Noteworthy Citations and Reviews

Hesban Series Reviews

Reviews of Hesban 1

Dever, W. G. (1993). Syro-Palestinian Archaeology “Comes of Age”:  The Inaugural Volume of the Hesban Series. A Review Article. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 290/291: 127-30.

“(T)his combined project has long since become one of the most sophisticated and truly interdisciplinary of all American archaeological excavations in the Middle East. Others talk ad nauseum about “research design,”“holistic approaches,”“total retrieval,”“ecology,”and “process,” with exaggerated claims for the potential of the “new archaeology”…; but the Hesban people actually do it, and with refreshing modesty.” (p. 127)

“I have been a strong and outspoken advocate of the Hesban-Madeba Plains Project from its inception and have often cited it in lectures and in print as one of the best examples anywhere in ASOR circles (and beyond) of the“new archaeology” in practice…” (p. 129)

“(J)udged by the soundest criteria of the“new archaeology,” tested over three decades now, the Hesban-Madeba Plains Project measures up to the very highest standards.” (p. 129)

“I predict that the Hesban series of volumes will come to be regarded as one of the most successful undertakings of American Near Eastern archaeology in this century.” (p. 129)

Falconer, S. E. (1992). Review of Sedentarization and Nomadization: Food System Cycles at Hesban and Vicinity in TransjordanHesban 1, by Ø. S.LaBianca. American Anthropologist New Series 94: 760-61.

“One can only hope that LaBianca’s volume not only inaugurates a successful Hesban publication series, but also heralds a long-overdue shift in this part of theworld to archaeology as social science.” (p. 761)

Finkelstein, I. (1993). Books in Brief: Review of Hesban 1 and Hesban 5Biblical Archaeology Review 19/4: 6, 76.

“The research project of Tell Hesban and its vicinity deserves high praise as the first regional project to be carried out in Jordan and as the first final publication of such a project in the entire Levant.” (p. 6)

“LaBianca’s volumeis an impressive, pioneering work and an excellent demonstration of what New Archaeology is all about.” (p. 6)

Horden, P., and Purcell, N. (2000). The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History. Oxford:  Blackwell.

“An outstanding attempt to capture the longue durée in food production and consumption in a relatively restricted area, under the banner of the‘food system concept’, is LaBianca (1990) Sedentarization and Nomadization: Food System Cycles at Hesban and Vicinity in Transjordan (cf. VI.1, VII.4).  It is significant, however, that the explanation for securlar change in those cycles still has to be couched in terms of independent variables such as ‘the intrusive state’, tribalism and so forth.  There is no genuinely ecological interpretation of all relevant factors.  Indeed, refuge is sometimes taken in a modified possibilism (cf. 54).” (pp. 416-17)

Reviews of Hesban 1 and Hesban 3:

Joffe, A. H. (1997). New Archaeology. Pp. 134-38 in Vol. 4 of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, ed. E. M. Meyers. New York: Oxford University.

“The most successful example of a project addressing a multicomponent site and its surrounding regions with an explicit theoretical orientation is the Ḥesban project. While the original rationale was to investigate what was hoped would be a biblical site, research was structured around the food-systems concept developed by Øystein LaBianca that broadly addresses changing patterns of food production over time (LaBianca, 1986).

This entailed a strong regional orientation, including archaeological and environmental surveys (LaBianca and Lacelle, 1986).  The project was also concerned with modern evidence for subsistence and social organization and therefore conducted ethnoarchaeological investigations of surrounding villages and Bedouin encampments (LaBianca, 1990).  The Madaba Plains Project has continued to creatively combine a variety of approaches within the framework of the food-systems concept (Geraty et al., 1989).” (p. 136)

Whittow, M. (2003). Decline and Fall?  Studying Long-term Change in the East.  Pp. 404-23 in Theory and Practice in Late Antique Archaeology, eds. L. Lavan, and W. Bowden. Late Antique Archaeology 1. Leiden: Brill.

