Near Amman in Jordan is an archaeological site of importance to scholars of the Neolithic Period: ‘Ain Ghazal. This is definitely one of the places worth a visit when passing by the Jordanian capital, for it is a place of rich history waiting to be explored and interpreted, a remarkable remnant of peoples who lived millennia in the past. Etymologically, it is supposedly the site of the “spring of the gazelles”, and has been dated to back to the New Stone Age, well into prehistory.
A good part of why the site is so important has to do with its size: not even the site at Jericho can compare. ‘Ain Ghazal is about 15 hectares in area, definitely large for a settlement during prehistoric times. One must remember that this was an era when civilisations (as defined by generally homogenous cultures and a considerable number of persons living together in a set location or community) were still largely spread out, with nomadic lifestyles and smaller, more individual communities being more common than nowadays. Hence, for a site this large to have been occupied-which it was, by what archaeologists estimate to be about 3,000 persons-is indeed remarkable for the period.
Another reason for its import would obviously be the length of occupation of the site: according to archaeologists, we can safely say that ‘Ain Ghazal was occupied for two millennia. This gives it one of the longest continuous-occupation records for sites of its time. But most important of all, perhaps, is that there is so much of those two millennia left: the wealth of evidence left behind by the peoples who occupied it for two thousand years is staggering, and has seen many a Neolithic Period historian drooling for a chance to examine them.
There are sculptures, among other things, as well as considerably large (around a metre high) statuettes of a kind with definite anthropomorphic character, formed out of plaster and endowed with human faces, feet, mouths, noses, and eyes. There have also been many figurines excavated of animals, with aurochs (the ancient oxen, enormous creatures) being depicted by a good number of them. Dwellings too have been unearthed here, and while the vast majority were single-floored, some were already double-floored, which some historians suggest might have been the beginning of expanding familial circles beyond the simpler parent-children arrangement. Most curious of all, there have been discoveries of interesting burial places and methods: there were trash burial pits, almost comparable to the lime pits of Ancient Rome, where people seem to have been buried indiscriminately and sans ritual; there were also some (far fewer) instances of burials right under the dwellings themselves, with the skeletons apparently having been exhumed later on and decapitated, for nearly all had retained only the lower jaws from their heads.
There are many questions still being asked of ‘Ain Ghazal, obviously, and even now many of them remain unanswered or largely uncertain. This rich a site is clearly something that shall continue to provoke lively debate and discussion among the archaeologists, as well as fascination in tourists. This is a place to visit if you want to see the origins of settlements in the Levant, after all, a veritable remnant of the regions first large farming settlements.