Tell Damiyah (Jordan)

Terracotta figurines of a horse (7th century BC)Terracotta figurines of a horse (7th century BC)
Lucas Petit ann Zeidan KafafiLucas Petit ann Zeidan Kafafi
Excavating at the Tell Damiyah siteExcavating at the Tell Damiyah site
Team member Jeroen Rensen at work at the Tell Damiyah siteTeam member Jeroen Rensen at work at the Tell Damiyah site

The archaeological research at the Tell Damiyah site is directed by Dr Lucas Petit, curator of the Ancient Near East collection at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, and Dr Zeidan Kafafi, professor of archaeology at Yarmouk University. After preliminary research in 2004 and 2005, the present research project began in 2012.

The excavation is supported by the Jordanian Department of Antiquities (Director General: Dr Monther Jamhawi). The project is funded by the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden and Yarmouk University.

Objective of the excavation

The main objective of the excavations is to reconstruct the occupational history of the site from 1400 to 500 BC. The team hopes that this will explain why great powers such as Assyria and Egypt were interested in the mound in those days. The researchers also hope to find out how the village could survive for approximately one thousand years, despite drought and earthquakes. Furthermore, the excavation may yield information on the background to the Jordanian collection at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden. That collection comes from the same region, but little is known about its historical context.

A unique shrine from the Late Iron Age

In October and November 2014, the excavation team found a 2,700-year-old shrine: a rectangular building measuring eight by six metres, with a platform. This is the first late Iron Age shrine unearthed in the region. In and around the building, the team found a variety of painted terracotta figurines of horses and women. They also found scarabs and seals from Egypt and Iraq. The shrine was probably used mainly by merchants and travellers, for prayer and offerings. This conclusion is supported not only by the finds, but also by Tell Damiyah’s location at the intersection of two major trade routes, near a Jordan river crossing.

A village with an Assyrian governor?

The shrine was probably in the centre of a small village. The inhabitants made textiles and also relied on agriculture, animal husbandry, and hunting. Ceramics and written evidence suggest that the village was closely tied to the powerful Neo-Assyrian Empire. There may have been an Assyrian governor in the village, who controlled trade in the region. Around 700 BC, a great fire destroyed the village, including its unique shrine.

The Persian and Hellenistic periods

In the Persian and Hellenistic periods (c. 550-200 BC), Tell Damiyah was used as a storage site. The archaeologists have found deep pits, which were originally filled with livestock feed. The absence of architecture raises the possibility that the inhabitants or users were nomads. The pits also contained many objects relating to textile production, such as small spinning wheels and loom weights.

A Byzantine and Ottoman burial ground

The entire top of Tell Damiyah has been found to have been used as a burial ground in the Byzantine age and again in the Ottoman period. The many graves were the object of particularly intensive research during the 2012 and 2013 excavation campaigns. These thirty-plus graves were found to contain the skeletons of children and adults from the first millennium AD. In some graves, chains of beads were found. Others contained inlaid rings, and one body had a glass vessel next to its head. This was an exceptional find, because settlements from that era are uncommon in this region.