An archaeologist from Reading is working with Jordanian partners to develop a new business in Faynan, southern Jordan, that is owned and managed by local Bedouin women to generate income for their community.

With a rich history of human habitation stretching back more than 500,000 years, the Faynan region in southern Jordan is an area of great archaeological wealth. But for many of the Bedouin tribes who live in Faynan and its main village of Greigra, poverty is a daily reality.

An innovative project designed to alleviate this poverty has been developed by Professor Steven Mithen, who saw first-hand the challenges faced by the local population while he was excavating a Neolithic settlement in Faynan and developing a local museum to support heritage-based eco-tourism into the region.

Working with Professor Fatima al-Namari from the University of Petra, and with Obyda Hummas and Nebras Maslamani from ‘Future Pioneers for Empowering Communities’, a Jordan-based non-profit organisation, Professor Mithen secured funding to create a small business, owned and managed by Bedouin women. The business makes and sells handicraft products based on archaeological finds from his excavations: the translation of academic research into a commercial initiative to alleviate poverty.

Professor Mithen and his team brought together women from each of the five tribes in Faynan and Greigra to form the Faynan Heritage Women’s Cultural Association (FHWCA). The women received two years of intensive support, including business training and professional advice on product design and manufacture to supplement their traditional craft skills.

In March 2022, FHWCA successfully launched Faynan Heritage Home, a physical and online shop selling jewellery, pottery, and a range of hand-woven products. The project has already had a major impact on the self-esteem and status of the women, and some have used the training to find employment elsewhere. Establishing the business is only the end of the beginning – the aim is for the business to be sustainable over the long term.

“Our women are our pride, and we strive to support women as partners in development of the local community in the region. We want the Faynan Heritage Women’s Cultural Association to be a permanent and sustainable project in partnership with all institutions, supporting bodies and the local community.” Haifa Al-Najjar, Minister of Culture for Jordan

Judges’ comment

“This creative project working with local partners takes successful research engagement that has been built up in Faynan over several years a big step further by creating a social enterprise to benefit local women in the community.”

Team: Steven Mithen, Fatima al-Namari (University of Petra), Obyda Hummas and Nebras Maslamani (Future Pioneers for Empowering Communities)

In partnership with University of Petra, Future Pioneers for Empowering Communities

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Newton Fund

Shortlisted for the University Research Engagement and Impact Awards 2022

First published: June 2022