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Lecture notes: ‘Ain Ghazal

I thought I’d introduce a new feature to this site called “Lecture Notes” where readers can send in their notes on interesting lectures they attend.

Mother Macabre, a history lover and  long-time reader of this site, seems to attend a lot of interesting talks. She posted in A Forum About History about a lecture on ‘Ain Ghazal she went to at Santa Rosa Junior College which was presented by Dr. Gary Rollefson and was hosted by the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). I’ll let her take it away…

Today I attended a lecture by Dr. Gary Rollefson who has been excavating a site in Jordan known as ‘Ain Ghazal. He was hosted by the A.I.A. and spoke at Santa Rosa Junior College in Santa Rosa, CA.

Dr. Rollefson stated today that this site has been continuously inhabited since 10,300 B.C. He said it was the “New York City” of its time and represented the first known time that humans took actions to control their environment. They planted crops that were “artificial,” which, he explained, meant that they required human intervention for rejuvenation. They had to be picked and replanted.

Goats were raised for food and other products. Goat hair was woven into cloth. Hunting remained a necessity, as only half their meat came from goats.

Many spearheads were found at the site. They were attached to shafts with asphalt obtained off site. There were also many sickle blades found which were used for farming and for cutting reeds, which were used for mats.

Many clay figures of cattle were found. Some may have been toys, but Dr Rollefson stated that some were obviously made by shamans for apparent sympathetic magical purposes, having small flint “killing” shards embedded in their chests and heads. The clay used for the figures was obtained off site and stored in a pit to be used for ceramics. The figures were fired in a fire and were carbonized on the rear portion.

Talismans of pregnant female figures,believed to protect mothers during pregnancy, were also discovered.

There were only 40 human figures recovered. They were stylize ( they reminded me of Cycladic art) and had “CBS eyes” ( Dr. R’s pun) of shell.

Dr. Rollefson was impressed by the “magnificent” plaster floors at the site. Producing the floors was a labor-intensive process. He said that the floors were of such high quality workmanship that they could still mop them. Many of the floors had several places where they had been patched after the burial of one designated representative family member per generation. The burials were about 33 years apart, and were of varied sex and age. It is unknown how the rest were buried. Evidence shows that after decomposition, a small hole was made in the floor directly over the skull of the deceased, and the skull was removed ( without the jawbone) to be plastered in the likeness of the deceased, as was also done in nearby Jericho.

Dr. Rollefson theorized about the waxing and waning of the population in ‘Ain Ghazal. He talked about the changes in the construction of houses during the years, and believes that overpopulation deforested the area. At some point, plaster floors were no longer used, and multiple family dwellings were constructed. Then, most of the population seemed to move elsewhere, and the population decreased from over ( I’m hoping I remember correctly) 3,000-4,000 at the zenith to around 300.

Dr. Rollefson also spoke about temples found at the site. One of them appeared to have been destroyed by an earthquake. He noted the possible pattern of using 3 stones or 7 stones for alters and other structures in the temple. He said this would be important because the numbers 3 and 7 have religious significance in other cultures.

The lecture was fascinating, and Dr. Rollefson’s slides were excellent. Also, he is obviously an experienced lecturer, and managed to pack all of this information into an hour! We are very fortunate to have had this opportunity to hear him.

If you have some interesting lecture notes, post them in A Forum About History!

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2 thoughts on “Lecture notes: ‘Ain Ghazal

  1. The ruins pictured above were also shown by Dr Rollefson during his lecture. He described it as a storage unit and said these structures were used to store tools of seasonal inhabitants who lived elsewhere most of the year.

    The two-headed figures are an enigma. Dr. Rollefson theorized that they might represent marriage between clans from different settlements, but said that was pure conjecture.

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