Pella in Jordan: Area XXXVIII

Area XXXVIII was opened in 2011 to explore the building to the north of the East Church, which had been excavated by the University of Sydney as Area V in the initial seasons of work (1979-1982). Surface wall lines showed that the XXXVIII building, like the East Church, was reached by a monumental staircase. This terminated in a flattish, square area. Two columns could be seen, similar to the columns in the atrium of the East Church – which were thought to have been reused from an earlier building. Anthony McNicoll, in 1979, had speculated that in this area of the site there had been a Roman period temple, which, when ruined, had been quarried for the stones to build the East Church. We were fairly confident then, since Tony had excavated a church, that we would have the temple. Luckily, I told people I was 99% confident, because from the first week of excavations it was clear that our new building had been erected at the same time as the East Church – somewhere in the 5th century AD – and there was no Roman temple beneath it.

We excavated around one third of the building. Its exact function remains unclear, but it appears to be ecclesiastical in nature – though not certainly a church. There is a narrow terrace, with exedrae at the north and south ends (or, if it is a church/chapel, an apsidal narthex). A central apsidal room, with marble flooring, is flanked by passages to north and south. The south passage opens to a corner room/space which in turn leads to a small passage running behind the apse, but within the building, making what appears to be an ambulatory. The building was lavishly decorated with glass wall mosaic, much of it gilded.

At some point, the building fell out of use, possibly damaged in an earthquake or robbed out. Its final use was domestic in nature – we found kitchen equipment and a hearth outside the northern door, on the robbed floor of the terrace/narthex. In the south-east corner was a typical assemblage of the Umayyad period, mirroring the material found in Area III/IV. We can therefore date the final destruction of the building to the massive 749 AD earthquake.

Kate da Costa


Area XXXVIII at Pella in Jordan showing collapsed columns.

Schematic of building at Area XXXVIII

Annotated photo of Area XXXVIII