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Near East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Zarzian Culture (Upper Palaeolithic / Mesolithic) (Anatolia & Mesopotamia)
c.18,000 - 8000 BC

In terms of early human cultures in the Near East, the preceding Baradostian flint tool culture had largely been focused on northern Mesopotamia and eastern Anatolia. This covered modern Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, with a central focus on the Zagros Mountains between Iraq and Iran. At the same time a related but divergent Levantine Aurignacian flourished in the Levant. Both were contemporary with the Aurignacian culture in Europe.

The Baradostian seems to have ended with the maximum cold of the last phase of the Würm glaciation, the most recent cold phase of the most recent ice age. Following possible cultural and typological discontinuity - a break - that culture was succeeded by the Zarzian in northern Mesopotamia and eastern Anatolia, while the Levantine Aurignacian was being replaced by the Kebaran culture.

The aforementioned discontinuity was probably caused by the extreme cold spell which disrupted the established migratory and hunting patterns of anatomically modern humans across Europe and into the Near East.

The Upper Palaeolithic (Late Old Stone Age) and Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) Zarzian marks the end of the Iranian Palaeolithic sequence which preceded various Mesolithic developments in the Near East. The occupation by this culture, or industry, at Warwasi to the north of Kermanshah in western Iran yielded over seventeen thousand stone artefacts. Analyses have resulted in a division of the Zarzian levels into four chronological units.

Microliths comprise in excess of thirty-five percent of each of the unit assemblages, with geometric forms occurring in the top three levels. While the later stages of the Zarzian and its focus on the Zagros Mountains again were contemporary with the Natufian, they were also different from it, and becoming more so as they diverged. Following a millennium of usage, the Zarzian was succeeded by the M'lefaatian early Neolithic Farmer culture.

Anatolian relief

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Zarzian Microliths from Warwasi Rockshelter, Iran: Scalene Triangles as Arrow Components, Deborah I Olszewski (Archaeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association, 1993), from Palaeolithic Hominin Remains from Eshkaft-e Gavi (Southern Zagros Mountains, Iran), J E Scott, from The Palaeolithic Prehistory of the Zagros-Taurus, Harold L Dibble, from Eighty Years of Iranian Archaeology Vols 1 & 2, Yousef Hassanzadeh & Sima Miri (Eds), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Encyclopaedia of Human Evolution and Prehistory, Second Edition, N Benco, A S Brooks, E Delson, C Kramer, & J J Shea (PDF Extract (700 pages), 2000), and Makers of the early Aurignacian of Europe, Steven E Churchill & Fred H Smith (2000), and The Genetic History of Ice Age Europe (Nature 2016), and Mesolithic Culture of Europe (PDF, Vidya Mitra Integrated E-Content Portal), and The Zagros Epipalaeolithic revisited, Eleni Asouti et al (Plos One, 2020).)

c.18,000 BC

The Zarzian culture appears in and around Iraqi Kurdistan to succeed the Baradostian. This is during the most recent ice age, and the climatic conditions mean that the northern regions of the Zagros Mountains at medium and high altitudes remain deserted at first.

Humans return there only following the last glacial maximum (LGM), in parallel with Epi-Palaeolithic stone use which is known from the Levant and the southern Anatolian coast. At this time, and prior to that LGM, the Levantine Aurignacian gives way to the Kebaran culture.

Palegawra cave in Iraqi Kurdistan
Palegawra cave, which sits alongside the neighbouring Zarzi, type site for this culture, has been an emblematic site of the Epi-Palaeolithic cultural horizon in the north-western Zagros Mountains

c.11,200 BC

The wide-ranging Epigravettian culture in Europe is beginning to shrink back towards the Carpathians. In its wake it is leaving behind many localised variations along its former eastern stretches, especially in the steppe zone across the northern Black Sea region and into the Caucasus.

That Caucasus and its dominating mountain range now see the emergence of a group of cultures which include the Black Sea, Chokh, Gubs, Imereti, and Trialetian. All are being influenced from the Near East, maintaining contact with areas of Syria, including Palestine and the Zagros Mountains (which no no doubt includes the Zarzian culture).

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.9700 BC

FeatureThe Younger Dryas has seen a temporary return to glacial conditions, although not uniformly around the world, or even in Northern Europe (and see feature link).

The fading of its last stages now sees the gradual reintroduction of trees across the northern tundra and improvements to life for modern humans in Southern Europe. It also contributes to increased rainfall in the Fertile Crescent.

This process is highly notable for the Khiamian culture and the adoption of the earliest phases of Near East Neolithic Farmer processes. The subsequent Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) in the Levant also sees some outward-migration into the Zagros foothills, possibly associated with violent clashes as some PPNA burials contain embedded projectile points.

North American large mammals
The Younger Dryas cold spell hit North America hard, just when things were starting to warm up at the end of the ice age - not only did many of the large mammals die out but so did the Clovis culture (click or tap on image to view full sized)

c.8000 BC

After a millennium of ascendancy, the Near East's Zarzian may already have faded as Neolithic Farmer cultures in the region begin to take hold. By this date at the latest it is succeeded by the M'lefaatian culture.

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