Middle Stone Age—lasted some six thousand years beginning about 12,000 b.c. Not only did Mesolithic man polish flint, basalt and other stone weapons and tools and thus render them more effective, but for the first time he also exploited the resources of his environment to an appreciable extent. Mesolithic culture in Palestine—called Natufian after a wadi site—is associated with bones of a race smaller in stature than its Palaeolithic predecessors, slender and round-headed, evidently members of the same race to which the Hamites and Semites of later times belonged. Their industry is rich in worked and carved bones and notched arrow-heads.
The discovery of an almost complete skull of a large dog in a cave on Mount Carmel provides the first Syrian evidence of the domestication of animals—another major step in human progress. The dog was domesticated when man was still a food gatherer and hunter whose movements were dictated by those of the wild animals he sought for food. But Syria was the home of several animals adaptable for taming, which led to a life of herding with a more reliable supply of food than hunting. In this pastoral stage man remained a wanderer, but his movements now were governed by his quest of green pastures for his herds. The dog became the guardian of the flocks and the hearth and helped to dispose of offal.
Another innovation, which tended toward a sedentary mode of life and exercised an even more abiding influence on man, was the practice of agriculture, which began in the late Mesolithic or perhaps the early Neolithic period. Wheat and barley grew wild in North Syria and Palestine, and their nutritive value must have been discovered very early. Flint sickles and other implements left by Natufian cave-dwellers in considerable numbers prove that they and their North Syrian contemporaries were among the first in the Near East—and in the world—to till the ground.
Agriculture in Syria presumably began before 6000 b.c.