Building a Sense of Community: People and Architecture in Neolithic Jordan
Professor Bill Finlayson, Director, Council for British Research in the Levant (CBRL)
Professor Bill Finlayson, Director and CEO of the Council for British Research in the Levant (CBRL) presented a very interesting and informative lecture to a large audience at the MBI Al Jaber Seminar Room on Thursday, 19th February. He described how populations began to settle down in more permanent communities in Jordan circa 12,000 years ago, explaining that as they built their new communities, effecting the changes required to enable them to live and work together in large numbers, the shift from dependence on wild foods to the development of farming took place.
Professor Finlayson touched briefly on Kathleen Kenyon’s research on Neolithic Jordan during the 1950s, when she was a leading archaeologist of Neolithic culture in the Fertile Crescent, and cited how each generation since then has picked up a different theme for the famous Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) Jericho tower. He also mentioned Gordon Childe’s revolutionary approach to how the Neolithic occurred – that everything changed together with the arrival of the ‘Neolithic Package’. It was fascinating to learn that currently it is believed the building of the Jericho tower occurred before farming itself began and that Jordan is one of the few places where people ‘changed themselves’ rather than adopting farming from elsewhere.
The role of architecture in the new settlements was vital to building the new sense of community and society that helped drive the economic changes. There is evidence of a wide range of architectural forms including specialized buildings - early granaries for storing cereal crops and a large communal building with ‘tiered’ benches which Professor Finlayson believes was connected to food processing, as well as having a ‘performance’ role. These are clearly visible in the landscape and so could be evidence of sharing within the community rather than ownership by individual groups. Bill Finlayson and his team are of the opinion that people are consciously experimenting at these PPNA sites. And all of this occurs before they actually become farmers … So for thousands of years before farming really begins, Neolithic people are “… constructing the communities that then require the intensification of food production to go alongside and sustain them. The driving force is very much about building a community”.
The MBI Al Jaber lecture series continues in March with Professor Trevor Marchand’s much anticipated presentation on “Architecture that ‘Fills the Eye’: Building Traditions in Highland Yemen”. Professor Marchand is Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology at SOAS.