Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain

 EDSP Directors:

  • Meredith S. Chesson – Associate Professor, Anthropology, University of Notre Dame (mchesson@nd.edu)
  • Morag M. Kersel – Associate Professor, Anthropology, DePaul University (mkersel@depaul.edu)

Previous Field Directors:

  • Dr. Walter Rast – Emeritus, Valparaiso University
  • Dr. R. Thomas Schaub – Emeritus, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Publication Editors:

  • Dr. Walter Rast – Emeritus, Valparaiso University
  • Dr. R. Thomas Schaub – Emeritus, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
  • Dr. Meredith S. Chesson – University of Notre Dame, Department of Anthropology

Cities of the Plain: Life and Death on the Shores of the Dead Sea

One of the most important transitions in human history involved the establishment of the world’s first cities approximately 5,000 years ago in the ancient Middle East. In the eastern Mediterranean region (Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan), people built the first walled cities during a period archaeologists call the Early Bronze Age (EBA, c. 3500-2000 BCE). In the EBA on the southeastern Dead Sea Plain, people began burying their dead in extensive cemeteries, creating a landscape of the dead. Interestingly, they soon built two walled towns next to the cemeteries that they had used for a few centuries. In these settlements, called Bab adh-Dhra’ (pronounced “bob-ed-draw”) and Numayra (pronounced “new-mere-a”), people established the way of life that we read about in the Bible. In fact, for the writers of the Bible, the desolate nature of this stretch of shore along the Dead Sea and the visible ruins of Bab adh-Dhra’ and Numayra may have helped them to identify this area with the stories of the ill-fated sites of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Over the last forty years, the Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain (EDSP) has investigated the way people lived and died in these settlements and cemeteries. Like the ancient site of Jericho, these sites are the only other walled settlements with extensive cemeteries from this time period that allow archaeologists to study the earliest cities in the region, by excavating their cities, and their inhabitants, by investigating the skeletal remains of individuals who lived in these settlements. The EDSP currently involves scholars from several prestigious research institutions and universities, including the Smithsonian Institution, Carnegie Institute, Yale University, DePaul University, and the University of Notre Dame. Throughout the history of the project, we have been supported by several endowments, foundations, and research agencies, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Geographic, Smithsonian Institution, American Schools for Oriental Research, the Wenner-Gren Anthropological Foundation, Harvard University’s Semitic Museum, Valparaiso University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, the British Museum, and the Shelby White-Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications (please contact us for full list of supporters).

Current Work:

(1) As of April 2019, we await the galleys for the final publication of 1977-1983 EDSP excavations at Numayra and Ras an-Numayra, to be published by Pennsylvania State University Press/Eisenbrauns in 2020.

(2) Funded by a Wenner-Gren Anthropological Foundation Historical Archive Grant, and in cooperation with the Carnegie Museum for Natural History, we began curating the archives of Dr. R. Thomas Schaub. This crucial research facilitates our analyses and final publication of the Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain’s (EDSP) legacy excavations at the Early Bronze Age (EBA) cemeteries of Bab adh-Dhra`, Fifa, and Khirbat Khanazir. The archives contain Tom’s personal and professional correspondence, excavation documentation, and historically significant photographs of fieldwork, laboratory, and Jordan’s archaeological community from 1965 – 2015.

(3) With the publication of the Bab adh-Dhra’ town site volume completed, the Numayra 2-volume monograph in press, and the archival work well underway, the EDSP team will turn its attention to the analyzing the results of excavations at the EBA cemeteries of Fifa, Bab adh-Dhra` and Khanazir.

(4) Ongoing fieldwork for the Follow the Pots Project (http://www.followthepotsproject.org)

Artwork and Reconstructions: All images are copyrighted by the EDSP. We request that people wanting to use any images from this website please contact Dr. Meredith Chesson and Dr. Morag Kersel for permission. All reconstructions of life on the southeastern Dead Sea Plain are drawn by Eric Carlson. For contact information for Eric, please contact Dr. Meredith Chesson.


March 2019: We regret to inform readers that Susanna Rast, wife of Walter Rast, passed away in February 2019. Her obituary was published in The Times of Northwest Indiana on Feb. 7, 2019:

VALPARAISO, IN – Susanna Marie Rast, 89, of Valparaiso, passed away Wednesday, January 23, 2019. She was born June 28, 1929 in Seymour, IN, the daughter of Walter and Minna (Strasen) Droege. Susanna, a flute teacher at Valparaiso High School in the 1980s, also gave private lessons to many children and young people in the Valparaiso area. She was preceded in death by her husband Walter Emil Rast and her parents.

She is survived by her children, Joel of Shorewood, WI (Cliona Draper), Timothy of Barrington, IL (Diane Miller), Rebekah of Paris, France (James Startt), Peter of Boulder, CO (Zoe Kircos), and eight grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 1:00 PM on Saturday, March 2, 2019 in the Gloria Christi Chapel of Valparaiso University, located in the basement of the Chapel of the Resurrection, Valparaiso, IN.

