a commanding promontory, located near a village of the same name, in the mountainous region of southern Jordan (29°55′N, 35°30′ E). A long-term, ongoing research program, directed by Donald O. Henry and sponsored by the University of Tulsa, the American Center of Oriental Research, and the Jordanian Department of Antiquities was initiated in the vicinity of Ras en-Naqb In 1977. By 1994, exploration of approximately 32 square kilometers had resulted in the discovery of more than 130 prehistoric sites with occupations spanning the late Lower Paleolithic through the Chalcolithic periods. The research focused on understanding the prehistoric human ecology and the evolution of human adaptation in the area.

Excavation exposed Middle Paleolithic, Upper Paleolithic, Epipaleolithic, Neolithic, and Chalcolithic occupations at twenty-nine sites. Paleoenvironmental studies of pollen, geological, and faunal evidence recovered by excavation generated paleoclimatic reconstructions covering much of the last sixty-five thousand years.

Strategy of Transhumance.

Perhaps the most significant result of the research was establishing the length of time (on the order of sixty-five thousand years) the inhabitants of the region had followed a transhumance strategy. To utilize transhumance, the area's prehistoric groups followed an annual settlement schedule that involved seasonal shifts to different elevational belts, ranging from 800 to 1,700 m above mean sea level. Such a settlement schedule enabled them to exploit area-specific resources seasonally. This meant occupying an elevation when it offered optimum creature comforts.

Transhumance is typically associated with pastoral nomads, such as the modern bedouin. Few research efforts have yielded the quantity and diversity of evidence confirming the strategy for such a temporal sweep during the Paleolithic era, however. Comparing sites by elevation revealed a time-transgressive pattern. This pattern showed an asymmetry within several data sets (e.g., site area, thickness of cultural deposit, artifact density, artifact inventory) that was linked to the different elevational belts. Pleistocene settlement remains (Middle, Upper, and Early Epipaleolithic periods) in the high-elevation belts reflected short-term, warmseason camps. Pleistocene on the low-elevation belts revealed apparent settlement remains from long-term winter camps. In contrast, sites occupied at the end of the Pleistocene and Holocene (Natufian and Chalcolithic) reversed the pattern: sites indicating long-term winter camps were found in the high-elevation belts, whereas small, ephemeral camps were found in the lowlands.

Lower Paleolithic.

Wadi Qalkha, identified as a Late Acheulean site, exhibited an artifact-bearing horizon near the top of a 30-meter-thick section of alluvial silts and sands. A geomorphic study placed the alluvial fill in the last interglacial period. The lithic assemblage is composed mainly of finely fashioned ovate handaxes.

Middle Paleolithic.

Tor Faraj and Tor Sabiha are rockshelters with extensive Levantine Mousterian deposits. The differences in natural setting and artifacts between the two sites suggest that they represent winter (Tor Faraj) and summer (Tor Sabiha) segments of an annual cycle of transhumance. The artifact assemblages are dominated by Levallois points. Microscopic analysis suggests that most of the points were hafted and used for various tasks, ranging from cutting to scraping and to use as projectiles. Amino acid racemization and uranium series dates indicate that the occupations were contemporaneous, archaeologically, dating to about 62,000 bp. Examination of the pollen, sediments, and animal remains from the deposits points to very dry climatic conditions during the time of occupation.

Upper Paleolithic.

The rockshelter sites of Tor Hamar, Tor Aeid, and Jebel Ḥumeima contain the most important of several Upper Paleolithic occupations. Based on artifact analysis, these occupations include both Ahmarian and Levantine Aurignacian industries. The Ahmarian horizons at Tor Hamar and Tor Aeid most likely date from about 38,000 to 29,000 bp, whereas Jebel Ḥumeima's Levantine Aurignacian occupation may be somewhat younger. The Upper Paleolithic deposits, formed of pinkish silt, yielded pollen that traced a succession from slightly humid conditions (represented by trees and grasses) to drier conditions (defined by desert shrubs).


About 40 percent of the sites encompassed by this research belong to the Epipaleolithic, an interval of considerable cultural-historic complexity. Five cultural-historic complexes (Qalkhan, Kebaran, Geometric Kebaran, Mushabian, and Natufian) were identified, with the Qalkhan being newly defined and unique to southern Jordan. At a more specific taxonomic level, new industries were identified within the Kebaran (Early Hamran), Geometric Kebaran (Middle, Late, and Final Hamaran), and the Mushabian (Madamaghan).

