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Bir Madhkur Project

Dr. Andrew M. Smith II, Director


Introduction to the Project

Welcome to the Bir Madhkur Project!

Bir Madhkur, in the Araba valley of southern Jordan, is a major caravan station along the ancient Spice Route that connected the ancient city of Petra (just voted one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World”) with the Mediterranean port of Gaza. The site was occupied in the late Hellenistic (Nabataean), Roman, and Byzantine periods. The main features of the site include a Late Roman/Byzantine army fort, a domestic settlement surrounding the fort, a bath complex or an earlier caravan station, and various ancillary structures. Sites in the vicinity of Bir Madhkur include other caravan stations, farmhouses, and nomadic encampments.

The inhabitants of Bir Madhkur and of the sites in its territory were native peoples, whose economic survival was based on pastoralism, agriculture, and trade. These groups intermingled with non-native peoples, including pilgrims, merchants, and soldiers, who passed through or were stationed in the region throughout much of the Roman and Byzantine periods. The Bir Madhkur Project examines, through historical, archaeological, and ethnographic research, the relationships between these native and non-native populations. Emphasis is on revealing the function of Bir Madhkur as a regional center of social, economic, and cultural interaction and exchange.

In the 2009 season, the focus will be on conducting an archaeological survey of the environs of Bir Madhkur with special attention to mapping the ancient agricultural features. Limited survey will also be conducted documenting the course of the ancient Spice Route through the region.

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Overview of Site
Dates for the 2009 Season
Season dates: Full Season - June 22, 2009 - July 18, 2009

Deadlines

Eligibility & Acceptance

There are no special requirements for eligibility. Volunteers must be at least 18 years of age and in GOOD HEALTH.

Generally, volunteers will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. Because some funding opportunities for volunteers carry January or early February deadlines, early applications are encouraged.


The Dig Camp &
Camp Life

Contact Director for details

Dig Fee

Cost: $2500 (full season)

Note: While on the project, dig fee covers room and board at the dig camp

Deposit for dig fees: If accepted onto the project, I will submit the excavation deposit by the dates indicated:
    Application deadline of February 1, 2009: Deposit due March 1, 2009

Deposit amounts:
    $350 for Full Season Participants

 

Insurance

Volunteers and staff must arrange for their own medical/accident insurance. Proof of insurance is REQUIRED of all applicants.

Travel Arrangements

All international travel arrangments and costs are the responsibility of the applicant. Contact information for travel agents who offer low airfares to and from Jordan will be provided.

 

APPLICATION MATERIALS

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The Site of Bir Madhkur

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Located near Wadi Namala, a principal route into Petra, Bir Madhkur is a major defensive structure situated in the foothills of esh-Shera, Jordan. Fritz Frank and Nelson Glueck both visited the site and noticed evidence of extensive agricultural activity in the immediate vicinity of Bir Madhkur (Glueck 1935; Frank 1934). Glueck also collected several coins from the area including one of Constantine (A.D. 306-337) and another of Constantius II (A.D. 337-361). As Director of the American Center of Oriental Research, David McCreery later visited Bir Madhkur collecting predominately Nabataean and Late Roman pottery. He was followed by King et al., whose pottery collected ranges in date from the Nabataean to Byzantine periods. This concurs with our own investigations at the site (McCreery, n.d.; King et al. 1987; Smith and Niemi 1994; Smith et al. 1997; Smith 1998; Perry and Smith 1999; Niemi and Smith 1999; Smith 2005).

Commanding the site of Bir Madhkur is a small castellum, measuring just over 30 m square, which is a quadriburgium with four corner towers. The castellum here is in an exceedingly ruinous state with much of the northern wall destroyed by local bulldozing and robbing. The walls, two-courses wide, were constructed of worked limestone blocks. Compartments or rooms abut the interior of the curtain wall and surround an open courtyard. The location of the gateway into the fort could not be determined during the time of our visit but probably existed along the damaged northern wall. A large cemetery is located to the northeast.

Another structure, measuring ca. 30 x 25 m., is situated on the bank of a dry wadi ca. 34 m southeast of the fort. According to Glueck, this second structure may be a birkeh, and the large mound of ash just beyond the south wall of the structure may be evidence for local pottery production. There are reasons, however, to doubt these interpretations. Although the ruined condition of this structure does not allow for a clear identification of its nature, there is unmistakable evidence of partitioning along the south wall. Distinct wall alignments and linear mounds along the interior face of the south wall can be seen, suggesting that these rooms measured at least 5 x 5 m. Also of interest is a robber pit that had been excavated recently along the outer face of the east wall. This exposed a large quantity of pottery sherds as well as evidence that the exterior face of the wall had been plastered. Moreover, although the ash mound to the south contains a considerable amount of pottery sherds, not one kiln waster was found, and among the ceramic artifacts present there are a large number of fragmented pipes, tiles, and glass. With this new evidence, it is doubtful that this structure can be identified as a birkeh. Rather and more importantly, it may be a large bath complex or an earlier caravanserai.

West and southwest of the castellum, Frank observed remnants of a complex of domestic houses. In an area of ca. 25 m square, numerous intersecting wall alignments and mounds indicate that this is a large complex of abutting structures. The exact nature and purpose of these constructions remain to be determined. Another smaller structure is situated ca. 18 m just south of the castellum. It measures ca. 18 x 10 m with roughly cut stone walls measuring ca. 0.80 m thick. The entrance into this structure is along the west wall, and there is evidence of at least six internal rooms.

Albrecht Alt was the first scholar to attempt an identification of Bir Madhkur, suggesting that it might be the site of ancient Moa (Alt 1935: 7, 24, 26, 31, 47). Other scholars, however, proposed to identify Bir Madhkur with Calamona of the Notitia, the base of a Cohors prima equitata (Not. Dign. [Or.] 34.43; Avi-Yonah 1976: 45; Rothenberg 1971: 217) Alt identifies Calamona with Ellebana of the Beersheva Edict, but does not attempt to identify or locate the settlement (Alt 1935: 26). The ancient identity of Bir Madhkur, despite previous attempts to assign an ancient place-name to the settlement, remains uncertain.

Project Summary

As a component of the Wadi Araba Archaeological Research Project (WAARP), the Bir Madhkur Project, directed by Dr. Andrew M. Smith II, seeks to examine the economic, social, and cultural history of the ancient site of Bir Madhkur, located on the eastern fringe of Wadi Araba southwest of Petra.   The research design consists of three main components: 1) continuation of a regional archaeological, environmental, and ethnographic survey of the environs of Bir Madhkur (the Central Wadi Araba Archaeological Survey), 2) excavation of the ancient settlement to learn more of its history and role in the regional economy, society, and culture of southern Jordan and Israel, 3) analysis of artifacts and other evidence of the material culture relevant to the regional economy, society, and culture. This research is expected to reveal potential new evidence regarding the history and organization of the regional economy, its political and military significance in a frontier zone, and the social and cultural identity and lifestyle of those who occupied the site.


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Most recent update: 7/10/07
For more information contact amsii@hotmail.com