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A landscape of preservation: Late prehistoric settlement and sequence in the Jebel Qurma region, north-eastern Jordan


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Recent fieldwork in the Jebel Qurma region, in the basalt wasteland east of Azraq, revealed a large number of prehistoric sites, dating from the 7th to the late 4th millennia cal BC. While some sites were little more than lithic scatters over a few dozen square metres, others were of impressive size, up to 8 hectares in extent and characterized by hundreds of stone-built structures. The new data demonstrate considerable diversity in site layout as well as clear shifts in habitation patterns and locational preferences through time. These new insights require a re-evaluation of current thoughts on settlement and community organization in the basaltic uplands of north-eastern Jordan in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods.
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A landscape of preservation: late prehistoric
settlement and sequence in the Jebel Qurma
region, north-eastern Jordan
Peter M. M. G. Akkermans, Harmen O. Huigens and Merel L. Brüning
Recent fieldwork in the Jebel Qurma region, in the basalt wasteland east of Azraq, revealed a large
number of prehistoric sites, dating from the 7th to the late 4th millennia cal BC. While some sites were
little more than lithic scatters over a few dozen square metres, others were of impressive size, up to
8 hectares in extent and characterized by hundreds of stone-built structures. The new data
demonstrate considerable diversity in site layout as well as clear shifts in habitation patterns and
locational preferences through time. These new insights require a re-evaluation of current
thoughts on settlement and community organization in the basaltic uplands of north-eastern
Jordan in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods.
Keywords Jordan, Neolithic, Chalcolithic, desert environs, settlement history
Introduction: a harsh landscape
Jordans north-eastern Badia comprises a vast expanse
of highly arid steppe and desert environs, including
some 11 000 km
of dark and forbidding, basalt-
strewn uplands or harra. The broken basalt cover, so
characteristic of the harra, derives from the weathering
of a complex series of lava flows extruded from volca-
nic vents and fissures (Bender 1968: 10506), and has
resulted in a rough and rocky dissected terrain, which
is difficult to access and travel through. Particularly in
the south, close to the Saudi border, the surface rough-
ness promotes the accumulation of wind-blown sands
carried from more remote regions.
The local climate and its frequent seasonal and
annual variation add substantially to the harsh
appearance of the region. Summers in the harra are
dry and hot, with mean temperature maxima of
3538°C and common outliers as high as 45°C.
Occasionally strong winds lead to dust storms.
Winters may be severe, and are characterized by cold
air gusts with an average temperature of 29°C, and
minima as low as 10°C. Average annual precipi-
tation ranges from up to 250 mm in the north-west,
to less than 50 mm in the south along the border
with Saudi Arabia. Most rainfall occurs intermittently
in the form of cloudbursts from November until
March, this results in considerable surface runoff
and subsequent flooding of the stream channels, of
varying size and distribution, which cut the harra in
places (cf. Dutton et al. 1998). The channels eventually
debouch out of the basalt into stretches of level, silted-
up mud flats with very limited permeability, but which
may, however, hold sub-surface moisture to some
degree, even in arid years, and allow for clusters of per-
manent vegetation. In times of sufficient rainfall and
associated runoff, these mud flats may hold shallow
but extensive pools for several weeks or months,
until evaporation is completed. Permanent water
sources are absent in the harra, except for the spring-
fed seepages and marshes at Azraq and, much
further to the east, at Wisad and Burqu, located at
the very fringes of the basalt.
With regard to the many local environmental con-
straints, it comes as no surprise that research projects
have traditionally avoided the rough basaltic harra
because it was assumed that the area had limited
potential for settlement and other human use, and
Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University, PO Box 9515, 2300 RA Leiden,
The Netherlands
Peter M. M. G. Akkermans (corresponding author) Faculty of Archaeology,
Leiden University, PO Box 9515, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands;
© Council for British Research in the Levant 2014
Published by Maney
DOI 10.1179/0075891414Z.00000000041 Levant 2014 VOL. 46 NO. 2186
hence a restricted explanatory value in research terms.
Fieldwork has, therefore, focused historically on the
more environmentally favourable regions in the
western Levant and elsewhere. Although current
field evidence from the harra allows for a wholly differ-
ent perspective (see below), the late prehistory of the
region roughly the Neolithic and Chalcolithic
periods is still understood in a fragmentary
manner, because of small-scale and disparate exca-
vations and surveys of varying levels of intensity (for
a history of research, see Betts 2013).
Only recently has a renewed interest developed for
the archaeology of north-eastern Jordan, elaborating
on the seminal work of Garrard and others in the
Azraq area and Bettspioneering efforts in the harra
proper (e.g. Garrard et al. 1985; Betts 1998, 2013;
Garrard and Byrd 2013). Current excavations in
Kharaneh and the Shubayqa area have produced
exceptional data on settlement and architecture in
the region during the Epipaleolithic (Richter et al.
2011, 2012, 2014; Maher et al. 2012). Other major
recent research projects, with a focus on the
Neolithic, are carried out at both Wisad Pools and
Maitlands Mesa on the southern fringes of the
harra, close to the Saudi border. The work there
revealed extensive villages of the 7th6th millennia
BC with substantial circular or oval structures (Wasse
and Rollefson 2005; Rollefson et al. 2011; Wasse
et al. 2012). Also of great value is survey work on
the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age in the harra
near Jawa and in the Wadi ar-Ruwayshid area in the
hamad east of the basalt plateau, which identified
flint mines with evidence for cortical scraper blank
production (Müller-Neuhof 2013, in press).
Attention is also drawn to the Aerial Photographic
Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East
(APAAME), for its extremely useful high-resolution
aerial reconnaissance work and associated insights
into the nature and distribution of prehistoric sites in
the Badia (see, e.g. Kennedy 2011, 2012). These differ-
ent projects convincingly demonstrate the archaeologi-
cal affluence of the Badia and challenge any
preconceived ideas regarding the marginality or cul-
tural insignificance of the area.
New field research: Jebel Qurma
Another new research initiative is the Jebel Qurma
Archaeological Landscape Project, initiated by
Leiden University (The Netherlands), which is
working in close co-operation with Jordans
Department of Antiquities. This long-term project
comprises survey and (in a later stage) excavation in
the basalt region of Jebel Qurma, some 30 km east
of the small oasis town of Azraq, which lies close to
the Saudi border (Fig. 1). It seeks to address local
settlement, life-ways, and the treatment of the dead
from an explicitly multi-period perspective, as well as
in relation to the diverse landscape and environment.
Two initial field seasons of reconnaissance survey
were carried out MayJuly 2012 and 2013; further
work in the region is planned.
The study area covers around 300 km
of basaltic
uplands, in addition to stretches of gravel and lime-
stone, between two major drainage systems, i.e. Wadi
Rajil in the west and Wadi al-Qattafi in the east
(Fig. 2). Located within the research area is the promi-
nent landmark of Jebel Qurma, a high and steep-sided,
basalt-covered promontory at the very edge of an
extensive and rugged basalt massif that stretches
further to the east, and which locally marks the begin-
ning of the harra. Extensive gravel plains extend to the
north and south, alternating with mud flats of varying
size and low ranges of limestone hillocks. Still further
to the south there is the onset of the flat, shallow
depression of the Wadi Sirhan, which lies at the con-
vergence of several major caravan tracks to and from
Although the local archaeological record has been
impacted in places by mineral exploration and the
spread of irrigation-based agriculture, the Jebel
Qurma area represents, to a very large extent, what
has been termed a landscape of preservation (Taylor
1972; Wilkinson 2003: 4142). The basalt uplands
present a largely intact landscape of Neolithic and
Chalcolithic date, where settlement remains are pre-
served with remarkable clarity. An initial assessment
of CORONA and IKONOS satellite imagery, aerial
photographs at varying resolutions and field survey
results produced by the initial 201213 seasons,
have revealed dozens of prehistoric sites of a highly
varied nature and date. The identification of these
sites provides valuable insights into the patterns of
settlement and land use, and their development
through time and space. The remainder of this
article seeks to briefly review these new data on pre-
historic occupation in the Jebel Qurma region and its
implications for the reconstruction of local ways of
life from the 7th4th millennia cal BC (all dates
used in this article are calibrated dates BC). It must,
however, remain an interim evaluation, since only a
relatively small portion of the area under study has
thus far been surveyed in detail and the associated
artefactual finds are still being fully analysed.
