Eastern Jafr Joint Archaeological Project / Qulban Beni Murra - 2008

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


  2011   2010   2008   2006  

Location, Historical Background, Objectives of Season

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

The third season of the Eastern Jafr Joint Archaeological Project concentrated on excavations and survey at the Late Chalcolithic/ Early Bronze Age site of Qulban Beni Murra. Major work objectives were the excavation of one of the well structures in the wadi bottom, the architectural investigation of looted megalithic graves, and the functional understanding of a 130 m long chain of round structures in Area A. In addition, investigations of the hydrological and sedimentary environments were carried out, as well as drawing and mapping in the c. 2 km2 site. Surveys in the vicinity yielded more burial grounds beyond Qulban Beni Murra’s core (Areas A-F), making the project now one of a sepulchral landscape.

The site of Qulban Beni Murra is testimony to a hitherto unknown “green desert culture” flourishing around 4000 BC during a Mid-Holocene climatic optimum; the site most probably was the ceremonial and sepulchral centre of complex mobile herding societies. It appears to represent the regional expression of a megalithic Mid-Holocene green desert horizon stretching from the western Maghreb via the Negev to Yemen (Gebel and Mahasneh n.d.). Qulban Beni Murra is located in Wadi as-Sahab al-Abyad north of Jabal at-Tubayk, at a distance of 15 km NNW of the Saudi border and c. 120-130 km E of al-Jafr.

Areas Explored this Season, Significant Results and Conclusions

The investigation of the hydrological setting of Qulban Beni Murra revealed that the major aquifer of Wadi as-Sahab al-Abyad was joined by two local aquifers immediately upstream of the well structures; in addition, this favoured situation must have been supported here by an underground structure that pressed groundwater near or temporarily onto the wadi surface (Patrick Keilholz, pers. comm.).

One of the more than seven well structures, placed on the small mounds in the wadi floor, was partly excavated: the ground plan (Fig. 1) includes a well “room” with the well’s mouth, to which stone-paved curvilinear and tongue-shaped rooms were attached. The excavation of the well shaft did not reach its bottom (4.4 m): its upper part (1.2 m) is corbelling masonry (Fig. 2), which rests on solid wadi deposits in which small cavities served as steps/ ledges/ supports. The vertical shaft is some 1.2 m in diameter. The paved rooms, which must have been water basins to feed the livestock, were lined by upright (0.5 m) standing stones, and they had their highest point close to the well’s mouth.

Probably all burials at Qulban Beni Murra were subjected to looting in ancient and modern times, and repeated looting appears to be common. Of these, the megalithic Structures C4, E1, E5a-c, E52 (Fig. 4) were excavated for any remaining archaeological and architectural information; the looters’ back dirt was screened and searched for human bones and grave inventories (including E44). Except for the horse-shoe structures E5b-c (Fig. 3), all these graves belong to the single-chamber type with ashlars marking them on their NE-SE sides. In C4 parts of the collective burials were preserved in the main chamber and attached smaller chambers. In the back dirt many beads were found, mostly made of Conus sp. and Dentalium sp., a black and whitish mineral (?), and carnelian (Fig. 5); probably animals were also buried in C4.

Test trenches in Structure A23a-24a clarified at least the latest use of the circular structures that form a 130 m long chain in Area A. Interior stone pavements and chipping floors were found with chips that appeared to result from shaping the fan scraper edges, as well as animal bones, and a domestic use in that phase of the building is probable.

Non-systematic surveying in the greater area located another petrified forest (Forest III), iron mining and melting sites, as well as more burial grounds of the Late Chalcolithic / EB.

Tourism Aspects and Recommendations

For the time being, the area is too remote to be subject of tourism, but its rich paleontology (e.g. petrified forests) may make it a candidate for a future natural history park of Jordan. Professional paleontological research is within the purview of our project, as well as other scientific research dedicated to certain other questions to this deflated warm desert environment. A big problem is the continuing looting of graves by the local Bedouin, for which no other recommendations than educational measures can be suggested. Recent illegal archaeological surveys in the area need to be approached by the Jordanian authorities.

This text has been submitted as a press release/ for the Munjazat publication of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan (July 2008).


Easter Jafr Project

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(5 Photos)
  District: Ma‘an, Jordan

Project Name:
Eastern Jafr Joint Archaeological Project

Season: 2008

June 6th - June 20th, 2008

Dr. Hans Georg K. Gebel and Prof. Dr. Hamzeh Mahasneh

Team Members: 16

Sponsoring Institutions:
German Archaeological Institute, Berlin (Forschungscluster 2),
ex oriente at Free University of Berlin,
Mu‘tah University

DoA Representative
Talal Hamd al-Amareen
  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

»  H.G.K. Gebel and H.M. Mahasneh

n.d. Qulban Beni Murra. Testimony for an Unknown Mid-Holocene Green Desert Culture in Western Arabia. Manuscript, May 2007.

»  H.G.K. Gebel and H.M. Mahasneh

n.d. The Eastern Jafr Joint Archaeological Project. The 2001 and 2006 surveys in Wadi as-Sahab al-Abyad, Southeastern Jordan. Submitted to the Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan (June 2008)
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