Weeds (for the Natufians)


The Ain Sakhri lovers. Stone figurine, 102 x 63 x 39 mm, c. 9000 BCE. Image © The British Museum

This is about weeds
About the rise of weeds typically
From 10,000 to 8000 BCE
From 12,500 to 9,500 BC
As early as 13,000 years ago
From between 14,500 and 11,500 before the present
Some 12,000 years ago
15,000 to 11,600
In the twelfth and eleventh millennia BCE
At Jericho and Abu Hureyra, at Wadi an-Natuf, in Jordan
In Palestine
In Israel
In what is now Syria
At Ain Mallaha and Wadi Hammeh
From southern Turkey to Sinai
At Mt. Carmel, Ain Mallaha (Eynan), Hayonim Cave, Wadi Hammeh, Nahal Oren, Rosh Zin, Rosh Horesha, Wadi Judayid, Beidha, Jericho, and Skhul Cave, Abu Hureyra
From present day Jaffa to Tyre
Beneath oak and pistachio trees
Evergreen and deciduous oaks
The vegetation is very diverse
With a prolific undergrowth of grasses
Cypress and common myrtle
Poplar and prune
Artemesia and grasses
Semi-desert with sage-brush
Shrubs, bushes, and annuals
Olive and pistachio
Dense stands of wild grasses among trees
Tamarisk and willow
In riverine and lacrustrine areas
At least partly covered by marshes
Occasionally the steppe belts
Dwarf shrubs and herbs
With low trees and shrubs
Half are evergreen.

Hedgehog, polecat and badger
Commensurate sedentism of dogs and humans
A fox skull, a dagger, a spoon
Perforated teeth of foxes
Removal of teeth as an initiation rite
Decorated ostrich-egg vessels
The presence of red ochre
The grinding of ochre in mortars
Earliest floral grave lining
Stems of sage mint and figwort
Spring-flowering and strongly aromatic
Of aromatic fragrance and bright colours
A veneer of stems leaves and fruits
Grasses reeds and sedges
Common myrtle for its aromatic and therapeutic characteristics
40-odd Tortoise shells
Red-fox beech-marten Eurasian-badger mongoose
Partridge and falcons
Cutmarks related to the butchery process
They extracted marrow from longbones
They manufactured piercing implements from the tibia of gazelles
Which may have been weaving implements
Their assemblage of grave-goods was a form of curation
They ate fawns
Left traces of gnawing
Mortars cups and basins
Shell beads and stone beads
Weaving and the use of flax
Art objects and dentalia
32 pieces of charcoal
Nine dried figs burned in a fire
5 seeds of a Judas tree
Elaborate ceremonial life
Functional elements used for weaving
Elaborate 7-part funerary customs as well as feasts
There is no mortuary evidence for hereditary social inequality
At Eynan/Ain Mallaha an exquisite headdress
Made from hundreds of delicate, tusk-shaped dentalium shells
Was found in a woman’s burial
A woman’s hand on a puppy

They hunted gazelle and small game
Both slow-moving and agile
Such as hare and boar
Fox and hare
Such as goats and birds
By using nets and fire
And with the help of their dogs
They domesticated dogs
Processed cereals and acorn
They were the first to do so it is said
They built villages and granaries
Round stone houses with vegetal roofs
They made middens where weeds grew
May have planted fig trees
They buried the dead with the bodies of their dogs
They treated the dogs as they treated their own dead
Their shamans were women
They made art
They ground seed
They decorated their stone mortars
Which were also used as gravegoods  
The stone bowls in some graves may have served as cult objects
They carved enormous mortars from boulders
The obsidian of the bowls was imported
The interiors of their round drystone dwellings were daubed in white or red
Including the paved floors
The Natufians invented the sickle
Flint sickleblades hafted into bone or wooden handles
They were sedentary foragers
Affluent foragers
At first they gathered wild grain
Wild weed grasses more than wheat and barley
They ate molluscs
They intensified their care of wild cereals and nut crops
They intervened to enhance the growing conditions
Of barley, einkorn and emmer wheat
Almonds, pistachios and acorns
A marker of intentional cultivation is the presence of weeds
A sudden rise in pollen of weed plants
Vetch amidst barley
They may have planted barley and wheat
Terraced the hillsides
They tended or planted lupine
Gathered or cultivated
The idea that the Natufians were the world’s first farmers remains controversial
Yet weeds developed in tandem with cultivation
Their sickleblades were polished by grass stems
They decorated sicklehafts
They harvested grains whilst green
They harvested and stored plant foods
Maybe in sedge baskets
They managed plant habitats
They saved seeds
There was dramatic increase in the classic weeds
This suggests small-scale cultivation
Small-seeded legumes, small-seeded grasses, stony-seeded gromwells
The weeds that grow in tilled fields
Coinciding with these weedy plants
Are the first charred grains of morphologically domesticated rye
They established the first cemeteries
In caves apart from their dwellings
They held funerals
Made bedrock mortars and cupmarks
They feasted on gazelle at grave-sites and buried the festal remains
They dried fish and meat
They perfected short blades and bladelets
Rats, mice and sparrows flourished in their villages
The presence of arable weeds reflects increased sedentism.

