nature of the domestication process. Based on the exception preservation of the botanical remains, the researchers were able to compare the Chogha Golan assemblage to other PPN sites from all over the Fertile Crescent and extending into Turkey, Israel and Cyprus, and have concluded that there might very well have been inter-regional information and crop flow, which might account for the nearly simultaneous invention of agriculture in the region.

In particular, they note that crop domestication of seed plants (such as emmer and einkorn wheat and barley) seems to have arisen throughout the region at the same time, leading the Tübingen-Iranian Stone Age Research Project (TISARP) to conclude that inter-regional information flow must have occurred.

Sources

This Guide to Prehistory is part of the About.com Guide to the Neolithic and the Guide to European Prehistory.