Extreme Archaeology of the Black Desert, Jordan 

Yorke Rowan, on behalf of the Eastern Badia Archaeological Project (EBAP) team 


Our adventures in extreme archaeology in the Black Desert of Jordan bring known expectations. We know that the long first day includes loading a Toyota Hilux and larger cargo truck; various stop offs to pick up water tanks, ice, and fuel; driving two hours off road through the rough basalt; arriving to unpack, build camp, inhale dust and flies; ending with the inevitable search for the first night’s mealThe sore limbs, chapped lips, more flies, snakes and melted ice are also all known. What was unknown during the 2018 expedition was the two days of torrential rains, wind and lightening. The soggy beginning brought on by this unusual weather episode encouraged us to appreciate the warm days that followed, and the pleasant discoveries of a region that can look so starkly unwelcoming. Logistics are a challenge in an area without cell phone reception and far from food and water, even for our small team of ten people.  


Figure 1. The team surveys their soggy surroundings after the final rain at Wisad Pools (Photo: Y. M. Rowan) 



Returning to Wisad Pools for the first time since 2014, a primary goal of the Eastern Badia Archaeological Project was to complete the excavation of building W-80, a large structure with multiple building phases and occupations. These episodes indicate people lived in the building sporadically over at least 700 years during the Late Neolithic (C14 indicates intermittent occupation from the mid7th to mid6th millennia cal. B.C.)Situated on the southeastern edge of the harra (basaltic landscape), Wisad Pools consists of a short drainage (c. 1.5 km long) that flows from a plateau to a qa’ (mudflat) about ten meters lower in elevationNatural and blocked sections of this drainage created nine pools, surrounded by hundreds of collapsed basalt structureswhich until now had no known age or function. The pools of water attracted people and animals for millennia. Using basalt boulders and slabs as their medium, people pecked rock art representing animals and hunting traps, and the occasional human. Yet most of the animals depicted are not found in our excavations. 

Figure 2. Petroglyph depicting ibex and two hunters (Photo: A. C. Hill) 


Continuing the excavation of the large structure W-80, we were surprised to find deeper, continuing depositsAlthough very good news, this required establishing the connections between depositional phases and structural remodeling that occurred later in the building’s life. For example, the narrow entrance of the main northeast door was created by inserting a wall section into the earlier, much wider entrance. By removing this blocking wall to expose an earlier, roughly paved entrance, a working platform rich in artifacts was discovered. We found a large pierced mother of pearl plaque tucked away at the base of the later entrance. 

Figure 3. Mother of pearl plaque found at the threshold (Photo: G. O. Rollefson) 


Below this level at the same threshold, a large worked block of red ochre was unearthed, pressed vertically into the ground. At a slightly higher level, we have reported on a cache of caprine/gazelle astragalae (Rowan et al. 2015a: Fig. 11a).  

Conducted in 1 x 1 m squares and 5 cm spits, the excavations of these earlier interior layers had smaller hearths, ashy deposits, and small grinding slabs with handstones. In the later occupations, surfaces included massive grinding slabs and deep fire pits, suggesting significant changes not only in the structure but also its use. Around the central standing stone we discovered a concentration of mandibles and crania from gazelle, suggesting a foundation deposit.

Figure 4. Cache of gazelle mandibles and crania fragments at the base of the central pillar in W-80 (Photo: B. Heidkamp).   


 In the same shallow pit a polished sphere strengthens the idea this was a ritual deposit. Another cache of caprine/gazelle astragalae found at the base of this pillar leave little doubt that these were intentional ritualized deposits.  

After four seasons of excavation at Wisad Pools, our perceptions of the area are becoming radically transformed. We cannot attribute all of the many structures to the Late Neolithic period, but evidence points to a substantial building and reuse of the area during this time. The impressive structures and rich deposits hint at the repeated use by hunter-herders who returned and lived near the pools, possibly for substantial parts of the year. Although we might see this arid landscape as bleak and barely habitable for short periods, those soggy first days remind us that the ancient inhabitants developed strategies to thrive and build hamlets in the Black Desert despite the many unknowns. 


