Tall Hisban Excavations (Phase II)

A. Phase II Publications.

List of publications resulting from or related to Phase II excavations.

B. Past Field Seasons.

June 19 – July 31, 1996:  PILOT SEASON.

The objective of this pilot season was to undertake clean-up of the most notable archaeological features of the site and to initiate construction of pathways and viewing platforms. The decision to return to work at Hisban was confirmed through these activities and the warm welcome from the local village. The work was directed by Oystein S. LaBianca and Lawrence Geraty.

June 18 – July 11, 1997:  FIRST EXCAVATION SEASON.

The objectives were to undertake several probes to follow up on questions remaining from the original Heshbon Expedition; to continue the random square survey of the Hisban hinterland begun in 1996; and to expand clean-up and restoration of the site for tourism. The chief archaeologist for this second season was Paul Ray of Andrews University.

June 18 – July 30, 1998:  SECOND EXCAVATION SEASON.

The objectives were to open up two new fields on or near the summit to learn more about the Islamic history of the site; to undertake probes in the Area G cave complex to ascertain its occupational history; to expand surface surveys in the immediate and wider region of the site to learn more about its long-term environmental and occupational history; and to continue making improvements to the site’s appearance. Chief archaeologist for this season was Paul Ray of Andrews University.

23 May – 01 July, 2001:  THIRD EXCAVATION SEASON.

The objectives were to continue on with the excavations, surveys and cleaning work begun during earlier excavation seasons. Chief archaeologist for this season was Bethany Walker of Oklahoma State University.

July 24 – 15 December 2006:  TALL HISBAN RESTORATION PROJECT.

The objectives were to undertake restoration of key archaeological features in Tall Hisban, including the “Roman plaza;” the Byzantine church; the North perimeter wall and entrance; and restoration of the south corner tower. A related objective was to clean up the site and improve access and signage. This work was sponsored by a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation. Project director was Maria Elena Ronza.

May 24 – 23 June, 2004:  FOURTH EXCAVATION SEASON.

The objectives were to continue on with the excavations, surveys and cleaning work begun during earlier excavation seasons. A new initiative included a survey of the Nabulsi heritage buildings. Chief archaeologist for this season was Bethany Walker of Oklahoma State University

June 18 – July 18, 2007:  FIFTH EXCAVATION SEASON.

The season was designed to better understand the history of fortification (Fields Q and M) and village occupation (Fields C and O), particularly during the Islamic eras.   In order to address these research concerns, 17 squares based on 5×5-meter units in four different fields were excavated and recorded.  Chief archaeologist for this season was Bethany Walker of Grand Valley State University.


This was a planning workshop designed to gather information about existing visitor centers in Jordan and to obtain from local stakeholders such input as they would be willing to share.

May 14-June 4, 2010:  SIXTH EXCAVATION SEASON.

This season was our final wrap-up season to prepare for final publication of Phase II. Completed preliminary stratigraphic investigation of the southern gateway area (Field Q), enough to tie to reports of Phase I, Field A. Opened a new square north of the northeast corner tower (Field M), documenting further Late Islamic occupation downslope. We returned to the Hardy People cave/cistern complex (Field G), which had not been studied since the 1998 season, for additional probes. We also undertook limited excavation in small probes inside and outside of the westernmost building (Nabulsi Qasr) as a preliminary step in documentation and preparation of the site as a visitor’s center.


The 2011 season marked the inauguration of the Jordan Field School, which offers undergraduate students a wide range of experientially based courses from various disciplines. On site faculty teach these courses in the field, always endeavoring to establish and build relationships between the JFS participants and local Jordanians. Excavations opened two squares in Area B (B8 and B9), tasked with determining the exact dimensions and date(s) for the Iron Age reservoir. Most of the removed material was middle to late Islamic fill, although two walls and several interesting objects (an ivory die, a zoomorphic head and an Umayyad coin) were unearthed.


