Obsidian knives are proof of the Neolithic population explosion

(ORDO NEWS) — An analysis of obsidian artifacts excavated in the 1960s at two prominent archaeological sites in southwestern Iran suggests that the links that Neolithic people formed in the region as agriculture developed were much larger and more complex than previously thought.

The journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published the work of two scientists from Yale University (USA). Using state-of-the-art techniques, they conducted a new analysis of 2,100 obsidian artifacts from the collection of the Yale Peabody Museum.

These obsidian knives were discovered more than 50 years ago during excavations at the archaeological sites of Ali-Kosh and Chaga-Sefid on the Iranian Deh Luran plain.

There they found settlements dating back to the 8th millennium BC, that is, people lived on the plain in the Neolithic era. It was then that our ancestors began to farm, domesticate animals and create permanent settlements.

Obsidian knives are proof of the Neolithic population explosion 2
Obsidian artifacts

Initial analysis, carried out shortly after the discovery of the artifacts, showed that people received obsidian – volcanic glass – from two sources: from Nemrut Dag, a now dormant volcano in Eastern Turkey, and some unknown one.

A new analysis of its composition has shown that the obsidian came from seven different sources, including Nemrut Dag. Moreover, some of these places are located in Armenia – at a distance of more than one and a half thousand kilometers from the excavation site.

“It was not a simple scheme where people got obsidian from one source and then moved on to another.

Our analysis shows that over time they acquired obsidian from increasingly geologically diverse sources, a trend that could not be detected using the technologies and methods available 50 years ago,” the paper says.

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The map shows archaeological sites and places where obsidian was brought from

The initial analysis was based mainly on the appearance of the artifacts, in particular on their color when exposed to sunlight. A subgroup of 28 artifacts was then subjected to a chemical composition analysis method common at the time, which involved pulverizing the artifacts.

The authors of the new work were the first to study the composition of obsidian artifacts after these early analyses. They used state-of-the-art portable X-ray fluorescence systems, which made it possible to examine the entire collection without damaging the artifacts.

So, thanks to this, we now know that the Neolithic people who lived in the territory of modern Iran received obsidian not from two sources, but from seven, including quite remote ones. What does it give?

According to scientists, the new analysis, combined with computer simulations, shows that trade and exchange relations between people of the Neolithic era seriously increased and became more complicated over time – and this, in turn, indicates a serious population growth.

Quite a long time ago, the idea appeared in the scientific community that the transition of mankind from hunting and gathering to agriculture led to a period of rapid population growth. Proponents of this hypothesis believed that the increase in fertility was made possible by the expansion of food supplies and permanent settlements.

The proof of this population explosion would have to be archaeological finds. But the trouble is that the Middle East, firstly, is great, and secondly, it is not the safest place on our planet. Excavations are carried out pointwise, mainly settlements.

The cemeteries that would be an accurate marker for the wonders of demographics may be far away from them.

According to the Yale scientists, their analysis of the obsidian has provided evidence that archaeologists have yet to find.

“Tracking these obsidian artifacts from their origins to their endpoints allows us to understand how they changed hands over time, which helps us better understand population changes in the region during the Neolithic.

This suggests that between the places where the volcanoes [sources of obsidian] are located, and the sites of excavations, there were larger social networks and more settlements than we previously assumed, ”the authors of the work summed up.

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