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 Wadi Ziqlab Project


Since 1987, the Wadi Ziqlab Project, directed by Ted Banning of the University of Toronto, has conducted archaeological survey and excavation of Epipalaeolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic, and Early Bronze Age sites in northern Jordan, following initial survey in 1981 and test excavations in 1986.


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View of Wadi Ziqlab from WZ 120, Tell Rakan, with the Jordan Valley in the distance. The Late Neolithic site, WZ 135, lies on the green terrace at the left edge of the photo.

One of the most striking and, indeed, surprising things about the archaeology of Jordan and some other parts of the Near East is that repeated surveys and excavations give the impression of an almost cyclical rise and fall of complex cultures. Apparent gaps in occupation, centuries in duration, are common in Levantine archaeological sequences in spite of the fact that most of the territories these cultures exploited are highly productive and must almost always have been attractive places for settlement, at least during the Holocene. Nelson Glueck long ago expressed interest in these apparent gaps in the southern Levant, even with particular reference to Wadi Ziqlab:

The general absence of surface finds of pottery fragments of a particular period in a comparatively large number of sites in the same general area, may indicate a complete or almost complete absence of sedentary agricultural civilization during that period, or a very severe set-back to the extant civilization, resulting in a radical diminution of permanent settlements, a drastic change in its character and influence, and the reverting or introducing of the largest part of its population to a state of nomadic or semi-nomadic existence (Glueck, 1951: 195).

Why would Neolithic, Early Bronze Age, early Mediaeval and early modern populations each build and subsequently give up flourishing agricultural communities in a relatively rich environment such as that of Wadi Ziqlab?
A number of possible sources of cultural disruption may have something to do with the apparent fluctuations in settlement density, and Glueck implicates several of these. Hypotheses that account for apparent abandonment of these territories by climatic fluctuations have been common, but not often well founded on palaeoclimatic evidence from the Near East. The number of publications charging migrations and conquests with responsibility for the disruption of settlement exceeds the evidence that large population replacements occurred, and begs the question of why the migrations occurred in the first place. Epidemics may be plausible sources of depopulation in some instances (Brothwell, 1967; McNeill, 1976). In others it is possible that the failure of existing social or political organizations to deal with long-term increases in population density and economic complexity led to "crashes" back to more dispersed populations and less highly integrated economies (cf. Renfrew 1978; 1979).

A number of alternative hypotheses that warrant investigation concern the possibility that the abandonments never happened. There may be biases in our survey methods or errors in our chronologies or, during some periods, there may have been very friable pots or no pottery at all. As Ian Morris (1987: 162-67) suggests in the case of parts of seventh-century Greece, apparent gaps could result from something as simple as a lower visibility of pottery, as occurs when there are few "diagnostic" types or when the bulk of the pottery types changes only very slowly.

Three hypotheses have been the focus for most of our research in Wadi Ziqlab and neighbouring Wadi Taiyiba. The first is that environmental change, including human modifications to the natural environment through agricultural and pastoral strategies, sometimes contributed to the downfall of agricultural villages and towns in the southern Levant (Rollefson, 1989; Butzer, 1971; 1982). Another is that the apparent gaps in settlement are periods when the settlement system was dominated by small, temporary sites of low visibility and obtrusiveness, as might happen during a shift from agricultural to pastoral subsistence, or in periods during which the favored sites for settlement were, not large villages on highly visible hills, but small hamlets or farmsteads in locations of low visibility, especially in valley bottoms that have accumulated deep sediments during the last two millennia. The third is that the gaps in settlement are more apparent than real, and due to biases in archaeological data recovery in the Levant. For example, our recent surveys in places where we could expect Epipalaeolithic sites to be buried under colluvium have led to an increase in the number of known sites from zero to at least seven.

Consequently, much of our work has been focussed on the discovery and investigation of small Epipalaeolithic, Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic sites in locations of poor visibility in Wadi Ziqlab's drainage basin. It has also involved comparison of our results with the distribution of known sites elsewhere in the southern Levant.

Field Research Publications Ted Banning UofT Anthropology
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