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Shuaib LogoThe Shu'aib/Hisban Project, Jordan

A regional survey and excavations undertaken since 1965


Tell Iktanu and Tell Hammam

Tell Iktanu

I. Geographical information.

The site is located just south of the Wadi Rama/Hisban in the south-east Jordan Valley, approximately 15 km. east of Jericho on the east side of the Jordan River (long. 31 49' north, lat. 35 40' east; Palestine Grid: 215 136; map refs. Jordan 1/50,000, el Karama Sheet 3153 IV, grid: YA 52 7 23 3). It is set strategically on two natural rock, marl and gravel spurs on the edge of the foothills, overlooking fertile alluvial soils, in an area of marginal rainfall (modern annual average 164 mm.).

II. Identification.

Tel Iktanu has been identified with the biblical sites of Zoar (Gen. 13:12; 19:29) and Beth-Haram/Beth-Haran (Josh. 13:27; Num.32:36); the first proposal has been rejected in favour of the Byzantine location south of the Dead Sea; the second remains unproven and has also been located at nearby Tell al-Rama. The region has at various times been identified with the location of "the Cities of the Plain"; "the camps of Joshua"; and "the Fields of Moab".

III. Exploration.

Iktanu was first explored by Selah Merrill in 1871; then by A. Mallon in the 1920s and 1930s, who made useful and accurate observations. It was included in field surveys by Nelson Glueck in 1943, by Kay Wright (Prag) in 1965, and by M. Ibrahim, K. Yassine and J. Sauer in 1976. Excavations were directed by Kay Prag in 1966 on behalf of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem and in 1987, 1989 and 1990 on behalf of the British Institute at Amman for Archaeology and History. The north hill was occupied in the Early Bronze IB, Intermediate Early Bronze-Middle Bronze Age, Late Bronze, Iron Age and Persian periods. The south hill was partly occupied in the Early Bronze IB and very extensively in the Intermediate Early Bronze-Middle Bronze Age. There are occasional Roman, Byzantine, medieval, Ottoman and modern sherds on the site, but no evidence for occupation at these periods.


IV. Excavations.

Plan of Tell IktanuFigure 1. Plan of Tell Iktanu


Eight areas of the site have been excavated (SEE PLAN - Fig. 1). The Early Bronze IB occupation (c. 3350-3050 B.C.) is concentrated on the north hill (Area D1) and the east end of the south hill (Area C). There is variation between the two areas, and a possibility of lateral stratigraphy. The deposits on the south hill are shallow (less than 0.50 m.), and include rectangular, and later curved structures, suggesting social change through time. On the north hill there are deeper deposits (nearly three metres) of rectangular structures with successive rebuilds on the same alignment suggesting population continuity through time. The site does not appear to have been defended. The pottery in both areas includes Proto-urban B wares. Grain-wash pottery appears only in the latest levels. The associated deposits contain considerable quantities of charcoal suggesting wood fuel was available. The dominant agricultural production was cereals, mainly wheat. The bones of cattle, sheep, goat and gazelle were recovered.

Area A14 EB/MB period

Figure 2. Area A 14 EB/MB period

The Intermediate Early Bronze-Middle Bronze Age. Probably in the 24th century B.C.E. the site was suddenly re-occupied after several centuries of abandonment. Sherds indicate that both hills were occupied. The surface mapping of the south hill shows a large village spread over c. 45 acres/18 ha. Blocks of rectangular structures separated by narrow lanes covered the whole spur. There were two short phases of occupation separated by a brief period of abandonment. The first phase (Phase 1) had large rectangular courtyards bounded by neat stone and mudbrick walls with small rooms and minor structures against the perimeters. The second phase (Phase 2) had many more rooms, often subdividing the former courtyards and suggesting demographic growth and structural infill on the site (SEE Fig. 2). There are indications too that this second phase spread outwards over the low ground at the foot of the slopes. Even if not all the houses were occupied at the same time, a minimum estimate suggests a population of c. 2500 people for the village. All rooms excavated were in domestic use, and there was no evidence for defensive walls. Important assemblages of the first phase were retrieved from pits and silos sealed before the re-occupation in the second phase. At the end of the second phase the site was abandoned with most of the heavy domestic equipment left in the buildings.

