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The Wadi Feinan (Faynan) District in Jordan

Excavation at the gate of Khirbat en-Nahas in what was Ancient Edom ... Part of the Jabal Hamrat Fidan Project carried out under the auspices of the University of California in San Diego and the Department of Antiquities of Jordan
Excavation at the gate of Khirbat en-Nahas in what was Ancient Edom (University of California, San Diego)

The Wadi Faynan is a harshly beautiful and desertic landscape in southern Jordan situated between the hyper-arid deserts of the Wadi Arabah and the rugged and wetter Mountains of Edom (6). The district has been the most important source of copper ore for ancient communities living in what is today Israel -- Jordan -- Palestine ...

(1) The Wadi Faynan Project in Southern Jordan: a Preliminary Report on Geomorphology and Landscape Archaeology by Barker et al in Levant 29 (1997) Pages 19-40

The Wadi Faynan Project of the British Institute at Amman for Archaeology and History has as its principal objective the provision of a detailed case study in the relationship between environmental change and human history in the arid zone from prehistory to the present day. The principal area of interest is the confluence of three wadis; the Ghuwayr -- Shayqar and Dana which merge to form the Faynan.

Figure 1.3 Topography of Wadis Faynan, Fidan, Dana, Ghuwayr, al-Ghuwayb, and Shayqar in relation to the major archaeological sites and the ancient ‘field system’ WF4 (6)

The Wadi Faynan was selected by BIAAH as the case study for three principal reasons. First is the fact that it is a typical desertic region in terms of its climate, environment and landforms. The second reason for the selection of the region was that the wadi has long been known for a remarkable suite of archaeological remains (Glueck 1935; Lagrange 1898; Musil 1907), indicating a variety of levels of intensity of human exploitation from prehistoric to recent times. The evidence included a suite of settlement and burial sites from the neolithic (Najjar et al 1990) to the Islamic periods (King 1989). The complex is dominated by the major site of Khirbat Faynan ('the Ruin of Faynan') on a hill overlooking the wadi confluence.

As he travelled down the Wadi Faynan following his visit to Khirbat Faynan, Glueck noted "large stretches of formerly cultivated fields . . . strewn with Nabataean sherds" (1935, 35). These fields were marked out by boulder walls and stretched for several kilometres down-wadi along the south side of the wadi floor from the confluence. Several commentators noted that the surface pottery included much Roman and Byzantine as well as Nabataean material, suggesting a long history of ancient cultivation, presumed to be primarily in support of the population of Khirbat Faynan. The area is also extremely rich in minerals and extensive research in recent years, especially by the Bochum Mining Museum, has demonstrated a rich prehistory and history of mineral extraction and exploitation (Adams 1991; Hauptmann 1989 and 1992; Hauptmarun et al 1992). Khirbat Faynan is assumed to have been the principal focus of this activity in the Nabataean, Roman and Byzantine periods and the site is commonly identified with references to the copper mines of Phaino, to which Christians of Palestine and Egypt were transported in the third and fourth centuries A.D. Given the wealth of archaeological evidence, therefore, the Wadi Faynan seemed ideal for an inter-disciplinary investigation of a desert landscape and of the long-term exploitation of its plant, animal and mineral resources.

The third reason for the study is that the remarkable archaeological landscapes of the Wadi Faynan are increasingly threatened by modern development: the lower part of the Wadi Faynan has been turned over to intensive vegetable production irrigated by water piped down from a major spring in the Wadi Ghuwayr and year by year the system is extending further up-wadi. Cemetery sites are also being pillaged by grave-robbers, the context for an on-going rescue excavation by a BIAAH team.

... In no sense can the wadi system be understood as a closed cultural system: the exploitation of mineral resources and trade in metal have of course inextricably linked the area with the outside world, whilst in terms of agriculture, for example, the Bedouin pastoralists who currently winter their flocks in the wadi take them up to their villages on the plateau edge in the summer, whilst the market gardening now expanding in the lower wadi is a cash economy developed to meet the expanding urban market of Amman.

The BIAAH conducted a reconnaissance survey in the Wadi Faynan in the spring of 1995 (Barnes et al 1995 in an unpublished report): three transects of terrain across the main wadi below its confluence were investigated by intensive 'field-walking'. This fieldwork demonstrated the likelihood of considerable time depth in the settlement record: the team located numerous lithic scatters likely to be of palaeolithic, epipalaeolithic and neolithic date, a number of concentrations of pottery and lithic material of chalcolithic and early bronze age date, possibly associated with burial cairns, and a variety of Nabataean, Roman and Byzantine structures. Furthermore they also noted that the field system in the transects was carpeted with Nabataean, Roman and Byzantine pottery, prima facie evidence for a period of use of similar antiquity ... The team worked in the Wadi Faynan in April and May 1996 alongside a team directed by Karen Wright conducting an initial investigation of a settlement site of early bronze age date located by the 1995 BIAAH survey within the field system (now designated as site WF100 in the survey record), though this work is not reported on in detail here.