November 2018: We regret to inform readers that Marilyn Schaub passed away in October 2018. Her obituary was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from Nov. 2 to Nov. 8, 2018:

SCHAUB DR. MARILYN: Formerly of Edgewood and Highland Park, died peacefully on Saturday, October 27, 2018 at age 90 in New York City. Beloved wife of 46 years to the late Dr. R. Thomas Schaub; mother of Helen Schaub; mother-in-law of Dr. Reena Karani; and grandmother of Mateo Karani-Schaub. Marilyn is also survived by her brother, Jerome McNamara; sister, Eileen; and many cherished nieces and nephews. Beginning in 1973 until her retirement, she taught the Hebrew Bible and Palestinian archaeology in the Department of Theology at Duquesne University and mentored many students, both undergraduate and doctoral. She received her Ph.D from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland in 1957 and her dissertation, Friends and Friendship in St. Augustine, was published in multiple languages. Friendship was both Marilyn’s scholarly interest and one of her true gifts, and she shared it with many throughout her nine decades. In a long and fruitful collaboration with her husband, Tom, she was the administrative director of the Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain in Jordan, of which he was co-director. Friends and family are received at MCCABE BROS., INC. FUNERAL HOME, 6214 Walnut Street, Shadyside on Thursday, November 8th from 4-7 p.m., where Funeral will commence on Friday, November 9th at 9:30 a.m., followed by Mass of Christian Burial in St. Bede Church at 10:30 a.m. Rev. Thomas J. Burke officiating. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Sinsinawa Dominicans sinsinawa.org or Pittsburgh’s Thomas Merton Center, thomasmertoncenter.org.  Condolences may be left at www.mccabebrothers.com.

October 2015: We regret to inform readers that Dr. R. Tom Schaub passed away in October 2015, surrounded by his family. Please see below for his obituary in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:


Obituary: R. Thomas Schaub / Archaeologist was inspired by Bible

March 26, 1933 – Oct. 19, 2015

October 26, 2015 12:00 AM
By Joyce Gannon / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
R. Thomas Schaub, an archaeologist and retired professor from Indiana University of Pennsylvania who for decades led expeditions to the Middle East to study ancient human settlements, died Oct. 19.

He was 82 and lived in Highland Park.

The cause of death was complications following heart surgery, said his daughter, Helen Schaub of New York City.

Mr. Schaub was considered an expert on how people lived in some of the world’s first cities established 5,000 years ago in the historical period known as the Early Bronze Age. He was a co-founder of the Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain in Jordan, and through his research he tied together scientific and biblical connections about the region, his daughter said.

“A lot of times the spark of interest in that area was the connections to biblical stories,” she said. “My father had a scientific curiosity and interest in understanding what happened from that perspective. When he made the connection in history in the place where the Bible was written, it really tied everything together.”

Mr. Schaub’s background in both science and scripture formed the basis for his career.

A native of South Bend, Ind., he studied architecture at the University of Notre Dame and then studied engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In 1953, he entered the Dominican Order of priests and earned a master’s degree from the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis.

While studying at the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem in the mid- 1960s, Mr. Schaub met his future wife, Marilyn McNamara Schaub, who at the time was a member of the Dominican Sisters and was also studying at the school.

Both joined an archaeological expedition to the ancient community of Bab adh-Dhra in what is now Jordan, and a few years later they left the religious life and married.

The couple came to Pittsburgh so Mr. Schaub could complete a doctorate in archaeology at the University of Pittsburgh.

Mrs. Schaub taught in the theology department at Duquesne University and Mr. Schaub joined the faculty at IUP, where he taught biblical studies, world religions and Palestinian archaeology until his retirement in 1999.

“He and my mother were really kind of partners in his archaeological work as well as life,” Helen Schaub said. “She was often administrative director of the excavations and they worked together on his scholarly work.”

Meredith Chesson, associate professor of anthropology at Notre Dame, began working with Mr. Schaub in 2003 to help publish material he had researched with Walter Rast, co-founder of the Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain.

She described their research as significant because of its scientific and biblical connections.

“They were biblical scholars, but they were able to talk to people who were not scholars and make connections outside of the archaeology community and ask questions from the scientific standpoint.”

Relics including ancient ceramic pottery and photographs from Mr. Schaub’s expeditions are included in exhibits at the Kelso Museum of Near Eastern Archaeology at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in Highland Park.

“We’re very indebted to him,” said Karen Bowden Cooper, the museum’s curator. “There are lots of work here he generated for younger scholars.”

A funeral Mass was held Saturday at St. Bede Church, Point Breeze.

Memorial contributions may be made to the American Schools of Oriental Research, 656 Beacon St., Fifth Floor, Boston, MA 02215-2010.

Joyce Gannon: jgannon@post-gazette or 412-263-1580.