November 17, 2004

Garbage and the origins of a sedentary lifestyle

You can tell a lot about people from their trash, but a new story from "New Scientist" shows how garbage can be used to trace the origins of sedentary communities. The existence of "dwellings" alone does not prove that these were used by a sedentary community, because it's possible that they were simply a temporary abode of a tribe of mobile individuals.

The main idea that researchers used is that humans established in a village community must devise a method of disposing trash to specified locations away from their habitation; otherwise the stuff just piles up! On the other hand, non-sedentary people can afford to throw the trash anywhere, since they will move out long before there's too much of it.

Using this type of reasoning, it was determined that the 12,000 year old Natufian dwellings at Wadi Hammeh 27 were used by non-sedentary hunter-gatherers, while true sedentism and garbage disposal is found only 9,200 to 8,000 years ago, together with the first agricultural communities.

This discovery strengthens the case that sedentism did not predate agriculture; it is more likely that it evolved at the same time as agriculture itself.

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