Archaeologists in Print

By Amara Thornton

Over the course of two afternoons sometime in 2015, I wandered around the shelves of the PEF’s Library. I’d been there many times before, for meetings and archive research. But this time I came as a browser, my eyes scanned the spines as I paced round the room. I was focused on finding archaeologists’ popular publications. It was the subject of my postdoctoral research, now published as my first book, Archaeologists in Print: Publishing for the People (UCL Press).

Archaeologists in Print details the history of popular archaeology publishing in Britain roughly between the 1870s and the 1970s. It focuses on the books that British archaeologists produced for a non-scholarly audience, how these came to publication, and how archaeologists built a public presence in order to commodify their archaeological experience in popular formats. For the most part, the archaeologist-authors featured in Archaeologists in Print were working in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. Names familiar to PEF members and friends (and represented on the Library shelves) are among those included: Flinders Petrie, David George Hogarth and John Garstang, for example. Women, including Mary Brodrick, Annie Quibell, Margaret Wheeler and Dorothy Mackay, were equally active in archaeology as these more famous men, not only in excavation, but also in promotion and public archaeology, particularly through tours and guidebooks. They are highlighted in Archaeologists in Print both in a specific chapter, “The Women Who Did”, and deliberately integrated throughout the book.

Archaeologists in Print is comprised broadly of two parts. The first part is an overview, charting how archaeologists were defined through education, training, and experience (especially travel-related), revealing the role of newspapers and compendiums in enhancing archaeologists’ public visibility as experts, and examining how books were marketed through series, circulating and public libraries, and bookshops.  The second part focuses on three important publishing houses: John Murray, Macmillan & Co, and Penguin. It details the rich histories to be found in publishers’ archives, and evaluates the careers and books of a number of different archaeologists who published with these companies. The book ends with an exploration of archaeology in fiction, concentrating on three genres: romance, horror/fantasy, and crime.

I thoroughly enjoyed my foray into the fascinating history of popular archaeology publishing, and discovering some unexpectedly fruitful archives along the way. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed the writing and research!

Archaeologists in Print: Publishing for the People can be downloaded as an open access pdf free from UCL Press: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/browse-books/archaeologists-in-print 

Paperback and hardback copies are also available for purchase.


Islamic Bayda Project 2017

By Micaela Sinibaldi

In October/November 2017 the Islamic Bayda Project has carried on its fourth season of archaeological excavations at Khirbet Bayda in Petra. The project, which I direct since its outset and is affiliated with the Council for British Research in the Levant, in season 2017 had a duration of 4 weeks.  The Islamic Bayda Project, part of a larger project, which I also lead, The Late Petra Project, is a project of excavations, surveys, conservation, training and community engagement.

In season 2017, we returned to the two mosques at the site, which are also the only two mosques ever excavated in Petra, therefore important witnesses of the Islamic-period settlement in Petra. After removing the backfill, we completed the study of Mosque 2 by studying in details its phasing and building style with the methodology of Archaeology of Standing Buildings (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Recording building styles and building phases in Mosque 2 (photo by Steven Meyer).

The building and its use included six different phases and it reused a former Nabataean columnaded structure; we also reconstructed that about 40 worshippers could be accommodated in it. The project is now fundraising for the complete conservation, protection and presentation to the public of the two mosques; solutions have been discussed with the local authorities for a potential development and an opening of the area to the public.

To make it possible for the public to see the Mosque details before its conservation, this season we took photos to create a 3D model reconstruction of this important structure, which will be made available to the public.

As for Mosque 1, this season more excavation along the southern wall has revealed more exciting discoveries: the mihrab was built directly on top of a former, most likely Nabataean, structure, which included a plastered water tank, consistent with the important, former Nabataean phase at the village. Moreover, remains of red-painted plaster were revealed not only on the side walls of the mihrab, but also on its floor and along the western wall of the mosque, an important find so far without known parallels locally, which shows that the whole mosque was probably largely decorated in this way (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Exposing remains of red-painted plaster in the mihrab of Mosque 1 (photo by Micaela Sinibaldi).