Dorothy Garrod identified the Natufian culture
While excavating Shuqba near Jerusalem
During digs at Mount Carmel Palestine
She coined the cultural label for the late Epipalaeolithic Natufian culture
Following her excavations at Es Skhul and El Wad
Her discovery and definition of the Natufians
First in Shuqba cave and later in El Wad cave and terrace
Became one of the cornerstones for understanding
The transition from foraging to farming
In the Fertile Crescent
Trained by R. R. Marett at Oxford
And the Abbé Henri Breuil in France
Her excavations at the cave sites in the Levant
Were conducted with almost exclusively women workers
Recruited from local villages
In what was then Palestine
They began their excavations in 1928
The excavations in El Wad, Es Skhul, and Et Tabun caves
Were conducted from 1929 through 1934.

Several skeletons bore body decorations
The remains of a 45 year-old woman were separate
She had bone spurs on her pelvis and spine
Indicating she suffered physical ailments
Accompanying her burial are the remains
Of the tail bones from a cow a wing
Bone from a golden eagle a forearm
Of a boar 50 tortoise carapace pieces
Two marten skulls pelvis of a leopard
And a fully articulated foot
From another person. Male gazelle horns
A pointed bone tool and a round pebble
A fragment of a worn basalt bowl
Seashells. Her body was held in place
By 10 large stones. She’s intricately buried in a complicated position
Her legs splayed out and folded
Unlike the other individuals
She was perhaps a shaman
Or the grave could be showing the beginnings of social stratification.

The Natufians lined graves with a soft mud veneer and then placed on the veneer
A thick cover of fresh flowering plants
In a fluorescence of symbolic activity
Allowing soft delicate plant tissues
To leave their precise impressions
These plants flower in spring
Most have a strong aromatic fragrance
Some possess medical qualities
The greens linings were thick and continuous
The impressions were formed before midsummer
Their superbly carved sculptures, animal figurines, and jewelry
Their villages were excavated by women in Palestine
In the village at Hatula
On the western edge of the Shephelah hills
Abundant cup-marks in a large block of limestone
7 cupmarks
They always appear in groups
Up to 30 on the same stone slab
The seven cup marks are surrounded by 5 or 6 very shallow depressions
20 cm in diameter.
The peculiar order of cup marks, the number seven involved
The proximity to the dwelling may suggest
A game board
They decorated their bodies with beads.

Using flint knives and chisels
They carved a figurine of a pig from limestone
They inscribed a human face on a pebble
A gazelle head made of bone
A kneeling gazelle figurine in limestone
A headless human figure in limestone
A basalt pestle with a phallic termination
An exceptional figurine was found at Ain Sakhri near Bethlehem
Roughly 10 cm tall
It depicts two persons engaged in intercourse
Two people embraced in a sensuous pose
Two naked people wrapped up in each other
When you move it to look in different ways
The figurine changes
A limestone figurine with an owl at one end and a dog’s head at the other
The term figurine should be defined
Enigmatic zoomorphic or anthropomorphic entities
Of any size
Anthropomorphic pebbles
Three-dimensional cylindrical to globular objects
Of transitional industry.

On the stone head from Eynan/Ain Mallaha
Traces of the artist’s tool marks are still visible
The eyes, formed by three concentric curving lines
Dominate the lower portion of the face
Which has been bisected by a broad horizontal band
The eyes are disproportionately large
The upper portion of the head
Is incised with diagonal lines,
Which may represent hair or ornamentation
The Ain Sakhri lovers figurine
Was found by a Bedouin in a cave near Bethlehem
Was found by René Neuville in a museum in Palestine
It was 1933
The Bedouin took the consul to the cave
The cave was a domestic site, not a burial place
Indicating that the calcite representation of entwined lovers
On a rounded riverstone
Was of quotidian significance
The tenderness of the embracing figures
Suggests this is love
Suggests nothing about fertility
Neither facial features nor gender are determinable
When the figurine is turned in the hand
One end shows a penis
The other end two breasts
From another view a vagina is visible
The sculpture of the lovers
Is about an act of love
It is the first kissing couple
And the earliest uses of flowers.

With crops came weeds
Or from weeds, crops
And what is a flower
They went into the corn to kiss
Weeds and kissing go together
Here are the famous lovers.

Canadian poet Lisa Robertson has published many books, most recently 3 Summers from Coach House, and the essay collection Nilling, from BookThug (both Toronto). Recent texts written for artists have been included in the catalogues The Blue One Comes in Black (Liz Magor; Triangle France and Mousse Publishing) and Strange (Karl Larsson; Mousse Publishing).