Radiometric Dating of Wadi Zarqa Ma’in 1, a Limestone Sinkhole Natural Faunal Trap near the Dead Sea, Using Data from Test Pitting and a Portable Coring System

Publication Name

Near Eastern Archaeology


The natural faunal trap site of Wadi Zarqa Ma’in 1 (WZM-1) is located ten kilometers southwest of the city of Madaba in Jordan (fig. 1), near the Dead Sea (N 31o 37' 17.0'',E 35o 43' 00.6'') and approximately 730 m above mean sea level. The limestone sinkhole, resulting from karst dissolution processes, measures over 30 m in maximum depth and is a significant source in the region of faunal, microbotanical, and sedimentological data recording paleoecology and paleoenvironmental change. Along several approaches, the sinkhole is not readily visible, and the initial fall is usually fatal to large mammals. Egress is not possible for most vertebrate species that do survive the fall due to high, overhanging walls. The accumulation of fresh animal carcasses at the base of the feature is an additional attractant, as this food resource may entice scavengersto attempt to enter the sinkhole voluntarily (Friscia et al. 2008). How long this sinkhole existed in a configuration similar to the present (a large, open pit) is unknown, but its large size and the depth of the known deposits indicate a functional life likely well into the Pleistocene. The talus deposits accumulating at the base of WZM-1 have an exposed minimum depth of over 10 m, with the maximum depth currently unknown and likely much greater. The presence of Middle Paleolithic stone tools in low densities around WZM-1 suggests that the limestone feature could have been used by hominins, although not in its current configuration.

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Funding Sponsor

Department of Antiquities



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