Eastern Jarash Project. Results of the first campaign (2022)

The extensive excavation of the site of Jerash in northern Jordan has allowed the city’s geography during the Umayyad period to be documented mainly in the western part of the site. The different teams of the Jerash Archaeological Project (1981-1988) as well as the Islamic Jarash Project (2002-2012), the Danish-German Jerash Northwest Quarter Project (2011-2016), and the Late Antique Jerash Project (2015-2017) have painted the portrait of an economically flourishing and densely populated Umayyad city with numerous artisanal centers as well as an important souk. The economic and political heart of the city seems to have been located at the intersection between the cardo and the south decumanus, as suggested by the discovery of the great mosque and the souk in this area (Walmsely 2018; Baldoni 2019). A large domestic area extended to the west of the cardo (Gawlikowski 1986; Rattenborg & Blanke 2017: 319-323; Blanke 2021) while an industrial area had developed on its periphery where craft (or crafting) workshops reoccupied abandoned monumental Roman buildings (Bessard & Bonnéric 2013).

In order to understand Jarash in the early Islamic period it is necessary to continue this excavation work to the east of the cardo maximus, the main axis that divides the city in two from north to south. Only one strip along the eastern side of the cardo is still free from any construction and is included in the protected archaeological zone. The Eastern Jarash Project (EJP) was created in 2022 by J. Bonnéric (Ifpo) and, over the coming years, will focus on a large area (ca. 400 m N/S and max. 100 m E/W) limited to the west by the Roman cardo—which was still one of the city’s main traffic axes in Umayyad times—, to the south and north by the two decumani, and to the east by the Chrysorhoas River (fig. 1). The 2022 campaign was devoted to studying a large courtyard building (numbered A) discovered and partially excavated by the Department of Antiquities (DoA) in 2001. It will be the main focus of the first program.

Figure 1. Map of the main buildings in Jarash in 2015 on an orthophoto produced by RGJC. The Eastern Jarash Project’s study area is depicted in pink (G. Pontitcelli, 2022). To the north of the area: building A before the 2022 excavations.

To provide a first clear understanding of the site and an interpretation of the function and chronology of this building, the aim of this first excavation campaign was to thoroughly document the area that had already been excavated, in the absence of any archives or publications about this excavation, and to implement new soundings in virgin areas to recover information from the stratigraphy and complete the plan of the building. During the first week of work, the whole excavated area was cleaned and then three excavation sectors were opened in the eastern part of the building (T. Awwad, J. Bonnéric, and A. Thaher). Also, an architectural study was started with an analysis of the building techniques and the first graphic renderings of the building (S. Cunin, E. Devaux, and A. Moumneh). The artifacts were also documented (C. Étienne and R. Pappalardo,).

In the current state of study and excavation, six phases have been identified in the area of building A; however these are still to be dated (fig. 2). In its earliest currently known phase of occupation, phase 1 (Hellenistic? Roman?), the area seems to have been a quarry. In the western part of the courtyard, the natural rock outcrops show traces of extraction. The evidence of phase 2 (Roman?) is very scattered. Two walls and one column base are earlier than building A’s pavement. Phase 3 (probably Byzantine) consisted of the construction and an early use of the courtyard building A. In phase 4 (Umayyad), building A underwent modifications, notably the portico’s subdivision. The building was then abandoned after an earthquake, most probably the 749 AD earthquake according to the pottery preserved under the collapsed walls. During phase 5 (Abbasid? later?), the area underwent limited reconstruction. Unfortunately, most of the walls and related occupation layers were dismantled by the earlier excavations and so their interpretation is almost impossible. The area was then scarcely occupied in a later period, phase 6 (Ottoman? Modern?).

Figure 2. Tentative renderings of phase 1 (quarry), phase 2 (colonnade?) and phase 3 (courtyard building A) drawn by S. Cunin
Figure 3. Aerial view of building A during the excavation (the east is to the right).

