This project investigated the human activities in the arid Jordanian Northern Badia (NE Jordan) in the Chalcolithic and the Early Bronze Ages. Past and present geoarchaeological research focused on evaluating the character and scope of socioeconomic activities in this region in the mentioned periods, and on identifying possible indications for external relations connected with these activities.


This project continued the research begun in 2010 in the framework of the project “Aride Lebensräume im 5. bis frühen 3. Jahrtausend v. Chr.: Mobile Subsistenz, Kommunikation und Ressourcennutzung in der Nördlichen Badia (Nordostjordanien)” funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). Since 2015 the work has been continued within the DFG funded project “Die Besiedlung der nördlichen Badia (Nordostjordanien) im Spätchalkolithikum und der Frühbronzezeit. Ein Beitrag zur archäologischen Siedlungsgeographie in ariden Regionen Vorderasiens“ . The dissertation (A-1-5-1) Human-Environmental Interactions in Northeastern Jordan finalized in December 2016 builded up the key element of this Topoi-project.

The Jordanian Northern Badia is part of the vast steppe desert Badiyat ash-Sham, which is located between southern Mesopotamia and the southern Levant. The Northern Badia is defined by a limestone steppe desert in the east and an at first sight almost inaccessible basalt steppe desert in the west. Recent research showed that anthropogenic activity took place in Northern Badia as early as the Late Acheulian period (around 200,000 BC). The geoarchaeological research activities in this region, focusing chronologically on the Chalcolithic and the Early Bronze Ages (the 5th to the early 3rd millennium BC), are motivated by the circumstance that early complex societies evolved in this period at the same time in the neighboring regions of southern Mesopotamia and the southern Levant. The investigation of the possible effects of this development on the socio-economy of the centrally located but arid Northern Badia was the goal of this project.  The major aims were the identification of evidence for Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age socioeconomic activities in the Northern Badia, the evaluation of the character and scope of these activities, and its possible external relations.


After five survey expeditions, the following key results have been achieved: On two transects following wadis and mudpans in the basalt steppe desert a large number of clustered enclosures many of which date to the Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age period, attest an intensive utilization of these areas by nomadic pastoralistsFurthermore, 9118 clustered enclosures were mapped based on remote sensing data in the entire Jordanian basalt steppe desert. The observed spatial distribution of these clustered enclosures is influenced locally by natural characteristics and regionally by cultural practices.

In the surroundings of Jawa, a large Late Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age settlement in the western part of the basalt steppe desert, probably the oldest artificially irrigated garden terraces were discovered, dating into the Late Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age. The 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. Based on phytolith analyzes and a crop modeling approach, the functioning and efficiency of these agricultural terrace systems could be proven.

In the limestone steppe desert to the east of the research area, large opencast flint mines and cortical tool blank production sites adjacent to the mines were identified. Several millions of these typical Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age tool blanks were produced here. The clearly export-orientated production of these blanks is exemplified by the fact that only the negative imprints of the blanks on cores remained on the sites. XRF analyses of the flint raw material of this region and another comparable mining region in SE Jordan have been carried out and additionally XRF analyses of cortical tools from several Late Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age sites in Jordan have been executed. A statistical analyzes of the data is currently under way and will hopefully enable us to identify possible destinations of the cortical trade export. Research on the direction of the distribution of these items is currently underway.

The results of this project were broadly presented on various international conferences and were published in several scientific journals. For more information see:

Related publications (selection)

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

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

Bernd Müller-Neuhof , Alison Betts and George Wilcox, “Jawa, eastern Jordan: the first 14C Dates from the early occupation Phase”, in: Zeitschrift für Orientarchäologie, 8 (2015), 124–131