HOME / Table of Contents = Civilizations - Cultures - Areas - Regions - Prehistory
Other Archaeological Sites / The Neolithic of the Levant (500 Page Book Online)

The PreHistoric Wadi Fidan Including Jabal or Jebel (Mount)
and Khirbat or Khirbet (Ruin) Hamrat Ifdan in Jordan

Updated August 24th 2019

The “gateway” to the Faynan copper ore region from the west is through the Wadi Fidan which cuts through the Jabal Hamrat Fidan where Khirbat Hamra Ifdan (KHI) is situated. About 1 km to the north of KHI the Iron Age cemetery of Wadi Fidan 40 is situated (Page 759 in 1).

Map showing the Wadis Faynan -- Fidan -- Dana -- Ghuwayr -- al-Ghuwayb and Shayqar in relation
to the major archaeological sites and the ancient ‘field system’ WF4 (1)

The Jabal Hamrat Fidan Project: Excavations at the Wadi Fidan 40 Cemetery in Jordan (1997)
by Thomas E. Levy -- Russell B. Adams and Rula Shafiq in Levant (1997)



The Jabal (Arabic == Mountain) Hamrat Fidan in southern Jordan marks the gateway to the Wadi Faynan District; the largest source of copper ore in the southern Levantine mainland. Although copper ore bodies are known from the Sinai and the western Arabah at Timna, the Faynan district was the most significant source of copper ore for ancient communities living in what is today Jordan -- Israel -- Palestine up until the end of the Early Bronze Age (circa 2000 BC). At this time the ore sources of Cyprus began to take precedence and maritime trade in copper established Cyprus as the most important source of copper in the eastern Mediterranean.

Exploitation of Faynan copper ore spans the entire range of human occupation in the southern Levant with an apparent short hiatus during the Middle and Late Bronze Ages (1900-1200 BC) and the beginning of the Iron Age (1200-1000 BC). Evidence for the use of copper ore in the region is known particularly from the Neolithic (eighth to seventh millennia) -- Chalcolithic (circa 4500 - 3600 BC) -- Bronze Age (circa 3600 - 1900 BC) -- Iron Age II (circa 1000 - 586 BC) -- Roman (37 BC - 324 CE) and early Islamic (circa 638 - 1099 CE) periods (Hauptmann 1989).

We date the Wadi Fidan 40 cemetery to the Iron Age. However it is difficult to link the cemetery population with confidence to Iron Age populations living on the Edomite plateau to the east. For that matter the cemetery cannot be tied with any certainty to the newly discovered group of Iron Age metallugical sites along the Wadi Fidan.


The dating of the cemetery has important ramifications for the Iron Age history of the southern Levant. The large number of graves opened (N = 62) and the significant amount of skeletal remains recovered (N = 87) comprise an important record that can be used for study of the health and burial practices of the Iron Age population in the Jabal Hamrat Fidan/Faynan region of southern Jordan. DNA samples were taken from 46 individuals of the population group and will provide the first opportunity for a detailed genetic analysis of an Iron Age population group in Jordan.

The calibrated BC dates range from 1130-815 cal BC with an intercept of the radiocarbon age with the calibration curve at 925 cal BC. Thus, with 95% confidence, the Wadi Fidan 40 cemetery can be dated to the twelfth - ninth centuries BC ... The intercept of the radiocarbon age with the calibration curve at 925 cal BC is intriguing in the light of known evidence concerning the occupation of Edom in the Iron Age and especially of recent discoveries in the wider Faynan region.

