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Ausgrabungsprojekt Qulban Beni Murra (Jordanien)

[Projektleitung verlinken]

Dr. Hans Georg Gebel and Prof. Dr. Hamzeh Mahasneh


German Archaeological Institute, Berlin (Forschungscluster 2)

ex oriente at Free University of Berlin

Mu‘tah University


01.09.2005 — 31.12.2011

Objectives of Season, Location, Research Questions

The fourth season of the Eastern Jafr Joint Archaeological Project with its extraordinary finds concentrated in a sounding in the previously excavated well watering complex (D15 of 2008) at the Late Chalcolithic/ Early Bronze Age site of Qulban Beni Murra (cf. Munjazat 2008), and in surveying the neighbouring Wadi as-Sahab al-Asmar and upper Wadi as-Sahab al-Abyad. Major objectives were to obtain datable samples for the well complex and to trace Late Chalcolithic/ EB water management and sites in the area, apart from the general survey objective to locate sites of all periods in Jordan’s archaeologically unknown territories. The Late Chalcolithic/ EB objectives aim to serve a framework of research questions asking if the area witnessed a local transition from pastoral “well cultures” to sedentary oasis cultures based on well irrigation. Such a process would have taken place as a consequence of drier conditions after the mid-Holocene climatic optima, and would show the participation and contribution of the arid Jordanian lands in/ to the historically most important social, economic and cultural achievement of the Arabian Peninsula: the oasis economy, finally establishing sedentism in all over Arabia after 4000-3500 BC.

Our current area of investigation is the drainage system of Wadis as-Sahab al-Abyad and al- Asmar, located north of Jabal at-Tubayk at a distance of up to 30 km N and NW of the Saudi border, and c. 120-130 km east of al-Jafr.


Significant Results

  1. An extraordinary chance find was made: While surveying one of the newly encountered cairn fields of the local Late Chalcolithic/ EB, one basalt statue fragment and a statue head (calcareous sandstone) were found in the stones constituting a cairn. Fully preserved from the head to the abdomen, the statue’s length is 35 cm; it most probably shows a male with thick lips or a beard, a long nose, ear depressions, and expressive eye depressions. The most intriguing features are two grooves around the head’s front and sides, and the neckline-like feature of a shirt or robe on the chest, probably dating the aqal/ dishdasha dress back as far back as ca. 4000-3500 BC. In a way, the find literally gave a face to the hitherto unknown shepherd culture. (Fig. 1)
  2. The hydrological survey (by Patrick Keilholz) gave evidence for several other methods of water harvesting (mshash, khabra, dam, and combined systems), demonstrating highly adaptive water management strategies beyond the deep wells (biyar/ qulban) of the area’s recent and sub-recent times. Such systems may help our understanding of the awaited findings of early 4th millennium BC water management.
  3. For the first time, inselberg/ rocky outcrop locations were surveyed in the wide flood plains of Wadi as-Sahab al-Asmar. It seems that their foothill zones are the specific settings for Late Chalcolithic/ EB settlements, characterized by large and small circular and sub-circular enclosures (sometimes in terraced succession, interpreted as pens and domestic structures), terrace walls, various types of ground plans of unknown function (possibly some with ritual functions), hearths, platforms, cairns with/ without ashlars and other grave types, isolated (and groups of) ashlars, rare ibex and other rock art, etc. (Figs. 4-5). Dam-like terrace walls may occur along a settlement’s former wadi flank; in one case a field of large boulders even gives the impression of a “breakwater” structure. The settlements didn’t use pottery, are characterized by chert and quartzite flake industries with fan and other scrapers, and have very few grinding tools. Wells and watering complexes, if not also gardens, are expected to have been buried by the wadis’ post-occupational gravels, as it is true for some of the settlements structures; future geo-electric resistivity or geo-radar surveys may help to locate these. Some of the deflated settlements indicate a horizontal stratigraphy (including Wadi as-Sahab al-Abyad 14, Figs. 2-3), representing at least two occupations with domestic/ pen and funeral functions. It might also be that locations other than the inselberg/ outcrop areas carried settlements in the region, and that geomorphologcial reasons are responsible for finding only the association with inselbergs/ outcrops.
  4. Two new aceramic cairn fields of the Late Chalcolithic/ EB were encountered; the large one on the hill tops around the Mshash as-Sahab al-Asmar, partly having standing stones/ ashlars, shows a high variability in grave construction (a feature known from Qulban Beni Murra), including recent and sub-recent Bedouin cemeteries occupying the same locations.
  5. This season’s sounding in the well watering complex D15 in Qulban Beni Murra provided sufficient charcoal to date the structure’s reddish deposits, thought to represent the insulation material of its paved troughs.
  6. The good pastures in June 2010 allowed Bedouins from al-Jafr to herd a larger flock of camels in the area. The project took this opportunity to record observations related to the socio-economic background of this seasonal migration (by Jürgen Baumgarten).



The find of the avceramic Late Chalcolithic/ Early Bronze Age inselberg settlements in Wadi as-Sahab al-Abyad might represent two different scenarios: either the pastoral cultures of the vast burial grounds in the area were less mobile than thought and were already associated with an oasis-type of land-use while being incubators for the later oasis economy, or the deflated inselberg settlements are the remains of the following early oases. The complexity of funeral structures in the region might be an indication that the area was occupied by both socio-economies: the earlier pastoral “well culture” and a later early oasis culture. It has to be the subject of future investigations to determine if the inselberg location of the settlements has to do with aquifers being re-directed and heightened at such spots by the subsurface bedrock topography and their wind protection potential, as well as to what extent they were seasonal or permanent.

Our project claims the existence of an unknown aceramic Late Chalcolithic/EB in the region north of Jabal at-Tubayk.



Looting of graves by Bedouins is a continuing severe impact on the preservation of the area’s cultural heritage. Means have to be discussed and measures have to be taken to raise awareness and education levels to minimize the ongoing destruction of the Jordan’s sepulchral landscapes.

Note: The Late Chalcolithic/ Early Bronze Age date of the cairns and settlements in the project’s area is still based on the presence of a diagnostic tool, the fan scarper.