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Researcher to unearth origins of agriculture

In Jordan, an international team has uncovered some of the earliest known man-made structures. Now a University of Copenhagen archaeologist believes these discoveries will shed light on a crucial stage in human civilisation, the emergence of agriculture

12,800 years ago a global climactic cooling event occurred. Low temperatures marked the beginning of 1,300 very cold years. University of Copenhagen associate professor, Tobias Richter, argues this may have been one of the reasons for the emergence of agriculture.

Last month Richter and fellow researchers from Jordan, UK, and US announced the discovery of 20,000 year old hut structures at the archaeological site of Kharaneh IV in eastern Jordan. Findings suggest that the area was once intensively occupied, changing our understanding of humanity’s development in the region.

»Apart from hut structures, we have found incredibly dense concentrations of gazelle bones at the site, which suggests that they were hunted intensively. The large numbers of gazelle most likely allowed people to stay at the site. To us, this looks like a precedent to the emergence of sedentary communities and agricultural villages 10,000 years later,« Richter tells the University Post.

More investigations to come

Professor Richter is project director of excavations and co-writer of research paper ‘The Younger Dryas and the Origins of Agriculture’. The project is a part of a wider international archaeological initiative investigating the period between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago in the Azraq basin, eastern Jordan.

The next phase of Richter’s project involves investigating new archaeological sites in the same region of Jordan. The goal is to examine whether the early inhabitants of the basin were more agriculturally advanced than previously thought.

»Archaeologists have a unique opportunity of studying long-term effects not recorded in written records or elsewhere. We can investigate the relationship between climactic and cultural change from 2 million years ago until the present. And we’re able to ask questions about how these massive environmental changes have influenced culture, living, and human adaption to nature,« Richter comments.

Students to Jordan

On previous expeditions to Jordan many archaeology students have joined the international research teams from UC Berkley and Cambridge.

Having received a fair amount of funding, Richter hopes to have students from the University of Copenhagen join him when he leaves for Jordan in October this year and in 2013.

»The international research collaboration has been rewarding in many ways. We’ve become a close-knit group of people. Contributing with different perspectives and forging interesting links between universities and individuals, students and researchers really pool resources and exchange ideas,« Richter says.

Finds relevant for future climate changes

Whether the archaeological research results from Jordan can be useful for the investigations of the environmental changes of today is hard for Copenhagen based Tobias Richter to decide.

Finding out whether early ancestors adapted actively or responded passively to major climactic changes could be useful information for all of us today, Richter argues.

»The emergence of agriculture is certainly one of the most important and critical changes in the history of humanity,« he finishes off.

Read more about University of Copenhagen associate professor, Tobias Richter and his project here or view our gallery of the dig and his finds here.

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