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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.”