Ancient oasis sheds light on early humans

DoA and UCL teams recover prehistoric human remains in Azraq (Photo courtesy of the Epipalaeolithic Foragers in Azraq Project) By Taylor Luck

IN THE DRYING marshlands of the Azraq oasis lie the remnants of one of the earliest communities to roam the Levant.

Ayn Qasiyya – an Epipalaeolithic site dating back some 20,000 years located in the Azraq Wetlands Reserve – has yielded dozens of secrets from the prehistoric past and the oldest human remains ever uncovered in Jordan.

According to climactic records, eastern Jordan and Syria was arid and dry with little rainfall, leading many experts to believe that the southeastern Levant was incapable of supporting early human settlements.

Despite the inhospitable conditions, recent excavations at Ayn Qasiyya and nearby Qasr Kharaneh have proven otherwise, revealing that the basin supported some of the largest communities at the time and that one of the most remote desert oases was once a thriving, densely populated region.

Between 2005 and 2007, University College London (UCL), University of Cambridge and Department of Antiquities (DoA) teams unearthed a treasure trove of data shedding light on one of the earliest communities in Jordan, according to Tobias Richter, project director and University of Copenhagen professor.

The now nearly parched wetlands of Azraq would be almost unrecognisable some 20,000 years ago, according to archaeological records.

Excess water flowed into the Azraq basin, providing a life source for the plethora of animals and multiple human settlements that called the area home. Gazelle, wild ass and cattle roamed the wetlands and served as a major food source for the earliest communities. Almond trees bloomed along the oasis’ edge and provided firewood and an additional food source for Epipalaeolithic humans.

People at the time were hunter-gatherers, living in semi-settled communities around the oasis. Predecessors to the Neolithic humans who would give rise to the first settled communities, Epipalaeolithic humans such as the settlers at Azraq dabbled in agriculture, hunted extensively and developed social patterns that would later develop into villages and cities.

The results of a series of excavations, which have been published in several academic journals, revealed that the people of Ayn Qasiyya were skilled craftsmen, fashioning microliths, long-blade knives and scrapers from flint used for hunting, hide skinning and drilling.


Categories: Asia, Jordan, Middle East

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