The project includes a study of the local, modern culture, acknowledging its importance for understanding the material culture analyzed by the excavation, which has a very long tradition locally. In 2016 the team focused on analyzing the local traditional architecture; in 2017 we have visited a tabun, a bread oven which we regularly find in the excavation of the site, to observe its preparation and functioning. A local family has agreed to let us assist to the process of use of the oven over two days (Fig. 3). The bread we had as soon as it was baked in the oven was, needless to say, absolutely delicious.

Fig. 3: Our visit at a tabun in Bayda (photo by Micaela Sinibaldi).

The Schools Day is an outreach initiative I organize every year in cooperation with the Petra Archaeological Park, but this time the day has been particularly engaging: I invited the children to try simplified versions of the archaeologists’ activities of excavation, survey, study of the architectural material and recording of the data. The day was so successful that a class from the girls’ primary school from Umm Sayun, hearing about the initiative, organized a surprise visit (Fig. 4)!

Fig. 4: The girls’ school of Umm Sayun visiting the site (photo by Shayma Taweel).

Visits at the site have been particularly numerous this season, especially because Mosque 1 was completely visible for the first time. We received visits by the staff of the Petra Archaeological Park and the Department of Antiquities, staff and scholars of the American Center of Oriental Research and the Hussein Bin Talal University and  we have also been much honoured by a surprise visit by Prof. Hugh Kennedy from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5: The Islamic Bayda Project team, 2017 inside Mosque 2, during a visit of the staff of the Petra Archaeological Park (photo by Mohammed Eid Ammarin).

In addition to my core local team from Bayda, my team was very international this season: there were archaeology trainees from Jordan, the U.K., France and Australia. As always, being part of the Islamic Bayda Project included lots of barbecues under the stars and, of course, weekend visits to Petra, including a day trip to the Jabal Harun.

This year the project has launched a Facebook page.  Moreover, a video on the project’s activities and results is currently in preparation.  Finally, on 4 December, 2017, The Jordan Times published an article on the Islamic Bayda Project.

Umm at-Tawabin, Ghor as-Safi, Jordan, 2017

By Alexandra Ariotti

In February this year, I excavated the large fortified site, Umm at-Tawabin, positioned on a hill above the town of Ghor as-Safi and Wadi al-‘Arabah in Jordan, along with three Greek volunteers and some local Safi workers. With its vast size (880 x 450 m), strategic location, at least four interior buildings and over one hundred stone circles all fortified by a 2.5 km perimeter wall, this site has never been fully investigated since it was first discovered in the late 19th century until recently.

In 2015, I carried out a survey and study of some surface pottery which provided the evidence for a 1st century BC to 6th century AD occupation in one area especially, the site’s main fort on the citadel. However, to firmly establish the chronology of all of the site’s architectural features distributed over a wide area, the next logical step was to dig some strategically-placed sondages to retrieve pottery and other material and to compare types of building and construction where possible. Five trenches were excavated with Trench I in the middle of Fort A on the citadel and four trenches (II-V) below the fort on the site’s west side.

Work begins up on Umm at-Tawabin’s citadel where we’re hoping to expose the architecture of Fort A, a large defense post overlooking Wadi al-‘Arabah and the southern Dead Sea. Photo by Nikos Angelakis.

Some of our team made up of Safi locals, three Greeks and one Australian digging the fort, with spectacular views all around us. Photo by Nikos Angelakis

Our excavation of Fort A revealed some of the structure’s original architecture including a water reservoir and has produced a considerable quantity of pottery, coins and other finds like a stone slingshot and part of a Nabataean incense burner.

Fort foundations including a water reservoir are at last revealed. Photo by Nikos Angelakis.

