Preliminary Report of the 1996 Season of the Madaba Plains Project:

Regional Survey, Tall Al-'Umayri and Tall Jalul Excavations

  • Randall W. Younker
    Andrews University
    Berrien Springs, MI 49104
  • Lawrence T. Geraty
    La Sierra University
    Riverside, CA 92515
  • Øystein S. LaBianca
    Andrews University
    Berrien Springs, MI 49104
  • Larry G. Herr
    Canadian Union College
    Lacombe, AB T4L2E5
  • Douglas R. Clark
    Walla Walla College
    Walla Walla, WA 99324

During the summer of 1996 Andrews University, along with La Sierra University, Canadian Union College, and Walla Walla College, conducted a sixth season of archaeological research in the Madaba Plains region of Jordan.1 Our international team again consisted of over 100 archaeologists, students, and volunteers and over 50 Jordanian specialists and workers.2 The Madaba Plains Project continued the three major field research components that were undertaken during the 1992 and 1994 seasons. These components included regional survey (including some hinterland excavations), excavations at Tall Jalul, and excavations at Tall al-`Umayri. In addition to these projects, restoration work was conducted at Tall Hisban. For a description of the project's research objectives and previous results, we refer the reader to the preliminary reports published in AUSS.3

Regional Survey 4

The most important accomplishments of the hinterland team this season included: (1) the initiation of the Hisban Random Square Survey; (2) decipherment of a substantial portion of the Khirbat Rufeis inscription along with the discovery of over 40 Thamudic E texts by the Eastern Desert Epigraphical Survey; (3) the discovery of an important Paleolithic kill and butchering site in the Azraq region by the Environmental Survey team; (4) the delineation of the indigenous knowledge involved in cistern construction and maintenance by the Ethno-archaeological team; (5) and, the recording through digital videography of a wide range of visual material pertinent to telling the story of Jordan's indigenous people.

The Hisban Random Square Survey

This season, 50 randomly selected 200 x 200 m squares were examined within the 5 km radius of Hisban (out of nearly 2000 possible such squares). Twenty new sites were discovered within these 50 squares despite the fact that the region had already been surveyed before by the Heshbon Survey during the 1960's. An important finding of this season's survey is that, in spite of the discovery of a number of new sites, sites appear to be grossly under-represented in the Madaba Plains region when compared to neighboring hill country. This is no doubt due to the greater intensity with which ruins and artifacts in this fertile plain were destroyed by intensive landuse and settlement through the centuries and millennia. The two periods most represented by the pottery remains continue to be the Iron II and Byzantine.

The Eastern Desert Epigraphical Survey

The Eastern Desert Epigraphical Survey was organized in order to help solve the mystery of the graffiti cave at Khirbat Rufeis. The aim was to search the region to the east of the cave to ascertain whether markings could be found which would shed light on those seen in the cave. In this regard, the survey was very successful. Over 40 new inscriptions and tribal marks were discovered. These findings have already begun to cast new light on what happened in the cave during the Roman-Byzantine and later periods.

The Environmental Survey

Perhaps the Hinterland Survey's most important discovery of the 1996 field season was the location of a new paleolithic site in Azrak. This was a serendipitous find, as the team was at the Azrak oasis for the purpose of finding a suitable site to collect pollen cores for use in ascertaining changes in the local environment through past ages. After three days of intensive controlled surface collection, the team recovered over 500 worked stone objects and faunal samples.

The collection consists of nearly 100 bifaces, numerous unifacial flake tools, blades, points, and debitage. Preliminary indications are that the complete collection contains material from the final Acheulian and the Epipaleolithic cultures. Additional indications are that it contains Neolithic, Middle Paleolithic and Late Acheulian materials. The site appears to have been a kill and butchering site, judging from the proportion of killing and butchering tools in the assemblage.

Tall Hisban Cleaning and Restoration

One of the major goals of the 1996 season was to start cleaning and restoring Tall Hisban. The work was directed by Sten LaBianca and Larry Geraty. This site, which was excavated by Andrews University archaeologists between 1968 and 1976, had deteriorated greatly since the last season of fieldwork twenty years ago. Since the site is important both because of its long occupational history, which spans over three millennia, and its historic role in the development of archaeology in Jordan, it was felt imperative that such a restoration project be undertaken. The work benefitted greatly from the strong support of Dr. Ghazi Bisheh of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan and the mayor of the village of Hisban.

