New Essay on Insights — “Decoding Late Neolithic Tools and Technology in the Black Desert of Jordan” by Gary Rollefson

17 December 2023

In the 1920s pilots flying over the Harrat ash-Sham volcanic fields (also known as the Black Desert) were struck by a landscape that was “rugged and desolate” (Maitland 1927: 198), “like a dead fire — nothing but cold ashes” (Rees 1929: 389), whose “odious flat-topped slag heaps” instilled a “sinister foreboding” and the “epitome of loneliness” (Hill 1929: 3). It is likely that most people who fly above the Black Desert today would agree with these observations. Yet 9,500 years ago the situation was far removed from the conditions of today. Whereas the number of transhumant Bedouin herders in the 1920s may have numbered several thousand in the Black Desert (including its extensions into Syria and Saudi Arabia), a very different climate regime that included up to 60% more annual rainfall created a more luxuriant countryside, where water remained available for many months — perhaps all year — and grasslands that fed larger populations of domesticated and wild animals; in such a scenario, groups of people and their herds of sheep, goats, and perhaps cattle, enjoyed a more sedentary life.

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