Environmental Crisis and Societal Collapse: Was the Younger Dryas a significant factor in triggering the transition from the Palaeolithic to the Neolithic in the Levant?

Tobias Richter, Amaia Arranz Otaegui, Matthew Jones, Joe Roe, and Lisa Yeomans

Paper presented at 'Culture in Crisis: Flows of Peoples, Artifacts and Ideas', the 14th International Conference on the History and Archaeology of Jordan (ICHAJ 14), Florence, 2019.


The impact of climatic change on the environment in southwest Asia has been regularly put forward as a key factor that triggered fundamental changes in culture and society. The beginnings of food production in the Levant is one of the classic examples: the onset of cooler and dryer conditions during the Younger Dryas (c. 12,900 – 11,500 cal BP) are said to have caused the necessity for sedentary late Epipalaeolithic gatherer-hunters to develop means to cultivate plants, which marked the onset of the agricultural revolution.

Using evidence from our archaeological fieldwork at a series of Late Epipalaeolithic and Early Neolithic sites in the Qa’ Shubayqa area of northeast Jordan, which we’ve accumulated over the past six years of archaeological fieldwork in the area, we will evaluate the impact of the Younger Dryas on the economy, environment and societies in the Qa’ Shubayqa during the Late Epipalaeolithic Natufian and the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A. Drawing on data from geomorphological analysis, archaeological excavations, archaeobotanical and zooarchaeological analysis, we show that while there were subtle impacts of the Younger Dryas on the local landscape, that late Pleistocene and early Holocene groups coped with these changes without detectable levels of stress.