12,000-Year-Old Natufian Village Unearthed in Jordan Valley
Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a prehistoric village in the Jordan Valley dating from around 12,000 years ago, The Hebrew University revealed on Wednesday.
The site, named NEG II, is located in Wadi Ein-Gev, west of the Sea of Galilee and south of the Golan Heights town of Katzrin, and is estimated to cover an area of roughly 1,200 square meters (three acres).
In a series of excavations, archaeologists found numerous artefacts pointing to a vast human settlement including burial remains, flint tools, art manifestations, faunal assemblage and stone and bone tools.
While other sites from the same period have been unearthed in the area, the Institute of Archaeology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem said that NEG II was unique in that it contains cultural characteristics typical of both the Old Stone Age — known as the Paleolithic period — and the New Stone Age, known as the Neolithic period.
“Although attributes of the stone tool kit found at NEG II place the site chronologically in the Paleolithic period, other characteristics – such as its artistic tradition, size, the thickness of archaeological deposits and investment in architecture – are more typical of early agricultural communities in the Neolithic period,” said chief excavator Dr. Leore Grosman.
“Characterizing this important period of potential overlap in the Jordan Valley is crucial for the understanding of the socioeconomic processes that marked the shift from Paleolithic mobile societies of hunter-gatherers to Neolithic agricultural communities,” she added.
The Paleolithic period is considered the earliest period in the history of mankind.
The end of that era is marked by the transition to agricultural societies with the emergence of settled villages and the domestication of plants and animals.
According to Grosman, NEG II was likely occupied in the midst of the cold and dry global climatic event known as the Younger Dryas, when temperatures declined sharply over most of the northern hemisphere around 12,900–11,600 years ago.
Affected by climatic changes, groups in the area became increasingly mobile and potentially smaller in size, she said.
NEG II, however, shows that some groups in the Jordan Valley may have become larger in size and preferred town-like settlements to a nomadic existence.
Researchers said this shift in settlement pattern could be related to climate conditions that provided the ingredients necessary for prehistoric man to take the final steps toward agriculture in the southern Levant.
“It is not surprising that at a number of sites in the Jordan Valley we find a cultural entity that bridges the crossroads between Late Paleolithic foragers and Neolithic farmers,” Grosman said.
According to a new study based on satellite imaging to map the ancient city, archaeologists have found the monumental building hidden under the sands of Petra.
A massive 184-footed platform was revealed by satellite surveys of the city, with an interior platform that was paved with flagstones, lined with columns on one side and with a gigantic staircase descending to the east. A smaller structure, 28ft by 28ft, topped the interior platform and opened to the staircase. Pottery found near the structure suggests the structure could be more than 2,150 years old.
“This monumental platform has no parallels at Petra or in its hinterlands at present,” the researchers wrote, noting that the structure, strangely, is near the city center but “hidden” and hard to reach.
“To my knowledge, we don’t have anything quite like this at Petra,” said Christopher Tuttle, an archaeologist who has worked at Petra for about 15 years and a co-author of the paper.
“I knew something was there and other archaeologists – who have worked in Petra for the last, God knows, 100 years at least – I know at least one other had noticed something there,” he said. But the structure’s sides resembled terrace walls common to the city, he noted: “I don’t think anybody paid much attention to them.”
Tuttle collaborated on the research with Sarah Parcak, a self-described “space archaeologist” from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who used satellites to survey the site.
Parcak said that she begins surveys “quite skeptical” of what they might find – they are working on sites in northern Africa, North America, Europe and elsewhere – and that she was surprised to find the monument “turned out to be something significant”.
“Petra is a massive site, and we chose the name for our article [‘Hiding in plain sight’] precisely because, even though this is less than a kilometer south of the main city, previous surveys had missed it,” she said.
Tuttle and a team took subsequent trips to measure and examine the site from the ground. There they found scattered pottery, the oldest of which suggests the site could date back to the time of Petra’s founding. “We’re always very cautious about this,” Tuttle said, “but the oldest pottery can be dated back relatively securely to about 150BC.”
