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Notes on the 1994 Season of the Southeast Araba Archaeological Survey: A Report for Popular Distribution

Submitted to Dr. S. Thomas Parker, Director, Roman Aqaba Project
July 10, 1994


Andrew M. Smith II


The Southeast Araba Archaeological Survey, a component of the Roman Aqaba Project, seeks to target for survey the environs of Aqaba and the Wadi Araba to the north. The Wadi Araba, a linear valley that extends ca. 165 km north from Aqaba on the Red Sea to the escarpment overlooking the Dead Sea, has been neglected in the past in terms of archaeological research. The southeast sector of the valley, i.e., the current study area, which extends ca. 70 km NNE from Aqaba to the drainage divide of the Araba valley, ca. 12 km north of Gharandal, is the least explored.

The survey is focusing on the southeastern Wadi Araba in order to fill in a major gap in our knowledge of the environs of Aqaba. The primary goal of the survey is to place the classical city of Aila into a more broad regional context by exploring both its hinterland and the local and international trade routes that passed through the city. The survey is also studying current land use patterns within the valley and the natural environment. Although the project is focusing on the extant evidence from the classical period, the survey is devoted to recording archaeological sites of all periods, including prehistoric evidence. Three successive seasons are planned to survey both the immediate environs of Aqaba and the southeast Araba. The first of these seasons is now complete.

In 1994 a total of 162 archaeological sites were visited and recorded by the survey team. All were located in the southern region of Wadi Araba, with the exception of several forts north of Gharandal, (which lie on several major trade routes) and a series of Chalcolithic and Early Bronze sites in the foothills bordering the Araba by Wadi Rakiya. Preliminary analysis of the collected artifacts (ceramics and chipped stones) shows that the principal periods represented include the Middle and Upper Paleolithic, Chalcolithic, Early Bronze, Early Roman/Nabataean, Late Roman, Early Byzantine, Late Byzantine, and Umayyad. Perhaps the single most important discovery was a stone-paved road, presumably ancient, measuring about 3 meters wide and running north-south in sections from the entrance of Wadi Nukheila to Gharandal, some 13 kilometers. It remains undetermined whether the road is Roman in date, but this possibility cannot be discounted. Indeed this road may represent a major route that had once claimed Aila as a southern terminus. This interpretation is strengthened by the discovery of a limestone quarry further north in the valley along with several fragmented milestones, which were obviously mined at the site and discarded on the spot.

The importance of surveying the southeast Wadi Araba in terms of expanding our knowledge of the environs of Aqaba has already been emphasized as a primary goal. It must also be stressed that the survey hopes to record sites in the valley in order to evaluate their importance and to preserve many against current and future threats of destruction. For the classical period evidence this is particularly important since each fort or caravanserai within our study area has been extensively and recently bulldozed. Such destruction is unfortunate and highlights the importance of the SAAS in terms of its efforts to document the cultural landscape of Wadi Araba and to educate the general public of the importance of the region archaeologically.


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