The study area is immediately to the east of one of the fundamental discontinuities of the Earth's crust, the Wadi Araba and Dead Sea Transform Fault System. The latter forms part of the boundary between the African and Arabian tectonic plates which since the Miocene has accumulated approximately 105 kilometres of left-lateral movement (Quennell 1984).

An early (PrePottery B) neolithic settlement being excavated by Mohammad Najjar of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, dated to the later eighth and seventh millennia B.C., is located in the Wadi Ghuwayr (site 'Wadi Ghuwayr 1'). More generally, within the immediate study area, neither flint artefacts likely to be later than palaeolithic in date, nor traces of field systems, have been found resting on surfaces developed on the Ghuwayr Beds.

The environmental conditions at the time of the neolithic and chalcolithic settlements at Wadi Faynan were substantially different from those which prevail today: there was relative stability, quiet and perennial water, and notable biological production, in stark contrast with the mixture of drought and flooding in the wadi today.

Much of the ancient field system was constructed on surfaces developed on the Lower and Upper Faynan Beds and at a number of locations in the study area the upper parts of the Upper Faynan Beds appear to contain postpalaeolithic artefacts and structures.

Survey of the field system

The 250-hectare area of fields to the west of Khirbat Faynan, running for some eight kilometres along the southern side of the Wadi Faynan and termed site WF4 in the BIAAH 1995 survey, was a prime focus of the archaeological fieldwork. The dating of the walls at the beginning of our fieldwork was entirely uncertain, apart from the observation from the trial field-walking by the BIAAH team in March 1995 that the surface pottery was predominantly Nabataean, Roman and Byzantine.

Site recognition

Although the Nabataean, Roman and Byzantine settlement hierarchy was in all probability dominated by the huge centre of Khirbat Faynan, it is abundantly clear as a result of the initial work of the Wadi Faynan Project that many smaller sites and structures of these and other periods exist in and around the field system. In panicular, there is an almost continuous zone of cemeteries of all periods along the southern fringes of the fields, and in places within them too. Some sites are visible as physical structures such as small enclosures, stone settings for graves and deliberately constructed gaps or stepped features in the wall system thar can be confidently recognized, respectively, as sluices and spillways.

In this initial phase of our work we concentrated on the area of the field system, within which the archaeological features include a wide variety of domestic and funerary sites of different periods, but it is also clear from a few days' reconnaissance survey on the adjacent hill slopes that the entire study area bears the traces of a very long antiquity of complex domestic and ritual landscapes that remain to be mapped and analyzed.

Land use implications

The first point to make about the ancient farming of the area -- as represented by the field system -- is that it does not appear to have been dependent on irrigation using perennial stream sources, whether delivered by aqueduct or other means, along the lines of the modern irrigation systems.

However, neither do the wall systems of the terrace area appear to represent, as we had tended to assume at the outset of the fieldwork following our work on the ancient floodwater farming systems of Tripolitania (Barker et al 1996), a systematic attempt to develop an effective means of trapping and delivering rainwater to farmed areas on the terrace surface. Whilst it certainly is the case that such floodwater farming did occur in the area, as in the Negev Desert, this intention does not appear to have dominated the ideas of the builders of the walls in this area.

Discussion and conclusion

The present landscape of the Wadi Faynan is the result of complex interactions between natural and human processes including climatic fluctuations, tectonic activity, agriculture and mining.

Our preliminary study of the nature and distribution of the Quaternary deposits present in the Wadi Faynan and its tributaries has revealed a complex history of events from circa 150,000 years ago to the present embracing environmental changes of great magnitude; and our study of the archaeology of the field system along with the investigations of other archaeological teams, indicates the potential of the study area to yield an equally complex history of settlement and land use.

The evidence for human occupation at this time recovered by the team consists of sporadic chipped stone artefacts, mostly of middle palaeolithic type. However a reconnaissance survey in April 1996 by Bill Finlayson and Steve Mithen immediately prior to our own campaign discovered an epipalaeolithic (final palaeolithic) site (WF16) consisting of flints, quernstones and other groundstone artefacts. The Epipalaeolithic in the Near East is of course of critical interest as a key transitional stage to the emergence of agricultural communities, being characterized by social elaboration, the specialized exploitation of plant foods and herd animals, and a degree of sedentism especially at lower elevations, with upland sites usually intrepreted as task-specific sites related to residential sites in the lowlands.

A full-fledged agricultural community was established here early in the Holocene, probably by the eighth millennium B.C. Wadi Ghuwayr 1, the PPN site being excavated by the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, is of a date range similar to the well known village of Beidha a few hours walk away on the plateau near Petra (Kirkbride 1966) and has a similar range of structures and artefacts ... The spring-side location is typical of many early farming settlements in the Near East, suggesting a reliance on naturally-irrigated land for crop farming and animal grazing (Bar-Yosef 1995).

The discovery within the Upper Faynan Beds of the presence of a more-or-less perennial stream adjacent to Tell Wadi Faynan and associated with the site's occupation in the sixth and fifth millennia B.C., presents a strikingly different picture from today of a relatively rich and diverse aquatic landscape. Interestingly the pottery and mortar from the site contained a mixture of reeds and grass as well as straw (Najjar et al l990r 41).

