The Juffain Dolmen Field; Megalithic structures in Jordan

The Juffain Dolmen Field is located on the southwest border of the modern town Juffain. The site measures 1 km east to west and 1.3 km north to south, and is broken by six major and five minor valleys. Preliminary analysis of dolmen groups shows clear separation for autonomous groups.


Two other dolmen fields in Jordan exhibited clear separation of occupied areas and were selected for this study because of their similar topographical and/or walled borders, Mutawwaq and Matabi. A holistic (looking at all megalithic structures), approach of studying all megalithic relationships and distribution is the only way to understand the group dynamics of the people living in the Juffain Dolmen Field.

This survey ultimately resulted in five new discoveries in the Juffain Dolmen Field,

(1) five stone quarry operations.

(2) cup hole centers

(3) domestic meeting places,

(4) ritualistic centers and

(5) Borders and boundaries establishing that there are separate autonomous groups. As well as 54 new dolmens type were identified.

In his Dolmen Field Guide, Scheltema mentioned that Fiona Baker logged 154 dolmens and other structures at Juffain and described the Juffain Dolmen Field, (2008: 67-68). A survey of the Juffain Dolmen Field was conducted in May, 2016 with Perugia University and the Final Report was submitted to DoA. It provided theory and insight for the new discoveries encountered during this survey (Schath, Polcaro and Casadei, 2016). Three enigmatic questions annoy dolmen scholars not because they can’t be answered, but rather answered convincingly with valid argument and proven. Those questions are,

(1) when the dolmens were built,

(2) who built them and

(3) how were they used? The new discoveries at Juffain may possibly hold the answers.


A plethora of information about dating of dolmens is available to wade through. The Ghassulian Culture, of Telielat Ghassul and the Adiemeh Dolmen Field provides dating for dolmens, of 4000 BCE, or the Late Chalcolithic period, (Stekelis, 1977: 827-830). Radiocarbon, or Carbon 14 dating was provided by, Athfield, Beavan N. and R J Sparks, which corresponds to and validates that dating, (2004: 315-323).

The dolmen field at Jebel Mutawwaq, has a village which points to an Early Bronze I, dating to 3600 BCE, (Polcaro et al 2014: 1-17). But at other various sites, a long period of construction, use and re-use was uncovered such as, Matabi with dates of nearly 2,000 years of occupation (Schath, 2017:551-556).

A concise history and summation of dolmen dating, showing use and reuse of dolmens from 4,000 and 1,900 BCE, is provided by Kafafi and Scheltema and is commonly agreed upon, (2005: 13-15). The question of dating is really a moot point.

The question of who built the dolmens, whether nomadic or sedentary people has eluded scholars for 150 years, and arguments come from both camps.

The hypothesis forwarded by Schath indicates that separate groups of dolmens suggest a separate group of people and therefore, at least some of those people being sedentary. The studies at Juffain can answer this question in a convincing manner.

Dolmens use is another enigmatic question, wrought with unproven data and reliability. Bone fragments are definitely found within dolmens, and arguably any scholar of dolmens will agree on this point. With a miniscule percentage of dolmens discovered with bones and in those cases, only a few complete bones, it is hard to make a case for dolmens being graves.


Studying hundreds of articles about dolmens and mentally weighing them has produced a certain skepticism. That skepticism lead to research outside the main stream and lead to the theory that dolmen fields represent one of the earliest forms of autonomous clan based settlements, (Schath 2017).

To test the theory of dolmen fields being clan based settlements, a hypothesis was forwarded. If a complete megalithic field could be found, analysis of separation and dispersion of dolmen groups should show organized autonomous settlement within the larger megalithic field. Several criteria guided the project and how it was to be carried out:

(1) having studied the Matabi and the Jebel Mutawwaq dolmen fields, and their associated settlements along with their geographical relationship in Jordan a comparable field needed to be found. Two areas were candidates, Wadi El-Yabis, which was rejected, (Palumbo, Mabry and Kuijt, 1990: 111-113), and the Irbid region, selected for its multiple fields, (Scheltema, 2008);

(2) the field had to have at least two dolmen groups, separated from each other topographically and/or with walls and

(3) there needed to be enough other, undisturbed and intact structures to study relationships through dispersion analysis.

