The Craddle of Civilization
The Armenian Highland lies in the highlands surrounding the Biblical mountains of Mount Ararat, the highest peak of the region. The Armenian Highland shows traces of settlement from the Neolithic era. Archaeological surveys in 2010 and 2011 have resulted in the discovery of the world’s earliest known leather shoe, skirt, and wine-making facility at the Areni-1 cave complex.
Portasar, or Göbekli Tepe (“Potbelly Hill”), is a Neolithic hilltop sanctuary erected at the top of a mountain ridge in the Southeastern Anatolia Region of Turkey, some 15 kilometers (9 mi) northeast of the town of Şanlıurfa (formerly Urfa / Edessa). It is the oldest known human-made religious structure. The site was most likely erected in the 10th millennium BC. The PPN A settlement has been dated to c. 9000 BCE. There are remains of smaller houses from the PPN B and a few epipalaeolithic finds as well. Together with Nevalı Çori, it has revolutionized understanding of the Eurasian Neolithic.
Around the beginning of the 8th millennium BCE “Potbelly Hill” lost its importance. The advent of agriculture and animal husbandry brought new realities to human life in the area. But the complex was not simply abandoned and forgotten to be gradually destroyed by the elements. Instead, each enclosure was deliberately buried under as much as 300 to 500 cubic meters (390 to 650 cu yd) of debris consisting mainly of small limestone fragments, stone vessels, and stone tools; many animal, even human, bones are also found in the burial refuse. Why the enclosures were backfilled is unknown, but it preserved them for posterity.
In the West – The Pre-Europeans (Old Europe)
Neolithic Europe refers to a prehistoric period in which Neolithic technology was present in Europe. This corresponds roughly to a time between 7000 BC (the approximate time of the first farming societies in Greece) and c. 1700 BC (the beginning of the Bronze Age in northwest Europe). The Neolithic overlaps the Mesolithic and Bronze Age periods in Europe as cultural changes moved from the southeast to northwest at about 1 km/year. The duration of the Neolithic varies from place to place, its end marked by the introduction of bronze implements: in southeast Europe it is approximately 4000 years (i.e., 7000 BC–3000 BC) while in Northwest Europe it is just under 3000 years (c. 4500 BC–1700 BC).
Regardless of specific chronology, many European Neolithic groups share basic characteristics, such as living in small-scale, family-based communities, subsisting on domesticated plants and animals supplemented with the collection of wild plant foods and with hunting, and producing hand-made pottery, that is, pottery made without the potter’s wheel. There are also many differences, with some Neolithic communities in southeastern Europe living in heavily fortified settlements of 3,000-4,000 people (e.g., Sesklo in Greece) whereas Neolithic groups in England were small (possibly 50-100 people) and highly mobile cattle-herders.
The details of the origin, chronology, social organization, subsistence practices and ideology of the peoples of Neolithic Europe are obtained from archaeology, and not historical records, since these people left none. Since the 1970s, population genetics has provided independent data on the population history of Neolithic Europe, including migration events and genetic relationships with peoples in South Asia. A further independent tool, linguistics, has contributed hypothetical reconstructions of early European languages and family trees with estimates of dating of splits, in particular theories on the relationship between speakers of Indo-European languages and Neolithic peoples. Some archaeologists believe that the expansion of Neolithic peoples from southwest Asia into Europe, marking the eclipse of Mesolithic culture, coincided with the introduction of Indo-European speakers, whereas other archaeologists and many linguists believe the Indo-European languages were introduced from the Pontic-Caspian steppe during the succeeding Bronze Age. A few see Indo-European languages starting in Paleolithic times.
Archeologists believe that food-producing societies first emerged in the Levantine region of southwest Asia at the close of the mini-Ice Age around 12,000 BC, and developed into a number of regionally distinctive cultures by the eighth millennium BC. Remains of food-producing societies in the Aegean have been carbon-dated to around 6500 BC at Knossos, Franchthi Cave, and a number of mainland sites in Thessaly. Neolithic groups appear soon afterwards in the Balkans and south-central Europe. The Neolithic cultures of southeastern Europe (the Balkans, Italy, and the Aegean) show some continuity with groups in southwest Asia and Anatolia (e.g., Çatalhöyük).
Current evidence suggests that Neolithic material culture was introduced to Europe via western Anatolia, and that similarities in cultures of North Africa and the Pontic steppes are due to diffusion out of Europe. All Neolithic sites in Europe contain ceramics, and contain the plants and animals domesticated in Southwest Asia: einkorn, emmer, barley, lentils, pigs, goats, sheep, and cattle. Genetic data suggest that no independent domestication of animals took place in Neolithic Europe, and that all domesticated animals were originally domesticated in Southwest Asia. The only domesticate not from Southwest Asia was broomcorn millet, domesticated in East Asia. The earliest evidence of cheese-making dates to 5500 BC in Kujawy, Poland.
Archaeologists seem to agree that the culture of the early Neolithic is relatively homogeneous, compared both to the late Mesolithic and the later Neolithic. The diffusion across Europe, from the Aegean to Britain, took about 2,500 years (6500 BC – 4000 BC). The Baltic region was penetrated a bit later, around 3500 BC, and there was also a delay in settling the Pannonian plain. In general, colonization shows a “saltatory” pattern, as the Neolithic advanced from one patch of fertile alluvial soil to another, bypassing mountainous areas. Analysis of radiocarbon dates show clearly that Mesolithic and Neolithic populations lived side by side for as much as a millennium in many parts of Europe, especially in the Iberian peninsula and along the Atlantic coast.
With some exceptions, population levels rose rapidly at the beginning of the Neolithic until they reached the carrying capacity. This was followed by a population crash of “enormous magnitude” after 5000 BC, with levels remaining low during the next 1500 years. Populations began to rise after 3500 BC, with further dips and rises occurring between 3000 and 2500 BC but varying in date between regions.
Archaeologists agree that the technologies associated with agriculture originated in the Levant/Near East and then spread into Europe. However, debate exists whether this resulted from an active migratory process from the Near East, or merely due to cultural contact between Europeans and Near Easterners. Currently, three models summarize the proposed pattern of spread:
1. Replacement model: posits that there was a significant migration of farmers from the Fertile Crescent into Europe. Given their technological advantages, they would have displaced or absorbed the less numerous hunter-gathering populace. Thus, modern Europeans are primarily descended from these Neolithic farmers.
2. Cultural diffusion: in contrast, this model supposes that agriculture reached Europe by way of a flow of ideas and trade between the Mesolithic European population and Anatolian farmers. There was no net increase in migration during this process, and therefore, modern Europeans are descended from the “original” Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers.
3. Pioneer model: recognises that models 1) and 2) above may represent false dichotomies. This model postulates that there was an initial, small scale migration of farmers from the Near East to certain regions of Europe. They might have enjoyed localized demographic expansions due to social advantages. The subsequent spread of farming technologies throughout the rest of Europe was then carried out by Mesolithic Europeans who acquired new skill through trade and cultural interaction.
Genetic studies have been utilised in the study of pre-historic population movements. On the whole, scientists agree that there is evidence for a migration during the Neolithic. However, they cannot agree on the extent of this movement. The conclusions of studies appear to be ‘operator dependent’. That is, results vary depending on what underlying mutation rates are assumed, and conclusions are drawn from how the authors ‘envisage’ their results fit with known archaeological and historic processes. Consequently, such studies must be interpreted with caution.
