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The Neolithic in Southern Jordan

The first farming communities in Faynan: 12,000–7,000 years ago

Farming transformed human lifestyles and human history, laying the foundations for the development of large permanent settlements and the first civilisations. It began independently in several regions of the world, one of which was the Levant, within which southern Jordan was an especially important area for early innovations.

Farming developed over a long period, starting with the cultivation of wild wheat, barley, chickpeas and lentils by at least 11,000 years ago. This practice began with simple activities such as weeding, removing pests and watering, and eventually led to easily harvested high-yield domesticated crop varieties. The focus of hunting changed from gazelle to wild goats, which were increasingly managed and then herded, before becoming domesticated, along with sheep, pigs and cattle. With these new resources, people were able to settle down to live in what became permanent settlements.

A host of other technological innovations were tied into this, such as the manufacture of mud bricks for houses and lime plaster for floors, a more extensive range of mortars and pestles for preparing plant foods, and new ways of making stone tools.

Social and ideological changes were an integral part of the Neolithic. This is evident by new ways of treating the dead, new types of ornamentation, and new communal buildings, some of which had ritual functions. By the end of the Neolithic, people lived in much larger communities and had to devise new ways to manage their social relationships.

Exactly why and how farming emerged in the Levant remains unclear. Hunter-gatherers went through a long process of using their resources more intensively, gradually modifying their environment and the resources themselves. Climate change at the end of the Ice Age would have played a part, while choices made by people will have also been important, some of which will have had unforeseen consequences. Farming was able to sustain larger communities than hunting and gathering alone, and once populations had grown, it would have been hard to return to hunting and gathering. Within a few thousand years the Neolithic had put human history onto a new path, ending millions of years of hunting and gathering, and providing the foundations for our modern way of life.

The development of the Neolithic in the Levant occurred in three cultural phases referred to as:

  • Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (11,500–10,500 years ago)
  • Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (10,500–8,500 years ago)
  • Pottery Neolithic (8,500–7,000 years ago).

Each of these phases is represented by a settlement within Faynan, providing a unique record for this critical period of the human past.