Tell es-Sa‘idiyeh Excavations

Excavating the Lower Tell cemetery (Late Bronze and Iron Age), with the Upper Tell in the background.

Project leader: Jonathan N. Tubb

Department: Middle East

Project start date: 1985
End date: 2007

Other British Museum staff: Jack Green, Rupert Chapman, Ann Searight, Alexandra Baldwin, Caroline Cartwright, Dudley Hubbard

Other departments: Conservation and Scientific Research, Photography and Imaging

Description:

Tell es Sa'idiyeh, identified as the biblical city of Zarethan, lies at the heart of the central Jordan Valley. The huge, double occupation mound occupies a key strategic position, commanding the crossroads of two major trade routes, and dominating some of the richest and most fertile agricultural land east of the River Jordan.

Excavations undertaken since 1985, by a British Museum expedition under the direction of Jonathan N. Tubb, have revealed the great antiquity of the site's occupational history, with settlement phases extending from the Early Islamic period of the seventh century AD, as far back at least as the Early Bronze Age of the third millennium BC. Excavations have shown that by about 2900 BC, Tell es-Sa'idiyeh was a large and prosperous city, with well Part of the Early Bronze Age Palace at Tell es-Sa’idiyeh (3rd millennium BC) showing processing area for Olive Oil.constructed architecture and evidence for highly developed municipal planning. The most significant finding in this Early Bronze Age phase has been of a large palace complex on the lower tell, with areas set aside for olive oil production and storage, wine-making and textile preparation. All three of these activities were conducted on an industrial scale, clearly designed for international commerce. The pottery and other artefacts recovered from this early city display a level of refinement and sophistication unparalleled elsewhere in the Levant.

Equally remarkable discoveries relate to the city of the twelfth century BC, where excavations have uncovered evidence to suggest that Tell es-Sa'idiyeh, like Beth Shan or Gaza on the other side of the Jordan River, was a major centre for the Egyptian control of Canaan during the final years of its New Kingdom empire. Substantial architecture, including an elaborate water system and Egyptian-style public buildings have been found on the upper mound, and the same strong Egyptian component is also found in the contemporary cemetery which was cut into the long-abandoned and eroded ruins of the Early Bronze Age city on the lower mound. The expedition has excavated, to date, some 450 graves, many of which show unusual Egyptian features, both in terms of the grave-goods and burial customs.

The Iron Age water system staircase, cut into the north slope of the Upper Tell (12th century BC).

Objectives:

The principal objective of the Tell es-Sa’idiyeh excavation project has been to study in detail a large and strategically important site in one of the most fertile regions of the Levant. Through meticulously conducted and comprehensively recorded excavation, it will be possible to build up a complete story of the site’s fortunes through time – from  its first settlement as a small un-walled village in the fifth millennium BC to its final abandonment in the seventh century AD.

By analysis of the almost-continuous sequence of occupation phases between these two dates, it will be possible to understand how the site has responded over time to the numerous social, economic, political, climatic and environmental changes that have affected the Levant throughout its history. 

Another objective is to understand Tell es-Sa’idiyeh in its environmental setting. This will be achieved by careful study of the plant and animal remains from each occupation phase. By comparing these with the contemporary collections, it is hoped to create a picture of how the landscape has changed through time, and the degree to which it has been exploited and modified by human presence.

Publications:

Pennsylvania excavations:

J. B. Pritchard, The Cemetery at Tell es-Sa‘ idiyeh, Jordan. University Museum Monograph 41. Philadelphia: University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, 1980


J. B. Pritchard, Tell es-Sa‘idiyeh: Excavations on the Tell, 1964-1966. University Museum Monograph 60. Philadelphia: University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, 1985

British Museum excavations:

J.N.Tubb, Canaanites. Peoples of the Past (London, British Museum Press, 1998)

J.N.Tubb, 'Interim Report on the Ninth Season (1996) of Excavations at Tell es-Sa‘idiyeh, Jordan, 1997' Palestine Exploration Quarterly 129, pp. 54-77.

J.N.Tubb, P.G. Dorrell and F.J. Cobbing, 'Interim Report on the Eighth (1995) Season of Excavations at Tell es-Sa‘idiyeh, 1996', Palestine Exploration Quarterly 128, pp. 16-40

J.N.Tubb, 'Tell es-Sa‘idiyeh 1993: Interim Report on the Seventh Season of Excavations, 1994', Palestine Exploration Quarterly 126, pp. 52-67

J.N.Tubb, 'Tell es-Sa‘idiyeh: Interim Report on the Sixth Season of Excavations, 1993', Palestine Exploration Quarterly 125, pp. 50-74

J.N.Tubb and P.G. Dorrell, 'Tell es-Sa‘idiyeh: Interim Report on the Fifth (1990) Season of Excavations, 1991',  Levant 23, pp. 67-86

J.N.Tubb, 'Preliminary Report on the Fourth Season of Excavations at Tell es-Sa‘idiyeh in the Jordan Valley, 1990', Levant 22, pp. 21-42

J.N.Tubb, 'Tell es-Sa‘idiyeh: Preliminary Report on the First Three Seasons of Renewed Excavations, 1988',  Levant 20, pp. 23-89


Images (from top):

  • Excavating the Lower Tell cemetery (Late Bronze and Iron Age), with the Upper Tell in the background.
  • Part of the Early Bronze Age Palace at Tell es-Sa’idiyeh (3rd millennium BC) showing processing area for Olive Oil.
  • The Iron Age water system staircase, cut into the north slope of the Upper Tell (12th century BC).