Perhaps the first scholar to posit a large-scale Neolithic migration, based on genetic evidence, was Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza. By applying principal component analysis to data from “classical genetic markers” (protein polymorphisms from ABO blood groups, HLA loci, immunoglobulins, etc.), Cavalli-Sforza discovered interesting clues about the genetic makeup of Europeans. Although being very genetically homogeneous, several patterns did exist. The most important one was a north-western to south-eastern cline with a Near Eastern focus. Accounting for 28% of the overall genetic diversity in the European samples in his study, he attributed the cline to the spread of agriculture from the Middle East c. 10,000 to 6,000 years ago.
Cavalli-Sforza’s explanation of demic diffusions stipulated that the clines were due to the population expansion of neolithic farmers into a scarcely populated, hunter-gathering Europe, with little initial admixture between agriculturalists and foragers. The predicted route for this spread would have been from Anatolia to central Europe via the Balkans. However, given that the time depths of such patterns are not known, “associating them with particular demographic events is usually speculative”. Apart from a demic Neolithic migration, the clines may also be compatible with other demographic scenarios (Barbujani and Bartorelle 2001), such as the initial Palaeolithic expansion, the Mesolithic (post-glacial) re-expansions., or later (historic) colonizations.
Studies using direct DNA evidence have produced varying results. A notable proponent of Cavalli-Sforza’s demic diffusion scenario is Chikhi. In his 1998 study, utilising polymorphic loci from seven hypervariable autosomal DNA loci, an autocorrelation analysis produced a clinal pattern closely matching that in Cavalli-Sforza’s study. He calculated that the separation times were no older than 10,000 years. “The simplest interpretation of these results is that the current nuclear gene pool largely reflects the westward and northward expansion of a Neolithic group”.
Although the above studies propounded a ‘significant’ Neolithic genetic contribution, they did not quantify the exact magnitude of the genetic contribution. Dupanloup performed an admixture analysis based on several autosomal loci, mtDNA and NRY haplogroup frequencies. The study was based on the assumption that Basques were modern representatives of Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers’ gene pool, and Near Eastern peoples were a proxy population for Neolithic farmers. Subsequently, they used admixture analysis to estimate the likely components of the contemporary European gene pool contributed by the two parental populations whose members hybridized at a certain moment in the past. The study suggested that the greatest Near Eastern admixture occurs in the Balkans (~80%) and Southern Italy (~60%), whilst it is least in peoples of the British Isles (estimating only a 20% contribution). The authors concluded that the Neolithic shift to agriculture entailed major population dispersal from the Near East.
Results derived from analysis of the non-recombining portion of the Y- chromosomes (NRY) produced, at least initially, similar gradients to the classic demic diffusion hypothesis. Two significant studies were Semino 2000 and Rosser 2000, which identified haplogroups J2 and E1b1b (formerly E3b) as the putative genetic signatures of migrating Neolithic farmers from Anatolia, and therefore represent the Y-chromosomal components of a Neolithic demic diffusion. This association was strengthened when King and Underhill (2002) found that there was a significant correlation between the distribution of Hg J2 and Neolithic painted pottery in European and Mediterranean sites. However, studies of the ancient Y-DNA from the earlier Neolithic cave burials of Cardium pottery culture men shows they were mainly haplogroup G2a. These ‘Neolithic lineages’ accounted for 22% of the total European Y chromosome gene pool, and were predominantly found in Mediterranean regions of Europe (Greece, Italy, southeastern Bulgaria, southeastern Iberia).
However later Y-DNA based studies, exploiting an increased understanding of the phylogenetic relationships, performing micro-regional haplogroup frequency analysis, reveal a more complicated demographic history. The studies suggest that “the large-scale clinal patterns of Hg E and Hg J reflect a mosaic of numerous small-scale, more regional population movements, replacements, and subsequent expansions overlying previous ranges”. Rather than a single, large-scale ‘wave of advance’ from the Near East, the apparent Hg J2 cline is produced by distinct populations movements emanating from different part of the Aegean and Near East, over a period stretching from the Neolithic to the Classical Period. Similarly, haplogroup E1b1b was also thought to have been introduced into the Balkans by Near Eastern agriculturalists. However, Cruciani et al. (2007) recently discovered that the large majority of haplogroup E1b1b lineages in Europe are represented by the sub-clade E1b1b1a2- V13, which is rare outside Europe. Cruciani, Battaglia and King all predict that V13 expanded from the Balkans. However, there has been no consensus as to exact timing of this expansion (King and Battalia favour a neolithic expansion, possibly coinciding with the adoption of farming by indigenous Balkaners, whilst Cruciani favours a Bronze Age expansion), nor as to where V13 actually arose (but point to somewhere in the southern Balkans or Anatolia) Overall, Y-chromosome data seems to support the “Pioneer model”, whereby heterogeneous groups of Neolithic farmers colonized selected areas of southern Europe via a primarily maritime route. Subsequent expansion of agriculture was facilitated by the adoption of its methods by indigenous Europeans, a process especially prominent in the Balkans.
The data from mtDNA is also interesting. European mtDNA haplogroup frequencies show little, if any, geographic patterning, a result attributed to different molecular properties of mtDNA, as well as different migratory practices between females and males (Semino 2000). The vast majority of mtDNA lineages (60–70%) have been dated to have either emerged in the Mesolithic or Palaeolithic, whereas only 20% of mitochondrial lineages are “Neolithic”. However, this conclusion has been questioned. Any undetected heterogeneity in the founder population would result in an overestimation in the age of the current population’s molecular age. If this is true, then Europe could have been populated far more recently, e.g. during the Neolithic, by a more diverse founding population (Barbujani et al. 1998, from Richards 2000). As Chikhi states: “We argue that many mitochondrial lineages whose origin has been traced back to the Palaeolithic period probably reached Europe at a later time”. However, Richards et al. (2000) maintain these findings even when founding population heterogeneity is considered. In one such study, Wolfgang Haak extracted ancient mtDNA from what they present as early European farmers from the Linear Pottery Culture in central Europe. The bodies contained a 25% frequency of mtDNA N1a, a haplogroup which they assumed to be linked to the Neolithic. Today the frequency of this haplogroup is a mere 0.2%. Haak presented this as supportive evidence for a Palaeolithic European ancestry.
Formerly there had been much debate about whether the westerly spread of agriculture from the Near East was driven by farmers actually migrating, or by the transfer of ideas and technologies to indigenous hunter-gatherers. However, in a very recent study in 2010, researchers have studied the genetic diversity of modern populations to throw light on the processes involved in these ancient events. The new study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, examines the diversity of the Y chromosome. Mark Jobling, who led the research, said: “We focused on the commonest Y-chromosome lineage in Europe, carried by about 110 million men, it follows a gradient from south-east to north-west, reaching almost 100% frequency in Ireland. We looked at how the lineage is distributed, how diverse it is in different parts of Europe, and how old it is.” The results suggested that the lineage R1b1b2 (R-M269), like E1b1b or J lineages, spread together with farming from the Near East. Prior archaeological and metrological studies had arrived at similar conclusions in support of the migrationist model.
Dr Patricia Balaresque, first author of the study, added: “In total, this means that more than 80% of European Y chromosomes descend from incoming farmers. In contrast, most maternal genetic lineages seem to descend from hunter-gatherers. To us, this suggests a reproductive advantage for farming males over indigenous hunter-gatherer males during the switch from hunting and gathering, to farming”.
However, recently a study has shown there to be serious flaws in the above proposed model, pointing out the overgeneralization inherit in the studies of Baleresque 2010. Furthermore, Busby et. al 2012 point out ” For this haplogroup to be so ubiquitous, the population carrying R-S127 would have displaced most of the populations present in western Europe after the Neolithic agricultural transition “. Clearly common sense dictates that this did not happen. Also they go on to show that within the european specific R-M269 sub-lineage, defined by SNP S127, there exists distinct sub-haplogroups and at this level there exists several ” geographically localized pockets, with individual R-M269 sub- haplogroups dominating “. There conclusions were that it is likely that R-S127 was already present in native european populations and grew into several geographically distinct sub-lineages across Europe before Neolithic expansion occurred.
