The emergence and intensification of cultivation practices at the Pre-Pottery Neolithic site of el-Hemmeh, Jordan: an archaeobotanical study
White, Chantel E.
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The Pre-Pottery Neolithic period (ca. 11,700-8250 cal. B.P.) marks an era of monumental social and economic development in Southwest Asia. The beginnings of cultivation transformed subsistence practices in the region, reflecting both changes in human diet and the activities of collecting, preparing, and consuming plant foods. Archaeobotanical studies have provided critical evidence of the physiological processes of plant domestication, yet so far have rarely shed light on the specific tasks associated with early agriculture in the southern Levant. The site of el-Hemmeh, located in central Jordan, offers a unique perspective on the development of agriculture as it is one of the few archaeological sites occupied during both the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (ca. 11,700-10,500 cal. B.P.) and Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (ca. 9250-8700 cal. B.P .) periods. This dissertation presents macrobotanical evidence collected from el-Hemmeh using a novel flotation tank design to recover charred plant remains from a total of 15 PPNA contexts and 32 Late PPNB contexts. These plant remains are pertinent to understanding the mechanisms of early Neolithic plant domestication and the local environmental setting in which cultivation occurred at el-Hemmeh. The assemblage provides evidence of the purposeful cultivation of predomesticated barley during both the PPNA and Late PPNB periods, as well as fully domesticated emmer wheat during the Late PPNB. Many of the weedy, opportunistic plant species found in the PPNA deposits are edible or useful medicinally and may have been collected as secondary food sources alongside cultivated plants. Additionally, ripped cereal chaff and large numbers of broken grains provide evidence of routine cereal processing tasks, including harvesting, threshing, dehusking, and intensive grain grinding during the Late PPNB. This research answers calls by archaeologists to identify the ways in which large-scale economic changes of the Neolithic are reflected at the local level through an examination of context-by-context patterns in macrobotanical data reflecting plant processing, cooking, and discard activities at el-Hemmeh.
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