Ain Ghazal:


Period: Neolithic - 10,200 – 6,900 BP
Region: West Asia
Carbon Dating: 10,200 - 8,000 years old
Location:
'Ain Ghazal - 31.99° North, 35.98° East
Country: Turkey
mtDNA haplogroups: T, R, X, K, H, I
Y haplogroups: E, CT, J, T

Sumerian King List from Larsa, Iraq Sumerian King List from Larsa, Iraq [24] Lyres from the Royal Cemetery at Ur, Iraq Lyres from the Royal Cemetery at Ur, Iraq [25] Royal palace at Ebla, Syria Royal palace at Ebla, Syria [26]

The Early Bronze Age in West Asia:

Although the Bronze Age is a period characterised by the production of bronze, it was also a period of increasing social complexity. In West Asia, a large area that includes the eastern Mediterranean, Syria, Jordan, Israel and Iran, the Early Bronze Age occurred around 5,000 to 4,000 years ago [1]. This was a period of urbanisation, religious organisation, literacy, social administration, long-distance trade, and interdependence between settlements. Both hostile and peaceful interactions between communities became common.

In Lower Mesopotamia (the region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in modern-day Iraq), also known as Sumer, the Bronze Age saw the emergence of multiple independent city-states, each controlling their own surrounding area of farmland [2, 3]. These settlements ranged in size from Eresh, which was just 12 hectares, to Lagash, over 400 hectares [1, 4].

The cities relied on irrigation agriculture, and social administration became more complex in an attempt to manage and maintain these canals. In fact, conflict between cities often arose due to competition over water resources: Lagash and Umma fought for generations over their borders [3, 5]. This era was known as the Early Dynastic, as for the first time, lists of the kings that ruled these city-states have been discovered [6]. However, these lists cannot be considered completely factual, as they indicate that some reigns lasted for thousands of years.

Although the Sumerian city-states were independent, they shared a very similar culture, which was focused on the gods. Each city was associated with a deity – for example, Ur was owned by the god Nanna, who resided in its temple [7, 8]. The fertile plains of Sumer allowed cities to produce surplus goods, much of which was controlled by the religious authorities, who collected it and then redistributed it to temple-workers in the form of rations [3]. The presence of cuneiform texts increased dramatically during this period, as writing became essential to the administration of the temple. For example, 280 tablets were discovered at the city of Ur, dating to 4,800 years ago [6].

The Sumerian cities were organised in similar ways, each having a monumental temple, dynastic residence, specialised craft production zone and area of housing, surrounded by a city wall. The dead were buried in cemeteries, often with extravagant grave goods – jewellery, metalwork, artwork and musical instruments have been found at the Royal Cemetery at Ur, and some tombs even show evidence of human sacrifice [9, 10]. These were possibly the graves of kings or religious figures. It is during this period that we begin to see clear social stratification, with an upper class made up of royalty and religious figures, a middle class of merchants, accountants, scribes and private tutors, and a lower class of farmers and craftsmen [11]. The lowest social order was that of slaves.

In Upper Mesopotamia and the Levant, the early Bronze Age saw the spread of Sumerian culture to some sites, such as Mari, in Syria. A more local culture, known as Ninevite V, also existed. Ninevite sites were small, and initially appeared to lack writing and monumental architecture [12]. However, by 4,500 years ago, large cities such as Ebla and Tell Brak in Syria had emerged, dominating the countryside in a similar way to the Sumerian city-states [6]. At Ebla, close to the modern-day city of Aleppo, excavations reveal palaces, including one with rooms in which thousands of clay tablets have been discovered [13]. Written in both Sumerian and a local Eblaite script, these tablets related to the organisation of agricultural land and produce, and reveal records of 20,000 palace workers and 67,000 sheep [1].

Meanwhile, in Iran and Anatolia, the Bronze Age saw the collapse of the Uruk-style culture that had been present during the preceding Chalcolithic period [1]. In Iran, a local culture known as the proto-Elamite appeared, dominated by the large settlements of Susa and Anshan [1]. Interactions between Iran, Anatolia and Mesopotamia mostly consisted of the long-distance exchange of raw materials such as timber, metals and semi-precious stones, and manufactured goods like textiles.

The end of the early Bronze Age saw the emergence of large-scale empires. This included the Akkadian Empire, which dated from 4,334 to 4,279 years ago, beginning when its first ruler, Sargon, conquered the Sumerian city-states. Akkadian culture then spread across West Asia into Anatolia, Iran, the Levant, and even Oman and Bahrain [14]. The Akkadians conquered the city of Ebla, burning its palaces, and possibly leading to a decline in urban settlement in this region from around 4,200 years ago [6].Towns and cities were replaced by villages and temporary camps, suggesting sedimentary agriculture was briefly abandoned in favour of pastoral nomadism [1]. A similar phenomenon occurred in Anatolia, lasting for around 300 years. The Akkadian empire collapsed due to a mix of climatic change and conflict with other populations, but was soon replaced by the Ur III Empire. Centred around the Sumerian city of Ur, this empire lasted for a century before suddenly disintegrating around 4,000 years ago, most likely due to invading armies from Iran. The successive middle Bronze Age saw the emergence of multiple groups of city-states, each vying for power across West Asia.

‘Ain Ghazal during the Bronze Age:

The site of ‘Ain Ghazal was one of the largest Neolithic settlements in the Levant (modern-day Israel, Jordan and Syria). Located in Jordan, on the outskirts of the capital of Amman, the site covered an area of 14 hectares, and was continuously occupied from around 10,200 to 8,000 years ago [15]. Following this, the site appears to have been occupied sporadically during the Chalcolithic period and Bronze Age [16]. Evidence suggests the presence of an early Bronze Age village around 450m from the original Neolithic settlement, dating to around 4,500 – 4,300 years ago. Three individuals from this Bronze Age village have been genetically sequenced, two of whom were found in a cave [17]. The individuals were two men and one woman.

