The Northern Badia is part of the greater steppe desert Badiyat ash-Sham centrally located between the Middle Euphrates (Mesopotamia) and the Southern Levant. In Jordanian territory this steppe desert is differentiated into a basalt steppe desert (al-harra) and the eastern adjacent limestone steppe desert (al-hamad). Perhaps the most renowned archaeological site in the region, the Late Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age fortified settlement of Jawa, is located in the western part of the basalt steppe desert.
In South western Asia the first complex societies emerged in Mesopotamia and the Southern Levant in the Late Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age period (between the 5th to the early 3rd millennium). One characteristic feature of these societies is that they were embedded in supraregional, long distance communication (trade) networks.
The research project “Arid habitats in the 5th to the early 3rd millennium B.C.: mobile subsistence, communication and key resource use in the Northern Badia (NE-Jordan)”, which is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation) (MU-3075/1-2), investigates the impact of these developments on the centrally located but arid Northern Badia, which sits between Mesopotamia and the Southern Levant. Since spring 2010 five archaeological survey campaigns have been carried out in this region as part of this project.
The aim of the project is the investigation of the character and complexity of Late Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age economic activities in the Northern Badia. The ancient site of Jawa, a fortified settlement in the western part of the basalt steppe desert, which was excavated in the 1970s and 1980s by the Australian archaeologist Svend Helms, is therefore of great importance for the project.
Jawa was founded in the Late Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age period at the end of the 4th millennium and seems to have existed for only a few decades, or perhaps a century. A later phase of activity, with a much smaller reoccupation of the site, dates into the Middle Bronze Age (late 3rd to the early 2nd millennium BC).
From the perspective of the westerly located Southern Levantine settlement areas in the 4th millennium BC, the peripheral and arid environmental location of Jawa is puzzling. However, if we shift our focus from the West to the North, and view Jawa from the perspective of the Jawan hinterland of the Northern Badia, strategic economic reasons for the, allegedly peripheral and remote, location of Jawa become clear.
It seems apparent that Jawa was involved in the economic exploitation of the Northern Badia and probably exercised control of the region’s economic activities in the period of its first and major (Late Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age) occupation.
This statement forms the research hypothesis on which the four individual research modules of the present project are focussed.
Module 1: Exploration of the Late Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age flint mines and cortical flake production sites in the Wadi al-Ruwayshid region in the eastern part of the Northern Badia through archaeological field surveys.
Module 2: Geochemical characterisation of the raw material of the flint mines in the Wadi al-Ruwayshid and the al-Jafr region and accomplishment of provenience analyses.
Module 3: Identification of Jawa’s position in relation to possible communication routes crossing the basalt steppe desert, achieved through archaeological field surveys.
Module 4: Exploration of the artificially irrigated fields in the vicinity of Jawa through archaeological field surveys and hydro-geographical analyses.
The incorporation of geo-scientific research approaches and methods underpins the entire project.
Geographical information systems (GIS) are applied to prepare archaeological field survey maps, based on satellite images and are also used for the recording of survey data in databases and on maps.
Sedimentological analyses are used for identifying and documenting geomorphological processes, which are vital for the interpretation of past human activities in the region.
Hydrological methods are used for recording and interpreting the remains of irrigated fields and gardens in the vicinity of Jawa.
Geological and geochemical methods are applied for analysing the raw material of the flint mines.
The Jawa Hinterland project has already undertaken field research concentrated on the exploration of the flint mines (module 1), the communication routes crossing the basalt steppe desert (module 3) and the artificially irrigated fields and gardens in the direct vicinity of Jawa (module 4).
Module 1: Late Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age (LC/EBA) flint mining in the Wadi al-Ruwayshid region
During two field seasons (2010 and 2012) the mining region in the area of the Wadi al-Ruwayshid, located in the limestone steppe desert (al-hamad), was intensively explored.
These mines were discovered in 2000 by Ricardo Eichmann and Bernd Müller-Neuhof and a preliminary investigation in the northern part of the region was carried out in 2006 by Bernd Müller-Neuhof (Müller-Neuhof 2006).
These mines were almost exclusively used for the mining of flint raw material and the onsite production of so-called cortical tool blanks.The cortical scraper blanks are palm sized flakes, characterised by a dorsal face covered with cortex, the natural weathered surface of flint nodules, and are characteristic artefacts of the 4th and early 3rd millennium BC lithic industry in Southwest Asia. These flakes, which were processed into cutting or scraping tools by retouching their edges, were most probably used for processing animal products (sheep shearing, processing of animal skins, butchering etc.). The distribution area of these cortical tools, which are also known as fan scrapers or tabular scrapers, covers large parts of Southwest Asia; from Southern Anatolia in the North, via Western- and Northern Mesopotamia and the Levant and reaching as far as Egypt in the south.