The second season of the multidisciplinary Jordan Field School also marked the final season of Phase II of the Tall Hisban excavations (note the revision from the 2010 season summarized above). Excavations opened two squares in a new field, Area R (R5 and R6) directly east of the citadel, with the objective of dating the citadel wall in this vicinity. The excavators encountered mostly stone tumble from the acropolis as well as fill. A few flimsy walls were identified in R6.  Small finds included two door sockets, several basalt objects and a coin. Another JFS team improved and built tourist trails and viewing platforms throughout the site and designed a planned Socio-Economic (welcome) garden just inside the entrance.

C. Projects.

Excavations and Probes

  • SE CORNER TOWER: In ’96 a probe/cleaning operation inside the SE corner tower was undertaken by Muriel Geroli which produced  several complete or largely complete MIS vessels. Maria Elena Ronza subsequently excavated this same tower during an off-season to get a more complete floor plan of the structure and to help in making her plans for continued restoration work in that area.
  • IRON I DRY MOAT: In ’97 a probe along a bedrock trench in Field D added support to the hypothesis that during Iron I a dry-moat existed here that successfully cut off the tall from its approach from the southwest.
  • PERIMETER WALL: In ’97 a second probe along a north-south perimeter wall located on the western shelf of the tell (Field C, Square 3) led to re-dating of the original construction of this wall to Iron II and to re-dating of the most recent construction phase of the wall to the Roman period.
  • TRI-LEVEL CAVE COMPLEX (Field G24), also known as the HARDY PEOPLE CAVE or ABU NOOR CAVE: In ’97 a survey of the tri-level cave complex on the south-western slope of the tell confirmed the existence here of a Byzantine residential cave that continued to be in use throughout most of the Islamic period. The cave was entered via a masonry entrance and stairway that led down into an open chamber whose ceiling was supported by several well-constructed Roman arches. In ’98 probes were carried out by Terje Oestigaard of the University of Bergen, Norway. in selected chambers of the Area G cave complex surveyed the previous season. His probes brought to light Paleolithic flakes and scrapers; Neolithic arrowheads; silo-type installations (possibly tombs) possibly dating to the Early Bronze Age; Iron II pottery; pillars, walls and arches likely dating to the Late Hellenistic through Byzantine periods; tunneling connecting a number of other subterranean chambers which, judging from the pottery found, dates to Islamic times.
  • NE CORNER TOWER AND SLOPE (Field M): In ’98 a new project, Field M, was opened in the northern slope below the northeast corner tower of the tell in order to understand how the occupation history of this area relates to that of the rest of the summit. Seven phases could be distinguished, the earliest Iron I and the latest Late Islamic. The field supervisor for this project was Lael Caesar. In 01 work in this field was continued under the leadership of Teddy Burgh. Aren LaBianca took over the leadership in ’04 and ’07. His team focused research on the NE corner tower where they were able to document multiple phases of refortification. The inner face of the construction recalls pre-classical constructions on the Amman Citadel (Fig. 2). Numerous repairs to the tower wall in the Byzantine period were identified, as well as internal buttresses constructed, to strengthen the tower, in the Mamluk. Excavations at the exterior, northern face of this tower suggested that this area was used as a medieval dump, yielding sherds from an impressive range of Egyptian Mamluk, Cypriot Crusader, and various medieval Syrian wares.
  • MAMLUK CITADEL AND SW TOWER (Field L): In ’98 Field L was opened up to learn more about the construction and contents of a series or vaulted rooms later determined to be the residence of the administrator of the Mamluk Governate of Hisban. Eight phases could be distinguished, the earliest being Hellenistic, and the latest Modern. In ’01, ’04 and ’07 the dimensions and occupational history of this structure was further delineated with the result that we now have a much better understanding of the nature of Egyptian administration of this distant rural province of the Mamluk empire.
