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Atlas of Jordan

Myriam Ababsa

Chapter two - From the First Men’s Steps to the Hellenistic Age (-1.5 mya – 323 BC)

Dolmen and Tower Tombs (3600 - 2000 BC)

Tara Steimer-Herbet

Texte intégral

1In the proto-historic period, the territory of contemporary Jordan was covered with megalithic tombs of two types that correspond to different livelihoods, associated with more or less arid environments. Thus, sedentary settlements developed dolmen necropolises, while the steppe was covered with tower tombs.

Figure II.15 — Tower Tombs and Dolmens in Ancient Bronze Time.

Figure II.15 — Tower Tombs and Dolmens in Ancient Bronze Time.

2In Jordan, the construction of megalithic tombs began in the early 4th millennium BC and faded at the turn of the 2nd millennium BC. Two types have been identified: dolmens and tower tombs (plates II.11 and II.12). The dolmen necropolises are located near the Dead Sea, along the Jordan Valley, on the outskirts of Irbid and in the triangle formed by Samra, Mafraq and Zarqa. The tower tombs occupy the desert and semi-desert areas east of Ma`an, the Wadi Rum and the Harra north of Azraq (fig. II.15).

Plate II.11  —  Dolmen near Irbid.

Plate II.11  —  Dolmen near Irbid.

3The dolmens are grouped into large necropolises of sometimes over a thousand monuments (Jabal Mutawwaq, Mount Nebo), the necropolises are mostly built on high lands and are close to Chalcolithic villages (Jabal Mutawwaq), Early Bronze age villages (Al Mugeighat, Dahmiyah, al-Dehma, Kufr Yuba) and Middle Bronze age villages (Marajem). Whereas the tower tombs are isolated or in small groups not exceeding half a dozen, they overlook small hamlets and / or are close to structures related to hunting or herding (kites). Recent excavations in the region of Ma‘an have yet to provide precise dates but the elements of relative chronology observed on satellite images show that they are contemporary to the dolmens. The megalithic tombs are sometimes surrounded by an enclosure, covered with a tumulus and / or associated with a tail. This tail consists of either a continuous wall or a series of caissons, stacks or standing stones. They are 5m to 300m long and sometimes link two tombs together, in which case we call them funeral chains (Ayn Jadida, Marajem, the Samra region, Jabal Dhalma, Ayn Qnaya). The dolmens and tower tombs were part of daily protohistoric life. These funerary monuments overlooked villages and hamlets, were located on prominent points visible from afar; to a certain extent they structured the landscape.

4The rough stone, the monumental aspect, the funeral arrangements and the portrayal of the dead are traits common to both types, however the land they occupy is distinct (see fig. II.15). The areas covered by dolmens have a Mediterranean climate which allowed agriculture and arboriculture whereas the areas occupied by the tower tombs were covered with dry steppe, which only allowed opportunistic agriculture, hunting and gathering as additional resources to shepherding. The dolmens belonged to sedentary shepherds and tower tombs to nomadic or semi-nomadic shepherds. Studies on the distribution of megalithic tombs in Jordan show that proto-historic men sought, using their dead, to mark or define their territories. The interpenetration of dolmens and tower tombs seen in the Zarqa region indicates that societies with very different livelihoods lived together. The human impact on the landscape in the 4th millennium is concomitant with profound social transformations in the societies of the Southern Levant (Plate II.12).

Plate II.12 — Satellite images of tower tombs near Azraq (Google Earth).

Plate II.12 — Satellite images of tower tombs near Azraq (Google Earth).

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure II.15 — Tower Tombs and Dolmens in Ancient Bronze Time.
Fichier image/jpeg, 168k
Titre Plate II.11  —  Dolmen near Irbid.
Fichier image/jpeg, 200k
Titre Plate II.12 — Satellite images of tower tombs near Azraq (Google Earth).
Fichier image/jpeg, 31k

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