The Natufian culture existed in the Mediterranean region of the Levant. It was an Epipalaeolithic culture, but unusual in that it established permanent settlements even before the introduction of agriculture. The Natufians are likely to have been the ancestors of the first Neolithic settlements of the region, which may have been the earliest in the world. There is also evidence that the Natufians themselves had already begun deliberate cultivation of cereals.
A sedentary life may have been made possible by abundant resources due to a favourable climate at the time, with a culture living from hunting, fishing and gathering, including the use of wild cereals. Tools were available for making use of cereals: flint-bladed sickles for harvesting, and mortars, grinding stones, and storage pits. Settlements have been estimated to house 100-150 people.
According to one theory (described in ), it was a sudden change in climate, the Younger Dryas event, that inspired the development of agriculture. The Younger Dryas was a 1000-year-long interruption in the higher temperatures prevailing since the last Ice Age, which produced a sudden drought in the Levant. This would have endangered the wild cereals, which could no longer compete with dryland scrub, but upon which the population had become dependent to sustain a relatively large sedentary population. By artificially clearing scrub and planting seeds obtained from elsewhere, they began to practice agriculture.
Some burials have been found, including a few men buried with shell headdresses and carved bone pendants.
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