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Ancient Near East

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Ancient Near East

Overview map of the ancient Near East

The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia (modern Iraq, southeast Turkey, northeastern Syria and Kuwait), ancient Egypt, ancient Iran (Elam, Media, Parthia and Persia), Anatolia/Asia Minor (modern Turkey and Armenia), the Levant (modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan), Cyprus and the Arabian Peninsula. The ancient Near East is studied in the fields of Near Eastern archaeology and ancient history. It begins with the rise of Sumer in the 4th millennium BC, though the date it ends varies: either covering the Bronze Age and the Iron Age in the region, until the conquest by the Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BC or Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC.

The ancient Near East is considered the warfare, and it laid the foundation for the fields of astronomy and mathematics.


  • The concept of Near East 1
  • Periodization 2
  • History 3
    • Prehistory 3.1
    • Chalcolithic 3.2
      • Early Mesopotamia 3.2.1
    • Bronze Age 3.3
      • Early Bronze Age 3.3.1
        • Sumer & Akkad
        • Elam
        • The Amorites
      • Middle Bronze Age 3.3.2
      • Late Bronze Age 3.3.3
        • Bronze Age collapse
    • Iron Age 3.4
  • Religions 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8

The concept of Near East

The term "ancient Near East" utilizes the 19th-century distinction between Near East and Far East as global regions of interest to the British Empire. The distinction began during the Crimean War. The last major exclusive partition of the east between these two terms was current in diplomacy in the late 19th century with the Hamidian Massacres of the Armenians and Assyrians by the Ottoman Empire in 1894-1896 and the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895. The two theatres were described by the statesmen and advisors of the British Empire as "the Near East" and "the Far East." Shortly they were to share the stage with Middle East, which came to prevail in the 20th century and continues in modern times.

As Near East had meant the lands of the Ottoman Empire at roughly maximum extent, on the fall of that empire the use of Near East in diplomacy was reduced significantly in favor of Middle East. In the meanwhile, ancient Near East had become distinct. It referred primarily to the Biblical lands. The Near East ruled by the Ottoman Empire ranged from Vienna to the north to the tip of the Arabian Peninsula to the south, from Egypt in the west to the borders of Iraq in the east. The 19th-century archaeologists added Iran, which was never under the Ottomans.


Ancient Near East periodization is the attempt to categorize or divide time into discrete named blocks, or eras, of the Near east. The result is a descriptive abstraction that provides a useful handle on Near East periods of time with relatively stable characteristics.

Copper Age Chalcolithic
(4500 BC - 3300 BC)
Early Chalcolithic 4500 BC - 4000 BC Ubaid period in Mesopotamia
Late Chalcolithic 4000 BC - 3300 BC Ghassulian, Sumerian Uruk period in Mesopotamia, Gerzeh, Predynastic Egypt
Bronze Age
(3300 BC - 1200 BC)
Early Bronze Age
(3300 BC - 2000 BC)
Early Bronze Age I 3300 BC - 3000 BC Protodynastic to Early Dynastic Period of Egypt
Early Bronze Age II 3000 BC - 2700 BC Early Dynastic Period of Sumer
Early Bronze Age III 2700 BC - 2200 BC Old Kingdom of Egypt, Akkadian Empire, early Assyria, Sumero-Akkadian states
Early Bronze Age IV 2200BC - 2100 BC First Intermediate Period of Egypt
Middle Bronze Age
(2000 BC - 1550 BC)
Middle Bronze Age I 2100 BC - 2000 BC Third Dynasty of Ur
Middle Bronze Age II A 2000 BC - 1750 BC Minoan civilization, early Babylonia, Egyptian Middle Kingdom
Middle Bronze Age II B 1750 BC - 1650 BC Second Intermediate Period of Egypt
Middle Bronze Age II C 1650 BC - 1550 BC Hittite Old Kingdom, Minoan eruption
Late Bronze Age
(1550 BC - 1200 BC)
Late Bronze Age I 1550 BC - 1400 BC Hittite Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom of Egypt
Late Bronze Age II A 1400 BC - 1300 BC Hittite New Kingdom, Mitanni, Ugarit, Mycenaean Greece
Late Bronze Age II B 1300 BC - 1200 BC Middle Assyrian Empire
Iron Age
(1200 BC - 539 BC)
Iron Age I
(1200 BC - 1000 BC)
Iron Age I A 1200 BC - 1150 BC Troy VII, Hekla 3 eruption, Bronze Age collapse, Sea Peoples
Iron Age I B 1150 BC - 1000 BC Neo-Hittite states, Aramean states
Iron Age II
(1000 BC - 539 BC)
Iron Age II A 1000-900 BC Greek Dark Ages, traditional date of the United Monarchy of Israel
Iron Age II B 900-700 BC Kingdom of Israel (Samaria), Urartu, Phrygia, Neo-Assyrian Empire, Kingdom of Judah
Iron Age II C 700 BC - 539 BC Neo-Babylonian Empire, fall of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, Archaic Greece, Rise of Persia




