Universität Bonn

Islamic Archaeology Research Unit of the University of Bonn

The Northern Jordan Project (NJP)

The Northern Jordan Project (NJP) was launched in 2003 in an effort to document demographic cycles through comparison with the settlement history of northern Jordan to the central and southern plains, and to shed light on the structure and character of traditional Jordanian society from the late Medieval period until today. The NJP is a multidisciplinary exploration of the history of a rural society, agriculture, and the physical environment of northern Jordan from Irbid to the Yarmouk River, with a focus on the Mamluk and Ottoman periods. A political ecological model, pulling from both archaeological and archival sources, has been adopted for this purpose to explore the long-term effects of imperial land management policies and traditional planting practices on settlement, markets, political structure, and the environment. The NJP has focused on three major sites thusfar, with a fourth site being investigated in the summer of 2010.

Surveyed in the 2003 field season, Malka is a city whose earliest documentation appeared in biographical dictionaries as early as the late 14th century. Malka’s true significance, however, came in the Mamluk Period, when it served as the estate of a Sultan. Malka became known also in this time for having an important olive oil industry, as indicated by the discovery of large-scale olive-press operations in a nearby cave.

Surveyed in 2003 and excavated in 2006, Hubras was similar to Malka in that it was home to an olive oil industry, but Hubras’ real chief export was human potential. Hubras was a place of learning, where students came to learn and scholars were produced. A small mosque existed here in the Medieval period, and in the late 14th century was replaced by one over four times its size, indicating a massive boom in the population of the town. Since the 14th century, the mosque has since been replaced by one around a third of its 14th century predecessor.

Surveyed in 2006, Sahm was a village sustained by agricultural marketplaces that were established there due to the abundance of local spring water. Crops such as wheat, olives, and apples were available throughout the year thanks to Sahm having plentiful water sources. A mosque was present, along with a schoolhouse and a cemetery, and storage facilities that indicate the town’s significance to the agricultural economics of the region.

In 2010, a joint American-Jordanian collaboration between Missouri State and Yarmouk Universities, under the senior direction of Bethany Walker, will conduct a two-week survey in al-Turra and its agricultural hinterland from June 14 through June 28. The village was selected because of its established historical importance in the Mamluk and Ottoman eras, the standing remains of a possible Mamluk-era tower and two late Ottoman religious structures, and because its archaeological exploration is incomplete and no systematic historical study has been done to date. It is, moreover, located in a topographical and environmental zone of the NJP study area (between Irbid and the Yarmouk Rivar) that has not yet been investigated by the NJP.

Objectives of Al-Turra Survey:

  • Archaeological survey of the village’s farmland. The NJP will be start and maintain surface collection of artifacts (pottery, glass, lithics), as recording all inscriptions and features and fields. NJP will try paperless data recording this season with smart phones – an innovation of the 2010 dig season.
  • Ethnographic survey in the village. The NJP will interview local families about the history of land use in the village, family histories, history of the village in group memory, etc.
  • Architectural survey in the village. The NJP will systematically record the late Ottoman and possible Mamluk structure in the village and produce full floor plans and elevations. The particular structure of interest is the structure known locally as “Baybar’s Tower,” in the middle of the village.
  • Soil survey. The NJP will take soil profiles and samples for subsequent lab work as part of a larger paleoenvironmental study through phytolith and pollen study. The NJP will use the labs of Arlene Rosen of the University College at London for the phytolith work.
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