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Neolithic 'Ain Ghazal in Jordan

Dates: Circa 8300-6000 BC using Radiocarbon Calibration (C)

Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (MPPNB) 7,250-6,500 BCE
Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (LPPNB) 6,500-6,000 BCE
Pre-Pottery Neolithic C (PPNC) 6,000-5,500 BCE
Yarmoukian Pottery Neolithic 5,500-5,000 BCE (D)

Ain Ghazal || Historical 3D Visualization

INTRODUCTION: 'Ain Ghazal is a prehistoric archaeological site located along the Zarqa River at the edge of the dry-farming zone. It is one of the largest known Neolithic sites and was inhabited for 2000 years through four stages. 'Ain Ghazal was first settled during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B about 7250 BC and thereafter expanded to include 30 acres of land. It was abandoned during the Yarmoukian Pottery Neolithic about 5000 BC (A).

The site was discovered in 1974 when road construction uncovered the settlement. 'Ain Ghazal was excavated between 1982 and 1998 by an American-Jordanian team directed by Gary Rollefson and Zeidan Kafafi. Anthropologist Gary Rollefson’s nearly four-decade long research into the anthropology of prehistoric Levantine civilisations began in 1978 when he received a small fellowship from the American Centre of Oriental Research (ibid).

(1) 'Ain Ghazal: A Major Neolithic Settlement in Central Jordan --- Authors: Alan H. Simmons --
Ilse Köhler-Rollefson -- Gary O. Rollefson -- Rolfe Mandel and Zeidan Kafafi in Science Magazine (1988)

ABSTRACT: 'Ain Ghazal -- an archeological site located on the outskirts of Amman in Jordan -- is one of the largest early villages known in the Near East. The site dates to the Neolithic period during which mankind made one of its most significant advances -- the adoption of domestic plants and animals as primary subsistence sources. Recent excavations at Ain Ghazal have augmented considerably current knowledge of several aspects of the Neolithic. Of particular interest has been the documentation of a continuous or near continuous occupation from early through late Neolithic components and a concomitant dramatic economic shift. This shift was from a broad subsistence base relying on a variety of both wild and domestic plants and animals to an economic strategy reflecting an apparent emphasis on pastoralism (1) ...

Ain Ghazal ("SPRING OF THE GAZELLES"), a large prehistoric village located near Amman has yielded significant new information on the Neolithic period. The Neolithic has long been a key focus of archeological inquiry because it played a major role in subsequent cultural developments. In many instances this period provided the stimulus for a series of complex processes culminating in the great civilizations of the world. The Neolithic also is significant in that it represented one of mankind's most dramatic transformations: the shift from hunting and gathering economies to ones based on food production, or the domestication of plants and often animals. Once key economic resources came under human control the framework for further advancement was established (ibid).

Perhaps the most studied area of Neolithic research is the Near East, where scholars generally agree that the earliest experiments with domestication occurred approximately 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. In that region domestic economies were in operation during what is commonly referred to as the aceramic or pre-pottery Neolithic; this phase was followed by the pottery Neolithic. By about 7000 B.C. a variety of plants that were to become Near Eastern staples were widely domesticated as was at least one animal, the goat. Numerous sites have contributed to defining the Neolithic; some of the more notable are Jericho and Beidha in the Levant. Recent excavations at 'Ain Ghazal have added new refinement to our concept of the Neolithic, particularly of its later phases (ibid).

CHRONOLOGY: A series of radiocarbon determinations bracket a major occupation at 'Ain Ghazal within the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) period dating to between about 7200 to 6000 B.C. Thus far no clear evidence has been unearthed suggesting an earlier occupation. During the 1984 excavation season a small portion of another component was revealed. This too is Neolithic, falling within the early Pottery Neolithic to a phase locally known as the Yarmoukian. No radiocarbon dates are available for the Yarmoukian at 'Ain Ghazal but elsewhere in the Levant it spans 5500 to 5000 B.C.

Aceramic and ceramic components are common at many major Neolithic sites in the Levant but they are invariably separated by a hiatus of undetermined length. At Ain 'Ghazal however a transitional phase from aceramic to ceramic has been documented. This phase, provisionally termed the Pre-Pottery Neolithic C (PPNC), shares elements common to both the PPNB and the Yarmoukian components but also is quite distinct in a variety of aspects. As with the Yarmoukian component only a small part of the PPNC has yet been investigated but a similar phase has not been clearly defined at any other Neolithic site in the Levant. The implications of a transitional phase are important since it suggests local cultural development and adaptation.

SIZE AND POPULATION: Survey, systematic testing and examination of profiles exposed by the road construction indicate that Ain 'Ghazal spans some 30 acres. This is approximately three times the size of Pre-Pottery Neolithic Jericho, making Ain 'Ghazal one of the largest Neolithic sites documented in the Near East. As such it probably was a major population center, although it is not yet clear if the entire site was occupied at once.

