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Beyond the Levant: First Evidence of a Pre-Pottery Neolithic Incursion into the Nefud Desert, Saudi

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Current understanding of early people living during the Neolithic period is rooted in excavation sites in the Fertile Crescent. The Fertile Crescent is home to several major innovations, including the domestication of animals and the development of cereal. The discovery of Helwan arrowheads in Saudi Arabia alludes to this hotspot of innovation and technology and suggests possible interaction between these early Neolithic peoples.

The stone tool assemblage from the site JQ-101 contains lithic types, including El-Khiam and Helwan projectile points, which are similar to those recorded in Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B assemblages in the Fertile Crescent. The Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) dates to c. 10,300-9,600 BP with the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) at c. 9,600-8,600 BP.

A typical Naqada II jar decorated with gazelles (Predynastic Period)

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A typical Naqada II pot with ship theme

Predynastic Period, Naqada II, ca. 3450–3300 BC

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Samarra, Iraq, circa 5000 BC

Hassuna, Nineveh Province (Iraq), 5500 BC

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Halaf; Sabi Abyad, 6000-5000 BC

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Diyala region, eastern Iraq, 4300-3100 BC

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Kulli, Pakistan, before 3000 BC

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Harappa, Indus River, Pakistan

By about 3600 BC, neolithic Egyptian societies along the Nile River had based their culture on the raising of crops and the domestication of animals. Shortly after 3600 BC Egyptian society began to grow and advance rapidly toward refined civilization.

A new and distinctive pottery, which was related to the pottery of the Southern Levant, appeared during this time. Extensive use of copper became common during this time.

The Mesopotamian process of sun-dried bricks, and architectural building principles – including the use of the arch and recessed walls for decorative effect – became popular during this time.

Thinking about spending the summer in the sun and sand? Early Neolithic humans may have thought so too, although with more survival-oriented goals in mind. A recent study published in PLOS ONE suggests that early humans, who set up camp in the Eastern Mediterranean (about 10,000 BCE), may have traveled as far as Saudi Arabia in search of game and water.

In this study, researchers unearthed several types of Neolithic arrowheads in the northern peninsula of Saudi Arabia at the site of Jebel Qattar, which suggests a link between Neolithic people of the Levant—modern-day Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestine, and Cyprus—to areas as far south as Saudi Arabia.

Arrowheads and other tools are, by and large, the main type of early human artifact observable today prior to the introduction of pottery (about 7000 BCE), and are integral to our understanding of the people who created and used them. Tools and arrowheads types, like the ones discovered at Jebel Qattar, provide researchers with evidence of early technology used for hunting.

Accurately identifying early Neolithic artifacts is a tough job—these arrowheads are over 10,000 years old, after all—and requires researchers to carefully sift out other objects uncovered during surface collection and trench excavations. In fact, the researchers discovered a total of 887 stone tools at the site of Jebel Qattar, only ten of which have been identified as Levantine types, known more specifically to researchers as El-Khiam and Helwan points.

Named for their places of origin in South Lebanon and Egypt respectively, the El-Khiam and Helwan arrowhead types are common to Levantine sites throughout the Neolithic period. This study, however, represents the first time archaeologists have discovered them in the Nefud Desert of Saudi Arabia.

Current understanding of early people living during the Neolithic period is rooted in excavation sites in the Levant and the larger area of the Fertile Crescent—the area in green on the map above—a geographical region containing parts of Western Asia, including the Levant, as well as parts of the Nile Valley and Nile Delta of northeast Africa.

The Fertile Crescent is home to several major innovations, including the domestication of animals and the development of cereal, and is often known as the ‘cradle of civilization’.

The discovery of Neolithic El-Khiam and Helwan arrowheads found at Jebel Qattar in the Nefud Desert of Saudi Arabia, alludes to this hotspot of innovation and technology and suggests possible interaction between these early Neolithic peoples and that there was communication with other areas in the Levant at this time. However, because so little evidence from the Neolithic period survives intact today, our understanding of Neolithic peoples is a work-in-progress.

Nevertheless, tracing Neolithic people from the Levant as far as Saudi Arabia suggests that we may want to study broader areas when considering their trajectory. Of course, there is further exploration to be done beyond the borders of the Levant.

The Natufian, , an Epipaleolithic culture that existed from 13,000 to 9,800 BC. in the Levant, a region in the Eastern Mediterranean, had a microlithic industry, based on short blades and bladelets. The microburin technique was used.

