PROJECT: Early Bronze Age in southern Jordan in the context of the research in the At-Tafila micro-region

Research Project Objectives

The Near East is an area not only very important for the history of culture, but also very vast and diverse. The history of the land legible thanks to many scientific analysis makes it one of the most significant for learning the history of mankind – from the moment representatives of our species left Africa app. 200 thousand years ago until the present times. The Early Bronze Age (app. 3700-1950 B.C.) is in turn one of the most important in the development of the Near East societies which, after the Neolithic, worked out or developed the beginnings of statehood, urbanisation, highly-specialised craftsmanship, religious canons, social and burial rituals etc. The main aim of the project is the first complex attempt to establish the stages of functioning and the significance of the region of south Jordan in the Early Bronze Age. Project research focuses on determining the stages and kind of human activity within this period in this area, and the test area selected for case study encompassing the micro-region of At-Tafila will serve as the source of information. Therefore, basic research problems will be the issues of settlement network and structure, external relations and influences (including Egypt and the rest of the Levant i.e. areas which witnessed important events at the time), as well as architectonic and funereal traditions visible in archaeological material. Surface research lasting since 2014 under my supervision in the vicinity of At-Tafila proved that this area has a great potential for more complex research. Unfortunately till now according to the financial problems such a research program was not possible to develop. The new excavations in connection with laboratory research and supplementary surface surveys will lead to creating a coherent image of the period of our interest, and determining the dynamics of changes occurring here at the time.

Another important problem that has to be solved are questions concerning pottery and flint stone processing traditions, as well as the resulting issues of  technologies or trade customs and methods both, local and reaching the area from the outside. Especially pottery production needs thorough studies and analyses because ceramic material usually becomes a basis for dating and building a network of relationships between sites and whole regions. Pottery inventories from the lands of south Jordan reveal both features resembling ceramics from the Egyptian and Levantine circle, as well as those resembling the “Syrian-Mesopotamian” area. They also generate problems relating to incorrectly attributed dating (e.g. medieval or modern), to which attention was repeatedly drawn by representatives of Jordanian institutions responsible for research and monument protection. The evidence can be seen in the state of exhibition in the new Jordan Museum in Amman where the collection of pottery and flint stone from the Early Bronze Age was cautiously treated in a very enigmatic way. That state requires complex work and verifying previous knowledge. The project must be therefore also focused on diagnosis, classification (typology creation) of Early Bronze Age ceramics, which will be based on the knowledge and experience of some of the team members (including the project leader), gained in the development of Early Bronze Age pottery from Egypt and Israel. Surface research carried out by me in the area of southern Jordan also indicate a significant influence of environmental factors on the functioning of Early Bronze Age societies frequently dependent on the dynamically changing landscape e.g. as a result of annual intensive activity of precipitation and underground water. Experience in the research of the region acquired for several years thanks to already initiated Polish project, constitutes significant potential for building a research team geared towards the issue.

Significance of the project

The Early Bronze Age period in the Near East area is one of the most fascinating research problems in contemporary archaeology. Lasting for app. 1700 years, the period abounded in events and cultural changes. During the Early Bronze Age the first urban centres appear, production technologies of various objects are developed (e.g. metalurgy) and long-distance trade flourishes. At that time important social changes repeatedly occurred in the lands of Egypt and Near East – the first kingdoms of spatial character appeared (Egypt in Predynastic, Archaic and Old Kingdom periods) and cities-states controlling smaller areas, a hierarchical structure of particular communities was shaped and gradually deepened, cults and funereal customs developed. Writing systems and the ideology of power and religion are developed and became a crucial factor of cultural existence. People’s migrations are clearly visible and the influence of mobile nomadic groups on the functioning of especially the area of south Jordan, which in an environment of dynamically changing areas could not be a „white spot”. In this context there is also a strong need to consider once again the elements of the megalithic traditions and their place in the cultural image of the region in the Early Bronze Age as well as on their link with nomadic groups.