Petra was built by the Nabateans in what is now southern Jordan, while the civilization was amassing great wealth trading with its Greek and Persian contemporaries around 150BC. The city was eventually subsumed by the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires, but its ruins remain famous for the work of its founders, who carved spectacular facades into cliffs and canyons. It was abandoned around the seventh century and rediscovered by Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt in 1812.
Along with the oldest Nabatean pottery, they found fragments that had been imported from the Hellenistic cultures who traded with Petra, as well as pottery of the eras when the Roman and the Byzantine empires took the city under their guard.
In the mountains, valleys and canyons surrounding Petra, Tuttle said, “there’s tons of small cultic shrines and platforms and these things, but nothing on this scale”. He said these sites, including a large, open plateau known as the Monastery and probably “used for various cultic displays or political activities”, are the closest parallel to the newly discovered edifice. “To be honest, we don’t know a whole lot about it.”
Those sites suggest that the structure was used for “some kind of massive display function”, he said. Unlike those other sites, however, the giant staircase does not face the city center of Petra, which Tuttle called a “fascinating” peculiarity.
“We don’t understand what the purpose [of visible shrines], because the Nabateans didn’t leave any written documents to tell us,” he said, adding: “But I find it interesting that such a monumental feature doesn’t have a visible relationship to the city.”
Nabatean shrines around Petra offer mixed clues about the ancient people’s practices. Like other Semitic cultures of the day, the Nabateans used an indirect, “aniconic” style to indirectly represent their divinities: carved blocks, stelae and niches. Sometimes there will be “an empty niche, just a carving in the wall, which the empty space itself can be representative or they would’ve had portable images”, Tuttle said.
But because they were in near-constant trade with other cultures of the Mediterranean, the Nabateans also adopted figural representations. “Nabatean gods depicted as parallels to Zeus or Hermes or Aphrodite, and those kinds of things,” he said.
The researchers published their work in the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. They said that while they have no plans at this time to excavate the site, they hope they will have the chance to work there in the future.
Parcak said that she expects “some pretty amazing discoveries over the next year” using satellites and sophisticated new techniques in south-east Asia “and other densely forested/rainforest areas”. A surveying technology called Lidar, for instance, has uncovered sites in remote forests in Central America.
“This technology is not about what you find – but how you can think about things like settlement scale and ancient human-environment interactions more broadly,” she added. “What happens when you can truly map the near-surface buried features for an entire site? I’m excited, but we need to think about the implications of having all this technology at our fingertips so we can use it responsibly.”
10,000-Year-Old Neolithic Figurines Discovered in Jordan Burials
From classical paintings of crucified Messiahs to Damien Hirst’s starkly grim tanks of pickled sharks, death is a subject that has haunted artistic imaginations throughout the ages.
As it turns out, a trove of archaeological discoveries in Jordan suggests that death and an unusual process of digging up the deceased may have sparked an important ancient artistic revolution in Early Neolithic Asia: the jump between artworks depicting animals to portraying humans.
Reported in the journal Antiquity, archaeologists from the Spanish National Research Council and Durham University in the UK developed this idea while studying a number of unusual objects discovered at the site of Kharaysin in the Zarqa river valley, Jordan, dating to the 8th millennium BCE.
The team was initially stumped by the jagged objects, thinking they must be tools, until they came to realize they were actively crafted into crudely-shaped human bodies, complete with broad shoulders, slim waist, and wide hips.
“One of the excavators suggested they were figurines, which the rest of the team were skeptical about,” lead author Dr. Juan José Ibáñez said in an email statement. “However, the more we studied, the stronger the idea appeared.”
The figures appear to have been crafted around the 7500 BCE, about a century after depictions of humans became more common in the Early Neolithic communities of Western Asia. But, what drove humans in the Zarqa river valley to start making human sculptures 9,000-10,000 years ago?
By no coincidence, the researchers say, the figurines were found in an area used by the Early Neolithic communities of the Zarqa river valley to bury their dead.
Among the seven original burials found here, a number of the remains appear to have been dug up following an initial burial and the partial decomposition of bodies, manipulated – in some cases bones were removed or muddled up in an unusual mortuary practice – and then reburied.
