4th millennium B.C. - 4th century B.C.
It was in the ancient Near East, the so-called Cradle of Civilization, that the birth of art took place. Centuries before the easily recognizable Greek and Roman artistic traditions flourished, the civilizations of the Near East, which stretched from the Levant through Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Elam, and central Asia, were producing complex and varied works. The archaeology of this region is unique, due to the fact that many of these ancient cultures settled in oases--isolated areas that provided the necessities of life in the midst of the harsh desert climate. Such sites were occupied for thousands of years and often by more than one cultural group.
Thus, this vast geographical area boasts a diverse array of styles which are affected by the idiosyncrasies of the specific region and people and differ from period to period. Although a single stylistic unity is not evident, the cross-cultural exchange of ideas, materials, and forms is easily discernible.