Another word of caution concerns the overall chron-
ology of the sites, which is still incompletely
understood. In most cases, lithic technologies and
Akkermans et al. A landscape of preservation
Levant 2014 VOL. 46 NO. 2187
typologies serve as dating tools, but they possess
their own inherent drawbacks, particularly in relation
to surface materials. Radiocarbon dates are available
for a small number of sites in the wider harra,
although they often consist only of one to three
dates per find spot (cf. Betts 2013: table 1.2). In
the case of the Jebel Qurma region, we distinguish
at present five main phases of late prehistoric
settlement, on the basis of site distributions, site
layout, and associated material culture.
Phase 1: desert kites
The first major late prehistoric phase in the Jebel
Qurma region is represented by a series of impressive
desert kites: large funnel-shaped installations con-
sisting of two or more stone walls converging on
an enclosure sited on the crest of a ridge or hill.
They are known in various configurations from all
over the eastern Badia and beyond, and are com-
monly interpreted as traps for wild game such as
gazelles, oryxes, and onagers. The funnels would
Figure 1 Map of Jordan showing the locations of the principal sites referred to in the text.
Source: Terra-MODIS image, adapted from Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC
Akkermans et al. A landscape of preservation
Levant 2014 VOL. 46 NO. 2188
serve to guide the wild game towards the kites apex
or killing field(Helms and Betts 1987; Holzer et al.
2010; Kempe and Al-Malabeh 2010; Nadel et al.
2010; Bar-Oz et al. 2011; Kennedy 2012; but see
Échallier and Braemer 1995 for an alternative
There are five large desert kites in the Jebel Qurma
area, with low guiding walls, which can stretch as far
as 5 km in length, and roughly star-shaped enclosures
(traps) between 100 and 160 m in diameter. Their
location, and the trajectory of their funnels were
extracted from IKONOS satellite imagery, while sub-
sequent surface reconnaissance provided further,
more detailed information on their configuration and
chronology. Each kite trap was situated behind a
ridge of the basalt plateau, invisible to animals
approaching it through the funnel. Small, circular or
oval structures were often incorporated against the
walls of the traps, and may have served as hideouts,
butchering areas, or even dwellings.
In the case of the kites at QUR-21 and QUR-26, the
traps were overlain by extensive and irregularly shaped
groups of enclosures (Fig. 3). It appears that these
groupings were not part of the original construction
of the kites, but represent later additions, partly set
on the kiteswalls. Of particular interest was the recov-
ery of two pecked petroglyphs, found next to each
other on the top of a low basalt-capped hillock
about 20 m to the south-west of, and partly overlook-
ing, the kite of QUR-21, and which depict this instal-
lation in a rather realistic way (cf. Figs 3, 4A and B).
The petroglyphs clearly show the kites star-shaped
trap with its attached hideouts, as well as the large
funnel with its opening into the trap. Both depictions
even used the morphology of the rocks onto which
they were made to recreate the local topography at
QUR-21, thus adding to an accurate, life-like represen-
tation of the kite. Remarkably though, they do not
show the large grouped enclosures at the site. These,
it seems, were not yet present at the time when the pet-
roglyphs were made. In this respect, the rock art may
reflect the original shape of the kite, rather than its
layout as we see it today.
The precise date of construction and use of the
desert kites in the Jebel Qurma area are still uncertain.
Lithics or other datable materials directly associated
with these installations are presently absent. Close to
the kites there were sometimes scatters of knapping
debris, although their interrelationship is unknown.
However, the sequence of buildings at the kites of
QUR-21 and QUR-26 and the finds therein offer
some useful clues regarding the chronology. With
regard to their partial location on top of the kites
walls, the groupings of enclosures at both QUR-21
and QUR-26 must surely have been more recent
than the kites themselves. The many lithic artefacts
Figure 2 The study region and the area surveyed in 20122013, with the location of prehistoric sites: (1) QUR-1; (2) QUR-6; (3)
QUR-371; (4) QUR-8; (5) QUR-391; (6) QUR-13; (7) QUR-21; (8) QUR-20; (9) QUR-361; (10) QUR-461; (11) QUR-64; (12)
QUR-27; (13) QUR-26; (14) QUR-124; (15) QUR-139; (16) QUR-137; (17) QUR-143 to QUR-148; (18) HAZ-26; (19) HAZ-42
to HAZ-47.
Photo: Landsat 7, courtesy of the United States Geological Survey
Akkermans et al. A landscape of preservation
Levant 2014 VOL. 46 NO. 2189
found in and around the enclosures include bifacial
knives, cortical scrapers, and concave truncation
burins, and suggest a date in the Late Neolithic
period for the enclosures. This date most likely corre-
sponds to the second main phase of occupation in
the Jebel Qurma region, c. 64006100 BC (cf. Betts
2013: table 1.2; see the discussion below). Hence the
kites in their original shapes must have been construc-
tions of the earlier 7th millennium BC or before.
Comparable evidence is present from other sites in
the wider harra, where kites were likewise often over-
lain or disturbed by later Neolithic features (Betts
and Helms 1986; Betts 1998).
Phase 2: grouped enclosures and burin sites
The second main phase of occupation in the Jebel
Qurma region is defined by a number of locales
made of groupings of enclosures, the walls of which
were knitted together to form large but irregular, hon-
eycomb-like structures several dozen metres across
(Fig. 5). They occur predominantly low on the slopes
of the promontories on the edges of the basalt,
within close proximity to water channels and with
easy access to both the harra and the wide plains of
the hamad beyond. In several cases, the sites are also
found deeper inside the harra, such as at the earlier
mentioned site of QUR-21, where they may have
been used for a continual exploitation of desert kites
for hunting purposes.
The grouped enclosures exist either in isolation or in
sets of two. They often show evidence of reuse or
alteration in later periods, which makes their original
layout difficult to establish. The enclosures were
between 40 and 60 m long and between 27 and 35 m
wide, and consisted of 514 irregular compartments.
The individual compartments usually measured
around 1020 m, although there were also one or two
much smaller chambers, measuring around 3 m across,
within each enclosure. The walls of the enclosures were
constructed of piled basalt rocks and were between 0.7
and 1.5 m wide; they sometimes stood to a considerable
height, up to 1.55 m (originally the walls may have been
much taller, judging from the many, presumably fallen,
stones around them). Entrances to the enclosures were
up to 2.8 m wide, whereas other passages, between 0.7
and 0.9 m in width, gave access to most of the interior
compartments. There were extensive areas cleared of
basalt rocks around each of the agglomerations,
Figure 3 The desert kite at QUR-21. View to the south. (A) Star-shaped trap, with an eastwest width of about 120 m. (B) Funnel.
(C and D) Phase 2 grouped enclosures. (E) Location of prehistoric rock engravings.
Photo: Mike Neville, APAAME_20081102_MJN-0135
Akkermans et al. A landscape of preservation
Levant 2014 VOL. 46 NO. 2190
providing additional space for working and living. The
grouped enclosures each comprised, roughly,
14002100 m
, if the clearances plus the interior space
are included.
