PELLA IN JORDAN

The Site of Pella in Jordan

A view of the main mound or tell at Pella.

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 BCE. 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 thirty-eight years have already unearthed many important discoveries, including: Neolithic housing (ca. 6000 BCE); Chalcolithic period storage complexes (ca. 4200 BCE); Early Bronze Age stone defensive platforms (ca. 3200 BCE); massive Middle Bronze Age mud-brick city walls (ca. 1800 BCE); Middle and Late Bronze Age temples and Palatial residences (ca. 1800-1200 BCE); a Late Bronze Age Egyptian Governors’ Residence with clay tablets (ca. 1350 BCE); large areas of a Hellenistic city (destroyed by war in 80 BCE); the theatre, baths and fountain-house of the Roman Imperial city (ca. 150 CE); three Byzantine churches and a Bishop’s palace (ca. 550 CE); an Umayyad Islamic city destroyed by an earthquake (ca. 750 CE); an Abbasid caravanserai (ca. 950 CE); and a Mameluke mosque and administrative compound (ca. 1350 CE); and many other finds that bring Pella’s history up to the present day.

The Pella Volunteer Scheme

Over the last twenty-four 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 2019 excavation season, when we will further investigate the large Bronze Age Palatial residence, and prehistoric remains now known to lie below this structure (ca. 1800-1200 BCE), a new area of excavation some 20m to the west of the palace excavations, which will explore the whole range of occupation from the Mameluke period back into the Bronze Age (ca. 1900 BCE-1500 CE), while continuing excavations ion the eastern summit of Tell Husn, mainly focussed on the Early Bronze Age ( ca. 3500-3200 BCE), but with further attempts to locate the earliest Hellenistic occupation (ca. 300 BCE) also under consideration. Finds from the most recent season include a stunning carved steatite bowl, intriguing Iron Age figurines, Hellenistic fine wares and wine amphorae, and inscribed Islamic metal ware and medical equipment.

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 and specialist analysts (e.g. botanists and zoologists) as needed, when processing finds from the field.

The fee for taking part in the 2019 excavation will be around $5000 (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 Pella Volunteer Application Form (Click here) and email/post/fax it to us and we'll keep you informed as organisation of the 2019 season progresses.


The 2017 Season

A Pella Volunteer working at the site in 2017.

A Pella Volunteer working at the site in 2017.

The 2017 season at Pella in Jordan has been successfully completed, with most major objectives realised.

Excavations investigated different problems spread across the various time-periods. On Tell Husn three trenches were excavated to further explore the Early Bronze Age (EBA) deposits pre-dating the massive EB II (ca. 3000 BCE) rock-built platforms explored in earlier seasons. One trench (outside the east gate) clarified the function of the earliest gate (ca. 3400 BCE) before discovering our first coherent Chalcolithic (ca. 4000 BCE) occupation, in the form of pits (some stone-lined) and small sections of brick walling. In the main trench beside the northern platform and circuit wall, trenches reached down through several phases of EB I occupation (ca. 3600-3400 BCE), before uncovering parts of an apsidal house sitting on terraced bedrock surfaces. Below this, exterior work areas and many whole olives suggested the presence of olive processing installations, dated to the Chalcolithic period (ca. 4000 BCE). Excavations in the final trench uncovered the few remaining vestiges of EB III (ca. 2800-2700 BCE) occupation, immediately after the destruction of the fortified complex in a massive earthquake.

