The Year 2000 Season of Excavation at Late PPNB Ba'ja

Hans Georg K. Gebel and Bo Dahl Hermansen
(Institut für Vorderasiatische Altertumskunde, Freie Universität Berlin; Carsten Niebuhr Institute, Copenhagen University)


Short Report on the 1999 Season


The third season of excavations at the early Neolithic mountain village of Ba'ja, Petra-Region, was carried out in collaboration with the Department of Antiquities, Amman, under the auspices of ex oriente at the Free University of Berlin. It lasted from 5 April - 15 May, 2000. Director of the Ba'ja Neolithic Project is Hans Georg K. Gebel, the deputy director is Bo Dahl Hermansen (The first campaign of large-scale excavations in 1997 was carried out under the auspices of the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology at Amman and ex oriente, in collaboration with the German Archaeological Institute Berlin, Orient-Abteilung.). A team of 24-27 members from 8 countries supported the success of the 2000 excavations. Up to 25 workmen from local tribes joined the efforts with dedicated cooperation. In the 2000 season, wall conservation was started with the support of the German Foreign Ministry, Berlin; the work of the Swiss conservator Ueli Bellwald, working at Petra, was essential for the preservation and removal of an unexpected fresco. Important reports so far include Gebel et al 1997; Gebel and Hermansen 1999; Hermansen and Gebel 2000; and Gebel et al. n.d.

Ba'ja gained more importance in both academic and non-academic consideration of Near Eastern neolithisation, especially because of its unique and dramatic setting (Fig. 1) as well as the extraordinary finds of the spring season in 2000. Enclosed by vertical gorges and rock formations, the site covers ca. 1.2-1.5 ha on a steeply sloped intramontane basin at 1140-1175 m a.s.l. The basin is completely covered by a pueblo-like architecture, extending out onto flat bedrock areas at the site‘s fringes. The 2000 season showed that all the space on the steep-sloped terrain was densely built by early Neolithic man. The settlement has only one "comfortable" access, through a gorge incised as deep as 70 m into the sandstone mountains and today filled with huge fallen rocks that require ropes or ladders to pass through. The conditions of excavations are severe and more dangerous than usual, and this requires a special consideration for project logistics. To maintain two camps (base camp and dig camp) is a logistic necessity, requiring a special person (logistics director: Jürgen Baumgarten).

Here we only can present a brief summary of the major results of 2000. Even after the third season we obtained more spectacular and unexpected results, from which we can generate essential and new research strategies, proving a hitherto inexhaustible potential for early Neolithic insights at Ba'ja in the southern Levant. In general, we did not reach the stage in the fieldwork in which we reproduced results already obtained in previous campaigns.

From the material culture it is becoming increasingly clear that we should expect at Early Neolithic Ba'ja a society of lineages most likely headed by a chief (possibly a "flat-hierarchical" chiefdom with village life regulated by a consensus of the heads of leading lineages). Clear evidence exists for magic practices and ritual, mostly related to "caching" of items and humans. An economic wealth of the site might have been related to the manufacture and distribution of one of the luxury goods of the period: sandstone rings, produced in a sophisticated chaîne opératoire, and providing information about the dawn of social hierarchies. In addition to common domestic and hunted animals for the area and period (the herding of ovicaprines was the dominant source of animal protein), we have some evidence of fur production (leopard, fox, hyrax). Buildings, with walls preserved up to 4.20 m (!), show structural pre-planning of terraced central room / courtyard houses of the Basta-type, executed with at lease two superimposed storeys. We now might have evidence for also three true storeys.

   Related Downloads
H.G.K. Gebel and B.D. Hermansen, The 2000 Season at Late PPNB Ba'ja. Neo-Lithics 2+3/00: 20-22.




Fig. 1. Exposed LPPNB architecture in Ba'ja, May 2000. Photo: B. Borowsky






Fig. 2. LPPNB house in the summit area of Ba'Ja. Photo: H.G.K. Gebel

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