The excavations at Tell Wadi Faynan found traces of simple rectangular dry-stone buildings associated with storage pits, sickle blades, carbonized cereals and a faunal sample dominated by the bones of sheep or goat. We found traces of what may be a boulder wall in the river section fifty metres or so east of the settlement, so an important question to try to resolve in future years will be whether this community was growing its crops on moist backswamp soils, as Sherratt (1980) for example has argued for neolithic settlements in basin-edge locations such as Catal Huyuk in Turkey and Nea Nikomedeia in Greece, or whether people in the Wadi Faynan were now beginning to experiment with systems of floodwater farming using primitive diversion walls.

By the later fifth millennium B.C. the Tell Wadi Faynan community was extracting malachite copper ore on a small scale from the local sandstones, and smelting it on site, creating quantities of iron-silicate slag (Najjar et al 1990). This development accords with the evidence from the region as a whole, that the systematic exploitation of copper ores began in the Chalcolithic and then greatly expanded in the third millennium B.C. during the Early Bronze Age, accompanied by technological improvements allowing the large-scale use of low grade ores (Adams 1991; Adams and Genz 1995; Hauptmann 1989 and 1992; Hauptmann et al 1992; Rothenberg 1972). The social and economic context of these transformations, for example the nature of the control of the ores and of the trade in their products, and of the impact of the expansion of copper mining on local economic and social organization, are much debated (Finkelstein 1995; Joffe 1993) and form the principal research focus for Dr Wright's investigation of site WF100.

Although direct information regarding chalcolithic and early bronze age cultivation systems in the region is still extremely poor there are some archaeological indications from the Negev that the settlement transformations at this time were associated with the development of simple floodwater farming systems (Cohen and Dever 1980, 42; Levy 1995, 230), and the thesis is supported now by phyolith evidence in cereal crops (Rosen 1992).

It is noteworthy that the scale of mining activity in the Wadi Faynan through the Nabataean, Roman and Byzantine periods also seems to have been highly variable through time: charcoal analysis from the major smelting site of Khirbat an-Nahas indicated that in the earlier centuries of the first millennium B.C. the activity was relatively small scale with little impact on the environment --- people were able to gather sufficient fuel wood for the smelting within walking distance of the site without significant damage to the local ecology (Engel 1993). The Roman period however, was characterized by a massive expansion in exploitation (Hauptmann 1992).

(2) Environment and Land Use in the Wadi Faynan in Southern Jordan: the Second Season of Geoarchaeology and Landscape Archaeology by Barker et al in Levant 30 (1998) Pages 5-25

Abstract: This report describes the second season of fieldwork to construct a model of landscape development for the past 10,000 years in the Wadi Faynan in southern Jordan. Over half of the complex field system WF4 has been recorded in terms of wall construction, surface artefacts, and hydrological features. A complex sequence of settlement and land use is emerging from these studies, especially regarding systems of floodwater farming over the past three thousand years. Field observations of wadi downcutting and preliminary pollen analysis both suggest that one factor in this development has been considerable environmental change over the same period.

Background: The preliminary fieldwork by the team in 1996 was reported in Levant XXIX (Barker et al 1997). This report describes the initial findings of the second campaign of fieldwork (Aprll 4th-24th 1997). The fieldwork concentrated on the part of the field system immediately west of Khirbat Faynan, the ancient site dominating the confluence of the three wadis that form the Faynan; the Wadis Dana, Ghuwayr and Shayqar. Khirbat Faynan is assumed to have been the principal settlement in the Wadi Faynan in the Nabataean, Roman and Byzantine periods and is commonly identified with references to the Phaino to which Christians from Palestine and Egypt were transported in the third and fourth centuries A.D. to work in the copper mines which it controlled.

The survey of the field system WF4

The predominant finds from the field-walking were Roman/Byzantine sherds although lithics, glass, slag and copper ore were also recovered. Brief preliminary reports are presented below on the lithics and pottery.

The lithic material within the field system

More than 3,500 pieces have been collected by the team to date, 3,078 of which were analyzed in the 1997 field season ... In terms of chronology there is a 'background noise' of stray middle palaeolithic artefacts occurring singly within collections of other material. This middle palaeolithic element, falling within the date range 210,000-35,000 years ago, comprises chunky, flake-based scrapers and denticulates. Regarding the Upper Palaeolithic, well-made punch-struck blades are lacking in the collections but there is a consistent appearance of relatively large blades with broad, plain striking platforms on medium-grained chert, which could be upper palaeolithic in date though they could also fit into later industries. Blades and a blade core of probable upper palaeolithic date have been recovered by geomorphological survey from a section in the Wadi Ghuwayr (site 5029). Similarly an epipalaeolithic blade and bladelet presence is probable but consistent patterning within a single assemblage is lacking.

The collection of sickle blades with gloss shows cereal harvesting activities which would again span a broad time range (from the Epipalaeolithic virtually until the present) but the various wear and damage characteristics of the pieces suggest they are unlikely to derive from recent threshing trolleys; a mid-Holocene date is likely. There is no evidence for the blades being reversed in their hafts and reused.

