Hundreds of 4,000 year old stone ‘tower’ tombs found in Jordan’s Dead Fire desert

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Ancient stone tombs, some dating back more than 4,000 years, have been uncovered by archaeologists working in Jordan’s Black Desert. The burial sites were discovered in the Jebel Qurma region by a team of Dutch researchers.

Hundreds of 4,000 year old stone 'tower' tombs found in Jordan's Dead Fire desert
A giant cairn which dates back to the second or third century AD 
[Credit: Jebel Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project]

The region is so desolate that one early explorer described it as a land of ‘Dead Fire’. The discovery of the burials could help to shed light on the history of human occupation of the area over the course of millennia, as well as the conditions they faced. Though many people once lived in Jebel Qurma, its climate is now inhospitable, and very few people live there.

‘Except for a short period in the spring, the whole of this country looks like a dead fire — nothing but cold ashes,’ wrote Group Capt. Lionel Rees, an officer in the British Royal Air Force, in an article he published in 1929 in the journal Antiquity.

Hundreds of 4,000 year old stone 'tower' tombs found in Jordan's Dead Fire desert
This
enclosure in Jebel Qurma in Jordan was built about 8,000 years ago and
was reused sometime 

between AD 100 and 400 [Credit: Jebel Qurma
Archaeological Landscape Project]

The latest discoveries were made by the Jebel Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project, led by Leiden University in the Netherlands, which seeks to study Jordan’s extensive basalt-strewn northeastern desert.

The area is one of the least explored in the region, partly due to the inhospitable habitat. Tomb robbers have disturbed many of the grave sites, but the team has been able to uncover valuable clues about the region’s human history. They believe that the area was virtually uninhabited for a period of roughly 1,500 to 2,000 years.

Hundreds of 4,000 year old stone 'tower' tombs found in Jordan's Dead Fire desert
A 3D model showing a “tower tomb” atop a cairn [Credit: Jebel Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project]

One example of evidence supporting this theory is a cemetery, containing 50 cairns, that stopped being used around four millennia ago.But recent research shows that people were living in the area again around the first century AD,  according to reports in Live Science.

Researchers Peter Akkermans and Merel Brüning, from the university’s faculty of archaeology, said the ‘abandonment of the cemetery, and, by association, the places for the corresponding living community, seems to have coincided with the wholesale withdrawal from the Jebel Qurma region.’

Hundreds of 4,000 year old stone 'tower' tombs found in Jordan's Dead Fire desert
This cairn dates back more than 2,500 years to the Iron Age 
[Credit: Jebel Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project]

It is not known exactly why this is the case. One other theory is that people were still living in the region, but the evidence of their presence is yet to be discovered. Perhaps people didn’t return to Jebel Qurma ‘because they did not leave,’ Dr Akkermans told Live Science. Climate change could be another possible reason.

Dr Akkermans added: ‘Evidently, climate change or the like came to my mind as well, but at the moment, we simply do not have the data to support or deny this claim. Research into local environmental and climatic conditions is certainly one of my aims for further research in the desert of Jebel Qurma.’

Hundreds of 4,000 year old stone 'tower' tombs found in Jordan's Dead Fire desert
Skeleton found in its burial chamber [Credit: Jebel Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project]

Many of the earlier tombs, dating from before the apparent abandonment of the area, are covered by stone stone piles called cairns.

Later sites are covered with more complex ‘tower tombs’, according to the report. Some were constructed with stones weighing over 660 pounds (300 kilograms). These date from the late first millennium BC.

Hundreds of 4,000 year old stone 'tower' tombs found in Jordan's Dead Fire desert
Archaeologists have discovered and recorded hundreds of ‘tower tombs’ in Jordan’s Jebel Qurma desert 
[Credit: Jebel Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project]

The tower tombs are up to 16 feet (five metres) in diameter and five feet (1.5 metres) high. They differ from the other cairns by their distinct tower-like shape and their clear, straight facade made of large, flattened basalt slabs.

It was originally believed that these tower tombs were a sign of wealth and prestige, but the sheer number discovered since suggests that this is not the case.

The full results were published in the journal Near Eastern Archaeology.

Author: Tim Collins | Source: DailyMail [July 15, 2017]

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