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Research Aims



Archaeological research in Jordan has focussed predominantly on the eminent Jordan valley and its adjacent countryside, where favourable ecological conditions facilitated both dry farming and irrigation agriculture in the past and where early complex societies with large mounded settlement sites came into being. In stark contrast, Jordan's extensive basalt-strewn northeastern desert (or Black Desert) has attracted very little archaeological attention so far.



A typical landscape in the desert region under study


From an archaeological perspective, the vast basalt expanse is still one of the most poorly known parts of Jordan in particular and the Near East in general. The Jebel Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project aims to change this picture: it is a multi-disciplinary, multi-period research project comprising survey and excavation in the basalt desert, with both archaeological and palaeo-environmental dimensions.


The project seeks to come to an understanding of the archaeology of the desert and ways in which its inhabitants engaged with their constraint, marginal environments through time. It compares and interprets site distribution and community organisation over a long time scale and across several different environments. This is done in order to understand not just the ecological context of local human acitivity, but also the complex interplay between natural and anthropogenic factors in shaping long-term trends in regional landscape development.



Medieval (Islamic) enclosures in the midst of the basalt range of the study area


The project addresses a series of key research issues for Jordan’s northeastern desert, such as:


  • the reconstruction of long-term patterns of human activities across several environmental zones, exploring site and location preferences, continuities and changes in occupation through time;      
  • the issue of both environmental and cultural marginality and its use in regional archaeology;          
  • the issue of settlement oscillations in the basalt wasteland through time, vis-à-vis alternating processes of sedentarization and nomadization, changes in environmental conditions, and/or shifts in economic and political organization;          
  • the human exploitation of the desert landscape in prehistory, in comparison with the implications of domestication processes in the Neolithic;          
  • the burial practices of the desert communities and the continuities and changes therein through time;        
  • the issue of long-distance trade and exchange, the role of caravan tracks, the significance of the Qurma Gap, and the interaction between the complex Roman and Nabatean polities versus the small-scale desert communities;          
  • the transition from the Roman-Byzantine era into the Islamic period and its impact on the local desert groups. How is the transition reflected in the layout and location of occupational sites and in the associated material culture?


A corridor through the basalt: the wide plains of the Qurma Gap