Geometric microliths include lunates, trapezes and triangles. There are backed blades as well. A special type of retouch (Helwan retouch) is characteristic for the early Natufian.

While the period involved makes it difficult to speculate on any language associated with the Natufian culture, linguists who believe it is possible to speculate this far back in time have written on this subject. As with other Natufian subjects, opinions tend to either emphasize North African connections or Eurasian connections.

Hence Alexander Militarev and others have argued that the Natufian may represent the culture which spoke Proto-Afroasiatic which he in turn believes has a Eurasian origin associated with the concept of Nostratic languages.

Some scholars, for example Christopher Ehret, Roger Blench and others, contend that the Afroasiatic Urheimat is to be found in North or North East Africa, probably in the area of Egypt, the Sahara, Horn of Africa or Sudan.

Within this group, Christopher Ehret, who like Militarev believes Afroasiatic may already have been in existence in the Natufian period, would associate Natufians only with the Near Eastern pre-Proto-Semitic branch of Afroasiatic.

The migration of farmers from the Middle East into Europe is believed to have significantly influenced the genetic profile of contemporary Europeans.

The Natufian culture which existed about 12,000 years ago in the Levant, has been the subject of various archeological investigations as the Natufian culture is generally believed to be the source of the European and North African Neolithic.

The change from hunting and gathering to agriculture during the Neolithic Revolution was a watershed in world history. The societies that first made the change to agriculture are believed to have lived in the Middle East around 10,000 BCE. Agriculture was introduced into Europe by migrating farmers from the Middle East.

According to the demic diffusion model, these Middle Eastern farmers either replaced or interbred with the local hunter-gather populations that had been living in Europe since the “out of Africa” migration.

It has been suggested that the first Middle Eastern farmers had North African influences. There have been suggestions that some genetic lineages found in the Middle East arrived there during this period.

The first Agricultural societies in the Middle East are generally thought to have emerged from the Natufian Culture, which existed in Palestine from 12,000 BCE-10,000 BCE. An important migration from North Africa across the Sinai appears to have occurred before the formation of the Natufian.

According to Bar-Yosef the Natufian culture emerged from the mixing of the Kebaran or Kebarian culture (c. 18,000 to 12,500 BC), indigenous to the Levant, and the Mushabian (14,000 BC), also indigenous to the Levant.

Although the Mushabian industry was once thought to have originated in the Nile Valley it is now known to have originated in the previous lithic industries of the Levant and the eastern Mediterranean area.

The Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert were formidable barriers to gene flow between Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. But Europe was periodically accessible to Africans due to fluctuations in the size and climate of the Sahara.

At the Strait of Gibraltar, Africa and Europe are separated by only 15 km of water. At the Suez, Eurasia is connected to Africa forming a single land mass. The Nile river valley, which runs from East Africa to the Mediterranean Sea served as a bidirectional corridor in the Sahara desert, that frequently connected people from Sub-Saharan Africa with the peoples of Eurasia.

Modern analyses comparing 24 craniofacial measurements reveal a predominantly cosmopolitan population within the pre-Neolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age Fertile Crescent, supporting the view that a diverse population of peoples occupied this region during these time periods.

In particular, evidence demonstrates the presence of North European, Central European, Saharan and strong Sub-Saharan African presence within the region, especially among the Epipalaeolithic Natufians of Israel.

These studies further argue that over time the Sub-Saharan influences would have been “diluted” out of the genetic picture due to interbreeding between Neolithic migrants from the Near East and indigenous hunter-gatherers whom they came in contact with.

Ricaut et al. (2008) associate the Sub-Saharan influences detected in the Natufian samples with the migration of E1b1b lineages from East Africa to the Levant and then into Europe.

Entering the late mesolithic Natufian culture, the E1b1b1a2 (E-V13) sub-clade has been associated with the spread of farming from the Middle East into Europe either during or just before the Neolithic transition. E1b1b1 lineages are found throughout Europe, but are distributed along a South-to-North cline, with a E1b1b1a mode in the Balkans.

“Recently, it has been proposed that E3b originated in sub-Saharan Africa and expanded into the Near East and northern Africa at the end of the Pleistocene. E3b lineages would have then been introduced from the Near East into southern Europe by immigrant farmers, during the Neolithic expansion”.

Also, “a Mesolithic population carrying Group III lineages with the M35/M215 mutation expanded northwards from sub-Saharan to North Africa and the Levant. The Levantine population of farmers that dispersed into Europe during and after the Neolithic carried these African Group III M35/M215 lineages, together with a cluster of Group VI lineages characterized by M172 and M201 mutations”.