This material has so far shown that Fort A was built and occupied from the first century BC onwards, serving as a lookout post designed for defensive and monitoring purposes.

At the same time, our team excavated two of the stone circles (from which the site gets its name “mother of bread ovens” in Arabic) that have been the subject of some longstanding debate concerning their origin and function.

Omar excavating one of the site’s one hundred circular stone installations situated along the west side of Umm at-Tawabin. Photo by Nikos Angelakis.

Stone Circle A (Trench II) did not yield much in the way of interior features beyond a thin layer of ash and a few residual pottery sherds. However, Stone Circle B (Trench III) was found to have been built directly on top of two walls belonging to an altogether different structure/s that dates to a much earlier (Early Bronze Age or Middle Bronze Age) period.

Antonis sieving for pottery and other finds from within one of the stone circles that will help to date these unusual features. Photo by Nikos Angelakis.

Some stratified pottery was found within the circle that I’m eagerly waiting to study. Trench IV was excavated as a probe along a line of very large boulder stones on the southwest side of the site that, together with another parallel line of boulders, forms its enclosure wall.

Two of our Greek volunteers excavating a probe along Umm at-Tawabin’s enclosure wall on the west side of the site. Photo by Nikos Angelakis.

We can now determine how this massive fortification was constructed, as well as the depth of its foundations, made all the more clear by the excavation of Trench V further to the south. This probe was dug across the two wall lines of boulder stones which showed us that Umm at-Tawabin is enclosed, on its west side at least, by a very wide type of case-mate wall. Once a study of the all of the finds recovered by excavation (as well as some surface sherds recently collected) has been completed, I hope to better understand the occupational history of Umm at-Tawabin which may now be much broader than previously thought, for example, with origins that date to the Bronze Age.

Digging Up Jericho: Past Present and Future Conference

By Felicity Cobbing

A two – day conference was held at the Institute of Archaeology, examining the incredibly rich archaeology and cultural heritage of the Jericho Region – one of the most significant locations in the world for the development of human society, from the Neolithic onwards.  The conference was organised by Rachael Sparks of the Institute of Archaeology, Bart Wagemakers of NPAPH (Non-Professional Archaeological Photographs project), and the Council for British Research in the Levant.

Speakers included Rachel Sparks, Peter Parr, Stuart Laidlaw, and Beverly Butler of the Institute of Archaeology UCL, Lorenzo Nigro, Gaia Ripapi,  Daria Montanari and Chiara Fiaccavento, of La Sapienza University, Felicity Cobbing of the Palestine Exploration Fund,  Donald Whitcombe, Michael Jennings and Jack Green of the University of Chicago, Ignacio Arce of the university of Copenhagen, Bill Finlayson of the Council for British Research in the Levant, Lucas Petit of the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities, Graham Phillip of Durham University, Alexandra Fletcher and Mahmoud Hawari (British Museum), Kay Prag (University of Manchester).

Publication of the conference is in progress, but a video compilation of the day can be found below, courtesy of Bart Wagemakers.

Our 150th Birthday

By Adam John Fraser, PEF Librarian

150 years ago on this day the Palestine Exploration Fund held its first public meeting. The meeting took place in Willis’s Rooms in London’s St James’s Square at 3pm.

Fig 1. Detail from the PEF Minute Book for the first meeting of the Fund in 1865.

Fig 1. Detail from the PEF Minute Book for the first meeting of the Fund in 1865 (PEF Minute Book 1). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

The resolutions passed at this meeting outlined the Fund’s structure and aims.  For the enjoyment of our readers, these resolutions, the Fund’s original mission statement, are included below.

1st Resolution

Proposed by The Bishop of London

Seconded by Viscount Strangford

That a Fund be formed for the purpose of promoting the exploration of the Holy Land and that the following Noblemen and Gentlemen do constitute the Committee and Officers with power to add to their number. 

