Physical Anthropology

Epipaleolithic Period in the Levant Natufia Culture Mesolithic Hunter Gatherer Mediterranean

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We know a fair amount about the Epipaleolithic Period from looking at the information from sites in Egypt, such as at El Kab, close to the Levant but on the Egyptian side. It was the time before writing, colloquially known as the Stone Age, when people were usually still hunter-gatherers. But there's little information available about the Levant itself, which is an uncertain area east of Egypt, on the Red Sea's other side. Here, I will discuss the information that's available, so that you have a better picture of this interesting and mysterious region.


The Levant includes all of the Eastern Mediterranean, from Crete to Turkey and Lebanon. It's currently half-desert in places but also very fertile in others, and oil-rich in many areas. Some of the most interesting cities of the world are within its borders, including Tel Aviv. The Levant used to be part of the Ottoman Empire.


First off, you might have trouble finding "epipaleolithic in the levant" in a search engine, because "epipaleolithic" is used interchangeably with the term "mesolithic" by a lot of archaeologists. This is because the terminology has not been clearly defined yet. However, the difference is important to note because the terms used change with the lands that are explored, for instance many archaeologists will use "mesolithic" for describing times in history and "epipaleolithic" for others. With regards to the Levant, the time before the Epipaleolithic there is called the Aurignacian, wherein there was much more vegitation it seems in that region.

In the Epipaleolithic, there are two sites for the Levant. In the first, called Mesolithic 1, which was about 20,000 to 18,000BC, that vegitation retreated a bit to give us more of the steppes area that we know the Levant to be currently. The people who lived there and then don't seem to have left much behind, in fact, other than chipped stone tools.

The second Epipaleolithic site for the Levant, called Mesolithic II, is a little more complex. It apparently begins a period known also as the Natufian Period there, which differentiates from the Levant sites. The absolute latest date for Mesolithic I in the Levant is 12,150BC, but the start of the Natufian seems to overlap, dating about 11,140BC.


The Natufian culture was an unusual one for the Epipaleolithic or Mesolithic Period, because its people stayed in one place but didn't practice agriculture! Evidence states that these people hunted such animals as wild gazelles and ate the wild grains that were around. They could have been the ancestors of the first builders of the world, from the Neolithic Period.

It's to be noted that the Natufians lived during a time when the vegetation of the Levant was only just beginning to retreat, but was still very much present. So the people had a lot of wild food from which to choose. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that they hunted and gathered, but didn't really move around a lot. Fish hooks and hunting knives have been found, as well as some "villages" but also some "camps", supporting others' ideas that the people of the Natufian Levant were only semi-sedentary.
A lot of the instruments and tools for this period are found to have been of bone. This makes sense, because of the large amount of animal and game around. They're done in the microburin technique, which is a technique using flint scraping, it seems, that produces a sufficiently sharp point. However, these people also made the first sickles.

However, the Natufians had a lot of time on their hands for the most part, probably because of the large amount of food around. So it's no wonder that they were the first people documented to create decorated vessels and pottery in general, some of these very detailed.


It's thought by many that the Younger Dryas event, a warming period that was very sudden, started people all over the world thinking about agriculture. This would have been about 10,800 to 1500BC, during the Natufian in the Levant. It would have endangered the wild grains and foods enough so that people would theoretically been thinking they should do something, much as people often think today that they should do something to help deal with global warming of this time period. Whatever started it, there's evidence that at around this time in the Levant people began clearing away grassland for cultivation, which ended the Epipaleolithic.

The Levant had an interesting history, and this is just a snapshot of it. If you look further, I think you'll find some more regarding the Natufians and the earlier part of the period. And new information is being discovered, for instance a grave was found earlier this spring in Israel!

More about this author: Jess Howe

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