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Near East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Khiamian Culture (Neolithic) (Levant)
c.9700 - 9500 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, most notably during the Natufian period.

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 Khiamian which succeeded the Natufian was a sedentary culture which emerged as the farming revolution was gradually taking hold. It existed alongside the highly-localised Shepherd Neolithic culture.

Officially the Khiamian is classed as an early phase of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A. It is primarily characterised by a distinctive type of stone arrowhead known as the 'El Khiam point'. This was first found at the type site of El Khiam which is located on the banks of the Dead Sea. The El Khiam point has lateral notches in it, the oldest chert arrowheads to be discovered. The tag of 'arrowheads' is misleading, though. These tools were versatile, with multiple uses.

The Natufian had already witnessed improving climate conditions in the Fertile Crescent and the growth of settlements as people steadily increased and improved their foodstocks. By around 10,000 BC the region already appeared to be exporting its semi-domesticated wheat varieties across the outer wings of the Fertile Crescent.

The Natufian eased into the Khiamian without any great technical innovations being discovered or implemented. However, dwellings were now being built at ground level rather than being half-indented into the ground. Hunter-gatherer activities remained dominant when it came to food-gathering, with agriculture remaining primitive and somewhat experimental as people worked out what to do with this new process.

The Khiamian material culture was succeeded by the Mureybetian in the middle Euphrates and the upper Levant, while the Sultanian emerged later in the southern Levant. The latter's material culture can be seen as a development of the Khiamian, with the El Khiam point remaining as part of the assemblage but microliths disappearing in favour of bifacial core-knapped stone tools appearing.

More broadly, it is likely to be either the Natufian or Khiamian cultures which supplied the first modern humans to reach Early Cyprus, during its Akrotiri period. Hunter-gatherers become active on the island, especially at two pre-Neolithic sites at Nissi Beach, and also at Ayia Napa, and on the Aspro water causeway in the Akamas. They probably reach Cyprus from the Levantine coast, although this is disputed.

Neolithic farmers in the Levant

(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: Tracing the Origin and Spread of Agriculture in Europe, Ron Pinhasi, Joaquim Fort, & Albert J Ammerman (PLOS Biology, published online 29 Nov 2005), and Archaeobotany: Plant Domestication, Chris Stevens & Leilani Lucas (Reference Module in Social Sciences, 2023, available via Science Direct).)

c.9700 BC

FeatureThe Younger Dryas has seen a temporary return to glacial conditions, although not uniformly around the world (and see feature link). The fading of its last stages now sees the gradual reintroduction of trees across the northern tundra. It also contributes to increased rainfall in the Fertile Crescent.

This process is highly notable for the Khiamian culture which now succeeds the Natufian to see in the adoption of the earliest phases of Neolithic Farmer processes in the Near East's Fertile Crescent. The localised Shepherd Neolithic continues to thrive in the Beqaa Valley area of Lebanon.

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.9500 BC

By the time the Levant's brief Khiamian prelude eases into the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) proper, the early farming population in the Fertile Crescent is booming. Overpopulation sees many groups migrating outwards, with the Early Aceramic Neolithic about to start on Cyprus. A PPNA sub-phase also soon appears in the form of the Mureybetian.

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