Conservation and Presentation of Neolithic Beidha, Southern Jordan. (News & Notes)

Article excerpt

The early Neolithic in the Levant, and specifically within Jordan, is critical to our understanding of the transition from hunter--gatherers to farmers, the beginnings of agriculture, the birth of religion and the emergence of community life. One of the most important changes directly documented in the material evidence is the rapid development of architecture associated with increasing sedentism and community size, both central to most models of the transition. Despite remarkably good preservation on some sites, construction techniques, overall form and function of the buildings remain poorly understood, severely limiting our understanding of important social developments.

One of the key early Neolithic sites in southern Jordan is Beidha, just 5 km north of Petra (FIGURE 1). It was excavated in the 1950s, '60s and '80s by British archaeologist Diana Halbaek-Kirkbride (Kirkbride 1966a; 1966b; 1967; 1968; Byrd 1994). This revealed a series of complex occupation horizons from the Natufian and early Neolithic (Pre-Pottery Neolithic B). Unfortunately no conservation measures were taken during or after excavation and therefore the site, including standing walls and fragile plaster, is collapsing under the strain from livestock, tourists and weather. The Beidha Project was initiated in 2001 to conserve the site and present the complex remains to the public. The project is a joint collaboration between the Council for British Research in the Levant (CBRL) and the Department of Antiquities in Jordan with a strong emphasis on community involvement. Two local Bedouin tribes, the Ammarine and the B'dul, are involved at many levels from providing labourers to skilled craftmen, accommodation and site guards. Both have an interest in the long-term future of the site as a tourist attraction.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

In addition to the routine conservation and presentation, a series of experimental reconstructions of Neolithic structures, based on evidence from the excavation, is being made. The first will also serve as a visitor centre (FIGURE 2).The project will examine the problems of conflicting interpretations made by archaeologists and of adapting these interpretations for a wider audience. These structures can help provide insights regarding the continuing debates concerning structure size and organization, function of individual buildings, site location, organization of interior space and inter-site variability over time. …