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The Harra and the Hamad: Excavations and Surveys in Eastern Jordan.

The Harra and the Hamad: Excavations and Surveys in Eastern Jordan, volume 1. Edited by A. V. G. BETTS. Sheffield Archaeological Monographs, vol. 9. Sheffield: SHEFFIELD ACADEMIC PRESS, 1998. Pp. xx + 252, illus. $74.

The first volume in publication of important prehistoric fieldwork in Jordan's eastern desert from 1979 to 1991 reviews evidence for the Epipalaeolithic, but concentrates on the results of excavations at the Neolithic site of Dhuweila. The prehistory of Jordan's eastern "panhandle" region was very little known prior to Betts's survey first of the lower Wadi Rajil and then of other parts of the Harra (basaltic "Black Desert") and Hamad (the limestone and chert desert to its east).

Epipalaeolithic use of the region appears to have concentrated in the Geometric Kebaran and, especially, Late Natufian. The Geometric Kebaran sites are small, sparse lithic scatters, while some of the Natufian ones were substantial settlements, with heavy grinding stones and evidence of structures. There are brief allusions to the likely climatic implications of this distribution at the beginning and end of chapter two, but more direct evidence for paleoenvironment in this region (besides the faunal sample) would have been welcome. The chapter summarizes mainly the stone tools, fauna, stratigraphy, and structures from excavations at Natufian Khallat 'Anaza, along with surface finds from other sites.

Chapters three through nine deal with various aspects of the excavations at Dhuweila, while chapter ten reports on a survey in Dhuweila's vicinity. Dhuweila appears originally to have been a small but substantial camp for Late PPNB hunters using a "desert kite"--a funnel-shaped arrangement of stones--to trap herd animals, probably gazelle. After a period of abandonment, Late Neolithic hunters reoccupied the site, apparently also to use the kites. Later, the site saw occasional reuse as a temporary campsite right up to modern times.

In the first volume in a series on this fieldwork, fuller discussion of field methods, and especially survey procedures, would have been welcome. The introductory chapter's discussion of the history of research and Black Desert Survey merely indicates that "much of the harra was surveyed on foot or by vehicle reconnaissance" (p. 5), with no mention of such fundamentals as the borders of the surveyed region, the extent to which air photos guided survey, or the amount, distribution, or density of survey effort. With so little information on the surveys' design, we cannot be very confident of claims for "a pattern of landuse" (p. 5) or that "'burin Neolithic' sites were common along the wadi systems, but there was little evidence for sites of earlier periods" (p. 8), among others. Perhaps we will see some of these issues addressed in one of the future volumes.

However, the chapters on Dhuweila provide a wealth of information on the results from that site. There is clear explication of the stratigraphic sequence, along with numerous sections, a suite of radio-carbon dates, and a summary of contexts to support it. Chapters on the chipped and ground stone and other artifacts report frequencies of types by major stratigraphic stage (PPNB and Late Neolithic), but the specific contexts of illustrated artifacts are not identified. This characterizes these major stages quite well, while not allowing more detailed analysis of, for example, spatial variation. Martin's presentation of faunal data goes further, clearly describing sampling and quantification methods and showing results for individual phases within the PPNB stage, as well as for the Late Neolithic stage.

Chapter seven covers the rock carvings from Dhuweila and its vicinity, more than eighty in number. The chief importance of this collection is that Dhuweila provides evidence for their early date. Those from stratified contexts are all from the Late PPNB, while similarity in style suggests that the same date is likely for those from surface contexts. They include many depictions of animals, most probably gazelles, and two depict groups of human figures, apparently wearing costumes and headdresses. Some of the figures are carrying sticks that may be weapons of some kind and, although the true purpose of the rock art may never be known, it is tempting to associate the drawing of gazelles with the nearby use of kites as gazelle traps.

But the most important contribution of this volume is the information it provides on a fascinating Neolithic hunting strategy: the use of "kites" to trap and kill whole herds of gazelles. As a figure on p. 202 so strikingly shows, the harra is literally peppered with these structures, almost all with their openings to the east or southeast, that form several nearly continuous chains of interception. However, there was previously considerable doubt about their date, especially given the long, more recent history of this hunting strategy.

Although kites clearly experienced several phases of construction, modification, and use, Betts and her colleagues demonstrate convincingly that both PPNB and Late Neolithic hunters used them to harvest large numbers of gazelle. They present large numbers of broken and complete projectile points, of both periods, that were found in the hunting blinds attached to various kites in the region. Amuq and Byblos points with impact fractures are particularly common. At Dhuweila itself, projectile points, many with impact fractures, along with burins, dominate the Neolithic lithic assemblages, and a kite wall was incorporated into a Late Neolithic wall (pp. 41, 48). Faunal evidence presented in chapter eight is consistent with catastrophic kills of gazelle in the late spring or early summer, and possibly also autumn/winter.

Gazelle account for more than ninety percent of the fauna in both PPNB and Late Neolithic contexts, there is no clear evidence for domesticates, and generally all body parts are represented except for phalanges that could have been carried away on skins. Gazelle bones were intensively cracked for marrow extraction, and large volumes of fire-cracked stones at Dhuweila are also consistent with grease extraction in large quantities in the PPNB stage. Meanwhile, the small samples of plant remains show no evidence of domestic cereals, and are also consistent with use of the site as a hunting camp in spring, although they do not support any strong conclusions. Heavy grinding equipment, especially in the PPNB levels, is rare. Overall, and in conjunction with evidence from Mureybet and Abu Hureyra (for which, see A. J. Legge and P. A. Rowley-Conwy, "Gazelle Killing in Stone Age Syria," Scientific American 255 [1987]: 88-95, and "The Exploitation of Animals," in Village on the Euphrates: The Excavation of Abu Hureyra, ed. Moore, Hillman, and Legge [Oxford Univ. Press, 2000], 423-74), Betts and her colleagues contribute to better understanding of the antiquity of gazelle drives.


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Author:Banning, E.B.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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