Early Mesopotamia

The Uruk period (c. 4000 to 3100 BC) existed from the protohistoric Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age period in the history of Mesopotamia, following the Ubaid period.[1] Named after the Sumerian city of Uruk, this period saw the emergence of urban life in Mesopotamia. It was followed by the Sumerian civilization.[2] The late Uruk period (34th to 32nd centuries) saw the gradual emergence of the cuneiform script and corresponds to the Early Bronze Age.

Bronze Age

Early Bronze Age

Sumer & Akkad

Sumer, located in southern Mesopotamia, is the earliest known civilization in the world. It lasted from the first settlement of Eridu in the Ubaid period (late 6th millennium BC) through the Uruk period (4th millennium BC) and the Dynastic periods (3rd millennium BC) until the rise of Assyria and Babylon in the late 3rd millennium BC and early 2nd millennium BC respectively. The Akkadian Empire, founded by Sargon the Great, lasted from the 24th to the 21st century BC, and was regarded by many as the world's first Empire. The Akkadians eventually fragmented into Assyria and Babylonia.


Ancient Elam lay to the east of Sumer and Akkad, in the far west and southwest of modern-day Iran, stretching from the lowlands of Khuzestan and Ilam Province. In the Old Elamite period c. 3200 BC, it 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. Elam was absorbed into the Assyrian Empire in the 9th to 7th centuries BC, however the civilization endured up until 539 BC when it was finally overrun by the Iranian Persians. The Proto-Elamite civilization existed during the time of c. 3200 BC to 2700 BC when Susa, the later capital of the Elamites began to receive influence from the cultures of the Iranian plateau. In archaeological terms this corresponds to the late Banesh period. This civilization is recognized as the oldest in Iran and was largely contemporary with its neighbour, Sumerian civilization. The Proto-Elamite script is an Early Bronze Age writing system briefly in use for the ancient Elamite language (which was a Language isolate) before the introduction of Elamite Cuneiform.

The Amorites

The Amorites were a nomadic Semitic people who occupied the country west of the Euphrates from the second half of the third millennium BC. In the earliest Sumerian sources, beginning about 2400 BC, the land of the Amorites ("the Mar.tu land") is associated with the West, including Syria and Canaan, although their ultimate origin may have been Arabia.[3] They ultimately settled in Mesopotamia, ruling Isin, Larsa, and later Babylon.

Middle Bronze Age

  • Assyria after enduring a short period of Mitanni domination, emerged as a great power from the assecion of Ashur-uballit I in 1365 BC to the death of Tiglath-Pileser I in 1076 BC. Assyria rivalled Egypt during this period, and dominated much of the near east.
  • Babylonia, originally founded as a state by Amorite tribes, found itself under the rule of Kassites for 435 years. The nation stagnated during the Kassite period, and Babylonia often found itself under Assyrian or Elamite domination.
  • Canaan: Ugarit, Kadesh, Megiddo, Kingdom of Israel
  • The Hittite Empire was founded some time after 2000 BC, and existed as a major power, dominating Asia Minor and the Levant until 1200 BC when it was first overrun by the Phrygians, and then appropriated by Assyria.

