Rewriting the Prehistory of Jordan

Lead Research Organisation: Oxford Brookes University
Department Name: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sci


Jordanian prehistory begins with the traces left by human ancestors on a key route out of Africa into Europe and Asia. This earliest phase is mainly known from scatters of flint tools made, used, and abandoned. Around 20,000 years ago, archaeological preservation improves providing evidence for some of the most profound changes in human history. These include the development of food producing technologies, the domestication of plants and animals, and the social and ideological developments that enabled living together in increasingly large and sedentary communities: what have been identified as the earliest modern societies (e.g. Cauvin 2000). Similar developments took place independently in a number of regions across the globe (Barker 2006), but their earliest manifestation was in Southwest Asia.

Until recently, Jordan was considered as marginal to this process, but archaeological evidence now suggests that Jordan was important region to this transformation. Sites such as Kharaneh IV in the Epipalaeolithic show developments in subsistence and social complexity from c 20,000 years ago, while recent excavations at Shubayqa now provide evidence of permanent architecture from the Natufian period c 14,000 years ago. The earliest Neolithic, the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (12,000-10,300 years ago), was barely known in Jordan even a decade ago, but is now known from multiple sites. The Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (10,300 - 8,700 years ago), previously thought to derive from developments elsewhere, is now seen to incorporate local innovations when the Jordanian plateau became one of the most densely populated parts of the world. Although field evidence remains scarce, the Late Neolithic (8,300-6,500 years ago) continues a local historical trajectory when the farming package consolidates. Jordan plays an important role in the development of nomadic pastoralism following the domestication of sheep and goats.

With notable exceptions, such as Profs Zeidan Kafafi of Yarmouk University and Maysoon al-Nahar of the University of Jordan, early prehistoric archaeological research has been dominated by international researchers, and has been marginal to archaeology and cultural heritage presentation within Jordan. The narrative of early prehistory has been largely written by international scholars, whose focus has been to place Jordanian evidence into a wider regional and global context. With the exception of scholars working directly on Jordanian material, most Near Eastern Neolithic archaeologists continue to downplay the significance of Jordan, indeed, with rare exceptions (such as mention of the large Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic B sites), Jordan does not register in regional syntheses, and the crucial early developments evident in Jordan are often omitted. Prehistory does not figure in Jordanian school education, despite the many resonances with contemporary issues of settling down, the growth of sedentary communities, and the early development of an agricultural package that still lies at the core of Jordanian subsistence.

This project aims to develop a new generation of Jordanian scholars and cultural resource managers working in early prehistoric research. We will focus on Jordanian engagement, helping develop Jordanian skills, policies and procedures to research and manage prehistory, and to foster a new research environment with Jordanian perspectives and agendas.

The project will seek to engage the wider Jordanian public in prehistory, where a lack of local interest translates into a lack of protection for these sites. We will raise the profile of prehistory, show its relevance to modern life in the origins of herding, farming, and water management, all vital to modern Jordanian society. We want to show this is a human and local story, not just academic and global.

We will develop the tourism potential of prehistory, locally and internationally, to provide direct economic benefits to rural communities and the Jordanian economy.

Planned Impact

This project will have impact by (1) building academic capacity for Jordanian researchers; (2) building cultural resource management capacity in the Department of Antiquities; (3) creating a research centre; (4) building interest in prehistory within Jordan; (5) supporting the growth of tourism (local and international) in southern Jordan.

(1) building academic capacity for Jordanian researchers

The training courses and associated seminars of the Rewriting the Prehistory of Jordan project are designed to equip a new generation of Jordanian scholars with the skills and academic background to conduct, lead, assess and collaborate in prehistoric archaeology. The project will conclude with a conference, where the participants will be required to contribute the results of their training (including additional work undertaken as Master's dissertations at Yarmouk University) and the output of seminar discussions on the prehistory of Jordan. Material deriving form this work will be synthesised into a heavily illustrated popular book on the prehistory of Jordan, in Arabic, targeted at the public.