At the present time only two production regions, where the raw material was mined and the tool blanks produced, have been identified. One of these mining regions is located in the southeast of Jordan on the northern rim of the Jafr plain. These mining and production sites there were explored by the American archaeologists Leslie Quintero, Phil Wilke und Gary O. Rollefson and by the Japanese archaeologist Sumio Fujii. The second mining region is located on the western slope of the al-Risha limestone plateau in the Wadi al-Ruwayshid region in North eastern Jordan and the exploration of this mining region forma key part of the present research project.
In other regions, evidence for the production of these tool blanks is limited to some small knapping areas, where cortical tool blank production for personal needs was carried out on a small scale, It can therefore be supposed that the large number of cortical tools discovered in Late Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age settlements derived from one of the two mining regions discussed above.
The mines which were identified in the Wadi al-Ruwayshid region are distributed over three mining districts on the western slope of the al-Risha limestone plateau, at an altitude of around 800 m a.s.l. (+/- 15m). This suggests a planned exploitation of one or several flint layers occurring at that level. All mines are located exclusively on promontories with comparable steep slopes. The concentration of the mines on a specific altitude in specific topographic contexts enables the identification of the limits of the mining region and its respective districts.
All identified mines are surface mines. The location of the flint layer close to the surface means that mining and flint exploitation was commonly carried out by excavating shallow pits. Additionally, flint mining took also place on outcropping flint layers on the edge of the promontories. The largest mines however are surface trench mines, with trenches up to c. 1000 m length and widths of 20 to 50m. The trench mines were located on top of the promontories and run along the escarpments of these plateaus.
The production of cortical tool blanks was carried out within the mining areas. This production process is documented by the negatives scars of the tool blanks on the cortical faces of flint nodules- the flint cores from which the flakes have been detached. Although the cortical tool blanks have been removed from the mining sites in order for export, the cores and the mining equipment were left on the mining sites. The mining and blank production equipment consists primarily of grooved hammers and spheroid hammer stones made out of basalt. Random counts of cortical tool blank negatives suggest that at least 2 million cortical tool blanks were produced in the mines, which cover an area of c. 38 hectares.
Module 2: Geochemical raw material characterisation of the flint mines in the Wadi al-Ruwayshid and the Jafr regions and accomplishment of provenience analyses
During the two survey seasons in 2010 and 2012 a large number of geological flint samples were collected from both the Wadi al-Ruwayshid and the Jafr region. Samples were collected from both the mines and from flint layers, which were not used for flint exploitation. These samples were analysed by applying non-destructive portable x-ray fluorescence analyses (PXRF) in order to test if the material of the different mining regions is distinguishable through the composition and concentration of specific trace elements. Statistical analyses of these data are currently in progress.
Equivalent analyses of a small sample by conventional (destructive) XRF analyses generated initial results which indicate differences in the composition and concentration of trace elements in the flint raw material from the two mining regions of Jafr and Wadi al-Ruwayshid. In the future this method might not only facilitate the geochemical characterisation of mining regions, mining districts and maybe single mines, but also may allow the identification of the provenience of cortical tools discovered in settlements far away from these mining regions.
Module 3: Identification of possible communication routes crossing the basalt steppe desert in direction to Jawa through archaeological field surveys.
Two transect surveys have identified the possible communication routes, which may have linked the limestone steppe-desert (al-hamad) (and therefore the mines in the Wadi al-Ruwayshid region) with Jawa in the basalt steppe-desert (al-harra).
The survey transects were designed to answer two principle research questions: Firstly, due to the fact that wide areas in the basalt steppe-desert are densely covered with basalt boulders and are therefore difficult to cross, the transects were designed to evaluate the means by which this (at first sight) impenetrable basalt steppe-desert was made accessible and if this basalt steppe-desert was at all traversable. The second purpose of the transects was to explore the possible role of Jawa as a trade post as a site which had a exerted control over parts of the Northern Badia. More specifically, the aim is to explore the role of Jawa in the trade and transport of cortical tool blanks from the Wadi al-Ruwayshid mining region. This will involve a regional scale analysis as the aerial distance between Jawa and the mining region is c. 140 km
In order to pursue these questions two transects were chosen, which connected the eastern edge of the basalt steppe-desert with Jawa. The direction and placement of these transects was orientated along single wadis and mud pens connected with these wadis, which provide the most obvious and almost only opportunity for a, more or less, comfortable journey across the basalt steppe-desert.