Reconnaissance survey outside the field system indicates that lithic material is denser on the low hills overlooking the fields than within the field system itself and richer in materials ... The concentration of material around the late neolithic/chalcolithic settlement of Tell Wadi Faynan (Najjar et al 1990) is particularly striking as is the spread of material on either side of the tributary wadi that forms the southern boundary of units 4.3, 4.6, 4.7, 4.9, and 4.10. Another feature of the distribution is the evidence for site or off-site activity roughly contemporaneous with the occupation of the major early bronze age settlement WF100 (Unit 4.13) ... The preliminary study of the lithics collected within the field system thus indicates that this part of the Wadi Faynan was the focus of a variety of activities certainly from the Epipalaeolithic through to the later prehistoric periods (a middle palaeolithic presence is documented but no in situ materials have been collected yet) and that, probably from the neolithic period onwards, both site and off-site activities extended over most of the area.

Click to See Picture Rotated 90 Degrees

The pottery from the field system

In 1997 the material from units 4.1-4.6 was processed -- a larger finds team is anticipated for 1998. The pre-Nabataean pottery was examined for diagnostic pieces which would give an indication of a presence/absence of specific periods in the field systems ... The vast majority of all pottery in Units 4.1-4.6 is of Nabataean and later periods. In fact the material seems to indicate a long period of use of this area, which includes all of the major post-Nabataean periods up to the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods ... By far the largest component in the later pottery was of the Byzantine period, which made up the bulk of the later assemblage.

The pre-Nabataean pottery was thinly distributed throughout the collections studied from Units 4.1 4.6 collections ... In total some few hundred sherds of pre-Nabataean pottery were found in the collected samples, with the vast majority of this material being non-diagnostic body sherds ... In the absence of diagnostic aspects of the sherds it was often impossible to ascertain with any certainty the date ranges of much of this material.

Of the diagnostic pottery of this group which was separated out, the vast majority falls into two periods chronologically: the Early Bronze Age; and the later Iron Age (probably the seventh-sixth centuries B.C.). The early bronze age material contained some of the heavily grit-tempered forms which are already well known from Site WF100 and also from Wadi Fidan 4, a settlement some 10 kilometres to the northwest. This material is most likely to be EB I in date though this cannot be certain until further evidence is available. Alongside this pottery however was some later early bronze age pottery, most likely from EB III-IV, indicating continued use of the area throughout the Early Bronze Age. Comparative examples of pottery are known from the excavations at Khirbat Hamra Ifdan in the Wadi Fidan.

Perhaps the most surprising corpus of material from Units 4.1-4.6 is the large amount of probably late iron age pottery ... The iron age material collected from Units 4.1-4.6 concentrated in general in the upper fields at the eastern end of the system. One possibility is that the material represents a background scatter relating to (presumed) iron age settlement at Khirbat Faynan but given its location in the higher terrace fields it is possible that it is indicative of remnant iron age field systems in this part of the wadi. A combination of both scenarios is probable. In either event the presence of iron age pottery here is further confirmation of the extensive iron age occupation of the region already known from smelting sites such as Khirbat al-Nahas, which most likely relate to the establishment of the kingdom of Edom in the later Iron Age.

Palynology of the Khirbat barrage reservoir sediments: initial results

During the 1996 fieldwork a core (5017) was taken from the sediments built up against the prominent barrage that has been constructed at the northern foot of the hill on which stands Khirbat Faynan, the 'reservoir infilling' marked in Figure 1. The barrage would have prevented any water flowing down the narrow valley on the northern side of Khirbat Faynan from egressing into the Wadi Dana and is probably associated with the smelting activities of the site: like the huge piles of smelting debris, the reservoir and aqueduct opposite the site on the southern side of the Wadi Shayqar dated fairly securely to the Roman period. Whilst there is evidence for prehistoric settlement at Khirbat Faynan, the similarities in construction of the barrage with the walls of the main field systems, and its context within the suite of structures around the site associated with smelting and water control, suggest that it is probably Nabataean, Roman or Byzantine in date. Initial radiocarbon dates confirm this, indicating a date for the basal deposits of circa 2500 B.P.

Biogeographical background --- Results and interpretation

A considerable environmental change has occurred in the study area during the past 2500 years. The vegetation shortly after the commencement of the filling of the reservoir was to an extent degraded but seems to have been relatively stable for a considerable period ... There is some evidence for aridification in the higher counts of the drought indicator Ephedra around 1.3-1.8 metres (in Figure 14) ... This is accompanied by the virtual ending of cereal cultivation above 1.6 metres and suggests the end of widespread arable farming near the Khirbat. This portends the collapse of the steppic component of the local vegetation. This may have been a consequence of climate change and considerable aridification, but it might also be the consequence of a shift to pastoral agriculture as the key subsistence mode, centuries of overgrazing and the cumulative loss of soil and vegetation from the slopes around the site.

