Archaeologists in Jordan have discovered hundreds of ancient stone tombs in a desert area. The climate conditions in the region, which is called Jebel Qurma, are very harsh,

The discovered tombs are covered by cairns while others, called tower tombs, are more complex. They are located off some ancient settlements, indicating that although people selected areas in the deep valleys with access to water to live in, they chose to leave the dead on the surrounding high plateaus and the summits of basalt hills.

The discovery was made by a team of Dutch researchers and published in a recent article in the journal Near Eastern Archaeology by Peter Akkermans and Merel Bruning, from Leiden University in the Netherlands. Akkermans also leads the Jebel Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project.

Many of the tombs have been pillaged, but some still bear valuable information that shows archaeologists how human life changed in the region over the course of millennia. In particular, the team found evidence that between the late 3rd millennium and the early 1st millennium not many people lived in Jebel Qurma. A cemetery with about 50 cairns found there had stopped being used about 4,000 years ago. But the area was inhabited again about a thousand years later by people who did not use pottery.

Scientists have not deciphered yet why people left the area and then returned. Perhaps it was due to climate change or maybe they did not leave at all, but further research, including of the environmental and climatic conditions needs to be conducted for more clues as to what actually happened.

The tower tombs started being constructed in the late first millennium BC, with stones that weigh 300 kilograms. They are 5 metres wide and 1.5 metres high, quite difficult to construct and very different than the other cairns by their distinct tower-like shape and their straight facade of large, flattened basalt slabs. They were not exceptionally built, but rather a common practice in the region and the desert. However, archaeologists have not really understood yet why people started building tower tombs.