The placement of the figurines to these burials suggests they were carelessly dropped, but actively deposited in specific areas. Assembling all of these odd pieces of evidence together, the researchers put forward the hypothesis that the figurines were part of a burial ritual.
Although precise details remain unclear, it’s suggested the figurines were used as a physical representation of the dead to honor the community’s ancestors, a practice that’s well documented during this time.
“These rituals probably included remembrance of the deceased. The presence of ‘figurines’ suggests that individuals could have been symbolically depicted in flint with a simple technical gesture. If this were the case, the ‘figurines’ were discarded where they were used,” the researchers write in their paper.
The roughly shaped figurines alone might not be enough to convince some of this theory, but the conclusion was backed up by comparisons to other examples of figurines from the Neolithic Zarqa river valley.
For example, archaeologists also discovered a similar set of figurines that clearly depicted humans at another Neolithic site in Jordan, ‘Ain Ghazal.
Much older depictions of humans can be found elsewhere in the world; the 35,000-years-old Venus of Hohle Fels, found in modern-day Germany, is the oldest undisputed depiction of a human being.
However, in Early Neolithic culture in present-day Jordan, human iconography has not been found until around the time of these unusual funerary ceremonies. From this point onwards, it appears that humans became a recurring subject of artistic creations in this part of the world.
Perhaps, as the researchers outline in their study, this “artistic revolution” was triggered by this ceremony of digging up the dead and honoring lost ancestors.
The Oldest Defensive Wall on Earth Predates Egypt’s Oldest Pyramid by 5,300 Years
The Egyptian pyramids at Giza are remembered every time we speak of the pyramids. Although there are about 120 pyramids in Egypt, the most prominent temples in Giza are intimidating.
The Great Pyramid of Giza where it stood, accompanied by a nearly identical, albeit smaller pyramid, thought to have been built by Khufu’s successor Khafre. The smallest of the three pyramids at Giza is that of Menkaure, and it marked the end of pyramid-building at Giza.
While these are the most imposing and the most famous pyramids in Egypt, they are definitely not the oldest. It was believed that during the Third Dynasty reign of Pharaoh Djoser, the first Pyramid in Egypt was constructed around 4,700 years ago.
The Step Pyramid at Saqqara–the first colossal stone building in Egypt–was a monument that redefined architecture in Egypt. Not only is it the earliest callosal stone building in the history of Egypt, but it is also regarded as the earliest large-scale cut stone construction in the history of ancient Egypt.
With a total volume of 330,400 cubic meters (11,667,966 cu ft), rising to a height of more than 63 meters, the Step Pyramid was an unprecedented structure. The monument itself and the pyramid complex as a whole was of unseen scale. In fact, experts believe that such was the size of Djoser’s ancient wonder that it covered 15 ha (37 acres), which is around 2.5 times as large as the Old Kingdom town of Heirakonpolis.
The successful completion of the massive pyramid complex at Giza testifies that around 4,700 years ago, the people of ancient Egypt were capable of undertaking bewildering constructions.
As noted by Mark Lehner, the social implications of completing such a large and carefully sculpted stone structure are beyond staggering. In fact, the pyramid of Djoser testifies to the fact that already in 2,700 BC, ancient Egypt was a well-developed country, and the royal government had a new level of control of resources, both material and human.
Although the Step Pyramid of Djoser was a revolutionary undertaking in Egyptian architecture, and future pyramids that followed the footsteps of Djoser became some of the most impressive the world has ever seen, what happened before Djoser? What happened before the third dynasty of Egypt in other parts of the world?
Did the very first, megalithic stone-cut buildings appear in Egypt? Or, did other cultures develop similar, if not greater structures prior to Egypt’s Third Dynasty?
As it turns out, thousands of years before the Third Dynasty, when Egypt’s first pyramid was built, people were already creating mind-boggling stone-cut constructions.
The oldest temple on Earth is evidence of that.