The Iron Age of southern Jordan

Until very recently evidence for a pre-seventh century Iron Age occupation on the Jordanian plateau south of the Wadi Hasa has been both very sparse and highly debated in the literature (Finkelstein 1992a, 1992b, 1995; Bienkowski 1992a, 1992b). Notwithstanding Finkelstein's assertions that early Iron Age ceramics are present in most 'Edomite' sites excavated to date (Finkelstein 1992a, 1992b) there is a clear lack of stratified evidence to support this hypothesis. Moreover the absence of these early Iron Age sequences should be seen as part of a larger problem concerning the almost complete lack of archaeological evidence for Middle Bronze Age -- Late Bronze Age and Iron Age I occupation in southern Jordan in general (see Bienkowski and Adams 1999). Although this 'gap' in occupation in southern Jordan is now a well-known phenomenon it has yet to be satisfactorily explained. Recent attempts to account for this situation have taken two approaches, the first of which has been to suggest that the lack of sites reflects the 'nomadic' nature of populations in the region at this time which have been suggested to exist largely as groups reliant upon a pastoralist economy. The second approach has been to attempt to rectify the lack of sites through more intensive survey of the region over the last two decades to address this perceived 'gap' in occupation of southern Jordan. These surveys, both north (Karak Plateau Survey: Miller 1991) and south of the Wadi Hasa (Wadi al-Hasa Archaeological Survey: MacDonald et al 1988; Southern Ghors and Northeast Arabah Survey: MacDonald et al 1990; Edom Survey Project: Hart 1989, 1992; Aqaba-Ma'an Survey: Jobling 1981, 1983), have all met with relatively limited success.

It is perhaps too early to comment on the overall extent of Iron Age occupation in the Faynan region at this time -- however the evidence that currently exists suggests that there was a fairly widespread occupation in this region prior to the formation of the 'Kingdom of Edom' in the seventh century BC. While archaeological evidence supports the crystallisation of the 'Kingdom of Edom' in the seventh century BC (see Bienkowski forthcoming; Herr 1997; LaBianca and Younkers 1998) this process was probably well underway several hundred years earlier. However the exact nature of Iron Age state formation and the extent to which it may have relied upon the exploitation of the copper resources at Faynan requires further investigation.

The nature of occupation in southern Jordan during the early Iron Age

To date the presence of small isolated sites and the absence of large settlements in both the Faynan region and on the Jordanian plateau during the earliest phase of the Iron Age could be argued to suggest settlement patterns of the type which may be evidence of a non-sedentary pastoralist population. The textual evidence from Egypt at the end of the Late Bronze Age also seems to support this possibility (see Kitchen 1992) with the geographic area later known as Edom and referred to as Seir by the Egyptians being inhabited by 'clans' (wh3ywt) ruled by 'chiefs' (wrw). Indeed the well known and often quoted sections from the Papyrus Anastasi VI from the eighth year of Merneptah seems to suggest just such a picture of pastoralists and their flocks.

We have finished with allowing the Shasu clansfolk of Edom to pass the fort of Merneptah that is in Succoth, to the pools of Pi-Atum of Merneptah that are in Succoth, to keep them alive and to keep alive their livestock ... (Gardiner 1937 Late-Egyptian Miscellanies -- Pages 76-77).

[Here again a divergence from the main subject but so very interesting] ...

PAPYRUS ANASTASI VI 51-61 by Hans Goedicke in Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur (1987) Pages 83-98

See The Exodus Papyri by Dunbar Isidore Heath (1855)

Other references including a piece of text from the Papyrus Harris I from the reign of Rameses III (circa 1184-1153 BC) support this scenario of a population whose economy was rooted in pastoralism.

I destroyed the Seirites, the clans of the Shasu; I pillaged their tents with their people, their property and their livestock without limit ... (Pritchard 1969, 262:1)

Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating To The Old Testament Edited by James Pritchard (1969)

It is clear from these examples that the Egyptians identified the inhabitants of Edom as Shasu -- a problematic term but probably related to an Egyptian word meaning 'wanderers' (Ward 1972, 56-59). The implication of this and other historical data is that prior to the rise of what LaBianca and Younker (1998) refer to as "Transjordan's tribal kingdoms" in the post-ninth century BC, Edom was most likely inhabited by pastoral non-sedentary groups who lived in tents.

On the basis of this evidence it may be possible to make some inferences about the nature of the society buried in the Wadi Fidan 40 cemetery. The circular character of the Wadi Fidan 40 tombs, the absence of pottery and other indications of a settled population may be indications that the individuals interred in the cemetery were part of a mobile pastoralist society. Although it may be premature to tie the Wadi Fidan cemetery population with certainty to any specific population group, it is possible this population may be some of the first archaeological evidence of the Shasu known from the Egyptian historical records (cf comparison Ward 1972, 1992). How the Wadi Fidan 40 mortuary population relates to other Iron Age sites in the Faynan district and the wider southern Levant will be one of the subjects of the Jabal Hamrat Fidan project in the near future ...

