Modern Syria, and in particular the Middle Euphrates valley, has been occupied and overexploited since the beginnings of agriculture. Thus, the study of the economic and environmental characteristics of ancient settlements may offer new perspectives on the long-term effects of continuous agriculture in a fragile agroecosystem. In this work, we present a methodological framework that uses archaeological information to understand long-term effects of the extensification of agriculture in present-time arid areas. Specifically, we have compared the main economic features of a Neolithic site of the middle Euphrates, Tell Halula (ca. 10th millennium BP), with present-day data from the surrounding region. Population, crop distribution, cereal yields and arable land requirements during the first millennia after the emergence of agriculture were estimated from archaeological data and compared with a compilation of present-time official statistics and data derived from a field survey. We observed a trend towards a cereal-based farming during the Neolithic, associated to a decrease in the diversity of wild florae. This was accompanied by a growth in population during the earliest phases of the settlement (8200-7000 cal BCE), followed by a decline in population in the late phases (7000-5400 cal BCE), probably as a consequence of exceeding the capacity of the agroecosystem. A comparable situation to that found in early phases of Tell Halula was observed in modern communities, showing similar growth rates and a strong focus on cereal crops. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.
- Land use
- Near East