Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Wadi Ramm visit

(NOTE: If you already read this post, better images as well as a few new ones were added.)

Four days ago, I (Yo) joined Prof G and a medical doctor from London (Dr. P) for a trip down to Wadi Ramm (often spelled and pronounced 'Rum'), the largest wadi in Jordan. For the more adventuresome tourists to Jordan, this is THE place to go, particularly if you want a desert environment with striking mesas, beautiful layers of colored sandstones and granite, and red sand. For those who have never heard of the place, the wadi is where parts of Lawrence of Arabia were filmed; Lawrence was based here part of the time during the Great Arab Revolt of 1917-18. It was also used to represent the surface of Mars in the movie "Red Planet" (thank you Wikipedia!). The stark beauty of the landscape is remakably similar to the American southwest, an environment that geologists particularly enjoy without all that annoying vegetation and so on.

Wadi Ramm, looking to the south

With Prof. G at the helm, we headed south along the Desert Highway from Amman, a less scenic route (than the King's Highway, which winds its way slowly down canyons like Wadi Mujib) for the early part of the trip. Eventually we arrived at a pre-pottery Neolithic (PPN) site known as Ain Jammam. Ain Jammam was built on a steep incline near a spring ('ain); the view from Ain Jammam looks like this:

Although excavated, very little is known about the site because it remains largely unpublished, but the architecture is very similar to other PPN sites to the east of the Jordan Valley. You can see that the site is located on a steep slope, and the walls remain remarkably well-preserved despite their continued exposure, even preserving a window. These buildings probably had a second story.
From there we continued south to Wadi Ramm. Located just about 45 kilometers north of Aqaba, Wadi Ramm is a seemingly remote area yet easily accessible from the major Amman-Aqaba highway, although you need a high clearance four wheel drive to get anywhere. Petra certainly attracts many more visitors, but the Jordan authorities have established an entrance and small settled bedouin town near the entrance, where visitors will find basic foods, water and drivers willing to take tourists around the desert in jeeps (almost exclusively Toyotas, it should be known as Toyota Town). Behind the first set of Toyotas is a 'jebel' known as the Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Of course there are other ways to tour Wadi Ramm as well....

Various places in the desert of Wadi Ramm have bedouin tents set up for overnight tourists to spend the night, bedouin style (although some seem to have those port-a-johns set up, not a common sight at most bedouin encampments).
I had never visited Wadi Ramm before. Visiting with Prof. G. was a particularly lucky opportunity because he was recently working on clearing and documenting some enigmatic structures in the Wadi Ramm. Some of these may be late prehistoric (Late Neolithic, Chalcolithic or Early Bronze -- 6th to 4th millennium BC), but there really hasn't been any way to date the structures yet. His research in this area is only just beginning and will prove to be tough, but will produce a whole new set of information about the area.

You can just barely make out the wall lines in this photo, below and to the left of the truck (my apologies, for some reason, the only way I have been able to upload photos was to make them very small and low resolution. As I have no way to reasonably blame RJ, I'm going to go with Wanadoo).

There are a huge number of these structures, both circular and rectilinear, as well as tumuli (intentional piles of rock). I'm only putting a few here, but it seems people were returning to the area and perhaps re-using the structures, possibly for ritual practices; its also possible that they frequently built new ones as part of the rites, disregarding the earlier structures. There is virtually no material culture on which to base an interpretation, although this might change as people like Prof. G. begin serious investigations and excavations. Finding associated artifacts to understand when they were made is difficult because there is so little depth of cultural deposits with these features. This also causes problems for preservation of carbonized material that could be used for radiocarbon dating. In addition to this beautifully preserved circular structure,

one of the more enigmatic features was the long, sinuous "path" or "wall" located near some of these other features. Whether or not the different segments of this path were connected at one time isn't entirely clear. And again, there is no way to date this so far.

There were also many rectilinear structures of stone, such as those below, with four stone walls surrounding a single standing stone in the center. A few appeared to have some form of stone pavement on the inside.

Of course, with all these structures around, why wouldn't a little bedouin kid build his own model of a structure, in this case a miniature goat pen.

Prof. G. was also kind enough to take us around as tour leader as well. I had never been to Wadi Ramm before, and so it was good to see the rock art in various places, including camels, dancers,

praying men, 'tripod men' (ahem, see below), and various inscriptions in Thamudic and other scripts.

Above, the "Big Man"; images created in similar styles are known in Saudi Arabia.

We also visited the Nabatean temple, which definitely fell under the heading of "post-interesting era" with our group (sorry C!).

We spent the night on mats under the stars, with blankets against the chill of the desert air. The next day we cruised over to visit Lawrence's spring, where there was additional rock art and a camel watering hole.

We also stopped at a Pre-Pottery Neolithic site, partially excavated. You can see the circular walls of semi-subterranean structures. It is also possible to make out where Diana Kirkbride put in a trench; as Prof G. noted, its good that she barely touched upon any of the structures, or she might never have discovered the impressive PPN site of Beidha. There are also outlines of rectilinear structures, but it doesn't seem that the archaeologist excavated any of these.

Headed out of Ramm, we stopped off for a coffee and then hit the road.
On the way back we stopped and climbed to the top of a mesa where a major flint quarry was exploited, possibly for the production of 'tabular' fan scrapers, a particularly wide flat type of tool commonly associated with the Chalcolithic period (4500-3600 BC) but also found at Late Neolithic and Early Bronze sites. The ground was just littered with flint, so much in fact that picking out the knapped tools and debitage from the naturally fractured flint was sometimes difficult. The production of tabular scrapers (a type of tool) requires a massive blow to the exterior of the large blocks of flint in order to produce large cortical flakes (large flat pieces with the weathered exterior of the stone).

We also climbed the next small mesa to the north to investigate a Roman structure. Apparently this was badly destroyed, although either side of a vaulted structure was still visible. Who destroyed it wasn’t really clear because there was so much rubble piled back on top of it, possibly from the construction of the high wire pylons set into the ground.
More intriguing was the older Ottoman section of the village across the highway. Located right next to the old tracks for the Hijazi railway, the mudbrick structures are still in great shape (at least from a distance!). This seems like a great spot for some modest reconstruction and preservation of the older village right next to the major north south artery.

From there we made our back to the cooler air of Amman. It was a great trip, and it will be fascinating to follow Prof G's research into the enigmatic structures of Wadi Ramm.
Watch out for those dust devils G!


Frances Goodman فرانسيس said...

Yeah, that is really neat (except for the post-interesting picture you had there).

MMK and YMR said...

Thanks, the post-interesting (really post, post-interesting) site was just to prove we were there! Sorry the flint outcrop was so low res, it was a wonderful site.

Walter Ward said...

Yawn... really old stuff ;)