SEBAP – 2016


The excavation campaigns
(by years)


Wael Abu-Azizeh (CNRS, Archéorient – UMR 5133)

Mohammad Tarawneh (Al-Hussein Bin Talal University)

How Eveha Participates

Archaeological digging

The first field season of the SEBAP’s four-year programme (the fifth since the project was set up in 2012) focused on the research programme’s eastern study area. The area of Jibal al-Khashabiyeh was examined, where preliminary investigations during the 2013 and 2015 seasons led to the identification of the first group of desert kites on the edges of the south-eastern Jordanian desert. These structures are among the most spectacular features on the edge of the Near-Eastern desert. They are formed by two long stone walls (some of which are several kilometres long) which converge in an enclosure containing circular structures. Their interpretation was the subject of much debate before a general consensus was reached, favouring a hypothesis of structures used in the hunting of wild animals, most likely gazelle. The dating of these features remains rather uncertain, however.

These preliminary results led to excavations being carried out in May and June 2015, to shed light on the important issues of the function and chronology of these installations. The various trenches dug, supplemented by further excavation during the 2016 season, revealed tangible evidence to support the theory of gazelle hunting. Regarding the chronology, the data collected and the radiocarbon dates from charcoal samples obtained during excavation enabled us to place the use of these structures within the late PPNB period, around 7,000 cal BC. They are therefore the earliest known and reliably dated kite structures in the Near-East. During the 2016 season, alongside further excavation of the kites, research focused on the investigation of a series of camp sites identified in close proximity to the kites. These installations are characterised by a very specific material culture, in particular a rich lithics industry, predominantly involving blade production. Among the characteristic tools, the leaf-shaped hand axes and the catalogue of small arrowheads made from blades provide comparisons with other technocomplexes from the desert margins of the southern Levant. In particular, similarities were found to the Tuwailian industry from the Negev, and the industry of the basalt Black Desert in north-eastern Jordan.

This group of settlements appears to belong to a coherent techno-cultural horizon which fits into the late PPNB chronological context established for the use of the kites. While it was initially the location of the settlements close to the kites which led to the suggestion of a chronological and functional relationship between these structures, this hypothesis was confirmed in 2015 thanks to the exceptional discovery of a depiction of a kite engraved on a wide stone slab from one of the camps. Furthermore, a sondage, dug in 2015 to explore the stratigraphic potential of one of these settlements revealed preserved structural and architectural features, along with remains of flint knapping activities. At site JKSH F19, we uncovered the remains of domestic structures which had curved external walls and a divided internal layout in addition to numerous hearths. Despite the small size of the 2015 sondage, considerable quantities of organic material was found in situ, including well preserved animal bone and charcoal, which were collected during excavation. Radiocarbon dating carried out on the charcoal samples from these excavations confirmed that the settlement is late PPNB in date, and contemporary with the use of the kites.

Given that such settlements, and the houses of the people associated with the kites, had not previously been identified in the Near-East, these results open up totally new perspectives which will be particularly important for further research.

These results also led us to extend the excavation of site JKSH F19 in July 2016. The aim was to gain a better understanding of the structural and architectural organisation of the remains uncovered in 2015. This excavation revealed a sub-circular structure, measuring on average 6m in diameter and delimited by a carefully built double-sided wall. The presence of several hearths coupled with relatively large quantities of burnt animal bone (probably gazelle for the most part, but the faunal analysis will be essential here) suggests that domestic activities took place in what can be considered a dwelling.

While the excavation of this structure is finished, and will be followed by several specialist studies (zooarchaeology, archaeobotany and geoarchaeology) which will provide information about the settlement’s context, subsistence methods and environmental conditions, walk-over survey carried out this season in the study area of the Jibal al-Khashabiyeh led to the identification of a new site of particular interest. At JKSH P52, we found a stone tool industry similar to that of JKSH F19, as well as comparable architectural remains, visible on the surface. Most significant, however, was the discovery of a layer containing huge quantities of animal bone remains in an area of the site exposed to erosion in a small gully. Three small sondages were carried out on this site, which confirmed the presence of extensive architectural remains, but also demonstrated the exceptional preservation of the site. The stratigraphic layer visible on the surface and cut by the erosion turned out to be particularly interesting: it contains unusually large amounts of animal bone, mostly burnt and encased in a thick layer of ashy sediment. A quick examination of the bone during excavation suggest that it is mostly gazelle. Furthermore, the faunal assemblage seems to be very selective, with an over-representation of the extremities of the lower limbs (phalanges, talus, distal ends of long bones). The selectiveness of the assemblage and its stratigraphic context associated with an ashy layer indicate that it may be the product of a highly specialised processing of animals killed in the hunt. The intensive and virtually “industrial” nature of this activity, and the striking parallels with the material culture of the other settlements identified and dated to the late PPNB, raise the question of a possible link with the nearby kite structures. Having identified for the first time the houses of the populations using the kites, here we may have one of the first pieces of evidence for sites used to process these mass hunts, where preparations for butchery may have been carried out. If the radiocarbon dates from samples taken from these sondages allow us to verify the hypothesis that the structures are contemporary, it will be clear that this site has huge potential which will have to be fully explored.