The Site of Pella in Jordan

A view of the main mound or tell at Pella.

Pella is a magnificent 10 hectare site, set in beautiful surroundings beside a perennial spring in the eastern foothills of the north Jordan valley. Human occupation in the region around Pella stretches back over half a million years and the site itself has been continuously occupied from around 8000 BC. As a result, the tell at Pella contains over 20 metres of occupation debris spanning the past 10,000 years. Excavations by the University of Sydney over the past twenty-nine years have already unearthed many important discoveries, including: Neolithic housing (ca. 6000 BC); Early Bronze Age stone defensive platforms (ca. 3200 BC); massive Middle Bronze Age mudbrick city walls (ca. 1800 BC); Late Bronze Age residences, some with clay tablets (ca. 1350 BC); large areas of the Hellenistic city (destroyed by war in 83 BC); the theatre, baths and fountain-house of the Roman city (ca. 150 AD); three Byzantine churches (ca. 550 AD); an early Islamic city destroyed by an earthquake (ca. 750 AD); and many other finds that bring Pella’s history up to the present day.

The Pella Volunteer Scheme

Over the last twenty-three years the Near Eastern Archaeology Foundation, in conjunction with the Pella Excavation Project, have provided members of the general public with an opportunity to work on the University of Sydney’s excavations at Pella in Jordan. People of all ages and backgrounds have been able to experience the unique atmosphere of working on an archaeological dig. Soon we will be accepting expressions of interest for the January-February 2017 excavation season, when we will further investigate the large Bronze Age temple precincts (ca. 1900-800 BCE) on the main mound and possibly other promising areas on Tell Husn. Finds from previous excavation seasons include uniquely important ceramic cult stands, and numerous gold, lapis, bronze, glass and ceramic cultic items.

Each volunteer spends three weeks with the excavation team living on site at our dig-house. Half a volunteer’s time is spent excavating in a trench with an experienced archaeologist, assisting them with the dig work. The other half is spent in the house, helping with the cleaning, description, cataloguing and packing of delicate objects, as well as assisting the conservators, photographers, illustrators, surveyors and specialist analysts (e.g. botanists and zoologists) as needed, when they process and study most finds from the field.

The fee for taking part in the 2017 excavation will be around $4,000 (to be confirmed) that includes food and board but not air fare. We do not arrange group bookings as most volunteers tend to have travel plans before or after their time with us at Pella. If you are interested in working at the important and beautiful site of Pella, please fill in the 2017 Pella Volunteer Application Form (Click here) and email/post/fax it to us and we'll keep you informed as organisation of the 2017 season progresses.

The 2015 Season

A Pella Volunteer working at the site in 2015.

A Pella Volunteer working at the site in 2015.

The 2015 season at Pella in Jordan has been successfully completed and the major objectives of the season were realised.

Excavations investigated several different time periods. On Jebel Sartaba at Area XIV excavations continued on the Chalcolithic farmstead suspected of being an olive oil processing area. The work here progressed in very good humour, and although the most exposed of all the work areas, the excavators, in wind and shine, continued the modern excavations to this area.

On neighbouring Tell Husn two trenches were excavated to further explore the Early Bronze Age (EBA) deposits associated with the massive rock-built platform. Both trenches grappled with the complex and often precipitous stratigraphy and while one answered some nagging questions concerning the earlier phases of the EBA gateway, the other uncovered further stratigraphy against the length of the EBA circuit wall that abuts the platform to the northwest.

On the main tell four trenches were in operation. In Area XXIV one trench continued expanding on the Hellenistic house first uncovered in the 2011 season. One other investigated post Iron Age deposits to the north of the deep cut in Area XXXII. These deposits include Roman walls and a spectacular late Byzantine industrial kiln area: probably for the manufacture of glass objects. In the deep cut two trenches explored the Bronze Age. One, after first removing the Iron Age destruction debris (complete with beautiful vessels), added to our knowledge of the Late Bronze Age in this area. The other trench, excavating the Middle Bronze Age 'palace' area, shows many, somewhat confusing and many definitely cultic, phases of occupation. Full understanding of this area will have to wait until 2017.