The cleaning effort included tearing down the balks in Areas A, B and D and moving the ruble, stones and boulders so that the exemplary Iron Age, Classical and Islamic installations and features could be brought into view. A number of pathways and steps were also constructed to guide visitors from the parking area up to the tall and around the site to its main features. Also, interpretive platforms equipped with signs in Arabic and English were constructed in areas over-looking various exemplary ruins. Thanks to assistance from the Department of Public Works, signs directing motorists coming from Madaba and Amman to the tall, were also erected. A special effort was made to obtain local participation in the project, including numerous meetings with the mayor; use of village boys as laborers; use of the services of the local iron smith; and the training of a local guide.

Tall Jalul 5

Excavations at Tall Jalul, located 5 km east of Madaba, were conducted in four Fields this season, (A, B, C, and D) and uncovered remains from the Early Iron II to the Late Iron II and Persian periods (c. 10th to 5th centuries BCE)

Early Iron II (10th/9th centuries BCE)

Architectural remains from the Early Iron II continued to be exposed in Field B (east side of the tall) in the area where the paved approach ramp and outer gatehouse were discovered during the previous two seasons. This season, additional flagstones from the Early Iron II were found between the outer gatehouse and what appears to be the threshold of the inner gatehouse of the 10/9th centuries BCE. Stratigraphic evidence suggests that this gateway's entrance was resurfaced with flagstones at least four times during the Early Iron II period. What appears to be the threshold of the inner gatehouse was indicated by the presence of a north-south line of several large foundation stones which could have supported the external wall of the outermost northern chamber or tower. Such chambers/towers are typical of Iron Age multiple-entryway gates. As noted in previous reports, the remains of this Early Iron II gateway were founded directly upon a massive, ashy debris layer that contained mostly Iron I pottery, including typical collared-rim jars and carinated bowls. Some forms, however, could date as late as the Early Iron II. This debris layer appears to be at least 1 meter thick, suggesting a massive destruction of the site near the Iron I/II transitional period

Iron Age II (9th/8th centuries BCE)

This season, evidence was uncovered to suggest that part of the gateway of the Early Iron II period was rebuilt, perhaps a century or so after the original construction. While it appears that the lower portion of the paved approach ramp continued to be used with this later gateway, the original, small outer gatehouse was replaced by a larger one, slightly to the south. Only four stones of this new gatehouse survive--two large foundation stones of the north-east pylon, and two paving stones at the threshold. Between the threshold of this new outer gatehouse and the inner gatehouse (which continued in use) was a stretch of light gray clay which appears to have served as a roadbed between the two gatehouses. In places, this roadbed was covered with crushed nari, plaster, or flagstones. Near the threshold of the inner gatehouse, it appears that the builders decided to simply reuse the flagstones of the Early Iron II pavement as they had further down slope below the outer gatehouse. In summary, only the outer gatehouse and a small stretch of road leading up to the inner gatehouse were reconstructed during this period.

Late Iron Age II (8th/7th centuries BCE)

This season's work suggests that the entire gateway system of Field B was reconstructed sometime during the middle of the Iron II period, perhaps during the 8th century, since no typical late Iron II pottery forms were found under its flagstones and retaining walls. The approach ramp of this gate follows the same line as the original Early Iron II gateway. Pavers from this later gateway could be traced in places up to the threshold of the inner gatehouse, although only a few large stones have survived from the gatehouse, itself.

plate 1 - Jalul tripartite pillared buildingIn Field A, on the north side of the tell, a large "tripartite pillared building" dating to this same period, was uncovered (Plate 1). Although badly damaged from later Persian period activity, parts of all four walls of the structure could be traced. Indeed, the west wall has survived completely intact. Typical of these pillared buildings, this structure was divided internally by two rows of stone pillars, creating a central chamber and two flanking aisles. The aisles were both paved with flagstones, while the central chamber had a packed earth floor. Most of the surviving pillars were either tilted or had completely fallen toward the north. These buildings are well-known from western Palestine where they have been dated from both the Iron I and II periods (c. 11th to 6th centuries BCE), although the building at Jalul may be the first such pillared building found in Transjordan. The function of these pillared buildings has been controversial among scholars; suggestions include storehouses, stables, barracks, administrative centers, and emporiums.

A number of well-preserved clay figurines depicting humans and various animals were found in this building. The animal forms included the typical horse and rider figurines. One particularly interesting human figurine appeared to wear a headdress that reflected Egyptian styles.

Also from this period, were found a couple of engraved seals, although neither was in situ. The most interesting was found by R. Younker near the sift dumps of Field C. It was written in an Ammonite script typical of the 7th century BCE. The inscription reads "belonging to 'Naqab, son of Zedekel" (Plate 2). Both names have been found on other Ammonite seals. The presence of this seal might suggest that the border of the Ammonites extended as far south as Madaba during the latter part of the Iron Age.
plate 2 - Ammonite script seal

Late Iron Age II/Persian Period (6th-5th centuries BCE)

plate 3 - large persian building in field cRemains from the Late Iron II/Persian period were excavated in both Fields C and D this season. In Field D, a number of wall lines were exposed which appear to belong to domestic structures. Large quantities of bowl fragments typical of the Late Iron II/Persian period were found in association with the walls, as well as a few figurines and a limestone cosmetic palette.

In Field C, a large Persian period building was uncovered (Plate 3). This building was supported by at least two, and possibly three, rows of stone pillars. The building was buried by the debris of a collapsed mud roof. Artifacts found in the ruins included a couple of stone incense altars, a stone roof roller, numerous basalt food preparation vessels, and a couple of large iron tools.

Tall al-'Umayri 6

The sixth season of excavation at Tall al-'Umayri, located about 10 km south of the Seventh Circle on the Airport Highway, uncovered remains from three different cities (Plate 4). The first dates to the foundation of the site during the Early Bronze Age (c. 3000 BCE); the second comes from the beginning of the Iron Age in Jordan (c. 1200 BCE) when local tribal groups were beginning to settle down; and the last dates to the end of the Late Iron II period (c. 6th century BCE) when the Ammonite monarchy was absorbed into the Babylonian empire.
plate 4 - site of Tall al-'Umayri

Early Bronze Age (ca. 3000 BCE)

The earliest settlement dates to the Early Bronze Age, around 3000 BCE, when a dolmen was constructed at the base of the site on the southeast side (Plate 5). Over 20 burials were found in it during the 1994 excavations. This season archaeologists found seven floors, one on top of the other, immediately outside the dolmen, that date to the same time period as the burials. This suggests that the people living at the site celebrated funerary rites at the dolmen long after the burials had begun.
plate 5 - topographic map of Tal al-'Umayri

Late Bronze/Iron Age Transition (13th-12th centuries BC)

plate 6 - Tall al-'Umayri city wallThe second settlement has been excavated for over 10 years. In previous seasons, the team found part of the best preserved site from the early Iron Age ( ca. 1200 BCE) anywhere in Palestine. This season more of that city was uncovered, including more of the city wall (Plate 6) and the houses that it protected (Plates 7, 8, 9). The city wall now extends for about 30 meters and more will undoubtedly be found in succeeding seasons of excavations. At its southern end, the wall curves into the site, suggesting that a gate may be found there. The cultural finds suggest a simple people with a limited repertoire of pottery and objects, reflecting the settlement of local tribal groups. As noted previously, their pottery corpus included collared-rim jars, so well-known from contemporary sites in western Palestine. The city was destroyed in the early 12th century BCE. On top of the destruction, which accumulated to a depth of over two meters, was a small storeroom with 18 large jars that included grape and olive seeds. The jars date to the 11th century BCE (Plate10).
plate 7 - field A and B architecture plan, Tall al-'Umayriplate 8 - artist's reconstruction of 4-room house at Tall al-'Umayri
plate 9 - photograph of houses uncovered at Tall al-'Umayri
plate 10 - jars from 11th century BCE

Late Iron II and Persian Periods

A large complex of buildings from the ancient Ammonite kingdom of about 550 BCE administered scores of rural sites that were dedicated to wine production in the hills around Tall al-'Umayri. This season, the largest room of the administrative center was uncovered, complete with three levels of plastered floors. The room was so large that it was probably an open courtyard. However, since no domestic objects were found on the floors and the broken pieces of pottery on and just above the floors were consistently of a very fine quality, the excavators suggest the building was not a private residence. Many of the walls from this administrative center contained very large stones, typical of structures from the period of the ancient Ammonite monarchy.

  1. The authors of this report would like to thank all of the volunteers and staff members who participated in the project this season. Special thanks are extended to our major sponsoring institutions including Andrews University (principal sponsor), Canadian Union College, Walla Walla College, and La Sierra University.

    We would also like to thank the Director-General of Antiquities, Dr. Ghazi Bisheh, for the support he provided this season, and Department of Antiquities representatives Rula Qussous and Adeeb Abu Shmais. Dr. Kamal Fakmawi, principal of the UNRWA-sponsored Amman Training College, and his staff again graciously opened up their facilities to us for our base camp. In addition, we wish to again extend our sincere gratitude for the continued support we have received from the land owners: businessman/scholar Dr. Raouf Abujaber, landowner of Tall al-'Umayri; Gen. Acash es-Zeben, landowner of Jalul.

    Finally, we would like to extend thanks to Dr. Patricia Bakai and Dr. Pierre Bikai along with the staff of the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) for their support and the use of their facilities while we were in the field.
  2. The directors for the project this season continued to be Lawrence T. Geraty, Senior Project Director; Larry G. Herr, Director of the Tall al-'Umayri Excavations; Øystein S. LaBianca, Director of the Regional Survey; and Randall W. Younker, Director of the Tall Jalul Excavations. Douglas R. Clark was the Director of the Consortium.

    Ruzica Gregor, Paul Ray and Randall Younker served as dig administrators at the Institute of Archaeology during the early planning stages of this season's expedition. Najeeb Nakhle served as camp administrator in Jordan. Lloyd Willis served as camp chaplain and Paul Buchheit as camp handyman. Leila Mashini served as head cook.

    Pottery registrars were Stephanie Merling and Gillian Geraty. Processing of small finds was supervised by the Objects Registrars, Elizabeth Platt (Umayri) and David Merling (Jalul). Photography was directed by Randy Seibold. Objects were drawn by Stephanie Elkins and Rhonda Root. Mark Ziese and Valentin Gligirov served as draftsmen/architects for Tell el-Umayri and Jalul. The surveyor was Abbas Khammash.
  3. See Lawrence T. Geraty, "A Preliminary Report on the First Season at Tell el-'Umeiri (June 18 to August 8, 1984)," AUSS 23 (1985): 85-110; Lawrence T. Geraty, Larry G. Herr, and Øystein S. LaBianca, "The Joint Madaba Plains Project: A Preliminary Report on the Second Season at Tell El-'Umeiri and Vicinity (June 18 to August 6, 1987)," AUSS 26 (1988): 217-252); Randall W. Younker, Lawrence T. Geraty, Larry G. Herr, and Øystein S. LaBianca, "The Joint Madaba Plains Project: A Preliminary Report of the 1989 Season, Including the Regional Survey and Excavations at El-Dreijat, Tell Jawa, and Tell el-'Umeiri (June 19 to August 8, 1989)," AUSS 28 (1990): 5-52; Randall W. Younker, Lawrence T. Geraty, Larry G. Herr, and Øystein S. LaBianca, "The Joint Madaba Plains Project: A Preliminary Report of the 1992 Season, Including the Regional Survey and Excavations at Tell Jalul, and Tell el-'Umeiri (June 16 to July 31, 1992)," AUSS 31 (1993): 205-38; Randall W. Younker, Lawrence T. Geraty, Larry G. Herr, Øystein S. LaBianca, and Douglas Clark, "Preliminary Report of the 1994 Season of the Madaba Plains Project: Regional Survey, Tall al-'Umayri, and Tall Jalul Excavations (June 15 to July 30, 1996)," AUSS 34 (1996): 65-92.
  4. Øystein S. LaBianca (Andrews University) was director of the hinterland survey.
  5. Randall W. Younker was the director of excavations at Tell Jalul. David Merling (Andrews University) was the associate director. Field Supervisors included Zeljko Gregor (Andrews University), Jim Fisher (Andrews University), Jennifer Groves (University of Arizona), and Richard Dorsett. Associate Field Supervisors were Stephanie Elkins, Ruzica Gregor, Teddy Burgh, and Paul Ray.

    Mark Ziese and Valentin Gligirov were the architects. The Department of Antiquities representative was Adeeb Abu Shmais. Karen Borstedt was in charge of data entry and processing.
  6. Larr G. Herr (Canadian Union College) was the director of excavations at Tall al-'Umayri. Supervisors included Doug Clark (Walla Walla College), John Lawlor (Baptist Theological Seminary), and Lloyd Willis (Southwestern Adventist College).