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Geophysical Monograph Series



  • Near East
  • Bronze Age
  • agriculture
  • archaeobotany
  • geoarchaeology
  • ancient oriental philology

Index Terms

  • 9810 General or Miscellaneous: New fields (not classifiable under other headings)
  • 0402 Biogeosciences: Agricultural systems
  • 0429 Biogeosciences: Climate dynamics
  • 1041 Geochemistry: Stable isotope geochemistry



Mid-to-Late Holocene Agricultural System Transformations in the Northern Fertile Crescent: A Review of the Archaeobotanical, Geoarchaeological, and Philological Evidence

S. Riehl, K. Pustovoytov, A. Dornauer, and W. Sallaberger

The region of the northern Fertile Crescent experienced dramatic changes in the political and cultural life of its societies during the mid-late Holocene period (approximately 3000–1000 calibrated years B.C.). The range of these changes in terms of agricultural production, as well as their interrelationship with climate, is poorly understood. We review and highlight the transformations of agricultural systems, and what might have triggered them, through an interdisciplinary approach based on archaeobotanical, geoarchaeological, and philological data from a series of archaeological sites in northern Mesopotamia. The archaebotanical record suggests changes in crop cultivation at the transition from the Early Bronze Age to the Middle Bronze Age (MBA). The general pattern of the MBA manifests itself also in the Late Bronze Age sites, whereas the Iron Age sites reveal changes such as the extension of free-threshing wheat occurrence and a return of flax. These changes have been set in comparison to fluctuations of the stable carbon isotope composition in seeds and to the dynamics of irrigation networks documented by pedosediment profiles in the field, as well as by textual sources. According to the evidence, a number of reasons can be considered responsible for societal change during the Bronze Age, such as changing climatic and environmental conditions, increasing societal, political, and economic complexity, population growth and related problems of sustainability and warfare, which were all interwoven through feedback mechanisms. Whether we call these developments “collapse” or “recommencement” remains a matter of opinion.

Citation: Riehl, S., K. Pustovoytov, A. Dornauer, and W. Sallaberger (2012), Mid-to-late Holocene agricultural system transformations in the northern Fertile Crescent: A review of the archaeobotanical, geoarchaeological, and philological evidence, in Climates, Landscapes, and Civilizations, Geophys. Monogr. Ser., vol. 198, edited by L. Giosan et al., 115–136, AGU, Washington, D. C., doi:10.1029/2012GM001221.

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