The archaeological record in the ancient Near East begins with the Lower Palaeolithic, when Homo erectus wandered out of Africa some time a little less than two million years ago and spread out across Europe and Asia. It is the evidence from the lives of these people which we have across the Near East that form the Lower Palaeolithic.
The oldest evidence of people in the Near East that we currently know of is from about 1.2 to 1.6 million years ago and comes from two sites both dating to this time window. ‘Ubeidiya, an open-air site along a river in the Jordan Valley has provided a deep sequence of Acheulean stone tools and a few remains of people, which were probably Homo erectus. Kocabaş, a quarry site in Turkey, has yielded parts of the skull from a single Homo erectus from this same time. From the time of these earliest sites until the end of the Lower Palaeolithic about 215,000 years ago, we find evidence of Homo erectus and Acheulean stone tools across the Near East. To see how these Acheulean stone tools were made, check out a video of the process here.
We do not have a massive quantity of sites from the Lower Palaeolithic, and the number of sites which we have found increases as we get into younger periods of the Lower Palaeolithic. We have more sites from the Middle Acheulean (after about 800,000 years ago) than we do from the Early Acheulean (before this). We have enough sites from the Middle Acheulean to see differences in the shape of stone tools between sites of the coast and those of the more eastern parts of the Near East. This division seems to continue into the Late Acheulean, after about 600,000 years ago.
By 400,000 years ago, we see some significant changes in the way that people living in areas closer to the Mediterranean coast lived, made tools and used the landscape in the development of the Acheulo-Yabrudian complex. These people spent more time staying in caves, regularly made fires and improved their technology for making tools. Some of the best evidence that we for changes in the way that people lived during this final stage of the Lower Palaeolithic comes from a few recent cave excavations in the southern Levant, such as those at Qesem Cave and Zuttiyeh Cave.
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