“(referring to the ‘Intensification and Abatement’ Model developed by LaBianca in Hesban 1 and Hesban 3) What we are looking for is a way of studying the late antique world that acknowledges the fact that our only significant source of information for a lot of topics is archaeology, that much archaeology is most effective when dealing with long-term large-scale issues, and yet that the real causes and mechanisms of change are often only comprehensible in terms of the small-scale, the individual and the particular. The model of ‘intensification and abatement’ would appear to offer ways of linking these different levels in a coherent way.” (pp. 414-18)

Reviews of Hesban 5:

Finkelstein, I. (1998). From Sherds to History: Review Article.  Israel Exploration Journal 48: 120-31.

“Of the three surveys described here, that of the Hesban region was the only one conducted as part of a comprehensive regional project, the first such endeavor to have been carried out in Jordan. The focus of this project was the excavation of Tell Hesban, the main site of the region. The final report on the survey results is part of the impressive series of publications on that project.” (p. 121)

Reviews of Hesban 6:

Bienkowski, P. (2003). Review of Tell Hesban and Vicinity in the Iron Age. Hesban 6, by P. J. Ray, Jr.  Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 330: 89-91.

“(T)he presentation of the elusive and complex stratigraphic evidence from Iron Age Hesban in this book is clear, sensible, and competent, as is the contextual assessment of the expedition’s methodology…” (p. 90)

Reviews of Hesban 10:

Magness, J. (2000). Review of The Necropolis of Hesban: A Typology of Tombs.  Hesban 10, by S. D. Waterhouse. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 318: 87-89.

“(I)t represents a welcome addition to the published corpus of Roman-Byzantine tombs, with a typology that will serve as a useful reference for scholars.” (p. 89)

Reviews of Hesban 11:

Parker, S. T.  (2014). Review of Ceramic Finds: Typology and Technological Studies of the Pottery Remains from Tell Hesban and Vicinity. Hesban 11, by J. A. Sauer and L. G. Herr.  Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 371: 243-46.

“(T)his massive volume (nearly 800 pages) will be an essential resource for decades to come.” (p. 246)

Hawkins, R. K. (2014). Review of Ceramic Finds. Typology and Technological Studies of the Pottery Remains from Tell Hesban and Vicinity. Hesban 11, by J. A. Sauer and L. G. Herr. Israel Exploration Journal 64: 245-46.

“(T)his is a volume of great importance. The late G. Ernest Wright called Tall Hisban the ‘typesite’ for the study of Jordan’s ceramic typology… Ceramic Finds will be an important addition to graduate school libraries and will be of interest not only to those studying Jordanian ceramics, but to the study of ceramics throughout the southern Levant.” (p. 246)

Reviews of Hesban 13:

Sasson, A. (2010). Animal Husbandry in Ancient Israel: A Zooarchaeological Perspective on Livestock Exploitation, Herd Management and Economic Strategies.  London: Equinox.

“The year 1995 may be considered as a benchmark in the zooarchaeological research of the Southern Levant. A group of scholars led by Øystein LaBianca published an entire volume dedicated to faunal remains as part of the archaeological investigation of Tel Hesban in Jordan…This was the first and only instance to date where a publication of an archaeological site included an entire volume dedicated solely to the analysis of animal bones.” (p. 3)

Reviews and Comments on the Hesban Excavations and Preliminary Reports

Comments about LaBianca 1978 [Man, Animals, and Habitat at Hesban—An Integrated Overview.  Andrews University Seminary Studies 16: 229-52]:

Glock, A. E. (1985). Tradition and Change in Two Archaeologies. American Antiquity 50: 464-77.