(2) building cultural resource management capacity in the Department of Antiquities

The DoA has specifically requested support to establish a new generation of staff who can both conduct research in prehistory when required by the needs of rescue archaeology in advance of development or natural threats, but who are also able to manage Jordan's significant early prehistoric heritage. The fieldwork and post-excavation protocols to be discussed by trainees during training module seminars will provide the basis for DoA protocols to ensure quality in research. The training will also help to develop DoA staff to be able to critically assess prehistoric projects, a vital part of the DoA's role in granting fieldwork permits and monitoring subsequent work and progress. A particular emphasis will be on discussing curation policies, in particular the needs of retaining material for research, and when and how it can be disposed of to help develop the long-term collections policies for the DoA

(3) creating a research centre

The project will create a research centre for prehistoric archaeology. Projects depositing material in the Wadi Faynan museum will be asked to provide reference collections of material for use in the Centre to create a resource that will draw both Jordanian and international scholars. The centre will actively encourage international researchers to undertake material culture studies in Jordan, rather than shipping material overseas, and to employ Jordanian research assistants in their work. As a single centre for prehistoric research, the centre will have considerably greater sustainability than labs established to support individual projects or scholars within universities.

(4) building interest in prehistory within Jordan

The project will promote the early prehistory of Jordan within both local communities and more widely through the Friends of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage. The project will hold open days throughout the project for both these key public stakeholder groups, and will also work with the museum to develop its displays. There are many areas of resonance between prehistory and modern Jordan, and an understanding of Jordanian prehistory will help serve to enrich cultural lives and the sense of Jordanian identity.

(5) supporting the growth of tourism (local and international) in southern Jordan

By promoting the prehistory of Jordan, the project intends to develop both international and domestic tourism in Jordan, especially through the publication of an accessible booklet on Jordanian prehistory. This will be of direct economic benefit to the local communities around important prehistoric sites, from 'Ain Ghazal in north Jordan, to the sites on the Neolithic Heritage Trail from Beidha in the Petra world heritage site down to Wadi Faynan, in addition to benefitting the wider tourism industry


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Description As part of our mitigation of the consequences of Covid we developed an additional online course for our trainees, which involved them developing site management plans for prehistoric sites in Jordan. This included assessment of tourist, community, and educational potentials, as well as site preservation and protection. The plans produced will be developed further as part of our final output from the project, to be debated at the project's closing workshop. The trainees, composed of teams of graduate trainees form Yarmouk University and staff from the Department of Antiquities, conducted research into the archaeological significance of selected sites, a review of existing cultural heritage management, an assessment of their current state of preservation, and proposals for their future.
Exploitation Route Because our project is in collaboration with the Department of Antiquities of Jordan (itself part of the Ministry of Tourism), the finalisation of these plans will be made in partnership with the Department and they will be used by the Department as part of its ongoing strategy. Planning for the site of Tell Abu Suwwan, a major Neolithic site close to the important tourist destination of Jerash in the North of Jordan, is being incorporated into current Municipal plans for land purchase and infrastructure development, including an aspect of plans for a new museum. Planning for the site of 'Ain Ghazel in Amman focus on developing new means of improving communication between government and municipal departments, and possibly recognising that despite its urban context, the site may not be suitable for tourist development. Planning for the Neolithic site of el-Hemmeh, a rural site in the south of Jordan focus on site protection, as it is located within a protected landscape around a dam, and using the information derived from the site to enhance and extend the public education programme run in Tafila governate.

The plans will add to the overall purpose of the project, to help raise the profile of prehistoric heritage within Jordan, including supporting Departmental long-term plans to protect prehistoric heritage by including sites within Jordan's World Heritage Tentative list.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy


Leisure Activities

including Sports

Recreation and Tourism



Museums and Collections

Description This award has now moved to the University of Oxford with the PI - and entries are updated in the award attributed there - with there same name and award number as this one These impacts are still at an early stage, but the work of the project is already being used to support efforts to include Jordanian prehistory within the wider marketing of Jordanian cultural heritage as a major tourism resource. This is also being used within discussions of how to improve protection of prehistoric sites including efforts to enhance communication between government departments.
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Policy & public services

