Saturday, January 23, 2010

Farmers on the move, 8000 BCE

This blog is called Muhlberger's Early History for a good reason: I'm often making a connection between things that happened centuries ago and things that our neighbors are doing somewhere in the world today. In the classroom I love talking about remote origins. If I were teaching ancient history now, you'd bet this would be included ( exceerpt from the UK's Daily Mail):

European farming began around 9,000 BC in the Fertile Crescent - a region extending from the eastern coast to the Persian Gulf and which includes modern day Iraq, Syria, and southeast .

The region was the cradle of civilisation and home to the Babylonia, Sumer and Assyrian empires.

The development of farming allowed people to settle down for the first time - and to produce more food than they needed, leading to trade and the freedom to develop new skills such as metal working, building and writing.

Some archaeologists have argued that some of these early farmers travelled around the world - settling new lands and bringing farming skills with them.

But others have insisted that the skills were passed on by word of mouth, and not by mass migration.

The new study suggests the farmers routinely upped sticks and moved west when their villages became too crowded, eventually reaching Britain and .

The waves of migrants brought their new skills with them. Some settled down with local tribes and taught them how to farm, the researchers believe.

'When the expansion happened these men had a reproductive advantage because they were able to grow more food so they were more attractive to women and had more offspring,' said Prof Jobling.

'In total more than 80 per cent of European men have Y chromosomes which descend from incoming farmers.

'It seems odd to think that the majority of men in Ireland have fore fathers from the near East and that British people have forefathers from the near East.'

The findings are published in the science journal PLoS Biology.

Dr Patricia Balaresque, a co-author of the study, said: 'This means that more than 80 per cent of European Y chromosomes descend from incoming farmers.'

In contrast, other studies have shown that DNA passed down from mothers to daughters can be traced by to hunter-gatherers in Europe, she said.

'To us, this suggests a reproductive advantage for farming males over indigenous hunter-gatherer males during the switch from hunting and gathering, to farming - maybe, back then, it was just sexier to be a farmer,' she said.

I don't think anyone had a clue about this 20 years ago when I first taught Ancient Civilizations. What fun!

(And let's hear it for SE Turkey getting proper credit.)

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Gobekli Tepe -- the first great human monument


I am not teaching ancient history this year but I am still very interested. It's hard to imagine anyone with a feeling for any sort of early history not being fascinated by this one.

Archaeologists working in that part of the fertile crescent which is now located in Turkey have found a huge hill which seems to be the remains of late Stone Age temple building on a grand scale at a place now called Gobekli Tepe. The great stone structures date to long before Sumer -- as one archaeologist says, there is more time between Gobekli Tepe (9000 BC) and Sumer than there is between Sumer and us -- and in fact before agriculture was invented. Somehow hunter gatherers mustered the resources to build what was not a town or settlement or fortification but simply an immense complex of stone monuments.

Smithsonian Magazine has a very good article, the best part of which for me is the speculation by the archaeologists that it was the demand for resources to build such a site that made necessary agriculture and domestication of animals. For a very long time historians have been telling students and the general public and each other that it was the invention of agriculture which made possible big projects like Gobekli Tepe; but maybe it's the other way around.

Thanks to Phil Paine and Skye Sepp for drawing my attention to this.

Image: Gobekli Tepe from Smithsonian Magazine. This is just one of a collection of amazing pictures at the Smithsonian site.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

I will give a fig for it


When it is appropriate to do so, I love talking about food and the origin of various crops in my history classes -- in the past, this has generally meant world history and ancient history courses. Ancient Middle Eastern crops came out in discussing the background to early Islamic history a couple of weeks ago, and I had a fair amount to say about dates, a very important crop in Iraq at any time in its history. Soon after, I ran across this National Public Radio piece on figs as one of the earliest crops, a possibility revealed by new explorations near ancient Jericho, which rated a mention in my discussions of early towns and agriculture. I promised a link to the Islamic history class, and here it is!

Image: from NPR, showing an ancient fig (L) next to modern Iranian and Turkish figs (R).

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