“Except for foreign excavations…, it seems archaeologists in Palestine do not recover ecofacts by flotation. The only light on the horizon is the work of LaBianca (1978), a member of the Tell Hesban Expedition, which has usually been a leader in the introduction of new techniques to Palestine. In this case it is a new perspective that includes environment, ethnography, taphonomic studies, and faunal remains with explicit recognition of Julian Steward’s influence.” (p. 467)

Comments about the Hesban Excavations:

King, P. J. (1983). American Archaeology in the Mideast: A History of the American Schools of Oriental Research. Philadelphia: The American Schools of Oriental Research.

“The Hesban project has been a model of interdisciplinary research. Its inquiry into the occupational history and the environmental setting of central Transjordan has led to an understanding of the cultural development of the region starting with the Iron Age.

The archaeology of Jordan owes an extraordinary debt of gratitude to the Hesban expedition, especially for its pioneering efforts in many areas of archaeological research. The following list of Hesban accomplishments is only a suggestion of their long-term implications for the scientific development of archaeology in the land east of the Jordan River. Hesban was the first truly interdisciplinary undertaking in Jordan on a large scale. The comprehensive environmental studies at Hesban included work on the climate, geology, soil, hydrology, phytogeography (the biogeography of plants), and zoogeography.  At the same time, the Hesban dig has pioneered methods and procedures for processing large quantities of animal remains; the accumulation of what is probably the most comprehensive assemblage of animal bones from any site in Palestine has resulted.

This expedition was the first in Jordan to introduce ethnoarchaeology, the ethnographic study of material and social life in the present for the purpose of aiding integration of evidence from the past. Starting in 1971, Hesban may have been the first ASOR-related field project to use the computer in a systematic way. The Hesban archaeologists deserve special recognition for having published a full preliminary report each season before returning to the field for the next season.

Through its field school Hesban has touched almost every dig in Jordan by serving as the training ground for scores of graduate students, several of whom now direct their own projects. That a number of native Jordanian archaeologists received their initial field training at Tell Hesban is noteworthy. In all these achievements the Hesban project has admirably fulfilled the objectives of ASOR as set down in ASOR’s original statement of purpose and its later revision.” (pp. 193-94)

Moorey, P. R. S. (1991). A Century of Biblical Archaeology. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox.

“(Siegfried Horn’s excavation of Hesban) was to prove a seminal project in the development of modern archaeology in the region, passing in 1974 into the hands of (Lawrence) Geraty.” “By the time Geraty, a pupil of Wright’s, assumed the directorship, this expedition had become a trendsetter exemplifying many of Wright’s aims in his later years, notably in its combination of excavation and field survey, in the creation of a field school for local and expatriate archaeologists, and in the blend of scientific and computer skills increasingly necessary for proper study and record…” (p. 129)

“(As archaeology develops in Jordan,) (m)ore and more attention is paid to improving not only the methods of survey, but also the processing of the evidence they recover. Here again the Hesban Expedition… has been a pioneer…” (p. 168)

“The expanded horizon (of the Hesban Expedition) may downgrade the specific biblical perspective, but the new concentration of integrating patterns of human settlement, land use and diet to understand the processes of sedentarization and nomadization focuses on matters of fundamental, if more general, significance for biblical scholars. This expedition’s work, reported to involve ‘the most complete computerized database of field information ever assembled in ancient Near Eastern archaeology’, epitomizes the changing face of archaeology in the area; changes which emphasize the interconnections of social, economic and cultural systems to focus research programmes on the ways in which such systems are developed, maintained and modified.” (p. 168)

Comments about Heshbon Pottery, 1971:

Wright, G. E. (1973). Report of the President for 1972-1973.  Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 211: 2-6.

Heshbon Pottery, 1971 by J. Sauer appeared in January 1973… (and) deals with stratified pottery sequences for the first time extending from the Roman period to about A.D. 500. For this he (Sauer) had to work out a series of dating eras by name covering this period in which his strata could be fitted. This is a pioneer work in which our scholars and trustees should take great pride.” (p. 3)

Comments about Heshbon 1976:

Meadow, R. H. (1983).The Study of Faunal Remains from Archaeological Sites. Biblical Archaeologist 46: 49-53.