During the 2022 campaign, the excavation focused on the eastern aisle of the building. In the northeastern and southeastern areas, were expected to find the northeastern and southeastern corners of the building but it appeared that the eastern wall of building A extended under the baulks to the north and the south. The eastern wing was composed of at least six rooms, maybe seven, of various sizes, that all opened onto the portico. Each room had one door that opens onto the portico, but room R1 also has a door that leads outside. The walls show two building techniques that do not seem related to different phases: regular courses of large squared blocks and large squared block courses mixed with thin courses of small rubble stones. Two walls, one that was built against and one that was built perpendicularly to the eastern wall, appear to be located outside of the building. According to the stratigraphy of the layers that have accumulated in rooms R4 and R5 and the presence of stairs, an upper story was previously supported by longitudinal vaults, resting on pillars or corbelled imposts that are still partially visible (fig. 4).

Figure 4. N/S architectural section of the eastern wing, with a rendering of the vault and the floor (E. Devaux, A. Moumneh).

According to the discoveries in the aisle’s southeastern rooms, the ground and upper floors had distinctive functions. Room R4 (5.30 x max. 5.35 m), one of the largest rooms in building A’s east wing, was probably a stable, while the upper floor was reserved for the domestic area. On the ground level, two structures are built on the earthen floor (fig. 5): a pottery basin set in stone masonry (1.60 x 1.35 m) in the northeastern corner of the room that could have been a drinking trough and a two-course wall (2 m long) in the southeastern corner that could have been a feeding trough. A sediment which strongly resembles burnt dung was found at the foot of the basin. The layers resulting from the collapse of the upper story included numerous rough stone tesserae (white, brown and red in color) and painted coating fragments. These suggest that, on the level of room R4, the walls of the upper story were protected and decorated with painted plaster and its floor was paved with mosaics.

Figure 5. General view of room R4.

So far, the excavation of room R5, that is yet to be completed, has revealed an assemblage of sixteen complete or nearly complete ceramic vessels (fig. 6), mainly storage jars and amphorae. Their stratigraphic location shows that they were stored upstairs. The near absence of tesserae and the types of pottery that are present suggest that room R5 had a storage room above it. A complete copper pot was discovered on the earthen floor of the ground floor, in the southwestern part of the room. It has broken iron handles and an iron ring. It seems to be preserved in place, wedged under the collapse of the upper level.

Figure 6. To the left, part of the pottery assemblage discovered in the collapse of room R5’s first floor and to the left, a copper pot with iron handles and an iron ring that was discovered under this collapsed story, on the ground floor.

Building A gives us a great opportunity to study the daily life of Jarash’s inhabitants in the Umayyad period as well as the evolution of living spaces and customs between the Byzantine and Umayyad periods. This was most probably a residential building, the collapsed walls of which have sealed the structures and objects in context at the time of the 749 AD earthquake. It might be possible, after further excavations, to understand the function of the different rooms in this building which seems characteristic of the mutation of the 7th and beginning of the 8th centuries in an urban context. The evolution of building A seems to be quite similar to the evolution of the “Maison aux consoles” that was excavated in Apamea (Balty 1997) and which had also a portico which had been closed using walls located in between its columns. It also shows the presence of stables on the ground floor level and the presence of living spaces on the first floor (Vernet 2018). Due to its size and organization, building A differs from the other houses which have been excavated in Jerash on the southern decumanus (Gawlikowski 1986), in the southwest of the city (Blanke 2021), and in its northwestern part. Building A was probably only separated from the row of the souk by a passage (street, stairs?) and its function could have been related to the souk’s trading activities. This huge building is not just a simple house: could it have been a merchant’s house?

Figure 7. First proposal for a 3D rendering of building A in its last phase of occupation, prior to the earthquake of 749 AD, work in progress (A. Moumneh).


