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The palaeoenvironmental potential of the eastern Jordanian desert basins (Qe'an)

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The palaeoenvironmental potential of the eastern Jordanian desert basins (Qe'an)

Abstract and Figures

This paper presents a summary of work undertaken by the authors and their teams on a series of Qe'an (plural of Qa’), in the Badia of eastern Jordan. These basins are a foci for settlement in the region, with the sites described here (Shubayqa, Wisad and the Qa’ Qattafi) edged by archaeological sites dating from the late Epipalaeolithic (ca. 14,500 - 11,600 cal BP) and the Neolithic (ca. 11,700 - 6100 cal BP), and in areas still used by people today as seasonal wetlands for watering animals and growing cereal. We assess here the potential for the Qe'an sediments to provide what would be rare continuous palaeoenvironmental records for this part of SW Asia. The paper presents the first dates from the Qe'an of this region and the outline sedimentology. Much of the fill is of Holocene age, which leads to discussion of climate and landscape change over the last 15,000 years, particularly due to the close geographical relationship between these basins and archaeology. Our optically stimulated luminescence and radiocarbon dating of the basin fill suggests that there was significantly more space in the landscape for water storage in the early Holocene, which may have therefore provided this resource for people and their livestock or game for a longer duration each year than that seen today. Linked to this are hypotheses of a more vegetated landscape during this time period. Given the environmentally marginal nature of our study area subtle changes in landscape and/or climate, and human exploitation of these resources, could have led to significant, and likely detrimental for its inhabitants, environmental impacts for the region, such as desertification. Our data are suggestive of desertification occurring, and sets up a clear hypothesis for testing by future work in the region.
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Quaternary International xxx (xxxx) xxx
Please cite this article as: Matthew D. Jones, Quaternary International, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2021.06.023
Available online 26 June 2021
1040-6182/© 2021 Elsevier Ltd and INQUA. All rights reserved.
The palaeoenvironmental potential of the eastern Jordanian desert
basins (Qean)
Matthew D. Jones
a
,
*
, Tobias Richter
b
, Gary Rollefson
c
, Yorke Rowan
d
, Joe Roe
b
,
Phillip Toms
e
, Jamie Wood
e
, Alexander Wasse
f
, Haroon Ikram
g
, Matthew Williams
h
,
Ahmad AlShdaifat
g
, Patrick Nørskov Pedersen
b
, Wesam Esaid
i
a
School of Geography and Future Food Beacon of Excellence, University of Nottingham, NG7 2RD, UK
b
Centre for the Study of Early Agricultural Societies, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
c
Department of Anthropology, Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA, 99362, USA
d
Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, 1155 East 58th St, Chicago, IL, 60637, USA
e
School of Natural and Social Sciences, University of Gloucestershire, UK
f
Yeditepe University, Istanbul, Turkey
g
School of Geography, University of Nottingham, NG7 2RD, UK
h
Department of Archaeology, University of Nottingham, NG7 2RD, UK
i
Head of Desert Castles Antiquities Section, Department of Antiquities of Jordan, Azraq, Jordan
ARTICLE INFO
Keywords:
Jordan
Badia
Holocene
Epipalaeolithic
Neolithic
ABSTRACT
This paper presents a summary of work undertaken by the authors and their teams on a series of Qean (plural of
Qa), in the Badia of eastern Jordan. These basins are foci for settlement in the region, with the sites described
here (Shubayqa, Wisad and the QaQatta) edged by archaeological sites dating from the late Epipalaeolithic
(ca. 14,500 - 11,600 cal BP) and the Neolithic (ca. 11,700 - 6100 cal BP), and in areas still used by people today
as seasonal wetlands for watering animals and growing cereal. We assess here the potential for the Qean sed-
iments to provide what would be rare continuous palaeoenvironmental records for this part of SW Asia.
The paper presents the rst dates from the Qean of this region and the outline sedimentology. Much of the ll
is of Holocene age, which leads to discussion of climate and landscape change over the last 15,000 years,
particularly due to the close geographical relationship between these basins and archaeology. Our optically
stimulated luminescence and radiocarbon dating of the basin ll suggests that there was signicantly more space
in the landscape for water storage in the early Holocene, which may have therefore provided this resource for
people and their livestock or game for a longer duration each year than that seen today. Linked to this are
hypotheses of a more vegetated landscape during this time period. Given the environmentally marginal nature of
our study area subtle changes in landscape and/or climate, and human exploitation of these resources, could
have led to signicant, and likely detrimental for its inhabitants, environmental impacts for the region, such as
desertication. Our data are suggestive of desertication occurring, and sets up a clear hypothesis for testing by
future work in the region.
1. Introduction
The dryland environments in the eastern Badia of Jordan (Al-Ho-
moud et al., 1995; Allison et al., 2000) contain multiple archaeological
sites spanning the late Quaternary (e.g. Maher and Macdonald, 2020;
Meister et al., 2017; Nowell et al., 2016). Water availability was an
important factor for enabling this human occupation. However, without
the technological possibilities of bringing water from substantial depths
underground, as it is today, questions are raised about how past societies
maintained habitations in these areas. It is likely that environments were
considerably different in the past, with increased rainfall, or increased
surface water retention supporting people and the plants and animals
they exploited for survival.
Natural archives, such as lake sediments and speleothems, that can
produce continuous time series of past climatic and environmental
conditions, and that have provided important similar information
* Corresponding author.
