|11 August 2017
Hundreds of stone tombs discovered in Jordan
Hundreds of ancient stone tombs have been discovered in Jebel Qurma, south of Damascus, in a 'black desert' stretching across northeastern Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Many are covered by stone cairns, while others are more complex 'tower tombs'.
Tomb robbers have pillaged many of the burials, but archaeologists have found clues to how human life changed in the region over the course of millennia.
Project leader Peter Akkermans, of Leiden University in the Netherlands, writes that: "While the foci of daily living and domestic activity were in secluded areas at the foot of the basaltic uplands or in the deep valleys through which wadis run, it appears that the preferential areas for the disposal of the dead were on the surrounding high plateaus and the summits of the basalt hills."
The team found evidence suggesting that between the late third millennium BCE and the early first millennium BCE, few people lived in Jebel Qurma. A cemetery that contains about 50 cairns stopped being used around 4,000 years ago, which seems to coincide with a large scale withdrawal of people from the region.
Until very recently it was believed that people did not return to Jebel Qurma until the mid or late first millennium BCE, but recent research reveals that the area was re-inhabited in the early first millennium BCE by people who did not use pottery.
Another possibility is that people were living in Jebel Qurma, but their remains have yet to be found.
In the late first millennium BCE, the inhabitants began building 'tower tombs', a type both larger and more difficult to construct than the earlier cairns. Some towers are up to 5 meters in diameter and 1.5 meters high, with straight facades made of large, flattened basalt slabs weighing 300 kilos.
Initially, Akkermans thought the tower tombs were built for elite members of the society, but recent fieldwork reveals the type is common in the both the local area and the desert region as a whole.
Edited from Jebel Qurma, LiveScience (13 July 2017)
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