Jarmo (Qal’at Jarmo), located in modern northern Iraq, is one of the oldest Neolithic agricultural settlements in the Middle East. Excavations here yielded much information on human society’s transition to sedentary agricultural practices. University of Chicago archaeologist Robert Braidwood spent several seasons between 1948 and 1955 excavating the village that dated between 9,250 and 7,750 years ago (7250 and 5750 BCE). The introduction of ceramic vessel technology in Jarmo’s later levels suggests the site spanned two time periods that are known as the Pre-pottery and Pottery Neolithic.
The village of Jarmo consisted of mud brick, rectilinear houses whose inhabitants subsisted on a diet of domesticated and wild plants, and animals. Domesticated plants included emmer and einkorn wheat, two-row barley, and lentils, while wild specimens included undomesticated wheat and barley, acorns and pistachio nuts. The villagers depended on domesticated sheep and goats for meat and dairy products as well as dogs to protect their herds. Villagers also hunted wild animals for resources and as protection; excavations revealed the remains of cattle, fox, lions, and leopards. Villagers depended primarily on flint, obsidian, bone, and eventually ceramic to make the everyday tools for food preparation, house construction, and hunting.
At the time of its discovery, Jarmo greatly expanded anthropology’s limited understanding of early food-producing villages. In periods prior to the founding of agricultural villages, human societies practiced hunter-gathering subsistence in relatively small nomadic bands. As they became increasingly sedentary, human societies developed strategies to manage the wild crops and animals more efficiently. With increased investment in sedentary agriculture, settlement became permanent and villages saw an increase in population, disease, and political complexity. Braidwood’s careful excavations at Jarmo revealed that this Neolithic “Agricultural Revolution,” as it has been popularly coined, took several thousand years to complete, a fact made obvious by the presence of both domestic and wild plant and animal species in the village. Agricultural villages like Jarmo were the economic and political predecessors of the first Mesopotamian cities that would arise in the region beginning in the fourth millennium BCE.
Braidwood’s excavations at Jarmo represented a watershed event in archaeological research as it was the first time an archaeologist had employed an interdisciplinary research project designed to understand the origins of food production. In addition to archaeologists, the Jarmo team consisted of specialists who studied the region’s geology, the ancient climate, and plant and faunal remains. The innovative Jarmo project served as an example to both Old and New World archaeologists who were only beginning to pursue more sophisticated research on such important revolutions in human society as the origins of agriculture, urbanism, and craft production.
- Braidwood, L. S., et al. (Eds.). (1983). Prehistoric archeology along the Zagros Flanks. Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
- Braidwood, R. J., & Braidwood, L. (1950). Jarmo: A village of early farmers in Iraq. Antiquity 24, 189-195.
- Braidwood, R. J., & Howe, B. (1960). Prehistoric investigations in Iraqi Kurdistan. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilizations (31). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.