A study of Neolithic skeletons in the Great Hungarian Plain found a high frequency of eastern Asian maternal (mtDNA) haplogroups.
There is no direct evidence of the languages spoken in the Neolithic. Some proponents of paleolinguistics attempt to extend the methods of historical linguistics to the Stone Age, but this has little academic support. Criticising scenarios which envision for the Neolithic only a small number of language families spread over huge areas of Europe (as in modern times), Donald Ringe has argued on general principles of language geography (as concerns “tribal”, pre-state societies), and the scant remains of (apparently indigenous) non-Indo-European languages attested in ancient inscriptions, that Neolithic Europe must have been a place of great linguistic diversity, with many language families with no recoverable linguistic links to each other, much like western North America prior to European colonisation.
Discussion of hypothetical languages spoken in the European Neolithic is divided into two topics, Indo-European languages and “Pre-Indo-European” languages.
Early Indo-European languages are usually assumed to have reached Europe in the Chalcolithic or early Bronze Age, e.g. with the Corded Ware or Beaker cultures (see also Kurgan hypothesis for related discussions). The Anatolian hypothesis postulates arrival of Indo-European languages with the early Neolithic. Old European hydronymy is taken by Hans Krahe to be the oldest reflection of the early presence of Indo-European in Europe.
Theories of “Pre-Indo-European” languages in Europe are built on scant evidence. The Basque language is the best candidate for a descendant of such a language, but since Basque is a language isolate, there is no comparative evidence to build upon. Theo Vennemann nevertheless postulates a “Vasconic” family, which he supposes had co-existed with an “Atlantic” or “Semitidic” (i.e. para-Semitic) group. Another candidate is a Tyrrhenian family which would have given rise to Etruscan and Raetic in the Iron Age, and possibly also Aegean languages such as Minoan or Pelasgian in the Bronze Age.
In the north, a similar scenario to Indo-European is thought to have occurred with Uralic languages expanding in from the east. In particular, while the Sami languages of the indigenous Sami people belong in the Uralic family, they show considerable substrate influence, thought to represent one or more extinct original languages. The Sami are estimated to have adopted a Uralic language less than 2500 years ago. Some traces of indigenous languages of the Baltic area have been suspected in the Finnic languages as well, but these are much more modest.
Old Europe is a term coined by archaeologist Marija Gimbutas to describe what she perceives as a relatively homogeneous and widespread pre-Indo-European Neolithic culture in Europe, particularly in Malta and the Balkans.
In her major work, The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe: 6500–3500 B.C. (1982), she refers to these Neolithic cultures as Old Europe. Archaeologists and ethnographers working within her framework believe that the evidence points to migrations of the peoples who spoke Indo-European languages at the beginning of the Bronze age (the Kurgan hypothesis). For this reason, Gimbutas and her associates regard the terms Neolithic Europe, Old Europe, and Pre-Indo-European as synonymous.
Old Europe, or Neolithic Europe, refers to the time between the Mesolithic and Bronze Age periods in Europe, roughly from 7000 BC (the approximate time of the first farming societies in Greece) to ca. 1700 BC (the beginning of the Bronze Age in northwest Europe). The duration of the Neolithic varies from place to place: in southeast Europe it is approximately 4000 years (i.e., 7000–3000 BC); in North-West Europe it is just under 3000 years (ca. 4500–1700 BC).
Regardless of specific chronology, many European Neolithic groups share basic characteristics, such as living in small-scale, family-based communities, more egalitarian than the city-states and Chiefdoms of the Bronze Age, subsisting on domestic plants and animals supplemented with the collection of wild plant foods and hunting, and producing hand-made pottery, without the aid of the potter’s wheel. There are also many differences, with some Neolithic communities in southeastern Europe living in heavily fortified settlements of 3,000–4,000 people (e.g., Sesklo in Greece) whereas Neolithic groups in Britain were small (possibly 50–100 people) and highly mobile cattle-herders.
Marija Gimbutas investigated the Neolithic period in order to understand cultural developments in settled village culture in the southern Balkans, which she characterized as peaceful, matrilineal, and possessing a goddess-centered religion. In contrast, she characterizes the later Indo-European influences as warlike, nomadic, and patrilineal. Using evidence from pottery and sculpture, and combining the tools of archaeology, comparative mythology, linguistics, and, most controversially, folklore, Gimbutas invented a new interdisciplinary field, archaeomythology.
In historical times, some ethnonyms are believed to correspond to Pre-Indo-European peoples, assumed to be the descendants of the earlier Old European cultures: the Pelasgians, Minoans, Leleges, Iberians, Etruscans and Basques. Two of the three pre-Greek peoples of Sicily, the Sicans and the Elymians, may also have been pre-Indo-European. The term “Pre-Indo-European” is sometimes extended to refer to Asia Minor and Central Asia, in which case the Hurrians and Urartians are sometimes included.
How many Pre-Indo-European languages existed is not known, nor whether the ancient names of peoples believed, in ancient times or now, to have descended from the pre-ancient population, referred to speakers of distinct languages. Marija Gimbutas (1989), observing a unity of symbols marked especially on pots, but also on other objects, concluded that there may have been a single language spoken in Old Europe. She thought that decipherment would have to wait for the discovery of bilingual texts.
The idea of a Pre-Indo-European language in the region precedes Gimbutas. It went by other names, such as “Pelasgian”, “Mediterranean”, or “Aegean”. Apart from marks on artifacts, the main evidence concerning Pre-Indo-European language is in names: toponyms, ethnonyms, etc., and in roots in other languages believed to be derived from one or more prior languages, possibly unrelated. Reconstruction from the evidence is an accepted, though somewhat speculative, field of study. Suggestions of possible Old European languages include Urbian by Sorin Paliga, the Vasconic substratum hypothesis of Theo Vennemann (also see Sigmund Feist’s Germanic substrate hypothesis), and Tyrsenian languages of Helmut Rix.
The Nordwestblock (English: “Northwest Block”), is a hypothetical cultural region, that several 20th century scholars propose as a prehistoric culture, thought to be roughly bounded by the rivers Meuse, Elbe, Somme and Oise (the present-day Netherlands, Belgium, northern France and western Germany) and possibly the eastern part of England during the Bronze and Iron Ages (3rd to 1st millennia BC, up to the gradual onset of historical sources from the 1st century).
The theory was first proposed by two authors working independently, Hans Kuhn, and Maurits Gysseling, who was partly influenced by Belgian archeologist Siegfried De Laet. Gysseling’s proposal included research indicating that another language may have existed somewhere in between Germanic and Celtic in the Belgian (sic) region.
The term itself Nordwestblock was coined by Hans Kuhn, who considered the inhabitants of this area neither Germanic nor Celtic, thus attributing to the people a distinct ethnicity or culture. According to Kuhn and his followers, the region was Germanised from the beginning of the Common Era, at the latest.
Concerning the language spoken by the Iron Age Nordwestblock population, Kuhn speculated on linguistic affinity to the Venetic language, other hypotheses connect the Northwestblock with the Raetic (“Tyrsenian”) or generic Centum Indo-European (Illyrian, “Old European”).
Gysseling suspected an intermediate Belgian language between Germanic and Celtic, that might have been affiliated to Italic. According to Luc van Durme, a Belgian linguist, toponymic evidence to a former Celtic presence in the Low Countries is near to utterly absent.