Unfortunately the state of research on the issue of the Early Bronze Age in the lands of the Levant is not uniform. So far, most information has been collected from the area of Palestine (the area east of the Jordan), less from Syria, while the least from the lands of Transjordan. There is also a lot of very important data concerning this period yielded by the research conducted in Egypt (particularly the Nile Delta), also by Polish researchers. The situation partially results from the fact that the main burden of settlement and trade routes rested apparently on the lands of Palestine. It seems, however, that also the territory of present-day south Jordan (understood in this project as the historic land of Edom, geographical area between Wadi Al-Hasa and the Gulf of Aqaba) ought to be more seriously considered within general studies where almost no detailed information on the subject can be found today. It also should be emphasised that the area located in the direct vicinity of the Egyptian Sinai might have played a significant role in contacts with the land of pharaohs, and apparently was in specific periods culturally drawn in its direction. The evidence of this can be the already mentioned distinct similarity between e.g. ceramic materials from south Jordan and Egyptian traditions, while much less so between artefacts from the northern lands, rather in my opinion more related to the „Syrian-Mesopotamian” tradition. However, the present state of research induces us to state that many hypotheses functioning in the scientific world are either poorly confirmed by discoveries, or they simply require verifying. Within the suggested project we will try to answer the questions concerning the settlement continuity and structure in the region, explain hypothetical settlement gaps, determine connections with Egypt, and indicate directions and methods of exchange of goods. Other important research questions refer to pottery and flint stone processing traditions. All this has to be presented in relation to the then environmental situation in the area, which will allow for creating a complete image of communities functioning here during the Early Bronze Age.

Although general studies describing the cultural situation of the Levant often refer to the lands of Jordan, they allude mainly to the area of middle and north part of Jordan, much better known in this respect. It seems that the role of the south of the country is underestimated which is a result of the state of research and very limited related publications. The first preliminary research of the area in the region of Wadi Araba and Negev, as well as in the lands of Edom and Moab, was carried out by N. Glueck (1934-1951) in the 1930s and 1940s.  He was the first to draw attention to strange gaps in settlement during the period of Early and Middle Bronze Age, and in the Early Iron Age. Since the time of N. Glueck’s work, several surface research projects have been conducted in the area of south Jordan which slightly broadened the knowledge concerning the region, though they provided more questions than answers. None of the projects was directed towards the Early Bronze Age, and conclusions drawn by authors frequently contradicted one another in reference to the description of the cultural situation on the discussed area during that as well as later periods. Additionally, methods used to carry them out and the then documentation technologies (e.g. no GPS technology) do not allow for verifying the data or even indicating once more the sites they describe. The most important of those are: a survey conducted mainly in the region between Wadi el-Hassa and At-Tafila during the 1970s by M. Weippert (1979); a survey carried out in the 1970s and 1980s in the region of the southern edge of Wadi el-Hassa (Wadi Hassa Archaeological Survey (WHS) – McDonald 1988); a survey conducted in the mid-1980s (Edom Survey Project – Hart, Falkner 1984); a survey carried out in the second half of the 1980s (The Southern Ghors and Northeast Araba Archaeological Survey (SGNAS) – McDonald 1992) which included the lands south of the Dead sea and to the north-east of Wadi Araba; a survey carried out in the 1980s (Archaeological and Epigraphic Survey between Aqaba and Ma’an – Jobling 1981). During the last few decades the work was also conducted in the region of Wadi Feynan and the east side of Wadi Araba. It yielded numerous finds associated mainly with exploring and processing of copper in the area since the Chalcolithic to the Nabatean period. Prehistoric projects have also been carried out in the region, e.g. such as Dana-Feynan-Ghuwayr Early Prehistory Project (DFGEPP) geared towards finding traces of presence and activity of man during the Palaeolithic and Neolithic (Finlayson, Pirie, Mithen 2000). At the turn of the 20th and 21st century the last two surface research projects were conducted in south Jordan. The first was The Ayl to Ras an-Naqab Archaeological Survey, Southern Jordan (ARNAS – MacDonald, Herr, Quaintance, Clark, Macdonald 2012) which encompassed the southern section of the Edom Plateau from the Ayl village in the north to the Ras an-Naqab village in the south. The other was The Tafila-Busayra Archaeological Survey (TBAS – MacDonald 2004). Also limited number of excavation projects at several sites dated on the Early Bronze Age located in this part of Jordan were carried out. The most important are located at the two ends of the region – very well known site of Bab edh-Dhra and nearby Numeira (in the north, in the area of ​​the Dead Sea – Rast, Shaub 2003) and also well known Tall al-Hujayrat Ghuzlan (in the south, in the area of ​​Aqaba – Khalil, Schmidt 2009), researched by DAI team. Also in the vicinity of Petra a small excavation at two sites dating back to the Early Bronze Age – Es-Sadeh (Lindner et al. 1990) and Umm Saysabãn (Lindner et al. 2005) were conducted. Increased number of sites related with the period of interest is, of course, known in the northern Jordan. It is worth to mentioned at least works of Madaba Plains Project in Tell el-Umeiri or research at Tell Abu al-Kharaz or Tell el-Sukhna (Chesson 1999). Also in the micro-region of At-Tafila in which the proposed project is located, several sites dating back to the different phases of the Early Bronze Age were noted. On this sites the research works of a greater or lesser extent were undertaken (some partially published and almost all of them were focused on the later periods). These list include a sites such as: Garandal, Rawath, Majadele, Buseira, Sela, Faresh, Dabbeh, Ej-Daa, Rabab and Quf.

