The Levant is defined as the geographical region bordering the Mediterranean between Egypt and Anatolia (modern Turkey). The southern Levant is therefore roughly the same area as that occupied by the modern states of Israel (including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) and Jordan. These terms are used by archaeologists, not least as they avoid modern geo-political problems.
The archaeology of the southern Levant is generally conceived as a series of phases or stages in human cultural and evolutional development based, for the most part, on tool technology for early pre-historic, proto-historic and early historic periods. Later phases are generally associated with historical periods and are named accordingly.
While there is no single, accepted sequence that all archaeologists agree upon, the basic conventions indicate a number of Stone Ages, followed by a Copper/Stone age, in turn followed by a Bronze Age. The names given to them,derived from the Greek, are also used widely for other regions. The different ages in turn are often divided up into sequential or sometimes parallel chrono-cultural facies, sometimes called “cultures” or “periods”. Sometimes their names are derived from European prehistory, at other times from local sites, often where they were first discovered.
Several stone ages, when stone tools prevailed and make up the bulk of artifacts, are followed by periods when other technologies came into use. They lent their names to the different periods. The basic framework for the southern Levant is, as follows: Paleolithic or Old Stone Age is often divided up into phases called, from early to late: Lower Paleolithic, Middle Paleolithic and Upper Paleolithic. An Epipaleolithic (latest Paleolithic) period, alternately known as Mesolithic (transition to Neolithic) follows and is, in turn succeeded by a Neolithic (New Stone Age).
The following Chalcolithic period includes the first evidence of metallurgy with copper making its appearance. However, as stone technology remains prevalent, the name, Chalcolithic (Copper/Stone) age combines the two.
Bronze is used for the following periods, but is actually a misnomer for a good part of that time. An Early Bronze Age is divided into three major phases, Early Bronze I, II and III, but copper and not bronze was the most common metal in use, while stone technology continued to contribute the bulk of tools. Early Bronze III is followed by another period, alternately named Early Bronze IV, Middle Bronze I, Intermediate Bronze or Early Bronze-Middle Bronze. In this period the name is apt; true bronze (a tin alloy of copper) makes its appearance in this time span.
The next period is generally known as Middle Bronze II and is generally broken down into two sub-periods, Middle Bronze IIa and Middle Bronze IIb. Some scholars acknowledge a Middle Bronze III. The next period is known as Late Bronze and is often sub-divided into Late Bronze I and II.
The introduction of iron, although relatively rare, especially in the earliest phases, caused the following phase to be named the Iron Age. It is variously sub-divided into Iron I, Iron II and sometimes Iron III, with subdivisions becoming increasingly popular as sequences become better known.
Later historical periods
The post Iron Age is generally thought of as historical and accordingly names of periods reflect this. The very latest Iron Age phase is sometimes called “Assyrian” and the following period is universally known as the Persian period.
The 333 BC conquest of the region is accepted as the beginning of the Hellenistic period and it is followed by Early Roman and Late Roman periods. The 4th century CE is recognized as the beginning of the Byzantine period that lasted until the Arab conquest of the region.
Later periods are alternately known as Early Arab and sub-periods by the names of reigning dynasties. The Crusader conquest of the region is known, appropriately as the Crusader period and it is followed by a Mameluke period after the conquering dynasty. In 1517 the Ottoman empire conquered the region and gave its name to the period that lasted until 1917, when the British conquered it in World War I.