2nd Resolution

Proposed by A.H. Layard Esq. MP

Seconded by Count De Vogüé

That the exploration of Jerusalem and many other places in the Holy Land by means of excavations would probably throw much light upon the archaeology of the Jewish people.

3rd Resolution

Proposed by Sir Roderick J Murchison

Seconded by Mr Palgrave

That in addition to the praiseworthy research that have recently been made by Frenchmen, Englishmen, and travellers of other nations in the Holy Land, it is highly desirable to carry out such a systematic survey as will completely establish the true geological and geographical characters of that remarkable region.

4th Resolution

Proposed by Professor Owen

Seconded by Rev. H.B. Tristram

That it is desirable that the animals, plants and minerals of the Holy Land be collected and that the facts requisite for their systematic history be noted by competent observers on the spot.

5th Resolution

Proposed by The Dean of Westminster

Seconded by The Dean of Canterbury

That the Biblical Scholar may yet receive assistance in illustrating the sacred text from careful observers of the manner and habits of the people of the Holy Land.


Fig 2. Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, Dean of Westminster (PEF-Portrait-Stanley). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

6th Resolution

Proposed by The Bishop of Morny & Ross

Seconded by Dr William Smith

That the thanks of the Meeting be given to his Grace the Archbishop of York for his conduct in the chair.

The men who proposed these resolutions were some of the brightest minds of their generation. Many of them had conducted their own travels in the Middle East and were independent scholars who studied the languages and customs of the region.  Although some of them were Biblical scholars the Fund was a secular organization. One of the most renowned archaeologists of the mid-Victorian period Austen Henry Layard (who discovered Niniveh and Nimrud) helped shape the Fund’s research focus.

Professor Owen (who eventually established the Natural History Museum in South Kensington) ensured that the PEF was not entirely concerned with the ancient history of the land but also that it collect current specimens, both plant and animal.  The Dean of Westminster’s proposal that the local customs of the people of Palestine be recorded (albeit for religious study) resulted in unique and unparalleled records.

150 years ago these Committee members put forth motions to ensure the PEF’s specific and unique identity. We remain committed to the ethos of these first resolutions by continuing to champion research in the Levant today.

Fig 3. Detail of the Palestine Exploration Fund's official Committee list.

Fig 3. Detail from an early PEF publication (PEF/1865/1/84/1). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.


Introducing… Our Committee

Our third profile is of PEF Committee member Carly Crouch.

C Crouch photo

Carly’s research focuses on the social and intellectual history of the ancient world, with particular attention to ethics and to the histories of ancient Israel and Judah.   She has written on the impact of mythology and ideology on the justification of military violence (War and Ethics in the Ancient Near East: Military Violence in Light of Cosmology and History); on the effect of economic, political and social changes in the southern Levant on ideas about ethnic identity during the Assyrian period (The Making of Israel: Cultural Diversity in the Southern Levant and the Formation of Ethnic Identity in Deuteronomy), and on the relationship between the book of Deuteronomy and Assyrian imperial power (Israel and the Assyrians:Deuteronomy, the Succession Treaty of Esarhaddon, and the Nature of Subversion).  Each of these projects has depended on the latest research in the archaeology of the Southern Levant.  Her current research project is attempting to tease out the relationship between Israel and Judah in the Hebrew Bible as well as in ancient Near Eastern history.  Carly is the PEF’s Publications Chair.

Her University of Nottingham staff page can be found here.


The Secrets Between the Old Pages

By Dr. David Gurevich

“You are like Indiana Jones!”, a random visitor to the PEF archives commented on hearing the purpose of my work. I was standing behind a tripod that fixed my camera above a thick open file (Fig. 1). The well-aged pieces of paper contained the text of a manuscript written over 130 years ago. It was composed in Jerusalem and submitted as a report to the PEF office in London. “It’s so interesting. Perhaps you’ll find something!”, she continued.

The author examining plans at the PEF archives.

Figure 1. The author examining plans at the PEF archives.

