Boncuklu and Tepecik-Çiftlik:

Period: Neolithic - 10,200 – 6,900 BP
Region: West Asia
Boncuklu - 37.75° North, 32.86° East
Tepecik-Çiftlik - 38.18° North, 34.31° East
Country: Turkey
mtDNA haplogroups: K, U3, N
Y haplogroups: -

Çatalhöyük Çatalhöyük [28] Gôbekli Tepe Gôbekli Tepe [29]

The Neolithic Period in West Asia:

The Neolithic was a significant period in technological and cultural development, primarily because many human groups switched from hunting and gathering, to farming and domesticating animals for the first time [1]. In West Asia, a large area that includes the eastern Mediterranean, Syria, Jordan, Israel and Iran, the Neolithic period occurred 10,200 – 6,900 years ago [2]. The beginning of this period roughly coincided with the end of the last glaciation, or Ice Age, around 11,700 years ago, and the climate of West Asia would have been generally warmer and wetter than it is today [3].

It was once thought that agriculture emerged suddenly, triggering such a major change in human society that it became known as the ‘Neolithic Revolution’ [4, 5]. However, it is likely that the development of farming was more gradual – Neolithic farmers were descended from the Natufian hunter-gatherers of the preceding Epipaleolithic period, who began cultivating cereals as early as 15,000 years ago [6, 7]. Agriculture also did not emerge in one single place in West Asia; instead, the domestication of different species occurred independently in various regions over hundreds of years [8, 9]. For instance, barley was domesticated at sites as widespread as Abu Hureyra, Syria; Jericho, Palestine; and Ali Kosh, Iran [10]. Similarly, goats were domesticated independently in central Iran and eastern Turkey as early as 10,000 years ago [11]. By the end of the Neolithic, the people of West Asia were also farming wheat, millet and spelt, and breeding dogs, sheep, pigs and cattle.

Neolithic farmers mostly lived in permanent settlements, and this period marks the emergence of mud-brick architecture. Buildings were round or rectangular, and often had two stories [1]. Occasionally, walls and floors were decorated with white or red plaster [12, 13]. Some of these settlements were large - Çatalhöyük was inhabited by 8,000 people, and Jericho had an area of six acres, surrounded by a huge stone wall and round watchtower [14].

Many villages had communal buildings that would have required group labour, such as grain stores or more monumental structures which may have been ritual centres [15]. At Hallan Çemi, an early Neolithic site in Turkey, two circular structures at least five times larger than any other building have been found. Both show little evidence of everyday life; instead, exotic materials such as copper ore and obsidian were found there [13, 16]. Similar symbolic structures, some featuring huge limestone pillars, carved reliefs of animals or collections of human skulls, have been found at Çayônu, Nevah Çori, and Gôbekli Tepe [13]. It was common for the Neolithic people to bury their dead under the floors of their houses [2]. In some cases, skulls were removed after death and decorated with paint, clay and shells, before being reburied elsewhere [17].

Culturally, the Neolithic period is generally divided into the ‘aceramic’ and ‘ceramic’ eras, with the change occurring with the introduction of pottery around 7,500 years ago [3, 14]. The microliths that characterised the previous Epipaleolithic period were no longer made in the Neolithic. Instead, stone arrowheads and mace heads were produced. These were not only used on animals, but possibly also on other humans [14]. Trade networks expanded significantly during the Neolithic, and materials like obsidian and seashells were traded over long distances – obsidian tools sourced in Turkey have been found in Jordan and Iran, and the obsidian used at Çatalhöyük was obtained from a site 125 km away [14]. Many late aceramic sites were abandoned in the ceramic era, and the following centuries of the late Neolithic are marked by small, short-lived settlements with little evidence of architecture. This cultural contrast may have been caused by over-exploitation of the environment as populations increased and it became no longer sustainable to live in such large farming communities [14, 18].

The Neolithic presence in Central Anatolia:

Neolithic people began living in central Anatolia, or modern-day Turkey, around 11,000 years ago [19, 20]. Two Central Anatolian sites were Boncuklu and Tepecik-Çiftlik.

Boncuklu, dating from 10,300 to 9,500 years ago, was a small settlement near to the modern-day city of Konya. Its inhabitants were originally foragers relying on wild nuts and fruits, who began cultivating barley, emmer wheat and legumes [21]. Boncuklu is characterised by oval, mud-brick buildings with distinctive painted red floors, interspersed with wide open areas. Each building could have housed two adults and several children, and so were likely family homes [19]. These dwellings had the distinguishing feature of being divided into a ‘kitchen’ area – a sunken, uneven area with a hearth, typically in the northwest of the house – and a cleaner living and sleeping space [22]. Burials occurred under the floors of houses, as well as under the open spaces between homes. Recently, evidence of early rudimentary pottery has been discovered at Boncuklu, despite the fact that it was occupied during the aceramic Neolithic era. This is possibly the earliest pottery found in West Asia, and included vessels and figurines [22].

Another Central Anatolian settlement was Tepecik-Çiftlik, located near the city of Aksaray, a village which was most likely continuously occupied from 9,500 to 7,800 years ago [21]. There is little evidence of architecture during the earliest centuries of inhabitation, but in later years, we see a pattern of larger structures interspersed with open spaces. The people of Tepecik-Çiftlik were farmers, but towards the Ceramic Neolithic era, hunting became increasingly important, perhaps because intensive farming was no longer viable.

Fragments of early pottery have been found at Tepecik-Çiftlik: the remains of pots with intricate reliefs of animals and humans decorating their outsides, similar to the much larger reliefs found at Çatalhöyük [23]. Clay and stone figurines have been found alongside this pottery. Tepecik-Çiftlik was also a centre for trading and producing obsidian tools, such as daggers, arrowheads and spears [21]. Over 170 burials have been discovered at Tepecik-Çiftlik. Many of these individuals were buried on their sides in crouched positions, and were missing skulls, which had been reburied elsewhere. Burials have been found under both buildings and open spaces, and over 40 were discovered in a single graveyard.

In 2016, the DNA of nine Central Anatolian individuals was sequenced [21]. This included two men and two women from Boncuklu, one of whom was found with a newborn baby, and three men and two women from Tepecik-Çiftlik. Eight of the Central Anatolians carried the mitochondrial haplogroups K and N – the same haplogroups found in Neolithic farmers in Europe. It has long been argued that Neolithic cultural traditions, including farming, may have spread from Anatolia to Europe. Recent genetic analysis supports the theory that Anatolian farmers began migrating to Europe from around 8,400 years ago [24, 25]. Today, haplogroup K is common in Europe and the Near East, whilst N is found in Western Eurasia [26, 27].

Interestingly, occupants of the earlier site of Boncuklu had a much lower genetic diversity than the people of the later settlement of Tepecik-Çiftlik, who displayed much higher within-group variation [21]. Individuals from Tepecik-Çiftlik carried DNA typically found in the Middle East and North Africa today, suggesting an influx of these genes into Anatolia during the later Neolithic. This movement of genes might have occurred due to Tepecik-Çiftlik’s role as a centre of obsidian trade in West Asia.


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