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November/December 2014


the same idea, but expressing it differently.”

Or, as Rollefson puts it, “religion, ritual, and social interac-

tion were not genetically programmed in these populations;

instead, such activities were very different, locally developed

variable solutions to problems that affected all human societies

in that revolutionary period.”

In addition to Wadi Araba, there was also Wadi Namla, which

links Faynan to the world-famous site of Petra, 50 kilometers (30

mi) to the south. That famous trading city was established by the

Nabataeans around the fourth century


, but millennia before

Petra there was a road linking Neolithic sites along it, including

Shkarat Msaied, Ba’ja and Beidha, excavated in the 1950s and, un-

til Faynan, the most prominent Neolithic site in southern Jordan.


am heading to Beidha now, along the Wadi Namla road,

which winds through the granite and sandstone of the

Sharah Mountains. As it descends toward Beidha, the

rugged scenery gives way to valleys planted with barley,

temporarily lush after spring rains. Unlike at parched

Faynan, here it’s not hard to imagine the region as it may

have been in the Neolithic period.

What’s visible of Beidha dates mostly from the later

pre-pottery Neolithic, after Faynan. I rendezvous with

Finlayson and his colleagues Mohammed Najjar and

Cheryl Makarewicz, an archeologist from Kiel University

in Germany. Finlayson, who arrived at Beidha in 2000 and

has been digging here intermittently ever since, shows me

around its complex of circular and rectangular houses. Two

buildings have been reconstructed nearby, partly so arche-

ologists can test hypotheses about building techniques, and

partly to give curious visitors from Petra, just a few kilome-

ters to the south, something to see, much as with the recon-

struction at WF16.

Unlike Wadi Faynan, where there is evidence stretching al-

most seamlessly back to the early Neolithic and before, here

the archeological record shows that the immediate area lay

abandoned from around 6500


until the early Nabataean

period some 6000 years later.

“There’s something that happens at the end of this early

Neolithic period when people begin to gather together in a

large scale,” says Finlayson. “Beidha may have been too small

to be part of that process, and may have been absorbed into

a much bigger community. Or maybe they just exhausted the

soil, or the local springs dried up.”

Beidha and its great Nabataean neighbor Petra flourished in

a far more water-rich environment than today. Indeed, much

of what’s known about Petra’s extensive and sophisticated

water-management system probably applied to Beidha. But

Finlayson is wary of too many analogies to Petra.

“Beidha is definitely not a ‘pre-Petra,’” he says. “The problem is,

every site around Petra tends to be seen through a Nabataean lens.”

Now, as Finlayson resumes his work on the excavation

beneath the unrelenting sun, I cast my mind back to Faynan,

pondering how long it might be until people begin to see the

rest of southern Jordan through a Neolithic lens, too.

Historian and travel writer

Gail Simmons

(www.travelscribe. surveyed historic buildings and led hikes in Italy and

the Middle East before becoming a full-time travel writer



and international publications. She holds a master’s

degree in medieval history from the University of York and

is currently earning her Ph.D. She lives in Oxford, England. Photojour-

nalist and filmmaker

George Azar

([email protected]


com) is co-author of

Palestine: A Guide

(Interlink, 2005),

author of

Palestine: A Photographic Journey

(University of

California, 1991) and director of the film

Gaza Fixer


He lives in Jordan.

Ba’ja, the second-to-last stop on the 50-kilometer (31 mi) Neolithic

Heritage Trail, under development and linking Wadi Faynan to Beidha,

is reached through the spectacular, rock-strewn obstacle course called

Siq’ al-Ba’ja. While drivers can traverse the trail in a single day, hikers

can savor it over four or five days with a local guide.


Related articles at

Göbeklı Tepe: M/A 09

Neolithic Egypt: S/O 06

Petra: S/O 91