NEOLITHIC PERIOD
(C. 9000–5000 B.C.)
   Literally this term means “new stone age.” The most prevalent tools were still made of stone, such as flint and other hard rocks. However, in many other respects the Neolithic period in the Near East has justly been associated with technological “revolution,” especially the intensive exploitation of the ecological niches, increasing sedentarization, the invention of pottery, and, most important, the beginning of agriculture.The most important pilot sites in Mesopotamia are Jarmo, Umm Dabaghiyah, Tell Hassuna, and Choga Mami, all in northern Mesopotamia (see HALAF, TELL).
   All these sites were within reach of montane valleys where wild cereals and species of wheat and barley grew naturally. Early settlers had access to these zones and brought back seeds that were planted in the river plains, producing new cultivated species, such as six-row cultigens, with shatter-resistant seed heads. Even artificial irrigation was already employed at this stage. The investment of labor in such projects tied people more securely to one place and made them rely more heavily on a relatively limited diet. Skeletons show that teeth were worn down more than in the preceding period and that the heavy work, especially the carrying of loads on the back, deformed neck and vertebrae. Nevertheless, the new food-procuring system allowed for greater population expansion and permanent settlements. The domestication of wild animals was another Neolithic achievement. The dog already accompanied Paleolithic hunters; now sheep and goats, bred from their wild ancestors, appeared. The first domesticated cattle emerged in the sixth millennium B.C. Most of these animals still showed a high degree of variability, most likely a result of the mobility of herding groups who would come into frequent contact with other groups. Hunting, too, became more professionalized, especially that of gazelles and onagers, which needed coordinated group efforts. Gathering activities also continued, making use of periodically available wild resources, such as mushrooms, nuts, and wild fruit.
   Neolithic craftsmanship is marked by the invention of pottery, hand shaped rather than wheel turned, but with exquisite painted designs and increasingly well fired. There is evidence of specialization in craft production (e.g., Umm Dabagiyah was a center of stone tool production).
   Generally speaking, the Neolithic people had a “broad-spectrum economy,” making use of a variety of subsistence strategies (agriculture, food collecting, herding, hunting) without any visible bias to a particular kind of exploitation. It is also increasingly evident that there was still a high degree of mobility; people could move from one site to another in a form of transhumance, inhabiting one ecological sphere for part of the year and moving on to the next site (winter and summer camps). Such movements also explain the rapid exchange of ideas and technologies over a wide area, as well as the exchange of goods. This led to the adaptation to different geographical conditions and to more intense contact between different groups and lifestyles. Neolithic society can be characterized as basically egalitarian and kinship based, possibly patrilocal and patrilinear.

Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. . 2012.

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