E-mail address: matthew.jones@nottingham.ac.uk (M.D. Jones).
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Quaternary International
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/quaint
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2021.06.023
Received 18 January 2021; Received in revised form 17 June 2021; Accepted 22 June 2021
Quaternary International xxx (xxxx) xxx
2
elsewhere in southwest Asia (e.g. Jones et al., 2019) dont exist in the
Badia, so alternative approaches to environmental reconstruction have
to be taken. Local palaeoenvironmental archives are important for
helping to understand local archaeological sites (e.g. Jones et al., 2016a,
b), and the climatic gradients in the region today, including within
Jordan itself (Fig. 1), highlight the difculties in relying on archives
from further aeld, even within the region, for understanding past
environmental conditions.
There are depositional basins in the Badia, locally known as Qa
(plural Qean), that although in the present day do not contain lakes, do
hold water for small periods of the year following winter rains, some-
times having travelled substantial distances through the normally dry
wadi systems. These basins contain sediment, and as part of ongoing
work we have been evaluating these as potential palaeoenvironmental
archives, including providing the age estimates for this basin ll. Little
work of this kind has been previously published from the eastern Badia
(but see Al-Tawash, 2007), beyond the major drainage centre of Azraq
(e.g. Ahmad and Davies, 2017).
Here we present the preliminary results of our work at three Qean;
at Shubayqa, Qatta and Wisad (Fig. 1). Our preliminary results show
that these archives do hold useful palaeoenvironmental information that
warrants further study. In addition the relatively consistent Holocene
ages of the upper sediments of these basins lead to interesting, and
archaeologically and palaeoclimatically important, hypotheses about
the Badia over the last 15,000 years.
2. Regional setting
Much of the region discussed here lies in, or at the edges of, the
basaltic desert of the eastern Jordanian Badia. The basalts are late
Neogene to Quaternary in age and lie above a series of Cenozoic lime-
stones (Bender, 1968; Ibrahim, 1993; Rabba, 2000, 2005, 2005). Our
study region spans a semi-arid steppe zone in the most northern reaches,
that receives less than 200 mm of mean annual rainfall, to a hyper-arid
zone in the south, where rainfall is less than 50 mm per year (Fig. 1).
Rainfall is not only low on average, but also, especially in the southern
region, usually falls in only one or two events during the rainy season,
which usually occurs from October through May. This paper focuses on
the study of three Qean, all located near to ongoing archaeological
excavations.
2.1. Shubayqa
The QaShubayqa is situated c. 20 km north of the modern town of
Safawi (Fig. 1). The Qacovers approx. 12 km
2
(Fig. 2) and consists of an
extensive alluvial fan that merges into a playa. The alluvial fan is the
culmination within the Qaof the Wadi Rajil, that enters from the west,
and whose drainage basin starts on the southern anks of the Jebel
Druze in southern Syria (Fig. 1; Whitehead et al., 2008). A secondary
wadi system drains into the north east corner of the Qathrough the
Wadi Selma. Water transport through the wadi systems causes seasonal
ooding of the Qa, which can be extensive and rapid.
Following earlier y-overs by Aurel Stein, evidence for the human
occupation of and around the QaShubayqa was rst reported by Alison
Betts (1998). Betts reported the presence of a number of prehistoric sites
in this area, including late Epipalaeolithic occupations at Shubayqa 1
and 3. In 1996 she conducted a brief test-excavation at Shubayqa 1. The
site was re-excavated between 2012 and 2015 as part of the Shubayqa
Archaeological Project, accompanied by the landscape survey and
geomorphological sampling of the Qa reported in this paper (Richter
et al., 2014, 2016a, b, 2017; Richter, 2014, 2017a, 2017b). In addition,
extensive excavations were carried out at the late Epipalaeolithic -
Pre-Pottery Neolithic A site Shubayqa 6 between 2014 and 2018 (set to
continue in the future) and test excavation at a small number of other
late Epipalaeolithic and early Neolithic sites in the area.
At present, apart from one locality that has produced heavily pati-
nated and abraded Middle Palaeolithic artefacts, there is little evidence
for human occupation in the area pre-dating the Late Epipalaeolithic.
Shubayqa 1 sits atop a c. 3 m high natural mound to the immediate
north of the QaShubayqa (Fig. 2). A scatter of chipped and ground
stone artefacts extends over ca. 3000 m
2
across the top of the mound.
Several later constructions have resulted in a dense accumulation of
basalt boulders across the mound. Amongst these boulders are several
that were used as mortars by the late Epipalaeolithic inhabitants of the
site. Excavations have revealed seven occupational phases that can be
grouped into three major occupational episodes. In addition to many
artefacts, several buildings were excavated. The different occupational
phases are discriminated on the basis of 27 Accelerator Mass Spec-
trometry (AMS) C14 dates, coupled with stratigraphic observations and
archaeological nds. The three major occupational episodes date from
the Early Natuan ~14,400 - 14,200 cal BP, Late Natuan ~13,300 -
Fig. 1. a) Map of Jordan showing the study sites (and selected present day occupation centres) with the rainfall isolines b) primary wadi drainage in the eastern
Jordanian Badia. The drainage network was produced using the SRTM v3 (30 m pixel) Digital Elevation Model (DEM) and the Hydrology Toolset in ArcMap v.10.3.1.
M.D. Jones et al.
