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Pella excavations unearth trove of ‘exceptional’ artefacts

By Saeb Rawashdeh - Jun 14,2019 - Last updated at Jun 14,2019

‘Bone face’ seen here, is one of the artefacts uncovered during 2019 excavations of ancient Pella in the Jordan Valley (Photo courtesy of Stephen Bourke)

AMMAN — The latest excavations of ancient Pella (modern Tabaqat Fahl) in the Jordan Valley uncovered beautiful art tools from a large stone building that archaeologists believe was the ruler’s palace, according to an Australian scholar.

“We found many lovely small finds [wood, bone, ivory, faience, glass and metal] from one room within the Late Bronze Age II palatial residence; some of exceptional quality,” Stephen Bourke, director of the 2019 excavation season, told The Jordan Times.

The team, hailing from the University of Sydney, also uncovered several more rooms in a huge Iron Age (ca. 800BC) “Civic Building”, containing storage jars and various other finds scattered amongst the debris, Bourke noted.

“It was well-constructed; an approximately 30x30m brick and stone structure, and was likely the seat of the ruling dynasty. It was destroyed by a fire around 800 BC, probably by hostile attack,” Bourke said.

Over the years more than 45 rooms in the Civic Building have been uncovered, many used for storing oil, grain, grinding stones and textile looms. During more recent excavations, the kitchens and a monumental entrance way have been cleared.

Further work on the hilltop overlooking the main mound from the south uncovered massive stone terraces and a paved gateway complex that dominated the eastern margins of Tell Husn during the Early Bronze Age I-II (ca. 3200-2800BC).

“These stone constructions represent a huge investment in the remodelling and fortification of Tell Husn around 5,000 years ago, demonstrating the economic strength and political sophistication of the ruling entity that controlled Pella at this time,” Bourke said.

During the same period, the main settlement on the tell (hill) was encircled by a stone and mud-brick wall with square buttress towers concentrated along its eastern edge.

“The city of Pella was one of the first walled townships in Jordan, representing the initial horizon of urban life in Jordan and the southern Levant in general,” the archaeologist noted, adding that “goods from as far afield as Egypt, Cyprus and Turkey have been found at Pella, although grain and horticultural crops were the [city’s] main source of wealth”.

Excavations at the site focusing on the Byzantine period (ca. 350-650AD) previously unearthed a large industrial complex comprised of glass manufacturing kilns.

“From a period of large and wealthy townhouses with sophisticated mosaic floors, colonnaded interior courtyards and wide paved streets in the Late Roman period, we see the subdivision of the wealthy houses and their reuse in light of industrial activities [glass and metal production] after 550AD, suggesting a growing depopulation of the centre and the repurposing of much of the urban landscape for industrial and agricultural activity,” Bourke underlined.

“In the Byzantine period, Pella suffered a number of disasters,” he added, saying that the first great plague, in around 540-542AD, may have killed up to 30-40 per cent of the population.

The plague coincided with warfare between the Byzantine and Sassanid empires, which resulted in destruction and very heavy taxation, he said. “Finally, a series of severe earthquakes between 550-660AD probably wrecked what was already a half-deserted city.”

That said, the settled area was still densely utilised in the following years, and remained occupied throughout the early Islamic/Umayyad periods (ca. 650-700AD), before suffering destruction in the great earthquake of 749AD, the professor emphasised.

“Recovery from this final disaster was slow, but by around 850AD occupation had returned to the main mound, although it was only fitful, until stimulated anew under the Mamluks after 1260AD, which saw Pella enter into a final period of great prosperity,” Bourke said. “Until the Ottoman conquest of 1517AD and a subsequent neglect of security led to a final decline and abandonment of the centre around 1550AD.”

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