In 2014, the surface archaeological research works in the region of At-Tafila were started by our team. Their fragment overlaps with the above mentioned TBAS survey, owing to which it was possible to verify the scant and imprecise documentation of that project. Their very interesting results, very optimistic as far as the amount of observations and finds from the Early Bronze Age are concerned, are still being worked out and will soon be published. In the course of 2 seasons of surface research and accompanying environmental analyses the area of about 10 km² located in the upper part of Wadi Mashra and Wadi Tafila, in the vicinity of At-Tafila city was examined, and several sites containing material from the Early Bronze Age were identified. Among the most interesting are Qusa el-Hamra and Al-Munqata’a, where the excavation research is planned to commence. The former is a high situated settlement or refugial site with elements of stone architecture visible on the surface, slightly resembling structures known from the area of north Jordan, dated to the Early Bronze Age (e.g. from Bab edh-Dhra site). The latter site (regularly damaged by grave robbers) might contain pit graves from the Early Bronze Age (as suggested by very large number of surface finds such as pottery and flint tools). Moreover, in the direct vicinity of the city of At-Tafila, which will be the “epicentre” of the proposed project, several sites were located (also thanks to the cooperation with the local branch of the Department of Antiquities) about which it can be surmised, on the basis the material found on the surface, that they functioned within the period of our interest. They are: Mayasir-1, Mayasir-2, Salmah, Umm Shaeir, Qasr Ed-Deir, Ruweim, Dabha, Arafah, Al-Hala. None of those have been excavated. All the data obtained due to our previous research work are being processed, and a part of them can already be found in the MEGA-J system that is a database of archaeological sites in Jordan, based on the GIS technology.

Within the new project, during the first stage excavation work will begin on two sites, while during the second stage supplementary surface research will be carried out and also a test excavations in other locations will be initiated. There is also, of course, a strong need to gather and process all available material from previous works and projects – available both in the form of scientific publications as well as information deposited in the  Department of Antiquity documentation offices.

Field work will be complemented with the material analyses of clays, pottery admixtures and flint stone, and other discovered artefacts (e.g. bronze and copper), traseologic analysis and carbon dating of collected samples, allowing for fitting the researched sites into the chronological scheme of the region and linking their functioning to events in neighbouring lands. Environmental information will be provided by hydrological and geological analyses, and examination and identification of palaeobotanical samples. The analyses will be possible owing to legal possibility of taking an unlimited number of samples away from Jordan (which is not possible e.g. in Egypt).