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French Version

Uncovering Ice Age archaeology in Jordan

Early humans hunted large game near now-vanished lakes

The early prehistory and archaeology of the Middle Pleistocene, or Ice Age, is being revealed in remarkable detail in studies in southern Jordan. The work, begun in the late 1990s, has documented the presence of Homo erectus, our ancient ancestor, at a series of archaeological sites at Ayoun Qedim in the al-Jafr Basin.

Today al-Jafr Basin is one of the most arid places in the Middle East. During the Pleistocene, the basin was filled with an enormous freshwater lake fed by springs and run off. Its shores were frequented by large animals ancestral to those that occupy the East African savannah today. Al-Jafr Basin was one node on a chain of ancient lake basins that stretched from northwestern Saudi Arabia to northeastern Syria during the wetter times of the Ice Age. These lake basins formed an inland corridor for occupation by Homo erectus moving between Africa and Eurasia, say investigators Leslie A. Quintero and Philip J. Wilke from the University of California at Riverside, and Dr. Gary Rollefson from Whitman College, Washington.

The sites have yielded hundreds of heavy-duty butchering tools chipped from local deposits of flint. The tools are cleavers, a form of handaxe, that could be resharpened by striking distinctive flakes from the cutting end. Even these resharpening flakes were found, showing the tools were maintained as needed. The investigators say the tools were used to butcher animals like elephants and rhinos, which were hunted there when they came for water a quarter- to a half-million years ago. They note the similarity of the cleavers found at Ayoun Qedim with those from as far away as Boxgrove, England. Boxgrove was occupied at about the same time, upwards of 400,000 years ago. The cultural complex of that time is referred to by archaeologists as the Acheulian, and is distributed across much of the Old World.

The research at al-Jafr is conducted under permit from the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, and is funded by the American Center of Oriental Research in Amman and Whitman College. The investigators said their work was significantly aided by logistical support they received from the local Abu Tayeh Bedouin. - The Daily Star is grateful to Leslie A. Quintero, Philip J. Wilke and Dr. Gary Rollefson for contributing this report.

Amman,31August2004
Redaction
The Daily Star


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