Often, there were dense lithic concentrations on the
cleared surfaces in and around the enclosures. They
suggest that the structures were intensively used for
residential purposes and related activities, perhaps
over extensive periods of time. The lithic assemblages
are flake dominated, with formal tools consisting of
Nizzanim and Haparsa points, bifacial knives, cortical
scrapers and burins, all of Late Neolithic date
Figure 4 (A and B) Two prehistoric rock engravings showing the desert kite of QUR-21 in its original shape. Scale bar =20 cm.
Photo: Peter Akkermans.
Akkermans et al. A landscape of preservation
Levant 2014 VOL. 46 NO. 2191
(although these tool types, with the exception of the
bifacial knives, extend later in time; cf. Figs 6 and 7).
The cortical elements are often assigned a
Chalcolithic date (Braun 2011: 171), but excavations
at Dhuweila and, more recently, Wisad Pools argue
for an earlier start: they yielded tabular knives and
scrapers in association with Haparsa and other Late
Neolithic arrowhead types (Betts 1998: 105, 119;
Rollefson et al. 2013, 16; see also Moore 1973 on the
Late Neolithic date of cortical scrapers). These tools
may have been imported products, brought to the
sites in the harra probably from the mining areas in
either the Jafr basin to the south-west, or the Wadi
ar-Ruwayshid area to the north-east (Müller-Neuhof
2013: 221).
Some Phase 2 sites had remarkably large concen-
trations of concave truncation burins. They may be
similar to the great number of find spots of burin
Neolithictype in the eastern Badia at large, previously
identified in the field surveys by Betts (e.g. Betts 2013).
One excavated burin site is Jebel Naja, situated on a
hillside overlooking the alluvial fan of Wadi al-
Qattafi and characterized by a cluster of corrals and
cleared terraces(Betts 2013: 13), reminiscent of the
sites in the Jebel Qurma region. A single radiocarbon
date from Jebel Naja of 64556080 cal BC (cf. Betts
2013: table 1.2), together with local arrowheads and
other tools, puts the settlement into the late 7th millen-
nium. A similar date in the Late Neolithic is thus
suggested for the Phase 2 sites in the Jebel Qurma area.
Phase 3: early 6th-millennium settlement
A third phase of Neolithic settlement in the Jebel
Qurma region is characterized by a number of sites
wholly different in extent and layout from those of
the previous periods. The relatively large agglomera-
tions, so typical of the burin-related sites, do not
occur anymore being replaced by localities displaying
a wide array of free-standing stone-walled structures
in various forms and sizes. The associated lithic assem-
blage also differs to some extent from that found at the
burin sites, although there are many similarities as
well. The lithics overwhelmingly represent a flake-
oriented industry, with many ad hoc tools on flakes,
complemented by cortical scrapers and tabular
knives (skillfully and finely retouched along their
edges), drills, borers, and blades. In addition, there
were a few arrowheads, all of Late Neolithic
Haparsa type. Significantly, burins were virtually
absent. Tentatively, we date these materials and the
Figure 5 The phase 2 grouped enclosure at the site of QUR-1, about 56 m long and 47 m wide. View to the west.
Photo: Peter Akkermans
Akkermans et al. A landscape of preservation
Levant 2014 VOL. 46 NO. 2192
Figure 6 Prehistoric chipped-stone tools from the Jebel Qurma region. No. 1: Nizzanim point from the enclosure at QUR-64. No.
2: Haparsa point from the wheel at QUR-146. No. 3: Byblos point from the settlement at QUR-6. Nos 45: Broken points
from the settlement at QUR-6. No. 6: Bifacial knife from the enclosure at QUR-21. Nos 78: Borers from QUR-6. Nos
911: Burins from the enclosure at QUR-1. No. 12: Burin from the enclosure at QUR-20.
Akkermans et al. A landscape of preservation
Levant 2014 VOL. 46 NO. 2193
Figure 7 Prehistoric cortical tools from the Jebel Qurma region. Nos 12: Cortical scrapers from QUR-6. No. 3: Cortical scraper
from the wheel at QUR-140. No. 4: Cortical scraper from the wheel at QUR-139. No. 5: Cortical scraper from the
enclosure at HAZ-26 in the Hazimah plain. No. 6: Cortical knife from QUR-6.
Akkermans et al. A landscape of preservation
Levant 2014 VOL. 46 NO. 2194
localities in which they were found to the early 6th mil-
lennium cal BC, which is corroborated by recent exca-
vations at Wisad Pools and elsewhere (see below).
The sites from this phase are mainly found close to
the edges of the harra, on the lower slopes of the basalt
promontories, sheltered from the prevailing wind, and
within a short distance of wadis and extensive mud
flats that provided both water and grazing areas in
wet seasons. While some of the sites were small (a
few hundred square metres) and consisted of a
handful of dispersed structures, others were spread
over a very large area, comprising hundreds of build-
ings of different kinds. A spectacular example is the
site of QUR-6, situated on the lower northern slope
of the large and heavily basalt-covered hill of Jebel
Qurma itself, at the point where Wadi Rajil runs out
of the harra into the wide Hazimah plain (Fig. 8).
QUR-6 covers an area at least 700 m long and 160 m
wide (i.e. about 8 hectares). The site may be even
much larger up to 12 hectares if we include the
settlement remains on the far eastern edge of the hill,
although these are spatially separated from the main
area of use. High on the slope and at the summit of
the hill, there were concentrations of small and low
cairns, which may have served as a burial ground for
the lower-situated settlement. Significantly, even the
smallest sites appear to have had one or more such
cairns, suggesting that the dead were kept close to
areas of habitation.
Within the main 8-hectare area of settlement at
QUR-6, 225 free-standing structures have been ident-
ified, located at distances of 413 m from each other.
Their interiors were filled with loose wind-blown
sand, often with a cover or mixture of tumbled rocks
and wall collapse. The walls were preserved to
heights of between 20 cm and 1 m and were composed
of stacked basalt boulders collected from the immedi-
ate vicinity. The buildings occurred in different forms
(Table 1). While the smaller structures, up to 7 m
across, were roughly circular, crescent-shaped, horse-
shoe-shaped, or U-shaped (Fig. 9), and had a single
entrance of about 70 cm wide, the larger ones were
figure 8-shaped, often with more than one opening
(Fig. 10). The latter buildings were between 2.8 and
9.5 m long and between 2.4 and 6.5 m wide and had
two compartments ranging from 1to 4 m in diameter,
and separated from each other by relatively thin par-
tition walls, although there were also installations
Figure 8 The many phase 3 dwellings and enclosures at the site of QUR-6, at the foot of the hill of Jebel Qurma. View to the
north. The area of settlement visible here is about 450 m wide.
Photo: David Kennedy, APAAME_20111027_DLK-0091
Akkermans et al. A landscape of preservation
Levant 2014 VOL. 46 NO. 2195
with three or even four such units. Alcoves or, perhaps,
hearths regularly occur within these structures, inte-
grated in their rooms and walls.
In addition, there were a number of round or oval,
stone-walled enclosures up to 21 m in diameter, with
sometimes one or more figure 8-shaped and/or U-
shaped dwellings attached to them (Fig. 11). A string
of such enclosures (some with attached structures)
was also found high on the slope of Jebel Qurma.
This shows a linear eastwest distribution and thus
runs parallel to the many dwellings in the main area
of settlement, which is situated lower down. They
comprise a single rough circle of basalt boulders
between 10 and 20 m in diameter, although some of
them were built from a number of more irregular fea-
tures grouped together. Significantly, the enclosures
are nearly always situated next to erosion gullies,
which sometimes cut deeply into the basalt and
drain the hill of Jebel Qurma in the rainy season.