The Juffain Megalithic Field was discovered during the 2016 survey, which lead to the 2017 survey project, (Schath, Polcaro, Cassadei 2016, Final Report to the DoA, on file.) and (Schath, Shiyab, Al-jarrah, Primary Report to the DoA, on file).

Understanding dolmen types and the megalithic structures related to them can’t be attained by reading about the six basic dolmen types. One must study the six types and examines each in the field.

Only then, can appreciation of the complexity of the six general types becomes apparent. Research about individual uses by type is nonexistent. Each design could easily have been used for a specific purpose, much like different types of shoes are worn for different purposes, not just walking.

Caution needs to be practiced when describing dolmen types. Though the standard six versions of dolmens are generally accurate, (Epstein, 1985: 23-25, Zohar 1992: 44-45) each type of dolmen has many types of variations (Schath 2017). At Juffain these expansive design aspects are being recognized and studied to better understand the dolmens.

For 2017 survey projects of the Juffain Megalithic Field, a glossary was prepared and definitions of the six types of dolmens as well as “Architectural Components” was prepared. The importance of describing dolmens in minute detail, then drawing and photographing them can’t be understated.

Dolmens at Juffain fall into four general types, A, B, C, and D. Each of these general types, there are indications of other types, but there are many different variations. Detailed studies of these differences need to be completed, before a full picture of each dolmen type and their relationship in a complete megalithic group is determined.

Cataloguing all megalithic structures and preparing a topographical map showing the location of each feature was critical for the successful completing of the survey. Understanding the relationships of megalithic groups and types of features commonly found in a group is the key to the culture and ritualistic nature of this field.

The Juffain Dolmen Field is essentially a 1,000-meter circle cut by six major valleys that emanate outward from one general point. In the previous survey, around 150 structures were identified and documented, while in this study the Team documented 384 structures using a Garmin, Global Positioning System (GPS) to locate coordinates, North, East and Elevation, as a bare line.

Each structure was identified and documented, on a worksheet providing a sequence number, letter designation, photo numbers and the coordinates.

The group dynamics of the Juffain Dolmen Field are complex and diverse, which makes megalithic relationships ultimately responsible for the clarification cultural interaction. 384 structures were documented and sixteen structural types designated.


Of the structural types there are two different categories, single and centers. Single structures are those that stand alone they are, D, Dolmens; TU, Tumulus; T, Tomb; PA – Patio, W – Wall, CA – Cave, CIS – Cistern, S – Silo, P – Press, QS – Quarry Stone, C – Circle and SS – Standing Stone. These structures are all commonly found in combination with other structures. The designation of center structures is a departure from viewing some features as individual, but rather as a collective unit.

The CH – Cup Hole Center is the first of these designations. Though cup holes are recognized by most researchers, very little has been published. At Juffain 10 centers with large concentrated groups of cup holes were recognized.

Next in prominence at Juffain are the Q – Quarries. Throughout the Juffain Dolmen Field, bedrock that has been cut is noticeable. In five areas is was highly conspicuous, even the stages of the quarry process were apparent. All of these quarries were discovered in connection with dolmen construction. The cutting and movement of the large stones cut from bedrock must have required a great quantity of manpower.

The Sq – Square is another important designation at Juffain. Circles are commonly found associated with dolmen fields; this is not the case with square walled in areas. The three squares documented, had large walls and even though they are designated as squares, in each case certain walls were curved and corners often obscured or having cairns resembling towers. In two cases carefully prepared gates were visible and areas cobbled. Small walls were also associated with the square that appeared to be domiciles. One other form of center may be designated once the maps are analyzed. The vast quantity of tumuli, in large groups, appears to be collective ritualistic centers.

The holistic nature of research at Juffain requires dolmens be redefined in relation to other megalithic structures. Definitions must be flexible as new architectural components and purposes are recognized. Dolmens are highly complex and though much is known much more is questionable or unknown.

Archaeological data are inherently spatial, and archaeologists are naturally concerned with the distribution of archaeological sites across the landscape. From these distributions, described as settlement patterns, we can infer a great deal about the social and political complexity of the ancient people’s we study, the size of their domains, aspects of resource procurement.

