site located in the Wadi Zerqa, at the northeast edge of Amman, Jordan (31° 59′ N, 35°58′ E). Highway construction In 1974 bared a continuous exposure of archaeological settlement. Six seasons of excavations and site survey were conducted under the auspices of Yarmouk University, the University of Kansas, San Diego State University, the Desert Research Institute of the University of Nevada, and the Jordanian Department of Antiquities from 1982 to 1985 and In 1988–1989 (cf.Rollefson, Simmons, and Kafafi, 1992), and a regional survey around the settlement was undertaken In 1987 by Alan H. Simmons and Zeidan A. Kafafi (1988).

More than forty radiocarbon dates from the site have shown that settlement was continuous for more than two thousand years. Coupled with major changes in architecture, ritual, economic base, and ceramic technology, four major stages of cultural development have been identified.

Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (MPPNB) Period.

In the earliest phase at ῾ Ain Ghazal (c. 7200–6500 BCE), cereals and pulses were farmed and goat husbandry developed. By the middle of the seventh millennium, the settlement had grown from a small hamlet of about 2 ha (5 acres) to a village of nearly 5 ha (12 acres). Hunting still played a vital role in the diet, contributing half of the meat protein; domesticated goats provided the other half. Houses were large (up to 40–50 sq m), with the number of rooms increasing from one at the beginning of the period to two and three rooms by the end of the phase. Walls were of undressed fieldstone, coated with mud mortar and finished with lime plaster. Floors were made of a fine layer of lime plaster applied over a lime-and-gravel base. Red pigment was used to decorate the floors and walls; a few fragments indicate specific designs: stylized birds and perhaps other animals among them.

MPPNB ritual practices were particularly striking at ῾Ain Ghazal. Subfloor house burials of both adults and children were the norm, although courtyard burials were also common. All burials were individual (except for females with newborns or still births). The common regional MPPNB practice of decapitating the corpses of children and adults and interring their skulls elsewhere was followed (in some cases the skulls were treated with special reverence, see below). A significant number of “trash burials” of adults with skulls intact was also found, suggesting that social divisions existed in the early seventh millennium BCE.

Although the appearance of numbers of small baked and unbaked clay figurines of humans and animals is a characteristic of the MPPNB, only a few specimens of the economically important goats were found at ῾Ain Ghazal. Cattle, on the other hand, dominated the identifiable animal figurines, including two examples of “ritually killed” cows buried beneath a house floor and several others with twisted fiber imprints behind their head that suggest halters. The human figurines are headless or lack a body, perhaps reflecting a close parallel to the predominant burial mode. Fertility figurines at ῾Ain Ghazal are very distinct: obviously pregnant females with distended abdomens and enlarged breasts are also decorated with rocker-stamped “tattooing.”

The most impressive aspects of ritual activity at ῾Ain Ghazal are plastered skulls and plaster human statuary. Six plastered skulls and two caches of statues have been recovered. Three plastered skulls have been dated to before 7100 BCE, and a cache of twenty-five statues and busts dates to about 6750 BCE; a second cache of statues may date to about 6,500 BCE, at the transition of the MPPNB and the Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (LPPNB).

Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic B Period (LPPNB).

At ῾Ain Ghazal the Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period lasts from about 6500 to about 6000 BCE. Within this period the site more than doubled in size, reaching 10 ha (25 acres) in extent. House design changed radically, from the spacious two- to three-room MPPNB settings to multiple small cells (approximately 2 × 2 m each) around a central hall or chamber of unknown dimensions. Lime-plaster floors decorated with red ocher continued to characterize the buildings.

῾Ain Ghazal

῾AIN GHAZAL. Human figurines. (Photograph by Dorrell and Stuart Laidlaw; courtesy G. Rollefson)

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The site's economic base remained agricultural. Domesticated dogs are evident early in the phase, and at its close cattle and pigs were probably domesticated. It is clear that hunted wild species began to decline dramatically after 6500 BCE, signaling a major environmental change for the settlement and its vicinity. There appear to be no major ritual changes in human burials from those in the MPPNB; the number of human and animal figurines recovered from the restricted areas of excavation also was the same.

Pre-Pottery Neolithic C Period (PNNC).

The end of the seventh millennium in ancient Palestine witnessed the demise of all known large agricultural settlements. However, during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic C period (6000–c. 5500 BCE) ῾Ain Ghazal grew to more than 12 ha (30 acres; and, possibly, to more than 14 ha or 34 acres). Although details of that period's agricultural pursuits are lacking, a farming base for the settlement is undeniable. Hunting, on the other hand, was severely restricted to steppe and desert fauna, with domesticated goats, cattle, pigs, and sheep constituting the bulk (90 percent) of recovered animal bones.