“In Mesopotamia and in Egypt, the archival and representational materials deal primarily with animals kept by or for large estates (whether religious or secular); little is known of the exploitation of animals by villagers or of the actual consumption practices of urban dwellers. In brief, those faunal remains which are the durable debris of ancient meals provide us with the consumers’ view—often very different from a scribe’s or draftsman’s or priest’s opinion of contemporary or ideal practices. Thus, the answer to the following question can be approached only through faunal analysis: To what degree did religious prohibitions against the consumption of certain types of animals actually affect such activities?  Tell Hesban in Jordan is one of the few sites where the question has been asked. There, the consumption of pork apparently reached its height during the Byzantine period, and although decreasing in importance, the keeping of domestic pigs clearly did continue into Islamic times. During this later period, also, a relatively large number of wild boar bones were identified, ‘some with prominent incision marks testifying to the consumption of swine flesh’ (AUSS 16 [1978]: 264).” (p. 49-50)

Comments on the Madaba Plains Project (MPP)

Comments by Her Royal Highness Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan in a preface in The Madaba Plains Project: Forty Years of Archaeological Research into Jordan’s Past. Clark, D. R.; Herr, L. G.; LaBianca, Ø. S.; and Younker, R. W., eds. (2011).  Sheffield: Equinox.

“As a supporter of the Madaba Plains project (MPP) and friend of its staff members, I am pleased to be able to convey a message of continuing encouragement and congratulations on 40 years of a job well done. I am well aware that the MPP is one of the longest-lived, continuously running archaeological projects in the Middle East. Such a feat would not have been possible without the dedication, enthusiasm, and vision of its various successive directors beginning with the late Professor Siegfried H. Horn, the initiator of the Tall Hisban excavations. In spite of the intermittent difficulties that have plagued our region, Jordan included, the MPP continued to remain active in the field, an indication of the Directors’ faith in the resilience of the people of Jordan and their ability to recover from hardships.

The contributions of the Tall Hisban expedition, which later evolved into the MPP as it moved to other sites such as ‘Umayri, Jawa South, and Jalul, are immense and can be justifiably regarded as a turning point in the Archaeology of Jordan. The MPP was the first truly interdisciplinary undertaking in Jordan; its numerous publications, culminating in the fourteen-volume Hesban Final Report Series, show clearly the extent to which the various scientific disciplines have become involved in archaeological research: geologist, palaeobotanists, physical and cultural anthropologists, and computer specialists are found on the excavation staff.  Thus, archaeology has become a team project rather than the province of an individual genius. These publications also show how the MPP expanded its scope from issues related to biblical history to ecological and environmental areas. As Øystein LaBianca puts it, we are “studying changes over time in local food systems,” i.e. how settlements flourished asserting a creative strength to reclaim lands, dig cisterns and reservoirs, build dams, agricultural terraces, and diversion walls.  Clearly, the study of past ecosystems is not merely an “academic” subject in these critical times when our globe is facing serious environmental problems.” (p. xi)

“I would like to think that the interaction between Jordanians and Americans brought about by the MPP helped promote this notion (of identifying areas of commonality between civilizations). In the same way, it is heartening to see that steps have been taken to involve the local community at Hisban in the project, especially teachers and students, and explain to them what it is all about. This will not only make the local residents better informed, but will also encourage them to safeguard the site.” (p. xii)

Comments by Fawwaz Al-Khraysheh (Director General of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan) in a preface in The Madaba Plains Project: Forty Years of Archaeological Research into Jordan’s Past. Clark, D. R.; Herr, L. G.; LaBianca, Ø. S.; and Younker, R. W., eds. (2011). Sheffield: Equinox.