The village had a subsistence economy based on agriculture and pastoralism. Goats, sheep, cattle and gazelle are attested. There is evidence for the consumption of grapes, olives and figs, but the dominant agricultural production was cereals. These included wheat, but now the main crop was barley, perhaps indicating a decline in environmental conditions since the Early Bronze I. There is very little charcoal in these contexts, but much grey ash, perhaps deriving from the use of animal-dung fuel for cooking. There was much evidence for the storage and processing of cereals. Bell and cylindrical silos have been excavated. A Phase 1 bell silo in Area A (IK.404.38) was 1.62 m. deep, and had a diameter at base of 1.28 m. Almost every room contained a large saddle quern for processing cereals, and/or a stone mortar for pounding and grinding vegetables and fruits. Fine long Canaanean blades were used as sickles.

By far the greatest quantity of material recovered is pottery, which was produced and used in large amounts. A kiln area was discovered in 1987 (Area C). It was in use only in Phase 1. A proportion of the pottery in use in this phase was red slipped in Early Bronze Age tradition. An early Phase 1 pit (IK.450.68) contained 1,694 sherds, of which 11.03% (187 sherds) had red slip; another early pit (IK.403.9) contained 691 sherds, of which 11.14% (77 sherds) had red slip; a silo (IK.404.38) with a fill dating probably to the end of Phase 1 contained 872 sherds of which only 2.17% (19 sherds) were red slipped. Red-slipped pottery was no longer produced in Phase 2, but occasional red-painted fragments have been found. The pottery production of both phases was characterized by envelope-ledge handles, which are one of the type fossils of the Intermediate period. The pottery typology indicates some changes between Phases 1 and 2, but overall continuity in traditions. There are greater changes and various innovations in the technology and decoration which distinguish the pottery of Phase 1 and 2 from that of the Early Bronze III period, although the general range of shapes is clearly derived from those of the Early Bronze Age.

Pottery must also have been produced on the site in Phase 2 when tremendous numbers of store jars were in use. Not only does the pottery have locally available temper, but one, weighing 17 kg. and with 98 litre capacity, must have been produced nearby. In one three-room complex dating to Phase 2, more than 55 vessels were discovered, of which 31 were storage jars, ranging from 6 to 60 litres in capacity. The full analysis of storage capacities will be available in the final report. The range of pottery vessels is functionally well-defined: four-spouted lamps, bowls, cooking pots, holemouth jars (often with spout, and usually referred to as "tea-pots"), bottles, jars and jugs.

The quantities of pottery (excavated, and seen on the surface) indicate the great emphasis on storage of food and liquids on the site, which may be linked to the limited seasonal rainfall, short agricultural season and survival strategies in this area. The abandonment may have been part of a seasonal regime, which ended when the seasonal rains failed; there is no evidence that the site was destroyed.

The stratigraphic conditions on the site have been of major importance for Levantine archaeology in distinguishing two chronologically distinct phases of occupation in this area. The site has provided a rare opportunity to distinguish pottery traditions in stratigraphic rather than purely typological sequences. The regional character of the period is also emphasized; elsewhere, in better-watered areas, pig bones associated with sedentary communities have been recovered; in more marginal zones as in the Negev, a more seasonal, mobile pastoral economy is witnessed. The diversity of regional patterns, and the flexibility and mobility of communities is emphasized at this period; in general there is a pattern of ephemeral occupation of sites. Iktanu has also provided a much more complete picture of a settlement than is usually available, especially in terms of its size and evidence of planning. It provides a considerable contrast to the extensive cemeteries interpreted as those of pastoralists elsewhere and extends our understanding of the small areas of not dissimilar houses noted at sites such as Jericho.

Various aspects of the modern environment provide useful comparisons with past environments and economies in the locality and provide a basis for ethnoarchaeological work in the region. We are fortunate that the area was included in a number of expeditions by surveyors and travellers in the nineteenth century, and a great deal of information on pastoralism and transhumance in the vicinity at that time is available; studies of traditional agricultural regimes and modern plant habitats have been carried out as part of the project, as well as recording of the vernacular architecture in the area. One of the most interesting aspects is the comparable dynamics of the modern villages which are geographically closest to Iktanu, in terms of demographic growth and environmental exploitation by incoming and 'indigenous' populations. Immediately at hand there are twentieth-century villages, mainly based on subsistence economies, which grew to the same size as third millennium Iktanu, and as quickly as the ancient village must have done.