Quaternary International xxx (xxxx) xxx
3
13,200 cal BP and Late/Final Natuan ~12,100 - 11,800 cal BP (Richter
at el. 2017). The earliest occupation immediately overlies archaeologi-
cally sterile sediment deposits. Archaeobotanical evidence indicates the
presence and exploitation of wetland tubers (Bolboschoenus glaucus),
cereals (Hordeum spontaneum, Triticum spp.), various trees and shrubs
(Tamarix sp., Chenopodiaceae and Vitex agnus-castus) andother plants (e.
g. Heliotropium sp., Buglossoides sp.) (Arranz-Otaegui et al., 2018). The
presence of large amounts of wetland plant tubers strongly suggests that
there was a substantial wetland in the Qa Shubayqa during the late
Pleistocene. The last occupational episode is contemporary with the last
stage of the Younger Dryas, and zooarchaeological evidence suggests
that localised water availability may have become less reliable just prior
to the beginning of the Younger Dryas (Yeomans and Richter, 2018).
Situated ca. 900 east of Shubayqa 1, the site of Shubayqa 6 (Fig. 2)
forms a low mound ca. 2.5 m in height that is composed entirely of
anthropogenic material (i.e. a settlement mound). A scatter of chipped
stone artefacts extends across ca. 5000 m
2
around the mound, which
itself measures about 3500 m
2
. Excavations have led to the discovery of
a series of buildings and occupations that can be grouped into four
phases: late/nal Natuan, dated to ~12,300 - 11,800 cal BP; Early
PPNA, dated to ~11,900 - 11,200 cal BP; Late PPNA, dated to ~11,090 -
11,970 cal BP; and late Chalcolithic, dated to ~5700 - 5600 cal BP. This
sub-division is based on combined observations from stratigraphy, nds
and 24
14
C AMS dates. The late Chalcolithic occupation consists of an
elaborate funerary monument that encompasses several burial cairns
enclosed by a circular wall. The LPPNA phase has several small oval
buildings with trodden oors, while the EPPNA phase is associated with
two large round structures with stone paved oors accompanied by a
series of smaller oval structures. The Natuan occupation has thus far
only been clearly identied in a sondage, but some of the structures in
the main excavation area may have started during this phase. In addition
to large amounts of worked stone artefacts, the excavations have
recovered a large faunal assemblage, as well as botanical remains. Both
are currently undergoing detailed analysis.
Walkover surveys along the margins of the QaShubayqa and adja-
cent areas have produced a rich record of archaeological sites, many of
which date to the Late Pleistocene and early Holocene. Some of these are
substantial habitation sites, such as Shubayqa 3 to the southeast of the
Qa(Fig. 2), while others appear to have been the locus of more
ephemeral or specialised activity. The density of late Pleistocene and
early Holocene sites in the Qa Shubayqa area suggests comparatively
large seasonal aggregations of hunter-gatherer-cultivators.
Later occupation around the Qais also attested, but less well un-
derstood. Salvage excavations at a looted cairn on the western edge of
the QaShubayqa (SHUBS100; Fig. 2) produced late Neolithic material
culture (Richter, 2014). Sporadic late Neolithic material culture was also
found during excavations at Shubayqa 1 and 6. There are hundreds of
other known sites located in the vicinity of the Qa, including desert
kites, ‘wheel houses, numerous cairns, wall lines and later Islamic
tombs. At least some of these sites can be expected to date to the late
Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Bronze Age, although hardly any of these
have to date been investigated in detail. There are also several localities
with many Safaitic, Thamudic and Arabic inscriptions, as well as rock
art. In addition, Shubayqa 1 and 6 are located at the edge of an extensive
abandoned early medieval village, Khirbet Shubayqa, that attests to
signicant settlement at that time. This evidence suggests that the Qa
Shubayqa was frequently and at times intensively occupied throughout
the past 14,000 years.
2.2. Wisad
Wisad Pools is a narrow landscape feature at the eastern edge of the
basalt elds known as Harrat al-Sham, approximately 105 km east of
Azraq (Fig. 1). The pools (Rollefson et al. 2010, 2011, 2011) are located
in the short (1.5 km) Wadi Wisad that leads from a generally level plain
at c. 660 masl southwards to the small Qa al-Wisad at 645 masl (Fig. 2).
The nearby archaeological site is extensive. The coreof the site,
where structures were concentrated, extended over ca. 2.8 km
2
and
contain over 500 structures, not including animal pens. Lower Palae-
olithic artefacts are rare, as was evidence of Middle and Upper Palae-
olithic, Epipalaeolithic, and Early Neolithic visits except for one small
looted area near Pool #1 that exposed a relatively dense concentration
of Late PPNB lithics (late 8th millennium BCE). Except for a handful of
Fig. 2. The three sites QaShubayqa (a), QaQatta (b) and QaWisad (c)
showing measured sediment depths (m), sampled sections referred to in the text
are named. Key archaeological sites around QaShubayqa (a) are marked
(squares) and open circles mark partial sediment depths for this site.
M.D. Jones et al.
Quaternary International xxx (xxxx) xxx
4
potsherds from a few pot-breaks, the great bulk of surface artefacts
reect repeated Late Neolithic (7th through 6th millennia BCE) visits to
the site.
Three Late Neolithic buildings at Wisad have produced good evi-
dence for the subsistence economy, long-distance exchange networks,
and paleoenvironment. Hunting (especially gazelle) and herding pro-
vided meat for the diet, and charcoal suggest that the numerous and
massive grinding stones may have involved the processing of starchy
foods such as acorns and Typha sp. roots. Many sherds of Yarmoukian
pottery reect contact with the arable region of the southern Levant (e.g.
