The 1997 Season at Ba'ja, Southern Jordan

Hans Georg K. Gebel, Free University of Berlin
Hans-Dieter Bienert, German Protestant Institute of Archaeology, Dept. Amman


The 1997 Season at Ba'ja, Southern Jordan

Architecture and Stratigraphy (Fig. 5)

As said before, only Squares C1-2, C11-12, C21-22 and C31-32 contained well preserved architecture, of a terraced housing similar to a pueblo-type layout with some true two-storied structures (at least in the westernmost rooms of C21). The top of the wall ruins occurred just below the surface or were ex-posed on surface. The easternmost chain of small rooms in C2 and C12 represent rooms with no second story. Here, the floor plans of rooms tend to be polygonal, which must be an adaptation to the contour lines of the slope in order to establish some sort of structural stability. At least the westernmost rooms seem to have been dug into the sterile layers (near-top traces of carbonization) underneath, on which the floors were made of a cobble bed with superimposed whitish (lime?) plaster. At least at one spot it became clear that walls were (also or generally?) founded on such floors, without any further foundation! The principal rooms in the excavated area are between more or less rectangular and thus probably planned on even terraces. They are expected to have a deeper stratigraphy and be partly two storied. Terrace walls clearly exist (e.g. the one running NNW-ESE in C11/Cl, or the one N-S and somewhat bent in C12/C2). Their structural engineering did not differ much from ordinary walls, although they were somewhat thicker. This might have caused stability problems; for example, the terrace wall in C11/Cl was reinforced by a second wall to the west. Since that action did not seem to provide a reasonable stability for the terrace, two additional buttresses were added, partly built over the first reinforcement wall.

The uppermost stratigraphy are room fills of colluvial origin, succeeded by mixed layers built up from collapsed roofs, plaster flows and wall stones that tumbled from the wall tops. Only below that (and sometimes still embedded) we found the first in situ layers, much of which represented the activities of dwellers using the ruins as shelters. Below this kind of deposit the first floors of the upper occupation occurred, but they were not reached in all the rooms/ squares this season. As of yet, no detailed information can be given on the deeper stratigraphy in the excavated area. In general, we are dealing in the excavated area with one main building phase so far (Fig. 5), which shows alterations of an original groundplan by added walls and reinforcements, blockings and insertions of wall openings, and the possible adding of another story in C21. These subphases seem to represent locally restricted changes, possibly related to social reasons. The western rooms in C21 so far are a special case: an opening in a lower lying wall was blocked before the height was increased by a superimposed wall, leaving a step between both faces. This step possibly supported the beam of an uppermost floor; its height coincides with the top of a western partition wall, too. The room below had red-stained wall plaster and contained two fallen elongated stones, the possible lintels.
We cannot identify yet functional units. But - with reference to groundplans in Basta and 'Ain Jammam - there are reasons for the assumption that we have two building units in the excavation area that roughly follow the scheme of a central courtyard with adjacent small rooms. These courtyards are probably represented by the large spaces mostly covered by C11 and C21/C32. In C11 we found a sequence of fire places, a stone-lined structure with an inserted grinding slab, many manos (food-processing area), and a large amount of sandstone disks ready to be transformed into stone rings (production of this prestige good on a household-level). Another obvious zone of activities is represented with the chain of small rooms in the east of C2/ C13/ C23: here the sherds of many ovens were found, together with many animal bones and ashes. Most likely the ashes here were disposed downslope, a feature quite common for the tabun areas in the fringes of present-day traditional villages in the region. The large space in C21/C32 has not reached depths to identify the character of activities.

We did not find burials in the architecture yet, but most probably we have to expect them eventually. Human remains were encountered among the garbage deposits in Test Unit 2 in the "Snake Valley" north of the site (just 30-40m north of the excavated area).

Openings in the walls served as communication passages and possibly also played a role in climate control in the building. Some were found blocked again (functional changes). It should not be excluded that a lower room, such as in the west of C21, may have had a cellar-like character, protecting its inhabitants from heat, for example. Other communication may have occurred via the roofs of the terraced housing, which may have represented the "public" spaces of the settlement.

An pre-planned, intentional ground plan seems to be inherent in the architecture. Only topographical adaptation forced alteration of preconceived layout ideas, a feature which is also well attested with 'Ain Jammam's architecture, the closest parallel in that respect to Ba'ja, As suggested by the site survey, the directions of walls did not necessarily follow contour lines; most likely long-used major walls served as stable compound and terrace/ retaining walls for the terraced architecture, and this explains that both social and physical topography were elements of planning and spatial stability.

The walls techniques are the same as attested with other LPPNB sites. Walls were double-faced and made of local tabular (sandstone) slabs that were dressed roughly "if necessary"; the courses were stabilized by "interwedged" smaller stones. The erection of walls and their wall faces was executed with great care, even in most cases to be very "aesthetic". On the other hand, they lacked bonding with joining walls and thus lacked stability, for example; also, they did not contain headers so that the two wall faces could easily fall apart. The latter clearly can be seen in Squares C1 and C2, where the southern walls are just preserved by one face. The "half" wall part in the southwestern corner of C2 gives evidence for walls sliding down the slope, a feature that might support the "sliding-down" option to explain for the site preservation in its lower thirds (see above). Functional reasons and changes, as well as the (non-) employment for specialists, might have been responsible for the variation in wall face quality. All stages of care are attested, "ending" with rough cobble-faced walls as the "poorest" quality Squares C3 and C13 had no preserved architecture. The sterile fine-grained layers where found immediately under the colluvial material (see above). A sharp erosional cut through both the sterile layers and the rooms dug into these layers indicates that here and for this level we should reconstruct just the appropriate room, but no more stone architecture existed further to the east/ downslope. If architecture existed further downslope at all, it must have been dug into lower levels. This discussion nicely illustrates the instability of architecture in the many slope settings of Ba'ja, and the resulting problems of intra-site extension of land property.



Fig. 4: Excavation in Area C seen from N (photo: Gebel).




Fig. 5: Neolithic Ba'ja: stairwell in Area C with walls preserved up to 4.16m. cphoto by H.G.K. Gebel

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