Occasionally these wadis even run straight through
the enclosures, dividing them into halves; in these
cases the enclosure walls seem to serve as damsto
collect surface runoff, as they extend across the
wadis. The (intermittent) availability or even storage
of water, it appears, was a main determinant of the
location of these enclosures, highly useful, for
example, in the case of animal pens and the watering
of herds. A similar association of enclosures with tem-
porary pools that retain winter precipitation into the
spring, and that has also been interpreted as an
aspect of animal management, was noted in the
basalt landscape west of Homs in Syria (Philip and
Bradbury 2010: 141, 145).
Significantly, there were many narrow pathways
within the rock-strewn area of the settlement, which
in some instances were traced over hundreds of
metres. These clearances some 4050 cm wide clearly
Figure 9 Structure 91, one of the many roughly round buildings at QUR-6. Scale bar =50 cm.
Photo: Peter Akkermans
Table 1 Distribution of building types at QUR-6
Shape N%
Circular 14 6
U-shaped and horseshoe-shaped 34 15
Crescent-shaped 20 9
Figure 8-shaped with two compartments 71 32
Three or four compartments 17 8
Single enclosure 16 7
Grouped enclosure 10 4
Enclosure with integrated figure 8- and/or U-
shaped structures
Unidentified 34 15
Total 225 100
Akkermans et al. A landscape of preservation
Levant 2014 VOL. 46 NO. 2196
linked the various structures and provided relatively
easy access to them in a rough basalt setting, which
would otherwise be difficult to cross. They were
mostly oriented eastwest, parallel to the slope of
Jebel Qurma. The main northsouth passages
leading high up onto the hill were, it seems, primarily
through the many small wadis draining the mountain.
Although some of these paths are used by modern
Bedouin herdsmen and their livestock, they appear
to be mostly of prehistoric origin.
QUR-6 is one of several extensive Neolithic sites in
the basalt wasteland. The concentrations of structures
are not exclusive to the Jebel Qurma region, but have
clear parallels elsewhere in the southern part of the
Jordanian harra, such as on the slopes of the table-
mounds or mesas in Wadi al-Qataffi and on the low
rise of Wisad Pools on the south-eastern edge of the
basalt. Recent excavations at these sites have exposed
a number of small round or oval dwellings, similar to
the ones in the Jebel Qurma area, provided with
narrow doorways, low-corbelled roofs, and paved
floors equipped with hearths. The buildings sometimes
opened onto walled courtyards or enclosures, which
may have served as corrals for confining animals,
although the occasional occurrence of shallow, stone-
lined fireplaces in them points to other domestic activi-
ties as well. The lithic assemblages retrieved from these
buildings (including many arrowheads of different
types) as well as some ceramics of Yarmukian origin,
indicate a date in the Late Neolithic period (Wasse
et al. 2012; Rollefson et al. 2013).
Phase 4: Late Neolithic to Chalcolithic wheels
Among the more enigmatic features in the Jebel
Qurma region is the series of large but low, roughly cir-
cular stone buildings up to 68 m across, with extensive
enclosures in the centre, and surrounded by an outer
ring of small round, horseshoe-shaped or figure 8-
shaped structures (Fig. 12). Their specific layout
apart, these impressive installations, often referred to
as wheelsor jellyfishbecause of their shape (Betts
1982; Kennedy 2011), share a number of character-
istics with regard to their location. First, they are com-
monly situated at the edges of the harra, facing onto
the large open plains. Second, the sites are in close
proximity to wadi systems and mud flats, which pro-
vided ample access to water and grazing grounds in
the wet season. Third, the sites rarely occur in iso-
lation, but are found in groups of twoseven wheels,
often located quite close together (a few dozen
Figure 10 The large figure 8-shaped dwelling 186 at QUR-6. Scale bar =50 cm.
Photo: Peter Akkermans
Akkermans et al. A landscape of preservation
Levant 2014 VOL. 46 NO. 2197
metres in most cases). Finally, each of these sites is
located either at the top, or high on the slope of a
basalt hillock. Their preferential grouping on high
ground constitutes a major difference when compared
with sites of the previous Neolithic period. The
location had evident benefits to the sitesinhabitants,
as it offered extensive views over the surrounding
basalt range and the open plains, very useful in
terms of safety, herd control, or hunting. On the
other hand, this may have made these sites more vul-
nerable, for example to strong winds and storms, or
to detection from great distances by outsiders.
Satellite imagery and aerial photographs have
revealed 34 wheels in the Jebel Qurma region, 16 of
which were examined on the ground in 201213.
They were between 45 and 68 m in diameter and had
low walls, preserved to no more than 55 cm in
height. Usually the wheels were centred on naturally
occurring basalt outcrops, the summits of which
were carefully integrated within the layout of the
wheels (the outcrops were regularly used as continu-
ations of walls, or served as the focal points from
which the walls of the wheels radiated). The installa-
tions were often terraced, due to the physical charac-
teristics of the hill upon which they stood. Each
wheel was divided into 4 to 14 large, irregular enclo-
sures by radiating walls, with a smaller enclosure
usually in the middle. The compartments ranged
from 6 to 25 m in length and from 5 to 19 m in
width. Access to the wheels and their enclosures was
varied, whereas some had up to eight exterior passages
of varying widths, others had merely a single entrance
or no apparent doorway at all. Inside the enclosures
there were sometimes low stone piles, small and
round hearth-like installations, and U-shaped features.
The surrounding outer ring consisted of up to 23
small, hut-like features, about 35 m in diameter and
which recall the dwellings of the previous phase in
shape and size. These were simple round or horse-
shoe-shaped structures, although more complex
figure 8-shaped buildings also occurred. They often
(though not always) had openings directed towards
the central enclosures. Occasionally this outer circle
also comprised a few small and low cairns, although
it remains unknown whether these were part of the
original construction.
In respect to their consistent and well-ordered
layout, a feature that is repeated throughout the
basalt uplands, the construction of these wheels must
have required careful planning and widespread
Figure 11 Large enclosure of the 6th millennium BC at QUR-6. Scale bar =50 cm.
Photo: Peter Akkermans.
Akkermans et al. A landscape of preservation
Levant 2014 VOL. 46 NO. 2198
agreement on the configuration of occupation, which
indicates the presence of strong social conventions
and concepts of place and identity. The considerable
labour investment associated with the construction of
the wheels suggests that they were intended for long
and regular stays, which may have added to a develop-
ing sense of ownership and territoriality. The exact use
of the wheels is still unknown, although it has been
suggested that the multi-cellular enclosures at the
centre functioned as animal pens, while the outer
circles of round structures served for the protection
and shelter of extended family units (Betts 1982:
31). If so, there must have been close co-operation
between these units, with regard to the regular occur-
rence of the wheels in groups. For example, the con-
centration of seven wheels close together, at the top
of a series of low basalt-covered promontories, at
the very northern edge of the basalt, these border
the largest mud flat in the research area (Qa
al-Tayirat) and the wide gravel plains beyond. In
light of the nearly 100 dwellings in the outer rings
of these sites, we ought to allow for the possibility
that there may have been hundreds of people living
and working together here, exploiting both the stra-
tegic location and the nearby resources to their full
More recently it has been proposed that the wheels
were funerary monuments, because of the cairns they
often contain in their interiors (Kennedy 2011:
3189). Although some of these cairns are probably pre-
historic, the majority of them appears to be Safaitic in
date (2nd4th centuries AD) and bear no direct relation
to the wheels. Usually they stood partly upon the lower
walls of the wheels, and pre-existing stones were often
removed for the cairn construction.
