site located 4.5 km (2.8 mi.) north of Petra, 33 km (20 mi.) from Ma῾in, 101 km (63 mi.) from ῾Aqaba, and 180 km (112 mi.) from Amman in southern Jordan. It lies along a 4-kilometer-wide shelf comprised of alluvial valleys interspersed between steeply faced Cambrian sandstone outcrops. This north-south shelf interrupts an abrupt westerly descent from the Jordanian plateau to the lowlands of the Wadi ῾Arabah, where elevations drop from 1,600 m to fewer than 200 m within a distance of 16 km (10 mi.). The site's elevation is 1,020 m, on and within a remnant terrace formed by alluviation of the Wadi el-Ghurab. A thick sequence of cultural and noncultural deposits, up to 6 m deep, accumulated. Three periods of human occupation were identified; a Natufian encampment (primarily during the eleventh millennium BCE), a Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) village (during the seventh millennium), and terraced Nabatean agricultural fields (second century BCE—first century CE).
Beidha, initially called Seyl Aqlat, was discovered by Diana Kirkbride with the aid of B'dul bedouin during a 1956 reconnaissance survey for sites predating the ceramic Neolithic in the Petra area. Stone walls and early Neolithic flints eroding out of the upper talus slope of a seasonal drainage, and white-patinated Natufian artifacts farther downslope revealed the site's research potential. Kirkbride excavated the site for eight seasons; seven between 1958 and 1967 and a final one In 1983. She supervised the excavations, and a series of assistants directly supervised local workers, starting In 1963. The digging was conducted primarily by trained Jericho men using a hand pick and a trowel.
Excavations exposed 54 sq m of the Natufian occupation, revealing a maximum thickness of 0.6 m of cultural deposits that thinned along the margins. The Natufian occupation, consisting primarily of small lithics, faunal remains, and small hearths and large roasting pits, appears to have been a short-term or seasonal campsite that was occupied repeatedly over a considerable period of time. Minimal evidence of plant processing was discovered, there was an absence of features such as buildings, storage facilities, and burials.
The PPNB settlement lies on top of the alluvial terrace. It consists of a small, low tell more than 3 m thick, along with a shallower deposit of associated cultural material beyond the limits of the village. Excavations exposed 1,425 sq m of Neolithic deposits and sixty-five buildings (1,050 sq m and sixty-one buildings within the limits of the tell, and 375 sq m of indeterminate Neolithic deposits outside the tell, including four buildings and a series of related features 40 m farther east). Final Neolithic stratigraphic modeling distinguished three main phases associated with well-preserved buildings and abundant artifacts on their floors (including bone tools, flaked stone tools, ground-stone axes, pestles, stone grinders, stone beads, raw materials, and subsistence remains, including gazelle, goat, cattle, cereals, legumes, and pistachios). These data allowed for considerable insight into the spatial organization of an Early Neolithic village.
The Neolithic village appears to have been continuously occupied, during which time a unique, indigenous architectural progression took place from clusters of oval post houses, through individual oval and subrectangular buildings, and ultimately to full rectangular buildings complete with two stories (with an open upper story and a basement consisting of a long corridor and up to seven very small rooms).
Initially, the Early Neolithic village consisted of open courtyard spaces and small aggregates of buildings. The distribution of buildings became more compacted over time, and open space was limited to a central courtyard. The earliest buildings were simply organized, interior structural features were absent, and storage and production shared an undifferentiated space used for eating, receiving guests, and sleeping. Production and storage became more spatially segregated within domestic dwellings over time. Interior architectural features increased in frequency and diversity, focusing activities and storage in particular locations within domestic buildings. Storage and production areas were ultimately restricted to the basements of the two-story domestic buildings.
Larger, distinct, nondomestic structures were centrally situated throughout the village's history. They were inferred to have been the venue of suprahousehold decision making and related ceremonial activities. Five uniquely constructed medium-sized buildings off-site were also interpreted as nondomestic, possibly associated with aspects of the rich ideological and ritual tradition that flourished during the PPNB.
Research at this Early Neolithic village has provided considerable insights into how one small community attempted to embrace the social and economic changes initiated by sedentarism and food production.
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- Rollefson, Gary O., Alan H. Simmons, and Zeidan A. Kafafi. “Neolithic Cultures at ῾Ain Ghazal, Jordan.” Journal of Field Archaeology 19 (1992): 443–470.
- Wilson, Peter. The Domestication of the Human Species. New Haven, 1988.
Brian F. Byrd