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Khirbat al-Mudayna al-Aliya

Investigations of an Early Iron Age site in a semi-arid zone in west-central Jordan

Project Abstract

Khirbat al-Mudayna al-'Aliya (KMA hereafter) is located on the eastern edge of the Karak Plateau in west-central Jordan, approximately 19 km northeast of the modern town of al-Karak (UTMG: 773.4/464.5; Palestine Grid: 233.0/76.8). The settlement is approximately 2.2 hectares in size and is positioned on a promontory overlooking the juncture of the Wadi al-Mukhayris and the southern extension of the Wadi al-Mujib. Archaeological investigations at the settlement were conducted between 1994 and 2004, comprising five seasons of mapping and excavation on various scales (Routledge 2000; 2004: 96-108; 2008; Routledge and Porter 2007). The settlement is positioned in a semi-arid zone, falling between the 100 and 300 mm isohyets, and therefore receives only the minimum amount of precipitation needed to practice rain-fed agriculture. The yellow Mediterranean and yellow steppic soils surrounding the settlement make agricultural production difficult compared to those settlements surrounded by Red Mediterranean soils to the west. Far below the settlement, lush riparian zones are found at the bottom of the canyons where run-off precipitation and perennial aqueducts refuel stream systems that eventually drain into the Jordan Valley. This persistent water source fosters a microclimate of wild fauna and flora that is ideal for hunting and gathering subsistence routines.

KMA is one of a number of early Iron Age settlements subsisting in semi-arid zones of west-central Jordan. Several settlements share a similar architectural pattern: a series of Levantine pillared buildings with adjacent walls form an oval or elliptical ring around a central courtyard that was either left empty or contained additional buildings. At KMA, portions of several buildings were excavated (See Routledge 2000 and Routledge 2004: 87-113 for discussions of these buildings.)

Ceramic vessel evidence and radiocarbon dates help determine that KMA was founded in the early 11th century BCE, occupied for a short time, and then abandoned in the late 11th or early 10th centuries. Four radiocarbon dates from burned silo rooms in two houses cluster very consistently. Short-lived barley and reed samples have calibrated two sigma (95.4%) confidence intervals of 1115-926 CAL BC (OXa-18966); 1115-925 CAL BC (OXa-19016) and 1108-913 CAL BC (with the 93.5% confidence interval being 1056-913 BC; OXa-19017). The one roof beam assayed has a two sigma interval of 1209-997 CAL BC (OXa-18967). If one accepts the stratigraphic evidence that KMA was only occupied for a short period of time, then these dates support an 11th century construction date for the houses and an abandonment linked to burning the stored barley in the 11th or tenth century B.C.E. These Oxford AMS dates using the InCal 04 atmospheric curve supersede the problematic beta-counted dates from Université Laval published in Routledge 2000: 47-48, Fig. 8.

The ceramic vessel evidence presented here is only a selection (n=54) of diagnostic forms from the 2000 excavation season. These vessels were studied in Porter's dissertation (2007). Information reported here is the object catalog number, form, building number, provenance information, diameter, fabric colors and treatment information, when necessary. Additional diagnostic vessels will be added when their analysis is complete. The faunal evidence presented here includes descriptions for all excavated identifiable bones. The evidence from the 1998 and 2000 excavation seasons were analyzed at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History Archaeobiology Laboratory, while the 2004 season was analyzed at the Department of Old Testament and Biblical Archaeology, University of Mainz, Germany. Somewhat different variables were recorded from the 2004 data and therefore, these divergent variables are presented.


The project wishes to thank the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, particularly its director, director Fawwaz al-Khraysheh, the American Center of Oriental Research in 'Amman, Wolfgang Zwickel, and the Council for British Research in the Levant. The National Science Foundation (Grants No. BCS-01661 and 0328347), the University of Pennsylvania, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Liverpool funded portions of this research.


Farahani, Alan, Benjamin Porter, Hanna Huynh, and Bruce Routledge

"Crop Storage and Animal Husbandry at Early Iron Age Khirbat al-Mudayna al-'Aliya (Jordan): A Paleoethnobotanical Approach" Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 69.

Lev-Tov, Justin, Benjamin Porter, and Bruce Routledge

"Measuring Local Diversity in Early Iron Age Animal Economies: A View from Khirbat al- Mudayna al-'Aliya (Jordan)" Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 361: 67-93

Porter, Benjamin W.

The Archaeology of Community in Iron I Central Jordan, Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.
"Testing the limits of nonzero: Cooperation, conflict, and hierarchy in ancient Near Eastern marginal environments." Pp. 149-171 in Cooperation in Economy and Society. R. Marshall, ed. Arlington: AltaMira Press.
"Feeding the community: Objects, scarcity, and commensality in the early Iron Age Southern Levant" Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 24(1): 27- 54.
Complex Communities: The Archaeology of Early Iron Age West-Central Jordan. Tucson: University of Arizona Press (refereed monograph). Note: Winner of the 2014 G. Ernest Wright Publications Award from the American Schools of Oriental Research.
"Toward a socionatural reconstruction of the Early Iron Age settlement system in Jordan’s Wadi al-Mujib Canyon" Pp. 133-150 in From Gilead to Edom: Studies in the Archaeology of Jordan in Honor of Denyse Homès-Fredericq. Akkadica Supplementum 12. E. Gubel and I. Swinnen, eds.
"Assembling the Iron Age Levant: The Archaeology of Communities, Polities, and Imperial Peripheries" Journal of Archaeological Research.

Porter, Benjamin, Bruce Routledge, Ellen Simmons, and Justin Lev-Tov

"Extensification in a Mediterranean semi- arid marginal zone: An archaeological case study from Early Iron Age Jordan’s Eastern Karak Plateau." Journal of Arid Environments 104: 132-148.

Routledge, Bruce E.

"Seeing through Walls: Interpreting Iron Age I Architecture at Khirbat al-Mudayna al-'Aliya" Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 319: 37-70
Moab in the Iron Age: Hegemony, Polity, Archaeology Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
"Thinking 'Globally' and Analysing 'Locally:' South-Central Jordan in Transition," pp. 144-176 in L. Grabbe, editor, Israel in Transition: From Late Bronze II to Iron IIA (c. 1250-850 BCE): 1. The Archaeology London: T and T Clark.

Routledge, Bruce E., and Benjamin W. Porter

"A Place In- between: Khirbat al-Mudayna al-'Aliya in the Early Iron Age," pp. 323-329 in T. Levy, P. M. Daviau, R. Younker and M. Shaer, editors, Crossing Jordan: North American Contributions to the Archaeology of Jordan London: Equinox.

Routledge, Bruce, Stephanie Smith, Alexandra Mullan, Benjamin Porter and Stanley Klassen

"A Late Iron Age I ceramic assemblage from Central Jordan: Integrating form, technology and distribution." Pp. 82-107 in Exploring the Narrative: Jerusalem and Jordan in the Bronze and Iron Ages. N. Mulder, E. van der Steen, J. Boertien, and J. Mulder-Hymans, eds. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark.

Banner Credit:

Kh. Mdeinet Aliya (Miller, no 143) © Aerial Phtographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East. APAAME_20081005_DLK-0291. Photograph: David L. Kennedy

Suggested Citation

Benjamin Porter, Bruce Routledge. (2010) "Khirbat al-Mudayna al-Aliya". Released: 2010-06-08. Open Context. <> ARK (Archive):

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