Although a migration of people from Africa bringing E-M78 lineages into the Levant took place c. 14,700 years ago it as yet cannot be linked with any of the Levantine cultures at the time (Hamran, Mushabian, Ramonian, Kebaran) or later (Natufian, Harifian, Khiamian) since all are known to have originated in the Levant.

Since a material culture cannot be connected with the E-M78 immigrants into the Levant it is likely they were assimilated into the various Levantine cultures beginning with the Ramonian culture, which was present in the Sinai 14,700 years ago.

This migration coincided with the population overflow in the Sinai and Negev that caused the Geometric Kebarans to fall back to the Mediterranean core area which in turn caused them to develop the Natufian culture as a result of the population increase in the Mediterranean park forest.

The Helwan Retouch, named for their place of origin in Egypt, was a bifacial microlithic flint-tool fabrication technology characteristic of the Early Natufian culture in the Levant, a region in the Eastern Mediterranean (12,500 BP – 11,000 BP) such as the Harifian culture.

Helwan arrowhead types are common to Levantine sites throughout the Neolithic period. The decline of the Helwan Retouch was largely replaced by the “backing” technique and coincided with the emergence of microburin methods, which involved snapping bladelets on an anvil.

Natufian lithic technology throughout the usage of the Helwan Retouch was dominated by lunate-shaped lithics, such as picks and axes and especially sickles (which were predominantly—at least 80% of the time—used for harvesting wild cereals).

In the late Natufian, the Harif-point, a typical arrowhead made from a regular blade, became common in the Negev. Some scholars use it to define a separate culture, the Harifian, a specialized regional cultural development of the Epipalaeolithic of the Negev Desert.

The Harifian corresponds to the latest stages of the Natufian culture. According to scholarly opinion the Harifian culture is derived from the Natufian culture in which the only characteristic that distinguishes it from the Natufian is the Harif point. It is viewed as an adaptation of Natufian hunter gatherers to the Negev and Sinai.

Like the Natufian, it is characterized by semi-subterranean houses. These are often more elaborate than those found at Natufian sites. For the first time arrowheads are found among the stone tool kit.

Andy Burns states “The Harifian dates to between approximately 10,800/10,500bp and 10,000/10,200bp. It is restricted to the Sinai and Negev, and is probably broadly contemporary with the Late Natufian or Pre-Pottery Neolithic A.

Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) denotes the first stage in early Levantine Neolithic culture, dating around 8000 to 7000 BC. Archaeological remains are located in the Levant ne and upper Mesopotamia region of the Fertile Crescent.

Microlithic points are a characteristic feature of the industry, with the Harif point being both new and particularly diagnostic – Bar-Yosef (1998) suggests that it is an indication of improved hunting techniques. Lunates, isosceles and other triangular forms were backed with retouch, and some Helwan lunates are found. This industry contrasts with the Desert Natufian which did not have the roughly triangular points in its assemblage.

There are two main groups within the Harifian. One group consists of ephemeral base camps in the north of Sinai and western Negev, where stone points comprise up to 88% of all microliths, accompanied by only a few lunates and triangles.

The other group consists of base camps and smaller campsites in the Negev and features a greater number of lunates and triangles than points. These sites probably represent functional rather than chronological differences.

The Khiamian (also referred to as El Khiam or El-Khiam) is a period of the Near-Eastern Neolithic, marking the transition between the Natufian and the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A. Some sources date it from about 10,000 to 9,500 BCE. It currently dates between 10,200 and 8800 BC according to the ASPRO chronology.

The Khiamian owes its name to the site of El Khiam, situated on banks of the Dead Sea, where researchers have recovered the oldest chert arrows heads, with lateral notchs, the so-called “El Khiam points”. They have served to identify sites of this period, which are found in Israel, as well as in Jordan (Azraq), Sinai (Abu Madi), and to the north as far as the Middle Euphrates (Mureybet).

Aside from the appearance of El Khiam arrow heads, the Khiamian is placed in the continuity of the Natufian, without any major technical innovations. However, for the first time houses were built on the ground level itself, and not half below ground as was previously done.

Otherwise, the bearers of the El Khiam culture were still hunter-gatherers, and agriculture at that time was then still rather primitive, based on what has been reported on sites of this period.

