Research at Sharara

Sharara is a Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) settlement located in the rocky wilds of the Wadi el-Hasa, Jordan. Our work at Sharara explores a critical moment in human prehistory over ten thousand years ago when hunter-gatherers began first experimenting with plant agriculture and living in increasingly sedentary communities notable for their use of architecture to create a new built environment. Our research investigates plant cultivation and storage.  Sharara informs larger discussions on how locally defined plant and animal exploitation strategies contributed to wider transformations in the Neolithic world, and also how food production may have been linked to an increasing sense of place fixed through communal architecture.

 

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First cultivators

During the PPNA, people experimented with barley cultivation while continuing to gather wild plants and hunt game such as ibex and gazelle. However, the location of Sharara in the steep and rocky mountains of the lower Wadi Hasa may have made growing cereals difficult. We explore how people exploited other cultivars, including figs and lentils, and also how these first cultivators intentionally modified the local landscape to produce these crops.  

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Communal Architecture

Communal architecture played an important role in structuring the social worlds of the earliest Neolithic villages in southern Jordan. At Sharara, we explore how communal buildings served as an arenas of performance and celebration that knit together households and communities. 

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Mortuary Practices

The manipulation and transportation of human remains revealed by PPNA mortuary practices suggests these rites were an important ingredient in developing the sense of a community fixed in the landscape. We investigate the use of ritual spaces reserved exclusively for mortuary activities.

Our research at Sharara began in March 2016 under chilly and occasionally rainy weather.  We’d been invited by the Jordanian Department of Antiquities to evaluate damage to the site by unauthorized excavation and to assess the research potential of the remaining deposits.

PPNA Structure  This structure and associated deposits were heavily damaged during illicit excavations that occurred during 2011 .

PPNA Structure This structure and associated deposits were heavily damaged during illicit excavations that occurred during 2011

Secondary Burial

Secondary Burial

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Structure 1 This structure features a cuphole mortar set in a heavy duty clay floor that is slightly raised to form a platform. It is unclear what has caused the large depression in the floor. The oblong stone resting on the cuphole mortar on the edge of the depression may be a burial marker.  At PPNA el-Hemmeh, which is located approximately 25km further upstream the Wadi Hasa, burials are frequently marked with similar stones.

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This year we returned in October 2017 with support from the National Geographic Council for Exploration and Research.  In particular, we wanted to further investigate an enigmatic semi-subterranean feature that we uncovered during the last days of the 2016 season, collect micromorphology samples, and  increase our sample of rare PPNA plant remains. 

 

 
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Secondary Burial Lennart and Phillip carefully excavating another secondary burial that contained the remains of at least two individuals. While most skeletal elements were not in anatomical position with each other, some whole body parts were deposited in the burial, including an articulated foot and forearm parts (but no hands). 

 
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Upright PPNA Cuphole mortar in semi-subterranean feature. 

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