Since none of the wheels have been excavated, their
precise date must remain uncertain. The lithic assem-
blages retrieved from the their surfaces reflect rather
diverse technologies, and comprise cortical scrapers,
tabular knives, borers, irregular flake scrapers,
retouched flakes, retouched blades, denticulated
blades, and crested core-preparation blades. Several
neighbouring wheels also had truncation burins and
arrowheads of Late Neolithic type (Nizzanim and
Herzliya points), although it is unknown whether
these were part of the wheelsinventory or belong to
Figure 12 The prehistoric wheels at QUR-143 (left) and QUR-144 (right). QUR-143 is about 50 m in diameter, whereas QUR-143
is considerably larger, with a diameter of about 70 m. View to the south.
Photo: David Kennedy, APAAME_20111027_DLK-0180
Akkermans et al. A landscape of preservation
Levant 2014 VOL. 46 NO. 2199
an earlier phase of use at the sites. Several cores and
lithic debris indicate local production and flint
The lithics may adhere to local Late Neolithic tech-
nologies and typologies. The occurrence of handmade
pottery, in small but consistent quantities at each of
the wheels, may likewise argue for a date in the Late
Neolithic, although a (much) later date in the
Chalcolithic period cannot be excluded at present.
Altogether some 200 sherds were collected, most of
them of minute size (12 cm in diameter, with a few
larger sherds); these represent the earliest pottery cur-
rently known in the Jebel Qurma region. The ceramics
were all handmade and, to judge from their many
basalt inclusions, were probably locally produced,
with at least two fabrics: fine and coarse. The fine
variety consists of brown to buff, S-shaped bowls,
and small jars with simple plain rims, some with
loop handles (see Fig. 13). They have thin walls (wall
thickness on average about 7 mm) and were tempered
with basalt particles and some other mineral
inclusions. Firing is often even, without a dark core.
A few sherds were painted (cross-hatching in a black
paint; Fig. 13, no. 8), while one piece was both
painted-and-incised. The coarse variety seems to com-
prise hole-mouth pots, with one vessel having a ledge
handle with incised decoration (Fig. 13, no. 5). Other
vessels had a cordon below the rim (Fig. 13, no. 6).
The pottery typically has a dark reddish-brown
colour and thick walls (on average 12 mm), and is
heavily tempered with basalt. The sherds often show
a dark sandwich core, indicative of incomplete
Pottery has been retrieved in small quantities from a
number of excavated sites in the harra, including a few
Late Neolithic Yarmukian sherds, with painted and
incised decoration, from Wisad Pools (Rollefson
et al. 2013: 1819) and an assemblage roughly dated
within the Late Chalcolithic through Early Bronze
Age I at Tell al-Hibr (Betts 2013: 152). The ceramics
from the Jebel Qurma wheels fit neither of these
groups well; rather, they are vaguely reminiscent of
6th millennium Wadi Rabah wares in the southern
Levant (see, e.g. Garfinkel 1999; Banning 2007;
Rowan and Golden 2009). However, these sherds
may possibly represent an entirely local ceramic tra-
dition that only partially connects with existing
Phase 5: Hazimah enclosures
Our survey work in the gently rolling Hazimah gravel
plains to the south of the basaltic upland revealed a set
of 10 enclosures, situated on the summit and slope of
low limestone hillocks (Fig. 14). One of them stood
isolated but the others were situated in very close
proximity to each other, i.e. within an area about
500 m across. The enclosures were of varying shapes
and sizes. Some of them were roughly rectangular,
whereas others were oval or circular, ranging from 17
to 44 m in diameter. The larger structures were often
divided into small, irregular compartments. They
had low walls 2060 cm in height, made of loosely
piled limestone boulders. In some cases, the walls
merely consisted of a single row of large limestone
boulders. Occasionally, small cairns, probably used
for burial, stood on top of the enclosure walls,
although it is unknown whether these were contem-
porary constructions.
Relatively rich artefactual assemblages were
encountered on the surfaces in and around the enclo-
sures, comprising much chipped stone, pottery
sherds, and some fragments of ground-stone tools.
The artefact concentrations show a remarkable
degree of similarity from one enclosure to another
and suggest homogeneity in terms of date and use.
The lithic collections resemble, to some extent, those
of the wheels, in terms of their flake-dominated tech-
nology, their ad hoc implements and their many corti-
cal tools. Significantly, arrowheads were entirely
The handmade ceramics (91 sherds in total)
occurred in both coarse and fine varieties. The
former had a coarse matrix, ranged in colour from
dark grey to dark red, and was tempered with a dark
mineralprobably basalt. These, often heavy, sherds
displayed some hammer-shaped rims, under which
there were sometimes impressed decorations reminis-
cent of Early Chalcolithic pottery from elsewhere in
the southern Levant (Fig. 13, nos 910). The other
variety had a finer matrix and was tempered with
light-coloured minerals. The sherds had a buff
colour, although others carried a modest burnish
and were red or brown in colour. One of these burn-
ished sherds had a ledge handle (Fig. 13, no. 11).
The many artefacts in and around the enclosures
suggest that these features were primarily areas for
habitation and related domestic activities, rather than
simply corrals for animals. However, with regard to
their low and roughly piled, irregular walls, the enclo-
sures seem to have been little more than cleared spaces,
perhaps for shelters made of more perishable materials
such as hides or cloth. Whereas the limited amount of
labour invested in their construction suggests that
these enclosures were used for short periods of time
only, the numerous tools discovered in them point
towards their frequent reuse, perhaps on a seasonal
Akkermans et al. A landscape of preservation
Levant 2014 VOL. 46 NO. 2200
Figure 13 Prehistoric ceramics from the Jebel Qurma region. No. 1: Incised jar fragment, the neck of which was probably
removed intentionally, from the wheel at QUR-144. Nos 24: Rim sherds from the wheels at QUR-27, QUR-148,
and QUR-146, respectively. No. 5: Impressed ledge handle from the wheel at QUR-146. No. 6: Body fragment with
a cordon from the wheel at QUR-146. No. 7: Loop handle from the wheel at QUR-147. No. 8: Painted body sherd
from the wheel at QUR-148. Nos 910: Rim and body sherds with impressed decoration from the Hazimah
enclosure at HAZ-45. No. 11: Ledge handle from the Hazimah enclosure at HAZ-47.
Akkermans et al. A landscape of preservation
Levant 2014 VOL. 46 NO. 2201
basis. In this respect, the enclosures may have served
the recurrent needs of mobile pastoralist groups
exploiting the grazing opportunities of the hamad
landscape. The concentration of these enclosures in
parts of the Hazimah plain suggests that relatively
large groups of people resided together regularly.
The occurrence of many cortical scrapers together
with ceramics suggests that the Hazimah enclosures
date to the Chalcolithic period of the 5th or 4th millen-
nia cal BC, i.e. relatively late in the local sequence of
prehistoric settlement. Although the material culture
recalls the finds in the wheels, the latter structures
are wholly different from the Hazimah enclosures in
terms of layout, location, and the amount of labour
invested in construction. The difference may be due
to temporal developments, with the enclosures post-
dating the wheels. If so, we have to conclude that the
basalt uplands were abandoned, for one reason or
another, in the Chalcolithic period in favour of settle-
ment in the surrounding hamad landscape. Another
explanation is that the distinction has nothing to do
with chronology, but resulted from differences in func-
tion, with the wheels perhaps intended as base camps
for prolonged occupation on the edges of the basalt
and the enclosures for short-term stay deep in the
Although the new field data have not yet been ana-
lysed in full detail, they are already providing us with
important insights into the nature and development
of settlement in the Jebel Qurma area and the harra
at large in late prehistory. The surface finds (sites,
architecture, material culture, etc.) demonstrate five
major habitation phases, each with its own character-
istics and often very limited overlap in space and time.
The chronological positioning of the various phases is
still problematic and should be a major focus of future
work in the region, as it is at the very heart of
interpretation and remains essential to any insight
into the development of local settlement.
For many millennia, life in the Jebel Qurma region
was concentrated in the basalt uplands with their
many wadis and mud flats of varying sizes, which pro-
vided shelter, building materials, and seasonally rich
sources of water and grounds for herding and small-
scale agriculture. The wide gravel plains beyond the
Figure 14 A late prehistoric (phase 5) enclosure at HAZ-47 in the Hazimah plains. The installation is about 18 m in diameter.
Photo: Harmen Huigens.
Akkermans et al. A landscape of preservation
Levant 2014 VOL. 46 NO. 2202
harra proper were exploited, it seems, in a more oppor-
tunistic manner, with recurrent but short-lived, post-
Neolithic occupations starting relatively late in the
local sequence. This may imply a broadening of
desert horizons in terms of settlement and subsistence,
although the scale thereof was restricted (in this
respect, see also Betts 2013: 13442 on the flint scatters
without associated structures and the singular site of
Mahfour al-Ruweishid in the hamad east of Burqu).
In respect to site distributions and the variability
therein, the density of population in the Jebel Qurma
area must have been very considerable in some
periods. For example, the construction of the large
desert kites, with their guiding walls often many kilo-
metres in length and placed deep inside the basalt,
were undoubtedly the result of organized labour
beyond the reach of an individual or a small group
of people. Work on this scale must have involved com-
munities in the order of many dozens or even hundreds
of people. The mere dimensions of these hunting
installations suggest that they were aimed at mass kill-
ings of wild game, another indication that the hunting
parties required to both slaughter and consume the
animals must have been very sizeable (see Lourandos
1997: 65 for an ethnographic parallel on large-scale
hunting drives by Aboriginal groups in Australia).
Remarkably enough, there is little or no evidence for
extensive campsites to accommodate these large
numbers of people; there are presently only two or
three sites that may have been contemporary with
the kites, each of which is small and located far from
the hunting traps.
More substantial sites for local habitation began to
appear in the Late Neolithic period, with the occur-
rence of the burin-related grouped enclosures and
their dense lithic distributions. These large and
complex features, between 1400 and 2100 m
extent, may have each served the needs of perhaps
dozens of individuals. Settlement in the Jebel Qurma
area increased significantly in places in the late 7th
and 6th millennia cal BC, when there were very exten-
sive habitations, comprising many hectares and hun-
dreds of dwellings of different shapes and sizes.
These focal areas of habitation rank among the
largest prehistoric sites known to date in Jordan and
the Levant in general, and argue directly against
notions that simply equate local environmental limit-
ations with cultural marginality. None of the sites
reflect deep sequences, but this is not to say that we
should a priori exclude long-term stay at these
locales. While many find spots probably were transi-
tory campsites or small seasonal occupations, others
may have been substantial villages used on a
permanent basis for a prolonged time. They may
readily have had populations in the order of several
hundreds, suggestive of lively and dynamic commu-
nities exploiting their local, diverse environment
across its entire spectrum. These sites were not distrib-
uted randomly across the harra but were located on
selected, sheltered, low grounds in the basalt, at the
convergence of large wadis and extensive mud flats
allowing for plenty of water and land for livestock
and, perhaps, agriculture. Within these attractive set-
tings, there were sometimes several sites at close dis-
tance to each other (0.5 km or less), which must have
facilitated all kinds of co-operation, exchange, and
social engagement. Prehistoric populations in the
region, it seems, preferred to live and work together
in large groups and many households, the manage-
ment of which must have required an array of
complex arrangements.
Settlement in the Jebel Qurma region changed sig-
nificantly from one phase to another, in terms of
location, size, layout, structures, and material
culture. For example, the large grouped enclosures of
the late 7th millennium cal BC (our phase 2) appear
to have little or nothing in common with the dense dis-
tributions of much smaller, free-standing circular or
figure 8-shaped buildings so characteristic of the 6th
millennium (phase 3). In a similar way the so-called
wheels (phase 4) are entirely different in terms of
layout and location from pre-existing structures. Yet
another different type of settlement seems to be
present in the Hazimah plains, away from the basalt
landscape. Significantly, there are, at present, no sites
or materials which can be attributed to an intermedi-
atestage between any of the major occupational
phases. In this respect, it is difficult to not assume sub-
stantial hiatuses in the regional archaeological record.
The Jebel Qurma area, it seems, was punctuated by
episodes of distinct settlement and regional
These cyclical shifts are not restricted to the prehis-
toric periods but occur in later ages as well. There is,
for example, presently no convincing evidence for
settlement in the Jebel Qurma region in the Bronze
Age, pointing at a desertion lasting for perhaps as
much as 3000 years. While local habitation was sub-
sequently resumed on a large scale with the occurrence
of the Safaitic groups in the first centuries AD, another
period of local abandonment appears to have begun in
the late Byzantine period. The area seems to have been
virtually devoid of settlement from roughly the 7th to
the late 19th centuries AD, with the exception of the
14th-century Mamluk epoch, when there were a
series of campsites and Arabic inscriptions on stone.
Akkermans et al. A landscape of preservation
Levant 2014 VOL. 46 NO. 2203
The recurrent rearrangements of settlement are still
unexplained. Many ad hoc societal variables may have
been at work through time, including, for example, the
introduction of pastoralism or the expansion of
exchange networks. Although we need to be aware
of the risk of environmental determinism, it is tempt-
ing to consider environment and climate to have
been paramount in the decision to either occupy or
abandon the desert. In our days the harra is considered
hostile to settlement, because of its harsh climate,
severe aridity, thin soils, lack of surface water, rough
stone cover, etc. Any improvement or deterioration
of these conditions in the past may have had its distinct
effects on local settlement and population.
Unfortunately, there is a lack of high-resolution
palaeoenvironmental data for the harra and the parts
of Jordan east of the Dead Sea in general. Moreover,
current evidence for climate conditions in eastern
Jordan is predominantly Pleistocene in age, with few
or no records for the Holocene (cf. Jones and
Richter 2011: 364; Robinson et al. 2010: 6162).
Sediments from the Azraq wetlands suggest that
there were no significant changes in the current
Saharo-Arabian vegetation during, at the least, the
past 3100 years, although there were temporal shifts
in the composition of the plant assemblages, indicative
of both dryer and wetter events. A similar basic
Saharo-Arabian ecology with episodic variations
may readily apply to earlier portions of the
Holocene (Woolfenden and Ababneh 2011).
Fluctuations in the Dead Sea level suggest several
major wet phases, interrupted by multiple arid
events, roughly between 8000 and 1500 cal BC
(Migowski et al. 2006). However, none of these can
be linked with any certainty to the punctuated settle-
ment in the Jebel Qurma area, due to the presently
very imprecise dates for the various settlement
phases and each of the sites ascribed to them. It is
also important to realize that environmental continu-
ities and changes recorded in the much more exten-
sively studied western part of the Levant, including
the Dead Sea area, cannot simply be extrapolated to
the regions to the east, as local climate gradients
may change sharply over distances of only tens of kilo-
metres, with each area responding differently to cli-
matic fluctuations of even low amplitude (Davies
2005; Rambeau 2010: 522732).