Newer discoveries show that in the Middle East and Anatolia some experiments with agriculture were being made by 10,900 BC., and that there may already have been experimenting with wild grain processing by around 19,000 BC at Ohalo II.

The Khiamien also sees a change occur in the symbolic aspects of culture, as evidenced by the appearance of small female statuettes, as well as by the burying of aurochs skulls. According to Jacques Cauvin, it is the beginning of the worship of the Woman and the Bull, as evidenced in the following periods of the Near-Eastern Neolithic.

Egypt

The Halfan culture flourished along the Nile Valley of Egypt and Nubia between 20,000 and 15,000 BC. They survived on a diet of large herd animals and the Khormusan, which depended on specialized hunting, fishing, and collecting techniques for survival, tradition of fishing.

Greater concentrations of artifacts indicate that they were not bound to seasonal wandering, but settled for longer periods. They descended from a common ancestor as the the Ibero-Maurusian industry, which spread across the Sahara and into Spain.

The Iberomaurusian culture is a backed bladelet industry found throughout the Maghreb. The industry was originally described in 1909 by the French scholar Pallary, at the site of Abri Mouillah. Other names for the industry have included “Mouillian” and “Oranian”.

Recent fieldwork indicates that the culture existed in the region from around the timing of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), at 20,000 BP, until the Younger Dryas.

The culture is succeeded by the Capsian (10,000 to 6,000 BCE.), a Mesolithic culture of the Maghreb, which was originally thought to have expanded into the Maghreb from the Near East, although later studies have indicated that the Iberomaurusian were the progenitors of the Capsian.

Mechta-Afalou, or Mechtoid, are an extinct people of North Africa. Mechtoids inhabited Northern Africa during late Paleolithic and Mesolithic (Ibero-Maurusian archaeological culture). Mechtoids were assimilated during Neolithic and early Bronze Age by bearers of Afrasian languages.

Anatomically, Capsian populations were traditionally classed into two variegate types: Proto-Mediterranean and Mechta-Afalou on the basis of cranial morphology. Some have argued that they were immigrants from the east, whereas others argue for population continuity based on physical skeletal characteristics and other criteria, et cetera.

The Mediterranean race (sometimes Mediterranid race) is one of the sub-races into which the Caucasian race was categorized by most anthropologists in the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries.

According to various definitions, it was said to be prevalent in Southern and Southeastern Europe (including Southern France and Romania), in North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Western Asia, Central Asia and South Asia, in Latin America (through Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian ancestry), and in certain parts of the British Isles and Germany.

In 2012, National Geographic Society released a new Genealogical DNA test which enables members of the public to participate in the Genographic Project. The test included a Mediterranean genetic component among its 43 reference populations.

The component was found at its highest frequencies in individuals from the Levant, Nort Africa, Southern Europe, the Caucasus and Iran – people from Sardinia (67%), Lebanon (66%), Egypt (65%), Tunisia (62%), Georgia (61%), Kuwait (57%), Greece (54%), Italy (54%), Iberian peninsula (48%), Northern Caucasus (46%), and Iran (42%) in their reference populations.

It is also found at lower frequencies throughout the rest of Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia. According to the authors, this component is “likely the signal of the Neolithic population from the Middle-east, beginning around 8,000 years ago, likely from the western part of the Fertile Crescent.”

Given its widespread occurrence in the Sahara, the Capsian culture is identified by some historical linguists as a possible ancestor of the speakers of modern Afroasiatic languages of North Africa which includes the Berber languages in North Africa.

In summary the various lines of evidence, used to argue for derivation of the Capsian from the east, in fact suggest the opposite, and simpler conclusion of continuity between the Iberomaurusian and Capsian. In the early Holocene as the Iberomaurusian populations moved inland to take advantage of the improved climatic conditions at the end of the Pleistocene adaptive divergence occurred resulting in inter-regional variability.

During this period, the environment of the Maghreb was open savanna, much like modern East Africa, with Mediterranean forests at higher altitudes. The Capsian diet included a wide variety of animals, ranging from aurochs and hartebeest to hares and snails; there is little evidence concerning plants eaten. During the succeeding Neolithic of Capsian Tradition, there is evidence from one site, for domesticated, probably imported, ovicaprids.

Nothing is known about Capsian religion, but their burial methods suggest a belief in an afterlife. Decorative art is widely found at their sites, including figurative and abstract rock art, and ochre is found coloring both tools and corpses.