The two surveys, in autumn 2010 and spring 2011, suggest that this region was accessible and traversable via the mud pens and wadis. Evidence for this includes the identification of the remains of a large number of camp sites, often in connection with sheep and goat pens. Additionally, so-called “desert kites”, large kite shaped animal traps built out of basalt stones which are well known in many areas of the basalt desert, were also identified during the transect surveys. However, perhaps the most striking evidence for Late Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age activity identified during the surveys was our discovery of the fortified hilltop settlement (hillfort) Khirbet Abu al-Husayn. This site is located on a small volcano on the eastern rim of the basalt steppe-desert, close to the mud pan Qa’ Abu al-Husayn. The remains of a gate structure and double faced masonry are still visible on the site. Based on the typology and technology of the artefacts found on the surface of the site, Khirbet Abu al-Husayn most likely dates to the Late Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age period. A detailed investigation of Khirbet Abu al-Husayn, including a documentation of the architectural remains on the surface is planned for spring 2013.
The chronological affiliation of the campsites discovered during survey is more complex. Associated surface finds include material from a range of periods, including a background scatter of residual Lower and Middle Palaeolithic material. However, preliminary examination of surface finds suggests that the campsites might be chronologically differentiated into several periods. The oldest identifiable camp (and knapping) sites date to the Epipaleolithic/ PPNA, whilst several of the camp sites appear to date to the PPNB period and late Neolithic periods. However, the largest number of campsites appear to date to the Late Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age. Surface finds also suggest that a couple of these campsites were reused in the Roman / Byzantine and Early Islamic (Ummayyad) periods: timeframes which, like the Late Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age, were characterised by intensive human activities in the basalt steppe-desert. Smaller numbers of finds attest to limited human activity in the area during the Later Islamic ( e.g. Abbassid and Mamluk) and Late Ottoman periods.
These observations appear to correspond with the suggested climate history of the region. For example, the relatively low frequency of post-Ummayyad finds and the absence of Middle Bronze Age to Late Iron Age artefacts might be explained by much drier regional conditions during these times. This suggests that the region was only rarely (if at all) frequented by pastoral nomads during arid climatic phases.
In addition to camp- and pen sites with lithic and pottery finds, several Safaitic and Arabic rock inscriptions were also discovered. Of particular importance are the prehistoric petroglyphs, especially the depictions of longhorn cattle, which can most probably be dated into the 4th and early 3rd millennium BC. It can be assumed that such cattle were driven through the basalt desert in the wetter seasons, which hints towards more favourable climatic conditions in these periods.
Module 4: Exploration of the artificial irrigated fields in the vicinity of Jawa through archaeological field surveys and hydro geographical analyses.
During the excavations in Jawa in the 1970s and 1980s an artificial water harvesting system was identified immediately beside Jawa in the Wadi Rajji. This system consists of large pools into which flood waters of the wadi were diverted by a series of check-dams and channels.
During the survey season in spring 2011 several artificial irrigated agricultural areas were identified in the vicinity of Jawa. These take two forms:
Firstly, we identified a series of agricultural fields located on wadi terraces in the Wadi Rajil to the West and East of Jawa. These appear to have been irrigated when the Wadi Rajil was flooding, by diverting flood flows using check-dams and channels. A closer documentation of these structures is planned for spring 2013.
A second major discovery of the 2011 survey relates to the identification of what may be the oldest evidence for terraced rainwater harvesting irrigation agriculture in Southwest-Asia. These terraced areas were identified on a plateau opposite of Jawa and take the form of a large (~33ha) area of terraced gardens. These gardens were irrigated via channels, which diverted runoff rainwater from the surface of the directly adjacent hills into the gardens, thereby considerably increasing the amount of water which irrigated the gardens. The water was diverted cascade-like into the individual garden terraces from the topmost gardens down to the gardens on the bottom of the slopes. The water flow and the moisture penetration of the sediments in the gardens were controlled by closable spillways.
Heavy lichen coverage of the terrace walls hints at an old age for these structures. Moreover, artefacts found on the surface of these gardens, the fact that they supplied a large number of people and the fact that a large number of people would have been needed for the construction and maintenance of these gardens strongly suggest that these structures date to the major occupation period of Jawa during the Late Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age (late 4th / early 3rd millennium BC).
