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Near East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Nizzanim Culture (Pottery Neolithic A) (Levant)
c.6400 - 6000 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.

Moves towards full-farming went through ever-improving steps being taken towards the creation of civilisation, most notably during the Natufian period. The subsequent Khiamian accelerated the process as an early phase of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (abbreviated to PPNA). In turn the PPNA evolved into the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B culture (or PPNB).

The Nizzanim was one of several localised cultures which witnessed an early arrival of the Pottery Neolithic. This general cultural period succeeded the PPNB after that had been adversely affected by a climate-related event. Labelled the '8.2 kiloyear event' this is dated to 6200-6000 BC and is a recognised climatic cooling event which persisted for two hundred years. When it relented it provided a climatic bounce-back which triggered the start of the Pottery Neolithic.

There was no great calamity to signal a dramatic ending to the preceding PPNB. Many sites simply faded and changed or were finally abandoned after some attempts at clinging on proved pointless. As it faded, aspects arrived which presaged the full-blown arrival of the Pottery Neolithic, under the Lodian, Nizzanim, and Yarmukian cultures. These are labelled 'Pottery Neolithic A' cultures.

The Nizzanim has been given an end date of about 5800 BC in some publications, but others provide the more expected 6000 BC which is when the crossover into the Pottery Neolithic would have taken place.

The Nizzanim cultural zone has been formed around three excavated sites which are located along modern Israel's coastal plain. All three are extremely close to the modern shoreline, but in 6400 BC that shore would have been quite some way to the west. Post-glacial melting ensured that sea levels did not fully normalise until about 5000 BC.

The type site of Nizzanim revealed no architectural remains other than pits and floors which probably indicated habitation rather than them being fire pits. Dwellings were circular, an unusually late retention of this hunter-gatherer mode of house-building while rectangular houses had come to dominate elsewhere during the PPNB. As with the Lodian, the people were pastoralists (keeping animals) rather than farmers. To date no evidence has been found of Neolithic crops, but they did have rather rough, basic pottery.

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).)

c.6400 BC

Perhaps as a result of the various disruptions and decline in and of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), localised successors begin to appear in sites around the Levant as a prelude to the adoption of a full-blown Pottery Neolithic period. The Nizzanim culture is one of the first sites to use pottery. The Lodian and Yarmukian also follow this progression.

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.6200 BC

Outside of the western Levant, the late PPNB is continuing its agricultural and economic decline, especially in the southern Levant. Towns also decline and pastoralism appears to flourish (especially with sheep and goats). Black clay pottery has come into common use, which is also to be found in PPNB migrant cultures in Africa, Europe, and adjacent regions of Asia.

The '8.2 kiloyear event' is a recognised climatic cooling event which persists for two hundred years and, when it relents, provides a climatic bounce-back which triggers the start of the Pottery Neolithic.

Hoabin North stone fishing net anchors
These stone 'sinkers' were most likely used to weigh down fishing nets which were found by archaeologists at the 'Habonim North' martime site off northern Israel's coast, with the village being on dry land before 5000 BC

Progressive loss of coastal settlement areas continues too, as the post-glacial ice melt continues to raise sea levels. The eastern Mediterranean coast does not reach its modern form until about 5000 BC, and the flooded settlement of Habonim North provides direct evidence of this. Even the Nizzanim's type site today sits right up against the shoreline, as do its two other known sites.

c.6000 BC

In the Near East, having locally replaced the PPNB in the western Levant, the pastoralist Nizzanim culture now gives way to the succeeding Pottery Neolithic period.

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