Kuhn noted that since Proto-Indo-European (PIE) /b/ was very rare, and since this PIE /b/, via Grimm’s law, is the only source of regularly inherited /p/’s in words in Germanic languages, the many words with /p/’s which do occur must have some other language as source.
Similarly, in Celtic, PIE /p/ disappeared and in regularly inherited words only reappeared in p-Celtic languages as a result of the rule that PIE *kʷ became proto-Celtic *p. All this taken together means that any word in p- in a Germanic language which is not evidently borrowed from either Latin or a p-Celtic language must be a loan from another language, and these words Kuhn ascribes to the Nordwestblock language.
Linguist Peter Schrijver speculates on the reminiscent lexical and typological features of the region, from an unknown substrate whose linguistic influences may have influenced the historical development of the (Romance and Germanic) languages of the region. He assumes the pre-existence of pre-Indo-European languages linked to the archeological Linear Pottery culture and to a family of languages featuring complex verbs, of which the Northwest Caucasian languages might have been the sole survivors. Although assumed to have left traces within all other Indo-European languages as well, its influence would have been especially strong on Celtic languages originating north of the Alps and on the region including Belgium and the Rhineland.
It is uncertain when Germanic began to gain a foothold in the area. The Nordwestblock region north of the Rhine is traditionally conceived as belonging to the realms of the Northern Bronze Age, with the Harpstedt Iron Age generally assumed to represent the Germanic precedents west of the Jastorf culture.
The general development converged with the emergence of Germanic within other previously Northern Bronze Age regions to the east, maybe also involving a certain degree of Germanic cultural diffusion.
The local continuity of the Dutch areas was not substantially affected by pre-Roman (c.q. Celtic) immigration. From about the 1st century CE, this region saw the development of the “Weser-Rhine” group of West Germanic dialects which gave rise to Old Frankish from the 4th century.
The issue still remains unresolved and so far no conclusive evidence has been forwarded to support any alternative. Mallory considers the issue a salutary reminder that some anonymous linguistic groups that do not fully obey the current classification, may have survived to the dawn of historical records.
The archeological case for the Nordwestgroup hypothesis makes reference to a time depth of up to 3000 BCE. The following prehistoric cultures have been attributed to the region, compatible with but not necessarily proving the Nordwestblock hypothesis: The Bell Beaker culture (2700–2100 BCE) is thought to originate from the same geographic area, as early stages of this culture apparently derived from early Corded Ware culture elements, with the Netherlands/Rhineland region as probably the most widely accepted site of origin.
The Bell Beaker culture locally developed into the Bronze Age Barbed Wire Beaker culture (2100–1800 BCE). In the second millennium BCE, the region was at the boundary between the Atlantic and Nordic horizons, split up in a northern and a southern region, roughly divided by the course of the Rhine.
To the north emerged the Elp culture (1800-800 BCE), featuring an initial tumulus phase showing a close relationship to other Northern European tumulus groups (sharing pottery of low quality: Kummerkeramik), and a subsequent smooth local transformation to the Urnfield culture (1200–800) BCE.
The southern region became dominated by the Hilversum culture (1800–800 BCE), which apparently inherited the previous Barbed Wire Beaker cultural ties with Britain. From 800 BCE onwards, the area was influenced by the Celtic Hallstatt culture.
The current view in the Netherlands holds that subsequent Iron Age innovations did not involve substantial Celtic intrusions, but featured a local development from Bronze Age culture.
In the final centuries BC, areas formerly occupied by the Elp culture emerge as the probably Germanic Harpstedt culture west of the Germanic Jastorf culture while the southern parts become assimilated to the Celtic La Tène culture, consistent with Julius Caesar’s account of the Rhine forming the boundary between Celtic and Germanic tribes.
Later, the Roman retreat resulted in the disappearance of imported products like ceramics and coins, and a return to virtually unchanged local Iron Age production methods. To the north people continued to live in the same three-aisled farmhouse, while to the east completely new types of buildings arose. More to the south, in Belgium, archeological results of this period point to immigration from the north.
With the onset of historical records (Tacitus, 1st century), the area was generally called the border region between Celtic (Gaulish) and Germanic influence.
Tribes located in the area include the Batavians, Belgae, Chatti, Hermunduri, Cheruscii, Sicambri, Usipi, Tencteri and Usipetes. Caesar took the course of the Rhine to be the boundary between Gauls and Germans, but also mentioned that a large part of the Belgae had ancestry from east of the Rhine, and one part were even known collectively as “Germani” (the so-called “Germani cisrhenani”). The Belgae were therefore considered Gaulish (and the Usipetes Germanic, etc.) because of their position with respect to the Rhine, and not in the modern linguistic sense of the terms.
The Linear Pottery culture is a major archaeological horizon of the European Neolithic, flourishing ca. 5500–4500 BC. It is abbreviated as LBK (from German: Linearbandkeramik), is also known as the Linear Band Ware, Linear Ware, Linear Ceramics or Incised Ware culture, and falls within the Danubian I culture of V. Gordon Childe.
The densest evidence for the culture is on the middle Danube, the upper and middle Elbe, and the upper and middle Rhine. It represents a major event in the initial spread of agriculture in Europe.
The pottery after which it was named consists of simple cups, bowls, vases and jugs, without handles, but in a later phase with lugs or pierced lugs, bases and necks. They were obviously designed as kitchen dishes, or for the immediate or local transport of food and liquids
Important sites include Nitra in Slovakia; Bylany in the Czech Republic; Langweiler and Zwenkau in Germany; Brunn am Gebirge in Austria; Elsloo, Sittard, Köln-Lindenthal, Aldenhoven, Flomborn and Rixheim on the Rhine; Lautereck and Hienheim on the upper Danube; Rössen and Sonderhausen on the middle Elbe.
Excavations at Oslonki in Poland (dating to 4300 B.C) (Late LBK) revealed a large fortified settlement covering an area of 4,000 sq m. Nearly thirty trapezoidal longhouses and over eighty graves make it one of the richest such settlements in archaeological finds from all of central Europe. The rectangular longhouses were between 7 and 45 meters long and between 5 and 7 meters wide. They were built of massive timber posts chinked with wattle and daub mortar.
Two variants of the early Linear Pottery culture are recognized:
The Early or Western Linear Pottery Culture developed on the middle Danube, including western Hungary, and was carried down the Rhine, Elbe, Oder and Vistula.
The Eastern Linear Pottery Culture flourished in eastern Hungary.
Middle and late phases are also defined. In the middle phase, the Early Linear Pottery Culture intruded upon the Bug-Dniester culture and began to manufacture Musical note pottery. In the late phase, the Stroked Pottery Culture moved down the Vistula and Elbe.
A number of cultures ultimately replaced the Linear Pottery culture over its range, but there is no one-to-one correspondence between its variants and the replacing cultures. The culture map instead is complex. Some of the successor cultures are the Hinkelstein, Großgartach, Rössen, Lengyel, Cucuteni-Trypillian, and Boian-Maritza.
A good many C-14 dates have been acquired on the LBK, making possible statistical analyses, which have been performed on different sample groups. One such analysis by Stadler and Lennais sets 68.2% confidence limits at about 5430–5040 BC; that is, 68.2% of possible dates allowed by variation of the major factors that influence measurement, calculation and calibration fall within that range. The 95.4% confidence interval is 5600–4750 BC.
Data continues to be acquired and therefore any one analysis should be taken as a rough guideline only. Overall it is probably safe to say that the Linear Pottery culture spanned several hundred years of continental European prehistory in the late 6th and early 5th millennia BC, with local variations. Data from Belgium indicate a late survival of LBK there, as late as 4100 BC.
