This study investigated human-environmental interactions in northeastern Jordan since late prehistory. To achieve an integrated study in which ecological, economic and cultural factors are considered together, this thesis presents three landscape archaeological case studies, focusing on different adaptation strategies of past societies.


One research focus was on the food and water supply of the ancient settlement of Jawa – one of the major towns in the Middle East during the 4th millennium BCE –, located in the basalt desert steppe of northeastern Jordan. The major settlement phase of Jawa dates to the Early Bronze Age, starting at about 3500 cal BCE, while a small reoccupation is documented for the Middle Bronze Age. The drinking water supply of the city relied predominantly on an elaborated water distribution and storage system. Besides, recent geoarchaeological surveys have uncovered agricultural terrace systems in the nearby vicinity. The main research questions included: When were these terrace systems built, how did they function in detail and how efficient were they?

To answer these questions, geomorphological field and laboratory work was applied. The terrace systems were dated using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL). Efficiency was assessed by applying a crop simulation model for the period from 1983 to 2014, integrating a rainfall-runoff model. The main findings of this study show that ancient terrace agriculture was practiced on slopes, small plateaus, and valleys close to Jawa usually through the use of surface canals which collected and diverted floodwater from nearby wadis or runoff from adjacent slopes. Terracing the fields naturally caused retention and collection of water and sediments. The fields were commonly arranged in cascades, enabling an easy distribution of water onto the fields. Increased phytolith concentrations in terrace fills, as compared to samples from non-terrace deposits nearby, indicate increased plant growth within the terraces. The terrace fills investigated yielded OSL ages of around 5300 ± 300 a (1σ), indicating that the terraces were constructed in the Early Bronze Age I. Moreover, the study shows that the runoff irrigated terrace systems were effective. On average the simulated crop yields of irrigated wheat, barley and lentils were increased by 1.5 to 6 times compared to rainfed agriculture. The number of crop failures dropped by c. 70 percent.

Furthermore, this thesis investigated pastoral mobility in northeastern Jordan. Mobile pastoralism was already introduced to the region during the Early Late Neolithic. Today it is one of the few remaining regions in the Middle East where pastoral nomadism is still practiced as an adapted land use strategy. A dense distribution of agglomerations of sub-circular enclosures (‘clustered enclosures’) in the basaltic harra can be associated with pastoral groups. They are used by herders to corral flocks and for domestic activities. Archaeological surveys indicate that these remains were already used during the Late Neolithic. After construction, these structures were commonly reused in later periods. In order to investigate their spatial distribution as well as the relation between these pastoral camps and their natural environment, clustered enclosures were systematically recorded in the basaltic region of northeastern Jordan based on satellite imagery. Altogether, 9118 clustered enclosures were mapped.

In order to investigate potential migration or communication routes and the grazing lands of former pastoralists, point pattern analyses were conducted and integrated with the geomorphometric and geomorphological site properties. The locations and distribution of these structures are strongly related to the availability of water and thus grazing opportunities. Besides, the overall distribution seems to be highly related to the traditional pastoral migration cycle of the modern Bedouin Ahl al-Jebel tribe. Based on written and archaeological evidence it can be assumed that this cycle of seasonal migration was similar in earlier times. Overall, the results demonstrate that the observed spatial distribution of clustered enclosures is influenced locally by natural characteristics and regionally by cultural practices.

The results of this thesis demonstrate how the development of different lifestyles, the application of water harvesting techniques as well as the integration of different forms of subsistence successfully enabled the habitation of the northeastern Jordanian desert. It becomes clear that in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of prehistoric and historical human-environmental interactions, different methodological approaches have to be integrated within an interdisciplinary research framework.

This doctoral thesis has been written within the program “Landscape Archaeology and Architecture” (LAA) of the Berlin Graduate School of Ancient Studies (BerGSAS) and was successfully completed in 2016.

Related Publications

Julia Meister, Robert Rettig and Brigitta Schütt, “Ancient runoff agriculture at Early Bronze Age Jawa (Jordan): Water availability, efficiency and food supply capacity”, in: Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 22 (Dec 2018), 359–371
Julia Meister, Human-Environmental Interactions in Northeastern Jordan (Dissertation), Berlin: 2017,
Julia Meister, Jan Krause, Bernd Müller-Neuhof , Marta Portillo, Tony Reimann and Brigitta Schütt, “Desert agricultural systems at EBA Jawa (Jordan): Integrating archaeological and paleoenvironmental records”, in: Quaternary International, 434 (2017), 33–50