Archaeology: Architectural remains from the Neolithic period at ‘Ain Ghazal, Jordan
‘Ain Ghazal, located in the modern country of Jordan, offers some wonderful architectural remains from the Neolithic period. Whether a building is used for a family home, a community building or a religious/ceremonial purpose, buildings can offer us a great insight into the lives of ancient cultures and what they evolved from and later into.
The Neolithic period at ‘Ain Ghazal can be divided into four distinct phases – the Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (MPPNB), L ate Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (LPPNB), Pre-Pottery Neolithic C (PPNC), and the Yannoukian Pottery Neolithic, which span an occupation time from c. 7250 to 5000 BCE.
With archaeology, phases can be separated through the minor or major changes in the cultural artefact manufacturing. Archaeologists can separate these changes through both typological and technological changes; however, later inhabitants at ‘Ain Ghazal have ‘mixed’ some of the cultural layers so some of the phases distinctions can be somewhat suspect and confusing.
MPPNB Architecture (7250 – 6500 BCE):
There are two major features of architecture in this phase – the inhabitants at ‘Ain Ghazal used stone walls and lime plaster for their floors. The sizes of the rooms measure 5×5 in the earliest part of the phases. However, as time progressed, the size of the rooms decreased “in part because of the consistent practice of renovation and rearrangement of interiors pace during a particular dwellings life-use of up to several hundred years for some structure”.
Another characteristic of this period were circular hearths placed in the centre of the floor, in at least one of the rooms of the structure. The third most important feature was the “decreasing diameter of posts used to support the roofs of the dwellings. Post holes of 50-60 cm in diameter in the earliest phases of the MPPNB indicate that trunks of mature trees were used as structural timbers, but gradually smaller, less mature trees came into use until about 6500 BCE when post diameters averaged only 15- 20 cm. This change in wooden roof supports can be correlated with reduced room sizes, and interior walls assuming the loads of roof beams”.
LPPNB Architecture (6500 – 6000 BCE):
There has been limited experience with architecture dating from this period so our knowledge on LPPNB architecture leaves a lot to be learnt. However, two architectural remains found at ‘Ain Ghazal indicate that the room sizes continued to decrease, with each room being less than 2meters wide. Archaeologists suspect that these rooms had specific purposes.
The plastered floors were well preserved, each being covered in thick red ochre paint. Rooms from this period did not have the presence of a hearth in the centre of the room as houses did in the MPPNB phase, however, it should be stressed that as we only have limited architectural sources in this period, it should not be taken that they were completely omitted.
PPNC Architecture (6000 – 550 BCE):
This period leaves the archaeologist asking serious questions regarding the floor plans of houses in this period; as with houses from the LPPNB period, we only have limited remains. Although the sizes of rooms changed very little from the previous period, the room shapes changed dramatically. Rooms went from being square to rectangular, with a narrow passageway leading from the front to the back of the house. Because of the claustrophobic size of these cell-like rooms, scholars have argued against them being used for domestic use.
Houses were frequently semi-subterranean; one example shows “convincingly that the rooms were semi-subterranean, for the characteristically thick wall separating the SE cell from the south central cell was placed on top of a plastered circular hearth and floor typical of the MPPNB period. Preserved walls of PPNC structures throughout the site never exceed a meter in height. All of this suggests that the structures were either 1) composed of a “basement” component, over which a super structure was constructed, and the remains of which have not been preserved; or 2) these structures are basement complexes only, designed to serve for storage (in view of the preference of plaster floors for these structures, it should be noted that no evidence of wall plaster has been retrieved from the fill in these PPNC “dwellings”)”.
Because of this, archaeologists have suggested that the inhabitants of this period lived in less ‘permanent’ dwellings on the surface, leading to serious questions regarding the nature of the occupation of this region at this time.
Yannoukian Pottery Neolithic (5500 – 5000 BCE):
Although there is an abundant of architectural remains from the Yannoukian period, surprisingly there is less that can be said about the dwelling structures of this period than the MPPNB. Stone walls enclose structures, but what these structures were used for has left archaeologists struggling to identify them.
At least one structure has been identified; the apsidal building’s floors were originally LPPNB in date which suggests that the builders from the Yannoukian ‘excavated’ to find this building. Although the foundation is much earlier, the walls are definitely from the Yannoukian period. It had some sort of ceremonial or community purpose as it was the only building to have had fine-ware pottery found inside and outside of its walls.
Rollefson, Gary O., Simmons, Alan H. & Kafafi, Zeidan (1992) Neolithic Cultures at ‘Ain Ghazal, Jordan, Journal of Field Archaeology, Boston University