The earliest theory of Linear Pottery Culture origin is that it came from the Starčevo-Körös culture of Serbia and Hungary. Supporting this view is the fact that the LBK appeared earliest ca. 5600–5400 BC on the middle Danube in the Starčevo range. Presumably, the expansion northwards of early Starčevo-Körös produced a local variant reaching the upper Tisza that may have well been created by contact with native epi-Paleolithic people. This small group began a new tradition of pottery, substituting engravings for the paintings of the Balkanic cultures.
A site at Brunn am Gebirge just south of Vienna seems to document the transition to LBK. The site was densely settled in a long house pattern approximately 5550–5200. The lower layers feature Starčevo-type plain pottery, with large number of stone tools made of material from near Lake Balaton, Hungary. Over the time frame, LBK pottery and animal husbandry increased, while the use of stone tools decreased.
The Linear Pottery Culture is not the only food-producing player on the stage of prehistoric Europe. It has been necessary therefore to distinguish between it and the Neolithic, which was most easily done by dividing the Neolithic of Europe into chronological phases. These have varied a great deal. An approximation is as follows:
Early Neolithic. 6000–5500. The first appearance of food-producing cultures in the south of the future Linear Pottery Culture range: the Körös of southern Hungary and the Bug-Dniester culture in the Ukraine.
Middle Neolithic. 5500–5000. Early and Middle Linear Pottery Culture.
Late Neolithic. 5000–4500. Late Linear Pottery and legacy cultures.
The last phase is no longer the end of the Neolithic. A “Final Neolithic” has been added to the transition between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age. All numbers depend to some extent on the geographic region.
The pottery styles of the LBK allow some division of its window in time. Conceptual schemes have varied somewhat. One is as follows:
Early. The Eastern and Western LBK cultures, originating on the middle Danube.
Middle. Musical Note pottery. The incised lines of the decoration are broken or terminated by punctures, or “strokes”, giving the appearance of musical notes. The culture expanded to its maximum extent. Regional variants appeared. One variant is the late Bug-Dniester culture.
Late. Stroked pottery. Lines of punctures are substituted for the incised lines.
In 2005, scientists successfully sequenced mtDNA coding region 15997–16409 derived from 24 7,500-7,000 year-old, human remains associated with the LBK Culture. Of those remains 22 were from locations in Germany near the Harz Mountains and the upper Rhine Valley while one was from Austria and one from Hungary. The scientists did not reveal the detailed hypervariable segment I (HVSI) sequences for all the samples but identified that 7 of the samples belonged to H or V branch of the mtDNA phylogenetic tree, 6 belonged to the N1a branch, 5 belonged to the T branch, 4 belonged to the K(U8) branch, one belonged to the J branch, and one belonged to the U3 branch. All branches are extant in the current European population.
Comparison of the N1a HVSI sequences with sequences of living individuals found three of them to correspond with those of individuals currently living in Europe. Two of the sequences corresponded to ancestral nodes predicted to exist or to have existed on the European branch of the phylogenetic tree. One of the sequences is related to European populations but with no apparent descendants amongst the modern population. The N1a evidence supports the notion that the descendants of LBK culture have lived in Europe for more than 7,000 years and have become an integral part of the current European population. The lack of mtDNA haplogroup U5 supports the notion that U5 at this time is uniquely associated with mesolithic European cultures.
A 2010 study of ancient DNA suggested that the LBK population had affinities to modern-day populations from the Near East and Anatolia. The study also found some unique features, such as the prevailance of the now-rare Y-haplogroup F* and mitochondrial haplogroup frequencies.
In the East
The Khabur River is the largest perennial tributary to the Euphrates in Syrian territory. Although the Khabur originates in Turkey, the karstic springs around Ra’s al-‘Ayn are the river’s main source of water. Several important wadis join the Khabur north of Al-Hasakah, together creating what is known as the Khabur Triangle, or Upper Khabur area. From north to south, annual rainfall in the Khabur basin decreases from over 400 mm to less than 200 mm, making the river a vital water source for agriculture throughout history. The Khabur joins the Euphrates near the town of Busayrah.
Since the 1930s, numerous archaeological excavations and surveys have been carried out in the Khabur Valley, indicating that the region has been occupied since the Lower Palaeolithic period. Important sites that have been excavated include Tell Halaf, Tell Brak, Tell Leilan, Tell Mashnaqa, Tell Mozan and Tell Barri. The region has given its name to a distinctive painted ware found in northern Mesopotamia and Syria in the early 2nd millennium BCE, called Khabur ware. The region of the Khabur River is also associated with the rise of the kingdom of the Mitanni that flourished c.1500-1300 BC.
The Northeast Caucasian languages constitute a language family spoken in the Russian republics of Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, northern Azerbaijan, and in northeastern Georgia, as well as in diaspora populations in Russia, Turkey, and the Middle East. They are also called Nakho-Dagestanian / Nakh-Dagestanian or just Dagestanian (Daghestanian), or sometimes Caspian, as opposed to Pontic for the Northwest Caucasian languages.
Some linguists think that the Northeast and Northwest Caucasian languages should be joined into a putative North Caucasian family, sometimes called Caucasic or Caucasian (even though it is not meant to include the South Caucasian (Kartvelian) family). However, this hypothesis is not well demonstrated.
There are similarities between the Northeast Caucasian family and the extinct languages Hurrian and Urartian. Hurrian was spoken in various parts of the Fertile Crescent in the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC. Urartian was the language of Urartu, a powerful state centered in the area of Lake Van in Turkey, that existed between 1000 BC or earlier and 585 BC.
The two extinct languages have been grouped into the Hurro-Urartian family. Diakonoff proposed the name Alarodian for the union of Hurro-Urartian and Northeast Caucasian.
The Proto-Northeast Caucasian language had many terms for agriculture, and Johanna Nichols has suggested that its speakers may have been involved in the development of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent. They had words for concepts such as yoke, as well as fruit trees such as apple and pear that suggest agriculture was already well developed when the proto-language broke up.
Halaf culture, is a prehistoric culture which developed from Neolithic III at Tell Halaf without any strong break. The Tell Halaf site flourished from about 6100 to 5400 BCE, a period of time that is referred to as the Halaf period. The Halaf culture was succeeded in northern Mesopotamia by the Ubaid culture. The site was then abandoned for a long period.
Halaf pottery has been found in other parts of northern Mesopotamia, such as at Nineveh and Tepe Gawra, Chagar Bazar and at many sites in Anatolia (Turkey) suggesting that it was widely used in the region. In addition, the Halaf communities made female figurines of partially baked clay and stone and stamp seals of stone, (see also Impression seal). The seals are thought to mark the development of concepts of personal property, as similar seals were used for this purpose in later times. The Halaf people used tools made of stone and clay. Copper was also known, but was not used for tools.
The Hurrians had a reputation in metallurgy. The Sumerians borrowed their copper terminology from the Hurrian vocabulary. Copper was traded south to Mesopotamia from the highlands of Anatolia. The Khabur Valley had a central position in the metal trade, and copper, silver and even tin were accessible from the Hurrian-dominated countries Kizzuwatna and Ishuwa situated in the Anatolian highland. Gold was in short supply, and the Amarna letters inform us that it was acquired from Egypt. Not many examples of Hurrian metal work have survived, except from the later Urartu. Some small fine bronze lion figurines were discovered at Urkesh.
