From wetlands to deserts: The role of water in the prehistoric occupation of eastern Jordan

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Palaeolandscapes in Archaeology: Lessons for the Past and Future


In the Azraq Basin of eastern Jordan, dramatic landscape changes from wetlands to desert resulted in major shifts in settlement and land use over time. Palaeoenvironmental research here suggests that, like today, water availability was a crucial factor for past populations. Recent work at Kharaneh IV (19.8-18.6 kya) indicates settlement of this aggregation site around the end of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM; 26.5-19 kya) and abandonment by the start of a second drying period, Heinrich Stadial 1 (HS1; 18-15.5 kya). In contrast to regional narratives that associate aggregation and “settling in” during the Epipalaeolithic (23-11.6 kya) with phases of climatic amelioration, intensively occupied sites in eastern Jordan during this time are associated with increased rates of evaporation and shrinking wetlands. Ongoing drying, however, led the occupants of Kharaneh IV to reconsider their use of this locale, and aggregation sites soon disappear entirely from the region, perhaps signalling the abandonment of the very practice of aggregation as a socioecological strategy. The subsequent occupation of the Azraq Basin at the end of the Pleistocene and into the Holocene was strongly influenced by fluctuations in water availability in this newly aridifying landscape. Past occupants experienced similar situations to modern-day inhabitants of this area, where water is an increasingly dwindling resource and continues to shape how people engage with the landscape.

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