Late Bronze Age

The Hurrians lived in northern Mesopotamia and areas to the immediate east and west, beginning approximately 2500 BC. They probably originated in the Caucasus and entered from the north, but this is not certain. Their known homeland was centred in Subartu, the Khabur River valley, and later they established themselves as rulers of small kingdoms throughout northern Mesopotamia and Syria. The largest and most influential Hurrian nation was the kingdom of Mitanni. The Hurrians played a substantial part in the History of the Hittites.

Ishuwa was an ancient kingdom in Anatolia. The name is first attested in the second millennium BC, and is also spelled Išuwa. In the classical period the land was a part of Armenia. Ishuwa was one of the places where agriculture developed very early in the Neolithic. Urban centres emerged in the upper Euphrates river valley around 3500 BC. The first states followed in the third millennium BC. The name Ishuwa is not known until the literate period of the second millennium BC. Few literate sources from within Ishuwa have been discovered and the primary source material comes from Hittite texts. To the west of Ishuwa lay the kingdom of the Hittites, and this nation was an untrustworthy neighbour. The Hittite king Hattusili I (c. 1600 BC) is reported to have marched his army across the Euphrates river and destroyed the cities there. This corresponds well with burnt destruction layers discovered by archaeologists at town sites in Ishuwa of roughly the same date. After the end of the Hittite empire in the early 12th century BC a new state emerged in Ishuwa. The city of Malatya became the centre of one of the so-called Neo-Hittite kingdom. The movement of nomadic people may have weakened the kingdom of Malatya before the final Assyrian invasion. The decline of the settlements and culture in Ishuwa from the 7th century BC until the Roman period was probably caused by this movement of people. The Armenians later settled in the area since they were natives of the Armenian Plateau and related to the earlier inhabitants of Ishuwa.

Kizzuwatna is the name of an ancient kingdom of the second millennium BC. It was situated in the highlands of southeastern Anatolia, near the Gulf of İskenderun in modern-day Turkey. It encircled the Taurus Mountains and the Ceyhan river. The centre of the kingdom was the city of Kummanni, situated in the highlands. In a later era, the same region was known as Cilicia.

Luwian is an extinct language of the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European language family. Luwian speakers gradually spread through Anatolia and became a contributing factor to the downfall, after c. 1180 BC, of the Hittite Empire, where it was already widely spoken. Luwian was also the language spoken in the Neo-Hittite states of Syria, such as Melid and Carchemish, as well as in the central Anatolian kingdom of Tabal that flourished around 900 BC. Luwian has been preserved in two forms, named after the writing systems used to represent them: Cuneiform Luwian, and Hieroglyphic Luwian.

Mari was an ancient Sumerian and Amorite city, located 11 kilometres north-west of the modern town of Abu Kamal on the western bank of Euphrates river, some 120 km southeast of Deir ez-Zor, Syria. It is thought to have been inhabited since the 5th millennium BC, although it flourished from 2900 BC until 1759 BC, when it was sacked by Hammurabi.

Mitanni was a Hurrian kingdom in northern Mesopotamia from c. 1500 BC, at the height of its power, during the 14th century BC, encompassing what is today southeastern Turkey, northern Syria and northern Iraq (roughly corresponding to Kurdistan), centred on the capital Washukanni whose precise location has not yet been determined by archaeologists. The Mitanni kingdom is thought to have been a feudal state led by a warrior nobility of Indo-Aryan descent, who invaded the Levant region at some point during the 17th century BC, their influence apparent in a linguistic superstratum in Mitanni records. The spread to Syria of a distinct pottery type associated with the Kura-Araxes culture has been connected with this movement, although its date is somewhat too early.[4] Yamhad was an ancient Amorite kingdom. A substantial Hurrian population also settled in the kingdom, and the Hurrian culture influenced the area. The kingdom was powerful during the Middle Bronze Age, c. 1800-1600 BC. Its biggest rival was Qatna further south. Yamhad was finally destroyed by the Hittites in the 16th century BC.

