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Near East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Early Near East Neolithic Farmer Cultures

The term 'Fertile Crescent' was coined by James Henry Breasted (1865-1935) to refer to a geographical area in the Near East. This area has a semi-arcing shape which stretches from the Jordan Valley to the Euphrates and Tigris estuary. It includes Israel, Lebanon, the Levant, Palestine, and western Syria in the west. It continues across northern Syria and Anatolia's highland plateau (modern Turkey) before turning southwards, to reach the foot of the Zagros Mountains, part of today's Iraq and Iran.

Three main phases can be distinguished here, during which the distant effects of the most recent ice age came to an end and true farming was gradually adopted. These involve the late Epi-Palaeolithic period which corresponds to the last groups of hunter-gatherers as they underwent a process of becoming sedentary. These people formed part of the Natufian culture in the Levant and the Zarzian in the Zagros area between 12,500-9500 BC.

Those cultures eased into the first phase of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, or PPN, under the banner of 'Type A' or PPNA, a categorisation which was framed by Kathleen Kenyon. During this period the first experiences took place of wild plant cultivation and animal management, between 9800-8600 BC.

The second part of the PPB was the 'Type B' phase, or PPNB, during which plant and animal domestication appeared. These became the dominant food resources at the end of the period around 7000 BC, which is when the first pottery appeared in most parts of the Fertile Crescent. This was succeeded around 6000 BC by the Pottery Neolithic: full-blown farming with full-blown pottery creation and the beginnings of true civilisation.

However, this process of development had already met with problems during the seventh millennium BC, perhaps due to aridisation in the changing post-glacial climate, and perhaps also due to over-intensive early farming. Early traces of farming in Greece can be found around 6800 BC. This immediately predates the start of the Sesklo culture, and also shows that 'proper' farming development there was happening at about the same time as in the Near East. Early farmers would subsequently enter Europe in a big way to found a Neolithic Farmer revolution there.

Influences from the Neolithic farmer cultures of Old Europe can be seen in the archaeology of western Anatolia, specifically in the Troad and Dardania. But the task of covering those cultures is a complex business. Further influences seem to have been infiltrating into Eastern Europe during the seventh millennium BC. These culminating in the adoption in the Caucasus region of farming around 6000 BC.

At roughly the same time as farming first reached Europe from Anatolia, around 7000 BC onwards, early Chinese communities also saw the development of farming under the Yangshao culture, a development which appears to have taken place internally rather than being introduced from the Near East.

As for the farming itself, early wheat types had grain which was contained in spikelets with tightly adhering glumes. From the earlier part of the domestication process, roughly between 8500-7800 BC, free-threshing tetraploid wheat forms appear at Tell Aswad in the Damascus basin, with them thereafter becoming more common. Unlike hulled wheat forms, these wheat forms have thinner, reduced glumes, meaning that the grain is released when the ears are threshed.

Within the period which encompasses the seventh and sixth millennia BC a further development occurred. This took place as agriculture diffused beyond the Fertile Crescent into regions which border the southern Caspian Sea. Here this free-threshing wheat hybridised with a local wild goat-grass (Aegilops tauschii), giving rise to hexaploid free-threshing bread wheat.

FeatureThe system which has evolved to catalogue the various archaeological expressions of human progress is one which involves cultures. For well over a century, archaeological cultures have remained the framework for global prehistory. The earliest cultures which emerge from Africa are perhaps the easiest to catalogue, right up until human expansion reaches the Americas. The task of cataloguing that vast range of human cultures is covered in the related feature (see link, right). Archaeological cultures remain the framework for global prehistory.

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), and When the First Farmers Arrived... (Scientific American), 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).)


King list Khiamian Culture
(c.9700 - 9500 BC)

The Khiamian succeeded the Epi-Palaeolithic Natufian as a largely sedentary culture just as the farming revolution was taking hold.

King list Pre-Pottery Neolithic A
(c.9500 - 8800 BC)

Plants and animals continued to be wild-farmed rather than domesticated, but people were becoming increasingly sedentary and the old ways were being replaced.

King list Mureybetian Culture
(c.9300 - 8600 BC)

First settled as a Natufian site around 10,200 BC, Mureybet was initially a small village which was occupied by hunter-gatherers.

King list Pre-Pottery Neolithic B
(c.8800 - 6000 BC)

The PPNB marked the arrival of full agricultural domestication in the Fertile Crescent, with population boom and large-scale outward migration in all directions.

King list M'lefaatian Culture
(c.8700 - 7600 BC)

This emerged in the eastern arm of the Fertile Crescent to succeeded the Zarzian and usher in the Neolithic, albeit with a PPNA influence.

King list Sultanian Culture
(c.8000 - 7400 BC)

The Sultanian was a sub-culture or regional variant of the PPNB, centred around the Jordan river valley and southern Levant and with a type site at Jericho.

King list Fikirtepe Culture
(c.6500 - 5900 BC)

This culture in north-western Anatolia was on the migrant route into Europe, with signs seemingly evident that some initial settlers later moved on.

King list Lodian Culture
(c.6400 - 6000 BC)

The Lodian or Jericho IX was one of several localised Pottery Neolithic cultures, succeeding the PPNB after that had been climate-affected.

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