Eastern Jafr Joint Archaeological Project / Qulban Beni Murra - 2006

Fig. 1. Qulban Beni Murra, Area A: line of megalithic circular room clusters of unknown function. (photo courtesy of the Eastern Jafr Project)


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Qulban Beni Murra, witnessing a new culture found east of al-Jafr

Dr. Hans Georg K. Gebel, Berlin Free University
Dr. Hamzeh Mahasneh, Mu‘tah University

During a short season in September 2006 (10 days), the extensive and unique sepulchral site of Qulban Beni Murra (also called Biyar Beni Murra) dating back into the first half of the 4th millennium BC was investigated by a team from Mu‘tah University and ex oriente at Berlin Free University, in collaboration with the Department of Antiquities of Jordan. The investigations were carried out in the framework of the Eastern Jafr Project, directed by Hamzeh M. Mahasneh and Hans Georg K. Gebel. The team consisted, aside of the directors, of a surveyor, a photographer, a draftsman, a driver and a local guide. No workman were employed for the site survey; the costs ranged around 2000 JD, and were covered by Mu‘tah University and ex oriente, Berlin. The site is out of tourist areas and extremely difficult to reach (GPS navigation through difficult terrain, 3 hours 4x4 truck ride east of al-Jafr). The site’s graves were heavily looted by local bedouins in the last years. Protective measures are difficult to implement.

The site rests on the shallow banks of Wadi as-Sahab al-Abiad in the desert wilderness at the Saudi Border east of al-Jafr and north of Jabal at-Tubayk (30° 05’ 07’’ N, 37° 14’ 59’’), and was first surveyed by the Eastern Jafr Project of Gebel and Mahasneh in 2001. The Late Chalcolithic – Early Bronze Age site belongs to a large number of other aceramic deflated occupations of the same periods in the close neighbourhood, characterized by many different types of partly “megalithic” tombs, enclosures (pens), and domestic remains. The area was found also palaeo-ontologically extremely rich (e.g. pertrified forests of the Lower Cretaceous).

The huge site of Qulban Beni Murra (about 2 square kilometres) has no equivalent yet in Jordan and seems to represent a hitherto unknown late prehistoric culture of Jordan. Risqeh near Aqaba and Rajajil near Sakaka in Saudi Arabia may represent the same culture. It should represent one of the earliest complex bedouin cultures of Jordan, mobile herdsman, who were gathering in sites like Qulban Beni Murra to bury their dead and practice ancestral traditions. The 2006 reconnaissance recorded over 200 structures, most of them various types of cairn and cairn-chamber graves, as well as rows of circular rooms erected by stone slabs measuring up to 1,50 m in height. The megalithic character of the site comes from these ashlar walls and standing stone groups connected with the cairn. Some of the circular structures and ashlars of the cairns carry decorations like ibexes and unknown sign. Another sensation are the “well houses” of Qulban Beni Murra in the bed of Wadi as-Sahab al-Abiad. They are characterized by central sand-filled depressions of some 6 m in diameter to which a kind of corridor leads. Up to 24 curvilinear and oval rooms were found around these depressions, resting with their single row walls on an elevation created by the rubble of digging into the wadi floor. It is expected that the depressions represent wells, and that the rooms and associated stone piles belong to domestic structures. In these mid- Holocene times, most of the desert areas of the Arabian Peninsula were covered by seasonal lakes and vast pastures, bringing life to dry and remote areas like Qulban Beni Murra. The survey of 2001 has shown that this area 130 km east of al-Jafr was densely populated by pastoral groups during the late Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age periods, representing the most prominent (even dramatic) peak in its occupational history: the well houses demand excavation since they could be earlier than the first oases cultures of the Arabian Peninsula, and may witness an earlier water management by herdsman.

While the ceremonial and burial center of Qulban Beni Murra was revisited by pastral groups, in the agricultural zones of the southern Levant the first states flourished. It should be expected that parallel to these an unknown and complex desert culture existed, which was not using pottery and had funeral centres. It is a hypothesis of the project that these desert societies helped direct long distance contacts between the proto-urban and early urban spheres in Mesopotamia and Egypt.


Easter Jafr Project

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  Further Reading

»  H.G.K. Gebel and H.M. Mahasneh

Qulban Beni Murra, Testimony for an Unknown Mid- Holocene Green Desert Culture in Western Arabia.

Manuscript for publication, available upon request to
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