Changing Planet

Excavations at the Site of an Ancient Techno-Revolution

After five years of patient digging in Jordan’s Faynan district, a team of researchers has concluded their excavation of the world’s best-preserved ancient mining and metalwork site.  Believed to have been a political and economic center of mining and metallurgy, this evidence suggests that Jordan was a technological leader of the first millennium BC.

On the lookout for hidden artifacts and indicators of ancient civilization, University of California, San Diego Professor Tom Levy and his team used new cyber-archaeology methods, large-scale 3-D modelling, a special helium balloon for geo-referenced digital photography, and on-site chemical characterization tools to paint a detailed picture of what this abandoned city would have looked like as many as 4,700 years ago.

Khirbat Faynan: The Center of Ancient Technological Advancement

Located around 40 kilometers south of the Dead Sea in a region still actively mined for its rich mineral resources, the site has so far remained relatively well preserved and ignored by modern miners.

Transporting the helium balloon. Photo courtesy of Tom Levy.

The team’s research focuses on excavations at Khirbat Faynan–the largest settlement site in this copper ore resource zone. Its rise dates to the beginning of the Early Bronze Age (ca. 2700) around the same time the first pyramids were being built in Egypt.

The discovery of living quarters in addition to the working areas provided important context for understanding daily living at the site. A much later smelting furnace from the Islamic period further complimented their findings.

The team’s next exciting find occurred after a solid month of excavations when they uncovered the site of what could have been a large residential area dating back to the Byzantine period.

A view of Khirbat Faynan from above. Photo courtesy of Tom Levy.

Steps Towards Preserving Cultural Heritage

Tom and his colleagues believe that shedding light on this local wonder will help increase interest in Faynan for eco-tourists and Jordanian students. For Dr. Mohammed Najjar, also a team leader on the expedition, “Faynan is a precious cultural resource.”

There is however, an ongoing struggle to maintain this largely intact site, as the area is currently threatened by the construction of nearby road-accessible copper mines.

“Our work in the area demonstrates that the first technological revolution in the southern Levant took place in Faynan” says Tom. That being so, Tom, Mohammad, and the UC San Diego team hope that the district will become a UNESCO heritage region, helping not only to help protect the site, but to bring more visitors to Jordan as well.

Learn More

National Geographic’s Jordan Fact Page

Guide to Jordan

Jordan’s Best Photos

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