Rollefson et al., 2013), and marine shells include Mediterranean and
Red Sea species. Rare obsidian comes from Meydan Dag, Anatolia
(Rowan et al., 2015), and some shaped stone objects in the small nds
invoke contacts with the Mesopotamian region.
2.3. Wadi al-Qatta
Wadi al-Qatta is a complex drainage system consisting of three sub-
parallel arms (called the north, central, and south Qatta wadis by
Bedouin of the area) that initiate in the south-central part of the basalt
elds of eastern Jordan (Fig. 1). After an aerial distance of approxi-
mately 25 km southwest of the sources, the sinuous parts of the drainage
system merge about 5 km north of the Qaal-Qatta, a broad playa of c.
10 km
2
in area (Fig. 4) about 60 km ESE of North Azraq. The drainage
continues out of the Qato the south in a straighter course for ca. 10 km
before beginning a slow curvilinear path some 18 aerial km to the west
and south, emptying onto a plain about 43 km southeast of Azraq.
Archaeologically, the section of the wadi system to the northeast of
the Qahas only isolated hunting/pastoral camps and special activity
burin sites, but south of the Qathe situation changes abruptly. For the
10 km N-S wadi section, there are 22 basalt-topped mesas (ghura in
Arabic) on the sides of the wadi (Supplementary Fig. 1). On top of each
mesa are one or two tower tombscommemorating the death of
important personages dating to the Late Prehistoric period (Early Bronze
Age, possibly Iron Age) and often reused by 2nd century BCE to 4th
century CE Safaitic herders/traders (e.g. Macdonald, 2020). The bed of
this wadi section directly south of the Qais dense with Anabasis shrubs
and to a lesser extent by Atriplex sp. that Musil (1927) identied with
the local Bedouin name qattaf, thus the name of the wadi.
At the foot of most of the mesas there is an impressive number of
structures. Recent reanalysis of aerial photos taken by the APAAME
group (http://www.apaame.org/) has revealed a minimum of 800 res-
idential huts of circular to oval shape at the bases of the mesas, mostly on
southern slopes. Numbers of huts at each mesa vary considerably, with
only 510 on some of the slopes to 100 at Mesa-1 (M-1) and M-15 and up
to 278 surrounding M-7. Animal enclosures are numerous. At least 11
kites (hunting traps, principally for gazelle) occur at the base of or be-
tween mesas (one kite occurs on the summit of M-2), although an
additional 30 mesas have been located within the area. Wheelsof
elaborate design (Kennedy, 2011) number more than 25.
Rare surface artefacts demonstrate that the wadi was exploited to an
unknown degree by Late Acheulian and Levantine Mousterian hunters,
and there are several Middle and Late PPNB chipping stations, one on
the summit of M-3 and three on the southern slope of M-4 (Rowan et al.,
2014). Most of the rest of the archaeological material ranges from the
Late Neolithic of early and late 7th millennium to the Early Bronze Age
of the late 4th millennium BCE, with a major gap in settlement until the
Safaitic period. One dwelling on the southwest slope of M-4 dated to
5480-5320 cal BCE (Wasse et al., 2012), and another on the south slope
of M-7 yielded four radiocarbon dates of 6455 to 6236 cal BCE (Roll-
efson et al. 2016, Rollefson et al., 2017). Atop Mesa 4 there are 262
structures (not included in the 800 total), although these include tombs
and animal pens/farming enclosures as well as dwellings; it is probable
that many of them are Early Bronze Age in date (mid-fourth millennium
BCE). Excavations of two of the huts produced no datable material, but
oor plans and construction techniques are identical to huts at Tulul
al-Ghusayn about 90 km northeast of M-4 that date to the mid-4th
millennium BC (Rowan et al., 2014; Müller-Neuhof, 2016).
Evidence for the Late Neolithic subsistence economy comes from
faunal remains, artefacts, and charcoal. Hunting was a mainstay for
obtaining meat and skins, particularly gazelle at ca. 50% of the bones;
smaller mammals (hare, fox) were also important as were caprines,
which made up perhaps 10% of the faunal inventory. Other mammals
including an equid were hunted but played a lesser role in the diet.
Grinding equipment was not particularly numerous, but plant resources
(all probably wild) were likely a major food source. Late Neolithic
charcoal included oak, indicating a landscape and climatic regime that
was different to present, and one charred fragment of a g also points to
a wetter local habitat (Rollefson et al., 2016).
3. Material and methods
3.1. Fieldwork
Field work took place over a number of eld-seasons between August
2013 and June 2016. At each site the Qasediments were previously
unstudied, so preliminary work concentrated on understanding the
subsurface shape of the basins and taking preliminary samples to un-
derstand the potential of these sites for further work.
The depth of Qasediment, to bedrock, was measured by using a
hand auger. To take samples trenches were dug into the Qean by hand
where possible, such that a clean face could be used for collecting dating
and sedimentology samples. Samples below the hand-dug trenches were
taken using the auger, ensuring that all peripheral material was removed
before sampling. At Wisad, deep holes, to bedrock, had been dug into the
Qa, presumably by a bulldozer or equivalent to attempt to store more of
the winter rains, and the side of one of these holes was used to clean a
section for sampling. At SHQA13 (Fig. 2a) recent ow through the Wadi
Rajil had cut some sections and these were used to sample the upper
sediments.
