Since the 1980’s research of the Chalcolithic period in the southern part of the Land of Israel has focused on issues relating to economic and social aspects. Attempts have been made to reconstruct the character of the political structure, especially the question concerning the hierarchy and the place of the artifacts that are connected with cult and industry (e.g. copper) in understanding the structure of the society. At the same time, new important sites were discovered during these years, scores of C14 dates have been added and an important and dated settlement continuum at the site of Teleilat Ghassul has been published. It now seems that prior to, or simultaneous to, studying the social aspects, we should go back to dealing with studying the history of the culture (or cultures) of the Chalcolithic period, a subject which relatively little attention has been paid to during the past two decades. We should try to define cultural entities based on differences in the pottery assemblages, distribution and especially based on radiometric chronology.
From the data that is already known and that which we have recently obtained, the beginning of the Chalcolithic period in the southern part of the Land of Israel is first manifested in the assemblages referred to as the “Besor Culture”, which first appeared c. 4,700 BCE (the chronology stated here is based on calibrated C14 dates). In addition to several of the Besor sites and northeastern Sinai, we should also ascribe to this culture the assemblages exposed in the sites in the Ramot quarter in Beer Sheva, some of the finds from the Gil’at site and the bottom strata at Teleilat Ghassul. The principal culture of the Chalcolithic period in the south is the “Ghassulian Culture”, which can be divided into secondary cultures that have different geographic distributions and date to different times. In this context it is especially important to note that a settlement existed in the Beer Sheva sites (Bir Abu Matar, Bir e-Safadi, Horbat Betar, Tel Sheva) between c. 4,200 – 4,000 BCE. This occupation is later than the time when other sites of the Ghassulian culture in the Negev were inhabited such as Gil’at, Gerar and Nahal Qomem which were populated c. 200 years earlier. An examination of the pottery assemblages and the nature of the occupation show we are not only dealing with different periods of time, but rather differences in customs and life styles.