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26 July 2011
Major Bronze Age city-state unearthed in Jordan

In the southern Jordan River Valley lies a very large, imposing tall (mound). Surveys and recent excavations have revealed that the tall consists of a long history of human occupation dating back to at least the Chalcolithic period (4500 - 3600 BCE). Archaeological investigations have revealed that the site is ringed by a 6-meter thick wall dating to the Early Bronze Age (3600 - 2350 BCE), with mudbrick and packed-earth ramparts, including, on the top of the tall, monumental ruins of the Iron Age II and III periods that are also surrounded by 3-meter-thick city walls.
     Since 2005, Dr. Steven Collins and a team of archaeologists, students, and volunteers from Trinity Southwest University, in conjunction with the Department of Antiquities of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, have conducted full-scale excavations at the site of Tall el-Hammam. These excavations have revealed, in addition to the monumental features already mentioned, refurbished fortifications dated to the Intermediate Bronze period (2350 - 2000 BCE), massive Middle Bronze (2000 - 1550 BCE) fortifications up to 50 meters thick with a city wall and mudbrick and packed earthen ramparts, Iron Age (1300 - 600 BCE) ruins with a chambered gateway and flanking towers.
     The site, with its strategic location and surrounding 'satellite' ancient towns, is revealing what archaeologists are now interpreting as the epicenter of a large city-state complex that flourished during the Early, Intermediate, and Middle Bronze Age Levant, commanding commerce and possibly wielding influence over a broad swath of the southern Jordan Plain, or 'Jordan Disk' area, as it is called.
     What most distinguishes the site from others of its kind is the evidence that points to a remarkable resilience of the ancient city to the climate changes that occurred during the Levantine Early Bronze Age. In addition, and perhaps most mystifying of all, is the city-state's sudden destruction and demise at the end of the Middle Bronze Age, followed by a 500-700 year gap when the site and its satellite towns remained unoccupied while cities to the west, north and east continued into the Late Bronze Age. States a key researcher: "Why the 'well-watered plain of the Jordan' repelled reoccupation for so many centuries remains a mystery. That the most productive agricultural land in the region, which had supported flourishing civilizations continuously for at least 3,000 years, should suddenly relinquish, then resist, human habitation for such a long period of time begs investigation."  
     Time and further research and excavation may shed more light. Archaeologists plan to return to the site to continue excavations in January of 2012. More detailed information about the Tall el-Hammam excavations and discoveries can be found at the Tall el-Hammam Excavations Project (TeHEP) website.

Edited from Popular Archaeology (21 July 2011)

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