Karak Resources Project: 2014 Excavation at Mudaybi, Jordan

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By: J. Dwayne Howell, Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, Campbellsville University

Sunrise on the Fajj al-Usaykir.

Sunrise on the Fajj al-Usaykir.

Mudaybi, Jordan is an Iron Age II fortification located on the Fajj al-Usaykir on the Karak plateau.  It is being excavated by the Karak Resources Project, under the leadership of Dr. Jerry Mattingly (Johnson University). The project began in 1995 and there have been seven seasons on the site (1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2009, 2011, 2014).  I have participated in the 2011 and 2014 excavations. The site shows evidence of various levels of occupation, including Iron Age II, Roman, Byzantine, and Early Islamic.  Pot sherds and other artifacts from each age have been found. The site also displays long time use by local Bedouin shepherds to over winter their flocks.  These shepherds have repurposed the stones from various structures for stock pens and living quarters.

Gate 1 - Gate chamber at the beginning of the excavation.

Gate 1 – Gate chamber at the beginning of the excavation.

gate 2

Gate 2 – Gate chamber after the first week of excavation – note exposed plaster floor.

gate 3

Gate 3 – Gate chamber with exposed bedrock.

gate 4

Gate 4 – Final balk stud showing a burn layer just above the plaster floor layer.


The structures of the site include an Iron Age II fortification and a later early Islamic khan in the center of the structure.  The Iron Age II structure has a gate system with chambers similar to other gates of this time period. Of particular significance has been the discovery of six volute capitals or pieces in the gate area. Thirty-four areas have been excavated on the site. In the southern section, a granary was found along with a well/cistern.  The pastoral setting of the south side of the fortress suggests an area for grazing animals. Along the western wall, several excavations were made. Nearest the wall were found items dating to Iron Age II.  The wall created by the later khan at the center of the site was connected with the Iron Age II site.  Early Islamic items were found on the south side of the wall, then tumble. Under the tumble were found Iron Age II items showing a later repurposing of the fortress for the khan.  The northwest corner of the fortress uncovered the Iron Age II living quarters with places to prepare food, eat (including tabouns), and sleep. Tumble was found throughout the site suggesting at least one period of destruction, either natural or man-made.

sifting 1

J. Dwayne Howell working the sift.

The 2014 dig center on re-opening the first gate chamber (fields O and P) for further investigation. An earlier probe (1999) had indicated a further occupation level beyond the living surface identified in that season. An occupation level approximately 1 meter below the previously documented occupation level was found. A burn level on top of a plaster floor was discovered in the process.  Below the plaster floor was primarily fill to level out the bedrock base.  My primary job on this field was to work the sift.  Some pot sherds were discovered, along with some bone fragments above the plaster. Reeds were found and floatation was used on the burn material.  The walls had a thick slag plaster. Samples of the slag from the walls were taken, as well as samples of the plaster. After completion of the chamber room, I helped in conducting a probe for bedrock in a casement room on the northwest corner of fortification found in the 2011 excavation. Pot sherds, including diagnostics, were uncovered in the probe. One day I traveled with the survey crew in the Fajj al-Usaykir.  The crew marked two water sources, an oasis, and a cistern, not previously documented. The crew also marked two settlements not previously documented. It was also noted that a tower marked by the Glueck survey had been vandalized and all of the stones had been removed.

I want to thank ASOR and the Platt Fellowship Grant for providing funds to help with my work at Mudaybi. It has been a good trip and will provide new material for my classroom teaching.

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