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Near East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Yarmukian 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 Yarmukian 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 Yarmukian derives its name from the River Yarmuk, in ancient Syria, but artefacts have also been found to the immediate south, in the Megiddo of the period around 6000 BC. It possibly also fed the Sotira culture in Cyprus. Its type site is Sha'ar HaGolan which is close to Kibbutz Sha'ar HaGolan, sitting at the foot of the Golan Heights. About twenty Yarmukian sites have so far been discovered (by 2023), stretching across southern Syria, northern Israel, and northern Jordan.

Neolithic farmers in the Levant

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information 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 Neolithic coastal settlements were resilient in the face of climate change, Mark Milligan (Heritage Daily).)

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 Yarmukian culture is one of the first sites to use pottery in what will become ancient Syria. The Lodian and Nizzanim 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.

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. The site is first identified in 2015-2017 at a depth of up to three metres below sea level, and is then rediscovered during an underwater survey in 2018.

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

Based on pottery style and form, this can be associated with the Yarmukian and Lodian cultures (the latter centred on Jericho). Post-dating the '8.2 kiloyear event', Habonim North demonstrates a resilient, sedentary site which bucks the trend of decline which is seen in many PPNB sites.

Instead it maintains a complex and diverse economic system. That system includes local production and long-distance exchange until flooding claims the settlement later in the sixth millennium BC.

c.6000 BC

In the Near East, having locally replaced the PPNB in the western Levant, the Neolithic Farmer Yarmukian now gives way to the succeeding Pottery Neolithic 'B' culture in Jericho and its slightly later Wadi Rabah cultural variation.

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