GEOMORPHOLOGY -- ENVIRONMENT -- PALEOECOLOGY: Evidence recovered from the excavations suggests that much of the surrounding countryside was forested and offered the inhabitants a wide variety of economic resources. Arable land is plentiful within the site's immediate environs. These variables are atypical of many major Neolithic sites in the Near East, several of which are located in marginal environments. Yet despite its apparent richness, the area of 'Ain Ghazal is climatically and environmentally sensitive because of its proximity throughout the Holocene to the fluctuating steppe-forest border. Additionally the site is located on the 250-mm isoheyt which is considered [less than] the minimum amount of precipitation required for nonirrigation farming. Precipitaion increases rapidly toward the west however; the 450-mm isoheyt is only 15 km to the west (ibid).

Invoking the Spirit --- Prehistoric Religion at Ain Ghazal By Gary O. Rollefson
in Copyright © 2017 Biblical Archaeology Society (Winter 1998)

ECONOMY: One of the most significant results of research at 'Ain Ghazal has been the retrieval of abundant floral and faunal remains. Recovery techniques have allowed retrieval of even small materials. The faunal assemblage alone consists of approximately 500,000 bone fragments of which some 50,000 have been identifiable. The abundant data have provided an excellent opportunity for the detailed examination of Neolithic economy. Most of the material recovered dates to the PPNB component but tantalizing evidence from the PPNC and Yarmoukian layers may shed light on why 'Ain Ghazal was ultimately abandoned.

In a sense the early inhabitants of 'Ain Ghazal literally may have consumed themselves out of their once rich environment, forcing an economic dichotomy where a stronger and stronger reliance on pastoralism became more adaptive. At the same time reliance on agriculture may have decreased due to the lack of arable land brought on by overexploitation. This had consequences for 'Ain Ghazal and although it undoubtedly remained a regional center, its former prosperity was greatly diminished leading to abandonment after the Neolithic. This conclusion was graphically borne out by a recent survey of the area: no major Neolithic or later habitation sites were located within an approximately 5-km radius of 'Ain Ghazal. This suggests that the environmental degradation caused by over 2000 years of use during the Neolithic may have rendered the region incapable of supporting major agricultural based communities until the advent of modern technology.

One of the astounding developments of ‘Ain Ghazal was the abrupt decline of the population. With an estimated number of 3,000-4,000 people at 7000-6900 BC the settlement crumbled to a level 90% smaller, which returned the village to the size it was when it was first settled. This leaves the question of what happened to the people who were forced to leave the town (and others throughout the highlands of Jordan). There is little evidence that a mass migration left highland Jordan to Syria in the north or to Saudi Arabia in the southern direction which leaves little option except for a probable movement into the eastern areas of the Levant (B) ...

The Future: The 1996 season marked the 10th excavation season at ‘Ain Ghazal, an anniversary that was celebrated with the announcement by the Jordan Department of Antiquities that 3.5 hectares of the Main Site would be purchased and protected from destruction. We have felt that the resources at ‘Ain Ghazal are as important to the public awareness of Jordan’s archaeological heritage as Petra -- Jarash and Madaba. Jordan’s unique archaeological background has been anchored by ‘Ain Ghazal and the later achievements of Jordan's history cannot be understood without taking ‘Ain Ghazal's contribution into account. We are therefore pleased at the preservation of a major part of ‘Ain Ghazal (2) ...

(1) 'Ain Ghazal: A Major Neolithic Settlement in Central Jordan --- Authors: Alan H. Simmons -- Ilse Köhler-Rollefson -- Gary O. Rollefson -- Rolfe Mandel and Zeidan Kafafi in Science Magazine (1988)

(2) The 1996 Season at 'Ain Ghazal: Preliminary Report by Gary Rollefson and Zeidan Kafafi in the Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan (1997)

(A) 'Ain Ghazal --- Virtual World Project at Creighton University

(B) The Aftermath of 'Ain Ghazal: What Happened after 7000 BC? by Gary Rollefson in the American Center of Oriental Research at Amman (Article August 18 2016)

(C) Animal Symbols at ‘Ain Ghazal by Denise Schmandt-Besserat in © 2017 Expedition Magazine --- University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (March 1997)

(D) 'Ain-Ghazal (Jordan) Pre-pottery Neolithic B Period pit of lime plaster human figures by Keffie Feldman --- Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World (Brown University)

Ain Ghazal offers encyclopaedic record of social and cultural evolution over almost 3,000 years By Saeb Rawashdeh in Copyright © 2016 The Jordan News (Feb 23 2017)

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium