The Levant is the geographical region bordering the Mediterranean, roughly between Egypt and Anatolia (modern Turkey). The Southern Levant is roughly encompassed by Israel, the Palestinian territories, western parts of Jordan and southern parts of Lebanon.
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.
Pre-history and Stone Age
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, also 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. Some archaeologists suggest that there in the transition from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age, the large cultural differences are explained by foreign invasion, that is, the introduction of new ethnicity. More recent evidence indicates that the large culture changes were not the result of a foreign invasion. Rather, the Iron Age people of the southern Levant were related to their Bronze Age predecessors.
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. The Deuterocanonical book 2 Maccabees records: "Apollonius the son of Tharseas, who at that time was governor of Celesyria and Phenicia", Celesyria being the transliteration of Coele-Syria. It is followed by Early Roman and Late Roman periods. The 4th century 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.
Today, the term "Southern Levant" is primarily found in the fields of archeology and history. The term has been used by authors wishing to present a strictly geographical description though the term has also been criticized as imprecise. There is a recent attempt to reclaim the notion of the Levant as a category of analysis in political and social sciences. Two academic journals were recently launched: Journal of Levantine Studies, published by Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and The Levantine Review, published by Boston College.
- Land of Israel
- Coele-Syria which is a Greek term for the much of the area. It was described as stretching from the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon to cover the entire area south of the river Eleutherus including Judea. The historian Diodorus Siculus indicates Coelo-Syria to also include the Palaestinian coasts as far south as Joppa.
- Fleagle, John G., Shea, John J., Grine, Frederick E., Baden, Andrea L., Leakey, Richard E., "Out of Africa I: The First Hominin Colonization of Eurasia", Springer 2010 pp 247-273.
- Dennell, 2010, cited in "Out of Africa I: The First Hominin Colonization of Eurasia"
- Ullinger JM, Sheridan SG, Hawkey DE, Turner CG 2nd, Cooley R., Bioarchaeological analysis of cultural transition in the southern Levant using dental nonmetric traits., Department of Anthropology, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio.
- 2 Maccabees 3:8.
- Name, Palestina Antiqua (2003), Book 10, p. 6, quote "At the beginning of this Introduction I have indicated how difficult it is to choose a general accepted name for the region this book deals with. In Europe we are used to the late Roman name "Palestine," and the designation "Palestinian Archaeology" has a long history. According to Byzantine usage it included CisJordan and TransJordan and even Lebanon and Sinai. In modern times, however, the name "Palestine" has exclusively become the political designation for a restricted area. Furthermore, in the period this book deals with a region called "Palestine" did not yet exist. Also the ancient name "Canaan" cannot be used as it refers to an older period in history. Designations as: "The Land(s) of the Bible" or "the Hold Land" evoke the suspicion of a theological bias. "The Land of Israel" does not apply to the situation because it never included Lebanon or the greater part of modern Jordan. Therefore I have joined those who today advocate the designation "Southern Levant." Although I confess that it is an awkward name, it is at least strictly geographical"
- Editorial remarks, Paléorient (1993), Volume 19-1, pp. 6-7, quote "In gathering contributions for the present issue, it soon became apparent - and this is a generally valid point - that imprecise terminology is one of the major difficulties encountered in our research. An example is the term “Southern Levant" used as a substitute for the geographers’ “Palestine". The use of this term hides the particularism of the regions on either side of the Jordan Valley just when the discoveries of the last decade have highlighted their specificity. The lack of precision traditional terminology (agriculture, herding, pastoralism, neolithic, etc.) applied to the complex phenomena that we are studying constantly leads to misunderstandings."
- "Journal of Levantine Studies". levantine-journal.org. Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. Retrieved 25 May 2015.
- "The Levantine Review". levantinecenter.org. Levantine Center. Retrieved 25 May 2015.
- Fahlbusch, Erwin, Bromiley, Geoffrey William, "The encyclopedia of Christianity", Eerdans Publishing Co., Volume 4, p15.