Cambridge Archaeological Journal

Research Article

Oasis or Mirage? Assessing the Role of Abrupt Climate Change in the Prehistory of the Southern Levant

Lisa A. Mahera1, E.B. Banninga2 and Michael Chazana3

a1 Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies, University of Cambridge, Fitzwilliam St, Cambridge, CB2 1QH, UK, Email:

a2 Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto, 19 Russell St Toronto, ON M5S 2S2, Canada, Email:

a3 Michael Chazan, Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto, 19 Russell St Toronto, ON M5S 2S2, Canada, Email:


Few prehistoric developments have received as much attention as the origins of agriculture and its associated societal implications in the Near East. A great deal of this research has focused on correlating the timing of various cultural transformations leading up to farming and village life with dramatic climatic events. Using rigorously selected radiocarbon dates from archaeological sites and palaeoenvironmental datasets, we test the predominate models for culture change from the early Epipalaeolithic to the Pottery Neolithic (c. 23,000–8000 cal. bp) to explore how well they actually fit with well-documented and dated palaeoclimatic events, such as the Bølling-Allerød, Younger Dryas, Preboreal and 8.2 ka event. Our results demonstrate that these correlations are not always as clear or as consistent as some authors suggest. Rather, any relationships between climate change and culture change are more complicated than existing models allow. The lack of fit between these sources of data highlight our need for further and more precise chronological data from archaeological sites, additional localized palaeoclimatic data sets, and more nuanced models for integrating palaeoenvironmental data and prehistoric people's behaviours.

(Received March 30 2010)

(Accepted June 10 2010)

(Revised August 09 2010)

(Online publication January 31 2011)

Lisa Maher is interested in late Pleistocene and early Holocene hunter-gatherer behaviour in the Near East, North Africa and Arabia. She directs field work at two Epipalaeolithic sites in Jordan, Uyun al-Hammam and Kharaneh IV. A primary theme of her research is the integration of geoarchaeology, lithic analysis and mortuary archaeology to examine the interrelationships between people and their environment.

Ted Banning has conducted archaeological fieldwork in the Near East for 30 years, mainly on the Neolithic in the southern Levant, where he has worked at ‘Ain Ghazal and directed a project in Wadi Ziqlab, Jordan. Among his interests are radiocarbon dating, Neolithic architecture, and archaeological survey.

Michael Chazan is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and Director of the Archaeology Centre at the University of Toronto. He co-directed excavations at the Epipalaeolithic site of Wadi Mataha, Jordan and currently co-directs a research project on the Earlier Stone Age of the Northern Cape Province, South Africa.