10th millennium BC
The 10th millennium BC spanned the years 10,000 BC to 9001 BC (c. 12 ka to c. 11 ka). It marks the beginning of the transition from the Palaeolithic to the Neolithic via the interim Mesolithic (northern and western Europe) and Epipaleolithic (Levant and Near East) periods, which together form the first part of the Holocene epoch that is generally reckoned to have begun c. 9700 BC (c. 11.7 ka) and is the current geological epoch. It is impossible to precisely date events that happened around the time of this millennium and all dates mentioned here are estimates mostly based on geological and anthropological analysis.
The main characteristic of the Holocene has been the worldwide abundance of Homo sapiens sapiens (mankind). The epoch began when the Last Ice Age (which started 80 ka and is known variously as the Würm or Wisconsin glaciation) ended while Homo sapiens was still in the Palaeolithic (Old Stone) Age. The Younger Dryas is believed to have been current in 10,000 BC and may have ceased c. 9700 BC, marking the cutover from Pleistocene to Holocene. The Younger Dryas was a temporary reversal of the climatic warming that followed the end of the Last Ice Age and coincided with the end of the Upper Palaeolithic.
In the geologic time scale, there are three (tentatively four) stratigraphic stages of the Holocene beginning c. 9700 BC with the "Greenlandian" (to c. 6236 BC). The starting point for the Greenlandian is the Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) sample from the North Greenland Ice Core Project, which has been correlated with the Younger Dryas. The Greenlandian was succeeded by the "Northgrippian" (to c. 2250 BC) and the "Meghalayan". All three stages were officially ratified by the International Commission on Stratigraphy in July 2018. It has been proposed that the Meghalayan should be terminated c. 1950 and succeeded by a new stage provisionally called "Anthropocene".
In the Holocene's first millennium, the Palaeolithic began to be superseded by the Neolithic (New Stone) Age which lasted about 6,000 years, depending on location. The gradual transition period is sometimes termed Mesolithic (northern and western Europe) or Epipalaeolithic (Levant and Near East). The glaciers retreated as the world climate became warmer and that inspired an agricultural revolution, though at first the dog was probably the only domesticated animal. This was accompanied by a social revolution in that man gained from agriculture the impetus to settle. Settlement is the key precursor to civilisation, which cannot be achieved by a nomadic lifestyle.
The world population, c. 10,000 BC, is believed to have been more or less stable. It has been estimated that there were some five million people at the time of the Last Glacial Maximum, growing to forty million by 5000 BC and 100 million by 1600 BC which is an average growth rate of 0.027% p.a. from the Neolithic to the Middle Bronze Age. Around 10,000 BC, most people lived in hunter-gatherer communities scattered across all continents except Antarctica and Zealandia. As the Würm/Wisconsin ended, settlement of northern regions was again possible.
Beginnings of agriculture
Agriculture developed in different parts of the world at different times. In many places, people learned how to cultivate without outside help; elsewhere, as in western Europe, the skills were imported.
The Natufian culture prevailed in the Levant through the 10th millennium and was unusual in that it supported a sedentary or semi-sedentary population even before the introduction of agriculture. An early example is 'Ain Mallaha, which may have been the first village in which people were wholly sedentary. The Natufian people are believed to have founded another early settlement on the site of Jericho (Tell es-Sultan) where there is evidence of building between 9600 BC and 8200 BC. Dates for the Natufian are indeterminate and range broadly from c. 13,050 BC to c. 7550 BC. It is possible that the early cultivation of figs began in the Jordan River valley sometime after the middle of the 10th millennium. Besides the fig trees, the people may have begun cultivation of wild plants such as barley and pistachio; and they possibly began herding goats, pigs and cattle.
Agriculture began to be developed by the various communities of the Fertile Crescent, which included the Levant, but it would not be widely practised for another 2,000 years by which time Neolithic culture was becoming well established in many parts of the Near East. Among the earliest cultivated plants were forms of millet and rice grown in the Middle East, possibly in this millennium but more likely after 9000 BC. By about 9500 BC, people in south-eastern Anatolia were harvesting wild grasses and grains. The earliest evidence of sheep herding has been found in northern Iraq, dated before 9000 BC.
Prehistoric chronology is almost entirely reliant upon the dating of material objects of which pottery is by far the most widespread and the most resistant to decay. All locations and generations developed their own shapes, sizes and styles of pottery, including methods and styles of decoration, but there was consistency among stratified deposits and even shards can be classified by time and place. Pottery is believed to have been discovered independently in various places, beginning with China c. 18,000 BC, and was probably created accidentally by fires lit on clay soil.
The first chronological pottery system was the Early, Middle and Late Minoan framework devised in the early 20th century by Sir Arthur Evans for his findings at Knossos. This covered the Bronze Age in twelve phases from c. 2800 BC to c. 1050 BC and the principle was later extended to mainland Greece (Helladic) and the Aegean islands (Cycladic). Dame Kathleen Kenyon was the principal archaeologist at Tell es-Sultan (ancient Jericho) and she discovered that there was no pottery there. The potter's wheel had not yet been invented and, where pottery as such was made, it was still hand-built, often by means of coiling, and pit fired.
Kenyon discovered vessels such as bowls, cups and plates at Jericho which were made from stone. She reasonably surmised that others made from wood or vegetable fibres would have long since decayed. Using Evans' system as a benchmark, Kenyon divided the Near East Neolithic into phases called Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA), from c. 10,000 BC to c. 8800 BC; Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), from c. 8800 BC to c. 6500 BC; and then Pottery Neolithic (PN), which had varied start-points from c. 6500 BC until the beginnings of the Bronze Age towards the end of the 4th millennium. In the 10th millennium, the Natufian culture co-existed with the PPNA which prevailed in the Levantine and upper Mesopotamian areas of the fertile crescent.
Other cultural developments
Sometime after 10,000 BC, the retreating glaciers created the rock formation on Cannon Mountain in present-day New Hampshire that was known as the Old Man of the Mountain until its collapse in 2003.
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