Normally I would object at being compared to that iconic Hollywood character. The “treasure hunters” reputation of archaeologists was denounced in my eyes long ago. It happened during my first year of undergraduate studies. In the first introductory lecture it was explained that archaeologists do not hunt for treasures, causing a serious disappointment amongst the somewhat-naive audience. Having said that, today, after becoming a Fulbright post-doc research fellow at Harvard University, I do find myself in some way looking for a “treasure”, but of a different type – information and means that would help us to understand better ancient Jerusalem. This time I came after them to London.

About a year ago I visited the PEF for the first time. The modest entrance to its 2 Hinde Mews establishment hardly prepares the visitor for what he is about to discover behind the doors. Being a scholar in the field of Jerusalem studies, I had encountered the PEF’s pioneering work from the very beginning of my scientific career in archaeology. Actually, a significant amount of data that I analyzed in my doctoral dissertation came from the reports of Charles Wilson, Charles Warren and Conrad Schick who all explored Jerusalem on behalf of the PEF in the 19th century. As surprising it might be, several sites in Jerusalem have not been visited by any scholar since then. Such is the case, for instance, of Birket Israil, a huge ancient pool that abuts the northern wall of the Temple Mount. Warren conducted probe excavations inside the pool between 1867 and 1870, but in the 1930s the pool was filled with soil and a modern parking lot was created on top. Nowadays, this site of antiquity is buried deep below the surface, and keeping in mind all the political sensitivities there is no a chance to conduct new excavations. Warren’s data, therefore, was the primary source for my research.

Back to my first visit in the PEF archive. For the first time in my life I was examining the original letters sent from Jerusalem to London in the 19th century (Fig. 2): plans with signatures of Warren, notes written in old-style handwriting of Schick, yellowish pieces of paper with editorial remarks in red ink… I indentified a portion as unpublished material. How many secrets might these records still reveal? But it was also evident that I would need much more than a day to work on these precious materials. Thanks to the PEF grant program I was provided with an opportunity to come again recently, this time for over a week. My goal was to systematically review all the materials concerning the water systems of ancient Jerusalem. “Digging” for “mysteries” in the archives. In some way, similar to Indiana Jones.

Figure 2. Old letters are carefully arranged in archival files, titled by subjects. For instance, "PEF/JER/WIL" stands for materials related to the work of Sir C. Wilson on Jerusalem.

Figure 2. Old letters are carefully arranged in archival files, titled by subjects. For instance, “PEF/JER/WIL” stands for materials related to the work of Sir C. Wilson on Jerusalem.

The first thing you notice spending time in the PEF offices is a unique working environment. Whenever I took a short break, I wandered around the premises just to inspire the atmosphere. Each item bears a story. Here sits an old brown suitcase storing notes sent by the expedition of the historical Survey of Eastern Palestine. The suitcase seems also to be from the same period. In the main hall one notices an exhibition of artefacts obtained by the PEF through the years. Here are exhibited a few Crusader “grenades” (aka sphero-conical vessels) that were retrieved by Warren’s excavations. Nearby, one finds a few of the famous Shapira’s Moabite figurines (Fig. 3. Wilhelm M. Shapira was a controversial character in 19th century Jerusalem. He was an antiquities dealer, who is most known for his proposition to provide to the British Museum an “authentic scroll of Deuteronomy written by Moses”. The fragments of scrolls were, by the way, offered on “sale” – just one million pounds. And the Museum almost bought it.

Figure 3. Shapira's Moabite items exhibited in the PEF office.

Figure 3. Shapira’s Moabite items exhibited in the PEF office.

“Whenever you finish working with a plan, just put it please on the Temple!”, Ms. Felicity Cobbing, the Curator of the PEF, instructed me. “The Temple” refers to the model of Herod’s Temple constructed by Johann Martin Tenz which is kept inside a big glass case. Tenz was one of the gifted students in the handcraft workshop organized by the Jerusalem’s Anglican Missionary in the 19th century. And as my week in the PEF office went on, the pile accumulated on “the Temple” raised up higher and higher. Even when using the PEF’s loo, one encounters the archaeology: while sitting in-a-process, you notice a photograph on the wall. This depicts the Iron Age toilet from Jerusalem that is provided with a kind explanation of its function. Know your ancestors!