3.2. Chronology
Samples for Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) age estimates
were taken using opaque cylinders at least 20 cm in length hammered
into cleaned sections.
OSL analyses were undertaken at the University of Gloucestershire
Luminescence Dating Laboratory. Samples were prepared under
controlled laboratory illumination (Encapsulite RB-10 red lters). Ma-
terial was dried at 40 C and moisture content evaluated. Each sample
was then subjected to acid and alkaline digestion (10% HCl, 15% H
2
O
2
)
to attain removal of carbonate and organic components respectively.
Fine silt sized (515
μ
m) quartz, along with other mineral grains of
varying density and size, was then extracted by sample sedimentation in
acetone (<15
μ
m in 2 min 20 s, >5
μ
m in 21 min at 20 C). Feldspars and
amorphous silica were then removed from this fraction through acid
digestion (35% H
2
SiF
6
for 2 weeks, Jackson et al., 1976; Berger et al.,
1980). Following addition of 10% HCl to remove acid soluble uorides,
grains degraded to <5
μ
m as a result of acid treatment were removed by
acetone sedimentation. Where available, ne sand sized (125180 or
180250
μ
m) quartz was isolated in place of ne silts through a process
of acid digestion (40% HF, 60 min), resieving and density separation at
2.68 g cm
3
.
For each sample, 19 multi-grain aliquots (10 mm , 1 mg for ne
silts; 8 mm , 45 mg for ne sands) of quartz were mounted on
aluminium discs. Equivalent Dose (D
e
) values were quantied using a
single-aliquot regenerative-dose (SAR) protocol (Murray and Wintle
2000, 2003, 2003) facilitated by a Risø TL-DA-15 irradiation--
stimulation-detection system (Markey et al., 1997; Bøtter-Jensen et al.,
1999). Preheat treatments were led by the outcome of Dose Recovery
tests (Murray and Wintle, 2003). The success of OSL sensitivity correc-
tion was monitored through low and high dose repeat ratios. The
M.D. Jones et al.
Quaternary International xxx (xxxx) xxx
5
presence of any feldspar contamination was evaluated using the post-IR
OSL depletion ratio (Duller, 2003). Given the use of multi-grain aliquots,
geometric mean D
e
values and their inter-aliquot variation beyond that
attributable to counting statistics (% overdispersion) were calculated
using the Central Age Model (Galbraith et al., 1999).
Lithogenic dose rate (D
r
) values were dened through measurement
of U, Th and K radionuclide concentration within a 50 g sub-sample of
sediment using an Ortec GEM-S high purity Ge coaxial detector system.
These concentrations were converted into
α
, β and γ D
r
values (Adamiec
and Aitken, 1998), accounting for D
r
modulation forced by grain size
(Mejdahl, 1979), present moisture content (assumed ±25% uncertainty;
Zimmerman, 1971) and, where D
e
values were generated from 5 to 15
μ
m quartz, reduced signal sensitivity to
α
radiation (a-value 0.050 ±
0.002). U-disequilibrium was evaluated through
226
Ra/
238
U ratios.
Cosmogenic D
r
values were calculated on the basis of sample depth,
geographical position and matrix density (Prescott and Hutton, 1994).
One bulk sediment sample from QaShubayqa was analysed for
14
C
by Beta Analytic.
3.3. Sedimentology
To begin to quantify sediment change in our study basins through
time, and support eld observations, samples were analysed at the
School of Geography, University of Nottingham. Loss on Ignition (LOI)
was undertaken following standard methods using c. 1 cm
3
of sample
(Dean, 1974; Heiri et al., 2001). Magnetic susceptibility was analysed
using air dried and gently ground, using a porcelain mortar, sediments
placed in a 10 cm
3
plastic box, that were full for these analyses. Samples
were analysed using a Bartington MS2B single sample dual frequency
sensor at 0.1 sensitivity range (0.46 kHz).
Laser particle size analysis was undertaken using a Beckman Coulter
LS 13,320 particle size analyser providing a grain size data for a size
range from 0.041 to 2000
μ
m. Prior to analyses sediment samples were
sieved at 2 mm and the ner fraction placed in hydrogen peroxide in a
water bath at 80 C for 5 h to remove any organic material. 10% Calgon
(sodium hexametaphosphate and sodium bicarbonate) was then added
to the washed samples to ensure that the samples are well dispersed for
analysis.
Air dried and sieved (<2 mm) samples, ground using an agate pestle
and mortar, were used for XRF analyses. The samples were analysed in
the School of Geography at the University of Nottingham, using a
PANalytical Epsilon3XL X-ray uorescence spectrometer with high
resolution Si drift detector.
4. Results
4.1. Fieldwork
The auguring of the qean has provided preliminary information on
the amount of sediments these basins contain, and the shape of the ba-
sins prior to their lling by the sediments. Qadepth more or less follows
Qasurface area in size. QaShubayqa has a maximum measured depth
of 4.5 m (Fig. 2a), Qa Qatta c. 3 m (Fig. 2b) and QaWisad has a
maximum depth of c. 2.5 m (Fig. 2c), although a basin wide auguring
programme hasnt been undertaken here like at the other two sites.
