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History of the ANE: Diving a Little Deeper into the Peoples and Cultures of the Stone Age

[This is a lecture written for the course 'HIST 262: History of the Ancient Near East,' taught Fall 2023 at God's Bible School and College, a regionally accredited College in Cincinnati, Ohio. Bibliographical material will be posted under Research on this site.]

Social Time: Relationships Between Peoples and Societies

The concept of Social Time, sometimes called moyen durée, translated as ‘medium duration,’ and also ‘conjunctures,’ is the concept of repeated social regularities or recurrent phenomena (Clark 1999: 82). The length of time is not truly important. What is important are the social aspects that create it. These aspects may include such broad categories as sustenance, home-making, tool use, and anything else that mankind has repeatedly or recurrently utilized as a social entity. While one man creating the perfect tool for a specific use, and then using that tool throughout his entire life, is interesting, if no one else ever utilizes that invention and it eventually falls by the wayside, it is not an aspect of Social Time. 

Stone Age

Social Time correlates involving the later stone age, the starting point for this study, are many. As noted above, during the Neolithic there was a distinct move toward agriculture, pottery, and textiles. These are all aspects of Social Time because they extend in their use through multiple generations, eventually giving way to either new or other forms. Additionally, those forms that came before, including hunting and gathering, cooking bare over the fire or with the use of stones, and the use of skins as clothing are also Social Time concepts, but those are out of the purview of this study. 

Before the Neolithic Revolution, housing for most of mankind meant either caves, seasonal camps, or at times simple rock shelters/outcroppings, pit-huts, and the like. All of these, including the temporary camps, are evidence of sedentism, the permanent presence of humanity within a given space (Bar-Yosef 2001: 4). Caves were often continuously used for generations, and temporary camps were often permanent sites used seasonally, including at times a base camp of round huts with stone foundations (Mazar 1992: 36); typically speaking, groups stayed in the relative safety of the familiar. 

At the beginning of the Neolithic Revolution, after glacial climatic conditions had faded and left behind an arid steppe-like region, humanity found need to adapt, turning from the wild flora, that had yearly seen reduced yields, to intentionally cultivating wild cereals and legumes (Bar-Yosef 2001: 18). As fertile fields are not typically located near caves, and as crops need to be protected from wild animals such as deer, goats, etc., the logical course of action is to make temporary camps permanent. The instinctive concern with survival and providing for the next generation (Wagstaff 1985: 48) ultimately lead to the establishment of village life. 

Yiftahel: Pre-Pottery Neolithic B flint arrowheads
Yiftahel: Pre-Pottery Neolithic B flint arrowheads

Throughout many other areas of the world, the move to agriculture and village life occurs almost contemporaneously (Liverani and Tabatabai 2014: 35), particularly as the move is due to cultural contact of migrating peoples seeking better lands who had already begun Neolithic traditions (compare to the move to Neolithic in Italy, Singleton 2023: 34-35). In the ancient Near East, the move appears to had been autochthonous to the region. Of note, evidence for the trial and error of innovation is evident, with differing communities advancing technologically and economically at different rates, the earliest groups to do so living on the periphery of the Fertile Crescent (Liverani and Tabatabai 2014: 35) where innovation became necessary. Ultimately, the entire region would enter into Neolithic standards. 


Early Neolithic life in Mesopotamia began in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains (Riehl, Zeidi, and Conard 2013: 65). By the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period, Neolithic sites could be found all along the Fertile Crescent, not just in Mesopotamia.

By the Neolithic/Chalcolithic transition, several key cultural facies had developed, namely the Halaf and Hassuna traditions in Northern Mesopotamia, the Samarra tradition in Central Mesopotamia, and the Ubaid tradition in Southern Mesopotamia. Many of these traditions are ill-defined, particularly as there is much overlap between them. These cultural groups traded, interacted, and even fought. Over multiple sites, these groups developed their own idiosyncratic habits and aesthetic reflections as a result of time and indigenous change (Akkermans and Schwartz 2003: 101), and because of these habits and reflections, modern scholars are able to differentiate between them, but historically speaking, these delimitations did not exist (Campbell 2008: 124). These groups would never call themselves by the names we have given them. 

Upper Mesopotamia Southeast Anatolia




Northern Ubaid


Pottery Neolithic A













(No evidence from 9000-6000 B.C.)

