Click below to see archival footage of excavations at Tell Madaba in 2010 (forthcoming).
The Tall Mādabā Archaeological Project (TMAP) represents part of a broader, regional research effort that seeks to test prevailing theories about the development of centralized institutions and the rise of early state-ordered societies in the southern Levant. Drawing on the historical perspective that the archaeological record represents, this effort seeks to achieve the following research objectives: (1) document the changing subsistence strategies of specific communities over time; (2) identify the underlying social factors that may have influenced decision making processes; and (3) assess the impact adaptive responses have had on the fragile balance critical to maintaining ecological equilibrium--and long term viability--in a marginal, or transitional, environment. Given the current concern in Jordan for developing, or re-introducing, economic strategies that conserve scarce cultural and natural resources, these research objectives address issues of contemporary relevance and importance.
Within this broader research framework, the Tall Mādabā excavations were initiated for the specific purpose of gathering archaeological data from the presumed urban center of a regional settlement network for comparison with existing data sets from comparable contexts (e.g. domestic/residential, administrative/public, etc.) at contemporary rural village sites in the region. In the modern Middle East, with its long history of urbanism, the consequences of urban continuity present a daunting challenge to this type of archaeological research.
The city of Mādabā, located 30 km southwest of Amman amidst the fertile rolling plains of the Central Jordanian Plateau, represents an exceptional example of this phenomenon. Continuing an urban tradition of some 5,000 years, the modern town engulfs the ancient settlement, preserved in the form of a large low-lying tall and acropolis that still forms a visible rise in the town center (Figure 1). Clearly, Mādabā's historical prominence necessitates a thorough assessment of its role in the long and eventful history of the Central Highlands of Jordan.
The Tall Mādabā excavations were conceived with the goal of pursuing this investigation. By focusing on the central site of Mādabā, the project has been working since 1996 to anchor an emerging regional database, and to facilitate analysis of the changing economic and sociopolitical organization of communities on a regional level. For more detailed descriptions of the project's research objectives and history, the reader is referred to previous reports submitted to the Department of Antiquities, and to published and forthcoming articles in the Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan.
In keeping with the Tall Mādabā Archaeological Project (TMAP) objective to map architecture and assemble quantifiable artefact assemblages for each of the principal phases of occupation at the site, the 2009 field season saw a continuation of the excavations begun in 1998 along the west acropolis (Field B) (Harrison et al. 2003; Foran et al. 2004). The primary objectives of the 2010 TMAP field season, therefore, were 1) to reopen four units in order to expose more of the Late Hellenistic and Iron Age levels present on the site; and 2) to explore more of the Early Roman/Nabatean and Hellenistic structures in one new unit to the south of the main excavation area. In addition to excavation, time and resources were also devoted to improving the overall appearance of the site and assuring the protection of these remains after the field season. The 2010 field season also included one full week of laboratory work, during which time all of the artefacts from the 2010 season were catalogued and prepared for storage or shipment and pottery and objects from this season were drawn.
The 2010 season was conducted between June 27 and July 29, with the author acting as Project Director. An archaeological field school for students from the University of Toronto was also run in conjunction with the 2010 field season. Kholood Agrabawi served as the Department of Antiquities representative.
Excavations have been ongoing in Field B since 1998, and in that time deposits dating to the Late Ottoman (FP 1), Late Byzantine/Early Islamic (FP 2), Early Roman/Nabataean (FP 3 & 4), Late Hellenistic (FP 5 & 6), Late Iron IIB (FP 7), Iron IIB (FP 8), Late Iron I/Iron IIA (FP 9), Late Bronze/ Early Iron IA (FP 10), and Early Bronze Age (FP 11) periods have been exposed. As stated above, the primary goal of the 2010 season was to further investigate the extent of remains dating to the Early Roman/Nabataean, Hellenistic, and Iron Age periods on this area of the tall. To this end, two units at the southern edge of the main excavation area (5M11A3 and 5M11B3) and two at the northern edge (5M21V1 and 5M21V4) were reopened and one new unit (5M11F3) south of the previously excavated area was opened (Figure 2).