Architectural Components are elements of a dolmen and are mentioned throughout this article they are: balancing stone, blocking stone, casting mound, chamber, curb, divider, dolmen wall, end stone, floor, sub-floor, passage, patio, pillar, platform, porthole, ramp, retaining wall, side stone, steps, terrace, threshold, top stone, tumulus and window.


Dolmen: a stone table originating from the Breton “taol maen.” A dolmen is a type of megalithic monument built with rough-stone construction, in which a number of upright stones (side stones) form an open or closed chamber of dry stone (undressed) construction, that support a top-stone or stones (roof). A dolmen may or may not have a combination of the 24 architectural components, and it may be covered in a tumulus. In other languages the dolmens are called: Hünenbett (German), Cromlech (Welsh), Anta (Portugal and Spain) and Goidol (Korea).


It is not a dolmen if there is no top stone or it is constructed using dressed stones. If this is the case, they would typically be another type of structure. Exception to these rules is, the F Type dolmen may or may not have a top stone and technically speaking a porthole is carved or dressed component. The A Type dolmen is often referred to as a trilithon, it is the smallest and simplest form of dolmen constructed out of three stones, two side stones and a top stone. Common variations including: end- stone, floor, sub-floor, multiple top-stones, platform and window.


The B Type dolmen, in its simplest form, is built with a long chamber consisting of four or more side stones and multiple top-stones. It is typically elongated because of multiple side stones. Common variations include: end stone, ramp, passage, blocking stones, floor, sub-floors, platform, and window.


The Type C dolmen is rarely found and is actually a false corbelled dolmen having stones placed on top of each other like stairs but does not have a true arching appearance. The dolmen does make use of a capstone which holds the counter levered stones in place.


The D Type dolmen has double chambers with the chambers being side by side, usually built with two outside side stones and a single divider in the middle and one top-stone. The main defining architectural component of this dolmen is two chambers side by side.


At Juffain the D Types are a variation of that, making use of four side stones or two top stones.


There are also true D Type dolmens at Juffain. The D Types at Juffain also have very special architectural components only seen there and must be studied in depth.



(1) Archaeology. An artificial mound, especially over a grave; barrow.

(2) Geology. A domelike swelling or mound formed in congealed lava.

This term is used for a pile of stone that is associated with dolmens or tombs.



(1) an excavation in earth or rock for the burial of a corpse; grave.

(2) a mausoleum, burial chamber, or the like.

(3) a monument for housing or commemorating a dead person.

(4) any sepulchral structure.

EB I tombs are very common in or around dolmen fields and Juffain is certainly not exempt. The mention of the tombs around dolmens is neglected by most scholars and any connection is scarcely mentioned.


(1) an area, usually paved, adjoining a house and used as an area for outdoor lounging, dining, etc.

(2) a courtyard, especially of a house, enclosed by low buildings or walls. As an “architectural component,” this definition is appropriate and is an example of how detailed terminology for dolmens can bring their use to light. The patio is seen as a gathering place near the dolmen possibly for rituals.


(1) any of various permanent upright construction having a length much greater than the thickness and presenting a continuous surface except where pierced by doors, windows, etc. used for shelter, protection, or privacy, or to subdivide interior space, to support floors, roofs, or the like, to retain earth, to fence in an area, etc.

(2) a rampart raised for defensive purposes,

(3) an immaterial or intangible barrier, obstruction, etc., suggesting a wall,

(4) a wall like structure, enclosing part, thing, mass, etc. When found in a megalithic field the wall is usually some form of boundary and primarily marks a group area rather than providing defense.

Several dolmen groups at Juffain have formidable walls on their border. One hill, in the greater megalithic field has a wall dividing it that exceeds 250 meters long.



(1) a hollow in the earth, especially one opening more or less horizontally into a hill, mountain, etc.

(2) a storage cellar, especially for wine.

At Juffain many of the caves have openings that are carved into the rock, which demonstrated that they were used in some capacity.



(1) a reservoir, tank, or container for storing or holding water or other liquid. An underground reservoir for rainwater.



(1) a structure, typically cylindrical, in which fodder or forage is kept,

(2) a pit or underground space for storing grain, green feed, etc. In the Juffain Dolmen Field, three of these features were discovered.



