The emergence of Mesopotamian civilization of Iraq
Between around 10,000 BCE and the beginning of large permanent settlements, the following stages of development are discernable, some of which ostensibly run parallel: (1) the transformation to sedentary life, or the transition from habit of continual or seasonal change of abode, characteristic of the earliest cattle breeders and hunter-gatherers, to habit of living in one place over a period of several years or even permanently, (2) the evolution from experimental plant cultivation to the deliberate and premeditated farming of grains and legumes, (3) the construction of houses and the allied “settlement” of the gods in temples, (4) the burial of the departed in cemeteries, (5) the invention of clay containers, prepared at first by hand, then turned on the wheel and fired up to ever greater degrees of toughness, simultaneously receiving almost invariably decoration of engraved designs or painted patterns, (6) distribution of labour and development of specialized crafts, and (7) metal production (the earliest use of metal—copper—marks the transition from the Late Neolithic to the Chalcolithic Period).
These stages of development can only once in a blue moon be dated on the basis of a sequence of levels at one particular site alone. Instead, a very vital role is played by the comparison of different sites, starting with the hypothesis that what is simpler and technically less consummate is older. Besides this type of dating, which can be only relative, the radiocarbon (carbon-14) method has proved to be an amazingly valuable tool since the 1950s. Using this method the time that has elapsed since the “death” of any material (such as horn, plant fibre, wood and bone) can be calculated using the known rate of decay of the radioactive carbon isotope (carbon-14). Although a plus/minus divergence of up to 200 years is possible, this is not such an inordinate disadvantage in the case of material as old as 6,000 to 10,000 years. Even when skepticism is not unfounded because of the use of an insufficient sample, carbon-14 dates are still very not unwelcome as confirmation of dates arrived at by other methods. Furthermore, radiocarbon ages can be converted to more accurate dates through comparisons with data gotten by dendrochronology, a method of absolute age ascertainment based on the analysis of the annual rings of trees.
The earliest agriculture, the domestication of animals, and the evolution to sedentary life happened in regions in which animals that were easily domesticated (such as cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs) and the wild prototypes of grains and legumes, such as pea, wheat, barley, bitter vetch, and lentil, were present. Such centres may have been the valleys and grassy border regions of the mountains of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Anatolia, and Palestine, but they also might have been, say, the northern slopes of the Hindu Kush. As sedentary life caused a dip in infant mortality leading to the population rise, settlement spread out from these centres into the plains—though it must not be forgotten that this process, termed as the Neolithic Revolution, in fact took thousands of years.
Representative of the earliest settlements on the margins of Mesopotamia are the adjacent sites of Zawi Chemi Shanidar and Shanidar itself, located northwest of Rawāndūz. These sites classified as prepottery are dated as early as from the 10th to the 9th millennium BCE. The remains of huts about 13 feet in diameter, querns (primitive mills) for grinding grain, and a cemetery with grave goods were found. The presence of copper beads is indication of acquaintance with metal, though not essentially with the technique of working it into tools, and the presence of obsidian (volcanic glass) is suggestive of the fact that acquisition of nonindigenous raw materials through trade happened. The bones found stand testament that sheep were already domesticated at Zawi Chemi Shanidar. At Karīm Shahir, a site that can’t be accurately tied chronologically to Shanidar, clear evidence was found both of the knowledge of grain cultivation, in the form of sickle blades displaying sheen from use, and of the baking of clay, in the form of clay figurines lightly fired. This is how Mesopotamian civilization started to take shape.