  • 1. Qalkhan occupations. Characterized by a large triangular point type, Qalkhan occupations have been recovered from several sites, including Tor Hamar. The industry has been fixed stratigraphically between Upper Paleolithic and Kebaran horizons at the site of Wadi Aoud, in area B (although without radiometric dates).
  • 2. Kebaran complex occupations. Represented by Early Hamran assemblages, Kebaran occupations were identified in the stratified deposits of several rockshelter sites, of which the most important are Jebel Hamra and Jebel Misraq. Dated to between 18,000 and 15,000 BP, these occupations were linked to quite moist conditions, as indicated by high frequencies of tree (especially oak) and grass pollen.
  • 3. Geometric Kebaran complex occupations. Represented by Middle, Late, and Final Hamran assemblages, Geometric Kebaran occupations occur within several stratified rockshelter deposits adjacent to Pleistocene lake beds in the lowlands, as well as in open-air sites in the uplands. The most important of these include Jebel Hamra, Qa Salab, and el-Quweira. The cultural-stratigraphic sequences tracing the Late and Final Hamran at Qa Salab and el-Quweira are of special significance: they show a progressive change in diagnostic microlithic artifacts—lunates replace trapeze-rectangles—that suggests an age immediately preceding the Natufian (i.e., 14,000–13,000 bp). Pollen evidence indicates that dry conditions during the Middle Hamran (c. 15,000–14,000 bp) were followed by warm, moist conditions during the Late Hamran—which, in turn, were replaced by dry, cold conditions during the Final Hamran.
  • 4. Natufian Complex. Represented by early (Wadi Judaiyid) and late (Wadi Aoud, area A) phases of occupations, the Natufian deposit at Wadi Judaiyid yielded rich flint and bone assemblages radiometrically dated to about 12,500 bp. It is one of the earliest Natufian sites yet recorded. The presence of wild sheep remains in the deposit is also noteworthy, for this significantly extends the species's known biogeographic range. Paleoenvironmental data point to an initial extension of the dry, cold conditions of the Final Hamran followed by climatic amelioration and a return to drier conditions during the Late Natufian (after c. 11,000 bp).

Neolithic and Chalcolithic.

The Neolithic is poorly represented in the research area, but Chalcolithic sites dating to about 6,000 bp are common. These sites reflect an economy based on pastoral nomadism following a transhumant settlement strategy. Material culture inventories include a wide range of ground stone, worked bone, pottery, and a microlithic flint industry. Stone-lined pit houses and stone corrals occur at several sites, the most important of which include Jebel el-Jill and Jebel Queisa.


  • Henry, Donald O. “The Prehistory of Southern Jordan and Relationships with the Levant.” Journal of Field Archaeology 9 (1982): 417–444. Summary of the initial stages of research and a description of the finds for each of the major Paleolithic periods, with comparisons to those in the rest of the Levant.
  • Henry, Donald O., and Priscilla F. Turnbull. “Archaeological and Faunal Evidence from Natufian and Timnian Sites in Southern Jordan.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 257 (1985): 45–64. Site reports for Jebel el-Jill, Jebel Queisa (Chalcolithic-Timnian), and Wadi Judaiyid (Natufian).
  • Henry, Donald O. “Topographic Influences on Epipaleolithic Land-Use Patterns in Southern Jordan.” In Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan, vol. 3, edited by Adnan Hadidi, pp. 21–27. Amman, 1987. A pattern of transhumance reconstructed for the Epipaleolithic by comparing cultural and natural data linked to numerous sites.
  • Henry, Donald O. “Summary of Prehistoric and Paleoenvironmental Research in the Northern Hisma.” In The Prehistory of Jordan, edited by Andrew N. Garrard and Hans G. Gebel, pp. 7–37. British Archaeological Reports, International Series, no. 396.1. Oxford, 1988. Detailed description of the cultural-historical units, diagnostic artifacts, chronology, and paleoenvironmental reconstructions.
  • Henry, Donald O., and Andrew N. Garrard. “Tor Hamar: An Epipaleolithic Rockshelter in Southern Jordan.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 120 (1988): 1–25. Detailed description of the newly found Mushabian presence in southern Jordan; includes a discussion of its relationship to occupations in the Negev and Sinai deserts and early evidence for the use of the bow and arrow.
  • Henry, Donald O. “The Epipaleolithic Sequence within the Ras En Naqb-El Quweira Area, Southern Jordan.” Paléorient 14.2 (1988): 245–256. Paris, 1990. In-depth discussion of the complex and richly diverse Epipaleolithic period, along with an organizational framework for the various archaeological units.
  • Henry, Donald O. “Transhumance during the Late Levantine Mousterian.” In The Middle Paleolithic: Adaptation, Behavior, and Variability, edited by Harold L. Dibble and Paul Mellars, pp. 143–162. Philadelphia, 1992. Compares the Middle Paleolithic sites of Tor Faraj and Tor Sabiha, emphasizing reconstructing settlement-procurement strategies and hominid cognitive development.
  • Henry, Donald O. “Prehistoric Cultural Ecology in Southern Jordan.” Science 265 (1994): 336–341. Stresses the importance of seasonal shifts in surface water and temperature in defining prehistoric settlement patterns.
  • Henry, Donald O. Prehistoric Cultural Ecology and Evolution: Insights from Southern Jordan. New York, 1995. Detailed overview of the research in the area conducted between 1979 and 1988.

Donald O. Henry