Preliminary Report - 1998 Field Season (June 22nd to August 3rd)


Field Phase Five (Iron IIB)
Field Phase Four (Late Hellenistic)
Field Phase Three (Late Hellenistic)
Field Phase Two (Early Roman/Nabatean)
Field Phase One (Late Ottoman)
Late Byzantine/Early Islamic (6th-7th/Early 8th Centuries C.E.)

Click below to see archival footage of the 1st day of excavations at Tell Madaba in 1998













The 1998 field season marked the start of full-scale excavations in Field B at Tell Madaba, and were aimed at documenting the archaeological history of the western slope of the tell acropolis. The primary goals of the 1998 season were to:

  1. Begin assembling extensive, quantifiable collections of botanical, faunal, ceramic, and lithic materials for each of the principal phases of occupation at the site.
  2. Map and record associated architectural remains.
  3. Conduct the preliminary processing and laboratory analysis of the material evidence recovered.
  4. Integrate the architectural and artifact records in a GIS-formatted relational database that will permit detailed regional analysis.

Using the grid system devised during the 1993 survey, five initial 5 X 5 m excavation units were laid out. Two squares (5M21U4 and 5M11A2) were opened to the east of a protruding wall that ran along the crest of the tell. The wall line contained the remains of three arches, and appeared to be made of large dressed stone blocks, suggesting a classical date for the structure. To the west of this wall, but east of a lower wall constructed of large undressed stone, three additional squares (5M21U3, 5M11A1, and 5M11A3) were opened, bringing the total area of excavation to 150 sq m. It was hoped that excavations in these squares might come down inside the lower wall, and reach deposits that predated the arched structure. By the end of the season, excavations in the five squares had succeeded in uncovering a five-phase stratified sequence that spanned four broad cultural horizons tentatively dated to the Late Ottoman (Late 19th Century and later), Early Roman/Nabatean (1st Century B.C.E. to 1st Century C.E.), Late Hellenistic (2nd-1st Centuries B.C.E.), and Iron IIB (9th-8th Centuries B.C.E.) periods. In all, more than 11,000 baskets of soil were removed in the course of the excavation season, producing a total of 32,218 pottery sherds, of which 6,423 (or approximately 20%) preserved diagnostic features (3,040 of these were registered for further laboratory analysis). The excavations also produced 12,135 bone fragments (with 3,300 set aside for further study), a wealth of carbonized botanical remains, as well as numerous ground stone implements, and other small finds.

Field Phase Five (Iron IIB):
The earliest depositional activity reached during the 1998 field season consisted of a sequence of soil layers that sealed against the inner face of the large lower wall made of unhewn boulder-sized stones. These deposits were reached in each of the three squares opened to the west of the arched wall line, and clearly marked the final use of the lower outer wall as a free-standing structure. Preliminary analysis of the pottery from these loci tentatively indicated a late eighth or early 7th century date. The wall itself proved to be considerably larger than initially thought. Its external face had been exposed previous to our excavations, and was originally constructed directly on bedrock. Preservation of the wall was best in Square 5M21U3, where it was preserved to a height of more than 4 m along its external face. Our excavations in 5MU213 suggested a complex construction history that included two apparent efforts to expand the width of the wall. The latter of these two events brought the wall to 5 m in width, and seems to have dated to the Iron IIB period, although the limited extent of our lateral exposure along the inner face of the wall requires that this view be considered tentative. At the very end of the season, excavations came down on evidence of yet an earlier expansion of the wall that had apparently extended its width to at least 7 m. A date for this effort was not possible. The construction history of the wall thus suggested the initial construction of a free-standing wall that averaged 2-3 m in width, with an inner and outer face. The date for the construction of this original wall remains unknown. At a later date (also unknown at this stage of our excavations) this wall was expanded to at least 7 m in width. Finally, at some point during the Iron IIB (9th-8th Centuries B.C.E.), the original wall received a second rebuild which rested directly upon the earlier effort, and brought the structure to a width of 5 m. Both extensions appeared to have been accomplished by the construction of a new inner face to the wall, with the space between filled loosely with rock. By the end of season, 15-20 m of the top of the wall, clearly the western fortification line of the Iron II (and perhaps earlier) town, had been exposed.

