Epipalaeolithic Natufians were probably the first to exploit cereals occasionally, and there is proof of preparation and consumption of bread-like products ca. 12500–9500 BC, before agriculture was firmly established (Arranz-Otaegui et al. 2018).
The earliest pastoral systems developed in multiple regions across the Fertile Crescent within sedentary communities of hunter-gatherer-agriculturalists who began controlling and managing small populations of wild caprines and bovines by the early 9th millennium BC. This early stage of animal domestication during the 9th and early 8th millennium BC emerged first along the Upper Euphrates river, and was characterised by highly variable management techniques and relatively low herd productivity, with small controlled animal populations and wild phenotypes (Arbuckle and Hammer 2018).
At Ganj Dareh, the economy was focused on the pre-domestic management of goats, including the intensive slaughter of yearling males, probably designed to reduce the number of aggressive adult males in herds. This system was not copied elsewhere, and local domestication systems were the norm. Only after the mid–8th millennium were dramatic changes seen across south-west Asia, constituting a true “pastoral revolution”: shift toward intensive caprine pastoralism, widespread appearance of domestic phenotypes, and spread of caprine husbandry outside the Fertile Crescent, with the standardisation of targeted culling of young male animals (Arbuckle and Hammer 2018).
The emergence of sedentism in central and southern Anatolia began in the 9th millennium BC, after a period of mobile groups in the Epipalaeolithic. Local building techniques, burial customs, and agriculture were gradually changing through contacts, especially with south-east Anatolia and the Levant. In south-east Anatolia, a gradual disintegration of the Aceramic Neolithic lifeway and a replacement by a society formally based on kinship appears starting with the Mature Aceramic III period (ca. 8000 BC), and continuing through the early part of the Pottery Neolithic (Rosenberg and Erim-Özdoğan 2011).
These social changes are intertwined with important economic changes involving the development of the full southwestern Asia domesticate complex, and technological advances like the widespread adoption of ceramic technology, although specifics of how they are related are not known (Rosenberg and Erim-Özdoğan 2011).
The presence of further contribution of “deep” ancestry in Iran Neolithic farmers compared to CHG, and the lack of such ancestry in Anatolian Hunter-Gatherers—who, on the other hand, seem to show Natufian-related ancestry—support the expansion of this “deep” ancestry into the Zagros Mountains and the Caucasus from a southern (probably south-western) population that did not undergo the Palaeolithic bottleneck with Neanderthal admixture (Lazaridis et al. 2018). Available samples with a similar cluster to Iran Neolithic include the following:
A sample from the Hotu Cave in the South Caspian region (dated ca. 6100 BC, although archaeologically attributed to the Mesolithic–Neolithic, ca. 9100–8600 BC) shows an ancestry similar to Iran Neolithic samples, but with contribution from EHG (ca. 10%), which supports the existence of an ancestral cline EHG:CHG (or WHG–ANE:CHG–IN) from Eastern Europe to the Middle East (Lazaridis et al. 2016). While this EHG/ANE contribution found in CHG/IN probably came from the north, with the expansion of haplogroup Q1a2-M25, the expansion of R2-M479 (and possibly that of R1b-M343 lineages before it) is likely the reason for the presence of slightly elevated ENA-like ancestry in Iran compared to CHG.
The five early Neolithic Aceramic Anatolian farmers sampled to date (ca. 8300–7800 BC) and later Ceramic farmers (ca. 7000–6000 BC) form a close cluster with AHG. Aceramic farmers derive most of their ancestry from AHG (ca. 90%), and the rest probably from a source near Iranian/Caucasus ancestry, which may have diffused via contacts through eastern Anatolia, hence allowing for the spread of cultural innovations. They show the emergence of haplogroup G2-P287 with a sample of G2a2b2b-PF3359 (formed ca. 12400 BC, TMRCA ca. 10200 BC)—found today mostly in Sardinia—and one sample of haplogroup C-M130, common in Palaeolithic populations (Feldman et al. 2019).
Later Ceramic farmers also derive their ancestry primarily from AHG (more than 75%), but there is gene flow from the Levant to Anatolia during the early Neolithic. In turn, Early Pre-Pottery Neolithic farmers (ca. 8300–6700 BC) from the southern Levant can be modelled as a two-way admixture of Natufians with Aceramic farmer contribution (ca. 18-21%), which supports reciprocal genetic exchange between the Levant and Anatolia during the early stages of the transition to farming (Feldman et al. 2019). Continuity in the Levant can be inferred also from the presence of haplogroup E1b1b1a1-M78 in three individuals, together with, two hg. H2-P96, one T1-L206 (xT1a1-L162, T1a2-L131) and one F-M89+ (Lazaridis et al. 2016).