At Shubayqa the shape of the basin, from the data currently avail-
able, suggests that the basin sides are relatively steep with the similar
sediment depths at SHQAI13 and SHQAII13 (Fig. 2) suggesting a rela-
tively at bottom. The present day Qasurface dips gradually (c. 0.5 m/
km) to the northeast (in a surveyed section south of Shubayqa 6). Qa
Qatta is substantially (c. 3 m compared to c 1 m in the east of the basin)
deeper in the western part of the basin (Fig. 2b). The eastern side is,
more directly, part of the larger Wadi Qatta system. The NW-SE
trending lines running across the surface on the east side of the basin
(Fig. 2b) are today more vegetated ridges, standing c. 0.5 m above the
Qaoor.
Field descriptions of the sediments only noted signicant changes in
sediment characteristics, as generally sediments were homogenous at all
three sites. Sediments in Qa Shubayqa were described as reddish brown
silts and ne sands. The images of the qean (Fig. 2) provide a good
representation of the sediment colour at Shubayqa and at the other sites,
and the sediment colour does not change signicantly with depth at any
of the sites, unless otherwise noted. At SHQAI13 it was notable that 1.5
cm diameter, rounded basalt pebbles appeared in the sediments from
430 cm depth. Sampling of SHQAI13 started 45 cm below the surface of
the sediments as the upper sediments were cracked and full of roots. At
SHQAII13 eld descriptions noted that sediments were ner, containing
more clay, below 200 cm depth. Not all auger holes reached bedrock as
the sediments were often too hard to get through with a hand auger.
Sediments from Qa Wisad were sampled in the 2014 season. Two
sub-sections were dug into the side of a pre excavated hole in the qa as
described above, to aid access. The upper sediments, sampled in section
QAWISIa, were very light brown silts, samples began at 10 cm depth to
avoid the more recently disturbed upper sediments. The top of sub-
section QAWISIb was stratigraphically level with 110 cm in QAWISIa.
The top 30 cm of sub-section Ib contained sand sized sediment in clear
layers, between 30 and 90 cm depth the sediments are massive very light
brown silt as in Ib. From 90 cm depth to the base (270 cm from the qa
surface) sediments became much courser with increasing proportions of
basalt clasts. Sampling stopped at 230 cm depth as the bottom 40 cm of
the section was largely basalt gravel.
Some initial auguring into Qa Qatta was undertaken on a pre-
liminary visit in 2013, with most sampling being undertaken in the 2016
season. The very light brown to light yellow silts and clays changed little
with depth in auger and section samples. Sediments from a shallow
trench, to 60 cm, at QQI16 (Fig. 2b) suggested a general coarsening
upwards pattern to the sediments, with clays below 50 m and silts in the
upper sediments. Most auger holes in the Qa Qatta reached bedrock,
which was particularly soft limestone under the vegetated ridges in the
north-east of the qa (Fig. 2b).
4.2. Chronology
OSL age estimates are summarised in Table 1 (see the Supplementary
Table for underpinning data). Generally, the range of diagnostics
deployed to help evaluate the reliability D
e
and D
r
are without issue.
There are three areas to highlight; rstly, the D
e
values for samples
GL14061 and GL15063 exceed 2D
0
(86% saturation of the OSL signal)
and thus can be considered no more than minimum age estimates.
Secondly,
226
Ra/
238
U ratios for samples GL15064 and GL19086 may
indicate excessive (>50%) U disequilibrium at the time of sampling.
However, each ratio is accompanied by a large uncertainty. Thirdly, the
overdispersion of D
e
values for ne sand samples GL14061 and GL15065
exceeds 20%, which may signify substantial inter-grain variation in D
e
values forced by extrinsic factors beyond microdosimetric variations in β
radiation. The sedimentary history of all samples would have involved
in-wash to basins and an aeolian input, but deation likely dominated
prior to burial which would have promoted resetting of the OSL signal.
Thus, inter-grain D
e
scatter is unlikely rooted in partial bleaching. There
is also little evidence in section of either anthropogenic or biogenic
reworking. At QaWisad, it is possible that the basal sediments comprise
weathered basalt bedrock. Given the relatively old age estimate for
sample GL14061, D
e
overdispersion likely originates from cross-
sampling bedrock and supercial geology. However, the source of the
overdispersion in GL15065 remains unclear.
The majority of the age estimates from the Qasediments presented
are Holocene in age. Sedimentation patterns appear similar at Wisad and
the deeper, western part of Qa Qatta, with age estimates at 65 cm in
both at 7.9 ±0.7 and 7.1 ±0.5 ka respectively, and sedimentation rates
to the older dates of c. 50 and 80 yrs cm
1
. The age estimate at 145 cm in
QaWisad dates these sediments to the start of the Holocene. Sedi-
mentation rates appear faster at Shubayqa (c. 1218 yrs cm
1
), although
M.D. Jones et al.
Quaternary International xxx (xxxx) xxx
6
this assumes a recent date for the top of SHQAII13 and condence in
both the OSL and
14
C age estimate from SHQA113. At Shubayqa the
equivalent sediments, by depth, appear to be older in the western
samples than in the more central SHQAII13, which seems sensible if the
basin lled in from the west, the source of most material washing down
the Wadi Rajil.
4.3. Sedimentology
The sedimentological summaries of the three sites (Figs. 3 and 4)
show subtle variations around the themes that would be expected from
the general eld descriptions of these ne-grained lled basins as
described above. Sediment organic content is much higher in Qatta
than the other two sites, and carbonate higher in Wisad and Qatta. The
latter reects the closer location of these sites to the limestone that
underlies the basalt and that dominate in the Shubayqa catchment.