Built between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago, the megalithic stones at Göbekli Tepe in present-day Turkey are evidence that dating back nearly to the last ice age, people on Earth had the ability to create ingenious and mind-boggling structures. Göbekli Tepe features some of the most impressive and oldest structures on Earth. Somehow, by means we have still not fully understood, ancient people at Göbekli Tepe managed to quarry, transport and erect massive blocks of stone weighing several tons.
These standing stones would eventually make up what is now considered the oldest megalithic temple on the surface of the planet, bearing evidence that more than 10,000 years ago, people had the ability to build megalithic structures.
Göbekli Tepe is so ancient that it was abandoned in 8,000 BC. This means that the builders of the intricate temple built it and abandoned it before the pyramids of Egypt were even conceived. Not many people are fully aware of the complexity and scale of Göbekli Tepe and what it means in the history of mankind. So far, more than 200, massive pillars have been found in around 20 circles. Each of the pillars has a height of around six meters and has a weight of around ten tons. Although Göbekli Tepe is perhaps one of the most impressive architectural feats of mankind, there are numerous equally stumping structures spread across the planet.
Located in the city of Jericho in the West Bank, we find another bewildering structure, a wall that is arguably the oldest defensive wall discovered by archeologists anywhere in the world. It was built of undressed stones and is located at an archaeological mound referred to as Tell es-Sultan.
Archaeological surveys indicate the wall is a Pre-Pottery Neolithic defensive or flood protection wall and dates to around 8,000 BC. This means that some 10,000 years ago, ancient mankind built complex defensive structures using massive blocks of stone. The Neolithic wall was part of a greater defensive structure. Experts have revealed it was complemented by a stone tower built into it.
Through surveys of the site, scholars believe that the wall was built in order to prevent floods and the tower was most likely used for ceremonial purposes. However, given the large dimensions of the wall (around 1.5 to 2 meters (4.9 to 6.6 ft) thick and 3.7 to 5.2 meters (12 to 17 ft) high, and the tower measuring around 8.5 meters (28 ft), researchers propose the wall and its adjacent structures served a defensive purpose as well.
Constructing something of that size around 10,00 years ago was not an easy task, and it is suggested that social organization, labor division, and classes were already clear at that time.
Surrounding the wall, the ancient builders created a ditch 8.2 meters (27 ft) wide by 2.7 meters (9 ft) deep. Surveys have shown that the ditch was actually cut through solid bedrock with a circumference around the town of as much as 600 meters (2,000 ft). This further adds to the complexity of the construction.
“The labor involved in excavating this ditch out of solid rock must have been tremendous. As we have discovered nothing in the way of heavy flint picks, one can only suppose that it was carried out with stone mauls, perhaps helped by splitting with fire and water,” explained archaeologists Kathleen Kenyon.
Historically the Wall of Jericho is of great importance. For example, the Book of Joshua deals with Jericho during the Late Bronze Age, at around 1400 BC, which is approximately 6,400 years after the Neolithic “Wall of Jericho” fell out of use.
The ancient city of Jericho is one of the oldest on Earth. So far, archaeological excavations have revealed more than 20 successive settlements at Jericho. The first settlement at the site is believed to have ebene created around 9,000 BC, which means it dates back at least 11,000 years, which is nearly at the very start of the Holocene epoch.
The evidence further supports the notion that settlements existed in the area as early as 10,000 BC, during the Younger Dryas period. By the time the Younger Dryas was coming to an end, the area was inhabited around the year.
These Mysterious Geoglyphs in Jordan Are 6,000 Years Older Than Peru’s Nazca Lines
Although the finished product of giant earth designs has been difficult to discern, archeologists recently announced that at least some of the great “works of old men” (as the Bedouin called them in 1927) of the Middle East are significantly older than the famous Nazca Lines of Peru.
Researchers have also shown that, in the past, one cluster of the wheels could have been linked with astronomical knowledge and that some of the geoglyphs were probably connected with the burials.
It has been concluded by archeologists that at least two of the giant Wadi Al Quattafi ‘ Wheels ‘ from Wadi Al Qattafi and the Wisad Pools, in the Black Desert of Jordan are at least 8,500 years old – making them older than the famous Nazca Lines in Peru by about 6,000 years.