Tell Arpachiyah (outside modern Mosul in Ninawa Governorate Iraq) is an Ancient Near East prehistoric site that takes its name from a more recent village located about 4 miles from Nineveh. The proper name of the mound on which the site is located is Tepe Reshwa.
The site was occupied in the Halaf and Ubaid periods. It appears to have been heavily involved in the manufacture of pottery. The pottery recovered there formed the basis of the internal chronology of the Halaf period. Several Halaf structures were uncovered, including tholoi and the “Burnt House”. An array of Halaf pottery and sealings were also found, along with some Ubaid burials.
Tell Leilan is an archaeological site situated near the Wadi Jarrah in the Khabur River basin in Al-Hasakah Governorate, northeastern Syria, a region formerly a part of ancient Assyria. The site has been occupied since the 5th millennium BC. During the late third millennium, the site was known as Shekhna. The city originated around 5000 BC as a small farming village and grew to be a large city ca. 2600 BC, three hundred years before the Akkadian Empire.
Khabur ware is a specific type of pottery named after the Khabur River region, in northeastern Syria, where large quantities of it were found by the archaeologist Max Mallowan at the site of Chagar Bazar. The pottery’s distribution is not confined to the Khabur region, but spreads across northern Iraq and is also found at a few sites in Turkey and Iran.
Four main Khabur ware phases are established, 1-4. While the starting date for phase 1 is inconclusive, a tentative date of ca. 1900 BC is suggested based on evidence from Tell Brak. The beginning of the second, and the main, phase of Khabur ware is dated to the reign of Shamshi-Adad I (ca. 1813 BC), based on evidence from Chagar Bazar, Tell al-Rimah, Tell Taya and Tell Leilan. The third phase of Khabur ware is dated to ca. 1750, and lasts until ca. 1550. The fourth and last phase, is a period shared between Khabur ware and Nuzi ware, and ends with the its disappearance ca. 1400 BC.
The pottery is wheel-made and decorated with monochrome designs in red, brown or black. The designs found on the pottery are combinations of simple motifs, usually geometric with horizontal bands, triangles and others. Naturalistic designs become more common in its later phases. Its final phase manifests jars with button bases and tall vertical necks, a form characteristic of the painted Nuzi ware, of the Late Bronze Age, which indicates an overlap between the two wares until the disappearance of the Khabur ware.
Nuzi (or Nuzu; Akkadian Gasur; modern Yorghan Tepe, Iraq) was an ancient Mesopotamian city southwest of Kirkuk in modern Al Ta’amim Governorate of Iraq, located near the Tigris river. The site consists of one medium sized multiperiod tell and two small single period mounds.
The history of the site during the intervening period is unclear, though the presence of a few cuneiform tables from Old Assyria indicates that trade with nearby Assur was taking place. After the fall of the Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni to the Hittites, Nuzi fell to the Assyrians and went into decline. Note that while Hurrian period is well known because those levels of the site were fully excavated, the earlier history is less firm because of only scanty digging. The history of Nuzi is closely interrelated with that of the nearby towns of Eshnunna and Khafajah.
Hassuna or Tell Hassuna is an ancient Mesopotamian site situated in what was to become ancient Assyria, and is now in the Ninawa Governorate of Iraq west of the Tigris river, south of Mosul and about 35 km southwest of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh.
By around 6000 BC people had moved into the foothills (piedmont) of northernmost Mesopotamia where there was enough rainfall to allow for “dry” agriculture in some places. These were the first farmers in northernmost Mesopotamia. They made Hassuna style pottery (cream slip with reddish paint in linear designs). Hassuna people lived in small villages or hamlets ranging from 2 to 8 acres (32,000 m2).
At Tell Hassuna, adobe dwellings built around open central courts with fine painted pottery replace earlier levels with crude pottery. Hand axes, sickles, grinding stones, bins, baking ovens and numerous bones of domesticated animals reflect settled agricultural life. Female figurines have been related to worship and jar burials within which food was placed related to belief in afterlife. The relationship of Hassuna pottery to that of Jericho suggests that village culture was becoming widespread.
The Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPN, around 8,500-5,500 BCE) represents the early Neolithic in the Levantine and upper Mesopotamian region of the Fertile Crescent. It succeeds the Natufian culture of the Epipaleolithic (Mesolithic) as the domestication of plants and animals was in its beginnings and triggered by the Younger Dryas. The Pre-Pottery Neolithic culture came to an end around the time of the 8.2 kiloyear event, a cool spell lasting several hundred years centred around 6200 BCE.
The Pre-Pottery Neolithic is divided into Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA 8,500 BCE – 7,600 BCE) and the following Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB 7,600 BCE – 6,000 BCE). These were originally defined by Kathleen Kenyon in the type site of Jericho (Palestine). The Pre-Pottery Neolithic precedes the ceramic Neolithic (Yarmukian). At ‘Ain Ghazal in Jordan the culture continued a few more centuries as the so-called Pre-Pottery Neolithic C culture.
Around 8,000 BCE during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) the world’s first town Jericho appeared in the Levant. PPNB differed from PPNA in showing greater use of domesticated animals, a different set of tools, and new architectural styles.
Like the earlier PPNA people, the PPNB culture developed from the Earlier Natufian but shows evidence of a northerly origin, possibly indicating an influx from the region of north eastern Anatolia. The culture disappeared during the 8.2 kiloyear event, a term that climatologists have adopted for a sudden decrease in global temperatures that occurred approximately 8200 years before the present, or c. 6200 BCE, and which lasted for the next two to four centuries. In the following Munhatta and Yarmukian post-pottery Neolithic cultures that succeeded it, rapid cultural development continues, although PPNB culture continued in the Amuq valley, where it influenced the later development of Ghassulian culture.
Work at the site of ‘Ain Ghazal in Jordan has indicated a later Pre-Pottery Neolithic C period which lasted between 8200 and 7900 BP. Juris Zarins has proposed that a Circum Arabian Nomadic Pastoral Complex developed in the period from the climatic crisis of 6200 BCE, partly as a result of an increasing emphasis in PPNB cultures upon animal domesticates, and a fusion with Harifian hunter gatherers in Southern Palestine, with affiliate connections with the cultures of Fayyum and the Eastern Desert of Egypt, which spread Proto-Semitic languages through the region. Cultures practicing this lifestyle spread down the Red Sea shoreline and moved east from Syria into Southern Iraq.
As Harifian used the Outacha retouch point technique found earlier in the Fayyum, it has been suggested that Proto-Semitic may have come from Egypt across the Sinai. The climatic recovery during the Chalcolithic, led to the development of the secondary products revolution and the Ghassulian culture, pioneering the Mediterranean mixed economy with subsistence horticulture, extensive grain farming, commercial production of olives and wine, and nomadic transhumance pastoralism. The mix has varied historically with climate change. The Ghassulians are usually accepted as being early Semitic speakers.
Ghassulian refers to a culture and an archaeological stage dating to the Middle Chalcolithic Period in the Southern Levant (c. 3800–c. 3350 BC). Considered to correspond to the Halafian culture of North Syria and Mesopotamia, its type-site, Tulaylat al-Ghassul, is located in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea in modern Jordan and was excavated in the 1930s.
The Ghassulian stage was characterized by small hamlet settlements of mixed farming peoples, and migrated southwards from Syria into Israel. Houses were trapezoid-shaped and built mud-brick, covered with remarkable polychrome wall paintings. Their pottery was highly elaborate, including footed bowls and horn-shaped drinking goblets, indicating the cultivation of wine. Several samples display the use of sculptural decoration or of a reserved slip (a clay and water coating partially wiped away while still wet). The Ghassulians were a Chalcolithic culture as they also smelted copper. Funerary customs show evidence that they buried their dead in stone dolmens.
