History Files

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

Totals slider

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.

Near East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Harifian Culture (Epi-Palaeolithic) (Levant)
c.8800 - 8000 BC

The term 'Fertile Crescent' refers to a geographical area in the Near East which arcs between the Jordan Valley of the Levant and the Euphrates and Tigris estuary. It also reaches up into southern and central Anatolia (modern Turkey), which is part of the northern Syrian zone in which true farming first seems to have occurred. It was in this Fertile Crescent that the distant effects of the most recent ice age faded perhaps the quickest, which allowed Neolithic Farmer processes to be undertaken in small but significant steps.

The bridge between the Palaeolithic and the Neolithic in the Near East and, specifically, in the Levant is the Epi-Palaeolithic. This period can also be referred to as the proto-Neolithic. Starting with late Epi-Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers, the move towards full-farming went through ever-improving steps being taken towards the creation of civilisation.

Early wheat types had grain which was contained in spikelets with tightly adhering glumes, but this had to be domesticated in stages before wheat could be made fully productive. This process took a few millennia on its own. The Harifian culture was a specialised regional Epi-Palaeolithic development in the Negev Desert, the region's version of the Natufian which had only ended a short while before the Harifian appeared.

As with the Natufian, the Harifian is characterised by its semi-subterranean circular houses which are often more elaborate than those which are found at Natufian sites. Arrowheads were, for the first time, to be found in the culture's lithic assemblage, although its reach is largely restricted to the Sinai and Negev. Its duration coincides mainly with the transition between the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), but it faded relatively quickly as the latter's influence reached the area.

Microlithic points here are a characteristic feature, with the Harif point being both new and particularly diagnostic, and possibly an indication of improved hunting techniques. Lunates, isosceles, and other triangular forms were backed with retouch, and some Helwan lunates can also be found here. This industry contrasts with the southernmost Natufian tools (the 'Desert Natufian') which did not have the roughly triangular points in its assemblage.

The Harifian consists of two main groups, one of which was formed of ephemeral base camps in the north of Sinai and western Negev. Here, stone points comprise up to eighty-eight percent of all microliths, accompanied by only a few lunates and triangles. The other group consisted of base camps and smaller campsites in the Negev, featuring a greater number of lunates and triangles than points.

These sites probably represent functional rather than chronological differences. The presence of Khiam points in some sites (see Khiamian culture) indicates that there was communication with other areas of the Levant at this time, so the Harifian was not isolated, merely somewhat backward for its time.

Ahmarian tools

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The spread of Neolithic plant economies from the Near East to northwest Europe: a phylogenetic analysis, Fiona Coward, Stephen Shennan, Sue Colledge, James Conolly, & Mark Collard (Journal of Archaeological Science, Vol 35, Issue 1, January 2008, pp 42-56), from First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies, Peter Bellwood (Second Ed, Wiley-Blackwell, 2022), and from External Links: Archaeobotany: Plant Domestication, Chris Stevens & Leilani Lucas (Reference Module in Social Sciences, 2023, available via Science Direct), and Gobekli Tepe (Visual Arts Cork), and The emergence of the Neolithic in the Near East: A protracted and multi-regional model, Juan José Ibáñez, Jesus González-Urquijo, Luis Cesar Teira-Mayolini, & Talía Lazuén ( Science Direct, 2018).)

c.8800 BC

The Levant's Pre-Pottery Neolithic A culture in the Fertile Crescent transitions into its next stage as the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), at the same time as the Harifian first emerges in the Negev Desert towards the southern end of the Fertile Crescent's reach.

Harifian site of Abu Salem
Abu Salem is the oldest-known site (by 2023) in the Negev Desert to have early Neolithic affinities, as seen during the Epi-Palaeolithic (or proto-Neolithic) Harifian and also during the subsequent Pre-Pottery Neolithic

c.8500 BC

Certainly by now, at the start of the middle phase of the PPNB, the full complement of Fertile Crescent cereals, legumes, and animals have joined the farming repertoire.

The PPNB way of life has reached Cappadocia and the Konya plain in western-central Anatolia (today's Turkey), as well as the shores of the Dead Sea, and Iran's Zagros mountain foothills (in the form of the M'lefaatian) potentially to clash with the fading Zarzian culture. The Harifian, however, seemingly refuses to adapt.

Map of the Fertile Crescent of the Neolithic
This map shows the general area of the Fertile Crescent from where - especially along its northern edges - the origins of agricultural farming emerged between about 10,000-6000 BC (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.8000 BC

By this date the Levantine PPNB's Sultanian sub-phase is first appearing at Jericho, and the Neolithic Farmer PPNB itself finally enters the Negev Desert to replace the Harifian.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.