9th millennium BC
The 9th millennium BC spanned the years 9000 BC to 8001 BC (11 to 10 thousand years ago). In chronological terms, it is the first full millennium of the current Holocene epoch that is generally reckoned to have begun by 9700 BC (11.7 thousand years ago). It is impossible to precisely date events that happened around the time of this millennium and all dates mentioned here are estimates mostly based on geological and anthropological analysis.
In the Near East, especially in the region known as the Fertile Crescent, the transitory Epipalaeolithic age was gradually superseded by the Neolithic with evidence of agriculture in Iran, the Levant, Mesopotamia and Syria. The key characteristic of the Neolithic is agricultural settlement, albeit with wooden and stone tools and weapons still in use. It is believed that agriculture had begun in China by the end of the millennium. Elsewhere, especially in Europe, the Palaeolithic continued.
Rise of agriculture
The Natufian culture continued to prevail in the Levantine and upper Mesopotamian areas of the Fertile Crescent with their most significant site at Jericho (Tell es-Sultan) in the Jordan Valley. The Natufian people had been sedentary or semi-sedentary through the 10th millennium, even before the introduction of agriculture.
By about 8500 BC, the Natufians were harvesting wild wheat with flint-edged sickles. It was around that time, or soon afterwards, that the wild wheat crossed with a natural goat grass to form emmer, which had twice as many chromosomes as its constituent parts and its seeds could scatter in the wind to spread naturally. Later, emmer crossed with another goat grass to form the even larger hybrid that is bread wheat. The Natufians took full advantage of these genetic improvements and learned how to harvest the new wheat, grind it into flour and make bread. The early bread was unleavened, with the dough allowed to dry on hot stones. Writing in 1973, Jacob Bronowski argued that the combination of wheat and water at Jericho enabled man to begin civilisation. Jericho, having a natural spring, was an oasis on the edge of the Syrian Desert and, although similar developments occurred elsewhere, Bronowski called Jericho "a microcosm of history".
The earliest known cultivation of lentils was at Mureybet in Syria, where wheat and barley were also grown. Lentils were later (by 7500 BC) found at Hacilar and Çayönü in Turkey. Ganj Dareh, in Iranian Kurdistan, has been cited as the earliest settlement to domesticate livestock, especially goats.
Agriculture may have begun in the Far East before 8300 BC, the estimated date for the earliest cultivation of common millet. Proso millet (Panicum miliaceum) and foxtail millet (Setaria italica) were important crops beginning in the Early Neolithic of China. Some of the earliest evidence of millet cultivation in China was found at Cishan (north), where proso millet husk phytoliths and biomolecular components have been identified around 10,300–8,700 years ago in storage pits along with remains of pit-houses, pottery, and stone tools related to millet cultivation.
Pottery found in the Near East at this time is classified as Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) until about 8800 BC and as Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) from then until around 6500 BC. Both classifications were defined by Kathleen Kenyon, based on her exploratory work at Tell es-Sultan (ancient Jericho) between 1952 and 1958. The Natufian culture co-existed with the PPNA and the early PPNB. The potter's wheel had not yet been invented and pottery was still hand-built, often by means of coiling, before being pit fired.
Copper (Cu, 29) was originally found in raw surface lumps and first used in the Middle East. It was later extracted from ores such as malachite. A copper pendant from Mesopotamia is dated 8700 BC. The use of copper and, from the eighth millennium, lead (Pb, 82) was gradual – it could not become widespread until systematic processes had been developed for extraction of the metals from their ores; this did not happen until about the sixth millennium.
Other cultural developments
From the beginning of the 9th millennium, Göbekli Tepe was inhabited after possibly being first occupied during the previous millennium. It is a carved stone hilltop sanctuary in south-eastern Anatolia which includes the world's oldest known megaliths. As with Göbekli Tepe, the site at Tell Qaramel, in north-west Syria, was inhabited from 9000 BC following possible first occupation in the previous millennium. In the same region, the settlement at Nevalı Çori has been dated about 8500 BC. Elsewhere in the Fertile Crescent, there is evidence of settlements at Mureybet and Ganj Dareh from around 8500 BC. Towards the end of the millennium, by 8200 BC, the site of Aşıklı Höyük in central Anatolia was first occupied (until around 7400 BC).
It is believed that two European sites were settled before 8500 but these were still Palaeolithic, or at best Mesolithic, communities. Archaeological excavations at Cramond in prehistoric Scotland have uncovered evidence of habitation dating to around this time, making it the earliest known site of human settlement in Scotland. Another settlement may have been established at Ærø in Denmark.
In the geologic time scale, the first stratigraphic stage of the Holocene is the "Greenlandian" from about 9700 BC to the fixed date 6236 BC and so including the whole of the 9th millennium. The starting point for the Greenlandian is the Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) sample from the North Greenland Ice Core Project, which has been correlated with the end of the Younger Dryas and a climate shift from near-glacial to interglacial, causing glaciers to retreat and sea levels to rise.
It has been estimated that the Bering Land Bridge was inundated around 8500 BC by the rising sea levels so that North America and Asia were again separated by the waters of the Bering Strait and the Chukchi Sea. It is generally believed that there was a migration across the land bridge from eastern Siberia into North America during the Last Glacial Maximum. Sometime after the American glaciers melted, these peoples expanded southward into the wider continent to become the Native Americans. After the land bridge was inundated by the rising sea water, no further migration was possible from Siberia.
As the Neolithic began in the Fertile Crescent, most people around the world still lived in scattered hunter-gatherer communities which remained firmly in the Palaeolithic. The world population was probably stable and slowly increasing. It has been estimated that there were some five million people in 10,000 BC growing to forty million by 5000 BC and 100 million by 1600 BC. That is an average growth rate of 0.027% p.a. from the beginning of the Neolithic to the Middle Bronze Age.
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