Ritual Landscapes in the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age (4500-3000BC)
Dr Jaimie Lovell
In the 1990s there were a number of large projects directed at Chalcolithic (4500-3800/3600 BCE) exploration in the southern Levant. Consequently there is now a broad understanding of Chalcolithic lifestyles and economy. By contrast in Jordan we know very little about burial practises – there are very few excavated Chalcolithic burial sites. However, there is a vast database of material for Chalcolithic burial practise growing in Israel.
Mortuary practice is seen to be a key element for understanding socio-political structures. Data from these sources could tell us a great deal about social structure and group identity. In the southern Levant various Chalcolithic burial types are known: dolmen fields (e.g. Adiemeh), cist tombs and grave circles (e.g. Mezad Aluf) and occasional intramural burials (e.g. Shiqmim). Recent discoveries west of the Jordan River at Nahal Qanah (Gopher 1996), Peqi'in (Gal 1997), Kissufim Road (Goren and Fabian 2002), Givat Ha-Oranim (Scheftelowitz and Oren 2004), Horvat Castra (van den Brink et al. 2004), Shoham (Nth) (van den Brink and Gophna 2005), and others have demonstrated clearly that Chalcolithic ossuary cave sites like those published by Perrot and Ladiray (1980) are not confined to the coastal plain and are perhaps the more common form of Chalcolithic burial (see also van den Brink 1998). The impressive wealth in these caves, e.g. in the form of gold circlets (from Nahal Qanah, now famously on display in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem) and other metallic artefacts has made their discovery even more astounding.
There is growing consensus that these cave burial sites are far more common than had been previously imagined. The reason that they are becoming more widely known in Israel is perhaps the speed and level at which development is proceeding there. The rapid pace of development in Israel and the Occupied Territories has increased the rate of excavation of these sites. In addition, there is a tradition of adventure caving in Israel which is not paralleled in Jordan: this has meant that caves are not generally explored in Jordan. We know, however, that the same geological formation and the same vegetation exist on the Jordanian side of the valley. There is every reason to suspect that as-yet unknown rich Chalcolithic cave burial sites exist in Jordan.
The project is conceived as a two year project, with a six week season in the north of Jordan (focusing on the Wadi Rayyan and Wadi Kufrinja areas in particular) and a six week season of survey in the south focusing upon the Dead Sea coast in order to survey for sites which parallel the famous 'Cave of the Treasure' at Nahal Mishmar and the Cave of the Warrior in the Judean desert. We looked carefully at the location of cave burial sites on the Palestinian side of the river and mapped their locations according to the prevailing geology. We then noted the position of the same geological formations on the Jordanian side.
We thank the Department of Antiquities, Jordan for valuable assistance, and the people of Ajlun, Irbid and Jerash governorates for their generous hospitality. We express particular thanks to Mark Norman, Head of Conservation at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford for valuable advice on immediate conservation strategies. We thank the staff of the RSCN's Wadi Mujib Reserve for their assistance with access and information. The University of Reading and the British Cave Research Associations's Ghar Parau Foundation provided additional funding.
Felafel and schwarma vendors in all villages were the source of vital resources - we particularly recommend Zoubia to connoisseurs of fine felafel.
The RLP project is featured in Antiquity Online's Dec 2009 issue.
Our 2006 survey is featured in the October 2007 issue Current World Archaeology (Note: the issue went to press before some of the information above became available).
An article about the project in the popular Jordanian magazine JO can be downloaded here.
We plan test excavations at some of our major caves in spring of 2009. If you would like further information, please contact: Jaimie Lovell