Universität Bonn

Islamic Archaeology Research Unit of the University of Bonn

Tall Hisban

Tall Hisban is a farming town in the Madaba Plains in central Jordan, a highland plateau bordering on steppe lands. Located in the wheat basket of the Middle East, the Tell, one of many in the area, is across the Dead Sea from Jerusalem. Tell Hisban is the oldest continually excavated site in Jordan and has been the subject of excavation since the 1960s. It is one of the largest archaeological projects in Jordan.

The Tell is filled with underground tunnels, which once served several purposes. Many could be used as living quarters for people providing them with protection and a way to evade tax collectors. They could also be used to hold animals, others could be blocked off and used for storage, and still more led to underground cisterns were water could be contained.

Tell Hisban has a rich history. Stone tools and flint have been found dating back to the Paleolithic Period; an early Bronze Age cemetery has been found as well. During the Iron Age (1400-500 B.C.), a dry moat was built. Based on the few pottery sherds found it dates to about 1000 B.C. There are references in the Books of Numbers, Deuteronomy, and the Song of Solomon to a city on a high hill, to a well-fortified city, and to the pools of Heshbon. These references may suggest Hisban. The pools of Heshbon could easily be the cisterns within Hisban, the “well-fortified city” may have been destroyed completely, or it may have meant an established site and not a citadel, or Heshbon may not be Hisban at all. Heshbon was the capital of the Amorites until 1400 B.C. when it was conquered by the Israelites [Numbers 21:21-31]. From 1400-931 B.C. the city was occupied by the tribe of Reuben.

During the Hellenistic Period (332-164 B.C.) the site was called Esbus. It was during this time that the citadel walls were built along with four corner towers. It became a temple and administrative site and the caves beneath it were used for occupation. During the Macabean Period (164-63 B.C.) Hisban was a Jewish settlement and part of a separate political area. From 63 B.C. to 330 A.D. Hisban was controlled by the Romans and a Roman coin with a mold of the city and the name reveals that it was still referred to as Esbus. Evidence points to the possibility of a Temple during this period, certainly there was a Plaza with a ceremonial center at the top of the Tell, but whether this center was a temple or a water shrine remains uncertain. One important piece of pottery from this period is a sherd from the base of a Roman pot. While just a sherd, this piece is important because of a place stamp written in Aramaic, which it contains. During the 4th century A.D. it was a large town and reached its maximum population. Herod “the Great” fortified Esbus. The Esbus-Jerusalem road and Bilanova, another road, passed by the city adding to its appeal.

During the Byzantine Period (330-640 A.D.) Hisban was at its most prosperous. The remains of a church date to this period, and it appears to have been a large basilica used in pilgrimages. The water cisterns were still being used to quench the thirst of its large population, which was now approximately 3,000 households not counting pilgrims, and the people were growing food intensively. The city was now an Episcopal seat and the capital of the provincial district. During the 630s and through the 640s Hisban underwent peaceful conquest by the Muslims, and Christians remained in the site for quite some time afterwards. During the Umayyad period (636-713 A.D.) the capital of the area was Damascus. A military dynasty was present at Hisban and a split in religion occurred. There still remained a large Christian population, evidence of which is largely found in the northern part of the site. Evidence of an earthquake in the seventh century can be seen in the fire damage sustained and the abundance of broken pottery. In the Abbasid Period (750-1258 A.D.) the site was abandoned after the 9th or 10th century A.D. but was reoccupied in the 14th century. The 14th century brought forth the creation of the barracks.

In the Mamluk Period large amounts of sugar went through Hisban and some may have been produced there. This sugar could be used like cash and was exported from Hisban as far as Europe. The site became an administrative center for fifty years (1308-1356) until a prominent amir moved the capital to Amman. The Bedouin people living in Hisban enjoyed playing politics, and when Sultan al-Nasir Mohammad was removed his throne, the Bedouin gave him refuge and helped him to regain power. This is probably how Hisban became the capital of the Balqa’ district. In return for their political support, the Sultan awarded the people of Hisban by financially investing in the town. The bathhouse in the Citadel bears witness to the special services enjoyed by the soldiers stationed there: located inside the Governor’s residential complex, the hammam provided bathing services to officials that in other Mamluk garrisons were available only in the towns outside the garrison walls. Buildings at Hisban were barrel vaulted in this period, but no mortar was used. Between 1517 and 1918 Bedouins camped at the site and used the storeroom as a cemetery. Most of the pottery excavated comes from this period, including the glazed relief wares and much of the Handmade Geometric Painted wares.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Islamic Archaeology

Tall Hisban,Excavation Season 2021

Prof. Bethany Walker talked about the fieldwork in Tall Hisban 2021 in an interview with the Jordan Times.

(Canceled) Archaeological field school in Tall Hisban, Jordan, June 2020. 

More information: Hisban 2020

Week One (03-09 October 2021)

Blog post from the Field

Week Two (10-16 October 2021)

 Blog post from the Field

Week Three (17-21 October 2021)

Blog post from the Field

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Islamic Archaeology

Tall Hisban, Excavation Season 2018

Week One (24-29 June 2018)

It is a reunion! - This is the third Mamluk Archaeology Field School sponsored by the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg. Read more...

Week Two (30 June-5 July 2018)

They are more than just houses - This season is definitely an architectural one. After completing the physically Read more...

Week Three (8–12 July 2018)

How hard it is to close a season - The end of an excavation season rarely brings any kind of closure, as it usually raises many Read more...

Weekends One, Two, Three and Four

Umm al-Rasas, Dhiban Machareus Fortress and Khirbet Atruz
Even though we arrived in the middle of the night,  Read more...

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Islamic Archaeology

Tall Hisban, Excavation Season 2016

Week One (15-21 May 2016)

The Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg launched its third Mamluk archaeological field school this week, in partnership with Andrews and Missouri State Universities in the U.S. The three-week field school is designed as an ASK summer school to train Mamluk scholars in, Read more...

Week Two (22-28 May 2016)

Life is unpredictable. In twenty years of working in Jordan, only once have I seen rain during our late spring/early summer field seasons, and never anything like this. Monday and Tuesday were unseasonable cold, and Tuesday we were actually “rained out”, Read more...

Week Three

The archaeological field school. week three

See more...

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Islamic Archaeology

Tall Hisban, Excavation Season 2014

Week One ( May 2014)

Following in the tradition begun years ago to post weekly “Reports from the Field”, we share with you updates on how work is progressing, how our students and staff are doing, and on what special projects they have been involved. This is the second season of Phase III excavations at Tall Hisban, begun by Read more...

Week Two (June 2014)

One of the joys of working at Tall Hisban is to be able to study simultaneously a Mamluk frontier garrison and the local community in which it is embedded. “Trash” and “domestic life” are the themes of this week, as we have been excavating, and comparing, the refuse patterns of the Citadel Read more...

Wird geladen