BBC reports that by using optically stimulated luminescence ( OSL), the archaeologists were able to show not only the date of creation of the two wheels but also that one of them was repaired about 5,500 years ago.
The research, soon to be published in the journal Antiquity, demonstrates that at the time of the creation of these two wheels the climate of the Black Desert would have been very different, making life in the area easier.
Archaeological evidence for their claim came in the form of “Charcoal from deciduous oak and tamarisk [a shrub that] were recovered from two hearths in one building dated to ca. 6,500 BC.”
Furthermore, Discovery News has reported that the recent study suggests that at least some of the geoglyphs are related to an astronomical interest by the ancient inhabitants.
Specifically, they have found importance in one group of designs in the Azraq Oasis, as “The majority of the spokes of the wheels in that cluster are oriented for some reason to stretch in a SE-NW direction – where the sun rises during the winter solstice.” This may be no more than an educated “hunch” however, as other geoglyphs in the area do not show apparent “archaeoastronomical information.”
The two wheels and the cluster make up just a small section of the famous “Works of Old Men” that cross the Arabia region – “from Syria across Jordan and Saudi Arabia to Yemen” according to the researchers from the current study.
The geoglyphs of the Middle East were first spotted in 1927 by RAF Flight Lt. Percy Maitland, while he was flying an airmail route over Jordan. he has written.
Some of the wheel-shaped structures are clustered closer together, while others appear to be solitary. Some structures have more of a rectangular shape, while many of them are round. Some of the circular structures contain two spokes that form a bar…The wheels are sometimes found on top of the kites.
The purpose of the geoglyphs probably varied according to their location and/or design.
Gary Rollefson, co-director of the Eastern Badia Archaeological Project, says that “The presence of cairns suggests some association with burials since that is often the way of treating people once they died.” However, he was also quick to add that “there are other wheels where cairns are entirely lacking, pointing to a different possible use.”
Regarding the construction of the geoglyphs, it is evident that quality also differs from one structure to the next. Speaking of the two wheels in the Black Desert, Rollefson said that they “are simple in form and not very rigidly made, according to geometric standards.
They contrast sharply with some other wheels that appear to have been set out with almost as much attention to detail as the Nazca Lines.” The precision of the other wheels may have been due to the use of a long rope and a stake.
In contrast to the designs located further north, David Kennedy, co-director of the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East (APAAME) has said that the forms in Saudi Arabia and Yemen “tend to be small and have only one or two bars instead of spokes.
Some of the “wheels” are actually shaped like squares, rectangles or triangles.” The APAAME has also noted kites and interconnecting walls of stones, which he has dubbed as “gates.”
APAAME is currently unable to conduct on-site or aerial imaging research of the “wheels” in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, thus they are studying aerial images from the 20th century and free satellite imaging from Google Earth and Bing for now.
Possible 1,300-Year-Old Chess Piece from Jordan Identified
The oldest piece of chess ever discovered was a carved rock found in 1991 by a Canadian scientist and archeologist.
In an abstract published in October, the University of Victoria professor John Oleson announced that a piece of carved sandstone that was found in southern Jordan at Humayma may be an ancient rook — a castle-shaped piece in the game.
The roughly 1,300-year-old stone is squat and rectangular, with “horn-like projections”.
Although Oleson mentions it does resemble other artifacts, such as a Nabataean butyl, which is an altar made out of a block of stone to evoke the gods of the ancient Arab nation, when he compared the rock carving to other early chess pieces, the parallels were “far more convincing.”
According to Oleson, the object has the same abstract shape that other early Islamic chess pieces had.
References to chess-playing can be found in Islamic texts as early as the seventh century AD, Oleson said, and the game was “very popular.”
The piece Oleson found is “nearly identical” to abstract rook pieces dating from later centuries that were found near or in Jordan.
“Since the Humayma object was found in a seventh-century context, if the identification as a chess piece is correct, it would be the earliest known physical example for the simplified, abstract design,” said Oleson, “and possibly the earliest known example of a chess piece altogether.”
The history of chess dates back around 1,500 years and is thought to have originated in India, although the names and rules have changed several times over the centuries.