The Aramaeans were a Semitic (West Semitic language group), semi-nomadic and pastoralist people who had lived in upper Mesopotamia and Syria. Aramaeans have never had a unified empire; they were divided into independent kingdoms all across the Near East. Yet to these Aramaeans befell the privilege of imposing their language and culture upon the entire Near East and beyond, fostered in part by the mass relocations enacted by successive empires, including the Assyrians and Babylonians. Scholars even have used the term 'Aramaization' for the Assyro-Babylonian peoples' languages and cultures, that have become Aramaic-speaking.[5]

The Sea peoples is the term used for a confederacy of seafaring raiders of the second millennium BC who sailed into the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, caused political unrest, and attempted to enter or control Egyptian territory during the late 19th dynasty, and especially during Year 8 of Ramesses III of the 20th Dynasty.[6] The Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah explicitly refers to them by the term "the foreign-countries (or 'peoples'[7]) of the sea"[8][9] in his Great Karnak Inscription.[10] Although some scholars believe that they "invaded" Cyprus, Hatti and the Levant, this hypothesis is disputed.[11]

Bronze Age collapse

The Bronze Age collapse is the name given by those historians who see the transition from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age as violent, sudden and culturally disruptive, expressed by the collapse of palace economies of the Aegean and Anatolia, which were replaced after a hiatus by the isolated village cultures of the Dark Age period in history of the ancient Middle East. Some have gone so far as to call the catalyst that ended the Bronze Age a "catastrophe".[12] The Bronze Age collapse may be seen in the context of a technological history that saw the slow, comparatively continuous spread of iron-working technology in the region, beginning with precocious iron-working in what is now Romania in the 13th and 12th centuries.[13] The cultural collapse of the Mycenaean kingdoms, the Hittite Empire in Anatolia and Syria, and the Egyptian Empire in Syria and Israel, the scission of long-distance trade contacts and sudden eclipse of literacy occurred between 1206 and 1150 BC. In the first phase of this period, almost every city between Troy and Gaza was violently destroyed, and often left unoccupied thereafter (for example, Hattusas, Mycenae, Ugarit). The gradual end of the Dark Age that ensued saw the rise of settled Neo-Hittite and Aramaean kingdoms of the mid-10th century BC, and the rise of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

Iron Age

Iron Age
Bronze Age

Bronze Age collapse

Ancient Near East (1200 BC – 500 BC)

Anatolia, Assyria, Caucasus, Cyprus, Egypt, Levant, Neo-Babylonian Empire, Persia

India (1200 BC – 200 BC)

Painted Grey Ware
Northern Black Polished Ware
Mauryan period
Anuradhapura Kingdom

Europe (1200 BC – 1 BC)

Hallstatt C
La Tène C
Villanovan C
British Iron Age
Dacia, Transylvania, Southeastern Europe
Greece, Rome, Celts

China (600 BC – 200 BC)

Spring and Autumn period and Warring States period

Japan (100 BC – 300 AD)

Yayoi period

Korea (400 BC – 400 AD)

Late Gojoseon period
Proto-Three Kingdoms period

Sub-Saharan Africa (1000 BC – 800 AD)


Axial Age
Classical antiquity
Zhou dynasty
Vedic period
Alphabetic writing

Ancient history
Greek, Roman, Chinese, Islamic

During the Early Iron Age, from 911 BC, the Neo-Assyrian Empire arose, vying with Babylonia and other lesser powers for dominance of the region, though not until the reforms of Tiglath-Pileser III in the 8th century BC,[14][15] did it become a powerful and vast empire. In the Middle Assyrian period of the Late Bronze Age, Assyria had been a kingdom of northern Mesopotamia (modern-day northern Iraq), competing for dominance with its southern Mesopotamian rival Babylonia. From 1365-1076 it had been a major imperial power, rivalling Egypt and the Hittite Empire. Beginning with the campaign of Adad-nirari II, it became a vast empire, overthrowing 25th dynasty Egypt and conquering Egypt, the Middle East, and large swathes of Asia Minor, ancient Iran, the Caucasus and east Mediterranean. The Neo-Assyrian Empire succeeded the Middle Assyrian period (14th to 10th century BC). Some scholars, such as Richard Nelson Frye, regard the Neo-Assyrian Empire to be the first real empire in human history.[16] During this period, Aramaic was also made an official language of the empire, alongside the Akkadian language.[16]

