The Natufian culture is essential to study when learning about the birth of civilisation in the Fertile Crescent. After all, they were the first hunters and gatherers who gradually changed from a nomadic lifestyle to a fully settled existence in the Levant region. It is imperative to understand their lives before studying the Mesopotamian civilisation.
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Natufian Culture on the Map
The Natufian culture lived from between 15000 to 11500 years ago in the Levant region of the Fertile Crescent. The Levant region contains Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Syria. I added a few dots on my small Mesopotamia paper mache map and added the Natufian culture to my key:
I have recorded a video about creating a simple Mesopotamian paper mache map:
And another one demonstrating how I painted and labelled it:
I really recommend creating your own paper mache map. These maps can be any size. And, they are a wonderfully tactile way for a child to learn the geographical features which they are studying. We will be adding more to our map as we go along.
Were the Natufians Farmers?
This is where it gets interesting. In general, archeologists consider the Natufian culture to be a pre-agriculture culture. They survived and thrived by hunting wild animals and collecting wild food. It may have been that the land at that time was able to support a more sedentary tribe, meaning that the need to be mobile and follow the food was unnecessary. The Levant area was thought to have been lush woodland, rather than the barren dried land of today. It may, therefore, have produced numerous wild cereals, nuts, fruit and other edible plants. These plant foods supported both the human and animal population. And the humans then hunted the animals for food and leather.
However, there is some evidence that the Natufians cultivated some cereal grain, namely rye. The archeological site of Tell Abu Hureyra is the first ever site which has shown signs of early agriculture. It seems to have been occupied from 13000 to 9000 years ago. First, by the small village of non-nomadic Natufian hunters and gatherers and second, by the early farmers of the pre-pottery Neolithic period.
During this second occupation, archeologists found domesticated varieties of rye, wheat and barley. They also found evidence of keeping sheep as livestock. This move into farming may have been precipitated by a period of glacial conditions which decreased the availability of natural resources such as wild gazelle and fish.
Some Natufian lived in groups in caves (El-Wad is an example of cave dwelling settlements) and others lived in incipient villages in huts built from stone and skins (Ain Mallaha is an example)
The Natufian built stone-walled houses around a wooden frame, with stone flooring, and a stone lined hearth. They threw animal hides over the wooden frame, creating a makeshift roof. The houses also seemed to have another pit-like area inside which archeologists believe might be a Stone Age bin!
Outside the houses, they built stone pits lined with limestone, which made them waterproof. It maybe that these are storage pits for grain. If so, then the Natufian culture are the first known people to have a storage system for their food. Scattered around these Stone Age settlements were a variety of tools, most recognisable were mortar and pestles, grinding stones, sharpening rock and bone tools. I will be making some of these artefacts at the end of this lesson:
Natufian people buried their dead. Archeologists found shells, teeth of red deer, bones and stones scattered around the body. The relatives of the dead fashioned these into different types of jewellery and belt ornaments:
In 2008 archeologists found a particularly interesting grave belonging to a possible shaman in a ceremonial pit in the Hilazon Tachtit cave in Northern Israel, dated to about 12400 years ago. In those days a shaman would have been a wise woman who was knowledgeable about the healing properties of herbs and roots. Her grave was much more embellished compared to a grave of a common person. The shaman was surrounded by the skeletal remains of aurochs, the wild ancestor of the domesticated cattle today and numerous tortoise shells. The archeologists also found the pelvis of a leopard, the forearm of a wild boar, the wingtip of a golden eagle and the skull of a stone marten.
Natufian Culture Notepages
I have created some notepages to go along with this lesson. They include my drawings and a space to add some notes. I have also created some larger pictures of my drawings of the three artefacts. I did this so you could use them in your lessons to discuss Natufian artefacts. And lastly, I included some notepages for you to stick photos of your own creations. These are all available free from the download below:
For a bit of fun, I have designed and created three museum labels to go along with each of the three artefacts described in the video. I thought they might make an interesting addition to a Mesopotamia Unit Study presentation. We always do an end of unit study presentation. This often includes a display table of everything we have made (usually artefacts of some sort). These labels can be popped beside each artefact and will give your visitors information about all you have made. The museum labels can be downloaded from the link below:
How to Make Natufian Artefacts
You’ll need some white clay, some red clay and some clay tools, a board to work on and some reference photos (free download above). The goal is to simply turn the unformed clay into something resembling the artefacts you are trying to make. Have fun! They don’t need to be perfect. Remember your reason for creating them in your homeschool is so your children can learn in a tactile practical way and have lots of fun doing so.
I have made a video showing how I make the artefacts as well as how I use the map we made to show where the Natufian culture have been found:
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