(article from the Archaeological Study Bible)
The Persian Period
The land was fairly desolate during the exile, with all but the poorest Jews scattered across the Near East from Egypt to Babylonia. Other peoples began to migrate into the land. Edomites, perhaps impelled by Arabs exerting pressure from the south, moved north. The Samaritans, a people of partly Israelite and partly pagan origin, soon emerged. In 539 B. C. Cyrus II of Persia conquered Babylon, and by 500 B.C. all of the Near East was in Persian hands. Jews began to return to the land, but the situation was discouraging and little progress was made until Ezra and Nehemiah arrived during the fifth century to rebuild Jerusalem and reestablish the temple.
Archaeologically, this has been a somewhat dark period, but there have been some important finds. For example, papyri from Samaria containing legal documents dating to approximately 375-335 B.C. have been discovered at Wadi el-Daliyeh in the central hill country of Israel. Numerous locations in the land have yielded evidence of Persian-era occupation levels, but, beyond the use of Persian royal names for dating purposes, little direct evidence of Persian influence has been found.
(Next:The Greek and Hasmonean Periods)