On uncertain ground: modelling human palaeoecology in the Azraq basin, eastern Jordan, 24,000–8,000 BP

Joe Roe

Paper presented at the 12th International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, Bologna, 2021.


The rich Epipaleolithic and Neolithic record of the Azraq basin, in the arid margin of the eastern Levant, poses an ecological puzzle. How did foragers survive, even thrive, in an environment where resources are scarce and unpredictable? Site-based environmental archaeology has produced a wealth of data on the palaeoenvironment, but interpolating from these individual data points in specific times and places to a holistic picture of human ecology remains a challenge. Computational modelling provides an alternative means of exploring past ecosystems. In this paper, I outline a combined model of palaeoclimate, vegetation, fauna, and human subsistence in the Azraq basin through the Terminal Pleistocene and Early Holocene. The results highlight the importance of nonequilibrium dynamics in understanding its ecosystem. Environmental unpredictability, manifested at multiple scales, shaped the plant and animal resources available to foragers. Strategies to cope with variability and risk must have been necessary to adapt to this landscape of uncertainty. However the existence of these strategies, elaborated over time, would explain how prehistoric foragers thrived in the Azraq basin without invoking dramatic environmental change.