Welcome to the Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain

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) Preparing the final publication of the 1977-1983 excavations at Numayra

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

Contact the EDSP Publication editors:

Dr. Meredith S. Chesson, Department of Anthropology, 611 Flanner Hall, University of Notre Dame, IN, Notre Dame, IN 46556 USA // Tel: 574-631-3775 // Email: mchesson@nd.edu // http://www.nd.edu/~mchesson/

Artwork and Reconstructions: All images are copyrighted by the EDSP, and we request that people wanting to use any images from this website please contact Dr. Tom Schaub and Dr. Meredith Chesson 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.


I 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.