  • UMAYYAD-ABBASID BUILDING (Field N): A new field was opened ’01 inside and along the northern enclosure wall on the summit. The foundations of two rectangular rooms were found here which originally belonged to a Byzantine structure. That structure was destroyed in what appears to have been an earthquake (we had the wall and arch collapse) and then the only partially cleaned ruins reused in the Umayyad and Abbasid periods. It seems to have been abandoned form the 10th until the 13th or 14th centuries and then rebuilt, the 2 rooms divided into 3, as a kitchen space under the Mamluks. It was later abandoned, with reuse as a possible stable in the late Ottoman or Mandate era. The field supervisor for this project was Nathan Reeder.
  • MEDIEVAL VILLAGE (Field C): In ’04 probes on the western slope below the summit  were undertaken to ascertain extent of Mamluk and Ottoman structures in this part of the tell. The probe convinced of the need for further excavation in the area. In ’07 a team under the supervision of Ben Dolinka excavated four squares in this area.
  • SOUTHERN STAIRCASE AND ENTRANCE (Field Q): In ’07 Field Q at the southern entrance to the summit yielded structural remains related to the transformation of the summit from sacred and domestic to militarized space.   Here excavations revealed a Byzantine-era staircase leading to a flagstone pavement. Subsequent replasterings of this floor and construction of new ones culminated with the extension of the staircase and addition of a new, and quite fine, plastered floor that covered the entrance to the Citadel, two adjacent rooms, and the storeroom of the Mamluk complex described above. A tower was later constructed around the room adjacent to the southern gate and filled in with boulders and earth.
  • BATHHOUSE (Field A/Q): Fieldwork during ’07 produced tantalizing, though far from conclusive, evidence for redating the construction of the bathhouse in Field A/Q. While the Phase I excavations of the ’70s documented use of the hammam during the Mamluk period (14th century), the date of original construction was never fully demonstrated.   Inter-season vandalism of standing remains allowed, in ’07, for investigation of strata below a pavement exterior to the bath and of construction of the bath’s south wall (building on fieldwork done in ’76) , as well as tracing the stratigraphic relationship between the bathhouse and the storeroom of the “Mamluk governor’s complex” (which had not been possible before). Pavement Q.3:3 (A.8:26 of Phase I), part of a larger and potentially impressive Abbasid-era building, provided the key stratigraphic connection between the storeroom, the walls of which cut through it, and the bathhouse, which was built adjacent to it. It is not yet clear, however, whether the bath itself was originally part of this larger construction, reused part of it, or removed part of it in during construction in the 14th century. Nonetheless, the overwhelming evidence for Abbasid occupation from this season points to the existence of a series of building or a large complex, which occupied the space of the bathhouse (if not the bath itself) and may have included the residential spaces identified by the northern gate in ’01.
  • BYZANTINE/MAMLUK FARMHOUSE (Field C): In ’07 exploration of the western slope of the tell in Field C identified two monumental buildings: a large Early Byzantine farmhouse with high walls and well-preserved arched doorway (reused in the Mamluk period) and a complex of what appears to be three, and perhaps four, rooms fronted by a fortified wall. Two of these rooms were built in the Early Byzantine period and reused in the Mamluk era, one for storage and one as domestic space. This latter room was of special interest for its evidence of warfare in the fourteenth century CE: wall collapse and extensive burning resulting from a major conflagration was associated with large quantities of ballista and corroded metal, including large cross-bow bolts, the first evidence of medieval military accoutrements found to-date at Hisban.
  • OTTOMAN FARMHOUSE (Field O): In ’07 new excavations uncovered a complex of houses around a cistern. These single-room houses, of meter-thick stone walls and stone-vaulted ceilings, have been ceramically dated to the 19th century, and incorporated the ruins of a Byzantine-era building, likely a farmhouse, an architectural sequence also identified in Field C. Interviews with local residents and preliminary research in the Department of Lands and Surveys in Amman this season are helping to document the modern village’s gradual resettlement and growth from the period of the British Mandate until today.