Discussion and conclusion

The lithic artefacts collected within the field system indicate that the locality was visited by prehistoric people certainly from the epipalaeolithic period 10,000 years ago through to the later prehistoric periods. Preliminary survey by Dr Mithen's team in 1996 indicates that the foci of settlement for epipalaeolithic groups at the threshold of agriculture were the springs in the upper sections of the Wadis Ghuwayr and Dana. By the eighth millennium B.C. the Wadi Ghuwayr spring was the base for a fully fledged agricultural community ('Wadi Ghuwayr 1' Simmons and Najjar 1996); the location is typical of many early farming sites in the Near East -- presumably because the spring provided naturally-irrigated land for cereal fields and animal pasture (Bar-Yosef 1995). By the sixth and fifth millennia B.C. however, there was a later neolithic and chalcolithic settlement about a kilometre west of the Dana-Ghuwayr confluence at Tell Wadi Faynan (Najjar et al 1990). This settlement was situated within what we have defined as the Faynan Beds and this settlement was located in a relatively rich and diverse aquatic landscape that was very different from the modern desertic landscape -- there was a more or less perennial stream by the site and the likelihood is that farmers were able to grow their crops beside it much like the first farmers had been doing at the Wadi Ghuwayr spring ... The concentrations of material around Tell Wadi Faynan and along the main tributary wadi to the south that runs parallel with the main wadi (Figure 13) suggest that neolithic and chalcolithic farmers practised off-site activities such as pastoralism and hunting around their settlements on the wadi floor as well as growing their crops by the watercourses.

In the last report we suggested that a series of circular depressions on the edge of the WF4 field system might be primitive water catchment structures of chalcolithic/early bronze age date (Barker et al 1997, 35-36) ... This complex of circular catchments, cairns and terrace walls is associated with late prehistoric pottery and lithics. These structures bear resemblances to the microcatchment water-control systems and simple terrace walls found by Levy at Shiqmim in the Negev (Levy 1987). Whilst at this stage we can only offer a very tentative interpretation of the Wadi Faynan evidence, our hypothesis is that the social transformations of the chalcolithic period were associated not only with the systematic exploitation of copper ores but also with new systems of land use characterized by the deliberate management and storage of surface floodwaters ... The consensus is that significant aridity was developing by 5000-3500 B.C.; chalcolithic floodwater farming was presumably developed in response to this, though in the context of the new social structures.

The indications so far are that the first major phase of extensive floodwater farming concentrated on simple diversion barrages and terracing on the upper slopes and that it probably dates at least to the Nabataean period and may be earlier still. There are many similarities with the floodwater diversion systems recorded by Evenari et al (1971) in the Negev. As wadi down-cutting made these systems less effective, efforts concentrated increasingly on capturing the water at lower elevations and spreading it across the lower slopes by means of parallel-wall channels. Evidence for the latest phase of wall-building seems to have been forming from the Roman period onwards on the evidence of the association of the Roman aqueduct with a sand facies of this unit (Barker et al 1997, 27).

The beginning of the major phase of wall building is probably more or less contemporary with the beginning of sedimentary accumulation behind the barrage at Khirbat Faynan circa 2500 B.P. The preliminary pollen analysis from these sediments indicates a relatively stable steppic landscape for a considerable period followed by a much more desertic landscape in which cereal cultivation was minimal. One important goal for our future fieldwork must be to investigate whether the eventual abandonment of the field system coincided with the significant landscape changes that can be inferred from the pollen diagram and if so, the extent to which this process of desertification was climatically and/or humanly induced.

Environment and Land Use in the Wadi Faynan, Southern Jordan: the Third Season of Geoarchaeology and Landscape Archaeology (1998) --- Barker et al in Levant 31 Pages 255-292 (1999)

Abstract: This report describes the third season of fieldwork by an interdisciplinaty team of archaeologists and geographers working to reconstruct the landscape history of the Wadi Faynan in southern Jordan oaer the past 200,000 years. The particular focus of the project is the long-term history of inter-relationships between landscape and people, as a contribution to the study of processes of desertification and environmental degradation. The geomorphological and palaeoecological studies have now established the outline sequence of landform changes and climatic fluctuations in the late Pleistocene and Holocene. The complex field system WF4 has now been recorded in its entirety in terms of wall construction, surface artefacts and hydrological features, as well as most of the outlying field systems. From these studies, in combination with the analysis of the surface artefacts, an outline sequence of the water utilization and management strategies they represent can now be discerned ... Roman/Byzantine agriclture and mining severely impacted on the landscape in terms of deforestation; and geochemistry shows that Roman/Byzantine mining severely polluted the landscape, the effects of which are still apparent in the modem ecology of the study area.

Top: The junction of Wadi Faynan and Wadi Ghuwayr (September 1997). The Pre-Pottery Neolithic A site of WF16 is located on the two low knolls to the right of the picture. Bottom: Reconstruction of the Wadi and settlement of PPNA at 10,500 years ago

(5) The Early Prehistory of Wadi Faynan in Southern Jordan: Archaeological Survey of Wadis Faynan, Ghuwayr and Al Bustan and Evaluation of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A Site of WF16 by Finlayson, B. and Mithen, S. in Levant Supplementary Series Vol 4 -- WADI FAYNAN SERIES VOLUME 1 (2007)

Chapter 1. The Dana-Faynan-Ghuwayr Early Prehistory Project

Bill Finlayson and Steven Mithen

1.1 Origin of the project: The Dana-Faynan-Ghuwayr Early Prehistory Project (DFGEP) was established in 1997 and involved four seasons of survey and excavation in its study region located in southern Jordan ... The project originated from a research initiative by the former British Institute at Amman for Archaeology and History (BIAAH).

