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Near East Kingdoms

Early Cultures

 

Pottery Neolithic Culture (Neolithic) (Levant & Near East)
c.6000 - 3500 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), prior to the arrival of the Pottery Neolithic (sometimes referred to as the Ceramic Neolithic or 'Late Neolithic', and divisible into 'A' and 'B' phases)

This period witnessed the advent of a full-blown Neolithic farming culture with a full range of pottery creations to complement it. The previous PPN cultures seemingly originated in southern Anatolia and the northern Levant, but they expanded far and wide into the southern Levant, upper Mesopotamia, western-central Anatolia, and the Zagros mountain foothills (the latter to succeed the M'lefaatian industry). The PPNB had also started to spread farther, into Europe and South Asia.

The PPNB's progression into the Pottery Neolithic had also, in its later stages, witnessed the arrival of regional Levantine Pottery Neolithic adoptions in the form of the Lodian, Nizzanim, and Yarmukian. These all dovetailed into the widespread adoption of the Pottery Neolithic around 6000 BC, although the status of some as cultures in their own right is disputed.

That period coincided with indications of environmental decline in the southern Levant, fuelled by a combination of intense human activity, a climatic trend which tended to veer towards aridity, and by continuously-rising sea levels which would not balance out in the Mediterranean until about 5000 BC. Many PPNB sites gradually shrank or were eventually abandoned by the start of the Pottery Neolithic.

The '8.2 kiloyear event' of 6200-6000 BC is a recognised climatic cooling event which persisted for two hundred years and, when it relented, provided a climatic bounce-back which triggered the start of the Pottery Neolithic (and even distant Neo-Siberians seem to have benefited from this improvement in the climate).

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. Migration to Neolithic Farmer Europe would certainly be one way out of this situation. The flow of migrants into the Balkans was in full stream, at least partially through and around the Fikirtepe culture of north-western Anatolia.

The Fertile Crescent's farming population had already experienced two great booms at this time (around 8500 BC and 6500 BC). Anatolia in the seventh millennium BC had become a hotspot of migration into Europe, with the Sesklo culture being formed in Greece and the Cardial Pottery and Karanovo cultures quickly also being formed by further migrant bodies. PPNB farming had also reached Mehrgarh on the edge of the Indus plains, where in time it would inform the rise of the Indus Valley civilisation.

At roughly the same time as farming first reached Europe, 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. Fertile Crescent farming, though, eventually reached Turkmenistan and the Altai Mountains, Pakistan, and North Africa.


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 Neolithic stone mask unveiled (Heritage Daily), and Yarmukian Pottery (Levantine Ceramics Project).)

c.6000 BC

The Pottery Neolithic culture succeeds the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) in the Levant and its broader Near East locations. It also absorbs several 'pocket' pre-Pottery Neolithic cultures in the form of the Lodian, Nizzanim, and Yarmukian.

Habonim North, Yarmukian culture
Pottery and ceramics at the Habonim North site include light-coloured ware with coarse temper, the knob handle from a storage jar, and the painted rim of a hole-mouth jar, all of which has been linked to Yarmukian and Lodian sites based on style and form

With large, and sometimes huge, communal Near East Neolithic Farmer settlements having become the norm during the later PPNB, rectangular buildings and their more adaptable internal partitioning had also become highly popular. This switch from circular to rectangular is commonplace around the world wherever hunter-gatherers become sedentary, but the Fertile Crescent provides the earliest examples.

From about 6000 BC, very large multi-roomed buildings become common where they are constructed around courtyards. This is especially the case on the plains of northern Mesopotamia, and in the earliest stages of civilisation in Sumer (during the Hassuna and Samarra cultures), Egypt (as part of the ongoing Faiyum A), and the Indus Valley.

The ruins of Harappa
The ruins of Harappa were rediscovered in the 1920s, almost four thousand years after India's first true civilisation disappeared amid a general collapse of ancient civilisations that was due to climate change

Some older sites are abandoned, such as the PPNB's Çatalhöyük, perhaps due to their unsuitability for conversion to this new building style. Where do these people go? To new settlements undoubtedly, but are those settlements located in Europe following a joining-in with the migrant flow into the European Neolithic Farmer territories in the Balkans?

