Food around 13,000 BC



Southwest Asia

The Levantine cultures of between 18,000 and 15,000 years ago are called Kebaran, followed from about 15,000 to 12,500 BP by the Geometric Kebaran cultures. If the Kebaran peoples were doing something that inexorably led their remote descendants to become farmers, it is not obvious in their archaeological traces. In the Geometric Kebaran record, however, we get a few indications of economic changes that may be harbingers of agriculture. Some Kebaran sites, such as the Neve David site, seems to be have been occupied for a time by a relatively large group, a "macroband." This site has the full range of ground-stone tools, and it contains two small stone structures, one in a circular form about two meters in diameter. A grave at the site holds a body interred with the apparent ritual use of grinding stones. Grinding stones are a key artifact in examining the transition to agriculture because they were indispensable tools for processing cereals and many other plant foods. (Patterns in Prehistory)

The best known and perhaps the world's first case of the origins of domestication and agriculture occurred in Southwest Asia, and involved peoples and environments ranging from Afghanistan to Greece over a time period of at least 14,000 years. From this region came domesticated sheep, goats, cattle, pigs wheat, barley, and many other crops on which much of the world today depends. At the end of the Pleistocene, the uplands of the "Fertile Crescent" supported large heards of wild sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs and, in many areas, dense stands of wild wheat and barley. In lower elevations and wetter regions, lakes and streams had abundant supplies of waterfowl and fish. (Patterns in Prehistory)

Shortly after 13,000 BC, grinding stones and sickle blades with a glossy sheen on their bits (the result of silica from cut stems adhering to a sickle's cutting edge) appear in late Palaeolithic tool kits...It's clear that the grinding stones were used in preparing plant food. At many riverside sites, at exactly this time, fish stopped being a significant food source and became a negligible one, as evidenced by the absence of fish remains: 'The decline in fishing as a source of food is related to the appearance of a new food resource represented by ground grain. The associated pollen strongly suggests that this grain was barley, and significantly, this large grass-pollen, tentatively identified as barley, makes a sudden appearance in the pollen profile...As apparently spectacular as the rise of protoagriculture in the late Palaeolithic Nile Valley was its precipitous decline. No one knows exactly why, but after about 10,500 BC the early sickle blades and grinding disappear to be replaced throughout Egypt by Epipalaeolithic hunting, fishing and gathering peoples who use stone tools. (Fingerprints of the Gods)


Excavations in the Nile Valley have revealed campsites that date from 16,000 BC to around 9000 BC, but these sites reflect a society subsisting on rigorous hunting and fishing. Known as the Sebilian culture, these sites clearly show a decrease in the size of tools. Although knowledgeable about animal domestication near the end of the period, the Sebilians were nothing more than the traditional hunter-gatherers of the Old Stone Age From 9000 to 6000 BC, there exists a "dark age" in North African history, from which little information is available. During this time, the Sebilians were living in the valley. Afterward, New Stone Age communities began to dot the landscape with a new concept of living centered on agriculture, yet the Sebilians held fast to their traditional ways of hunting and fishing. Some believe that agriculture was introduced from outside to these hunter-gatherers, who were not eager to become farmers. (Before the Pharaohs)

Further evidence of human habitation of the Nile Valley at the end of the LGM has come from the Kom Ombo Plain, which is a rich alluvial plain 50 km north of Aswan. Between 17 an 12 kya this area offered an attractive habitat for humans. Rainfall having increased at the end of the LGM, was more abundant than now. So not only were the Nile floods more substantial, but also the rainfall in the Red Sea Hills to the east of the river was sufficient to feed the now dried-up tributaries that ran into the Nile across the Kom Ombo Plain. The range of foods was substantial. Animal bones included a now extinct large wild ox, the bubal hartebeest, several species of gazelle and hippopotamus, which appeared to be the principal game eaten. In addition, there were hares, hyenas, a form of dog, bandicoot rats and possibly 'Barbary' sheep. The streams and pools provided Nile catfish, Nile perch, the African barbel, and local species of oyster and soft-shelled turtle. The bones of some 22 forms of birds were also identified. In addition, the food supply would have included roots and bulbs throughout the year, together with seasonal supplies of berries, nuts, and perhaps melons and cucumbers plus edible gum from various trees. (Climate Change in Prehistory)

