The Middle Jordan Valley

Three seasons of fieldwork were undertaken in the Deir Alla surroundings for the aims of the Steppe Project.

Three seasons of fieldwork were undertaken in the Deir Alla surroundings for the aims of the Steppe Project, again jointly with archaeologists from Yarmouk University, represented by Dr Omar Ghul, and the Jordanian Department of Antiquities. The chronological focus concerned the Iron Age II period and both settlement and landscape data were collected.

Iron Age Settlement Study

The purpose of the Iron Age Settlement Study, carried out by Lucas Petit, was to find parallels, or divergences, for the chronology, quality and intensity of use of Tell Deir ‘Alla, in order to understand human occupation in the Steppe zone of the Middle Jordan Valley. For this reason, small scale excavations were made at three settlement sites, namely Tell Damiyah, Tell ‘Adliyyeh and Tell ‘Ammata. Other settlement mounds with Iron Age remains were surveyed. The final picture reveals a similar settlement history as Tell Deir ‘Alla, with periods of intensive occupation and complete gaps. The Middle Jordan Valley seems to have shifted from optimal to marginal use regularly and most indices point to a vital role of climate fluctuations and regional disasters for this often interrupted occupation history.  

The archaeological survey of the Zerqa triangle

The main aim of the survey conducted by Eva Kaptijn is to investigate the landscape between the tell sites and determine whether traces of human activity are still recognizable on the surface, for example non-tell site occupation, remains of agricultural fields, remnants of irrigation systems, etc. The survey is not restricted to the Iron Age, but deals with human remains visible in the landscape from all periods up to the modern era. Areas of special interest are the way people from different time periods were able to create a living in this area. In other words, how was agriculture organized and did people use irrigation and if so what kind of system did they use?

Several previously unknown flat surface sites have been discovered. Preliminary results show that the Zerqa Triangle was intensively occupied during several periods, while from other periods like the Middle Bronze Age or the Abbasid and Fatimid period little or no remains were collected in the survey. Periods that did reveal much human activity were for example the Late Chalcolithic and especially the EB I Age from which four new sites were discovered that probably represent small rural villages. The Iron Age, however, in which the region was rather densely occupied as is shown by the many tell sites, revealed no significant remains in the countryside away from the tells. Other periods from which the survey discovered many remains were the Roman, Byzantine and Mamluk periods. During the last one this part of the Valley was intensively used for sugar cane cultivation and several sugar processing sites have been discovered.

The survey clearly shows that remains of many more foci of past human activity are present in the landscape than the obvious tell sites. By incorporating the survey results with the evidence available from tells an overview is being constructed of periods of intensive and sparse occupation and use of the Zerqa Triangle. By focussing on the manner in which these different communities were able to inhabit in this region better insight is gained into the extent and manner in which human society and the environment interact and influence each other.


A small scale geomorphologic study of the landscape and tell deposits is elementary to understand the processes of earth and (surface) objects’ movements and use of settlement space. Geomorphologist Fouad Hourani investigates the palaeogeographic development of the region during the Holocene in order to gain insight into the geomorphologic processes that acted on the landscape just before and since the Iron Age. Additionally he analyses excavated deposits to establish in what manner they were deposited and the nature of the occupation.


Ellis Grootveld investigates in a small scale subproject the macro botanical remains found in the excavations in order to establish which cultivars and weeds were present during the Iron Age. This image will be compared to the plants that grow in the Jordan Valley today and the natural vegetation of this area to establish whether irrigation was used during the Iron Age.

Last Modified: 10-04-2008