The Neolithic Heritage Trail of Southern Jordan is a project proposed to the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities of Jordan by Bill Finlayson, Samantha Dennis, Hans-Georg Gebel, Charlott Hoffman Jensen, Mohammad Najjar, Alan Simmons, Ingolf Thuesen, Talal Hamad al-Amarin. The objective of the project is to increase national and international understanding and awareness of the importance of the Neolithic of Southern Jordan and to enable the local community to be involved and benefit in the presentation of cultural heritage. The trail includes the following sites in the Greater Petra Area:
- Ghuwayr 1
- Shkarat Msaied
- Wadi Faynan 16
Archaeology, heritage and tourism are closely connected in Jordan, but most of resources and publicity are devoted to the already well-known sites such as Petra and Jerash. The majority of sites promoted are broadly speaking classical or early Islamic and can generally be described as monumental. Jordan is rich in some of the world’s most important early Neolithic sites but there appears to be a belief amongst the archaeological and heritage community working in Jordan that such sites are not appealing to tourists. However, there is a great potential in presenting early prehistoric sites using successful examples from other countries and going on to outline plans for developing a Neolithic trail that will run from Wadi Faynan (WF16 PPNA, Ghuwayr 1 PPNB) up the Wadi Nimla (Shkarat Mziad) to Baja and Beidha and ending at Basta. This trail will help to diversify the range of cultural heritage experiences available in Jordan and promote the international importance of these early sites.
These archaeological sites are important because they provide a direct record of one of the major shifts in human behaviour, one that is often seen as the most crucial shift towards modern society and economy. People stopped surviving solely on wild foods, and began to live on plants and animals that they had domesticated. People began to live together in settlements, staying in one place for longer and longer periods of time, in larger and larger groups. It is the period when the first real signs of religion began to appear, with special buildings, complicated burial rituals, and many symbolic artefacts; famously in Jordan the statues from Ain Ghazal. Arguably it is the moment when people’s entire vision of the world and their place in it changed. People no longer saw themselves as part of nature, but increasingly as something different, controlling their environment, a change that may be connected to the beginning of farming. Without the Neolithic there would be no modern society, no urbanism, world population levels could never have risen beyond a few million, and perhaps even our ability to live together in large communities would never have developed. Even the modern pastoralist lifestyle of the Bedouin could not have developed without the domestication of animals first achieved by the pre-pottery Neolithic people.
In Jordan the preservation of Neolithic sites is exceedingly good, the story is of great interest to humanity, and it is set in some of the greatest landscapes imaginable. Initial efforts have already been undertaken at several sites, including conservation works, paths, fencing and information panels at Basta, Beidha, Ghuwayr 1 and Shkarat Msaied. There are already large numbers of visitors who pass by Beidha, and not only as part of tours to little Petra. However, as yet there has been no real investment in resources or effort.
One great possibility for the south of Jordan would be to develop a Neolithic trail. There is a distinct concentration of spectacular Neolithic sites that are now all connected by road. It is possible to go on a surfaced road from Wadi Faynan 16, the earliest of these sites, see Ghuwayr, enjoy the amazing scenery up from the Wadi Arabah, to Shqarat Mziad, pass Baja, reach Beidha, and finish at Basta. The RSCN wilderness lodge in Faynan and the many tourist facilities in Wadi Mousa and its region make the logistics of the trip relatively easy. There is also an option of walking through the landscape with Bedouin guides. Many of the local Bedouin groups have been involved in the excavations at the various sites, some of them becoming enthusiastic and well-informed. They already lead small walking groups in the area. The Neolithic sites are very much part of their landscape and in an area with few economic possibilities it would be very useful to provide some economic return from the archaeological sites. In addition, given the remote location of these sites it is extremely important that local population are sympathetic to the conservation of the sites and any information panels, or their promotion may well lead to a faster deterioration. The involvement of the local population provides a greater probability that the project will be sustainable. There is a UNESCO project regarding the intangible heritage of the Bedouin, and although this relates to recent and contemporary Bedouin culture, it has included discussion of open air and living museums. The archaeological sites would fit well within such a wider approach.
The current proposal considers the following issues of importance:
- Site Preservation
- Site Presentation
- Educating Locals
Note: Mariam Bachich, Cottbus/ Homs has already produced a document describing the marketing of the trail (available upon request to firstname.lastname@example.org).