The Town of 'Ain Ghazal
Gary Rollefson and Zeidan Kafafi
The beginning of the Neolithic period is arbitrarily defined by the appearance of agriculture,
which appeared in the Levant at ca. 8,300 bc. 'Ain Ghazal was not founded until almost a thousand
years later, and because of the local ecological combinations and the persistent presence of water
(the permanent stream of the Zarqa River and the copious spring of 'Ain Ghazal itself), it continued
to exist as a permanent settlement until around 5,000 bc or perhaps even later (cf. Rollefson et al.
1992: Table 1). This long duration of constant occupation - more than 2,000 years - is one of the most
important aspects of 'Ain Ghazal's archaeology, for it permits us to examine how the residents of 'Ain
Ghazal adapted themselves to the changing environment around them, changes that were strongly driven
by the unwitting actions of the people of 'Ain Ghazal themselves.
This long period of time witnessed four major developments in how the inhabitants of 'Ain Ghazal
lived their daily lives, acquired food and other necessary resources, built their houses and other
structures, organized themselves in the town, and interacted on a spiritual level with their fellow
human beings and physical environment. The two millennia can be broken down into the following periods
- Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (MPPNB) 7,250 - 6,500 bc
- Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (LPPNB) 6,500 - 6,000 bc
- Pre-Pottery Neolithic C (PPNC) 6,000 - 5,500 bc
- Yarmoukian Pottery Neolithic 5,500 - ? 5,000 bc
Three-dimensional view of 'Ain Ghazal, looking west, created in Google Earth (no
The site ranges from the building at the left center
of the photo to
the far edge on the right, and from the highway about one-third of the way
from the bottom of the
photo to about halfway up the hill.
Site Size and Setting
Fig 1. Map of 'Ain Ghazal.
The construction of a broad highway in 1974 cut
through ca. 600 m of one part of 'Ain Ghazal, (Figs. 1, 2L & 2R) but this destruction also had a
positive benefit: the bulldozer sections reveal a clear record of 'Ain Ghazal from its beginnings
until the end of its existence as a permanent farming town (Fig. 3 and fig. 4). With the assistance of
radiocarbon dates and time-sensitive artifacts, we can determine how rapidly the site grew, and the
vertical profiles also allow us to estimate the housing density and, in conjunction with excavation
results, provide the opportunity to estimate how large the population was from time to time. The
oldest layers occur directly atop sterile red clay, and it appears that 'Ain Ghazal began as a small
village, somewhere around 2 hectares (has) in area. The lucrative combination of environmental
conditions (see below) allowed a rapid MPPNB population growth, and within 600-700 years as many as
600-750 people lived together in a compact community that covered 5 has (Fig. 5 and fig. 6).
Fig 2. The section of 'Ain Ghazal west of the Zarqa River.
The end of the MPPNB
in the southern Levant was a tumultuous one, and there were severe disturbances in the settlement
pattern of the region (Rollefson 1987). Wholesale abandonment of farming villages in Israel and the
Jordan Valley began around this time, and the dislocated populations sought refuge elsewhere, probably
often in highland Jordan, and certainly some of them at 'Ain Ghazal. Near the end of the MPPNB and the
beginning of the LPPNB, 'Ain Ghazal underwent a virtual population explosion, expanding not only on
the main area west of the Zarqa River, but also across the stream on the eastern bank, altogether
doubling in size within a couple of generations to ca. 10 has in the early LPPNB and reaching 15 has
by 6,000 bc (Rollefson 1997a); by this time it is likely that around 2,500 people lived at 'Ain
Fig 3. A part of the bulldozer section just above and to the west
of the highway (near
the center of Fig. 2).
The term "town" is used as Adams and Nissen (1972: 18) defined the
term: falling between "villages" (0.1 to 6.0 hectares) and "cities" (greater than 25 hectares), towns
were intermediate in terms of size and population as well as structural complexity. Other PPNB towns
were founded in Jordan, including Wadi Shu