Pella in Jordan 2017

For several seasons since 1997, excavations at Pella in Jordan concentrated on investigating a series of superimposed Bronze and Iron Age temple structures located on a slight rise on the southern side of the main mound. During this time we excavated three distinct Bronze Age (ca. 1700-1200 BCE) and one Iron Age (ca. 900 BCE) stone-walled temples. As the size of the earliest Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1700-1600 BCE) temples were much larger than expected (at 32 x 24 metres, the largest ‘Fortress’ temples ever found), it took us three long seasons (1997-2001) to uncover the massive stone walls and footings. Finds were spectacular, and included several figured, painted and incised ceramic cult stands; many ceramic bowls, jugs and jars (bearing ‘tree of life’ motifs) and a large mixing bowl with ‘bulls-head’ handles. Between 2003 and 2009 we excavated significant parts of three earlier mudbrick temples (ca. 1900-1700 BCE), the uppermost displaying a magnificent white plaster floor. All were located immediately below the floor of the central room of the stone-built temples and our investigations in this area are complete.

Instead our attention now is turned to the west of the temple where a sequence of buildings are slowly being uncovered. In this area, we continue work on a multi-room Iron Age administrative building (since 2003 and following) located immediately west of the temples. The Iron Age building contained distinct room assemblages in each of the 26 rooms excavated between 2003-2005 and again in 2015, all preserved below the thick layers of burnt debris that sealed the Iron II complex, when it was destroyed around 800 BCE. Further excavation of this building's northern reaches will be a focus of the 2017 excavations.

From 2009 we've started to explore an earlier Late Bronze Age (ca. 1200 BCE) structure that lies below the Iron Age building and most recently in 2013/2015, we've started to get an idea of the large Middle Bronze Age (1600 BCE) building that, in turn, is below the Late Bronze Age building complexes.

Our work has shown the Late Bronze Age phase contains many distinct building phases in an area where the structures appear monumental with beautiful plaster floors and cobbled courtyards. Intriguingly the area also contains a number of well-constructed stone-lined bins that suggest that this area was not purely secular at this time. These phases will be investigated further in 2017.

In 2013 we were only able to uncover the top of the massive Middle Bronze Age walls that suggest that this area also contains a major building dating to the period when the stone-built Migdol Temple was first constructed. Again, further understanding these important phases was a focus of the 2015 season but, as often happens in archaeology, the 2015 season threw up more questions than answers. Therefore work in the deep cut (excavations are some 7m below the ground surface!) will continue in 2017 to try to make sense of this archaeologically rich area.

We look forward to an interesting and rewarding season as we expand our work exploring one of the more fascinating and important cities of ancient Jordan.

Find out more about what happens at Pella: Click here

To download a 2017 Pella Volunteer Application Form: Click here

To download the 2017 Pella Volunteer Information Pack: Click here

2017 Pella in Jordan Volunteer Payments

When you have been offered a place in the Pella 2017 season you may proceed to the following link to pay by credit card (if you wish to pay by cheque, please forward your payment by mail). Payments can be accepted for the deposit, the balance or the full amount using the drop down menu.

A receipt will be issued by the system to the email you select on the payment page and a notification will be sent the Pella Project confirming your payment.

Proceed to the payment page: click here.

Pella in Jordan Resources

  • Report on the 2009 excavations by Director Stephen Bourke, Click here
  • Report on the 2011 excavations by Director Stephen Bourke, Click here
  • Report on the 2013 excavations by Director Stephen Bourke, Click here
  • Report on the 2015 excavations by Director Stephen Bourke, Click here
  • A look at some of the 'hidden treasures' unearthed at Pella over the years by Director Stephen Bourke, Click here
  • Area XXXVIII at Pella. The 2011 season. Click here
  • Photo album by Ben Churcher showing excavation at trench XXXII BB (2011 season), Click here
  • For further information and images regarding Pella from Wikipedia, Click here
  • Further information on the Pella Migdol Temple, Click here

Enquiries and correspondence:

The Volunteer Co-ordinator
Pella Volunteers,
University of Sydney, NSW 2006

Fax: (02) 9114 0921