Baldoni 2019

D. Baldoni, “Archaeological Evidence for Craft Activities in the Area of the Sanctuary of Artemis at Gerasa between the Byzantine and the Umayyad Periods”, in A. Lichtenberger and R. Raja (eds.), Byzantine and Umayyad Jerash Reconsidered, Turnhout, 2019, p. 115-158.

Balty 1997

J.-Ch. Balty, “Palais et maisons d’Apamée”, in C. Castel, M. Al-Maqdissi and F. Villeneuve (eds.), Les maisons dans la Syrie antique du IIIe millénaire aux débuts de l’Islam, Beyrouth, 1997, 283-295.

Bessard & Bonnéric 2013

F. Bessard & J. Bonnéric, “Jarash et l’essor de l’économie urbaine au début de l’Islam (Considérations à partir de l’exemple des ateliers de teinturiers byzantino-umayyades de l’hippodrome)”, Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan, 11, 2013, p. 305-318.

Blanke et al. 2021

L. Blanke et al, “Excavation and magnetic prospection in Jarash’s southwest district: the 2015 and 2016 seasons of the Late Antique Jarash Project”, Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, 60, 2021, p. 585-605.

Gawlikowski 1986

M. Gawlikowski, “A Residential Area by the South Decumanus”, in F. Zayadine (ed.), Jerash Archaeological Project 1, 1981-1983, Amman, 1986, p. 107-121.

Rattenborg & Blanke 2017

R. Rattenborg & L. Blanke, “Jarash in the Islamic Ages (c. 700–1200 CE): a critical review”, Levant, 49/3, 2017, p. 1-21.

Vernet 2018

A. Vernet, “Dwelling Transformation and Evolution of Customs after the Islamic Conquest in Near Eastern Cities”, in R. Stucky, O. Kaelin and H.-P. Mathys (eds.), Proceedings of the 9th International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, Wiesbaden, 2016, p. 455-467.

Walmsely 2018,

A. Walmsley, “Urbanism at Islamic Jerash: New Readings from Archaeology and History”, in A. Lichtenberger & R. Raja (eds.), The Archaeology and History of Jerash. 110 Years of Excavations, Turnhout, 2018, p. 241-256.

The team in 2022

  • M. Al Kharabshe (archaeologist, DoA)
  • M. Altoom (archaeologist, DoA)
  • T. Awwad (archaeologist, independent)
  • Dr. J. Bonnéric (archaeologist, Ifpo)
  • Arch. S. Cunin (architect)
  • C. Etienne (student)
  • A. Thaher (archaeologist, independent)
  • Arch. E. Devaux (architect, Ifpo)
  • Gh. Hijazi (logistics, Ifpo)
  • A. Moumneh (student)
  • Dr. R. Pappallardo (pottery specialist, independent).

Funding sources in 2022

  • French Institute for the Near East (Ifpo)
  • CNRS (special funding “Appel d’offre Jordanie”)
  • Ciham UMR 5648
  • Cultural Service of the French Embassy.

Pour citer cet article : Julie Bonnéric, "Eastern Jarash Project. Results of the first campaign (2022)", Les Carnets de l'Ifpo. La recherche en train de se faire à l’Institut français du Proche-Orient, https://ifpo.hypotheses.org/12200, le 8 mai 2023. [En  ligne sur hypotheses.org]

Julie Bonnéric est docteure en histoire et archéologie de l’Islam médiéval. Elle a soutenu en novembre 2013, sous la direction de Jean-Michel Mouton (EPHE, IVe section), une thèse intitulée « Lumière et mosquées en Égypte et Syrie médiévales, des conquêtes arabes (milieu du VIIe s.) à la fin de la dynastie ayyūbide (milieu du XIIIe s.) : gestion de l’éclairage et portée symbolique ». Chercheuse et responsable de l’Ifpo à Amman depuis 2020, elle est également scientifique de la partie française de la Mission archéologique franco-koweïtienne de Faïlaka (Koweït) depuis juillet 2014.

Page personnelle et bibliographie sur Ifporient : http://ifporient.org/julie-bonneric

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