  • RANDOM SQUARE SURVEY: In ’96 a survey was begun of 100 50×50 meter squares located with a 5 km radius of Tall Hisban. The surveyed squares were selected on a random basis from a total of ca 1900 such squares within a 5 km radius. It resulted in identification of many new sites (beyond those already known from an earlier survey by Robert Ibach). The random survey was continued in ’97 and ’98 with funding from part from the National Geographic Society. The goal this season was to attempt to establish a link between episodes of food system intensification and abatement, and cycles of environmental degradation and regeneration in the project area. The field supervisor for this project was again Gary Christopherson.
  • HISBAN LITHICS SURVEY: In ’98 a lithics survey of the slopes of Hisban and the surrounding area resulted in collection of 5 cores, 39 flakes, 10 blades, 1 bladelet, 12 microblades, 31 scrapers, 3 baked tools, 16 arrowheads, 4 axes, 1 lunate and 330 pieces of debitage. These finds attest human activity in and around Hisban throughout the Palaeolithic, Epipalaeolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age. The survey was conducted by Terje Oestigaard and Ghattas Sayyey, lithesists from the University of Bergen, Norway.
  • WADI MAJAAR SURVEY: Also in ’98 a survey of water related installations in the Wadi al-Majaar below the western slope of Tall Hisban enabled identification and mapping of a reservoir and a series of ancient and modern inter-connected terraces, check-dams, cisterns and agricultural fields. The field supervisor for this project was Lars Wahlin of the University of Stockholm, Sweden. In ’04 this survey was continued under the leadership of Laura Holzweg of Oklahoma State University. The goal of the ’04 season was to better understand medieval and early modern agricultural practices and evaluate their impact on the environment.
  • ARCHITECTURE SURVEY OF NABULSI HERITAGE BUILDNGS: In ’04 an architectural survey of the Nabulsi heritage buildings in the old village of Hisban was initiated by Leen Fakhoury and four architect students from the Department of Architecture at the University of Jordan. They produced CAD drawings of all the main buildings of the Nabulsi farmstead.
  • ETHNOARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEYS were carried out during all field seasons to learn more about the survival strategies of local inhabitants of the village of Hisban. This survey confirmed and expanded the documentation of seven key indigenous survival strategies (hardiness structures), including local–level water use; mixed agro-pastoralism; residential flexibility, fluid home-land territories; hospitality, honor and tribalism

Site Preservation and Development

  • CLEANING: In ’96 the cleaning effort included tearing down of balks in Areas A, B and D and moving of rubble, stones and boulders to bring back into view exemplary Iron Age, Classical and Islamic installations and features. In subsequent seasons such cleaning was carried out throughout the entire area inside the citadel perimeter wall, and along the slopes leading up to this wall.
  • PATHWAYS and SIGNS: In ’96 access to the tell was enhanced by clean-up of the area near the entrance to the site and through insertion of a stepped path leading from the parking area to the summit. Paths were also opened to facilitate movement from one feature to another in the summit area. This work continued throughout all field seasons. The first interpretive platforms equipped with signs in Arabic and English were also constructed and installed in ’96. Experimentation with best practices for signing continued throughout all subsequent field seasons. By ’07 restoration efforts had resulted in clean-up and consolidation of the remains of the Mamluk citadel/governor’s residence, the Byzantine basilica church, and the north wall and gate complex. Directions to Tall Hisban had been clearly marked by road signs making it easily accessible to the public. Additional parking had been added to the entrance area to the site. Walking paths, viewing platforms, information displays highlighting significant points within the site and restroom facilities had been added to improve the experience of visitors to the site.
  • CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT: In ’98 a curriculum for use by Hisban school teachers to teach local children about the history of Jordan was developed by Mafuz, a local school teacher and Asta LaBianca. While using Hisban as a window on the history of Jordan, the curriculum also informs of the fundamentals of archeology as method for learning about the past.
  • VISITOR CENTER CHARRETTE: In ’07 land was gifted by the Nabulsi family to Andrews University to establish a Visitor Center in Hisban. In ’09 Martin Smith of the School of Architecture at Andrews University and Leen Fakhoury of the Department of Architecture at the University of Jordan—along with a dozen of their students– collaborated on hosting an on-site charrette or planning workshop which allowed for input to the process of planning for the use of land and the construction of a Visitor Center by local stakeholders.

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