“In addition, as the importance of consolidating and conserving the antiquities sites of Jordan became more apparent during the 1990s, the MPP, particularly at Hisban and to some degree at Tall al-‘Umayri, invested in a future for the past by preserving their sites for posterity.” (p. xiii)

“A strength of the MPP, this (comprehensive regional approach) research design has contributed significantly to the scholarship and research of ancient societies in central Jordan within their wider contexts.” (p. xiii)

Dever, W. G. (2011). Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Madaba Plains Project. Pp. 69-78 in The Madaba Plains Project: Forty Years of Archaeological Research into Jordan’s Past, edited by D. R. Clark, L. G. Herr, Ø. S. LaBianca, and R. W. Younker. Sheffield: Equinox.

“(An emphasis on) a multi-disciplinary approach and regional studies… was already clear in the early Hesban reports, especially in Øystein LaBianca’s Hesban I. Sedentarization and Nomadization: Food Systems Cycles of Hesban and Vicinity in Transjordan (1990). Here LaBianca (“Sten”), a European and Brandeis-trained Ph.D. in anthropology, appears as a somewhat more “worldly” Adventist. But his use of anthropological theories and models was not met, as might have been expected, with suspicion, much less hostility. To the contrary, the “food systems” and “cyclical advance-abatement” models became the long-term hallmarks of Adventist archaeology. Indeed, none of the more “secular” excavation projects in Israel or Jordan at the time matched LaBianca’s sophistication, despite much talk, nor do they even now.  And all this was nearly 20 years ago—real pioneering.” (p. 71)

“(The MPP) continued to do the most innovative archaeology that anyone in the Middle East was doing, by any criteria.  Their excavation and recording techniques were exemplary, their computer-based technologies on the cutting edge.” (p. 75)

Reviews and Comments on The Madaba Plains Project: Forty Years of Archaeological Research into Jordan’s Past

Bienkowski, P. (2012). Review of The Madaba Plains Project: Forty Years of Archaeological Research into Jordan’s Past, edited by D. R. Clark, L. G. Herr, Ø. S. LaBianca, and R. W. Younker.  Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 367: 90-92.

“I would highlight four key areas where the MPP has been influential over its 40 years of activity:

1.   It pioneered the“new archaeology”in Jordan by formulating the food system concept—with the related construct of cycles of intensification and abatement— that provided an overall framework for grasping the unity beneath the changes in stratigraphy, material culture, animal remains,and hinterland settlement patterns. This continues to integrate the MPP’s various projects in a common theoretical construct, enabling regional syntheses.

2.   Hisban was one of the first projects to include interdisciplinary specialists, which was not standard for most excavations in Jordan in the early 1970s.

3.   The MPP is a truly collaborativeproject insofaras thedatabases of all its constituent projects are interchangeable and excavation and recording procedures compatible, which allows for true regional sharing and analysis.

4.   Their publication strategy and outputs are exemplary (setting a standard that, in her chapter, P. M. M. Daviau rightly states is hard to match): preliminary publications after every season, plus five seasonal reports so far in large-volume format, each with full technical and specialist reports—which for some aspects are already essentially final reports.” (p. 91)

“Many of the contributors to this book have included their congratulations and indebtedness to the MPP. As a reviewer, I can add my own appreciation: the MPP has left a huge footprint on the archaeology of Jordan and the Middle East in general. Without it, we would all be working in a different way and with a poorer set of theoretical models.” (p. 92)

Hudon, J. P. (2012).  Review of The Madaba Plains Project: Forty Years of Archaeological Research into Jordan’s Past, edited by D. R. Clark, L. G. Herr, Ø. S. LaBianca, and R. W. Younker. Andrews University Seminary Studies 50: 83-86.

“Forty years of (MPP) field work, coupled with a steady stream of publications…is a most appropriate time to celebrate this remarkable achievement.” (p. 84)

“William Dever and Anson Rainey, prominent scholars in the respective fields of archaeology and historical geography, contribute congratulatory essays that demonstrate their heartfelt praise and respect for the various MPP achievements. Rainey’s personal reflections of the MPP and its staff are especially appreciated since they appear posthumously.” (p. 84)


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