Perhaps the most exciting moment for me was when I came across a single short letter from 1901 (Fig. 4). It was written by Conrad Schick in Jerusalem, where he had resided permanently since 1846. In the last years I have studied his works systematically. The PEF has in possession probably hundreds of his letters, but this particular letter was different. “I am now about to prepare Plan and Section of the Jeremia’s Grotto for Sir Wilson, as my health in thanks to God, still good”, wrote Schick with his impressive cursive handwriting. Not so long after, he passed away at the age of 79. I was holding one of his very last letters. Definitely, a touching moment.

Eventually, my task in London was completed. I departed with a flash drive holding copies of many old documents taken for more careful examination. My goal is to discover what kind of answers these may bear. After “digging”, now comes the stage of processing the data. I’m looking for fragments of information that back in the 19th century were considered irrelevant and therefore were omitted from the published reports. Today these fragments may reveal shed new light on the archaeology of Jerusalem. Stay tuned!

C. Schick's letter to the PEF from July 22, 1901.

Figure 4. Conrad Schick’s letter to the PEF from July 22, 1901.



Surveying Umm at Tawabin, a Roman military site

By Alexandra Ariotti

Over the course of two to three days in January 2015, myself and Jordanian surveyor, Qutaiba Dasouqi, mapped the large Roman military camp of Umm at Tawabin (‘mother of bread ovens’ in Arabic) located on the south side of the Wadi al-Hasa, overlooking the town of Ghor as-Safi and the Wadi ‘Arabah in Jordan (Figs 1 and 2).


Figure 1. Myself and Qutaiba planning the site.

Figure 1. Myself and Qutaiba planning the site.

Figure 2. Umm at Tawabin on its west side facing north.

Figure 2. Umm at Tawabin on its west side facing north.

My goal was to document this historically significant site by photograph and by producing a topographical plan of its extensive enclosure wall encircling at least two forts, a possible observation post or tower, a likely barracks area, a citadel, and the numerous circular stone enclosures on the site’s west side, from which the site gets its name (Figs 3 and 4).

Figure 3. Planning the site with Qutaiba, the Jordanian surveyer.

Figure 3. Planning the site with Qutaiba, the Jordanian surveyer.

Figure 4. Main enclosure wall of Umm at Tawabin facing SE.

Figure 4. Main enclosure wall of Umm at Tawabin facing SE.

Over this period, I also collected some surface pottery, to be published, together with the site plan and photos, to learn more about the site’s chronology. Umm at Tawabin was first discovered in the 1980s and has since been described only briefly in a couple of past survey reports. We know it was an important site by virtue of its large size (880 x 453 m), by the number of its associated fortified structures made clear during the time we were planning the site, and by such historical sources as the Notitia Dignitatum Orientis (c. 400 C.E.) which lists the equites indigenae sagittarii, a Roman cavalry unit comprising native mounted archers based at Zoara (modern-day Safi) from the third to fifth centuries C.E. In this period, this military camp sat at the crossroads of the north-south and east-west communication routes flanking both sides of the strategically important Wadi ‘Arabah where the many east-west running arteries, roads and arable lands could be monitored, protected and policed.

Charles Warren in Jerusalem … continued

By Kevin Shillington

Charles Warren was a keen Freemason, having already at the age of 23 been the Master of a Lodge in Gibraltar. Before my visit to Jerusalem I had learned that Warren had been involved in a Masonic ritual in a cavern, somewhere deep underneath the Old City. There were two possible candidates for the site: one called ‘The Masonic Hall’, the other ‘King Solomon’s Quarry.’ A recent book on Warren’s Freemasonry appears to claim that these two sites were one and the same – hence my need to clarify the issue.[i] The site known as the ‘Masonic Hall’ is a chamber that Warren tunnelled his way into in February 1869. It was half-filled with rubble and soil, but rising out of the centre of the earth floor was a smooth pillar with a broken top. The scene reminded Warren of a traditional Masonic myth and so he named the chamber the ‘Masonic Hall’ (Figs 1 & 2). The famous war artist William Simpson, also a senior Freemason, was visiting Jerusalem a month later and he sketched the scene. As can be seen from Simpson’s sketch, the column was originally the support for twin arches that lined the roof.