Oleson theorized that the spread of chess occurred westward from India along merchant and diplomat routes and that it is “no surprise that early evidence for it should be found at a site on the busy Via Nova Traiana,” which is a Roman road that served as an important trading route.
A significant chunk of Oleson’s work has taken place in or around the Humayma site.
Between 1991 and 2000, he and his team excavated the settlement center over the course of seven field sessions.
In the process, they excavated two farmhouses, a Roman fort, four Byzantine churches, and “a Nabataean campground and three Nabataean and Late Roman houses.”
Bread Existed 4000 Years Before Agriculture, Archaeologists Discover
Researchers discovered the charred remains of a flatbread baked by hunter-gatherers 14,400 years ago at an archeological site in northeastern Jordan.
It is the oldest direct evidence of bread found to date, predating the advent of agriculture by at least 4,000 years. The findings suggest that bread production based on wild cereals may have encouraged hunter-gatherers to cultivate cereals, and thus contributed to the agricultural revolution in the Neolithic period.
A team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen, University College London and University of Cambridge have analysed charred food remains from a 14,400-year-old Natufian hunter-gatherer site – a site known as Shubayqa 1 located in the Black Desert in northeastern Jordan.
The results, which are published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide the earliest empirical evidence for the production of bread:“The presence of 100’s of charred food remains in the fireplaces from Shubayqa 1 is an exceptional find, and it has given us the chance to characterize 14,000-year-old food practices.
The 24 remains analysed in this study show that wild ancestors of domesticated cereals such as barley, einkorn, and oat had been ground, sieved and kneaded prior to cooking.
The remains are very similar to unleavened flatbreads identified at several Neolithic and Roman sites in Europe and Turkey. So we now know that bread-like products were produced long before the development of farming.
The next step is to evaluate if the production and consumption of bread influenced the emergence of plant cultivation and domestication at all,” said University of Copenhagen archaeobotanist Amaia Arranz Otaegui, who is the 1st author of the study.
University of Copenhagen archaeologist Tobias Richter, who led the excavations at Shubayqa 1 in Jordan, explained: “Natufian hunter-gatherers are of particular interest to us because they lived through a transitional period when people became more sedentary and their diet began to change.
Flint sickle blades as well as ground stone tools found at Natufian sites in the Levant have long led archaeologists to suspect that people had begun to exploit plants in a different and perhaps more effective way.
But the flat bread found at Shubayqa 1 is the earliest evidence of bread making recovered so far, and it shows that baking was invented before we had plant cultivation. So this evidence confirms some of our ideas.
Indeed, it may be that the early and extremely time-consuming production of bread based on wild cereals may have been one of the key driving forces behind the later agricultural revolution where wild cereals were cultivated to provide more convenient sources of food.”
Charred remains under the microscope
The charred food remains were analysed with electronic microscopy at a University College London lab by PhD candidate Lara Gonzalez Carratero (UCL Institute of Archaeology), who is an expert on prehistoric bread: “The identification of ‘bread’ or other cereal-based products in archaeology is not straightforward.
There has been a tendency to simplify classification without really testing it against an identification criteria. We have established a new set of criteria to identify flat bread, dough and porridge like products in the archaeological record.
Using Scanning Electron Microscopy we identified the microstructures and particles of each charred food remain,” said Gonzalez Carratero.“Bread involves labour intensive processing which includes dehusking, grinding of cereals and kneading and baking.
That it was produced before farming methods suggests it was seen as special, and the desire to make more of this special food probably contributed to the decision to begin to cultivate cereals. All of this relies on new methodological developments that allow us to identify the remains of bread from very small charred fragments using high magnification,” said Professor Dorian Fuller (UCL Institute of Archaeology).
Research into prehistoric food practices continues
A grant recently awarded to the University of Copenhagen team will ensure that research into food making during the transition to the Neolithic will continue: “The Danish Council for Independent Research has recently approved further funding for our work, which will allow us to investigate how people consumed different plants and animals in greater detail.
Building on our research into early bread, this will in the future give us a better idea why certain ingredients were favoured over others and were eventually selected for cultivation,” said Tobias Richter.