Saudi Aramco World
not only internally, but also with others throughout this region
and the wider Levant, in areas such as Jericho.
From Ghuwayr, I can see far down Wadi Faynan to the flat
haze of Wadi Araba, which served as an obstacle-free, north-
south thoroughfare enabling hardy people to share trade, tech-
nologies, ideas and discoveries. Finds at Wadi Faynan include sea-
shells from the Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts (some made
into beads) and raw materials such as bitumen from the Dead
Sea (probably used to cover baskets). These and other finds help
archeologists believe that there is now enough evidence to begin
to piece together patterns of the region’s earliest commerce.
“There’s obviously contact—though not necessarily ev-
eryday contact,” says Finlayson. “We now realize this was a
massively networked world, with no one place acting as the
‘origin point’ of agriculture. It’s as if people were all exploring
Posing amid the dig site in Beidha, from left, are archeologists
Mohammed Najjar, former director of excavations at Jordan’s
Department of Antiquities, Cheryl Makarewicz of Kiel University in
Germany, and Bill Finlayson, regional director of the Council for
British Research in the Levant.
For nearly a million years until relatively recent times, Wadi Faynan
and environs were attractive places for making a living and trading.
With several Neolithic sites, its importance as a commercial
thoroughfare is shown by finds of seashells from the Mediterranean
and the Red seas as well as bitumen, used to cover baskets, from the
Dead Sea to the north.
With a million years of human history, Wadi Faynan
today is home to Bedouin goat herders and farmers,
and it is also a destination for visitors to the Faynan
Ecolodge, who come mainly to enjoy rugged mountain
scenery and profound desert silence.
“Local people, many of whom have worked on
past excavations, have fragments of information
about their particular dig,” explains Paul Burten-
shaw, a research fellow at the Council for British Re-
search in the Levant (
). “But they don’t have any
context for that information, or know about the lives
of the people who lived here.”
“It’s the same with the tourists,” he adds. “Although
some have heard of the archeology, it’s like a backdrop.
People don’t come specifically to visit the sites.”
This is something archeologists at the
working to change by developing a 50-kilometer
(31 mi) Neolithic Heritage Trail between Faynan and
Beidha. The route largely follows the ancient road
through Wadi Namla, and it takes in a handful of
smaller sites as it winds through the majestic Sharah
Mountains. While the trail has not yet been fully way-
marked or signed for self-guided hikers, you can go
on one of the guided hikes offered by local tour op-
erators, or you can drive.
The first stop out of Faynan is Shkarat Msaied, set
on a windswept hilltop 20 kilometers (12 mi) south. Un-
like the scattered burial pits at Faynan, those discov-
ered here are concentrated in a single building dating
between 7300 and 5900
, which suggests a special
role as a mausoleum, and thus a shift in ritual practice.
Farther south is Ba’ja, the hardest to reach of all
the trail sites, accessible only by hiking for around an
hour along the dramatic Siq’ al-Ba’ja, where access is
at times hampered by rocks washed down the gorge
by flash floods. No other early community seems to
have chosen such a hidden site, and the carved sand-
stone rings and pendants found here reveal Neolithic
experimentation with art.
Beidha lies a few kilometers farther south. Situated
next to the Nabataean caravanserai of Little Petra and
fitted with new interpretive signs, Beidha is perhaps
the best-presented site in the Neolithic story that Bur-
tenshaw hopes the trail will begin to tell.
“The trail is more than the sum of its parts,” he
says. “Taking it, you can follow the narrative through
a variety of sites, and see the social experiment that
was taking place in the Neolithic period. People might
only spend a little time at each place, but the collec-
tive experience is that you see these sites, and the
landscape they’re in, in a new way.”
A TRAIL RUNS THROUGH IT