'Community' at the heart of the development of world's earliest settled communities
Release Date 04 May 2011
Archaeologists excavating an early Neolithic settlement in Jordan dating from nearly 12,000 years ago have uncovered remarkable evidence that demonstrates that societal and ideological changes were at the heart of the development of the earliest settled communities.
The research, published in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, report the findings of excavations of one of the world's earliest farming settlements, known as Wadi Faynan 16 (WF16), originally discovered by University of Reading archaeologists in 1996.
It is the best preserved example found to date of the major turning point in human history when hunter-gatherer societies turned into the first settled communities. This is thought to have first happened between 11,600 to 10,200 years ago in the Levant region.
Excavation of the buildings on the one acre site has revealed three major buildings with communal and ritual use and the absence of any domestic structures.
Professor Steven Mithen, University of Reading, said: "This settlement is providing us with invaluable insights into the transition from living in a hunter-gatherer family-based community to an organised society with leadership.
"What the excavation of WF16 has shown us is that profound changes in social organisation involving greater levels of communal and ritualistic activity occurred prior to the economic changes that led to the first Neolithic farming communities. This contradicts previous views that it was the domestication of barley and wheat, and then of sheep and goats, that were the key drivers for social change. The large communal structure discovered at WF16 suggests its use for both group activities of a practical nature such as grinding wild grass seeds, making beads and butchering animals, and that performances of a ritual nature were watched from surrounding benches.."
A unique find from the most recent excavations is a large, amphitheatre-like building (structure 075) measuring 22 metres by 19 metres, with a floor made of mud-plaster, a bench raised 1.5 metres above the floor surrounding the central area and a further tier of seating. The central area contains a series of stone mortars that may have been used to grind wild plants. The researchers believe that post holes suggest it may have been at least partially covered. Two neighbouring structures are believed to have been storehouses. There are no signs of domestic accommodation on the one-acre site.
WF16 lies at the head of the Wadi Faynan in southern Jordan. Although the location appears to be a classic hunter-gatherer base-camp site, placed to maximise the potential range of wild resources available from a single base-camp, WF16 lies at the heart of the Neolithic process. Following an initial evaluative project, three seasons of large-area excavation were conducted between 2008-2010 with a key research objective of recovering information on the nature of the architecture and community organisation of a Pre-Pottery Neolithic site.
The excavations have taken place in conjunction with the Council for British research in the Levant and the local Bedouin community who have worked on the dig along with students from the University of Reading. The research is funded by the AHRC.
Further information from Alex Brannen, University of Reading, on 0118 378 8005
Notes to editors:
- Full paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is available at :-http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/04/27/1017642108.full.pdf+html