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November/December 2014

7

Neolithic sites. Jerf el-Ahmar, in northern Syria, disappeared in

1999 under waters retained by the Tishrin Dam, says Finlayson,

who discovered WF16 and has spent many seasons working in

southern Jordan. He notes that political upheaval has curtailed

access in northern Iraq, and that sites in Iran excavated in the

1950s and ’60s have been hard to reach since the 1979 revolution.

Here in Wadi Faynan, the climate, too, favored its preserva-

tion. Situated at the southern tip of the area in which cereals could

grow wild, it was always a marginal place subject to less intensive

agricultural and urban development than the better-watered areas

to the north and west—activities that tend to degrade and erase

delicate Neolithic remains.

S

tanding on a mound at WF16 today, it’s hard

to see how this waterless, rock-strewn terrain

could have supported an otherwise unassuming

community that happened to be on the cutting

edge of an agricultural revolution. But then, the

climate was wetter, and both hunter-gatherers

and early farmers would have been within easy

reach of the nearby upland plateau rich with

woodlands of oak, fig and pistachio. Today, only

a few patches of evergreen oak forest remain

there, along with some protected woodland at the southern

end of the Dead Sea, to hint at the far more verdant, Neo-

lithic world.

Mithen hopes that new work at WF16, scheduled for

2017, may reveal evidence of “when it actually started, and

whether we see a long-term transition from very mobile hunt-

er-gatherers to more sedentary hunter-gatherers to completely

sedentary farmers.”

What the archeologists do know is that WF16 was aban-

doned around 10,500 years ago. Its most likely successor site is

the nearby, 1.2-hectare (3 ac) area on a steep hillside at the en-

trance to Wadi Ghuwayr, which was excavated in the 1980s. Its

small, rectangular buildings, with interior plastered walls and

adjacent passageways, date to the period when villages were

known to be forming, and farming was well under way.

What impresses a visitor to Ghuwayr is the sense of shared

purpose, visible even in the ruins, represented by the walls, stairs

and windows visible in these more complex buildings. People

were making big advances living together, forming long-lasting

communities and organizing large-scale cooperative projects here,

the archeologists explain. And they were probably cooperating

Before the discovery of WF16 in the mid-1990s, Beidha was the

best-known Neolithic site in Jordan. It lies on the route of the

Neolithic Heritage Trail, south of Wadi Faynan and just a few kilome-

ters north of world-renowned Petra, the monumental Nabataean

trading city built around the beginning of the fourth century

bce

.

Wadi Faynan Ghuwayr

Shkarat Msaied

Ba’ja

Beidha

Petra

Mediterranean

Sea

Jordan

NEOLITHIC HERITAGE

TRAIL

10 km

6 mi