...something highly unusual really did take place in Egypt sometime between 13,000 and 12,000 BC. At four Isnan sites on the Upper Nile - at Isna (from which the culture takes its name), at Naqada, at Dishna, and at Tushka, 125 miles up river from Aswan - palaeontologists have unearthed clear evidence that these ancient peoples selected and grew their own cereal crops. Stone sickle blades were used to reap the harvests, while grinding-stones were employed to extract the maximum amount of grain.' Not only did the Isnan possess a primitive form of agriculture, they would also appear to have mastered animal domestication and to have possessed a highly advanced microblade technology. (From the Ashes of Angels)

Indus Valley

An epoch of spectacular geological turmoil occurred at the end of the last Ice Age, with the most dramatic effects registered in a series of cataclysmic floods that took place at intervals between roughly 15,000 and 7000 years ago. Is it an accident that this same 8000-year period has been pinpointed by archaeologists as the very one in which our supposedly primitive forefathers made the transition (in different places at somewhat different times) from their age-old hunter-gatherer lifestyle to settled agriculture? Or could there be more to 'the food-producing revolution' than meets the eye? After all, most scientists already recognize a causative connection between the end of the Ice Age and the supposed beginning of farming - indeed an unproven hypothesis that rapid climate changes forced hunter-gatherers to invent agriculture presently serves as pretty much the sum of conventional wisdom on this subject. But there is another possibility. Nobody seems to have noticed that in the general vicinity of each of the places in the world where the food-producing revolution is supposed to have begun between 15,000 and 7000 years ago there is also a large area of land that was submerged by the post-glacial floods between 15,000 and 7000 years ago: We have seen that this is true for India, one of the world's ancient agricultural 'hearths', which lost more than a million square kilometres in the south and the west and, most conspicuously in the north-west, at the end of the Ice Age. (Underworld)




Mammoths, horses, and many other animals were hunted by these upper Paleolithic peoples, but the reindeer was the staff of life: at many sites 99% of all animal bones found belonged to reindeer. (Patterns in Prehistory)

One of the most amply documented Upper Paleolithic cultures in eastern Europe is the Kostenski-Bershevo culture centered in the Don River Valley, about 470 kilometers southeast of Moscow. About 25,000 to 11,000 years ago, the people of Kostenski subsisted primarily through big-game hunting, mainly of mammoths or horses, with an occasional wild cow or reindeer. (Patterns in Prehistory)

Here, as at other Siberian sites, there is evidence that the inhabitants dug pits in the permafrost to store meat and bones: just like present-day point Barrow, they could then stay put, living off their reserves of meat, even when the migratory herds on which they depended were far away. (Climate Change in Prehistory)

Undeniably, the hunting of big game – megafauna – made a significant contribution to the subsistence of Upper Paleolithic people. In central and eastern Europe, for example, sites dating between 28,000 BP and 10,000 BP reflect the major role of the wooly mammoth in the subsistence base of Upper Paleolithic people. Portrayals of ancient hunters fighting a daily duel to the death with huge, aggressive beasts may offer us a romantic image, but it seems an unlikely strategy for survival. It is far more likely that the people of the Upper Paleolithic subsisted on a broad spectrum of foods, including the meat from animals both large and small, birds, fish, seeds, nuts, berries, and starchy roots. Archaeological evidence is finally beginning to support this sensible reconstruction. (The Past in Perspective)

South America

A few South American sites have been dated (controversially) to 20,000 to 15,000 years ago, but not until about 10,000 years ago is there substantial evidence of people in the mountains and coasts of Andean South America. John Rick has surveyed large areas of these uplands, and in caves and rock shelters he has found projectile points, scrapers, knife blades, and other traces of these early Peruvians: they ate a lot of deer, guanaco, and vicuna (an animal related to the llama, both of which are New World forms of camels), and in some cases were perhaps even able to live year round in small areas. In the beginning they also hunted giant ground sloths and a few other animals that became extinct about 10,000 years ago.

Some of these people were probably "transhumant," meaning that the moved up and down the mountains to exploit various resources as they came in season. Many people made these seasonal moves once alpacas and llamas were domesticated, because these animals require constant tending and frequent moves to new pasturages, and these animals made it possible for them to exploit the different environments at different times of year. The "thin" air, intense cold, blizzards, and thick fogs of the highlands make movement difficult, and over millennia of adapting to these conditions, natural selection has produced Andean peoples with extraordinary cardiovascular systems. Genetics and life-long exposure to the strains of life at high altitudes have produced people who can work hard in air extremely low in oxygen, while others unadapted to this environment can hardly function. (Patterns in Prehistory)



North America