Ghassulian culture has been identified at numerous other places in what is today southern Israel, especially in the region of Beersheba. The Ghassulian culture correlates closely with the Amratian of Egypt and may have had trading affinities (e.g., the distinctive churns, or “bird vases”) with early Minoan culture in Crete.
Ghassulian culture replaced the Minhata and Yarmukian culture, and seems to have developed in part from a fusion of Pre-Pottery Neolithic B in the Amuq Valley, with Minhata and nomadic pastoralists of the circum Arabian nomadic pastoral complex. It was associated with the Older Peron, which began in the 5000 BCE to 4900 BCE era, and lasted to about 4100 BCE, a period of generally clement and balmy weather conditions that favored plant growth.
The Ghassulian phase seems to have been formative for the Canaanite civilization – in which a chalcolithic structure pioneered a Mediterranean mixed economy, involving the intensive subsistence production of horticultural fruit and vegetables, extensive farming of grains and cereals, transhumance and nomadic pastoral systems of animal husbandry, and commercial production (as in Crete) of wine and olives.
The Ubaid period (ca. 6500 to 3800 BC) is a prehistoric period of Mesopotamia. The tell (mound) of al-`Ubaid west of nearby Ur in southern Iraq’s Dhi Qar Governorate has given its name to the prehistoric Pottery Neolithic to Chalcolithic culture, which represents the earliest settlement on the alluvial plain of southern Mesopotamia. The Ubaid culture had a long duration beginning before 5300 BC and lasting until the beginning of the Uruk period, c. 4000 BC. The adoption of the wheel and the beginning of the Chalcolithic period fall into the Ubaid period.
The Ubaid period as a whole, based upon the analysis of grave goods, was one of increasingly polarised social stratification and decreasing egalitarianism. Bogucki describes this as a phase of “Trans-egalitarian” competitive households, in which some fall behind as a result of downward social mobility. Morton Fried and Elman Service have hypothesised that Ubaid culture saw the rise of an elite class of hereditary chieftains, perhaps heads of kin groups linked in some way to the administration of the temple shrines and their granaries, responsible for mediating intra-group conflict and maintaining social order. It would seem that various collective methods, perhaps instances of what Thorkild Jacobsen called primitive democracy, in which disputes were previously resolved through a council of one’s peers, were no longer sufficient for the needs of the local community.
Ubaid culture originated in the south, but still has clear connections to earlier cultures in the region of middle Iraq. The appearance of the Ubaid folk has sometimes been linked to the so-called Sumerian problem, related to the origins of Sumerian civilisation. Whatever the ethnic origins of this group, this culture saw for the first time a clear tripartite social division between intensive subsistence peasant farmers, with crops and animals coming from the north, tent-dwelling nomadic pastoralists dependent upon their herds, and hunter-fisher folk of the Arabian littoral, living in reed huts.
Stein and Özbal describe the Near East oikumene that resulted from Ubaid expansion, contrasting it to the colonial expansionism of the later Uruk period. “A contextual analysis comparing different regions shows that the Ubaid expansion took place largely through the peaceful spread of an ideology, leading to the formation of numerous new indigenous identities that appropriated and transformed superficial elements of Ubaid material culture into locally distinct expressions.”
During the Ubaid Period [5000 B.C.– 4000 B.C.], the movement towards urbanization began. “Agriculture and animal husbandry [domestication] were widely practiced in sedentary communities.” There were also tribes that practiced domesticating animals as far north as Turkey, and as far south as the Zagros Mountains.
Sāmarrā is a city in Iraq. It stands on the east bank of the Tigris in the Salah ad-Din Governorate, 125 kilometers (78 mi) north of Baghdad.
The remains of ancient Samarra were first excavated between 1911 and 1914 by the German Archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld. Since 1946, the notebooks, letters, unpublished excavation reports and photographs have been in the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
Though the present archaeological site covered by mudbrick ruins is vast, the site of Samarra was only lightly occupied in ancient times, apart from the Chalcolithic Samarran Culture (ca 5500–4800 BC) identified at the rich site of Tell Sawwan, where evidence of irrigation—including flax— establishes the presence of a prosperous settled culture with a highly organized social structure. The culture is primarily known by its finely-made pottery decorated against dark-fired backgrounds with stylized figures of animals and birds and geometric designs. This widely-exported type of pottery, one of the first widespread, relatively uniform pottery styles in the Ancient Near East, was first recognized at Samarra. The Samarran Culture was the precursor to the Mesopotamian culture of the Ubaid period.
A city of Sur-marrati, refounded by Sennacherib in 690 BC according to a stele in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, is insecurely identified with a fortified Assyrian site of Assyrian at al-Huwaysh, on the Tigris opposite to modern Samarra.
Ancient toponyms for Samarra noted by the Samarra Archaeological Survey are Greek Souma (Ptolemy V.19, Zosimus III, 30), Latin Sumere, a fort mentioned during the retreat of the army of Julian the Apostate in 363 AD (Ammianus Marcellinus XXV, 6, 4), and Syriac Sumra (Hoffmann, Auszüge, 188; Michael the Syrian, III, 88), described as a village.
Sumer (from Akkadian Šumeru; Sumerian ki-en-ĝir, approximately “land of the civilized kings” or “native land”was an ancient civilization and historical region in southern Mesopotamia, modern Iraq, during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age.
Although the earliest historical records in the region do not go back much further than ca. 2900 BC, modern historians have asserted that Sumer was first settled between ca. 4500 and 4000 BC by a non-Semitic people who may or may not have spoken the Sumerian language (pointing to the names of cities, rivers, basic occupations, etc. as evidence). These conjectured, prehistoric people are now called “proto-Euphrateans” or “Ubaidians”, and are theorized to have evolved from the Samarra culture of northern Mesopotamia (Assyria).
The Ubaidians were the first civilizing force in Sumer, draining the marshes for agriculture, developing trade, and establishing industries, including weaving, leatherwork, metalwork, masonry, and pottery. However, some scholars such as Piotr Michalowski and Gerd Steiner, contest the idea of a Proto-Euphratean language or one substrate language.
The Sumerians were a non-Semitic people, and spoke a language isolate; a number of linguists believed they could detect a substrate language beneath Sumerian, names of some of Sumer’s major cities are not Sumerian, revealing influences of earlier inhabitants. However, the archaeological record shows clear uninterrupted cultural continuity from the time of the Early Ubaid period (5300 – 4700 BC C-14) settlements in southern Mesopotamia. The Sumerian people who settled here farmed the lands in this region that were made fertile by silt deposited by the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers.
It is speculated by some archaeologists that Sumerian speakers were farmers who moved down from the north, after perfecting irrigation agriculture there [note there is no consensus among scholars on the origins of the Sumerians]. The Ubaid pottery of southern Mesopotamia has been connected via Choga Mami Transitional ware to the pottery of the Samarra period culture (c. 5700 – 4900 BC C-14) in the north, who were the first to practice a primitive form of irrigation agriculture along the middle Tigris River and its tributaries. The connection is most clearly seen at Tell Awayli (Oueilli, Oueili) near Larsa, excavated by the French in the 1980s, where 8 levels yielded pre-Ubaid pottery resembling Samarran ware. Farming peoples spread down into southern Mesopotamia because they had developed a temple-centered social organization for mobilizing labor and technology for water control, enabling them to survive and prosper in a difficult environment.
Others have suggested a continuity of Sumerians, from the indigenous hunter-fisherfolk traditions, associated with the Arabian bifacial assemblages found on the Arabian littoral. The Sumerians themselves claimed kinship with the people of Dilmun, associated with Bahrein in the Persian Gulf. Juris Zarins has suggested that they may have been the people living in the region of the Persian Gulf before it flooded at the end of the Ice Age.