Beyond differences in animal husbandry, hunting, and implied environmental change, the PPNC period at ῾Ain Ghazal suggests in other critical ways that a major cultural change was underway. Architecturally, houses included semisubterranean structures founded on MPPNB and/or LPPNB lime-plaster floors, as well as similar surface structures that differed dramatically from MPPNB and LPPNB times. Buildings were smaller (approximately 3.5–4 m on a side), with small rectangular chambers (approximately 3 times 1 m) bisected by a central corridor that created cells too small for normal domestic functions, such as living or sleeping areas. Altogether, the PPNC structures suggest permanent storage features with flimsy superstructures.

The ritual aspects of the first half of the sixth millennium contrast with the LPPNB as strongly as the architectural elements. PPNC burials occur as subfloor and courtyard interments, but in every case the skull remains intact with the skeleton. The consistent occurrence of pig remains with PPNC burials is also a major departure from PPNB practices.

The appearance of pottery has long been taken to be a watershed of cultural development in the Levant, and in the south it has been conventionally assumed that this was a technological innovation introduced by populations migrating from the north (Mellaart, 1975, p. 238). The evidence from ῾Ain Ghazal argues against this view however. Several examples of modifications of PPNC architecture are associated with crude fired pottery, followed soon thereafter by typical Yarmukian ceramics. This development indicates that the transition from the aceramic to the ceramic Neolithic was a local phenomenon (Rollefson, Kafafi, and Simmons, 1993).

Yarmukian Pottery Neolithic.

The gradual changes from the PPNC to the Yarmukian Pottery Neolithic are also expressed in other ways. Hunting and herding evidence from animal remains is similar for both periods. The earliest Yarmukian inhabitants modified standing PPNC structures, but slightly later, Yarmukians built permanent rectangular structures very different from PPNC norms. These structures included large open spaces enclosed by stone walls, with floors made of puddled mud or huwwar, a “plaster” composed of mud and pounded chalk. The latest preserved Yarmukian architectural remains are curvilinear stone arrangements around the repeated appearance of puddled-mud floors. The indication is that ῾Ain Ghazal had ceased to function as a permanent settlement, offering instead a seasonal camp for pastoral nomadic groups, probably during the dry summer months. The evidence from ῾Ain Ghazal (Köhler-Rollefson, 1988; Köhler-Rollefson and Rollefson, 1990), as well as from the eastern deserts of Jordan (e.g., Betts, 1986, p. 303) strongly suggests that an increasing reliance on pastoral nomadism began during the PPNC and that pastoral and agricultural economic systems were completely segregated shortly after the beginning of the Yarmukian period.

In its ritual practices the Yarmukian period differed vastly from its aceramic forebears: not a single Yarmukian burial has been identified at ῾Ain Ghazal and animal figurines are rare, although a bird (?) has been found; human figurines are also few, but the head of a typical “coffee-bean” fertility figurine (Rollefson, Kafafi, and Simmons, 1993) was recovered (cf. Perrot, 1964, pl. XXIII).

Interpretation of the Data.

The changes witnessed in the long, unbroken occupational sequence at ῾Ain Ghazal can be understood in terms of responses to the demands of increasing population growth on what was a lucrative but delicate habitat. The MPPNB strategy of a combined hunting, goat herding, and agricultural subsistence base permitted an unprecedented population growth. By the onset of the LPPNB, the effects of these increasing demands is seen in the decrease of animal species variability. This decrease culminated during the PPNC period, when faunal diversity collapsed to a handful of wild species. Continued environmental degradation during the Yarmukian period finally led to the collapse of ῾Ain Ghazal as a permanent settlement (Köhler-Rollefson and Rollefson 1990).

Climate change had little to do with the demise of ῾Ain Ghazal (and other settlements in the southern Levant). The large demands on tree stands for fuel to produce MPPNB and LPPNB lime plaster deforested an area within a radius of several kilometers; exacerbated by the appetite of increasingly large herds of goats, the landscape around ῾Ain Ghazal was exposed to continual erosion by the winter rains and summer winds. Logs and branches became scarcer for construction through time, and wood was increasingly difficult to collect for hearths. Agricultural fields within a reasonable distance from the spring at ῾Ain Ghazal became so distant that it was no longer feasible to use the settlement as a home base. By the PPNC period the cultural degradation of the environment was probably already irreversible, and late PPNC and Yarmukian efforts to accommodate those changes were too little and too late for the long-term stable continuation of a permanent community.

[See also Cattle and Oxen; Paleoenvironmental Reconstruction; Pigs; and Sheep and Goats.]


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Gary O. Rollefson