Dr. Manuel Bertrams


Dissertation Title

Late Quaternary landscape evolution in the Wadi Sabra (Jordan) based on sedimentological and geochemical investigations

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Frank Lehmkuhl
Advisor: Prof. Dr. Olaf Bubenzer


This Ph.D. project focuses on the Levant as a potential main corridor of human dispersal from Africa to Europe during the Upper Pleistocene. For the related palaeoenvironmental research in the Eastern Mediterranean region, significant and reliable climate proxies as well as Palaeolithic in-situ sites are scarce. Consequently, the investigation of environmental interactions and migration pathways of ancient human cultures requires advances in the prospection of archaeological sites and associated palaeoenvironmental studies, based on the principle of geoarchaeology.

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The Wadi Sabra valley system, situated on the eastern escarpment of the Dead Sea Rift in Southern Jordan, has preserved sedimentary deposits which are connected with various Upper Palaeolithic and Epipalaeolithic sites. These terrestrial sedimentary archives are used to reconstruct the landscape evolution and palaeoenvironmental conditions during and after the time of human occupation. In this context, the research basically focuses on deciphering the source area, the primary depositional processes, and indicators for a secondary alteration of the sediments.

Alumni Bertrams mapIn a first step, a literature review is accomplished to create the archaeological, palaeoenvironmental, and palaeoclimatic background for this research project. Subsequently, a specific combination of geomorphological, sedimentological, and geochemical methods supported by remote sensing and radiometric dating is used to investigate the Late Quaternary landscape evolution within the study area in relation to archaeological sites.

The results of this dissertation show that the study area experienced a main aggradation phase during the last glacial period (~35-15 ka) which was contemporaneous to the first human occupation. Furthermore, several calcretes, buried surfaces, and initial soil horizons indicate multiple periods of landscape stability and higher weathering intensities, probably postdating 30 ka and extending until the end of the Pleistocene. This might indicate an increase of moister climatic conditions in a general semiarid context, which is also reported from other palaeoclimate proxies obtained in this region. In contrast, the Holocene was mostly dominated by erosion and the arid climatic conditions in modern times do not facilitate an intensive weathering and soil formation at the recent surface. This palaeoenvironmental record of the Wadi Sabra correlates with other geoarchaeological and palaeoclimatic proxies reported from the Levantine region.

Overall, the study area probably experienced multiple phases of environmental change during the Late Quaternary. Inferred phases of landscape stability and higher moisture availability probably provided a more sustainable environment for ancient human settlements in this recently arid region, thus providing a key area for the investigation of ancient human migrations.



2010 – 2013: Ph.D. student at Department of Geography, Physical Geography and Geoecology, RWTH Aachen University.

2009: M.A. in Geography, RWTH Aachen University.

Thesis title: “Comparative analysis of methods for phosphorus determination in soils on their applicability for geoarchaeological problems. Examples from loess in the Lower Rhine Basin”.


Field Work

3/2012: Geoarchaeological and geoscientific survey in the Balkan region (Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Romania).

10/2011: Geomorphological and geoarchaeological research in the Wadi Sabra (Jordan).

9/2010 – 10/2010: Geomorphological and geoarchaeological research in the Wadi Sabra (Jordan).

9/2009 – 10/2009: Geoarchaeological research in the Wadi Sabra (Jordan).



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