The site appears to have been abandoned in the Middle Bronze Age. No deposits have been encountered in any of the six excavation areas on the site. Sherds of Late Bronze Age date have been found on the surface, but no deposits have been excavated.

Area view of north Tell at IktanuFigure 3. Area view of north tell at Iktanu


Important and well-preserved remains of the Iron Age I and II and Persian periods exist on the north hill at Iktanu (Area D3). The outlines of a fort on the top of the hill are clearly defined by surface mapping; there was a larger lower enclosure (SEE Fig. 3). One small trench indicates that this fort had several phases of use during the Iron Age II and Persian periods; the bones of camel, cattle, sheep/goat and deer were retrieved in these contexts; the other finds suggest storage, military and semi-industrial purposes. The importation of fifth-century Attic black-glazed pottery suggests a place of reasonable prosperity, and one may assume that the fort had a strategic and administrative function in both Iron Age and Persian periods. Below this fort, other walls on a different alignment, may indicate a history of the fort going back into the earlier Iron Age.

V. Conclusion.

The site is of major importance for reassessing the archaeology of the region in the later third millennium, and also provides useful comparative material through time for the Early Bronze I and Iron Age and Persian periods. The later evidence does not contradict the biblical identification of the site with Beth-Haram ("high place"), but does not prove it. The toponym 'IKT[N]) on a bulla of the beginning of the sixth century B.C.E. has been tentatively identified with Iktanu by Bordreuil and Pardee. This identification has been rejected by F.M. Cross, but the nature and location of the site is misunderstood by Cross. Although the quantities of material retrieved for these later periods is small, they contribute to understanding and defining the archaeology of the south-east Jordan Valley in terms of the regional survey of which the excavation forms a part.

VI. Publication. Analysis of the ancient flora is being undertaken by U. Thanheiser; of the modern flora by J. Walter; of the charcoal by C. Cartwright; of the fauna by G. Clarke; human bone by J. Musgrave; the lithics by C. Macartney; chemical analyses by G. Newton, A. Hoffmann and J. Esson; the ceramics, stratigraphy and other finds by K. Prag.

VI. Bibliography.

Bordreuil, P., Pardee, D. 1990. Le papyrus du Marzeah. Semitica 38:49-68.

Cross, F.M. (1996) A Papyrus Recording a Divine Legal Decision and the Root rq in Biblical and Near Eastern Legal Usage. Pp. 311-320 in M.V. Fox, V.A. Hurowitz, A. Hurvitz, M.L. Klein, B.J. Schwartz and N. Shupak (eds) Text, Temples, and Traditions. A Tribute to Menahem Haran. Eisenbrauns.

Kockelmann W., Kutzke H., Kirfel A., Pantos E., Papiz M.Z., Girdwood S.E., Hahnel E., Zhilin M., Prag A.J.N.W., and Prag K.(2000) Quantitative phase analysis of archaeological ceramics using neutron, X-ray and synchrotron diffraction. Zeitschrift fur Kristallographie, Supplement 17, 69.

McCartney, C.J. (1996) A Report on the Chipped Stone Assemblage from Tell Iktanu, Jordan. Levant 28, 131-155.

Newton, G.W.A. and Prag, K. (1995) Neutron Activation Analysis of Clay and late Third Millennium Pottery from Iktanu, Jericho and Jerusalem: First Results. Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan V, 573-585. Department of Antiquities: Amman.

Prag, K. (1974) The Intermediate Early Bronze - Middle Bronze Age: an interpretation of the evidence from Transjordan, Syria and Lebanon. Levant 6: 69-116.

Prag, K. (1986) The Intermediate Early Bronze - Middle Bronze Age Sequences at Jericho and Tell Iktanu Reviewed. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 264: 61-72

Prag, K. (1988) Kilns of the Intermediate Early Bronze - Middle Bronze Age at Tell Iktanu, Preliminary Report, 1987 Season. Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 32: 59-73.

