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31 May 2010
Jordan Valley - cradle of civilisations?

Archaeological finds in the northern Jordan Valley are forcing experts to rethink the patterns of the earliest civilisations. In Tabqat Fahel, 90 kilometres north of Amman, recent finds indicate that the ancient site of Pella may have been a part of the cradle of civilisations.
     Over the past five seasons, University of Sydney teams have been focusing on the early Bronze Age period, 3600 BCE-2800 BCE, a time when humans went from smaller villages to larger towns and large-scale urban communities. When Australian and Jordanian teams began exploring early urbanisation in the Jordan Valley, many expected it to occur later and be influenced by the burgeoning civilisations to the east and west. Findings of a city wall and other structures, dating back to 3400 BCE and as early as 3600 BCE, show that Pella was a formidable city-state at the same time Sumerian Iraq was taking shape. "We found stuff as early if not earlier than Mesopotamia and much earlier than ancient Egypt," Stephen Bourke, University of Sydney professor and Pella project leader, said.
     With the unearthing of a fortified hilltop and large city walls on nearby Tal Husn, experts believe that the site of Pella was a formidable city around 3200-3400 BCE, 500 years earlier than previously expected for the area. "These are not just the signs of a small city, this is a massive mega-city," Bourke said. Copper findings at Pella originating from Anatolia and Cyprus also indicate significant economic, social and political development at a time as early as Mesopotamia and predating the reign of Egyptian pharaohs, Bourke said.
     The discovery of Cypriot copper even led experts to believe that ancient Cyprus began exporting copper in 2500 BCE, 300 years earlier than previously thought. However, 300 years later, in 2800 BCE, Bronze Age Pella civilisation abruptly stopped. "Pharaonic Egypt and Mesopotamia further developed into massive empires - and why didn't the Jordan Valley follow suit?" Bourke remarked, adding that future surveys, starting in 2011, will attempt to answer that question. Bourke theorised that a devastating earthquake combined with climate change may have contributed to slowing down development in the Jordan Valley.
     Also as part of future excavations in Pella, Australian and Jordanian teams will attempt to locate an elusive Bronze Age palace, a structure expected to be similar to the palaces built west of the River Jordan during the period. Some even hold out hope that the palace may yield one of the initial dreams of the Pella project when it was established some 30 years ago: A library of ancient clay tablets. "Initial findings indicate that the palace probably dates back to around 1400 BCE, which would be the right time period for the text and libraries in the area," Bourke said.

Source: The Jordan Times (28 May 2010)

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