The final fieldwork season of this project was carried out between March and April 2013. This season’s fieldwork focused on the investigation of the remains of gardens on wadi terraces in the Wadi Rajil near Jawa, documentation of the architectural remains on the surface of the Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age fortified hill-top settlement Khirbet Abu al-Husayn and an initial archaeological survey of the fortified Chalcolithic / Early Bronze hill-top settlement Tulul al-Ghusayn.
The archaeological survey of the gardens on the wadi terraces in the Wadi Rajil was a continuation of the fourth project module which started in autumn 2011 and focused on the investigation and documentation of the terraced gardens, located to the south of Jawa, which were artificially irrigated by rainwater harvesting. This spring we were able to identify two further areas with terraced gardens, which were also irrigated using local precipitation (TG2 und TG3). This season’s survey activities in the region focused on the remains of gardens on wadi terraces in the Wadi Rajil, which were irrigated by wadi water at times of high water. These areas are characterised by the remains of garden walls, deflection dams, inlets and channels. It emerged that garden areas on three of the five wadi terraces were constructed in the beginning of the 20th century, although it is highly likely that the garden areas on the remaining two wadi terraces, which are located close to Jawa, were in most part constructed and used either in the Roman / Byzantine and / or in the Early Islamic period. Some remains of seemingly older walls and probably even dam structures were also identified here; however it is unclear if these are actually hydraulic structures and whether they can be dated to the Chalcolithic /Early Bronze Age.
During this survey season we also collected evidence which suggests that the construction and utilisation of the hydraulic systems, located in close proximity to Jawa, cannot be dated to one of the sites main occupation phases (e.g. end of the 4th millennium (Late Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age I) or the transition from the 3rd to the 2nd millennia BC (beginning of the Middle Bronze Age)), as had previously been assumed. The construction of this hydraulic system, consisting of a series of pools, channels and deflection dams fed by the Wadi Rajil waters, is in fact likely to date either to the Roman / Byzantine or the Early Islamic period. Several observations would indicate such an interpretation; firstly, the construction method of these structures and secondly, the limited lichen growth on the remains of these structures in comparison to the lichen growth on the architectural remains of Jawa itself, the Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age dam at Jawa and the wall remains of the ancient terraced gardens.
Khirbet Abu al-Husayn, which is a small fortified Chalcolthic / Early Bronze Age settlement on a small volcano located at the southeastern edge of the basalt desert was identified by us during a transect survey in autumn 2010. During the survey season this spring we documented the architectural remains on the surface of this site, taking aerial photos using a kite.
The site is characterised by massive enclosure walls, which are partly constructed as double faced walls. Several openings have been identified in these enclosure walls with a number showing clear gate features. Evidence of houses or comparable dwellings has not been encountered on the surface of this site; however we were able to identify a number of silo-like structures. Furthermore, remains of a strategically positioned square tower were identified, as well as remains of a likewise strategically positioned pentagonal tower. From both positions it was possible to observe the entire settlement’s surroundings. The elevated location of this site and its fortifications underline the strategic position of Khirbet Abu al-Husayn on the border between the limestone desert in the east and the basalt desert in the west. It sits at the entry to one of the supposedly most important communication routes through the basalt desert, characterised by a long chain of interconnected mudpans and wadis, making the basalt desert accessible and traversable. In addition, Khirbet Abu al-Husayn clearly documents that year round occupation of settlements east of Jawa, with a much lower mean annual precipitation, was possible between the 5th and the 3rd millennia BC.
Another hill-top settlement on a volcano is Tulul al-Ghusayn. This site is located north of Khirbet Abu al-Husayn, almost 20 km west of the eastern border of the basalt desert and seems to date to the same period as Khirbet Abu al-Husayn. The settlement extends over the southeast rim, the eastern flank of the crater and the eastern flank of the volcano. In 2011 David Kennedy and Bob Bewley discovered Tulul al-Ghusayn during one of their aerial archaeology reconnaissance helicopter flights as part of the APAAME project. This year in spring we spent two days at this site for a preliminary site survey and documentation of some of the structures on the surface. The settlement on the southeastern rim of the crater was enclosed by an at least partially double faced wall, of which some remains are still visible. Within this enclosed area remains of a large cairn and smaller cairns forming a pendant are visible. Additionally, c. 35 remains of very small dwelling structures were encountered in this area, which consist of a main room and forecourt or alternatively two rooms. Around 40 additional dwelling remains of a similar form have been detected by us on the eastern flank of the crater and on the eastern flank of the volcano.
