22.05.2019 change 22.05.2019

Jordan / Archaeologists study the changing history of ancient temple complex

The ancient temple complex at Khirbat es-Sar, near today`s capital of Jordan - Amman, could have residential function in the Middle Ages, determined archaeologists from the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw.

In March, Polish archaeologists from the University of Warsaw carried out the first excavations in the history of Khirbat es-Sar (also known as Sara) on the outskirts of Amman. The study was an attempt to fully survey the temple complex that functioned from the 7th-6th century BC until the 4th century AD. It was at the top of a hill.

Although travellers` reports of this place date back to the end of the 19th century, archaeologists found their way to the temple complex only in 2018. First, they carried out reconnaissance work with geophysical equipment. They located architectural relics lying underground. This year, they carried out excavations in the most promising spots.

The temple consisted of two buildings - a square structure with a 20 m side, erected from huge flint blocks, and in front of it a large rectangular courtyard with two rows of well-preserved limestone arcades on the sides. The researchers have determined that these two structures come from different periods: the former of the 7th century BC, and the latter from the first centuries AD. It is still not clear which deity was worshiped in this temple. It is only known that one of the gods worshiped in this region of Jordan was Belphegor, or Baal of Mt. Phogor, in the Greco-Roman period identified with the Greek god Zeus.

During this year`s excavations, it turned out that during the early Middle Ages (9th-10th century) at least one of the arcades of the Roman courtyard was transformed into a closed room - side walls were built and the arcade light was blocked. The door opening in the wall led to another room, or maybe outside the building.

"It is difficult to say what the function of the room was. We believe that it could be a shop or a residential area. In the following centuries (13th-15th c.), judging by the finds: pieces of a clay furnace or crucible and coal, this room it could serve as a workshop or shop" - suggests Prof. Jolanta Młynarczyk from the Institute of Archaeology of the University of Warsaw, who headed the excavations together with Dr. Mariusz Burdajewicz.

Researchers also found numerous fragments of hand-crafted ceramic vessels, among them kitchen pots, bowls and pitchers painted in geometric and abstract patterns.

So far, archaeologists have noticed only small traces of use of the buildings at the end of the Antiquity - between the 5th and the 7th century. "But it is likely that the well preserved remains of Roman architecture in the form of a pagan temple were used somehow also during that period, perhaps as a place of Christian worship, or cells of hermits" - says Prof. Młynarczyk.

The evidence of Christian presence is the lintel block, used secondarily in the early-medieval room under the courtyard arcade; it bears a depiction of an equal-arm cross in a wreath.

The researchers were also surprised to discover four human skeletons under one of the preserved courtyard arcades. It is difficult to determine their age, because the deceased were buried without equipment. "These are most likely burials of Bedouins from late-Ottoman times, from the 19th century" - the researcher suspects.

Researchers from the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw plan to continue excavations at Khirbet es-Sar in 2020. They hope to learn the ancient name of the settlement, within which the temple was located.

PAP - Science in Poland, Szymon Zdziebłowski

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