Pre-Pottery Neolithic B





Early Pottery







Transitional Initial 

Pottery Neolithic



Pre-Pottery Neolithic

The Hassuna, Samarra, and Halaf peoples are named after the original sites where the pottery traditions were first recognized (Nieuwenhuyse, Cruells, and Mateiciucová 2017: 5), as is typically the case in archaeology. The Hassuna and the Samarran pottery traditions both pre-date and are contemporary with the Halaf, the Hassuna ultimately being absorbed into the Halaf tradition at the end of their existence (Liverani and Tabatabai 2014: 48). Interestingly, both the Samarra and Hassuna traditions show evidence for a shift towards elaborately decorating their serving vessels (Nieuwenhuyse 2012: 136), showing the nature of a people who can now devote time and materials to such a feat.

 The Halaf tradition, archaeologically determined by the pottery styles first discovered at Tell Halaf in northern Mesopotamia, has a scientific date of ca. 6300-5000 B.C. and is perhaps the better known of the classic groups. As with the others before, the Halaf is not truly a culture (Bernbeck and Nieuwenhuyse 2012: 21) but more properly understood as a pottery tradition (Campbell 2008: 124) and emerged from previous pottery traditions (Nieuwenhuyse 2012: 136). It is split into the early, middle, and late Halaf periods (Liverani and Tabatabai 2014: 46). Culturally, the peoples who used the Halaf-style ceramics were sustained agriculturally without the use of manmade irrigation channels, mainly raising spelt, goats, and sheep (Liverani and Tabatabai 2014: 48). As with the Hassuna and the Samarra traditions, burials were typically, though not always, within the settlement (Campbell 2008: 134).

Beginning around the Middle Halaf period (Liverani and Tabatabai 2014: 46) when the Halaf experiences a progressive crisis, the Ubaid in southern Mesopotamia rises to prominence, ultimately creating new innovative technologies and organization strategies, ushering in the Chalcolithic period (Liverani and Tabatabai 2014: 49-50). It was the Ubaid who began to experiment with manmade irrigation that would eventually lead to the establishment of greater societies (Nieuwenhuyse 2012: 136), resulting in a gradual process of social, ideological, and even economic change (Nieuwenhuyse, Cruells, and Mateiciucová 2017: 3). These changes would ultimately lead to the rise of urbanism, that is, the pooling together of many inhabitants into smaller areas for differing purposes, including protection, ease of life, and so forth. 

As Ubaid material culture spread, northern communities began to adapt the technologies and ideologies to their own (Stein and Özbal 2007: 334) creating the Halaf-Ubaid transitional assemblages with no distinct break between the two traditions (Nieuwenhuyse, Cruells, and Mateiciucová 2017: 3). In addition to irrigation, a part of this technological adaptation included new ceramic production techniques (Koizumi 2016: 85), further developing the way pottery was both formed and fired.

While the seeds of social complexity date back to the Halaf and continue into the Ubaid, it is during the Uruk period, ca. 4000-3100 B.C., that changes accelerated (Rothman 2004: 76). Continuing irrigation technology, the city of Uruk and the region around it became more agriculturally productive than other regions, resulting, by the Late Uruk period, in a rapid increase of settlements being established in the area and, due to the administrative and economic advances, creating the first state-level society (McC. Adams and Nissen 1972: 87), which included the organization of temple-based religions (Costello 2012: 123). 

Upper Mesopotamia Southeast Anatolia






Early Bronze


Late Chalcolithic




Late Ubaid





Early Chalcolithic


Early Ubaid

Early Chalcolithic





Late Neolithic

Neolithic-Chalcolithic Transition




Pottery Neolithic



Early Neolithic


Archaeologically, in Egypt, there appears to have been something of a ‘dark age’ between the scientific dates of 9000-6000 B.C., the latter date being the dawn of the Neolithic in Egypt (Redford 1992: 5-7). As in Mesopotamia, the Early Neolithic introduces sedentism, agriculture, and animal husbandry, but it is the Late Neolithic in which is seen the growth of villages (Stein 2011: 8). Although a bit confusing, the term ‘predynastic’ is used of the differing cultures in Neolithic and Chalcolithic Egypt based on two key villages, including the Badarian in Early Predynastic and the Naqada in Middle and Late Predynastic periods (Hendrickx 2006: 56). 

The Badarian period dates to ca. 4400-3900 B.C. As a culture, the Badari predate the Naqada (Hendrickx 2006: 59) but likely existed contemporaneously with them. What is left of Badarian settlements appear to have been temporary or seasonal encampments made of light-weight materials; permanent settlements were likely closer to the floodplain and washed away by the Nile River long ago (Hendrickx and Vermeersch 2000: 43). 

The Badari had already seen the presence of craft specialization, specifically in high quality ceramics, stone vessels, and ivory objects that were consistently produced beyond the expertise of the household level (Hendrickx 2011: 93), establishing the building of a society where not every inhabitant needs work the fields. Interestingly, this group appears to have only entered into the Nile Valley for permanent living at a later stage (Hendrickx 2006: 60), likely giving way to the Naqada culture. 