By 1996 BIAAH had been subsumed within the Council for British Research in the Levant (CBRL) and three new UK-based archaeological projects in Wadi Faynan had been established. Graeme Barker had convened an interdisciplinary team of archaeologists and geographers to examine landscape development within Wadi Faynan with a focus on the Roman/Byzantine field system (Barker et al 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000). A second initiative was led by Katherine Wright entitled the Wadi Faynan Fourth and Third Millennium Project. This was concerned with the excavation of a Bronze Age settlement (WF100) located during the BIAAH survey. This project sought to examine issues relating to Levantine–Egyptian links and the development of complex societies. Thirdly Dr Freeman of Liverpool University had begun a building survey of the Khirbet Faynan, the principal Roman/Byzantine standing monument of the area located at the juncture between Wadis Faynan, Dana and Ghuwayr (Figure 1.2). All of these projects were focused on the history of agriculture, mining and metallurgy, and the related development of the Christian community in Faynan.

Figure 1.2 Confluence of Wadi Faynan and Wadi Ghuwayr looking south-east towards the Jordanian plateau. The PPNA site of WF16 is located on the knoll on the right of the picture and the PPNB site of Ghuwayr 1 is visible by its excavation trench in the mid-ground of the picture on the right side of Wadi Ghuwayr

Finlayson was then approached to undertake work on the early prehistory of Wadi Faynan to complement the later prehistoric and historic studies being undertaken by Barker, Wright, Freeman and their colleagues. Finlayson invited Steven Mithen to collaborate on this project, recognising that research within this region could potentially address their mutual research interests concerning Levantine Palaeolithic, Epipalaeolithic and early Neolithic archaeology. A reconnaissance of Wadi Faynan for early prehistoric settlement was conducted in Spring 1996 (Finlayson and Mithen 1998), the results of which were sufficiently positive to justify the formation of the DFGEP with a four year programme of fieldwork.

1.2 The study area of the DFGEP and previous archaeological studies

Archaeological work in the Wadi Faynan area has taken place for over a century. Initial visits by pioneering scholars such as Lagrange (1898, 1900), Musil (1907), Frank (1934), Glueck (1935) and Kind (1965) established the importance of the area particularly in relation to mining and early Christian history ... Surprisingly, given the extent of archaeological activity, very little was known about early prehistoric settlement in the Wadi Faynan region prior to the DFGEP project.

The earliest dated settlement in the region was the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) site of Ghuwayr 1, at that time only partially excavated by Dr Mohammed Najjar (Simmons and Najjar 1996, 1998), followed by the Pottery Neolithic site of Tell Wadi Feinan (Najjar et al 1990). Up until April 1996 no major concentration of pre-PPNB material had been identified within the region covered by the DFGEP. The archaeology in the immediate vicinity of the confluence of the Wadis Dana, Ghuwayr and Shayqar is dominated by the Khirbet Faynan, a dense tumble of sandstone masonry within which there are substantial standing walls, which is associated with an aqueduct across the Wadi Shayqar, a reservoir, mill, cemetery, extensive deposits of slag and a field system that extends across the Wadi Faynan.

Page 87 in (7) Death Rituals and Social Order in the Ancient World

Despite the absence of any evidence for pre-PPNB settlement, the study area appeared to provide considerable potential for addressing issues in Palaeolithic, Epipalaeolithic and early Neolithic archaeology of the Levant. Surveys elsewhere in Jordan and in similar landscapes to the study area had identified sites from all of these periods ... Consequently there was every expectation that a rich early prehistoric record remained to be discovered. The manner in which the project developed required that the Neolithic become our major focus of interest, owing to the discovery of a Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) site, designated as WF16, during the reconnaissance survey of 1996 ... As a consequence the majority of the project’s limited resources were placed into evaluating this single site rather than into the field survey within the study area. That was nevertheless extensive and recovered a considerable sample of Lower and Middle Palaeolithic artefacts, but sparse evidence for Upper Palaeolithic and Epipalaeolithic settlement in the area.

1.3 Research issues in early prehistoric Levantine archaeology

Palaeolithic sites are relatively rare in Jordan when compared to those of later periods or other regions of the Levant. The majority of Jordanian Palaeolithic sites are located on its plateau, in other highland areas in southern Jordan, or in the eastern deserts and oases. While relatively few stratified Lower and Middle Palaeolithic sites have been discovered, numerous surface artefact scatters are known. The scarcity of cave or rock shelter sites may account for the absence of hominin remains. Upper Palaeolithic sites are more numerous than those of earlier periods but have a similar distribution.

It is now widely believed that the date of hominin dispersal from Africa may have been as early as 2 million years ago. The Jordan Valley is a continuation of the African Rift Valley and is likely to have provided one of two key dispersal routes from Africa, the other being across the Afar ‘gap’ into modern-day Saudi Arabia. The earliest dated site in the Jordan Valley is Ubediya at circa 1.5 million years ago but it is conceivable that considerably earlier artefact scatters and even hominin fossils may exist within the region.