Ostrich eggshells were used to make beads and containers; seashells were used for necklaces. The Ibero-Maurusian practice of extracting the central incisors continued sporadically, but became rarer.

The period from 9000 to 6000 BC has left very little in the way of archaeological evidence. However, Harifian has close connections with the late Mesolithic cultures of Fayyum and the Eastern Deserts of Egypt, whose tool assemblage resembles that of the Harifian. The Fayum A culture is dated to 5200 BC.

Around 6000 BC, Neolithic settlements appear all over Egypt. Studies based on morphological, genetic, and archaeological data have attributed these settlements to migrants from the Fertile Crescent returning during the Egyptian and North African Neolithic, possibly bringing agriculture to the region. Both pottery, lithics, and economy with Near Eastern characteristics, and lithics with African characteristics are present in the Fayum A culture.

Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) denotes the first stage in early Levantine Neolithic culture, dating around 8000 to 7000 BC. Archaeological remains are located in the Levantine and upper Mesopotamian region of the Fertile Crescent.

The time period is characterized by tiny circular mud brick dwellings, the cultivation of crops, the hunting of wild game, and unique burial customs in which bodies were buried below the floors of dwellings.

The Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and the following Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) were originally defined by Kathleen Kenyon in the type site of Jericho (Palestine). During this time, pottery was not in use yet. They precede the ceramic Neolithic (Yarmukian). PPNA succeeds the Natufian culture of the Epipaleolithic (Mesolithic).

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 8,200 years before the present, or c. 6200 BC, 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 existed between 8,200 and 7,900 BP.

Juris Zarins has proposed that a Circum Arabian Nomadic Pastoral Complex, a group of cultures that invented nomadic pastoralism in the period from the climatic crisis of 6200 BC, 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.

Cultures practicing this lifestyle may have been the original culture which spread Proto-Semitic languages throughout the Southwest Asian region down the Red Sea shoreline and moved east from Syria into southern Iraq.

The Semitic family is a member of the larger Afroasiatic family, all of whose other five or more branches have their origin in North Africa and North East Africa. Largely for this reason, the ancestors of Proto-Semitic speakers were originally believed by some to have first arrived in the Middle East from North Africa, possibly as part of the operation of the Saharan pump, around the late Neolithic.

The earliest attestations of a Semitic language are in Akkadian, dating to ca. the 23rd century BC and Eblaite, but earlier evidence of Akkadian comes from personal names in Sumerian texts circa 2800 BC. Researchers in Egypt also claim to have discovered Canaanite snake spells that “date from between 3000 and 2400 BC”. The specific appearance of the donkey (an African animal) in Proto-Semitic but total absence of any reference to wheeled vehicles rather narrowly dates Proto-Semitic to between 3,800 BC and 3,500 BC.

In one interpretation, Proto-Semitic itself is assumed to have reached the Arabian Peninsula by approximately the 4th millennium BC, from which Semitic daughter languages continued to spread outwards.

When written records began in the late 4th millennium BC, the Semitic-speaking Akkadians (Assyrians/Babylonians) were entering Mesopotamia from the deserts to the west, and were probably already present in places such as Ebla in Syria. Akkadian personal names began appearing in written record in Mesopotamia from the late 29th Century BC.

Semiticists have put importance in locating the urheimat of the Proto-Semitic language since all modern Semitic languages can be traced back to a common ancestor. The urheimat of the Proto-Semites cannot be determined without considering the larger Afro-Asiatic family to which it belongs. The previously popular Arabian urheimat hypothesis has been largely abandoned since the region could not have supported massive waves of emigration before the domestication of camels in the second millennium BC.

Diakonoff sees Semitic originating between the Nile Delta and Canaan as the northernmost branch of Afroasiatic. A recent Bayesian analysis of alternative Semitic histories supports the latter possibility and identifies an origin of Semitic languages in the Levant around 3,750 BC with a single introduction from southern Arabia into Africa around 800 BC.

According to the proponents of this theory, the non-Semitic toponyms preserved in Akkadian and Palaeosyrian languages suggest that Syria and Mesopotamia were originally inhabited by a non-Semitic population. Edward Lipinski believes that support for an African origin is provided by the relationship between Afro-Asiatic and the Niger–Congo languages, whose urheimat probably lies in Nigeria-Cameroon.

He states that the most numerous isoglosses and lexicostatistical convergences link proto-Semitic to Libyco-Berber and that proto-Semitic speakers were still living in the Neolithic Subpluvial in the 5th millennium BC when the Sahara was much wetter, retaining a link with Berber long after other Egyptic and Proto-Chadic separated.