Genetic analysis reveals that Levantine peoples, such as the individuals from ‘Ain Ghazal, derived around one-third of their ancestry from the ‘Basal Eurasians.’ The Basal Eurasians are a lineage which split off prior to the differentiation of all other European lineages, and prior to the interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans that occurred around 50,000 – 65,000 years ago [18].

Analysis also reveals that there was much intermixing between the populations of West Asia during the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods. By the Bronze Age, many West Asian groups derived their ancestry from at least two sources. Indeed, the Bronze Age people from ‘Ain Ghazal derived around 56% of their ancestry from Neolithic peoples of the Levant, and 44% from Chalcolithic populations from western Iran [17].

Two of the individuals from ‘Ain Ghazal carried Y-chromosome haplogroup J1, which originated in the Levant during the Bronze Age, and is still common in Levantine populations today [17, 19]. All three people carried different mitochondrial haplogroups: H, X and R. Haplogroup H originated in the Middle East and is commonly found in Europe today [20]. Both X and R have very ancient ancestry; X is now common in West Asia, whilst R is common across the globe [21, 22, 23].


References:

  1. Matthews, R. 2009. Peoples and Complex Societies of Ancient Southwest Asia. In Scarre, C. (ed.) The Human Past. Thames & Hudson Ltd, London
  2. Charpin, D. 2000. The History of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Overview. In Sasson, J.M. (ed.) Civilisations of the Ancient Near East. Peabody, MA : Hendrickson
  3. Chadwick, R.A. 2005. First Civilisations: Ancient Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. Equinox Publishing Ltd
  4. Carter, E. 1989-1990. A Surface Survey of Lagash, Al-Hiba, 1984. Sumer 46:60-63
  5. Hatami, H. and Gleick, P. Conflicts Over Water in the Myths, Legends, and Ancient History of the Middle East. Environment 36:3
  6. Van De Mieroop, M. 2015. A History of the Ancient Near East, Ca. 3000-323 BC. John Wiley & Sons, Inc
  7. Ur, J. 2012. Southern Mesopotamia. In Potts, D.T. (ed.) A Companion to the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East. Blackwell Publishing Ltd
  8. Postgate, J. N. 1992. Early Mesopotamia: Society and Economy at the Dawn of History. London and New York: Routledge.
  9. Aruz, J. 2003. Art of the first cities: the third millennium BC from the Mediterranean to the Indus. New York
  10. Roux, G. 2001. The Great Enigma of the Cemetery at Ur. In Bottero, J. (ed.) Everyday Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. Edinburgh : Edinburgh University Press
  11. Mark, J.J. 2014. Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Web. 31 May 2018.
  12. Matney, T. 2012. Northern Mesopotamia. In Potts, D.T. (ed.) A Companion to the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East. Blackwell Publishing Ltd
  13. Milano, L. 1995. Ebla: A third millennium city-state in ancient Syria. Civilisations of the ancient Near East 2: 1219–30.
  14. Matthews, R. 2003. The Archaeology of Mesopotamia Theories and Approaches. Routledge
  15. Zielhofer, C., Clare, L., Rollefson, G. et al. 2012. The decline of the early Neolithic population center of Ain Ghazal and corresponding earth-surface processes, Jordan Rift Valley. Quaternary Research 78: 427-441
  16. Rollefson, G.O., Simmons, A.H. and Kafafi, Z. 1992. Neolithic Cultures at ‘Ain Ghazal, Jordan. Journal of Field Archaeology. 19(4): 443-470
  17. Lazaridis, I., Nadel, D., Rollefson, G. et al. 2016. Genomic insights into the origin of farming in the ancient Near East. Nature 536 (7617): 419-424
  18. Sankararaman, S., Patterson, N., Li, H. et al. 2012. The date of interbreeding between Neandertals and modern humans. Public Library of Science Genetics 8(10)
  19. Semino, O. et al. 2004. Origin, Diffusion, and Differentiation of Y-Chromosome Haplogroups E and J: Inferences on the Neolithization of Europe and Later Migratory Events in the Mediterranean Area. American Journal of Human Genetics 74: 1023-1034
  20. Achilli, A. 2004. The Molecular Dissection of mtDNA Haplogroup H Confirms That the Franco-Cantabrian Glacial Refuge Was a Major Source for the European Gene Pool. American Journal of Human Genetics. 75: 910–918
  21. Maere Reidla, et al. 2003. Origin and Diffusion of mtDNA Haplogroup X. The American Journal of Human Genetics 73: 1178-1190.
  22. Malhi, R.S. and Smith, D.G. 2002. Brief communication: Haplogroup X confirmed in prehistoric North America. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 119: 84-86
  23. Soares, P., Ermini, L., Thomson, N. et al. 2009. Correcting for Purifying Selection: An Improved Human Mitochondrial Molecular Clock. The American Journal of Human Genetics. 84: 740–759
  24. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sumerian_King_List,_1800_BC,_Larsa,_Iraq.jpg
  25. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Queen%27s_lyre_and_the_silver_lyre,_from_the_Royal_Cemetery_at_Ur,_southern_Mesopotamia,_Iraq._The_British_Museum,_London..JPG
  26. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ebla_Palazzo_G_-_GAR_-_9-01.JPG