Noteworthy are the terraced gardens at Tulul al-Ghusayn, located in the crater and on the eastern flank of the volcano, and which show strong parallels to the Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age terraced gardens close to Jawa. Tulul al-Ghusayn is therefore the second Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age site with such terraced gardens, which were irrigated by local precipitation. Several grinding stone fragments in the close vicinity to the dwellings are further proof for intensive agricultural activities here. Therefore, Tulul al-Ghusayn is the eastern most site in this region where it was possible to carry out rain fed agriculture. The encountered small finds on the surface, especially lithic artefacts, allow us to date this site roughly to the Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age period.
The fieldwork season this spring was the final fieldwork season of the project. Its major aim was to solve the remaining questions deriving from previous fieldwork seasons.
The preliminary results of the entire project show an intensive and manifold economic utilisation of the eastern hinterland of Jawa in the Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age. For example, in addition to the agricultural activities, which were only feasible due to the application of advanced terracing and irrigation technologies, we have documented the extraction of mineral resources in the flint mines of the greater Wadi Ruwayshid area on the western escarpment of the al-Risha limestone plateau. These industries included the production of cortical tool blanks and the long distance trade of these via extensive animal pastoralism activities in the wadis and mudpans of the basalt desert.
The discovery of the fortified Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age sites, Khirbet Abu al-Husayn and Tulul al-Ghusayn, demonstrate the existence of year round occupied settlements east of Jawa in regions with much lower precipitation rates.
To date the common conceptualisation and interpretation of Jawa has been characterised by a perspective which was directed from the west of the region and considered Jawa as a remote and isolated site far in the east. The new discoveries are challenging this image and underline the necessity of modifying this perspective and instead re-orientating our studies to examine Jawa from the east, or at least from its hinterland. This represents an alternative approach than originally suggested as the basis for the initial definition of questions within this research project.
Although we have gained a new perspective on Jawa, its function is still unexplained. In addition to finding answers for other important questions, for example the exact dating of the early settlement of Jawa and the newly discovered sites of Khirbet Abu al-Husayn und Tulul al-Ghusayn, the clarification of Jawa’s function will be the major task for future research activities in this region. These are currently in the planning stage.
Institut für Geographische Wissenschaften (IGW) (Institute of Geographical Sciences), Freie Universität Berlin
Council of British Research in the Levant (CBRL), Amman
Badia Research Programme – Higher Council of Science and Technology (HCST), Amman
Institut für Angewandte Geowissenschaften (IAG) (Institute of Applied Geosciences), Technische Universität Darmstadt
Leibniz Institut für Angewandte Geophysik (LIAG) (Leibniz Institute of Applied Geophysics), Hannover
Deutsches Evangelisches Institut für die Altertumskunde des Heiligen Landes (German Protestant Institut of Archaeology) (GPIA), Amman
Dipl-Geogr. Nicole Marquardt (2010-2011)
Julia Meister MsSc. (since 2012)
Scientific participants on the fieldwork campaigns 2010-2013
Lorraine Abu-Azizeh (IFPO Amman), Dr Wael Abu Azizizeh (ArScAn UMR 7041, Nanterre), Mohammed al-Askari BA (Department of Antquities of Jordan, Mafraq), Dipl - Geogr Brian Beckers (IGW, Freie Universität Berlin), Dr Jennie Bradbury (PDRA, Durham University), Wisaam Esaid BA (Department of Antiquities of Jordan, Azraq), Prof Dr Manfred Frechen (LIAG, Hannover), Dr Rafeh Harasheh (Department of Antiquities of Jordan, Amman), Dr Felix Höflmayer (DAI, Berlin), Prof Dr Stephan Kempe (IAG, Technische Universität Damstadt), Johannes Köhler (Freie Universität Berlin), Dipl-Geogr Jan Krause (IGW, Freie Universität Berlin), Dipl-Geogr Nicole Marquardt (DAI, Berlin), Julia Meister M.Sc. (DAI, Berlin), Prof Dr Brigitta Schütt (IGW, Freie Universität Berlin)
Further scientific co-operation partners
Dr Reinhold Eisner (Wien), Dr Ina Kehrberg (University of Sydney), Dr Norbert Laskowski (IAG, Technische Universität Darmstadt), Dr Kristina Pfeiffer (DAI, Berlin)
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