prehistoric site located in northern Iraq (35°33′ N, 44°57′ E), approximately 11 km (7 mi.) east of the town of Chemchamal, at an altitude of 8,250 m. Jarmo occupies a hilltop above a wadi locally known as Cham-Gawra, one of several that drain the higher slopes of the ridges enclosing an intermontane plain in the Iraqi foothills of the Zagros Mountains. This plain is bounded by the Kani Domlan-Jabal Tasak and the Kani Shaitan Hasan-Sarirma Dagh ridges, and is 16 km (10 mi.) wide by 56 km (35 mi.) long (Braidwood and Howe, 1960, pp. 26–27).

Jarmo, dated to the seventh millennium BCE (see below), was for many years the oldest known agricultural and pastoral community in the world. It was first located in the 1940s by the Iraqi Directorate of Antiquities, which recommended it to Robert J. Braidwood of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago when he inquired about ancient village sites in northern Iraq (Braidwood, 1974). Under the auspices of the Oriental Institute, Braidwood excavated at Jarmo from March to June 1948; September 1950 to spring 1951; and March to June 1955.

Excavation was undertaken to recover empirical evidence for the beginnings of agriculture and pastoralism. The site was the first in the Near East in which interdisciplinary field archaeology was applied to elucidating the origins of food production. In the second and third seasons of excavation, Braidwood's staff included natural scientists as well as archaeologists. The structure and functioning of these interdisciplinary teams investigating an important cultural and economic transition influenced subsequent archaeological projects in many parts of the Old and New World long after the Iraq-Jarmo Project's fieldwork was terminated.

As the first archaeologically known example of a very early agricultural and pastoral village, Jarmo's architectural and other cultural remains were for many years the only documentation available for the way of life of the world's first farmers and herders.

Braidwood's work at Jarmo was emulated by subsequent generations of archaeologists (several of whom were his students) in addressing the same problem in many other areas of western Asia. Braidwood himself has fielded a series of more recent projects in Iran and Turkey. Our understanding of the transformation from hunting-gathering-foraging economies to food-producing ones is now much different from that of the late 1950s when the Jarmo data were new and unique (for recent summaries see Bar-Yosef and Meadow, in press; Bar-Yosef and Belfer-Cohen, 1989; and Moore, 1985; see also Braidwood, 1974). Nevertheless, Jarmo continues to have significance in the history of world archaeology.

The archaeological work at Jarmo was interrupted after a nationalist revolution took place in Iraq in the summer of 1958. No excavation has been carried out since then. Information gained from analyses on the material recovered between 1948 and 1955 are detailed in two volumes (Braidwood and Howe, 1960; Braidwood et al., 1983). Braidwood dates the site to early in the seventh millennium BCE but freely admits that the various radiocarbon dates are not very helpful. Apparently, contamination by bitumen (locally available and used throughout the occupation) and complex site-formation processes affected the radiocarbon samples.

The village of Jarmo is thought to have been occupied by approximately 100 to 150 people at any one time (there is a maximum of some 7 m of deposit). Its population lived in rectilinear household complexes constructed of puddled adobe (Ar., tauf). The Jarmoan economy was based on domestic emmer and einkorn wheat, two-row barley, lentils, and vetchling. Available wild plants included field pea, pistachio nuts, acorns, and wild wheat and barley. The villagers kept dogs, domestic goats and sheep, and—in the later period of the site's occupation—domestic pigs. There was considerable hunting of wild animals. Cattle, onager, and small mammals were apparently taken for food. Bones of lion, leopard, a small wildcat, fox, and lynx have been identified among the Jarmo fauna. These carniverous species may have been killed for their pelts, or to protect the villagers and their flocks.

The Jarmo people were skilled flint and obsidian knappers, producing both normal-sized and microlithic tools, primarily from blade cores. The obsidian was imported from Anatolia, but not in large quantities. Other imports included marine shells and, perhaps, turquoise. Milling stones are well represented in the ground-stone categories, as are small celts and chisel-like implements, beads, pendants, and bracelets. Nicely made stone bowls were produced in some quantity from a wide variety of fine-grained local limestone; and a plethora of small clay figurines (human, animal, and geometric) are also characteristic of the Jarmo artifact assemblage. Bone tools, especially perforators, or awls, are abundant, and the bone industry also includes carefully made spoons and beads. The villagers made small quantities of pottery, an innovation that seems to have originated elsewhere and is only patchily found in the Jarmo deposit.

The Jarmo assemblage, once virtually the only one of its kind, can now be seen as an example of many such farming and herding communities scattered throughout the Zagros region in both Iraq and Iran in the Early and Mid-Holocene periods. As Braidwood pointed out forty years ago, these humble but vigorous settlements created the economic and social foundations for the rise of Mesopotamian civilization in the fourth millennium BCE.

[See also Paleobotany; Paleoenvironmental Reconstruction; and Paleozoology.]


  • Bar-Yosef, Ofer, and Anna Belfer-Cohen. “The Origins of Sedentism and Farming Communities in the Levant.” Journal of World Prehistory 3 (1989): 447–498.
  • Bar-Yosef, Ofer, and Richard H. Meadow. “The Origins of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry in the Near and Middle East.” In Last Hunters-First Farmers: New Perspectives on the Prehistoric Transition to Agriculture, edited by T. D. Price and A. B. Gebauer. Santa Fe, N.M., in press.
  • Braidwood, Linda S., et al. Prehistoric Archeology Along the Zagros Flanks. University of Chicago, Oriental Institute, Publications, vol.105. Chicago, 1983.
  • Braidwood, Robert J. “The Iraq Jarmo Project.” In Archaeological Researches in Retrospect, edited by Gordon R. Willey, pp. 61–83. Cambridge, Mass., 1974.
  • Braidwood, Robert J., and Bruce Howe, eds. Prehistoric Investigations in Iraqi Kurdistan. University of Chicago, Oriental Institute, Studies in Ancient Civilization, no. 31. Chicago, 1960.
  • Moore, Andrew M. T. “The Development of Neolithic Societies in the Near East.” Advances in World Archaeology 4 (1985): 1–70.

Patty Jo Watson