The Southern Transjordan Edomite Plateau and the Dead Sea Rift Valley: The Bronze Age
to the Islamic Period (3800/3700 BC AD 1917) by Burton MacDonald (2015)

Wadi Fidan 4

The late fourth millennium BC (Early Bronze I) village site of Wadi Fidan 4 (Adams and Genz 1995; SGNAS Sites 10 and 20 [MacDonald et al 1992, 59, 250-251]) represents a small agricultural settlement -- about 0.87 hectare in size -- whose inhabitants practiced floodwater irrigation alongside the small-scale production of copper (Adams 2002, 25; Meadows 2001). There is evidence in the form of ores, crushed slag, crucible fragments, remains of small clay-built hearths and copper droplets for the on-site processing of small quantities of copper -- probably using a crucible technology (Adams 1999: 2002, 26: Hauptmann 2000, 189). Thus the first local control of the production of copper can only be proven in the second half of the fourth millennium BC at this site (Hauptmann 2007, 306). It is possible that both ore and processed copper were traded. Moreover there is evidence to suggest that Faynan ores may have reached Maadi in the Nile Valley as well as Chalcolithic sites in the Beersheba Valley (Hauptmann and Pernicka 1989, 137-141; Philip 2008, 191; Klimscha 2009, 377; Sowada 2009, 47).

Evidence for the Early Bronze II or transitional Early Bronze II-III period presence in Wadi Fidan comes from Barqa al-Hatiya, a site that Fritz (1994) excavated: Adams (1999, 2002) revaluated Fritz’s findings and Flinder reexcavated in 1993 as part of the German Mining Museum team (unpublished). The site consists of a rectilinear building on a hill, the summit of which is covered with the remains of slag and other metallurgical debris reaching a depth of 50 cm in places. Both ceramic and radiocarbon evidence point to a date in the earlier third millennium BC. Locally produced vessels and those imported from sites to the west are both present at Wadi Fidan 4. Philip states:

the increasing sophistication of the material culture and the evidence for closer integration with wider regional developments appears consistent with the increase in both scale and sophistication of the extractive metallurgy at this time as was documented by Hauptmann (2000). It appears then that Faynan copper was assuming a much greater role in the regional economy (Philip 2008, 191)

The Southern Transjordan Edomite Plateau and the Dead Sea Rift Valley: The Bronze Age
to the Islamic Period (3800/3700 BC AD 1917) by Burton MacDonald (2015)

Khirbat Hamrat Ifdan

Developments during Early Bronze III and later are represented by the specialist manufacturing site of Khirbat Hamrat Ifdan (Genz 2000, 60: MacDonald et al 1992, 59, 252; SGNAS Site 30) in Wadi Fidan. Khirbat Hamrat Ifdan is both a settlement and smelting site located on an island-like “inselberg". It rises circa 25 metres above Wadi Fidan and is circa 1 km north of the oasis of Ayn al-Fidan. The site is dated by both pottery and radiocarbon means to late Early Bronze III-Early Bronze IV (Adams 2000; Hauptmann 2007, 134-136). It was during the Early Bronze III period however that the site was most extensively occupied. Adams (1992) and Levy et al (2002), who excavated the site, conclude that it appears to be a specialist manufacturing location since the metal processing activities were concentrated in some 80 rooms, courtyards and other spaces within the excavated area (Hauptmann 2007, 134-136). The site yielded extensive evidence for the production of copper artifacts including smelting and melting crucible fragments and a large number of broken clay moulds intended for the production of tools such as axes, pins, chisels but also bar-shaped metal ingots (Adams 1999; 2002; Levy et al 2002, 429, table 3). These items look as if they were intended for onward distribution. They are very similar to examples found on sites and metal hoards from the Negev dated to the late third millennium BC. The distribution of these ingots may indicate that Faynan copper was being exported on a large scale to sites to the north and west and perhaps even as far as Egypt to the southwest (Adams 2002, 33: Sowada 2009, 39; Kerner 2010). According to Philip “there appears to have been an increase in the scale and sophistication of metallurgical operations in the region. It is not clear however whether these developments can be correlated with changes in political control" (Adams 1999; 2002; Genz 2001).

(1) New Insights into the Iron Age Archaeology of Edom in Southern Jordan by Erez Ben-Yosef -- Thomas Levy -- Mohammad Najjar (2014)

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium