Figure 2. Simplified geological map of the survey area.

 

Ba'ja 2012
Abiotic Resources and Early Neolithic Raw Material Procurement in the
Greater Petra Area (ARGPA) - Research Aims and First Results

Christoph Purschwitz, Free University of Berlin
 
Ba'ja 2012: Abiotic Resources and Early Neolithic Raw Material Procurement in the Greater Petra Area (ARGPA) - Research Aims and First Results
Flint Raw Material Sources of the Near Eastern Neolithic: A Neglected Area of Research

 

 

Introduction

The Ba'ja Neolithic Project's 10th field season was carried out between September 3rd and October 5th, 2012, under the joint directorship of Hans Georg K. Gebel and Christoph Purschwitz, in cooperation with the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, and under the auspices of ex oriente e.V. at Free University of Berlin. The season's main works included:

  • a flint raw material survey of the local and regional vicinities/ catchment areas of major PPNB sites (Ail 4, Basta, Beidha, Ba'ja, and Shkarat Msaied; directed by C. Purschwitz) and
  • an analysis of raw materials and manufacturing traces of the LPPNB Ba'ja sandstone rings (see Michelis et al. 2013; supervised by H.G.K. Gebel)

Archaeological and environmental investigations in the Greater Petra Region have been carried out continuously since 1981. The initial phase (Phase 1) of investigations started with a palaeo-ecological research project (1981-1985, the Palaeoenvironmental Investigations of the Greater Petra Area - PIGPA, e.g. Gebel 1988, 1990; Gebel and Starck 1985) and later led to the excavations of LPPNB Basta (1986-1992, the Basta Joint Archaeological Project; e.g. Nissen et al. 2004, Gebel et al. 2006) and LPPNB Ba'ja (1997-present, the Ba'ja Neolithic Project; e.g. Gebel et al. 1997, Gebel and Hermansen 2004, Gebel et al. 2006, Gebel and Kinzel 2007, Purschwitz and Kinzel 2007, Gebel 2010a, and other). These excavations represented Phase 2 of the Neolithic investigations in the
Greater Petra-Area, mainly aimed to broaden the empirical basis for the Neolithic material cultures. Phase 3, to which already the 2012 investigations belong, are aiming to "translate" empirical data according to their social, economic and ideological relevance (i.e. commodification research sensu Gebel 2010b).

These excavations - as well as the investigation of the MPPNB sites of Beidha (Byrd 2005) and Shkarat Msaied (Hermansen et al. 2006; Hoffmann Jensen 2004; Kinzel et al. 2011) - yielded comprehensive artifact collections of a rich material diversity that now allow us to start the sub-project Abiotic Resources in the Greater Petra Area – ARGPA, directed by the author. The project aims at mapping the local and regional availability of abiotic (mineral) resources in the Greater Petra Region as well as investigating possible strategies by which these raw materials may have been procured and capitalized during in the Neolithic Period; it also considers, of course, traded mineral raw materials (i.e. the supra-regional contexts). Combined with information gathered in previous project phases on the flora and fauna (Phase I, cf. PIGPA), on subsistence strategies and the economic and social structures (Phase II, the Ba'ja and Basta Projects), the ARGPA project seeks to reconstruct the abiotic catchment areas of the Early Neolithic sites in the Greater Petra Region (Ba'ja, Basta, Beidha and Shkarat Msaied, among others) in order to understand the territorial interaction behind the procurement strategies and their socioeconomic importance for the individual sites (see also Gebel 2010b, forthcoming).

 

 
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Christoph Purschwitz, Ba'ja 2012: Abiotic Resources and Early Neolithic Raw Material Procurement in the Greater Petra Area (ARGPA) - Research Aims and First Results, Neo-Lithics 1/2013: 3-10.  

Flint Raw Material Sources of the Near Eastern Neolithic: A Neglected Area of Research

Although chipped lithics are the most abundant artifacts found at Near Eastern Early Neolithic sites, raw material provenance is a generally neglected research topic (Delage 2007; Gebel 2007), with the exception of some obsidian studies. One of the reasons for this undervaluation or oversight may in fact be the superabundance of suitable raw materials – such as cherts or flints – in most of Levant´s regions, which makes the identification of those specific outcrops which were exploited in prehistoric periods like looking for a needle in a haystack. Thus only a few primary source areas have been identified to date in Southern Levant: those at Wadi Huweijir (Quintero 2011), Ramat Tamar (Schyle 2007), Nahal Dishon (Barkai and Gopher 2001) and Jabal Jiththa (Muheisen et al. 2004).

