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Tropical Wadi Rum to dinosaurs in Aqaba

A brief geographical and geological history of Jordan

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(Photos: Shutterstock, Unsplash/Jordan News)
Jordan has a rich 4 billion-year-long geographical and geological history, and few people know about it. Of course, many know landmarks like Wadi Rum, Aqaba, and the Dead Sea, but how and why these places are the way they are is less known.اضافة اعلان

So, how does it begin? With the help of “Geological Timescale”, which breaks down the Earth’s history into different eons, eras, periods, and so on, we will begin to disentangle the daunting scale of Jordan’s history. 

Nearly 4.6 billion years ago, the scorching surface of Earth began to cool gradually. Some 600 million years later, continents began to form in what is known on the geological timescale as the Archean Eon, according to Britannica.com. For the most part, this eon mostly included the shaping of Earth, and traces of this can be seen in some parts of Jordan, with rocks and landscape formations from 2 billion years pointing to a “geological highway” that stretched from Wadi Rum to the Gulf of Aqaba. This means that there was a natural cut-out path between the two locations which can still be followed to this day, according to a study by Klaus Bandel and Elias Salameh.


Pangea continents and oceans. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons) 

Incidentally, this highway may also have been a tropical one. Geologists have found signs of a tropical climate existing 660–550 million years ago on the Arabian platform. While the idea of a tropical Wadi Rum may seem unimaginable, the same study said that an Amazonian-like climate was triggered by the end of a long-global ice age, where temperatures shifted, and climates were drastically altered.

Cambrian Period

The end of the global ice age also triggered the beginning of the Phanerozoic era, which is mostly known for the emergence of complex, or multi-cellular, life, most notably in the “Cambrian explosion”, nearly 541–252 million years ago. Life in this period mostly existed underwater since pre-historic creatures had not developed the necessary traits to live on land, so it is no coincidence that evidence of running rivers can be found in Wadi Rum during the Cambrian period, with eroded quartz pebbles in the area indicating long-term underwater erosion.
Unlike today, however, a drive from Amman to New York would be possible on Pangea, with the two cities being almost perfectly in-line with each other while being separated only by the lands of what is now the Sahara Desert in Africa.
More effects of the Cambrian period can also be seen in the southern Dead Sea, with “Cambrian sands” covering the area near Ghor Safi and the Jordan Valley. Geologists have also found “Volcano-conglomerate”, or water-deposited rocks made up of mostly volcanic materials as defined by sciencedirect.com. This exemplifies the environmental shifts that have taken place in Jordan over time.

Jumping ahead of the Cambrian period to 299 million years ago, Earth’s infamous supercontinent known as “Pangea” came to be. When looking at a map of Pangea with modern borders provided by Vox.com, Jordan would sit on the far eastern edge of the continent, still bordering the lands of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt like it does today. Unlike today, however, a drive from Amman to New York would be possible on Pangea, with the two cities being almost perfectly in-line with each other while being separated only by the lands of what is now the Sahara Desert in Africa.


A fossilized twig from an ancient conifer that was found along the shore of the Dead Sea. (Photo: Palaeobotany Research Group Münste) 

The Cambrian Period ended with one of many mass extinctions throughout Earth’s history. Geologists have estimated that the extinction event, known as the “Great Dying”, wiped out 90 percent of Earth’s species, according to nationalgeographic.com. Life prevailed, however, and fossils that survived the extinction event were even found in the Dead Sea, specifically a 250-million-year-old fossilized species of a conifer plant, according to Nature.com. The extinction event also marked the start of a new chapter in Earth’s history — the Mesozoic Period, the age of the dinosaurs. 

It might be hard to picture 110-tonne dinosaurs roaming the beaches of Aqaba, but 170 million years ago, long-necked titans, accurately named “Titanosaurs”, walked freely on Jordanian lands, according to fossil.fandom.com. Fossils of dinosaurs were first found on Jordan’s lands in 2002. In addition to Titanosaurs, archeologists also discovered fossils of Hadrosaurids, heavy duck-billed herbivores, as well as Brachiosauridae, another long-necked species of dinosaur which could have weighed more than 80 tonnes and measured between 18m–22m long, according to fossil.fandom.com.

Cenozoic period
Of course, the time of the dinosaurs was cut short through a mass-extinction event, thought to have been mostly triggered by a 150km meteor striking the Earth near the Gulf of Mexico, said the nhm.ac.UK. As with the last period in Earth’s history, a great extinction event led to a new period, the Cenozoic period, which, incidentally, is the period we are in right now and the period the Earth has been in for the last 66 million years.

With the new period came change and destruction. Waqf Sawan located a substantial meteor impact crater, with its remnants showing its profound effect on the general environment of the area. Salameh, a geologist with a focus on Jordan and co-author of the previous study used, told Jordan News that the creator is “comparable to crater on the moon” and that the meteor would have been equivalent to “40,000 Hiroshima bombs”, causing the heat of the area to reach 1,000°C.


A projection of Pangea, Earth’s supercontinent. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons) 

Also, in the Cenozoic period, a massive continental drift saw Pangea break apart, and this may have caused the Jordan Rift valley to fill up with freshwater lakes 36–12 million years ago. Meanwhile, the Arabian Peninsula split from Africa and caused the Red Sea to form around 20 million years ago, according to Britannica.com.

On the other hand, the Dead Sea formed around 3 million years ago, as per earthmagazine.com, when the area was filled with water flowing from the Mediterranean Sea — so, at one point in time, Jordan sat on the Mediterranean coast. That did not last, though, due to tectonic shifts lifting the Dead Sea westwards, land-locking the salty water basin.

From these shifts, evidence suggests that hominid species began to inhabit Jordan’s lands 2 million years ago, according to worldhistory.org. After a couple million more years, humans not too dissimilar from us arrived in Jordanian lands between 45,000 and 20,000 years ago, according to books.openedition.org. There is evidence of people inhabiting Wadi Rum 6,500 years ago and having trading posts and small villages. From that, civilizations began to form, with tribes like the Nabateans building cities 2,300 years ago that still partially stands today, like Petra, which the tribe called “Raqma”, according to history.com. 

In due time, civilizations grew, some becoming empires that directly affected Jordan’s history. The Mongols, the Romans, and the British all played some part in Jordan’s development over history until the nation gained independence 76 years ago and Jordan became what it is today.


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