There is little change with depth in the sediments from QQI16
(Fig. 3), whereas those from Wisad and Shubayqa show clear down-
section variability (Figs. 3 and 4), particularly in changes in grain size,
that suggest change in the energy of water owing into these Qean. The
courser levels in Qa Wisad described in section QAWIS Ib are evident in
the grain size analyses (Fig. 3) as are the courser sediments at the base of
SHUQA I 13 (Fig. 4) described in the eld. At these two sites the sedi-
ment chemistry also generally changes with the grain size, such that Ca
and Mg increase from the lower sections that contain more bedrock
material, with corresponding reductions in Si and Fe up section.
Preliminary work from Wisad and Shubayqa has also shown that
pollen is preserved in countable quantities at these sites. The grain size
and organic content of the Qatta sediments also suggests that pollen
preservation is potentially good here. The taphonomy of pollen, likely
washed and blown in, in these systems will be complex (e.g. Campbell
and Campbell, 1994) and may sample large areas of the Badia, but given
the little information currently available this is an exciting nd, espe-
cially for comparison with the archaeobotanical nds described in sec-
tion 2, and we look forward to furthering work in this area in the near
future.
5. Discussion
The results presented here show that the Qean sediments of the
eastern Badia of Jordan hold a potentially useful paleoenvironmental
archive. OSL age estimates are able to provide sensible chronologies and
sediments change in time. Although detailed work on each of the basins
discussed here is still to be undertaken, and the dating resolution on
individual basins and sampling resolution precludes paleoclimate in-
terpretations at this stage, the preliminary results presented allow a
number of hypotheses regarding the region to be discussed, with more
evidence than has been previously possible.
5.1. A green early Holocene Badia?
There is evidence for green, or greener, environments in the early
Holocene, or for increased precipitation at this time, for much of the
wider region surrounding the eastern Badia, from the Sahara (e.g. Kuper
and Kr¨
opelin, 2006; Bunbury et al., 2020; Van Neer et al., 2020), Arabia
(e.g. Petraglia et al., 2020), Turkey (e.g. Jones et al., 2007) and from
southern Jordan (Henry et al., 2016). These include areas that are
hyper-arid at present. The lack of lacustrine sediments yet found in the
study region of this paper is therefore notable and suggests early Ho-
locene rains may not have pushed as far north, from the Indian Monsoon
system, or east from North Africa or the Mediterranean, as the present
day Jordanian Badia. However there are many basins yet to be investi-
gated. The amount of early Holocene rain, and its seasonality, is a key
part of understanding the desertication hypotheses outlined in section
5.2.
The dating of the sediments reported here does suggest that all three
basins had the capacity to hold more water in the early Holocene, given
approximately a third of the present day basin ll in Wisad and Qatta,
and almost a half at Shubayqa, would have yet to have been deposited.
All other things being equal, particularly evaporation rates, the larger
capacity for the Qean to hold water at this time would have led to more
water being available for local inhabitants, likely for longer amounts of
time than it stays in the Qean in current climatic and geomorphological
conditions. In the Wadi Qatta, the archaeobotanical nds do suggest
wetter conditions at this time (Section 2.3), and the archaeobotanical
and zooarchaeological data from Shubayqa (Section 2.1) suggests that in
the late Pleistocene, when the Qa Shubayqa likely had even further
capacity to hold water than in the early Holocene, the basin did hold
substantially more water than it does following winter rains in the
present.
The sediments and results described in this paper cannot yet attest to
a greener, or more watered, landscape, but the sediments span the early
Holocene time period and the hypothesis of a greener Badia is therefore
one target for future study for these sites, alongside the archaeological
evidence.
5.2. Desertication? And if yes, when?
The dating of the sediments described here raises questions about
landscape change in the Badia through time, particularly when com-
bined with the ages of the archaeological sites near the Qean and the
archaeologically sterile sediments these structures sit upon. As part of
this work these sterile deposits have also been dated at Wisad and
Table 1
Summary of age estimates, largely OSL, from the three study sites. * Samples
from beneath oors of archaeological structures. The radiocarbon age from Qa
Shubayqa was calibrated using Intcal09 (Reimer et al., 2009).
Section Depth
(cm)
Lab Code Total D
r
(Gy.ka
1
) D
e
(Gy) Age
(ka)
Qa Qattaf
QQ I 16 60 GL19087 2.40 ±0.09 14.3 ±
0.7
5.9 ±
0.4
QQ X 16 65 GL19086 2.74 ±0.10 19.5 ±
1.0
7.1 ±
0.5
95 GL19085 2.81 ±0.10 27.1 ±
1.1
9.6 ±
0.5
Qa Wisad
WIS IA (55
cm)
65 GL15064 2.18 ±0.13 17.3 ±
1.2
7.9 ±
0.7
WIS IB (35
cm)
145 GL19088 2.51 ±0.10 29.7 ±
1.1
11.8 ±
0.6
WIS IB
(135 cm)
255 GL14061 1.53 ±0.11 405 ±
64
>265
Wisad Pools
WIS80 076
81 *
GL15063 0.55 ±0.05 333.1 ±
20.2
>605
WIS66
suboor
*
GL15065 1.43 ±0.08 26.6 ±
3.6
19 ±3
Qa Shubayqa
SHQA II 115 GL13008 2.24 ±0.13 4.8 ±
0.2
2.1 ±
0.2
SHQA Is 137 GL13007 2.15 ±0.09 12.0 ±
0.4
5.6 ±
0.3
Shubayqa 1
Context
197 *
65 GL16131 2.55 ±0.11 210.9 ±
9.5
82.5 ±
5.1
120 GL16132 2.61 ±0.12 226.3 ±
9.6
86.8 ±
5.3
Qa Shubayqa
Measured
radiocarbon Age
(BP)
δ
13
C
SHQA Ia 195 Beta
367336
5430 ±40 20.9 6.31 ±
0.09
M.D. Jones et al.