Square 5M11A3 was previously excavated during the 1998 and 1999 seasons. Work conducted in 1998 allowed the exposure of two Late Hellenistic walls (FP 5 & 6), related to other contemporary structures in Field B, that survived the construction of a Late Ottoman arch directly above (Figure 3). Excavations continued in this square in 1999 in order to expose the top of the fortification wall and confirm the dating of this part of its superstructure. Excavations were renewed in 5M11A3 in 2010 primarily to remove these Late Hellenistic walls and expose the western face of the Late Ottoman arch with a view to preparing the site for presentation to the public. This work would also help us define the inner face of the fortification wall in this area.
Thus, the new excavations in 5M11A3 began with the careful documentation and removal of this Late Hellenistic structure (5M11A3:28, 29). In the northern part of the square, the remains of a stone platform (5M11A3:36) were exposed under the east-west Hellenistic wall (5M11A3:29). Based on the ceramics, this construction should also be associated with the Late Hellenistic occupation of Tall Mādabā. The platform was left in place in order to support the Ottoman arch above it (Figure 4).
While excavating the soil loci under the Hellenistic walls (5M11A3:28, 29), it became clear that the stratigraphy in the western half of the square was completely different from that in the east (Figure 4). The presence of the fortification wall in this area is obviously the cause of this change. Soil was continuously washing down from higher up on the tall and collecting against the inner face of the wall, making the excavation of these deposits quite difficult. Once the top of the fortification wall was exposed, this difference in stratigraphy ceased.
A heavily burnt layer (5M11A3:56), associated with the Iron II period, was discovered directly above a thick white ashy layer (5M11A3:58), which contained heavily weathered pottery indicating that this soil had been exposed to the elements for a significant period of time (Figure 5). Parallels for this type of burnt layer are present elsewhere on the site, namely in 5M11B3 (see below). Both of these loci seal against a large installation (5M11A3:55) that has tentatively been identified as a drain (Figure 6). This construction consists of two parallel rows of large stones with a significant void in the centre. A stone embedded in the southern baulk seems to be acting as a covering stone for the "drain." This installation is also bonded to a short east-west wall (5M11A3:63) to the west. This small wall is built of very large stones, some which are integrated into the installation. If the large fire that caused the extensive burning in this area of the tall is associated with construction activity, rather than destruction, perhaps related to the fortification wall, then this large installation may somehow be part of this undertaking. Clearly, only further excavations, particularly to the south, will clarify this matter.
A small east-west wall (5M11A3:62), attached to the fortification wall, at the northern end of this square was also uncovered (Figure 7). The remains associated with this construction date to the Iron II period. This, along with the construction style of the wall, suggest that it should be associated with the Iron IIB pillared building previously excavated in 5M21U4 and 5M21V3 and also possibly the later Iron IIB squatter occupation.
Finally, the 2010 excavations in 5M11A3 also completely exposed the top of the fortification wall (5M11A3:64) as well as its inner face. This work allows us to complete our documentation of the superstructure of this massive construction in this area of the tall (Figure 8). Hopefully, further work along the inner face of the wall will elucidate its complex construction history.
Square 5M11B3 was previously excavated during the 1999 season. At this time, a small north-south Late Hellenistic wall (5M11B3:14), faced with plaster, was uncovered in addition to a larger east-west wall at the southern edge of the square (Figure 9). Excavations were renewed in this square in 2010 in order to expose more of the Iron Age levels at Tall Mādabā. This, of course, required the removal of some of the Late Hellenistic architecture present in the square.
The small north-south Hellenistic wall in the centre of the square (5M11B3:14) was completely exposed, including its foundation trench (5M11B3:54) (Figure 10). Once this task was complete, the wall was entirely removed. Excavation of the soil loci (5M11B3:57, 58) across the square then continued and produced exclusively Iron Age material, including a nicely carved and polished bone pendant (10.110) (Figure 11). These layers are most likely associated with the post-abandonment accumulation that occurred on the site after the end of the Iron IIB. This accumulation has manifested itself elsewhere on the site as a series of sheetwash layers, but the nature of the deposition is obviously different in this particular area.
Excavators next encountered a layer of lightweight mudbrick material (5M11B3:63) dating to the Iron II. This has tentatively been identified as roofing material, but several samples were taken for further analysis. This material was sitting over a heavily burnt layer (5M11B3:64) that extended across the entire square (Figure 12). As excavation progressed, this burnt layer became concentrated in the south-western corner of the square (5M11B3:71, 74) and was contained by two Iron Age walls. The fire that occurred in this area helped preserve several artefacts, including a small clay bulla (10.127) decorated with a very intricate geometric pattern (Figure 13). This extensive burning is reminiscent of that found in 5M11A3 and does not seem to be present anywhere else on site, suggesting that, regardless of the cause of this fire (whether intentional or accidental), it was restricted to the southern part of Field B.
A series of walls dating to the late Iron IIB "squatter" occupation at Tall Mādabā (FP 7) were also uncovered (5M11B3:69, 72, 76, 92), forming a small room in the centre of the square (Figure 14). The construction style of these walls is reminiscent of those previously excavated in 5M21V3. A large mortar (10.107) was uncovered inside the corner formed by walls 5M11B3:69 and 5M11B3:72 (Figure 15). The depression in the mortar is very similar to a number of cup-holes carved directly into the bedrock that most likely date to the earliest occupation at Tall Mādabā (Early Bronze Age) (Figure 16). Perhaps the inhabitants quarried this specific stone from the bedrock because it already contained a cavity that could be used for grinding and mixing. This artefact was associated with a possible surface (5M11B3:82) that dates to the Iron II period. This structure must be a continuation of the domestic areas associated with the ephemeral occupation of the site at the end of the Iron IIB. Presumably, further excavation in this square would produce more information on the earlier Iron IIB occupation of Tall Mādabā.
The only new square to be opened during the 2010 season is located in the south-western area of Field B, immediately outside the north-west corner of the southern Late Ottoman house. Our goals for this area are to explore the ancient remains inside the city's fortification wall without exposing the wall, given its poor state of preservation at the southern end of Field B. While laying out the square, it was noted that the western wall of the Late Ottoman house contains two courses of well-carved ashlar blocks, suggesting that the late 19th century building is built on top of a much earlier structure (Figure 17). This evidence increases the importance of investigating the occupational sequence in this area of the tall.
Excavations in 5M11F3 began with the removal of the modern accumulation of garbage in this area, including two very large pits (5M11F3:7, 16) that contained a mixture of material from every occupation period on the site. A series of plaster surfaces (5M11F3:5, 8) were exposed along the eastern side of the square (Figure 18). These features extended only approximately 1 m into the square, possibly indicating that they were partially removed by later building activity. These surfaces do, however, seal against the foundation of the western wall of the Ottoman house (Figure 19). The material associated with these surfaces is primarily from the Early Roman / Nabatean period, which would be contemporary with the ashlar masonry visible in the Ottoman wall. If we presume that the foundation and first two courses of this wall date to the Early Roman period (and may indeed have been reused in the Late Byzantine / Early Islamic period), these plaster surfaces may be the result of the building activity or an outdoor area associated with what must have been a monumental structure.
Excavations in this square also exposed a north-south wall (5M11F3:14), containing a threshold similar to others excavated in Field B, associated with the Early Roman phases at the site (Figure 20). Its proximity to the large wall with ashlar masonry, which appears to also be from the Early Roman period, implies that this small wall pre-dates the large construction to the east. This smaller wall is sitting on top of a much wider Late Hellenistic wall (5M11F3:23) (Figure 21). This reuse of earlier walls in the Early Roman period is common in this area of the tall. Similar phasing has been identified in several squares in the main excavation area.
Associated with the Late Hellenistic construction in this area is a platform-like construction (5M11F3:25) to the east of the larger north-south wall (5M11F3:23). This structure was built on top of a thick layer of white plaster (5M11F3:32) (Figure 22). The soil between the stones of this platform contained material from a variety of time periods from the Early Bronze to the Hellenistic, indicating that the inhabitants simply used the surrounding soil to construct this installation.
Excavations in 5M11F3 have provided more information on the Early Roman and Late Hellenistic occupation at Tall Mādabā. The constructions uncovered this season are aligned with those excavated to the north and furnish more information for the overall plan of these structures. Further excavation in this area will hopefully elucidate the nature of the massive wall built of ashlar blocks and perhaps also allow the exploration of earlier material.
Square 5M21V1 was previously excavated during the 2009 field season, at which time two Late Hellenistic walls (5M21V1:19, 20) were uncovered that form part of a structure previously uncovered to the south. Excavations concluded in 2009 with the exposure of the top of the grey sheetwash layer that covers the Iron Age remains on the site (Figure 23). Our goals for this season were to complete the excavation of the foundations of the Hellenistic walls, remove these walls, and excavate the sheetwash layers underneath. In order to facilitate this, the eastern half of square 5M21U2 was incorporated into the 5M21V1 excavations.
While excavating the remaining Hellenistic material in this square, the foundation trench (5M21V1:36) for the east-west Hellenistic (5M21V1:20) wall was identified (Figure 24). Once the extent of this structure was completely exposed, the removal of these walls could begin. This task produced many reused stone tools (10.6, 10.11, 10.60) and cleared the area so that the sheetwash could be excavated as one complete soil locus.
The removal of the sheetwash, although difficult due to its complex stratigraphy, produced many interesting artefacts including the head of a female Moabite figurine (10.131) and a nearly complete Iron Age female plaque figurine (10.130) (Figure 25). These pieces, together with several Iron Age altar fragments recovered from the adjacent square 5M21V4 (see below), indicate a cultic presence in this area of the tall. In addition, a large tabun (5M21V1:55) was uncovered in one of the final strata of sheetwash (5M21V1:49) (Figure 26). This type of installation is commonly associated with the sheetwash layers in this area of the site. They are evidence of temporary use of the area during this lengthy period of abandonment.
Excavations in 5M21V1 ended with the exposure of the top of the poorly constructed walls associated with the late Iron IIB squatter occupation (FP 7). The north-south wall (5M21V1:57) is the continuation of a wall excavated in the square immediately to the south (5M21V4:129) and was already visible in that square's northern baulk. In addition, the traces of a contemporary east-west wall (5M21V1:58) were exposed in the centre of the square (Figure 27). Further excavation in 5M21V1 will certainly add to our knowledge of this "squatter" occupation in the late Iron IIB and possibly expose earlier Iron IIB material associated with the pillared building to the south.
Square 5M21V4 was previously excavated during the 2008 field season. During this initial season, a large north-south Late Hellenistic wall was exposed (5M21V4:20, 30) with an associated plaster floor. When excavation ended during this initial season, the top of an Iron IIB wall had been exposed but had been mistakenly identified as rock tumble (5M21V4:51, 55). When excavation resumed during the 2010 season, it was decided that work would only be conducted in the western half of the square for safety reasons (Figure 28). In order to facilitate this, the western baulk had to be brought down to the level of the previous excavations within the square and subsequently excavated as part of the unit.
In removing the western baulk, the continuation of a small east-west Hellenistic wall (5M21V4:28) was exposed as well as the rest of the associated plaster floor (5M21V4:33) (Figure 29). Once these were recorded, their removal allowed the excavation of soil layers (5M21V4:46, 48) associated with the thick sheetwash present in the squares to the west. These loci produced several fragmentary Iron Age stone altars (10.12, 10.13, 10.14) (Figure 30) that, along with the cultic figurines recovered from the adjacent square 5M21V1 (see above), attest to a cultic presence in this area.
Once this post-abandonment accumulation was removed, the top of two east-west Iron IIB walls became visible (Figure 31). The northernmost wall (previously rock tumble 5M21V4:51, 55; now 5M21V4:59) is well constructed and constitutes part of a structure previously unknown. The southern wall (5M21V4:60) constitutes the continuation of a wall exposed in the square to the west (5M21V3:98). The upper portions of both of these walls are associated with the late Iron IIB "squatter" occupation on the site (FP 7), while the lower courses should be associated with the Iron IIB pillared building (FP 8) previously exposed to the west. 5M21V4:60 must constitute the northern perimeter wall of the pillared building in 5M21U4 and 5M21V3, while 5M21V4:59 could be the exterior wall for an adjacent structure. Thus, the area between these two walls may be a passage way between two buildings (Figure 32).
Excavation between these two walls produced a thick layer of soil (5M21V4:69, 70, 71) with a significant amount of nari inclusions and very few artefacts (Figure 33). The artefacts that were recovered from these strata are of a purely domestic nature (10.44, 10.46). Rock tumble was then uncovered with soil directly beneath it that sat on the occupational surface (5M21V4:74) associated with the adjacent walls. Several large pieces of flat-lying pottery were found on this surface make it easy to relate to the Iron IIB occupation of the site (FP 8). If future excavations of 5M21V4 are undertaken, we may add more to our knowledge of this Iron IIB occupation and the earlier Iron IIA and Iron I levels at the site.
The restoration and conservation project that was initiated by the Tell Madaba Archaeological Project continued during the 2010 season. Three areas were chosen as needing immediate attention in order to prevent further damage and destruction. Although the Iron IIB (FP 8) and Iron I / Iron IIA (FP 9 & 10) walls in squares 5M21U4 and 5M21V3 that have been exposed for the past three years seem to be in a relatively good state of preservation, they were consolidated with a mixture of white cement, gypsum, and sand in order to prevent any further deterioration (Figure 34). These walls constitute the earliest constructions in Field B and therefore must be preserved. The same treatment was given to the Early Roman / Nabatean stone-paved courtyard in square 5M11A4 (Figure 35). This pavement constitutes some of the only architecture from this period that has survived on the west acropolis, thus it is important to conserve it for future presentation to the public. The Late Hellenistic walls in the eastern and southern baulks of square 5M11B4 were also conserved in the same manner as the other two areas on site (Figure 36). These walls have been exposed for the past two years and seem to be weathering quite well, but, in order to prevent any future damage and secure the area underneath for future excavation, some type of preservation work was necessary. The restoration and preservation work at Tell Madaba will hopefully continue in future field seasons as resources allow.
The excavations in Field B during the 2010 season succeeded in providing more information on the Early Roman / Nabatean (FP 3 & 4), Late Hellenistic (FP 5 & 6), Iron IIB (FP 7 & 8) present in this area of the tall.
To date, remains from the Early Roman / Nabatean (FP 3 & 4) have been found across Field B at Tall Mādabā. During the 2010 season, a monumental wall from this time period was identified in the southern portion of the site. This wall was reused as the western perimeter wall of a large Late Ottoman house, but its building style and associated stratigraphy clearly identify it as an Early Roman construction. This wall may also have been reused in the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods, but any vestiges of this occupation phase in this area have been removed by later building activity.
The remains of a large structure dating to the Late Hellenistic period (FP 5 & 6) have also been unearthed in Field B at Tall Mādabā. During the 2010 season, more of this building and other contemporary structures were uncovered. This new information allows us to add to the plan of the 3rd – 2nd century structure that was built just inside the pre-classical fortification wall on the western side of the acropolis.
During the 2007 season, the earliest occupation phase on the west acropolis was exposed along the inner face of the city's fortification wall. This provided a clear occupation sequence that began in the Late Bronze/Early Iron I (FP 10) and continued until the late Iron IIB (FP 7). Recent analysis of the material from the fill sealing against the foundations of the fortification wall revealed that this structure was originally built in the Early Bronze Age and reused throughout the Iron Age.
The latest Iron Age phase at Tall Mādabā (FP 7), dating to the late Iron IIB period, consists of what has been termed a 'squatter' occupation. More of these remains were uncovered during the 2010 field season and add to our knowledge of this ephemeral occupation of the site. The nature of this settlement seems to be entirely domestic. Excavations on the south side of Field B revealed an extensive burnt layer which may have been the cause of the abandonment of Tall Mādabā at the end of the Iron IIB.
The earlier Iron IIB phase (FP 8), is represented by a pillared building exposed in the previously excavated area. Excavation during the 2010 season exposed more of the architecture and material culture associated with this occupation phase. It now appears that there is more than one pillared building on the west acropolis. There may indeed be a series of these structures that were built adjacent to the fortification wall in this area.
The 2010 field season at Tall Mādabā also provided more information on the cultic assemblages of Iron Age Moab. The altar and figurine fragments recovered from the northern end of Field B add to the corpus of cultic artefacts that have recently been recovered from other sites in the region. Further analysis of these items will certainly help us elucidate the nature of Moabite cultic practices.
The 2010 field season of the Tall Mādabā Archaeological Project has provided further proof of the city's importance, not only in the Byzantine period, but throughout the Iron Age, Late Hellenistic, and Early Roman/Nabataean periods. Our efforts are also continually contributing to this history of the modern city of Mādabā.
The 2010 field season of the Tall Mādabā Archaeological Project was conducted in collaboration with the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, which provided guidance and access to field equipment. The season's results would not have been possible without the dedicated help of Dr. Ziad al-Saad, Director General of the Department of Antiquities, and Mr. Ali al-Khayyat, Director of the Department of Antiquities Office in Mādabā.