Other than the usual Chalcolithic (4500–3600 BC) villages such as Tulaylet Ghassul in the Jordan Valley, a series of circular stone enclosures in the eastern basalt desert−whose purpose remains uncertain–have baffled archaeologists.
Fortified towns and urban centers first emerged in the southern Levant early on in the Bronze Age (3600–1200 BC). Wadi Feynan became a regional center for copper extraction, which was exploited on a large-scale to produce bronze. Trade and movement of people in the Middle East peaked, spreading and refining civilizations. Villages in Transjordan expanded rapidly in areas with reliable water resources and agricultural land. Ancient Egyptians expanded towards the Levant and controlled both banks of the Jordan River. During the Iron Age (1200–332 BC) after the withdrawal of the Egyptians, Transjordan was home to Ammon, Edom and Moab. They spoke Semitic languages of the Canaanite group, and are considered to be tribal kingdoms rather than states. Ammon was located in the Amman plateau; Moab in the highlands east of the Dead Sea; and Edom in the area around Wadi Araba down south.
The Transjordanian kingdoms of Ammon, Edom and Moab were in continuous conflict with the neighboring Hebrew kingdoms of Israel and Judah, centered west of the Jordan River. One record of this is the Mesha Stele erected by the Moabite king Mesha in 840 BC on which he lauds himself for the building projects that he initiated in Moab and commemorates his glory and victory against the Israelites.
The stele constitutes one of the most important direct accounts of Biblical history. Around 700 BC, the kingdoms benefited from trade between Syria and Arabia when the Assyrian Empire increasingly controlled the Levant. Babylonians took over the empire after its disintegration in 627 BC. Although the kingdoms supported the Babylonians against Judah in the 597 BC sack of Jerusalem, they rebelled against them a decade later. The kingdoms were reduced to vassals, which they remained under the Persian and Hellenic Empires. By the beginning of Roman rule around 63 BC, the kingdoms of Ammon, Edom and Moab had lost their distinct identities, and were assimilated into the Roman culture.
Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Persian Empire in 332 BC introduced Hellenistic culture to the Middle East. After Alexander’s death in 323 BC, the empire split among his generals, and in the end much of Transjordan was disputed between the Ptolemies based in Egypt and the Seleucids based in Syria. The Nabataeans, nomadic Arabs based south of Edom, managed to establish an independent kingdom in 169 BC by exploiting the struggle between the two Greek powers. The Nabataean Kingdom controlled much of the trade routes of the region, and it stretched south along the Red Sea coast into the Hejaz desert, up to as far north as Damascus, which it controlled for a short period (85–71) BC. The Nabataeans massed a fortune from their control of the trade routes, often drawing the envy of their neighbors. Petra, Nabataea’s barren capital, flourished in the 1st century AD, driven by its extensive water irrigation systems and agriculture. The Nabataeans were also talented stone carvers, building their most elaborate structure, Al-Khazneh, in the first century AD. It is believed to be the mausoleum of the Arab Nabataean King Aretas IV.