We wish to express our gratitude to the Department of
Antiquities in Amman, Jordan, for its continued
assistance and encouragement concerning the research
in the Jebel Qurma region. Particular thanks go to Dr
Jehad Haroun, Ahmad Lash, Wesam as-Said, Nasser
Zoubi, and Khaled al-Janideh for their much valued
help. Our sincere thanks are also due to the
Jordanian Astronomical Society, in particularly Hani
Dalee and Khaled Tell, for allowing us to use their
facilities at the Hamza camp near Azraq. We also
would like to thank the Aerial Photographic Archive
for Archaeology in the Middle East (APAAME), in
particular David Kennedy and Rebecca Banks, for
the extremely useful aerial photographs of the Jebel
Qurma region. The 201213 field seasons were accom-
plished with the support of the Faculty of Archaeology
of Leiden University, Netherlands Embassy in
Amman, Jordan Oil Shale Company, Leiden
University Fund (LUF/Bijvanck), and Henk
Rottinghuis; we are grateful for their invaluable
Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East
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Akkermans et al. A landscape of preservation
Levant 2014 VOL. 46 NO. 2205
... Therefore, similar coping mechanisms, like agricultural extensification focussed on fodder crops (Müller-Neuhof 2013a), water catchment systems such as those at Jawa early Neolithic (seventh millennium BC or earlier), although often subsequently re-used (Akkermans et al. 2014;Betts 1998b). So-called 'wheels' have been found to possibly contain material dating from the Neolithic to Chalcolithic and perhaps EBA periods, with the latter also indicated by OSL dates (Rollefson et al. 2016; see also Akkermans and Brüning, this volume). ...
... 4000 m 2 ).Numerous paths formed by the linear clearing of basalt rocks were also identified in the vicinities of several sites, in particular the wheels. These are wider than sheep tracks formed by modern-day herds moving across the landscape, yet much too narrow to allow passage for vehicles, indicating a prehistoric origin as previously noted byAkkermans et al. (2014), and likely contemporaneous with the associated sites. Many exist directly adjacent to sites and emanate a few hundred metres into their hinterlands, while others appear to connect multiple sites with each other. ...
... The need for a typological seriation of these sites has been recognised before byRollefson et al. (2016), who in their OSL sampling of wheels in the Wisad Pools region dated one site to the Late Neolithic and one to the LC/EBA. A similarly large range of dates for this site type has been suggested byAkkermans et al. (2014), who further postulate a re-use of some during the period of the Safaitic inscriptions (roughly second century BC to fourth century AD) in the form of associated cairns. In the Western Harra Survey area, two distinct forms could be typologically defined by remote sensing data, which during the course of the later fieldwork were found to have impacts on their locations and material remains. ...
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The climatically varied Syro-Levantine steppes feature complex dynamics of past human occupation that vary greatly across the region in terms of scale, time periods, and archaeological remains. In particular, the Late Chalcolithic (LC) and Early Bronze Age (EBA) (c. 4400‑2100 BC) saw urbanism in north-eastern Syria, smaller-scale sedentism in central Syria, and the decline of longstanding occupation in north-eastern Jordan. Despite this, the challenges faced by prehistoric populations in these uncertain environments would have been very similar; thus it is reasonable to propose that some of their solutions were also. The region-wide project 'Human Adaptation in Climatically Marginal Environments of late-fifth to third millennium BC Syria and Jordan' takes a holistic approach to investigating these arid and semi-arid regions to determine their appeal to past populations, and the effects of the natural and anthropogenic environment on settlement morphologies and societies. It uses a variety of past and present remote sensing and ground truth data, a vital part of which is the author's 'Western Harra Survey', south of Jawa in the northern badia of Jordan. The first fieldwork season, conducted October-November 2015, identified large quantities of lithic material at numerous sites, a handful of which were likely occupied during the LC/EBA, as well as potential links to raw chert material sources, adding another facet to the appeal of the harrah to past populations, on top of the well-established arguments for the exploitation of pasture land resources. Additionally, a typological seriation of the morphology of sites known as 'wheels' was commenced, which appears to be linked to different site uses and/or periods of occupation. Establishing these connections is crucial to allow mapping occupation dynamics across the greater region and comparisons with areas in Syria and beyond.
... The area is rich in lithic remains of the Late Neolithic. It has thus been suggested that the kites should be assigned accordingly to the Late Neolithic (Akkermans et al. 2014). ...
The kites in the Negev and Sinai deserts1 (n = 57) are the most western of the large game traps in Asia in general, and the Middle East in particular (Plate 8.1). This area is distinctive in having almost exclusively only one relatively small kite type (Bar-Oz and Nadel 2013). The kites here can be divided into two geographical groups: a northern group in the Negev and north-east Sinai, and a southern group in south Sinai. The aims of this chapter are to a) describe the ecology of the region, b) present the general setting, architecture and dates of both kite groups, c) provide a general comparison between the two, and d) place them within the wider cultural and geographical context of the desert kite phenomenon.
... At times intensively visited and exploited, this region apparently witnessed intensive occupation and building during the Late Neolithic period. Similar evidence is becoming apparent from the Jebel Qurma project to the southwest of Wadi al-Qattafi [74,75] and the Jawa Hinterland project to the north [60,61]. Whether the result of increased gazelle hunting or herding of domesticates, or both, the significant increase in building a variety of structures along Wadi al-Qattafi underscores the presence of small groups spending extended periods of time there. ...
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This paper presents the results of a large scale, drone-based aerial survey in northeastern Jordan. Drones have rapidly become one of the most cost-effective and efficient tools for collecting high-resolution landscape data, fitting between larger-scale, lower-resolution satellite data collection and the significantly more limited traditional terrestrial survey approaches. Drones are particularly effective in areas where anthropogenic features are visible on the surface but are too small to identify with commonly and economically available satellite data. Using imagery from fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, along with photogrammetric processing, we surveyed an extensive archaeological landscape spanning 32 km2 at the site of Wadi al-Qattafi in the eastern badia region of Jordan, the largest archaeological drone survey, to date, in Jordan. The resulting data allowed us to map a wide range of anthropogenic features, including hunting traps, domestic structures, and tombs, as well as modern alterations to the landscape including road construction and looting pits. We documented thousands of previously unrecorded and largely unknown prehistoric structures, providing an improved understanding of major shifts in the prehistoric use of this landscape.
... Ongoing research includes the Epipalaeolithic Foragers in Azraq project currently excavating Kharaneh IV to the southwest of the GAOA Macdonald et al., 2018;Maher and Macdonald, 2020), as well as research at Qa' Shubayqa in the northern portion of the basin (Richter et al., 2017(Richter et al., , 2019. More recent periods are also the focus of multiple ongoing projects in the region (e.g., Abu Azizeh et al., 2014;Akkermans et al., 2014;Rowan et al., 2015Rowan et al., , 2017Huigens, 2018). ...
The Azraq oasis in the Eastern Desert of Jordan has produced considerable stone artefacts attributed to the early Palaeolithic, yet relatively few data are available regarding the chronology and palaeoenvironmental contexts of the remains. In this study, we present stratigraphic, sedimentological, and micropalaeontological analyses of the Late Acheulean site SM1 located within the former Shishan Marsh, which we combine with geochronological and sedimentological data from 13 neighbouring geological exposures to reconstruct the landscape evolution of the western margin of the Shishan Marsh. We then discuss the Late Quaternary palaeolandscapes of the greater Azraq oasis area over the past c. 350 ka. Our work demonstrates that the central Azraq Basin experienced three local wetting-drying cycles since the late Middle Pleistocene that would have dramatically shifted the quantity and distribution of freshwater resources, ranging from expansive wetland landscapes to desert refugia characterised by isolated spring pools—changes that would have significantly impacted the mobility decisions and settlement patterns of Palaeolithic inhabitants. Our study highlights that developing long-term records of human-environment dynamics in arid environments requires a mosaic approach to palaeoenvironmental reconstruction that is nested within a well-developed understanding of landscape evolution.
