The origin of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent is among the most frequently investigated topics in Old World archaeology. Environmental pressure in relation with the Younger Dryas event is frequently discussed as a general determinant in the transition to cultivating domesticated cereals. Although there are data on the palaeoclimate and vegetation at the Pleistocene-Holocene transition in the Fertile Crescent, the role of environmental conditions at the emergence of agriculture on the local level has rarely been investigated. Archaeobotanical data from a number of Epipalaeolithic and aceramic Neolithic sites in the northern and eastern parts of the Fertile Crescent, as well as stable carbon isotope data on wild cereals from some of these sites, are investigated for their explanatory power regarding ancient ecological conditions of early cereal production and the slow pace of emerging agriculture. The data emphasize a high diversity on the taxonomic as well as on the inter-site level in the oldest aceramic Neolithic sites, supporting opportunistic resource use. At the same time, there is a trend toward higher amounts of small-seeded taxa in older sites with lower modern mean annual precipitation, as well as a generally stronger stress signal in large-seeded progenitor species than in PPNB (Pre-pottery Neolithic B) sites. Large-seeded progenitor species, in contrast, occur in greater amounts at younger sites with higher modern mean annual precipitation. Environmental variability in space and time seem to have strongly determined human choices in plant subsistence.
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Vol. 36 • No. 3