Quaternary International xxx (xxxx) xxx
7
Shubayqa (Table 1). The sediments underneath the structures at Shu-
bayqa 1 and Wisad 66 and 80, all comfortably predate the archaeology
which sits upon them, substantially so in the case of Wisad 80.
The sediments underlying the archaeological structures are similar in
colour and grain size to those found in the nearby Qean and yet little
such material is seen on the surface of the rocky desert today, certainly
not sitting in raised positions like observed at Shubayqa 1 and at Shu-
bayqa 6. It can therefore be hypothesised that this material has washed
and/or blown into the basins from relatively local positions at some
point following the building of the structures. It has been observed
elsewhere in the badia that archaeological sites (e.g. Kharaneh IV; Jones
et al., 2016a,b) can preserve Quaternary sediments from deation and
the relative ages of the substructure sediments, the structures them-
selves and the Qean ll do not disprove a desertication hypothesis.
Linked to questions around early Holocene rainfall (Section 5.1) a key
question to investigate would be if early Holocene sedimentation rates
increased due to more inwash of catchment material, or slowed, perhaps
to a degree soil horizons could develop within the Qean sediments, if a
wetter, and warmer environment led to a restabilised, more vegetated
landscape.
Based on the age estimates and sedimentation rates that can be taken
from them for these sites, it is likely that the basins began to ll in the
late Pleistocene. Although there are not enough age estimates yet from
these sites to discuss further, a late Pleistocene or early Holocene start of
a desertication story for the Badia would be substantially earlier than
that proposed for southern Jordan, around 5.6 ka (Henry et al., 2016).
The potential causes of the apparent desertication also require further
investigation within the potentially complex interactions between
climate, vegetation, and people and (their) animals through the late
Pleistocene - Holocene transition. The results presented here show that
the Qasediments have the potential to provide direct information on
the former two of these factors, in close proximity to evidence for the
third.
6. Summary
Preliminary work to understand the Qasediments of eastern Jordan
presented here shows that they are a potentially useful palae-
oenvironmental archive containing proxies to begin to test hypotheses of
landscape and climate change in the region over the last 15,000 years.
Fig. 3. Sediment analyses from QaQatta and QaWisad, showing changes through an example section from each site. Estimates of percentage carbon and car-
bonate from LOI, magnetic susceptibility, percentage of clays, silts and sands from the grain size analyses and key elemental compositions from XRF.
M.D. Jones et al.
Quaternary International xxx (xxxx) xxx
8
This work will add further to recent developments in the understanding
of the Quaternary of Jordan (e.g. Abu-Jaber et al., 2020; Al-Saqarat
et al., 2020). Importantly these basins provide the opportunity to pro-
vide local archives of environmental change to many archaeological
sites in the region and can be used with the botanical and faunal evi-
dence from these sites to build comprehensive pictures of the past en-
vironments of the Badia.
Author contributions
Matthew D. Jones, Tobias Richter, Gary Rollefson, Yorke
Rowan: Conceptualisation, Methodology, Investigation, Writing-
Original Draft, Writing- Review and Editing, Supervision, Funding
acquisition Joe Roe: Methodology, Validation, Investigation, Writing-
Review and Editing Phillip Toms: Formal Analysis, Investigation,
Writing-Original Draft, Writing- Review and Editing Jamie Wood:
Formal Analysis, Investigation Alexander Wasse: Investigation,
Writing-Original Draft, Writing- Review and Editing Haroon Ikram:
Investigation Matthew Williams: Investigation Ahmad AlShdaifat:
Investigation, Visualization, Writing-Original Draft Patrick Nørskov
Pedersen: Investigation, Writing- Review and Editing Wesam Esaid:
Investigation, Project administration, Writing- Review and Editing.
Data availability
All data not available in the manuscript are available from the cor-
responding author on request.
Declaration of competing interest
The authors declare that they have no known competing nancial
interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to inuence
the work reported in this paper.
Acknowledgements
We thank the Department of Antiquities of Jordan for their permis-
sion to undertake the work described here as part of the Shubayqa and
Fig. 4. Sediment analyses from QaShubayqa, showing changes through two sections section from the site. Estimates of percentage carbon and carbonate from LOI,
magnetic susceptibility, percentage of clays, silts and sands from the grain size analyses and key elemental compositions from XRF.
M.D. Jones et al.
Quaternary International xxx (xxxx) xxx
9
Eastern Badia Archaeological Projects. We thank the eld teams from
the various seasons through which this work was undertaken. Thanks to
the Council for British Research in the Levant for funding this work. Our
thanks to Pierluigi Pieruccini and two anonymous reviewers for their
comments which improved our manuscript.
Appendix A. Supplementary data
Supplementary data to this article can be found online at https://doi.
org/10.1016/j.quaint.2021.06.023.
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... This drainage continues to the south approximately 10 km before emptying into a plain about 40 km southeast of Azraq. Directly to the north of the qa', only a few isolated hunting or pastoral camps and burin sites are known [29]. Along this drainage system, 22 basalt-topped mesas rise above the desert floor by about 40-60 m (Figures 2 and 3). ...
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