On the main tell four trenches were in operation. In the central tell region (Area XXIII), excavations in one trench completed work in the wealthy and well appointed Hellenistic townhouse, under excavation since 2011. Another explored a large Mameluke period (ca. 1250-1450 CE) civic/administrative compound, located across the road from the fine MameIuke period mosque (Area XVII) excavated 35 years ago. On the south side of the tell, in the deep sounding beside the Fortress temple (Area XXXII) two trenches explored distinct phases of the Bronze and Iron Age civic buildings, under excavation for the last few seasons. One exposed the northern end of the Iron Age (ca. 900-800 BC) structure, called the ‘Civic Building’ previously, but now that it is revealed to have a monumental entrance sporting huge pillar-bases and paved stone courtyards, one might now venture the designation of ‘Palace’ for this structure, more strongly than ever before. Below the Iron Age structure, elements of a large Late Bronze Age (ca. 1300 BCE) ‘Stone-Paved’ building emerged towards the end of the season. Further to the south, the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1800-1300 BCE) ‘Courtyard Palace’ excavations were completed, and deep soundings explored the Early Bronze (ca. 3200 BCE) and Chalcolithic (ca. 4500 BCE) period horizons that lie below the palace.


Pella in Jordan 2019

Excavation underway at the site in 2017.

Excavation underway at the site in 2017.

For more than ten years (1994-2007), work at Pella focussed on the excavation of the six architectural phases of the massive mud-brick and stone Fortress (or Migdol) temple, the largest (32x 28m) of its type ever discovered. The temple had distinct Middle Bronze (ca. 1800-1500 BCE), Late Bronze (1500-1200 BCE) and Iron Age (ca. 1000-800 BCE) phases, one on top of the other. Finds were spectacular, and included several figured, painted and incised ceramic cult stands; Egyptian stone statuary, metal and clay figurines, lapis and gold jewellery, faience and glazed ceramics, and many ceramic bowls, jugs and jars (bearing ‘tree of life’ motifs) and a large mixing bowl with ‘bulls-head’ handles.

In more recent seasons (since 2005) our attention turned to the exploration of a series of related secular building complexes that lie to the west of the temple. The first uncovered was a very large Iron Age Building (detected in 1997 and under intensive exploration since 2005), which by the end of the 2017 field season had resulted in the excavation of parts of at least 46 rooms, many with their contents preserved by a fiery destruction (ca. 800 BCE) which destroyed the site.

We now know a very great deal about what went on in each individual room, of what is turning out to be a structure of unprecedented size and grandeur. It is contemporary with a small Iron II period 12 x 8m structure, the latest of the temples in the sequence, suggesting that in the Iron Age II, the secular complexes were much more the source of wealth and power than the relatively unimportant temples.

From 2009 we started to explore an earlier Late Bronze Age (ca. 1400-1200 BCE) Stone-Paved Building that lies below the Iron Age complex. With its Egyptian-style ‘Lamp and Bowl’ deposits, and its intriguing incense pipes and miniature vessels, this structure seems very closely aligned to the Egyptianising ‘Pillared Hall’ phase of the temple to its east.

Most recently in 2013-2017, we've started to get an idea of the large Middle Bronze Age (1800-1500 BCE) Palatial residence that seems probably to be a structure of the ‘Courtyard Palace’ type, the main palace-form of the later MBA in the southern Levant. We have only exposed a few rooms and courtyard areas of this structure, but the thick yellow plaster floors, and the intriguing mud-brick features, along with the administrative paraphernalia (scarabs, cylinder seals and their sealing impressions on clay) all suggest the presence of a major administrative structure, which seems to reflect the wealth and power of the huge Stone Migdol temple phase to its east.
At the end of the 2017 season, one phase of Early Bronze Age (ca. 3200 BCE) and one phase of middle Chalcolithic (ca. 4500 BCE) architecture had been uncovered in deep soundings, indicating the promise of things to come. In 2019, we plan to further explore the major civic structures, in new trenches to the north and west of the current excavation zone.

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 2019 Pella Volunteer Application Form: Click here


Pella in Jordan Resources

  • 2017 Jordan Times article on Pella and Dr Stephen Bourke, Click here
  • 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
  • The 2017 Pella Volunteer Information Pack 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,
NEAF, SOPHI, A14
University of Sydney, NSW 2006

email:
Fax: (02) 9114 0921