Hunter, gatherer… architect? Civilisation's true dawn

Wednesday, October 16, 2013




WHEN Steven Mithen's team began to dig through the desert soil, his expectations were low. "We thought it was just a big rubbish dump," he says.

Still, even the prospect of rifling through trash was cause for some satisfaction. Mithen, an archaeologist at the University of Reading, UK, initially raised a few eyebrows when he told colleagues of his plans to dig for Stone Age ruins in south Jordan. "They said we'd never find anything there – it was a backwater," says Mithen. He proved them wrong by finding the remains of a primitive village. By sifting through its rubbish, he hoped to gain a glimpse of day-to-day life more than 11,000 years ago.

But as they dug through the detritus, one of his students came upon a polished, solid floor – hardly the kind of craftsmanship to waste on a communal tip. Then came a series of platforms engraved ...

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