The states of the Neo-Hittite kingdoms were Luwian, Aramaic and Phoenician-speaking political entities of Iron Age northern Syria and southern Anatolia that arose following the collapse of the Hittite Empire around 1180 BC and lasted until roughly 700 BC. The term "Neo-Hittite" is sometimes reserved specifically for the Luwian-speaking principalities like Melid (Malatya) and Karkamish (Carchemish), although in a wider sense the broader cultural term "Syro-Hittite" is now applied to all the entities that arose in south-central Anatolia following the Hittite collapse — such as Tabal and Quwê — as well as those of northern and coastal Syria.[17]

Urartu was an ancient kingdom of Armenia and North Mesopotamia[18] which existed from c. 860 BC, emerging from the Late Bronze Age until 585 BC. The Kingdom of Urartu was located in the mountainous plateau between Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and Caucasus mountains, later known as the Armenian Highland, and it centered on Lake Van (present-day eastern Turkey). The name corresponds to the Biblical Ararat.

The term Neo-Babylonian Empire refers to Babylonia under the rule of the 11th ("Chaldean") dynasty, from the revolt of Nabopolassar in 623 BC until the invasion of Cyrus the Great in 539 BC (Although the last ruler of Babylonia (Nabonidus) was in fact from Assyrian city of Harran and not Chaldean), notably including the reign of Nebuchadrezzar II. Through the centuries of Assyrian domination, Babylonia enjoyed a prominent status, and revolted at the slightest indication that it did not. However, the Assyrians always managed to restore Babylonian loyalty, whether through granting of increased privileges, or militarily. That finally changed in 627 BCwith the death of the last strong Assyrian ruler, Ashurbanipal, and Babylonia rebelled under Nabopolassar the Chaldean a few years later. In alliance with the Medes and Scythians, Nineveh was sacked in 612 and Harran in 608 BC, and the seat of empire was again transferred to Babylonia.

The Achaemenid Empire was the first of the Persian Empires to rule over significant portions of Greater Iran, and the second great Iranian empire (after the Medean Empire). At the height of its power, encompassing approximately 7.5 million square kilometers, the Achaemenid Empire was territorially the largest empire of classical antiquity. It spanned three continents, including territories of modern Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, Central Asia, Asia Minor, Thrace, many of the Black Sea coastal regions, Iraq, northern Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and all significant population centers of ancient Egypt as far west as Libya. It is noted in western history as the foe of the Greek city states in the Greco-Persian Wars, for freeing the Israelites from their Babylonian captivity, and for instituting Aramaic as the empire's official language.


Ancient civilizations in the Near East were deeply influenced by their spiritual beliefs, which generally did not distinguish between heaven and Earth.[19] They believed that divine action influenced all mundane matters, and also believed in divination (ability to predict the future).[19] Omens were often inscribed in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, as were records of major events.[19]

See also


  1. ^ Sumer and the Sumerians, by Harriet E. W. Crawford, p 69
  2. ^ Sumer and the Sumerians, by Harriet E. W. Crawford, p 75
  3. ^ Amorite Encyclopædia Britannica
  4. ^ James P. Mallory, "Kuro-Araxes Culture", Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997.
  5. ^ See page 9.
  6. ^ A convenient table of sea peoples in hieroglyphics, transliteration and English is given in the dissertation of Woodhuizen, 2006, who developed it from works of Kitchen cited there.
  7. ^ As noted by Gardiner V.1 p.196, other texts have

