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Seeing the Valley Whole
How was the landscape that we see today formed? What makes this a place of special ecological and historical value? And how does our work at Auja contribute towards the rehabilitation of the valley?
THE GREAT SLUMP
Looking east from Auja, you can see the hills of Jordan rising from the plain. They look stable enough, those mountains. But if you were to stand here for a million years or so, you might notice the villages on the Jordanian side drifting slowly towards the north.
That’s because they’re standing on the Arabian tectonic plate, a huge chunk of the earth’s crust that’s drifting away from Africa and crunching into Asia, while the mountains at your back are part of the African plate.
Beneath your feet, buried under miles of sediment, is the geological fault that separates the two. The geologists’ best guess is that the Arabian side of the valley has drifted north by around 100km over the past fifteen million years. It’s moving at around 6 or 7 millimeters a year, which is slower than your fingernails grow. But it’s that movement that has pulled the earth apart, allowing a broad strip of land to slump into the gap between Africa and Asia and forming a landscape unlike anywhere else on earth.
WATER, FERTILITY, AND THE ORIGINS OF HISTORY
Long before the evolution of modern humans, the land along the edges of the fault line was forced upward, raising a chain of mountains along either side of the valley. Drawn by these hills, the rain of two or three million winters washed alluvial soils into the plain, formed the Jordan River, and filtered into aquifers beneath the rock.
Tectonic movement broke and fissured the rock, and the water of the aquifers poured out onto the valley floor. The slow sinking of the land made it warm, and this warmth combined with the wetness and richness of the soil to create a corridor of fertility along the rift. Grasses and trees flourished, drawing herds of wild animals, including groups of early hominids, as well as vast flocks of migratory birds. In the fur and guts of these animals came seeds from the African savannah, which thrived in the heat of the valley and enriched an increasingly complex eco-system.
By some 20,000 years ago, the valley’s abundance of wild plants and animals, warmth and salt, perennial springs and alluvial mud had encouraged the first humans to settle here, generation after generation, and to build the world’s first villages. Eventually, these villagers began farming. With that step, they moved over the threshold that separates us from our nomadic, hunter-gatherer ancestors and marks the beginning of urban civilization and human history.
A LIVING MUSEUM
This entire story – from the fossil remains of prehistoric seas to the archaeology of the world’s earliest town – is laid out before us in the Jordan River Valley.
Here, perhaps more then anywhere else on earth, you can actually see how the slow forces of geology transformed the landscape and altered the climate; how the topography and climate created the eco-system; and how all of these elements shaped the course of human history. It is hard to imagine a more vivid illustration of a key ecological principal: interconnectedness.
And so there’s a certain sad irony to that fact that here, of all places, we’re faced with an ecological catastrophe – the destruction of the Jordan River, the drying of the springs, and the vanishing of the Dead Sea - caused by our failure to see that the Jordan Valley watershed is a single and complete eco-system.
Instead of recognizing the River Jordan and the Dead Sea as the center of a living system, we’ve taken them as borders. Instead of seeing the valley as a whole, we’ve divided it along lines that bear almost no relation to the geological or ecological contours of the land. Instead of protecting the flow of water that has sustained life here for millions of years, we’ve dammed and pumped and drained the very source of life from the valley.
And so the Jordan River Valley, which could be a living museum of natural history and human culture, has instead become a monument to human shortsightedness and alienation from the cycles of the natural world.
FRIENDS OF THE VALLEY, FRIENDS OF THE EARTH
At Auja, our environmental education and our eco-tourism programs share a common purpose: to teach people about the landscape, the environment, and the culture of this special place; to inspire them, through the story of the valley, to understand that human beings cannot thrive independently from the natural systems that sustain life on earth; and to encourage people from all sides of the valley to work together for the rehabilitation of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea.