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Levant reached unprecedented levels for the Late Paleolithic. Moreover, Early Natufian groups invested more in specialized resource extraction than ever before with the aid of plant processing equipment (e.g., groundstone and sickles) and perhaps new hunting technologies. Together the evidence indicates a remarkable increase in the procurement of consumable energy by unit area in the Mediterranean zone and in the southern Levant in general. This must reflect increased energetic demands from what could only be large, dense human populations who could not meet their needs simply by moving to new areas.

In fact, in the Early Natufian phase, the southem Levant likely supported the densest and — because of greatly expanded Mediterranean habitats — probably the highest gross population sizes the region had seen to this point. Human populations must have undergone a growth spurt in the Epipaleolithic, most likely beginning in the Geometric Kebaran that accelerated with the onset of the Early Natufian phase.

Why did human population density increase during the Late Epipaleolithic? First, the expansion of the Mediterranean belt beginning ca. 14,500 BP in response to a warm, wet climatic regime greatly improved the region's productivity. This, however, was not the first time in prehistory that the Mediterranean forest expanded, and pulses of population growth do not coincide with each favorable period (Stiner et al. 1999, 2000).

Instead, it was the combined effect of broadening habitats and the availability of technologies that facilitated the extraction of spatially concentrated, yet previously untapped resources, that greatly increased the carrying capacity of the region. In general,

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that act on stable populations relax, allowing for population growth. Populations may thus experience new potential for largely unrestrained growth until they again approach the heightened carrying capacity ceiling, when density-dependent population controls take effect (Caughley 1977). One must ask why carrying capacity of envirormients were raised via technology. This is not the subject of this dissertation, but is necessary if we for determining why the Early Natufians intensified resource use, particularly under favorable climatic conditions.

Why human populations chose to settle in more permanent villages and adopt intensive foraging regimes during the Early Natufian is a more complex problem.

Certainly, site permanence, high population density, and intensive foraging modes are casually linked, but which came first or how they influenced one another in the Natufian case is more difficult to resolve. Settling down to invest in the labor-intensive harvest of small food packages is an expensive enterprise. Foragers are not expected to choose such options unless mobility is already compromised. Resource demands often exceed the availability of high-ranked resources but population decline is the most common result in animal (and human) populations. Exceptional human population packing and territorial circumscription according to all lines of evidence presented here, undoubtedly characterized the cultural context in the Early Natufian Levant. The Early Natufian clearly was a period in which environmental carrying capacity was effectively raised to a

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Was There Depopulation in the Late Natufian?

Relative changes in prey abundance in Late Natufian contexts indicate that human groups met their demands for meat almost exclusively with high-ranked game. The poor resilience and depressed state of these prey populations (e.g., tortoises and gazelles) in the Late Natufian means that this strategy could only have been effective if there were also dramatic reductions in site occupation intensity. Forager mobility is closely linked to the productivity of local resources (Kelly 1995). The productivity and geographic extent of the Mediterranean forest contracted with the onset of the Younger Dryas, so Natufian foragers were forced to move more frequently and/or travel in smaller groups than they had in the Early Natufian. The only other viable solution to food stress brought on by deteriorating conditions would have been resource intensification in which these people were already engaged in several resource dimensions. Heavy plant processing equipment remain common at Late Natufian sites, and it is clear that human groups did not abandon the exploitation of seeds and nuts, modes that had sustained their populations in the Early Natufian. By this time, wild resource extraction was already pushed to its limits, and probably could not have been intensified further without agriculture. The Late Natufians.

however, did not, as far as we know, turn to agriculture at this point, but instead relied on adjustments in settlement strategy to combat growing pressure added by the climate deterioration of the Younger Dryas. Increased mobility and reduced site occupation

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associated drop in human population density. This is the partial depopulation of the region ca 11,000 B.P.

Late Natufian depopulation of the Mediterranean zone must have occurred via reduced population growth rates, population emigration, or both. Imperceptible changes in population growth rates most likely occurred from year to year as human populations naturally adjusted to climate-induced declines in environmental carrying capacity. Some population movement may have also occurred as conditions worsened, possibly to surrounding regions, but arid zones could not absolve all of the populations stress. An expansion in the number of small to medium Natufian sites in the deserts of Jordan and the Negev ~ habitats which may not have been hit as hard by the Younger Dryas as the Mediterranean zone ~ does occur in the Late Natufian. Some of this expansion may have been fed by populations from the Mediterranean zone. Overall, the evidence presented here does not suggest that the Late Natufian adaptation was a failed one at all, but rather represented a flexible solution to worsening environmental conditions at the end of the Pleistocene.

A Role in Agricultural Origins?

Intensive resource use by Natufian foragers suggests that they experienced continuous, low-grade population pressure across the duration of the period, even in the face of major environmental change and population reduction. The constant intensity of this pressure on several resource classes throughout the Natufian has major implications

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responded to potential food stress brought on by the Younger Dryas by further intensifying resource use or by adopting agriculture. Indeed, the results of this study suggest that human population size in the Late Natufian shrank, then restabilized at a lower carrying capacity and remained there for at least five to seven hundred years. It is important to distinguish here between changes in carrying capacity associated with technological change (as in the Early Natufian) and that provoked directly by climate change (as in the Late Natufian).

The Natufian culture saw its cultural heyday during the Early phase of the period.

By 11,000 B.P. things began to slow down — most of the traits that epitomize the Natufian culture persist into the Late Natufian, but the intensity of their expression declines. One of the most remarkable developments in the Natufian that no doubt contributed to the evolution of the agricultural adaptation was the manipulation of cereals. To the north, however, the picture in the Late Epipaleolithic is somewhat different. Sites in less explored regions such as the Euphrates valley (e.g., Abu Hureyra and Mureybet) and southeastern Anatolia (e.g., Hallan (^emi) provide evidence for intensification through the remainder of the Epipaleolithic period (Cauvin 1978; Cauvin and Watkins 2000; Moore 1991; Rosenberg et al. 1998).

The conditions of the Younger Dryas did not encourage an immediate agricultural solution to resource stress in the southern Levant. The importance of this period for agricultural origins instead lies in the presence of constant resource pressure which

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of resource productivity) in the region. The Natufians may have played a direct role in cereal domestication by initiating the first experiments. When conditions did improve ca.

10,000 B.P. cereal agriculture was adopted immediately. Other facets of the Neolithic, however, may have originated elsewhere, perhaps to the north. These traits eventually merge into a more geographically uniform adaptation (the Neolithic). The general tendency to manipulate the growth conditions of staple animal and plant resources is central to the success of the Neolithic adaptation, and explain much about its origins. The unique properties and biogeography of animals and plants involved in this process had great influence over which species were the most successfiil domesticates (i.e., wheat, barley and sheep/goat; Garrard 1984), and determined the geographic origin of the

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