1.3.3 Epipalaeolithic: industrial variability and settlement pattern

The Epipalaeolithic period in the Levant (circa 20,000 – 10,000 BP) is a period of considerable environmental change during which human communities had to continually adapt to changing distributions of animals and plants. The vast majority of archaeological sites are no more than scatters of chipped stone artefacts. These are complemented however by a number of sites during the final millennia of the late Pleistocene that have impressive architectural remains, human burials, art objects and a diverse material culture. Bar-Yosef’s (1970) original scheme for the cultural variability of Epipalaeolithic assemblages has been substantially elaborated resulting in several industries: the Kebaran, the Mushabian, the Geometric Kebaran, the Ramonian, the Natufian and the Harifian. The Natufian is often divided into an earlier and later phase. Many of the other industries are also further subdivided, principally on the basis of relative frequencies of microlith types.

Epipalaeolithic sites are relatively common in Jordan compared to those of earlier periods with Olszewski (2001) suggesting a minimum number of “nine recognizable lithic industries and phases”. In 1997 no Epipalaeolithic sites were known in the DFGEP study area, the closest being those sampled in Wadi Hasa. The nearest Natufian site was that at Beidha, interpreted as a seasonal hunter-gatherer encampment.

Where and when the shifts from entirely mobile hunter-gatherers to semi and then fully sedentary hunter-gatherers/cultivators/farmers occurred remains unclear and subject to considerable debate. Goring-Morris (1995, 166) separates the majority of the Epipalaeolithic from the Natufian, which seems to appear “quite abruptly and fully fledged” and is interpreted by some as representing sedentary hunter-gatherers. There appears to be a chronological correlation between the appearance of sites with substantial architecture, burials and a diverse material culture including artefacts for intensive plant processing and the late glacial interstadial (circa 14,700 – 12,800 calibrated BP). That climatic phase most likely created an abundance of plant and animal foods owing to increased rainfall. Bar-Yosef and Belfer Cohen (1989) argue that Early Natufian sedentism was the ‘point of no return’ with regard to the origin of farming. The identification of hunter-gatherer sedentism is however extremely difficult and some reject the notion that this is reflected in the Early Natufian settlements.

One scenario for the final phase of the Levantine Epipalaeolithic is that the favourable environments of the late glacial stadial came to an abrupt end with the onset of the Younger Dryas (12,800–11,600 calibrated BP). This led to the complete or partial abandonment of the Early Natufian settlements and a return to a mobile hunter-gatherer lifestyle as reflected in the rather sparse record of the late Natufian prior to the emergence of farming communities at the start of the Holocene.

1.3.4 The Pre-Pottery Neolithic A: origins and diversity

One of our attractions to the DFGEP study area in 1996 was the on-going excavation of Ghuwayr 1, a PPNB settlement. This was the oldest known settlement in the area and it raised the general question regarding the origin of such PPNB settlements in southern Jordan: do they reflect the immigration of people from the north or a development by resident PPNA/Epipalaeolithic communities ? Ghuwayr 1 was just one of several impressive PPNB sites in southern Jordan, the others including Beidha, Basta and Ba’ja. In light of the extreme rarity and peripheral nature of PPNA and Natufian sites in this region, as it appeared in 1997, the notion of immigration into the area seemed most likely. Architectural transitions from round to rectangular dwellings are evident in the northern regions of the Levant, notably at Mureybet in Syria and this is where the earliest dates for PPNB settlements also occur.

The issue of the origin of the PPNB in the southern Levant required examination by survey within the DFGEP study area to establish whether any PPNA settlement(s) had been in existence, and if so, whether any specific cultural links to Ghuwayr 1 could be identified. The presence of at least one PPNA site, designated as WF16, was identified by the 1996 reconnaissance survey. Other than this, the only other PPNA site in the vicinity of the study area known in 1996 was Bab edh-Dhra, 60 kilometres to the north of Wadi Faynan.

A key research area regarding the PPNA that we hoped to address in the DFGEP concerned settlement patterns and economy within this period. While PPNA sites are rare within the Levant, those with sufficient animal and plant remains that enable questions about economic practices to be addressed are even more scarce. Opinion varies as to whether the PPNA is a period of hunting and gathering or farming with numerous variants within such categories, notably the cultivation of wild cereals. Related to this issue is the extent to which the PPNA settlements represent permanent ‘villages' or seasonally occupied campsites. While the monumental architecture at Jericho certainly suggests the former, that site remains unique. Kuijt (1994) proposed that PPNA settlement in the southern Levant formed a hierarchical pattern of settlement and his ideas seemed ready for re-evaluation.

The 1996 reconnaissance survey identified a dense scatter of chipped stone covering a knoll close to the junction between Wadis Faynan and Ghuwayr. This was established as a relatively well preserved PPNA settlement in 1997 and in light of the significance of this discovery a single site (WF16) came to dominate the project to a greater extent than had been anticipated for what was instigated as primarily a survey project. Specific research objectives regarding WF16 were defined as:

– The origin of the PPNA with regard to its continuity with Epipalaeolithic cultural entities, notably the Natufian and environmental change during the Late Pleistocene.