The ‘Masonic Hall’ as drawn by William Simpson, from a copy in the Masonic journal Ars Quatour Coronati, 1888. Warren ordered the clearing of the rubble, which, when he first entered the chamber, reached up to the mark on the column.

Figure 1. The ‘Masonic Hall’ as drawn by William Simpson, from a copy in the Masonic journal Ars Quatour Coronati, 1888. Warren ordered the clearing of the rubble, which, when he first entered the chamber, reached up to the mark on the column. By the time Simpson made his sketch, the hall had been partially cleared of rubble.

Figure 2. The ‘Masonic Hall’ today, part of the ‘Western Walls’ archaeological complex. Warren broke in through the hole in the roof – the dark patch against the back wall, right of centre. The earth at that time was two-thirds of the way up the column. [Photo KS]

Figure 2. The ‘Masonic Hall’ today, part of the ‘Western Walls’ archaeological complex. Warren broke in through the hole in the roof – the dark patch against the back wall, right of centre. The earth at that time was two-thirds of the way up the column. [Photo KS]

The other site was Zedekiah’s Cave, also known as King Solomon’s Quarry. The cave, long-known from ancient and medieval times, had been blocked up, but the entrance was rediscovered by Dr James Barclay in 1854, or rather by Dr Barclay’s dog, that disappeared down through a hole into the cave while being taken for a walk. The entrance is just outside the city wall near Damascus Gate and the cave extends through numerous chambers for several hundred metres. It is clearly the product of human quarrying and when Warren saw the evidence that stone masons had cut huge blocks out of the walls of the cavern, he convinced himself that this must be the work of King Solomon’s stone masons. In Freemasonry tradition, the latter were the original Freemasons, from whom the modern ones take their inspiration. What better place to hold an unofficial Masonic meeting?

Dr Robert Morris, an American Freemason, visited Jerusalem in May 1868 and Warren proposed that they hold a meeting in the far depths of King Solomon’s Quarry, as near as possible to the site of the Temple Mount above (see Figs 3,4 & 5).

Figure 3. The Freemason Leon Zeldis of Hertzlya kindly allowed me to see his copy of this very rare book by the American Freemason, Robert Morris and to make photocopies of the relevant pages that recorded the Masonic meeting in Zedekiah’s Cave.

Figure 3. The Freemason Leon Zeldis of Herzlya kindly allowed me to see his copy of this very rare book by the American Freemason, Robert Morris and to make photocopies of the relevant pages that recorded the Masonic meeting in Zedekiah’s Cave.

Figure 4. An illustration of the cavern in Zedekiah’s Cave, as reproduced in Morris’s book. The etching was based upon Morris’s account of the Masonic meeting held there in May 1868, which describes a pillar in the centre of the cavern and a flat rock which they were able to use as an altar for their ritual.

Figure 5.

Figure 5. The author in one of the caverns of the Cave, with the mason’s marks clearly visible in the roof and the far wall. In fact the quarrying was far more likely to be of the Herodian and Medieval periods and seems to have been blocked up in the 16th Century. Photo KS.

There is no contemporary claim that Warren or anybody else held a Masonic meeting in the ‘Masonic Hall’. In modern times, Freemasons rarely, but occasionally, follow Warren’s example and hold meetings in Zedekiah’s Cave.

[i] C.N. Macdonald, WARREN! The Bond of Brotherhood (Colin Neil Macdonald, Singapore, 2007), p56.