(1) to act upon with steady applied weight or force,

(2) to compress or squeeze, as to alter shape by pressure: to press

In the Juffain Dolmen Field presses are found cut into the bedrock and natural cup holes were utilized with these. Two types of presses are found at Juffain, the Byzantine Wine Press and the more ancient presses.


Quarry Stone:

This large stone, possibly a top stone was found propped up on one large round stone, in what could be preparation to be moved. They look much like a dolmen, at first glance, but are far from complete.



(1) the portion of a plane bounded by a curve,

(2) any circular or ring like object, formation, or arrangement: a circle of stones.


Two type of circles are found throughout the Juffain dolmen field. The first type, is more rounded and is constructed with a series of small to large stones, at or above ground level. It is another feature that is commonly found near dolmens.


Standing Stone:

meaning a stone of some size, purposely erected, (Scheltema, 2008: 18). This definition seems appropriate, but is not as descriptive as Menhir: (men-hir), noun, Archaeology, (1) an upright monumental stone standing either alone or with others, as in an alignment.

At Juffain the smaller standing stones remain a debatable entity (are they placed there or just natural stone formations?). Many of these stones are conspicuous for their location and relationship to other features. Because of their size, they were re-designated as “boundary stones.” The Juffain Field contains many walls from 5-200 meters long, which are thought to be boundaries. Many times boundary stones are incorporated into boundary walls to separate dolmen groups.


Cup Hole or Rock marks:

Small hollow made in a slab or rock. Often grouped together, these indentations result from repeated ritual gestures, the significance of which is unclear. Cup Holes are a common fixture of dolmen fields. The discussion of how they were used is quite speculative.


Cup Holes or rock marks are usually found in small quantities, even singularly, but at Juffain. the cup holes are found in large collective groups, often with a press, silo or cistern. Because of the large size of these groups, they are seen as a form of center or gathering place.



(1) an excavation or pit, usually open to air, from which building stone, slate, or other like is obtained by cutting, blasting etc.,

(2) an abundant source or supply.

In, the figure just above, the stone along the break at the scale, clearly corresponds to the stone adjacent to it. Grooves that have been put into the bedrock where it is to be cut is also conspicuous. The cut stones are sorted (both small and large stones), placed as if ready to be moved, all parts selected for a dolmen and stacked. Many of the larger stones were propped upon a round stone or on top of one another like toppled dominoes.


In this study about five major discoveries in relation to dolmens. They are important for the understanding of dolmen groups and their social spatial relationships. Though many of these features are acknowledged as related to dolmens, they have never been seen in such concentrated groups. The following are the Dolmen Heritage Park Juffain, 2017 project discoveries: (1) Quarries, (2) Cup Hole Centers, (3) Domestic Meeting Places, (4) Ritualistic Centers, and (5) Borders and Boundaries.

All of these features, many in each of the dolmen fields, can be seen as belonging to autonomous clans and becomes a geographical question. A more important aspect of these discoveries is the character of collective meeting places within this dolmen field.



According to the survey and the archaeological finds, it seems that the site has been settled through Chalcolithic, Bronze, Roman and Byzantine period. In rank of Importance, here are the five major stunning discoveries relating to the dolmen culture discoveries: (1) borders and boundaries, show that each of the dolmen groups stand alone, (2) domestic meeting places point to a sedentary society, (3) quarries and cup hole centers demonstrate a high scale of distribution of central places, and (4) ritualistic centers indicate a higher level of human relationship. (5) 54 new dolmens were identified. Furthermore, ceramic typology identified 7 major pottery types with an additional 3 minor types. 

The results ultimately suggest that social boundaries on both local and regional spatial scales were open, and probably unbounded.

At least six different groups lived in proximity of each other.

They each had their own area and they were highly organized but also share a dense collection of tumuli central to the greater field.

The basic groups seemed to share common areas such as, the quarries and cup hole centers, and cisterns were few and water most likely needed to be shared.

(Source: “New discoveries and documentation of Megalithic structures in Juffain Dolmen archaeological field, Jordan”, by Atef Shiyab et al.)


Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Philaretus Homerides

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