Description Prehistory in world heritage sites
Geographic Reach Asia 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description Training in Prehistory
Geographic Reach Asia 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact The project has initiated training courses for Jordan cultural heritage managers and researchers in the Department of Antiquities of Jordan and the University of Yarmouk. Two course have been delivered so far, introducing Jordanian staff and researchers to prehistoric research, Jordanian prehistory, and post-excavation triage skills.
Description Use of training in professional policy capacity
Geographic Reach Asia 
Policy Influence Type Contribution to new or Improved professional practice
Impact This has brought an important site white the protective umbrella of the Jerash archaeological site, and is bringing a prehistoric site to the attention of the local, national and International (tourist) communities. Economically it has benefits in extending the visitor experience at this site.
Description Faynan Centre for Prehistoric Research 
Organisation Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities
Department Department of Antiquities
Country Jordan 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Purchased laboratory equipment, set up labs, and inaugurated facility through its use in training courses within the project
Collaborator Contribution Partners provided the building for the research centre and set up domestic accommodation and facilities. Employed staff to maintain and look after the centre
Impact Creation of a regional archaeological research centre for southern Jordan, with laboratory, workspace, storage space, accommodation and facilities
Start Year 2019
Description Rewriting prehistory of Jordan 
Organisation Yarmouk University
Country Jordan 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Following the training, conducted in the first part of the Rewriting the Prehistory of Jordan project, we have been able to build on this collaboration and have now conducted research-based fieldwork with Yarmouk University and the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, giving the trainees practical fieldwork experience in both excavation (focussed on taking environmental and dating samples adds recording sections) and conservation, undertaken at Beidha within the Petra World Heritage site, and practical experience in preparing public information. As planned, the work is supporting our partner's brand new OSL laboratory, helping to to build a flow of work by collecting dating samples from Barqa Epipalaeolithic site in Wadi Faynan and from Beidha.
Collaborator Contribution Yarmouk University will be an equal partner in the research, helping supervise the trainees, making in-country arrangements, and proving the laboratory facilities for analyses.
Impact We held a final workshop for the project at Yarmouk University to present individual project results and promote the overall results of the programme, including online publication of the presentations at the workshop, and the production of a popular book on Jordanian prehistory, produced in Arabic (now in production)
Start Year 2022
Description Training in prehistoric Archaeology 
Organisation Yarmouk University
Country Jordan 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The UK team have provided training expertise, and for the online training a course now available online through Oxford Brookes
Collaborator Contribution Yarmouk University recruited students for the courses, with particular success in recruiting female students and obtaining permission for them to join the residential course. Yarmouk University also provided the Jordanian facilities to support the online trainings nd provided support for the students during the course
Impact A series of residential courses were run for trainees: 1) An introduction to Jordanian prehistory; 2) Research skills/publication; 3) Post excavation triage; 4) Chipped stone analysis 5) Use Wear analysis. Following residential courses were disrupted by covid, and following feedback an online course was run on the management of prehistoric cultural heritage, which incorporated a field element and the development of specific site management plans. Field sampling techniques and science based archaeological approaches require hands-pn training, and this has been postponed to the second part of the project, based at Yarmouk University and the University of Oxford
Start Year 2019
Description Newton Prize 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The project reached the shortlist for the Newton Prize featuring 27 research and innovation projects between the UK and Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, South Africa, and Turkey, and participated in a hybrid event organised by UNESCO UK. The Newton Prize celebrates outstanding international research partnerships that play an important role in addressing challenges in developing countries and around the world, such as the problem of producing clean energy, HIV prevention, the protection of historical sites, how to tackle water pollution, as well as the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description Rewriting the Prehistory of Jordan Workshop and awards ceremony 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Workshop for all all the trainees to present the results of one of their projects undertaken as part of the training with an audience including each other, trainers, project leaders, and senior representatives of the University and Department of Antiquities, including the Director-General. Trainees were also given certificates listing the courses they had successfully completed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description The First Regional Conference on Cultural Property Protection 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A meeting of all the Directors of National Heritage Agencies/Deputy Ministers and senior members of the teams from the MENA region. I was invited to present on our work arising from the award
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022