Field Phase Four (Late Hellenistic):
Field Phase Four was best defined in Square 5M21U4, and represented the earliest architectural phase reached in the square. A single wall line, made of heavily eroded cut ashlars loosely arranged in a header and stretcher pattern ran across the western extent of the square in a northeast-southwesterly direction. A clearly defined surface embedded with an intact tabun and stone-lined pit sealed against the wall. Preliminary examination of the associated pottery tentatively placed the phase in the 2nd Century B.C.E. Two intersecting walls in Square 5M11A2 probably also date to FP 4, although excavations did not progress far enough to stratigraphically link the architecture between these two squares.

Field Phase Three (Late Hellenistic):
Superimposed over the FP 4 wall in Square 5M21U4 was a single row of large unhewn boulders with a slightly more northerly orientation. A partially preserved plastered surface sealed against this wall. As with the preceding FP 4, the associated remains suggest a 2nd Century (perhaps late 2nd Century) B.C.E. date for this phase.

Field Phase Two (Early Roman/Nabatean):
Field Phase Two was best preserved in Squares 5M21U4 and 5M21U2. The phase consisted of a series of thinly laminated occupational surfaces founded on densely packed stone cobble that extended over both squares. In Square 5M21U4, the surfaces sealed against a well-constructed wall that loosely followed the orientation of the FPs 4 and 3 wall lines in the western part of the square. In Square 5M11A2, they sealed over the proposed FP 4/3 intersecting walls. The pottery associated with FP 2 indicated a distinct shift in the ceramic industry of the site, with the presence of large quantities of classic Nabatean painted wares (both imported and local imitations) and Early Roman fine wares, suggesting that Madaba?s cultural (and probably economic and political) focus had shifted to the south.

Field Phase One (Late Ottoman):
The final Field Phase preserved in Field B was represented by the arched wall line along the crest of the tell, and a series of associated trash pits. Large foundation trenches had been cut into earlier levels to secure the structure, and although difficult to ascertain, our investigations suggest that in the process of constructing the building, substantial portions of the site were removed or leveled. The pottery recovered from these pits consisted of Late Ottoman handmade wares, and several Ottoman pipes. Thus, in the area to the east of the arched wall, the Late Ottoman builders apparently removed everything down to Early Roman/Nabatean levels (including any Byzantine or Islamic material that may have once existed), while to the west of the arches, they built directly on to Iron Age deposits and structures. This Late Ottoman building activity clearly corresponds to the well-attested (and historically documented) late nineteenth century resettlement of Madaba by migrating families from Kerak.

Late Byzantine/Early Islamic (6th-7th/Early 8th Centuries C.E.):
Structures Finally, in the process of clearing the outer face of the Iron Age (or earlier) fortification wall, a series of rooms were found abutting the city wall. They had originally been exposed during bulldozing activity in the mid-1980s, and were in varying states of preservation. Nevertheless, it was possible to delineate the remains of at least three (and possibly 4 or 5) rooms, one of which had been converted into a two-story structure by the use of a vault. Some of the walls were still covered with a plain white plaster. Pottery found in rubble removed from the two rooms we succeeded in clearing produced 7th (and possibly early 8th) century material. In addition, the poorly preserved remains of a segment of plain white mosaic, and fragments of painted plaster (possibly part of an inscription) were recovered from the rubble. Based on the presence of a 6th century mosaic (dated on stylistic grounds) found on the ground floor of the two-story structure (and now in the Madaba museum), our excavations suggest a two-phase reconstruction for these structures, possibly shops that once opened on to a north-south street that no longer exists. The first phase corresponded to the 6th century (or Late Byzantine Period), and included the mosaic pavement now on display in the Madaba museum. The original structures were then renovated sometime in the 7th or early 8th century (or the Umayyad Period), when the vault was built over the mosaic floor, before the entire complex was abandoned later in the 8th century.

The 1998 field season was made possible by funding support from the Connaught Fund of the University of Toronto, and personal donations. The excavations were conducted with the assistance of the Department of Antiquities, which helped provide workers and equipment, and ACOR. The season's results would not have been possible without the dedicated help of Mr. Hasem Jazer, Director of Antiquities in Madaba, Ms. Reem Shgour, and Dr. Ghazi Bisheh, Director General of Antiquities. I wish also to acknowledge Mr. Abu Qaddora, Mayor of Madaba, who unhesitatingly offered his assistance and freely made available the resources of the Municipality of Madaba.