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November/December 2014



utside I hear only wind and bird-

song, but in my imagination I can

travel back nearly 12,000 years to

when this was a small but thriving

community, occupied most likely

for only parts of each year. Then,

there would have been voices,

people calling out to each other,

the patter of children running

about; perhaps the rasp of flint against bone

as animal carcasses were cleaned; and—most

significantly to archeologists today—the

thumps and scrapes of pestles against mortars

as cereals were ground into a rough flour.

It’s not only my imagination that has

conjured this scene. On this spot, one of

just a few identified to date in southwestern

Asia, archeologists have evidence of what

were likely some of the first experiments in

communal living and farming. Here, discov-

eries of plant remains indicate that Neolith-

ic (“New Stone Age”) people gathered and

processed wild barley, and then they pos-

sibly began sowing, nurturing and harvest-

ing it, a practice that in time domesticated

the plant and transformed history.

Looking out over the nearly 12,000-year-old Neolithic site in southern

Jordan called WF16, it is hard to imagine that the people who lived

here—some in partly subterranean huts like this reconstructed

one—were likely on the cutting edge of an agricultural revolution.