Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tabular Scraper Production Sites

Earlier this week I joined Prof G, B and T, all archaeologists. Prof G was leading us to some sites south of Azraq where tabular scrapers were once produced. T is an archaeologist who specializes in Upper Paleolithic and Epipaleolithic sites and directs excavations at sites in Azraq. His fellow countryman, B, recently studied similar sites up near Ruweished, not far from the Jordan-Iraq border (see our post on "Burqu, basalt and badia", June 3 for the area of Ruweished).

What, you may ask, is a tabular scraper? These are tools made of flint that are sometimes found at Late Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Early Bronze sites, so from perhaps 6000 BC to 3000 BC. The tools are large "flakes" of flint material. What makes them interesting is that they are a very specific, recognizable flint tool found across sites in Jordan, Palestine and Israel - but in very low numbers. Although we find them at sites far to the west, including sites virtually at the Mediterranean, there has been very little information about where they were being made, or where the flint originated. Some sites where these tools were manufactured are known from the Negev, but those are fairly small spots and seemed unlikely to be sufficient to have supplied all of the known sites. Thus the discovery of sites where many of these were produced is a significant discovery to archaeologists working during these periods across the region.

We left from Amman and headed south on the Airport highway, or the Desert Highway. This is the same road we used before to get to Wadi Ram and other points south. However, to get to the area, we need to head southeast, so we eventually took what is know as the "HAZMAT" road, a well paved road that cuts across the desert to the east. As you might have guessed, this road leads to a major, very large area for the disposal of waste. This is, in fact, a little known highway that leads to Qasr Tuba (see earlier post Tuba bound, May 27)

Since we were with prehistorians, no one had been to Qasr Tuba before (!), although T and Prof G have been visiting Jordan for some time. (actually, few people visit this site - its very remote, and not accessible by car). We stopped off for a quick visit, which had no site caretaker this time (presumably on Ramadan leave). In his wake he left many, many flies to keep people away. We quickly complied. The lack of flint may have contributed to the drifting interest of the prehistorians.

Driving away quickly in the hopes of decreasing the fly population, we headed south on the main road from Azraq to Saudi Arabia. At one point we stopped at the "Ba'er Station" for fuel and snacks, which you can see off in the distance. Although I actually had tinned tuna and sardines with me, there was no bread, crackers or anything similar, so that idea was out. Everyone had different choices: Prof G, being wealthy and tenured, went for the Hala Chips; being a naive and poor money manager, I did the same.

T, on the other hand, went for the Krokodile chips.

G went for the "Ringo".

The taste comparison achieved a quick and conclusive consensus: they were all nasty. But we all agreed that G won the prize -- the policitically incorrect Ringos were easily the most revolting of the bunch. Or any that I had ever tasted. Apparently it IS possible to simply whip cheap oils and then make them spongy (not really crunchy). No need for actual vegetables or anything. Or perhaps its a similar technology to cotton candy, where by adding enough air makes a sponge chip out of oil.

Our charming ramadan lunch complete, Prof G easily found one of the sites that he had identified years ago.
What you are looking is a vein of flint that has been ripped up. The people found the layer of flint, and then dug down, so that we can now see the shallow pit forming in the photo above.

In order to make tabular scrapers, ancient flint knappers really wanted one thing: a very large, flat flake from the outside of the flint. This outer flake would still have the cortex on it (sort of the 'skin'). So at quarries like this the primary evidence you find are large flint nodules with negative bulbs of percussion (which you can see in the photo above), where massive blows have knocked off these large cortical flakes. The flakes were then moved somewhere else, trimmed for the desired shape of the tool, and then either used or perhaps exchanged.
The vein of flint is also visible eroding out of the side of the cliff (below).Of course, it CAN be difficult to get a good shot from above, so a little help from Said's truck helps immensely.


Frances Goodman فرانسيس said...

That is so freakin' cool!

MMK and YMR said...

I was hoping you would read it - hoping that someone would appreciate the pointy rocks!

Sue said...

I have to admit it's kinda cool too...for a site with no visible bones.