Gary Rollefson, NEH Fellow, Fall 2017

Dr. Gary Rollefson, professor emeritus of Anthropology at Whitman College, is a 2017 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) fellow at ACOR.

Gary Rollefson on top of Mesa 7 in the Wadi Qattafi in the Black Desert (photo by Barbara A. Porter)

Dr. Rollefson’s NEH Fellowship project, titled “Lithic Technologies and Social Identities: A Comparative Analysis of Chipped Stone Tool Production in Jordan’s Badia,” examines the stone tools associated with the remains of Neolithic houses located in the Black Desert. The remains of hundreds of houses found in the barren Black Desert suggest that the nature of the desert has drastically changed since 6000 B.C. His current project follows six years of excavations of the Eastern Desert and continues a research project which began 9 years ago.

Basalt rock outcrops created hospitable microenvironments and the rainfall that was present in the period from 7000 to 2000 B.C. left enough vegetation to sustain wild animals as well as the sheep and goats that Dr. Rollefson believes were herded there as well. Dr. Rollefson’s theory for those houses, which he is working on further through his research at ACOR, suggests that the 90% decrease in the population at ‘Ain Ghazal after its collapse in 7000 B.C. was due to a population shift into the Black Desert. He believes those that were farmers and herders turned into hunters and herders upon moving into the Black Desert — hunting the wild gazelle for food and returning to ‘Ain Ghazal to trade herd animals and other goods, such as hides for textiles, tools and barley.

Skeptics might claim that the hunters in the Black Desert were present before the collapse of ‘Ain Ghazal, but Dr. Rollefson’s research seeks to prove that the Black Desert housebuilders are derived from ‘Ain Ghazal “original population” that subsequently relocated to the Black Desert.  He is testing the techniques used for making the stone tools found in the Black Desert and comparing them to stone tools and tool making remains found in ‘Ain Ghazal and other communities. If similar stone traditions are found, this will suggest that the communities that lived in the Black Desert were indeed derived from the communities that lived in ‘Ain Ghazal.

Dr. Gary Rollefson has received numerous NEH and CAORC fellowships over his long academic career that began in Jordan with ACOR almost 40 years ago. He is currently an emeritus professor of Anthropology at Whitman College. He received his Ph.D. (1978) as well as his M.A. (1972) in Anthropology from the University of Arizona, Tucson with a dissertation entitled “A Quantitative and Qualitative Typological Analysis of Bifaces from the Tabun Excavations, 1967-1972” and he received his B.A. (1965) in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkley. He has held many teaching and lecturing positions and boasts a long list of publications and fieldwork related to the archaeology of Jordan.

To learn more about Dr. Gary Rollefson you can listen to a 2016 lecture by Gary Rollefson about his research in the Black Desert  and read Rollefson’s 2016 blogpost about his research or visit his faculty page at Whitman College.

This article was written by Tara Matalka, an undergraduate student at Columbia University and ACOR intern during the summer of 2017.

Dr. Gary Rollefson at work at ACOR in June 2017. Photo by Tara Matalka.

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