Prag, K. (1989) Preliminary report on the Excavations at Tell Iktanu, Jordan, 1987. Levant 21, 33-45.

Prag, K. (1990) Preliminary Report on the Excavations at Tell Iktanu, Jordan, 1989. Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 34, 119-130.

Prag, K. (1991a) Preliminary Report on the Excavations at Tell Iktanu and Tell al-Hammam, Jordan, 1990. Levant 23, 55-66.

Prag, K. (1991b) A Walk in the Wadi Hesban. Palestine Exploration Quarterly 123, 48-61.

Prag, K. (1992a) Bronze Age Settlement Patterns in the South Jordan Valley: Archaeology, Environment and Ethnology. Pp. 155-160 in Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan. IV. Department of Antiquities: Amman.

Prag, K. (1992b) Tell Iktanu, Jordan Valley and Tell al-Hammam, Jordan Valley. Pp. 515-516 in Bert de Vries (ed.), Archaeology in Jordan. American Journal of Archaeology 96.

Prag, K. (1992) Tell Iktanu and Tell al-Hammam. Excavations in Jordan. Manchester Archaeological Bulletin 7, 15-19.

Prag, K. (1993a) The Excavations at Tell Iktanu 1989 and 1990; The Excavations at Tell al-Hammam 1990. Syria LXX.1-2, 269-273.

Prag, K. (1993b) Iktanu. P. 476 in Bert de Vries and Pierre Bikai (eds.), Archaeology in Jordan. American Journal of Archaeology 97.

Prag, K. (1994) The Botanical Survey at Tell Iktanu 1992 - or News about the Weather. British Institute at Amman for Archaeology and History Newsletter.

Prag, K. (1995) The Dead Sea Dolmens - Death and the Landscape. Pp. 75 - 84 in S. Campbell and A. Green, The Archaeology of Death in the Ancient Near East. Oxbow Monograph 51: Oxford.

Prag, K. (1997a) Tell Iktanu. Pp.143-144 in E. Meyers (ed.) The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East. OUP: New York.

Prag, K. (1997b) Vernacular Architecture and the Assessment of Demographic Patterns within the Recent Environment in Relation to the Evidence from Tell Iktanu. Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan VI, 195-200.

Prag, K. (1997c) The Shu'aib/Hisban Project. Pp. 502-503 in P.M. Bikai and V. Egan (eds) Archaeology in Jordan. American Journal of Archaeology 101.

Prag, K. (1998) A Response from the 'Plains of Moab'. Pp. 153-161 in S. Aituv and E. Oren (eds) The Origin of Early Israel - Current Debate. Biblical, Historical and Archaeological Perspectives. Beer-Sheva Studies by the Department of Bible and Ancient Near East. Vol. XII. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Press.

Prag, K. (2000) Tell Iktanu, South Jordan Valley: Early Bronze Age I Ceramics. Graham Philip and Douglas Baird (eds) Ceramics and Change in the Early Bronze Age of the Southern Levant. Levantine Archaeology 2. eds. Russell Adams and Yuval Goren. Sheffield Academic Press: Sheffield.

Prag, K. (2001a) 'Iktanu, Tell'. P 240 in Negev, A. and Gibson, S. (eds) Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land. Revised and updated edition. Continuum Publishers: New York and London.

Prag, K. (2001b) The Third Millennium in Jordan: a Perspective, Past and Future. Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan VII, 179-190. Department of Antiquities: Jordan.

Prag, K. (2001c) Moving Onward: Australian Archaeologists in Jordan in the 1960s. Pp. 21-30 in Alan Walmsley (ed.) Australians Uncovering Ancient Jordan. Fifty Years of Middle Eastern Archaeology. Research Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Sydney and Department of Antiquities of Jordan: Sydney.

Prag, K (2001d) Figurines, Figures and Contexts in Jerusalem and Regions to the East in the 7th and 6th Centuries B.C. Pp. 217-234 in Amihai Mazar (ed. with the assistance of Ginny Mattias.) Studies in the Archaeology of the Iron Age in Israel and Jordan. Pers Presented in a Colloqium Organized by The Institute of Jewish Studies, University College, University of London in April 1996. JSOT Supplements. Sheffield Academic Press: Sheffield.

