Middle-Eastern archaeology encompasses the area known as the Fertile Crescent; the region between the Nile Valley (modern day Egypt) on the one end and Mesopotamia (the land of the 2 rivers; modern day Iraq) on the other and a rather extensive periphery. Included also are Iran, the Arabian peninsula and its offshore islands, Anatolia (modern day Turkey), Cyprus and North Africa west of Egypt. The history of archaeological investigation in this region grew out of the 19th century discipline of biblical archaeology, efforts mostly by Europeans to uncover evidence for biblical (Old and New Testaments) narratives. Much archaeological work in this region is still influenced by that discipline, although within the last 3 decades there has been a marked tendency by some archaeologists to dissociate their work from biblical frameworks.
Archaeological scholarship has imposed frameworks on the archaeological record of the region. Within the Middle East, regions are loosely defined, but often they are recognizable entities that evince cultural cohesion and coincide with topographical zones. Scholars may differ on the way the region is divided. Regional divisions also may change from period to period. Archaeology in these regions is sometimes intimately associated with language and writing and goes under the name of a sub-discipline. However, with the advent of new and sophisticated disciplines, especially of prehisotory, such distinctions are now losing their significance.
Egyptology is one example of a specialized branch that deals with the Nile Valley cultures of Egypt and associated regions in sub-Saharan Africa, the Sinai Peninsula to the east, and parts of North Africa. It includes language studies, history and archaeology and their related disciplines. Nowadays there is much work also done on the prehistoric archaeological record and its practitioners are best described as prehistorians.
Another region, sometimes known as Palestine, encompasses the modern Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and part of Jordan. Palestine was its ancient Roman and Byzantine name and was also in use during the Crusades (1095-1291), the period of Ottoman rule (1517-1917) and the British Mandate (1918-1948). The same region is also called the Holy Land, the Land of Israel, and Canaan because of biblical associations. The foregoing names may have political overtones and more recently a new appellation, the southern Levant (Levant is a name given to the east coast of the Mediterranean) has become popular with archaeologists who wish to refer to this geographical region without prejudice or political orientation. In many contexts the Sinai Peninsula is also considered to be part of the southern Levant, although it is part of the modern state of Egypt. Archaeologically, it is distinguished from the heartland of Egypt, the Nile Valley and Delta.
The term northern Levant could probably refer to Lebanon, the Syrian littoral and portions of the Mediterranean coast of Turkey in the province of Hatay, but the term is rarely found in the literature. Instead, those regions are often included in greater Syria, a name used to refer to the whole area between Anatolia, Mesopotamia and Arabia. Some definitions of greater Syria include Palestine, Lebanon, the modern Syrian Arab Republic and the Turkish province of Hatay; others use the term Syria-Palestine and its adjectival forms. The Mediterranean coast of Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic and parts of Northern Israel are also known as Phoenicia, after the biblical seafaring people.
Mesopotamia is more or less considered to begin near the modern border with Iraq and refers to the flat valley of the southern Tigris and Euphrates rivers and their tributaries. These rivers empty into the Shat-el Arab waterway that separates Iraq from Iran. Iran, sometimes known as Persia, includes a large plateau and its periphery, including the Zagros mountains. Sub-disciplines of this region deal mostly with the languages, history and archaeology of regions within this large area. Sumerology is a very specialized discipline that deals with the history, language and archaeology of ancient Sumer (southern Mesopotamia), mostly during the 4th and 3rd millennium BCE. Assyriology deals with the Assyrians who succeeded the Sumerians and covers much of the region while that language was still in use.
The landmass of Anatolia, most of modern Turkey, is bordered by several seas and includes parts of Northern Mesopotamia. The Tigris and Euphrates rise in Turkey and flow south into Iraq.
Cyprus, a large island in the eastern Levant was a separate cultural entity during most periods of human occupation. Its proximity to both Anatolia and the northern and southern Levant was responsible for influences from and to both these regions.
North Africa, including Malta, beyond the area of Egyptian influence, includes a fertile littoral, deserts and mountains. It also displays evidence for influence with sub-Saharan Africa as well as the Mediterranean coast of Europe.
The Arabian Peninsula and its offshore islands is a separate geographical zone that has contacts with Sinai, the well-watered regions to the north and, by sea with the far-east.