Changes in the lifestyles of nomadic hunter-gatherers who became sedentary farmers and stockbreeders were decisive for human history.
Between 14,000 and 9,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers began to live in sedentary villages.
These changes took place, for the first time, in the Middle East, in the current countries of Israel/Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Iran.
Kharaysin, a pre-ceramic Neolithic site located in the province of Zarqa, Jordan
Over the last 12,000 years, plants and animals have been intensively exploited, leading 10,500 years ago to the appearance of the first domesticated species of plants (wheat, barley, lentils, etc.) and animals (sheep, goats, cows and pigs). Since 9,000 years ago, farmers and stockbreeders expanded from the Near East, colonizing Europe, Asia and North Africa.
Kharaysin is a key site for understanding this transition. The oldest documented levels date back 11,000 years and the settlement was abandoned 8,800 years ago. Those populations chose to settle the sloping terraces on the right bank of the Kharaysin stream, tributary of the Zarqa river. Kharaysin allows to know the characteristics of the first houses of humanity and the evolution of the villages. We know four moments of occupation in the site, with intermediate moments of abandonment.
The first phase, called Preceramic Neolithic A Final, takes place at the beginning of the 11th millennium before the present. It is a small village with semi-underground oval cabins and clay soil, as documented in other sites of the period. However, one of the huts has important new features: the floor is covered with lime mortar, the oldest known to date, and an adobe wall divides two rooms.
The second phase of occupation, from the second half of the 11th millennium before the present, known as the Ancient Neolithic Preceramic B, is characterised by the presence of agglomerated square houses, glued to each other, with lime mortar floors and circular tub-shaped fireplaces.
In the third phase, from the beginning of the 10th millennium before the present, in the Middle Preceramic Neolithic B, the houses are rectangular and are organised close to each other, forming parallel alignments with a distance of 10m between them. It is an incipient urbanism. The floor of one of the houses was painted with abstract motifs. The paintings were extracted, restored and are on display in the Archaeological Museum of the Citadel of Amman.
From the last phase, dated at the beginning of the 9th millennium, in the Preceramic Neolithic B Final, we only have the data of a survey, which shows the existence of architectures with monumental walls (1m wide) and the beginning of incineration practices in the funerary ritual. Shortly after, the village was definitively abandoned.
Architectures in zone A of Kharaysin. Rectangular houses from the first half of the 8th millennium BC. (Phase 3) to the North and South; buried oval huts from the first half of the 9th millennium in the central strip
During the period of occupation of the site, cereals were domesticated. Preliminary results of botanical studies indicate that wheat and barley are present, although the consumption of legumes dominates. With regard to animal resources, goats are the most consumed animal. These are large specimens, similar to wild animals, so their domestic character is not accredited. However, the presence of remains of faeces in the sediments and the existence of human burials next to goat bones suggest a closeness between animals and humans that could indicate that the goats were in the process of domestication. Further work is needed to clarify aspects related to the domestication of plants and animals in Kharaysin.
Remains of about a hundred individuals have been found. They appear in primary burials in flexed position, but also in secondary sets. In these secondary deposits were placed human remains, mainly skulls and bones of the extremities, which were extracted from the primary tombs to be used in rituals related to the veneration of the ancestors. We have documented necropolis where the dead were grouped, while on other occasions the bodies were buried inside the houses while they were in use. Sometimes human remains were embedded in the walls, as happens in one of the houses of the Ancient Neolithic Preceramic B.
Neolithic burial found in Kharaysin
In spite of not using ceramics, those populations knew how to cook clay, in which they elaborated animal and human figurines. We have also recognised human figures in flint, forms unknown representation in other sites, which are located around a funerary area, so we think they were used in rituals of remembrance of the deceased.The town of Kharaysin grew gradually, until it became a town of more than 10 ha at the end of the 10th millennium, forming part of the phenomenon known as Neolithic “megapopulations”. These megapopulations, as in Kharaysin, were abandoned at the beginning of the 9th millennium, in what has been considered the collapse of the Neolithic Preceramic model of large settlements. The disappearance of large settlements gives way to a more sustainable model of settlement, with smaller and more numerous settlements.
What was the cause of this collapse? Its environmental impact? Social conflicts? Inability to feed such a large population?
Future work in the upper zone of the site, where the final phases of occupation are located, will enable these issues to be addressed.
The project is directed by researchers from the CSIC, the Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca and the Universidad de Cantabria. The excavation, extraction and restoration of soils have been financed by the Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovación y Universidades, the Ministerio de Cultura y Deporte and the Gerda Henkel and Palarq Foundations.
Los chicos de la productora 15L FILMS nos han editado un vídeo para la exposición que organizamos para presentar los pavimentos de cal pintados de Kharaysin, en el marco de las Jornadas de Patrimonio en Jordania (5-13 de Octubre).
Publicada por Proyecto Arqueológico Kharaysin en Martes, 9 de octubre de 2018
Article signed by Dr. Juan José Ibáñez, Scientific researcher in the Department of Archeology and Anthropology of the Milá y Fontanals Institution- CSIC (Barcelona) and Dr. Juan Muñiz, professor and archaeologist.
La Fundación Palarq es una entidad privada y sin ánimo de lucro que se crea con la finalidad de apoyar las Misiones Arqueológicas Españolas, dentro de una perspectiva que abarca desde la etapa paleontológica a las épocas prehistóricas y las históricas en interés monumental.