By the Uruk period in Mesopotamia, in which the rise of urbanism is associated, urbanism was also on the rise in Egypt; although some have questioned whether or not Uruk culture actually influenced Egyptian, it is now believed that the two societies grew separately on their own (Liverani and Tabatabai 2014: 88), Egypt being influenced from cultures deeper into Africa (Donald B. Redford 1992: 7). In Egypt, this represents the Naqada culture which lasted well into the Dynastic periods. 

The Naqada is split into several divisions and subdivisions corresponding to the Late Neolithic to the Protodynastic Periods (Stein 2011: 8), and although the Badarian are strongly related to the people of the Naqada I period, a shift in material culture is apparent (Hendrickx 2006: 71). The Naqada I culture is well known for its black-topped pottery; interestingly, the dual theme of war and hunt is incorporated onto ceramics and a characteristic of this period (Aboelnour 2013: 251). 

The transition between Naqada I and Naqada II is a bit problematic as the black-topped pottery for the first still existed well into the latter (Hendrickx 2006: 75-76), but the Naqada II culture is noted for introducing marl ceramics which were usually painted with ochre-brown paint on a beige background and included representations of boats. This period is also known for its use of copper, silver, and even gold (Aboelnour 2013: 251).


The Levant was an ecologically stable area that was well protected and very suitable for Neolithic adaptations (Liverani and Tabatabai 2014: 35). Both the Great Rift Valley, where the Jordan River is found, and the coastal plains along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean (Twiss 2007: 24) were places well suited for agricultural life, whether for the growing of crops in the Mediterranean Zones or the herding of domesticated animals in the steppes. 

Early on in the Northern Levant is seen similar pottery traditions to that of Mesopotamia, namely the Halaf and Ubaid traditions (Nieuwenhuyse, Cruells, and Mateiciucová 2017: 3), and this is partially true for the Southern Levant as well (Milevski et al. 2016: 137), but several new cultures developed their own systems (Mazar 1992: 50), including the Wadi Rabah whose pottery assemblage is differentiated by its black and red burnished ceramics and carinated bowls (Gilead 2009: 336). The question as to whether the Wadi Rabah tradition developed on its own or from a separate culture in the Northern Levant is not yet understood (Mazar 1992: 53), but by the end of the Wadi Rabah, around 5000 B.C., the Qatafian, Jericho VIII, and Tzafian cultures are seen (Milevski et al. 2016: 137). 

By the Chalcolithic period, new traditions had been formed likely founded on their Neolithic predecessors (Mączyńska 2013: 67). These, the Ghassulian and Beersheba cultures, subsisted on both agriculture and animal husbandry, but of interest is the new domestication of fruit trues, including olive, pomegranate, date, and fig (Mączyńska 2013: 67). The Ghassulian dates of 4500-3900 B.C. are well established, and it is found in the semi-arid areas of northern Negev, Dead Sea basin, parts of the coastal plains, the Shephelah, and the Jordan valley (Gilead 2009: 345), and Ghassulian settlements contain characteristic rectilinear, and even some subterranean, architecture (Gosic 2016: 872). Although crops are crucial, the Ghassulian was predominately a pastoral culture with a rather rich production of copper weapons indicating the emergence of a societal hierarchy that insured control over herds and copper mines (Liverani and Tabatabai 2014: 56). 

The Beersheba culture, located primarily in the Beersheba Valley, was also an agro-pastoral society dependent on little from the outside world (Mączyńska 2013: 68). These two cultures are sometimes referred to as Ghassulian-Beersheba (Braun 2019: 67), though the Beersheba settlements are at a late phase of the Ghassulian period (Gosic 2016: 872), Ghassulian being used quite extensively to cover many areas (Gilead 2009: 345). The two contain many similarities, including the digging of pit houses, though this was replaced with rectangular structures above ground (Mączyńska 2013: 69), and metalworking (Gosic 2016: 880). A hallmark of the Beersheba culture is the presence of ivory carvings (Gilead 2009: 342). 

By the Late Chalcolithic-Early Bronze I transitional period, much had changed in the Levant. The rather well organized Late Chalcolithic society had come to an end at many of the sites, and substantial changes occurred in settlement patterns (Braun 2019: 88). The reasoning for such changes is not completely clear, but the possibilities range from natural disasters to a wave of immigrants (Mączyńska 2013: 72) bringing with them new cultures and new ways of doing things. It is the opinion of this author that the latter played a key role in the change from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age cultures.


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