During the third millennium BC, there developed a very intimate cultural symbiosis between the Sumerians and the Akkadians, which included widespread bilingualism. The influence of Sumerian on Akkadian (and vice versa) is evident in all areas, from lexical borrowing on a massive scale, to syntactic, morphological, and phonological convergence. This has prompted scholars to refer to Sumerian and Akkadian in the third millennium as a sprachbund.
Akkadian gradually replaced Sumerian as a spoken language somewhere around the turn of the 3rd and the 2nd millennium BC (the exact dating being a matter of debate), but Sumerian continued to be used as a sacred, ceremonial, literary and scientific language in Mesopotamia (Babylonia and Assyria) until the 1st century AD.
The land of Subartu (Akkadian Šubartum/Subartum/ina Šú-ba-ri, Assyrian mât Šubarri) or Subar (Sumerian Su-bir4/Subar/Šubur) is mentioned in Bronze Age literature. The name also appears as Subari in the Amarna letters, and, in the form Šbr, in Ugarit.
Subartu was apparently a polity in Northern Mesopotamia, at the upper Tigris. Most scholars accept Subartu as an early name for Assyria proper on the Tigris, although there are various other theories placing it sometimes a little farther to the east, north or west of there. Its precise location has not been identified. From the point of view of the Akkadian Empire, Subartu marked the northern geographical horizon, just as Martu, Elam and Sumer marked “west”, “east” and “south”, respectively.
The Sumerian mythological epic Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta lists the countries where the “languages are confused” as Subartu, Hamazi, Sumer, Uri-ki (Akkad), and the Martu land (the Amorites). Similarly, the earliest references to the “four quarters” by the kings of Akkad name Subartu as one of these quarters around Akkad, along with Martu, Elam, and Sumer. Subartu in the earliest texts seem to have been farming mountain dwellers, frequently raided for slaves.
Eannatum of Lagash was said to have smitten Subartu or Shubur, and it was listed as a province of the empire of Lugal-Anne-Mundu; in a later era Sargon of Akkad campaigned against Subar, and his grandson Naram-Sin listed Subar along with Armani (Armenians), -which has been identified with Aleppo-, among the lands under his control. Ishbi-Erra of Isin and Hammurabi also claimed victories over Subar.
Three of the 14th century BC Amarna letters, Akkadian cuneiform correspondence found in Egypt, mention Subari as a toponym. All are addressed to Akenaten; in two (EA 108 and 109), Rib-Hadda, king of Byblos, complains that Abdi-Ashirta, ruler of Amurru, had sold captives to Subari, while another (EA 100), from the city of Irqata, also alludes to having transferred captured goods to Subari.
There is also a mention of “Subartu” in the 8th century BC Poem of Erra (IV, 132), along with other lands that have harassed Babylonia. In Neo-Babylonian times (under Nabopolassar, Nebuchadrezzar II and Nabonidus), Subartu was used as a generic term for Assyria. The term was still current under Cambyses II, who mentions Subarian captives.
Subartu may have been in the general sphere of influence of the Hurrians. There are various alternate theories associating the ancient Subartu with one or more modern cultures found in the region, including Armenian or Kurdish tribes. Some scholars, such as Harvard Professor Mehrdad Izady, claim to have identified Subartu with the current Kurdish tribe of Zibaris inhabiting the northern ring around Mosul up to Hakkari in Turkey.
Elam was an ancient civilization centered in the far west and southwest of modern-day Iran, stretching from the lowlands of what is now Khuzestan and Ilam Province, as well as a small part of southern Iraq. The modern name Elam is a transcription from Biblical Hebrew, corresponding to the Sumerian elam(a), the Akkadian elamtu, and the Elamite haltamti. Elamite states were among the leading political forces of the ancient near east. In classical literature, Elam was more often referred to as Susiana, a name derived from its capital, Susa.
Situated just to the east of Mesopotamia, Elam was part of the early urbanization during the Chalcolithic period (Copper Age). The emergence of written records from around 3000 BC also parallels Mesopotamian history, where slightly earlier records have been found.
In the Old Elamite period (Middle Bronze Age), Elam consisted of kingdoms on the Iranian plateau, centered in Anshan, and from the mid-2nd millennium BC, it was centered in Susa in the Khuzestan lowlands. Its culture played a crucial role in the short lived Gutian Empire of the 22nd century BC, and from the 6th century BC, during the Persian Achaemenid dynasty that succeeded Elam, when the Elamite language remained among those in official use. Elamite is generally accepted to be a language isolate.
The Elamites called their country Haltamti, Sumerian ELAM, Akkadian Elamû, female Elamītu “resident of Susiana, Elamite”. Additionally, it is known as Elam in the Hebrew Bible, where they are called the offspring of Elam, eldest son of Shem (see Elam in the Bible; Genesis 10:22, Ezra 4:9), although in actuality the Elamites spoke a non-Semitic language isolate.
The high country of Elam was increasingly identified by its low-lying later capital, Susa. Geographers after Ptolemy called it Susiana. The Elamite civilization was primarily centered in the province of what is modern-day Khuzestān and Ilam in prehistoric times. The modern provincial name Khuzestān is derived from the Persian name for Susa: Old Persian Hūjiya “Elam”, in Middle Persian Huź “Susiana”, which gave modern Persian Xuz, compounded with -stån “place” (cf. Sistan “Saka-land”).
Knowledge of Elamite history remains largely fragmentary, reconstruction being based on mainly Mesopotamian (Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian) sources. The history of Elam is conventionally divided into three periods, spanning more than two millennia. The period before the first Elamite period is known as the proto-Elamite period:
Proto-Elamite: c. 3200 BC – 2700 BC (Proto-Elamite script in Susa)
Old Elamite period: c. 2700 BC – 1600 BC (earliest documents until the Eparti dynasty)
Middle Elamite period: c. 1500 BC – 1100 BC (Anzanite dynasty until the Babylonian invasion of Susa)
Neo-Elamite period: c. 1100 BC – 539 BC (characterized Assyrian and Median influence. 539 BC marks the beginning of the Achaemenid period)
Proto-Elamite civilization grew up east of the Tigris and Euphrates alluvial plains; it was a combination of the lowlands and the immediate highland areas to the north and east. At least three proto-Elamite states merged to form Elam: Anshan (modern Fars), Awan (probably modern Luristan), and Shimashki (modern Kerman).
References to Awan are generally older than those to Anshan, and some scholars suggest that both states encompassed the same territory, in different eras. To this core Shushiana (modern Khuzestan) was periodically annexed and broken off. In addition, some Proto-Elamite sites are found well outside this area, spread out on the Iranian plateau; such as Warakshe, Sialk (now a suburb of the modern city of Kashan) and Jiroft in Kerman Province.
The state of Elam was formed from these lesser states as a response to invasion from Sumer during the Old Elamite period. Elamite strength was based on an ability to hold these various areas together under a coordinated government that permitted the maximum interchange of the natural resources unique to each region. Traditionally, this was done through a federated governmental structure.
The Proto-Elamite city of Susa was founded around 4000 BC in the watershed of the river Karun. It is considered to be the site of Proto-Elamite cultural formation. During its early history, it fluctuated between submission to Mesopotamian and Elamite power.
The earliest levels (22–17 in the excavations conducted by Le Brun, 1978) exhibit pottery that has no equivalent in Mesopotamia, but for the succeeding period, the excavated material allows identification with the culture of Sumer of the Uruk period.