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Wadi Hammeh

Hammeh (Site 27) was a hunter and gatherer community who lived in the Jordan Valley 12000 years ago. It is one of the world's oldest village sites. The site lies on the top of a steep-sided ridge within Wadi Hammeh, a tributary of the Jordan River. The archaeological remains are distributed over 2000 square metres but part of the site has been destroyed through erosion. It is estimated that the village originally covered an area of about half a hectare. Approximately 350 square metres of the remaining archaeological deposit have been excavated making it one of three sites of its age to have undergone such extensive excavation.

Hammeh was dug with the aim of recovering information about the occupational history and settlement layout of a Natufian village. The Natufians were a cultural group which archaeologists recognise on the basis of their distinctive material culture. They emerged about 13000 years ago in the central Levant and stood at the threshold of a major transformation of human society.

Hammeh contains an abundance of debris representing food-remains, tool-making activities, bits of collapsed structures as well as the remains of in situ structures. Unlike later village sites there is little evidence for regular site maintenance: rubbish seems to have accrued within the house structures and not to have been removed. This presents the archaeologist with a daunting amount of material culture to study but also reveals something about what life must have been like in an early village: the floors of the dwellings would have been littered with broken tools, debris from a variety of activities as well as the remains of meals. It was anything but neat and tidy and the stench would have been strong. As hearths were located within the structures it may have been quite smoky inside the dwellings.

More than 436000 artefacts were recovered from the excavation of Hammeh. Age estimates for the occupation of Hammeh (Site 27) are based on AMS radiocarbon determinations on carbonised seeds. The results of these determinations are as follows:

11,920 + 150 B.P. (OxA-393)
11,950 + 160 BP (OxA-507)
12,200 + 160 B.P. (OxA-394)

Statistical analysis reveals that these age determinations are indistinguishable so it is evident that Hammeh was settled about 12000 years ago.

Natufian sites span the time range between 12800 and 10300 years ago so Hammeh is one of a small number of early Natufian sites that has been excavated ...

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