Discussion of flint sources in the literature on the Greater Petra Region are likewise scarce. Mortensen (1970: 14-15) mentions outcroppings in the Shara Mountains to the East of Neolithic Beidha as a source of the tabular flint used at Beidha. An abundance of secondary flint sources in the site's immediate vicinity, at Wadi al-Garab and Wadi Beidha, have also been noted (Kirkbride 1966; Mortensen 1970; Gebel 1990, pers. comm.). A small flint raw material survey was carried out in the course of the Basta excavation (Muheisen et al. 2004). Primary flint sources have been identified at 'Ain Abu Id al-Idham (Flint Raw Material Group 1), 5-7 km south of Basta, and at Jabal Jiththa, some 6-7 km to the east. At both of these sites scattered knapping debris was found, including a prevalence of products of bidirectional core preparation (Muheisen et al. 2004: 135).

According to geological maps of the Greater Petra Region, flint concretions can be embedded in several Cretaceous to Tertiary geological formations (Baaske 2005; Barjous 1988, 1995; Bender 1968; Kherfan 1998; Tarawneh 2002; see also the Wadi al-Hasa Chert Survey: Olszewski and Schurmans 2007). The Eocene Umm Rijam Chert formation (URC) and the Santonian to Campanian Amman Silicified Limestone formation (ASL) are described as abundant in flint layers, while others such as the Na'ur Limestone (NL, Cenomanian), Wadi as-Sir Limestone (WSL, Turonian), Wadi Umm Ghudran (WG, Coniacian-Santonian), Al-Hisa Phosphorite (AHP, Campanian-Maastrichtian) and the Muwaqqar Chalk Marl formations (MCM, Maastrichtian-Paleocene) can also bear flint concretions, although only in minor quantities.

 

Research Objectives and Methodology

The survey for flint sources that could have been used by Early Neolithic settlers focused on key areas in the local and regional vicinity of the major PPNB sites of Ail 4, Basta, Beidha, Ba'ja, and Shkarat Msaied. The survey areas were chosen according to their geological settings and their distance and accessibility from these settlement sites. The survey was carried out by walking
transects through potentially flint-bearing geological formations (see above). Sources and outcrops of flint and other knappable rocks (such as quartzites) were recorded as sample points. Each sample point was recorded by GPS, photographs and a site description. The descriptions included a classification of the site (primary source, secondary source, extraction site, knapping ground, etc.), a source description, a classification of the associated artifacts found there and an estimation of their number, and a description of the raw materials (Raw Material Group, color pattern, shape, dimensions, texture, cortex features, and, for primary sources, geological contexts). When possible, raw material samples were taken for petrographical analysis.

The raw material classification system used in this analysis follows the system established at Neolithic Basta (Muheisen et al. 2004; see Gebel 1994). This system classifies the raw materials according to their mineral or rock qualities into chert / flint1, obsidian, quartzite, orthoquartzite, limestone, or other such classifications. Flint is additionally classified according
to macroscopic qualities such as color pattern, translucency, texture, qualities of natural surfaces, nodule shapes, etc. into the various Flint Raw Material Groups (FRMG). At Basta, nine different groups (FRMG 1 to FRMG 9) have been distinguished; two additional groups were established for flints that occur in minor quantities and do not match the nine groups (FRMG 45) or are determined to be thermally altered flints (FRMG 48) (for the detailed description of each FRMG, see Muheisen et al. 2004). These classifications have been modified and new FRMGs have been
added since the first analyses of chipped lithic collections from Ba'ja, Beidha, Ail 4, and Shkarat Msaied. For instance, FRMG 5 at Basta and Ba'ja differs in the color pattern and has been split into two subgroups, FRMG 5a2 ('B'ja-type') and FRMG 5b ('Basta-type'). Similarly, FRMG 3 hast been divided at Ba'ja into the subgroups FRMG 3b ('brecciated'), FRMG 3d ('dull'), FRMG 3g ('glossy/waxy'), and FRMG 3p ('phosphatic (?) inclusions'). Two new FRMGs have been added to classify flints found in abundance at Shkarat Msaied (FRMG 10)3 and Ail 4 (FRMG 11)4.

Specifically, the abiotic resources survey had the following objective: Mapping of regional geological formations determined to be potential Early Neolithic abiotic (especially flint) raw material sources. The mapping aims to:

a) record the location, extent and quality of flint raw materials available at each site (according to the flint raw material classification established for Basta, cf. Muheisen et al. 2004)

b) identify evidence of Neolithic exploitation, procurement, or mining, including the modes and extent of extraction, the presence of workshops and evidence of initial stages of production and processing at the raw material source.

 

Preliminary Results of the 2012 Flint Raw Material Survey

64 sample points have been recorded and about 230 flint samples were taken (Fig. 1-2). Several FRMGs could be identified within their primary geological cortex; these include: FRMG 1, FRMG 2, FRMG 3b, FRMG 3d, FRMG 3p, FRMG 4, FRMG 5a, FRMG 5b, FRMG 8, FRMG 9, and FRMG 11.

According to the survey, the most abundant primary sources for high-quality flint are located within the URC formations. In the Greater Petra Area these can be found as relicts on the eastern slopes of Wadi Araba (e.g. Wadi Namela; Jabal Abu Sawwan) and in the eastern part of the survey region (e.g. Jabal Jiththa, Jabal Abu Id al-Idham, Jabal at-Tahuna, Jabal Abu Diyya). Generally, the surface coverage of URC formations increases to the east in the Jordanian Highlands and predominates in the lithological landscape around Ma'an and east of Shawbak.

FRMGs which have been identified at URC include: FRMG 1, FRMG 2, FRMG 3p, FRMG 4, FRMG 5a, FRMG 5b, and FRMG 9. URC flint types are often lenticular-nodular in shape, and measure up to one meter in length (e.g. Jabal Jiththa). Tabular flint layers are also very common, ranging between a few centimeters and 30 centimeters in thickness, though these are often of poorer quality than the nodular flints. Their color ranges from brown to pale brown and can also appear brownish-grey, dark brown or blackish-brown. The texture is variable, ranging from extra-fine-grained to coarse-grained. Often there are inclusions of small gastropods or lime pieces, both of which are macroscopically visible as white spots and are characteristic of FRMGs 1, 5a, and 9. Some flint types, such as FRMG 3p, have dark inclusions of yet unknown mineral composition,while others are often devoid of inclusions, particularly FRMGs 2 and FRMG 4. The cortex of the primary sources is predominantly composed of coarse, scratchable lime or, rarely, of soft chalk and ranges in thickness between very thin layers of 0.1milimeters to thicker layers of 2 to 3 millimeters.

 

Fig. 3: Initial platform spalls (b, c), platform trimming flake (d) and unfinished celt/adze (a) from Braq al-Jiththa.

 

Although the region under investigation is relatively small, local differences among the URC flints are nonetheless apparent. Tabular chocolate-brown flints (FRMG 2) have been found only in a very limited area at Jabal Jiththa. These are not in primary positions but rather embedded in Pleistocene Lake sediments, which are assumed to have been deposited between 110.000 and 40.000 BP (Moumani et al. 2003; Moumani pers. comm.). Given that these flints still have primary cortex without batterings or abrasions, which indicates a wadi transport, it seems likely that they were previously embedded in younger, nowadays completely eroded strata of the URC. Flints of FRMG 5 were also found only in specific locations. Small amounts of flint of FRMG 5b were found at ash-Shawbak (Sample Point 030) and flint of FRMG 5b was found only at Wadi Meshabel, near Jabal Abu Sawwan (Sample Points 062-064), and not in any of the other URC outcrops surveyed. Similarly, flint of FRMG 1 abounds in the Jabal Abu Idal-Idham region, where other URC flints are very rare. Other primary sources of good quality flints can be found at the Amman Silicified Limestone formation (ASL), although in lesser amounts than at the URC. The flint types of the ASL and the URC can be distinguished according to their color and inclusions. Good quality flints in the ASL correspond to FRMG 3d and FRMG 11and have been found at Jabal Shara, Shawbak and Wadi Namela. These flints are nodular in shape and show hues ranging from dull grey (FRMG 3) to very pale yellowish-brown (FRMG 11) and often present concentric bands with darker hues in the nodule center and lighter hues towards the cortex. Flints of FRMGs 3 and 11 are medium- to extra-fine-grained and are almost completely devoid of inclusions and impurities. Where primary cortex is present, it is predominantly smooth and very thin (0.1mm). However, most of the ASL flints surveyed are poor in quality, with many cracks and natural clefts; auto-brecciated tabular flints of FRMG 3b and FRMG 8 predominate. This applies in particular to the ASL layers in the Rift Valley zone, which have undergone heavy tectonic faulting.

In other geological formations, flints have either not been found at all (NL, WSL), or have been found only in small numbers (WG, AHP, MCM). In these cases, the flints often did not correspond to any existing FRMG. Another type knappable rock which is found in most PPNB sites of the Greater Petra Area is quartzite. In this survey, quartzite was frequently found in the Al Hisa Phosphorite Formation, often cropping out in banked layers of 20-30 cm in thickness. Additionally, boulders of similar size are found on the surface of AHP slopes or in the fills of nearby wadis. The color of these quartzites ranges from grey to pale brown and reddish, with brown hues predominating.

Although orthoquartzite is found at the sites of Basta, Ba'ja, Ail 4, Beidha and Shkarat Msaied, no primary or secondary sources of orthoquartzite could be identified in this survey. According to Wilke et al. (2007:194), orthoquartzite used at 'Ain Jammam may have been derived from the massive Disi sandstone formations, and small relicts of orthoquartzite sandstone can be found in the vicinity of Basta and Ail.

One focus of the raw material survey was to search the vicinity of these potential primary sources for scatterings of artifacts which could be evidence of Early Neolithic flint procurement. Although flint artifacts of other periods – ranging from the Lower to the Upper Paleolithic Period to the Chalcolithic/EBA – were commonly found at the source sites, there was little evidence of Early Neolithic presence.

The only evidence of Early Neolithic use of raw materials at these primary source sites was found at Jabal Jiththa, at a large testing site identified in 2003 by H.G.K. Gebel after a notice received by Khairiyah Amr (cf. Muheisen et al. 2004). Although this site has been heavily damaged and a portion of it – of yet unknown extent – has been destroyed by a modern limestone quarry, there is still a large amount of knapping waste scattered on the surface north of a small natural pool (Braq al-Jiththa). These knapping products consist of tested raw material chunks, initial platform spalls and platform trimming flakes, and one unfinished celt/adze (Fig. 3). The raw material used in these products is overwhelmingly flint of FRMG 2, with smaller amounts of flint belonging to FRMG 1, both which can be found abundantly in chunks in the Pleistocene lake sediments (cf. above). The choice of raw material and the technotypological features of these knapping products highly matches the initial stages of bidirectional blade core preparation at nearby LPPNB Basta (e.g. Gebel 1996); it is very likely that Jiththa was one of the procurement areas for this raw material (cf. Muheisen et al. 2004).

An intensified survey around Jabal Jiththa revealed a second surface scatter of bidirectional blade production. Some 800m to the north of Braq al-Jiththa, at Wadi al-Hassiya, by-products of bidirectional blade core preparation (platform trimming flakes, initial platform spalls) associated with products of core reduction (exhausted cores, core tablets) have been found. These
findings include evidence of the early and later stages of the chaîne opératoire of bidirectional blade production. However, smaller byproducts of core reduction – e.g. small flakes and small blades – have not been found.

 

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank our project partner, the Jordanian Department of Antiquities for their support of our research and particularly H.G.K. Gebel for assisting and consulting me in all stages of organizing and accomplishing of this field season.

The survey was supported by ex oriente e.V. at Free University of Berlin and a travel grant from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). We are particularly grateful to Ingo Saynisch (Quedlinburg); without his generous grant this field research would not have been possible.

We greatly appreciated the collaboration of Nils Rhensius (of Free University Berlin), Amer Salah Abdo al-Souliman (of the Hashemite University Jordan) and Tristan Michiels (of the University of Leuven, Belgium), which resulted in a separate article (Michiels et al. 2013).

Finally, we offer our heartfelt gratitude to Talal Hamad and Lafi Hamad al-Amareen and their family for their generous hospitality and kind support, and to Khalid Moumani of the National Resource Authority of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan for his petrographic expertise and assistance in our research. The English was kindly edited by Conor McNally.

 

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Fig. 1: General map of the survey area with major PPNB sites and the position of sample points (crosses) and the survey tracks (black lines). (map: N. Rhensius; field record: C. Purschwitz, N. Rhensius, A. al-Suleiman).

 

Fig. 2: Simplified geological map of the survey area.

 

   
   
     
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