The el-Hemmeh Archaeological Project is a multidisciplinary research project investigating several critical shifts in the economic and social practices of hunter-gatherers and agropastoralists that dramatically transformed human lifeways ten thousand years ago in the Near East. Research at el-Hemmeh is primarily focused on examining the transition from hunting and gathering to food production, investigating how dead were used to maintain community in early Neolithic societies, and exploring how the emergence of complex animal husbandry practices may have influenced Neolithic social organization.
El-Hemmeh is a multi-period site located in the Wadi Hasa, Jordan that contains a rare sequence of Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) deposits. Excavations at el-Hemmeh are directed by Prof. Dr. Cheryl Makarewicz of the Christian-Albrechts University, Kiel. Initial work at the site focused on the Late PPNB phase, which provided an important insights into economic strategies and social organization at a settlement much smaller than the so-called ‘mega-sites’ scattered throughout southern Jordan.
The excavation has now identified a significant PPNA occupation, which possibly represents a late phase transitional to the PPNB. Only two other sites are known from this phase in Jordan. As both the largest of these sites and the one with the best preservation of organic material, el-Hemmeh has the potential to provide substantial new information regarding this poorly known period. Recent excavation work has focused exclusively on the exceptionally well-preserved PPNA component of the settlement, which has yielded a rich record of architectural, botanical, faunal, and mortuary remains.
Multiple semi-subterranean stone structures been uncovered, each with its own deep occupational history and dynamic life cycle that suggest Hemmeh’s inhabitants occupied the settlement as part of a complex, possibly seasonally-based, mobility strategy. Initial macrobotanical and starch analyses suggest that people at Hemmeh were experimenting with barley cultivation while continuing to exploit seasonally available wild plants and tubers as fall-back foods. Faunal analyses indicate that people also engaged in a broad spectrum hunting strategies that exploited gazelle, wild boar, wild goats, foxes, and water fowl.
A unique complex of mortuary installations and practices previously unknown for the southern Levantine PPNA has also been identified at el-Hemmeh. Adults and infants, seated in an upright position, were interred within stone cists capped with horizontal stone slab markers. These specialized burial installations are all housed within a single, large oval structure reminiscent in size of communal structures seen at other PPNA settlements, and suggests that public treatment of the dead in shared spaces may have been an element of community maintenance/construction at el-Hemmeh.
Research at el-Hemmeh has been supported by the National Geographic Council for Research and Exploration, the American School for Prehistoric Research, the Cora DuBois Foundation, and the Christian-Albrechts University, Kiel.