Prag, K. and Barnes, H. (1996) Three Fortresses on the Wadi Kafrain, Jordan. Levant XXVIII, 41-61.



Tell Hammam

I. Geographical Information.

Hammam lies on the south bank of the perennial Wadi Kafrain against the foothills and overlooking the south-east Jordan Valley (long. 31° 51' north, lat. 35° 40' east; el Karama Sheet 3153 IV grid ref. YA 52 5/53 4 25 6/26 3). The good water supply supports a richer local flora than at Tell Iktanu which is three kilometres to the south and shares an otherwise similar environment. The modern springs on the south side of the tell are warm and slightly sulphurous, and may have emerged at slightly different locations in the past. They probably fed baths in the late Roman/Byzantine periods, developed with the settlement at Abila (Khirbat al-Kafrain). The spring is by some connected with "the hot springs of Moses" visited by Christian pilgrims in search of cures in the fifth and sixth centuries. Like Tell Iktanu, it has a strategic position, and is a large double site with a long history of occupation.

Fig.4 Tell Hammam from the east


II. Identification.

"Tell el-Hammam is in many ways the most outstanding and impressive site in the entire area of the Plains of Moab, with the possible exception of Tell Iktanu" (Glueck). The site of Tell al-Hammam was identified by Glueck with the biblical site of Abel-Shittim ("brook of the acacias", Num.33:49), a site several times mentioned in the Moses/Joshua traditions.


III. Exploration.

Visited by Conder in 1881, A. Mallon in the 1920s and 1930s, Nelson Glueck in 1943, Wright (Prag) in 1965 and numerous visitors since, the main documentation until the excavation in 1990 by Kay Prag was that of Mallon and Glueck. The high spur to the east was strongly fortified in Iron Age and Persian times (see Fig. 5). Glueck recorded a strong fortress 140 x 25 m. with a massive tower at each end. The strategic importance of the location is reinforced by the subsidiary forts on high points to the north-east (at Barakat) and to the south-east (on the Plateau and at Habbasa), and at Tell al-Kafrain to the west. Survey indicates that a walled town of the Early Bronze Age covered an area of c. 37.5 acres (15 ha.) over both east and west hills. The defensive wall is up to 3.50 m. wide, and enclosed a nearly circular area on the top of the dish-shaped western hill. Sherds indicate the following occupation pattern:

West Hammam


East Hammam


IV. Excavations.

A number of small trenches were incompletely excavated on the western edges of West Hammam in 1990, within the line of the defensive wall, which revealed domestic occupation of the Early Bronze III period. Stone foundations and mudbrick walls of rectangular houses, small silos and pottery very similar to that of contemporary Jericho were recorded, with some evidence for burnt beams in the final occupation of this period. On the modern surface of the site are numerous walls with rectangular alignments, which may relate to the latest phase of occupation dating to the Intermediate Early Bronze-Middle Bronze Age. The pottery is comparable to that of Phase 1 of this period at Tell Iktanu. There is a scatter of Iron Age and later material, most of which probably derives from the high tell to the east, and probably to later burials and probable baths. None of these have however been excavated. There are many dolmens in the vicinity of the site, some of which undoubtedly originated in the Early Bronze I period, but may have been in use throughout the Early Bronze and following Intermediate period. Small vessels of the Middle Bronze Age II have been retrieved by local people from caves near Hammam East, which were used for burial.

V. Conclusions.

Tell al-Hammam is a most important site for the history of this part of the Jordan Valley. Unfortunately it has been badly damaged in modern times, by bulldozing and by the establishment of banana plantations, and this will limit the information to be retrieved from it. The archaeological sampling, in particular for the Early Bronze III period, will contribute useful data to the archaeological record of this region.

VI. Bibliography.

Glueck, N. 1951. Explorations in Eastern Palestine Part IV.1-2. AASOR XXV-XXVIII, 378-382

Prag, K. 1991. Preliminary Report on the Excavations at Tell Iktanu and Tell al-Hammam, Jordan, 1990. Levant XXIII: 55-66.


Last updated: February 2002

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