The 2012-2014 project – University of Copenhagen

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The 2012-2014 project

Assessing the Late Epipalaeolithic occupation of the Azraq Basin (Jordan)

The project is funded by the Danish Agency for Science and Innovation through a grant from the Danish Council for Independent Research. It is part of a wider research initiativ:

The Epipalaeolithic Foragers in Azraq Project

About 12.800 years ago a sudden, global climatic cooling event - the 'Younger Dryas' - occurred, which resulted in temperatures as much as 5 degrees Celsius lower than today and decreased precipitation worldwide. Lasting for c. 1,300 years, its sudden occurrence is thought to have had a significant impact on human populations in southwest Asia, causing rapid depletion in food resources. Especially wild cereal grasses, which had become an important nutritional source, were less abundant, their geographical distribution becoming more restricted. Late Stone Age hunter-gatherers of the Natufian Culture (c. 12,500 - 9,500 BCE) had become reliant on wild cereals during the preceding warm phase, and now had to adapt to these harsher environmental conditions through population dispersal and by incipient cultivation of cereal grasses, marking the beginning of agriculture.

Some scholars have, however, become critical of the perceived importance of the Younger Dryas in reconstructing the reasons for the origins of agriculture. They argue that there is little correlation between cultural and climatic events and that the effects of climatic change on the local environmental scale is poorly understood. 

This project contributes to this ongoing debate by testing the chronological and environmental parameters of the Younger Dryas Model in an understudied region: the Azraq Basin of eastern Jordan. Through excavations at the Late Epipalaeolithic Natufian site of Shubayqa 1 the project's objective is to better understand the timing of Late Natufian expansion into the arid zone, examine the impact of the Younger Dryas locally, and build up a more nuanced picture of the economy and settlement pattern in the Azraq Basin. Furthermore, the project is carrying out surveys across the Shubeika region to understand the landscape archaeology of Late Epipalaeolithic and early Neolithic communities.

Participants and Collaborators

  • Dr. Tobias Richter, Project Director, ToRS, University of Copenhagen
  • Dr. Louise Martin, Zooarchaeology, Institute of Archaeology, University College London
  • Dr. Matthew Jones, Geomorphology, School of Geography, University of Nottingham
  • Dr. Lisa Maher , Micromorphology, Department of Anthropology, University of California Berkley
  • Dr. Jay T. Stock , Palaeoanthropology, Department of Biological Anthropology, University of Cambridge
  • Amaia Arranz Otaegui, Archaeobotany, Departamento de Geografía, Prehistoria y Arqueología, Universidad del País Vasco-Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea
  • Dr Lisa Yeomans, Archaeozoology

Collaborating Institutions


  • Jones, M. and T. Richter. 2011. "Palaeoclimatic and archaeological implications of Pleistocene and Holocene environments in Azraq, Jordan" Quaternary Research Vol. 76 (3), pp.: 363-372
  • Richter, T., A.N. Garrard , S. Allcock and L. Maher. 2011 "Interaction Before Agriculture: Exchanging Material and Sharing Knowledge in the Final Pleistocene Levant." Cambridge Archaeological Journal 21 (1), 95-114
  • Maher, L.A., T. Richter, and J.T. Stock. forthcoming. "The Early and Middle Epipalaeolithic of the Southern Levant: Extending the Chronology of Social Complexity" Evolutionary Anthropology
  • Richter, T. and L. Maher. forthcoming. "The Late Epipalaeolithic in the Azraq Basin: a reappraisal." In Bar-Yosef, O. and F.R. Valla (eds.) The Natufian Culture in the Levant II. International Monographs in Prehistory, Ann Arbor, pp.: tbc