Rock drawings attest to a vibrant Neolithic culture in the Sahara that collapsed due to desertification and climate change ca. 3500 BC, forcing the Proto-Semites to emigrate en masse through the Nile Delta to western Asia. They were probably responsible for the collapse of the Ghassulian culture in Palestine around 3300 BC.

Another indication of the arrival of the proto-Semitic culture is the appearance of tumuli in 4th and 3rd millennium Palestine, which were typical characteristic of Neolithic North Africa. It is possible that at this point, the ancestors of the speakers of Elamite moved towards Iran, although the inclusion of Elamite in Afroasiatic is only contemplated by a tiny minority.

The earliest wave of Semitic speakers were the Akkadians, who entered the fertile crescent via Palestine and Syria and eventually founded the first Semitic empire at Kish. Their relatives, the Amorites, followed them and settled Syria before 2500 BC.

The collapse of the Bronze Age culture in Palestine led the Southern Semites southwards, where they reached the highlands of Yemen after 2000 BC. Those crossed back to the Horn of Africa between 1500–500 BC.

By the late 3rd millennium BC, East Semitic languages, such as Akkadian and Eblaite, were dominant in Mesopotamia and north east Syria, while West Semitic languages, such as Amorite, Canaanite and Ugaritic, were probably spoken from Syria to the Arabian Peninsula, although Old South Arabian is considered by most people to be South Semitic despite the sparsity of data.

The Akkadian language of Akkad, Assyria and Babylonia had became the dominant literary language of the Fertile Crescent, using the cuneiform script that was adapted from the Sumerians around 2000 BC.

Settler colonists from the Near East would most likely have merged with the indigenous cultures resulting in a mixed economy with the agricultural aspect of the economy increasing in frequency through time, which is what the archaeological record more precisely indicates.

However, other regions in Africa independently developed agriculture at about the same time: the Ethiopian highlands, the Sahel, and West Africa. Moreover, some morphological and post-cranial data has linked the earliest farming populations at Fayum, Merimde, and El-Badari, to local North African Nile populations.

The archaeological data suggests that Near Eastern domesticates were incorporated into a pre-existing foraging strategy and only slowly developed into a full-blown lifestyle, contrary to what would be expected from settler colonists from the Near East. People of this period, unlike later Egyptians, buried their dead very close to, and sometimes inside, their settlements.

Although archaeological sites reveal very little about this time, an examination of the many Egyptian words for “city” provide a hypothetical list of reasons why the Egyptians settled. In Upper Egypt, terminology indicates trade, protection of livestock, high ground for flood refuge, and sacred sites for deities.

By about 5500 BC, small tribes living in the Nile valley had developed into a series of cultures demonstrating firm control of agriculture and animal husbandry, and identifiable by their pottery and personal items, such as combs, bracelets, and beads. The largest of these early cultures in upper (Southern) Egypt was the Badari, which probably originated in the Western Desert; it was known for its high quality ceramics, stone tools, and its use of copper.

From about 5000 to 4200 BC the Merimde culture, a Neolithic culture which corresponds in its later phase to the Faiyum A culture and the Badari cultures in Predynastic Egypt, so far only known from a big settlement site at the edge of the Western Delta, flourished in Lower Egypt. The culture has strong connections to the Faiyum A culture as well as the Levant. People lived in small huts, produced a simple undecorated pottery and had stone tools.

Burials had unique characteristics, different from those of practiced in Upper Egyptian Predynastic Egypt and later Dynastic Egypt. There were no separate areas for cemeteries and the dead were buried within the settlement in a contracted position in oval pits without grave goods and offerings. In the time of the Maadi culture, the place was used as a cemetery.

Cattle, sheep, goats and pigs were held. Wheat, sorghum and barley were planted. The Merimde people buried their dead within the settlement and produced clay figurines. The first Egyptian lifesize head made of clay comes from Merimde.

The Maadi culture (also called Buto Maadi culture) is the most important Lower Egyptian prehistoric culture contemporary with Naqada I and II phases in Upper Egypt. The culture is best known from the site Maadi near Cairo, but is also attested in many other places in the Delta to the Fayum region.

Copper was known, and some copper adzes have been found. The pottery is simple and undecorated and shows, in some forms, strong connections to Southern Israel. People lived in small huts, partly dug into the ground. The dead were buried in cemeteries, but with few burial goods.