    ḫȝty.w "foreign-peoples"; both terms can refer to the concept of "foreigners" as well. Zangger in the external link below expresses a commonly held view that "sea peoples" does not translate this and other expressions but is an academic innovation. The Woudhuizen dissertation and the Morris paper identify Gaston Maspero as the first to use the term "peuples de la mer" in 1881.
  8. ^ Gardiner V.1 p.196.
  9. ^ Manassa p.55.
  10. ^ Line 52. The inscription is shown in Manassa p.55 plate 12.
  11. ^ Several articles in Oren.
  12. ^ Drews, Robert (1995). The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe CA 1200 B.C. United States: Princeton University Press. p. 264.  
  13. ^ See A. Stoia and the other essays in M.L. Stig Sørensen and R. Thomas, eds., The Bronze Age—Iron Age Transition in Europe (Oxford) 1989, and T.H. Wertime and J.D. Muhly, The Coming of the Age of Iron (New Haven) 1980.
  14. ^ Assyrian Eponym List
  15. ^ Tadmor, H. (1994). The Inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser III, King of Assyria.pp.29
  16. ^ a b  
  17. ^ Hawkins, John David; 1982a. "Neo-Hittite States in Syria and Anatolia" in Cambridge Ancient History (2nd ed.) 3.1: 372-441. Also: Hawkins, John David; 1995. "The Political Geography of North Syria and South-East Anatolia in the Neo-Assyrian Period" in Neo-Assyrian Geography, Mario Liverani (ed.), Università di Roma "La Sapienza", Dipartimento di Scienze storiche, archeologiche e anthropologiche dell’Antichità, Quaderni di Geografia Storica 5: Roma: Sargon srl, 87-101.
  18. ^ article, Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2007Urartu
  19. ^ a b c Lamberg-Karlovsky, C. C. and Jeremy A. Sabloff (1979). Ancient Civilizations: The Near East and Mesoamerica. Benjamin/Cummings Publishing. p. 4. 

Further reading

  • Fletcher, Banister; Cruickshank, Dan, Sir Banister Fletcher's a History of Architecture, Architectural Press, 20th edition, 1996 (first published 1896). ISBN 0-7506-2267-9. Cf. Part One, Chapter 4.
  • William W. Hallo & William Kelly Simpson, The Ancient Near East: A History, Holt Rinehart and Winston Publishers, 2nd edition, 1997. ISBN 0-15-503819-2.
  • Jack Sasson, The Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, New York, 1995
  • Marc Van de Mieroop, History of the Ancient Near East: Ca. 3000-323 B.C., Blackwell Publishers, 2nd edition, 2006 (first published 2003). ISBN 1-4051-4911-6.
  • Pittman, Holly (1984). Art of the Bronze Age: southeastern Iran, western Central Asia, and the Indus Valley. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  

External links

  • The History of the Ancient Near East — A database of the prehistoric Near East as well as its ancient history up to approximately the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans ...
  • Vicino Oriente — Vicino Oriente is the journal of the Section Near East of the Department of Historical, Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences of Antiquity of Rome ‘La Sapienza’ University. The Journal, which is published yearly, deals with Near Eastern History, Archaeology, Epigraphy, extending its view also on the whole Mediterranean with the study of Phoenician and Punic documents. It is accompanied by ‘Quaderni di Vicino Oriente’, a monograph series.
  • Ancient Near — an information and content portal for the archaeology, ancient history, and culture of the ancient Near East and Egypt
  • Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution The Freer Gallery houses a famous collection of ancient Near Eastern artefacts and records, notebooks and photographs of excavations in Samarra (Iraq), Persepolis and Pasargadae (Iran)
  • The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives The archives for The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery houses the papers of Ernst Herzfeld regarding his many excavations, along with records of other archeological excavations in the ancient Near East.
  • Ancient Near—a database of the prehistoric Near East as well as its ancient history up to approximately the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans
  •—a wiki for the research and documentation of the ancient Near East and Egypt
  • ETANA — website hosted by a consortium of universities in the interests of providing digitized resources and relevant web links
  • Resources on Biblical Archaeology
  • Ancient Near East Photographs This collection, created by Professor Scott Noegel, documents artifacts and archaeological sites of the ancient Near East; from the University of Washington Libraries Digital Image Collection
  • Near East Images A directory of archaeological images of the ancient Near East
  • Bioarchaeology of the Near East An Open Access journal
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