... The chronology of desert kites has also been much discussed. A longchronology suggests that desert kites were primarily a Neolithic phenomenon (Helms and Betts, 1987;Betts and Burke, 2015;Akkermans et al., 2014;Richter, 2004;Al Khasawneh et al., 2019a). Conversely, other researchers have argued that kites primarily date to the fourth and third millennia BC (Nadel et al., 2010;Zeder et al., 2013). ...
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Over 6,000 ‘desert kites’—mass-kill stone hunting traps constructed at various times over the last 10,000 years—have been identified from northern Arabia to western central Asia. It has been proposed that kites had a significant impact on animal demography, leading to changes in ecology and human societies. While there has been considerable discussion regarding the function and chronology of kites, their spatial distribution is poorly understood. Here we report over 300 desert kites from several areas of the Arabian Peninsula, including ~ 500 km further south than previously suggested. Using satellite imagery, we studied their super-imposition revealing an extended chronology of kite-construction, including multiple phases of rebuilding in some cases and kites built relatively recently. This shows that desert kites were significantly more spatially and temporally widespread than previously believed, suggesting that they played a role in transforming Late Quaternary ecosystems and offering insights into the behaviour of human societies in challenging environments.
... Sites and features of the Neolithic/Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age are not precisely dated, but likely mostly date to periods when climatic conditions were more optimal, and few or no radiocarbon dates fall in the 6 kya range. However, there is general consensus among scholars that there was still some low level of continued human occupation of these areas [168]. Betts and Martin [169] have suggested that Chalcolithic sites exist in the harra (basalt desert) and hamad (limestone desert) of Jordan but that these have frequently gone unrecognized in earlier surveys due to a lack of good diagnostic material. ...
... Sites and features of the Neolithic/Chalcolithic/ Early Bronze Age are not precisely dated, but likely mostly date to periods when climatic conditions were more optimal, and few or no radiocarbon dates fall in the 6 kya range. However, there is general consensus among scholars that there was still some low level of continued human occupation of these areas [168]. Betts and Martin [169] have suggested that Chalcolithic sites exist in the harra (basalt desert) and hamad (limestone desert) of Jordan but that these have frequently gone unrecognized in earlier surveys due to a lack of good diagnostic material. ...
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In the 12,000 years preceding the Industrial Revolution, human activities led to significant changes in land cover, plant and animal distributions, surface hydrology, and biochemical cycles. Earth system models suggest that this anthropogenic land cover change influenced regional and global climate. However, the representation of past land use in earth system models is currently oversimplified. As a result, there are large uncertainties in the current understanding of the past and current state of the earth system. In order to improve representation of the variety and scale of impacts that past land use had on the earth system, a global effort is underway to aggregate and synthesize archaeological and historical evidence of land use systems. Here we present a simple, hierarchical classification of land use systems designed to be used with archaeological and historical data at a global scale and a schema of codes that identify land use practices common to a range of systems, both implemented in a geospatial database. The classification scheme and database resulted from an extensive process of consultation with researchers worldwide. Our scheme is designed to deliver consistent, empirically robust data for the improvement of land use models, while simultaneously allowing for a comparative, detailed mapping of land use relevant to the needs of historical scholars. To illustrate the benefits of the classification scheme and methods for mapping historical land use, we apply it to Mesopotamia and Arabia at 6 kya (c. 4000 BCE). The scheme will be used to describe land use by the Past Global Changes (PAGES) LandCover6k working group, an international project comprised of archaeologists, historians, geographers, paleoecologists, and modelers. Beyond this, the scheme has a wide utility for creating a common language between research and policy communities, linking archaeologists with climate modelers, biodiversity conservation workers and initiatives.
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This contribution explores the application of the socio-ecological interaction model proposed by Marina Fischer-Kowalski for an investigation of the colonization of marginal habitats. Central to our approach is the hypothesis that the occupation of areas beyond the ’regular’ settlement patterns of (pre)historic, and indeed modern, societies corresponds to colonization processes that reflect specific social strategies and may have stimulated the development of new technological skills. Four case studies from the sites of Resafa (Syria), Petra (Jordan), and Ayamonte (Spain) highlight the potentials, as well as the limits, of ap- plying the socio-ecological model to archaeological material/studies.
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This article proposes that so-called burin sites represent the herding element of what is here defined as the Black Desert Neolithic cultural complex, that being the material manifestation of the hunter-gatherer-herder society that utilised the harrah and limestone steppe as far north as the Palmyra range during the Late Neolithic. An association with sheep herding in particular is suggested by an observed increase in the frequency of truncation burins and sheep bones at ‘Ain Ghazal from the LPPNB onwards. The possibility that milking may have been the mainstay of the Black Desert Neolithic herding economy, with gazelle being hunted for their meat and possibly hides by means of ‘desert kite’ hunting traps, is explored. It is argued that the ‘domus’ of the Black Desert Neolithic is to be found in the ‘Late Neolithic stations’ of the harrah, seasonally sedentary base camps associated with intensive plant-food economies and episodes of macro-banding. Sustained by 1500 years of relatively high annual rainfall, productive microenvironments in the harrah appear to have supported a process of cultural evolution not unlike that which characterised the Early Natufian some six millennia earlier. Once again, this resulted in rapid population growth, generally higher levels of occupational intensity, intensifying plant food economies and increasing levels of social, if not quite physical sedentism.
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In: Peter M. M. G. Akkermans (ed.) 2020. Landscapes of Survival - The Archaeology and Epigraphy of Jordan’s North-Eastern Desert and Beyond. Leiden: Sidestone Press, pp. 185-216.
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Current lack of consensus on how to date or even classify Late Neolithic or Early or Middle Chalcolithic assemblages in the southern Levant is due not only to a past shortage of radiocarbon evidence but to misapplication of such evidence as we have an inconsistency in terminology. This paper presents some typological analyses of several assemblages with claimed Wadi Rabah and Middle Chalcolithic affinities as well as Bayesian analyses of the associated radiocarbon evidence. The results indicate that a group of assemblages with most of the characteristics we might consider most typical of Wadi Rabah date to the period 5800-5200 cal. BC. Some of the assemblages with this claim, however, fit neither the typological nor the chronological characteristics of Wadi Rabah, and appear to belong to a later, yet Pre-Ghassulian, Chalcolithic.
The physical, chemical, numerical, and radiometric analyses of a 31-m sediment core from the Qa'el-Jafr basin provide an important record of Quaternary paleoenvironments for the Jordan Plateau and evidence for several significant changes in climate regime. Cluster and PCA analyses of the geochemical data support the designation of major sedimentation regimes identified by stratigraphic and sediment analyses. Multiple cycles of alluvial deposition, lacustrine units, and erosional unconformities characterize the deepest sediments, followed by a period(s) of intense evaporation. Radiocarbon ages of charcoal in the uppermost 7 in place the aeolian/alluvial phase between 16,030 +/- 140 yr B.P and 24,470 +/- 240 yr B.P. Deflation processes may explain the lack of a Holocene sequence. Despite lacking radiometric ages for the lower sediments, the thickness and degree of calcium-carbonate cementation suggest considerable age for the basal sediments, which suggests that a very long terrestrial record of Quaternary climate changes has been preserved in the Jafr basin. This new record of paleoenvironments provides important context to the archaeological record of the Jordan Plateau during the Quaternary. Several archaeological surveys demonstrate extensive human exploitation of lakes and springs of the major wadis along the western margin of the Rift Valley. However, little is known of human exploitation of the desert interiors. Qa'el-Jafr sediments demonstrate significant lacustrine and high moisture phases sufficient for human exploitation of the eastern desert during the Pleistocene. (c) 2005 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.