– The cultural variation within the PPNA with particular attention to whether the Sultanian and Khiamian are distinct entities, and if so, whether they represent successive cultural phases or functional variants within the PPNA.

– The economic basis of the PPNA with the study region: was this hunting-gathering, plant cultivation, herding or fully-fledged farming?

– The chronological, economic and cultural relationship between the PPNA and PPNB within the study region, this being possible owing to the presence of the PPNB site of Ghuwayr 1 within 500 metres of WF16

Following the discovery of WF16 in 1996 and a test excavation in 1997, the two most substantial field seasons were undertaken in 1998 and 1999 with additional fieldwork at the site in 2000 and 2001 (See Bib # 1-4 Below).

2. Long-term landscape evolution of the Wadis Dana, Faynan and Ghuwayr --- Richard Tipping

The survey programme was designed to locate preHolocene and early Holocene sites. The results produced two main groups of material: Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age and Palaeolithic. Given that one main focus of the research was the earliest Neolithic, it was unfortunate that remarkably little Epipalaeolithic or early Neolithic material could be found. At face value, the surveys suggest that any Epipalaeolithic occupation of the area was very slight, if it existed at all. Furthermore, it appears that the PPNA occupation was focussed at one major site, WF16, and the same pattern occurred in the PPNB at Ghuwayr 1, and the Pottery Neolithic at Tell Wadi Faynan. There is a probable increase in the number of small sites during the Chalcolithic.

These results suggest that the PPNA occupants of WF16 moved into a largely unpopulated landscape, and the restriction of settlement to the relatively small area of WF16 appears to be a deliberate choice made by these people.

(6) Archaeology and Desertification: The Wadi Faynan Landscape Survey

(A) Wadi Faynan site 16 by Bill Finlayson and Emma Jenkins --- © University of Reading

(B) Wadi Feinan --- Ancient Mine, Quarry or other Industry in Jordan by Moti Shem Tov (Megalithic Portal)

(1) The Wadi Faynan Project in Southern Jordan: a Preliminary Report on Geomorphology and Landscape Archaeology by Barker et al in Levant 29 (1997) Pages 19-40

(2) Environment and Land Use in the Wadi Faynan in Southern Jordan: the Second Season of Geoarchaeology and Landscape Archaeology by Barker et al in Levant 30 (1998) Pages 5-25

(3) Environment and Land Use in the Wadi Faynan in Southern Jordan: the Third Season of Geoarchaeology and Landscape Archaeology by Barker et al in Levant 31 (1999) Pages 255-292

(4) Archaeology and Desertification in the Wadi Faynan: the Fourth (1999) Season of the Wadi Faynan Landscape Survey by Barker et al in Levant 32 (2000) Pages 27-52

(5) The Early Prehistory of Wadi Faynan in Southern Jordan: Archaeological Survey of Wadis Faynan, Ghuwayr and Al Bustan and Evaluation of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A Site of WF16 by Finlayson, B. and Mithen, S. in Levant Supplementary Series Vol 4 -- WADI FAYNAN SERIES VOLUME 1 (2007)

(6) Archaeology and Desertification: The Wadi Faynan Landscape Survey in Southern Jordan by Barker et al in Levant Supplementary Series Vol 6 -- WADI FAYNAN SERIES VOLUME 2 (2007)

(7) Death Rituals and Social Order in the Ancient World: Death Shall Have No Dominion: Edited by Colin Renfrew -- Michael J. Boyd -- Iain Morley (2015)

(B) Wadi Feinan --- Ancient Mine, Quarry or other Industry in Jordan by Moti Shem Tov (Megalithic Portal)

Wadi Feinan lies in an arid landscape but has access to considerable amounts of water by virtue of its proximity to a permanent spring. The wadi is also one of the largest sources of copper in the Levant. Consequently Wadi Feinan represents a region of particular importance for understanding the development of technology, exchange systems, prestige goods and emerging social complexity in the Levant in the 4th and 3rd millennia BC. The aims of the 4th-3rd millennia BC project are therefore to explore regional settlement, interregional interactions and social changes in Wadi Feinan at the dawn of the Early Bronze Age (B).

(A) Wadi Faynan site 16 by Bill Finlayson and Emma Jenkins --- © University of Reading

WF16 is located in the spectacular Wadi Faynan area of Southern Jordan. Material remains at the site indicate that settlement occurred during the Pre Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) period with a suite of radiocarbon dates indicating occupation between 11600 and 10200 BP. Originally defined by Kenyon during excavation at Jericho in the 1950s the PPNA is traditionally seen as the earliest manifestation of an agricultural economy in the world with villages occupied by sedentary groups practicing some form of cultivation. The PPNA brought to an end more than two million years of hunting and gathering and laid the foundations for the first civilisations (A).

The evaluation also yielded well-preserved organic remains, human burials and a diverse range of material culture including chipped stone tools, ground stone tools, 'art' objects and beads. As such WF16 offers the potential to significantly enhance our understanding of the PPNA and the origins of the Neolithic (ibid).

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium