Excavation history


Very little is known of the history of ancient Moab, apart from the text preserved on the Mesha Stela and from the Hebrew Bible. The extent of the kingdom and the life and times of Moabites living in the towns and villages remains relatively unknown. The excavation of sites north and south of the Wadi Mujib and a study of their material remains is now adding considerably to our knowledge of this central Jordan kingdom, which controlled the region from Madaba to the south end of the Dead Sea. One area that had not been previously studied is the Wadi ath-Thamad, a wadi that flows southwest into the Wadi Mujib just north of its confluence with the Dead Sea. This wadi system forms the border of a triangular area, which includes the Moabite city of Dibon, the capital of Mesha. A series of fortified sites along the Wadi ath-Thamad may indicate the northern frontier between the Moabites and the Israelites, who had conquered part of Moab in the 9th century BC. For this reason, the site of Khirbat al-Mudayna was chosen for a long term project of investigation.

Excavation at Khirbat al-Mudayna on the Wadi ath-Thamad has been carried out under the supervision of Dr. Michèle Daviau, Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology at Wilfrid Laurier University (Waterloo, Canada). Each year, the Canadian team was joined by participants from several countries including Australia, South Africa, the United States, France, and Hungary, along with a group of Jordanian workers. Our team owes special appreciation to Dr. Fawwaz al-Khraysheh, Director General of Antiquities.

Excavation at Khirbat al-Mudayna is designed to explore the Iron Age tell and the Nabataean-Early Roman period settlement at its foot. On the tell, Fields A and C are located on the northern end, where a six-chambered gate complex was exposed. In Field B, we exposed a portion of the casemate wall that was linked to the gate and a pillared building. At the foot of the tell, Fields L and N were opened to study the Nabataean and Early Roman structures, which formed part of an extensive settlement running south from the bank of the wadi.

A regional survey was also conducted during each field season in an attempt to locate new sites, document the remains of sites previously known, and study the evidence for land use and water management in antiquity.

Khirbat al-Mudayna

The main site in the survey region, Khirbat al-Mudayna sits atop a small tell and is surrounded by fields, the wadi bed, and, to the north, a line of higher ground.  The town is made up of four main parts: the six-chambered gate and accompanying fortification system, the sanctuary and courtyard, the industrial complex, and the residential area.

The Iron Age Gate (800 BC)

A six-chambered gate, recovered in in Fields A and C, defended this fortified settlement during the Iron Age II period (ca. 800-600 B.C.). The gate complex included a small tower located north of the east end of the gate, and two units of three rooms, one on each side of the central roadway. The gate's total length is approximately 15.30 m, and it was 15.00 m wide, somewhat smaller than gates of the same style at Gezer, Megiddo, Hazor, and Lachish. A stone paved ramp leads into the gate and forms the threshold. Benches run along both the east and west sides of the central roadway between the gate rooms. Work done in 1999 revealed a stone-lined drain, and a second stone threshold at the inner, or southern end of the gate.

All of the gate rooms and the central roadway at Khirbat Mudayna were roofed and supported second storey rooms. Evidence for the presence of these rooms was in the form of several layers of collapsed ceiling material and wall plaster that had fallen into the lower rooms. The roof beams yielded a C14 date of 810 BC, while a woven mat on the floor of the central room on the west (R152) gave a date of 790 BC. An interesting feature of this six-chambered gate is the fourth wall of each chamber on the side of the road. It is clear that all six chambers had a narrow (0.80 m) doorway leading from the road into the gate room. From a study of its construction techniques, it appears that this building was originally built as a new structure, since the piers that formed the main walls were founded on bedrock.

No final conclusion can be reached until the pottery of this region and period is better known; so far, however, the excavation of the gate has not yielded any remains that might suggest an occupation earlier than Iron II. As for the end of the gate, it is cast in a dramatic light by the find of bronze trilobate arrowheads and a number of small sling stones.

Building 149: A Sanctuary

In 1999, excavation east of the gate complex exposed an alleyway (S107), which connected with Casemate Room 106. South of this alleyway was a small building with benches lining its walls. This structure has been identified as a sanctuary on the basis of its finds. As there was little restorable pottery in this building, it seems to have been emptied of its easily portable furnishings before it collapsed, perhaps when the gate was attacked and burned. On the other hand, three limestone altars had been left there, broken. One of those, tall and candelabrum shaped, bears an inscription (see below, Epigraphical Notes).

The Industrial Complex

South of the sanctuary, a building with two rows of pillars was exposed.  This building has ten limestone basins set in place between the pillars.  Initial theories postulated that the building had an industrial purpose, specifically one pertaining to the production of textiles.  This theory was supported when in following seasons, two more buildings with very similar floor plans and artefact assemblages were discovered.  Loomweights, grinding tools, basins, workbenches, ovens and other textile related tools were found in large quantities in all three pillared buildings.

The buildings had an entryway off the main street of the town.  Each building was accessible by a ramp and/or a staircase, but each entrance varied slightly from the others.  However, construction techniques seem to be similar, and two of the doorways share common architectural elements, suggesting they were built simultaneously.

The Residential Area

Fields D and E, west and south, respectively, of the industrial complex, have revealed two different residential styles.

Field D has a large building, possibly for storage, and at least one well delineated four-room house.  Storage jars, human and animal figurines, small textile tools, and a large ceramic sample were found.

Field E also has evidence of domestic architecture and artefacts, though the individual buildings are more difficult to define.  The southern-most wall of the houses in Field E abuts the casemate wall, and the deposition is quite deep.

Both fields have walls thick enough to have supported a second storey.

The Nabataean Settlement

There is evidence of a Nabataean settlement at the base of the tell.  A multi-roomed house, reservoir, and other water retention architectural elements have been excavated.

The Nabataean Reservoir

Excavations in Field L (situated on the northern slope near the bottom of the tell) exposed a building (B700) that had at least two phases. In the first phase, this structure measured 10.00 x 16.00 m and was constructed of boulder-and-chink field stone walls, preserved up to 5 courses high. The presence of water channels and of plaster, found on both the floor and the walls, already suggested that this structure was a Nabataean-Early Roman reservoir; and indeed, the 1999 discovery of unpainted Nabataean bowl fragments and sherds of a highly ornate Herodian-style lamp confirms this analysis. The size and construction of Building 700 resembles the reservoir at Mampsis in the Negev.

During a later phase of occupation, a line of piers (10 total) ran down the centre of the building, about 0.50-0.60 m apart. These were built in the header and stretcher style of construction, and seem to be part of a large arch support system for the ceiling. This second phase of occupation can also be detected in repairs to the walls, while the finds suggest an alternate use for this building, possibly as a storehouse.

The Nabataean Buildings

The excavations in Field N revealed one very large Nabataean housing complex. The house consisted of two units, Building 800 + 802. In Room 801, a flight of 10 steps led to a landing and then turned to enter the upper storey. In Room 806 to the south was a stone paved floor and integrated arches to support the ceiling. Built up the west wall of these two room was a second unit consisting of three rooms (R802-R804) that joined another group of rooms (R809-813) and a courtyard on the north. These rooms had floors paved with plaster. A Roman coin found in the debris may help to date the latest occupation phase to the late 3rd century A.D., the time of Valerianus (Z. Fiema). In Room 811, there were five more coins, as well as painted Nabataean pottery and Herodian-style lamps. Several Bedouin burials were found in the debris of these buildings.

Epigraphical Notes

Four monumental Thamudic inscriptions and one inscribed stone were recovered in the survey, three at West Ureinbeh and the fourth was carved on bedrock at site WT #48. Four graffiti, also in Thamudic script, were found incised on door jambs in Building 800 (Field N). In Building 700 (Field L), a Latin and a Greek inscription each consisted of one or two words. In the debris of the Iron Age town there was a two-letter inscribed potsherd (MT 270) that consists of Moabite script Another sherd (MT 131), discovered in 1996, was somewhat longer, but was also incomplete. Two of the letters with the same in both inscriptions. The longer text can tentatively be translated as "May Kemosh Judge."

More important is an inscription, apparently of the 8th century BC, carved on the candelabrum-shaped altar discovered in 1999 (see above, Building 149). This inscription labels the object as "The incense altar that Elishama made for Yasaph, the daughter of Awwat," thus revealing the ancient name of an impressive cultic artifact. This text is not unrelated to the Mesha material; but both its script and language display significant peculiarities, which betray a local dialect and scribal tradition.

Site 13

During the 1996 regional survey, a complete female figurine, and fragments of anthropomorphic vessels, were found at a site south of ar-Rumayl, which was numbered WT-13. This site was looted repeatedly, both in the past and most recently; salvage excavations were conducted in 1997-1999, 2001, and 2003. The excavation produced dozens of figurines, fragments of anthropomorphic statues, and a large amount of pottery. Most of the figurines were ceramic representations of women carrying a disc or holding their breasts. Some more exotic finds included murex and cowrie shells, miniature juglets used for perfume (or incense?), a limestone figurine head, and a blue faience amulet of Horus as a child. Some of these objects were found under a sealed layer of cobblestones. The faience amulet, together with the hairstyle and dress of some of the figurines, suggests a stronger Egyptian influence here than in neighbouring Judah. The collection of finds should help us understand better the religion and culture of the Iron Age people of this region. The finds and the position of the site suggest that Site 13 was an Iron Age II cultic place.

The Regional Survey

The regional survey was under the supervision of Dr. J. Andrew Dearman from Austin Presbyterian Seminary (Texas) in 1996 and 1997; in 1998 and 1999 Dr. Chris Foley of the University of Saskatchewan was survey director. In 2005, Jonathan Ferguson, University of Toronto, took over, and continues to supervise ongoing work.  A geographical survey was conducted by Dr. Carlos Cordova in 1998 and 1999. This survey was undertaken to understand better the distribution of sites and their settlement patterns along the Wadi ath-Thamad and Wadi Shabik.

So far more than 140 sites have been located. Most of these sites belong to one of the two periods also attested at Mudayna: Iron Age II or Nabataean. The Iron Age settlements are usually watch towers or agricultural installations. The abundance of strategically located Iron Age II towers suggests that this area was at the border between Moab and Ammon. The Nabataean sites are mostly farming settlements and are located across the wadis, overlooking the agricultural land. At some of the sites numerous buildings and other features such as tombs and water systems were detected. For example, no less than 33 cisterns were identified at ar-Rumayl, and, in 1999, Prof. Foley reported a Nabataean stone sarcophagus.

Several sites with earlier material were identified and their lithic material was read by Dr. Gary Rollefson. These sites include an upper Paleolithic lithic scatter, an Epipaleolithic terrace, and a site with Chalcolithic-Early Bronze Age lithics. Soundings at a Neolithic village revealed architecture, pottery and lithics; further excavation is scheduled for future seasons.

2001--The Fifth Season

New Discoveries in Wadi ath-Thamad

MADABA, Jordan -- A Canadian archaeological team made new discoveries this summer at a fortified, Iron Age settlement at Khirbat al-Mudayna, in Jordan's Wadi ath-Thamad. The team unearthed a pillared, five-room building and a cluster of puzzling, silo-type structures in front of the settlement’s gate. Its continuing survey of the Wadi ath-Thamad area identified new sites where rich quantities of stone artifacts told of human activity as much as 150,000 years ago. This was the fifth season of excavation and survey by the Wadi ath-Thamad Project, headed by Dr. P.M.M. Daviau, professor of Near Eastern Archaeology at Wilfrid Laurier University and member of the graduate faculty at the University of Toronto. This year’s team consisted of almost 60 persons, mostly students from Wilfrid Laurier in Waterloo, Ontario, McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. It was sponsored and partly funded by those universities and also funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The work was carried out with the support of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan and its director, Dr. Fawwaz al-Khraysheh. Department representatives Adnan Naqrash and Husam Atallah Hijazeen assisted at the dig. The team stayed for six weeks in Madaba at Lulu’s Pension, the Black Iris hotel, and in accommodations rented from the American Center for Oriental Research.

The Iron Age Settlement Khirbat al-Mudayna crowns a steep hill overlooking Wadi ath-Thamad. Previous excavation revealed an encircling casemate wall pierced by a six-chambered gate. A courtyard and an apparent temple, with altars, lay behind the gate. Evidence at the gate suggested it had been stormed and burned. Work further back from the gate this year revealed a building divided into three parallel rooms by rows of pillars. Stone basins had been installed between the pillars. Excavation of the central room found fallen, burned roof beams and a square altar, inscribed on one side with a stylized lotus. This area was supervised by Dr. Margreet Steiner of Leiden University, in the Netherlands. Excavators looked for an approach road in front of the gate this year, but came instead upon a round, stone structure under a paved area in front of the entrance. It proved to be one of four or five such structures, built in a tight cluster on steeply sloping bedrock and partially supported by earthen fill in the spaces between them, according to Dr. Robert Chadwick, of McGill University. He said the structures apparently were built before the gate, and speculated that they might have been silos. They were as much as 4 meters in diameter and 2.5 meters deep. Dr. Chadwick supervised work at the gate and is assistant director of the project. At the south side of the settlement, at the opposite end from the gate, a possible glacis of crushed limestone and plaster was uncovered, sloping up to the casemate wall. Work there was supervised by Darren Smith, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto.

Other Sites

The survey team this year found ten hand axes at one site, along with lower Palaeolithic points and flakes. This was an extraordinary number of hand axes to find at one site, according to Dr. Chris Foley of the University of Saskatchewan, who headed the survey. He reckoned the artifacts were 100,000 to 150,000 years old. At another site, Dr. Foley said the team found Yarmukian pottery, from perhaps 7,500 to 6,500 years ago, and stone tools reflecting Natufian technology, from a few thousand years earlier. Nearby, rudimentary stone structures suggested a small, Neolithic village or special-purpose site. Another part of the team continued salvage excavation of a small, outdoor, Iron Age shrine near Rumayl. Among this year’s finds was an amulet of the Egyptian god Ptah-Sokar, unusual because the figure has wings on its back. This was the second figurine of an Egyptian god to be found at that site, Dr. Daviau said. The same group also continued excavation of a large, Nabatean house at the foot of Khirbat al-Mudayna. Both sites were supervised by Laura Foley, lecturer at the University of Saskatchewan.

Dr. Noor Mulder-Hymans of the Netherlands was this year’s field supervisor at a nearby Nabataean reservoir. When the reservoir went out of use, it was converted to storage and domestic use. This season, evidence of the final occupation was in the form of a clay oven and domestic pottery.

2004 -- The Sixth Season

The sixth season of excavation at Khirbat al-Mudayna took place from June 24–August 9, 2004. Excavations were carried out by 77 team members and 25 local workers. The principal focus this season was the Iron Age town, where our research strategy was designed to investigate evidence for occupation prior to the construction of the six-chambered gate. Underneath the outer threshold of the gate was one of a group of food-storage silos, also dating to the Iron Age. Two of these stone-lined silos, excavated this season under the direction of Dr. Robert Chadwick, yielded large amounts of pottery along with a small limestone slab inscribed in Moabite script.

Excavations inside the town revealed a series of pillared buildings adjacent to Building 200, first exposed in 2001. These new buildings, excavated by Dr. Michael Weigl, also appear to be devoted to textile production. This season, more than 120 loom weights, fragments of textiles, and pieces of wooden furniture were recovered. At the south end of the mound, the trench through the casemate wall system was expanded inside the town under the supervision of Andrew Graham. Here too there was a pillared building, preserved two stories in height. High status finds from Building 400 include a scarab in a gold setting, and two intact vessels, which were located in a casemate room.

The removal of balks and excavation, supervised by Christopher Gohm, was designed to connect the kitchen south of the temple (see 1999 season) with Courtyard 150 to the west. On the south, there was a complex of rooms and a staircase suggesting the presence of another pillared building. A ramp leading to a stone threshold connected the easternmost rooms of the complex to the western courtyard.

Probes under the temple and kitchen floors revealed the complex construction phases of the town. Dr. Margreet Steiner plans further study of the pottery to better our understanding of this complex phasing.

In the Nabataean-early Roman settlement, excavation was carried out on a long wall, running east along the south edge of the agricultural plain. This wall probably functioned as a water management installation. At the east end of the wall, excavation was carried out in a rectangular building (B720), consisting of two settling tanks for temporary water storage.

In the Wadi ath-Thamad survey area, excavation at the Neolithic village (Site WT-40+104) uncovered stone walls, plastered floors, and the burial of a child or young teenager under a plaster house floor. Painted pottery with Yarmukian herringbone incisions provides a date for the site in the Late Neolithic period. Dr. Christopher M. Foley of the University of Saskatchewan, who directed work on the site, said only a handful of Yarmukian burials have been found in the Levant.

Floors were superimposed on one another in the site, suggesting that it had been inhabited for some time. Other finds include hundreds of stone tools, 30,000 lithic fragments, a tubular bone bead and a red carnelian bead, a wooden comb, and a cache of brightly colored stones that had been chipped to the size of small dice.