In the Caucasus mountains, having already adopted some of the tools of the Neolithic cultures of the Near East (likely the PPNB or M'lefaatian), the people of the Chokh, Black Sea, Gubs, and Imereti cultures now fully embrace farming, which sees their cultures being succeeded by that of the Shulaveri-Shomu.

FeatureThe one grape species which is suitable for wine producing, Vitis vinifera, has been cultivated by the people of the Caucasus since around 9000 BC. While the grape is hermaphroditic and can reproduce itself it is only now, around 6000 BC, that early cultivation turns into the beginnings of true wine production (see feature link).

Grapes
With conditions perfect in the South Caucasus, it was Mesolithic hunters and foragers who were amongst the very first humans to domesticate the grape

c.5900 BC

The early copper-using Fikirtepe culture in the north-western corner of Anatolia now gives way to its direct successor, the Yarımburgaz culture. Migration into the Balkans from Anatolia continues during this period, with the Sea of Mamara likely being a key conduit.

c.5200 BC

The Pottery Neolithic of the Fertile Crescent most firmly arrives in the Nile region, with the recent Faiyum culture there having been the local expression of early Neolithic practises from the Near East. That has recently been replaced by the introduction of full-blown farming as part of the Faiyam Neolithic.

At about the same time the Wadi Rabah Pottery Neolithic B culture emerges in the Levant as an expression of the emergence of later Pottery Neolithic practices.

Pottery Neolithic pot from the Yarmukian cultural zone in the Levant
This pink-toned Pottery Neolithic jar comes from Sha'ar Hagolan in the Levant, a Yarmukian site which witnessed some of the earliest appearances of full-blown pottery

c.5000 BC

A re-inhabited Jericho of the Wadi Rabah culture begins to display a degree of influence from developments which have been taking place in the north. There, in contemporary Syria, an ever-increasing number of villages have already appeared. These are still Neolithic but are now marked by the use of pottery.

Jericho's first pottery users live relatively primitive lives compared to those of the first two waves of settlement (the PPN phases). They occupy simple huts which are sunk into the ground, probably being pastoralists for the most part. Occupation remains sparse and possibly intermittent for the next two millennia, possibly also with these pastoralists using the site on a seasonal basis.

Gebal is founded as a permanent settlement. This follows an initial settlement phase which can be dated to 8000-7000 BC, during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period. Archaeology can still find Neolithic traces of the earliest occupation (during the Pottery Neolithic).

Walled Jericho
During the third millennium BC Jericho was gradually expanded and enriched with improved building work and stone walls

 

However, the first sophisticated buildings which go towards forming a town only appear in the third millennium BC. Megiddo similarly appears at this time but flourishes earlier than Gebal.

c.4500 BC

The discovery of copper metallurgy has developed into an industry which can be used as part of everyday life. This now heralds the start of a regional Chalcolithic or 'Copper Age'. The Wadi Rabah culture in the Levant and, especially, around Jericho, soon transitions into the Ghassulian as part of this transition.

c.4000 BC

Both Arad and Sidon are founded as permanent settlements, although on somewhat different scales. This is at the same time as a structure of concentric stone circles known as Rujm al-Hiri is built as an astrological temple or observatory, or perhaps a burial complex.

Aerial view of Tel Arad in Israel
The current archaeological site of Tel Arad is probably one of the easier ones to link back to its ancient origins, with the early Canaanite city seen at the lower edge of the photo and the first millennium BC Israelite stronghold at the top

c.3500 BC

The Pottery Neolithic period in the Levant and wider Near East is brought to an end just as Semitic-speakers make their first appearance during their migration out of the Arabian Desert to enter Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Levant. This is the start of the region's Bronze Age which sees the rise of the city state.

In the third millennium BC it is largely Syria which gains true city states, benefiting from interaction with Sumer and from improvements in irrigation. The Hatti of Anatolia also advance to this level. It takes until around 2000 BC for the same process to take hold farther south and west, in the Levant's Canaan region.

 
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