INEA Project

Identifying activity areas in Neolithic sites through ethnographic analysis of phytoliths and geochemical residues (INEA)

About the project

The Neolithic in southwest Asia (c 11,700-7800 cal BP) is an important period in human history which saw the advent of sedentism, agriculture, and ultimately the rise of complex societies. It is also, however, one of the most poorly understood. This is partly due to the problems associated with site recognition and partly because of the lack of preservation of many forms of evidence, particularly biological. As a result, many Neolithic sites are comprised of a series of structures, the function of which is difficult, if not impossible, to interpret. Therefore, it is critical that we maximise the information that can be acquired from these sites.

To address this problem, we are conducting a large scale combined analysis of phytoliths and geochemical elements from ethnographic sites to determine if certain activity areas, e.g. middens, hearths and floors, have particular phytolith and geochemical signatures that can help us recognise these same areas archaeologically.

Two different ethnographic settlement types are being studied: 1) Bedouin camp sites and 2) abandoned mud and stone constructed villages. These have been chosen because they provide the best available analogies for the Neolithic sites which we are analysing as part of this project. The Bedouin tent sites are the ethnographic analogy for the small scale, ephemeral, pastoralist, and seasonally occupied sites of Wadi el-Jilat and Azraq, while the abandoned village of Ma’tan, near Tafila in southern Jordan is the comparison for the more substantial, stone and mud brick constructed sites of Ain Ghazal, Beidha, and WF16.

Project objectives

  • Integrate combined phytolith and geochemical methods to identify activity areas within settlements (e.g. middens, floors, hearths) through ethnographic analysis. This will determine if certain areas have unique phytolith and geochemical signatures that can be used to identify these same areas archaeologically.
  • Increase our understanding of how phytolith and geochemical assemblages form within archaeological sites through ethnographic analysis.
  • Establish how phytolith and geochemical assemblages are altered through time by taphonomy (i.e. the processes assemblages go through from creation to analysis which can alter their composition), a previously under studied topic.
  • Use existing knowledge of how space was used within targeted Neolithic sites to assess how effective the combined phytolith and geochemical approach is at identifying activity areas.
  • Determine if a combined phytolith and geochemical method can inform on how settlements were used during the Neolithic period, providing important new information about lifestyles during the critical transition from mobile hunter-gatherers to sedentary farmers.
  • Increase outreach and public engagement through two short documentaries to: A) educate the public about the work archaeologists do and its societal value; B) allow engagement with a local community.

Photo gallery

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Recent news

Reflections on filming in Jordan

Fieldwork diary

Click on the links below to find out about our 2014 fieldwork season

Al Ma’tan 12/04/2014 – 25/04/2014

Beidha 21/04/2014

Wadi Faynan 25/04/2014 – 01/05/2014

Ain Ghazal 06/05/2014 – 09/05/2014

Amman 30/04/2014 – 11/05/2014

Conference abstracts and posters

Click on the items below to find out about conferences we have attended and papers we have presented

INEA AEA Nov2014 conference abstract

INEA Archaeology Bites Nov2015 seminar abstract

INEA BANEA Jan2015 conference abstract (Jenkins)

INEA BANEA Jan2015 conference abstract (Palmer)

INEA BANEA Jan2015 conference abstract (Allcock)

INEA SAA April2015 conference abstract

INEA PCCT May2015 conference abstract

INEA EAA Sept2015 conference abstract

Daniella Vos DIG poster

Daniella Vos ICAANE poster

Daniella Vos Festival of Learning poster

Forthcoming events and activities

  • Visit our poster presentation at the 21st Annual meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA conference) in Glasgow (September 2015) presented by Samantha Allcock.
  • Come and see Daniella Vos (PhD) talk about combined phytolith and geochemical analyses also at the 21st Annual meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) conference.
  • Look out for news from project member Sarah Elliott who will be starting a year long Research Fellowship at the CBRL (British Institute) in Amman, Jordan (from September 2015). She will be continuing, and building on the work conducted by the INEA project in an attempt to extend our knowledge about spatial signatures obtained from abandoned ethnographic village sites. This work will also expand on work Sarah conducted as part of her doctoral project, and enable her to learn Arabic alongside research work.