Background and Intellectual Objectives

The Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain (EDSP) is a regional project dedicated to exploring a series of archaeological sites, dated to the late fourth through the third millennium (the Early Bronze Age, c. 3500 to 2000 B.C.E.) located along the southeast shore of the Dead Sea in modern Jordan. From 1975 to 1983, alternating every other year, the Expedition staff, drawn from a wide variety of disciplines, carried out five field seasons, at two sites, Bab adh-Dhra’ and Numayra, which overlook the southern end of the Dead Sea in Jordan. A sixth season, in 1989-90 explored two more sites, Fifa and Khanazir, located south of the Dead Sea. The prime objective of the project has been the collection of reliable archaeological data for understanding the interaction of environmental, economic, technological and population determinants for the life and settlement patterns of this region. Five to four thousand years ago ancient peoples established towns that endured over many centuries. They buried their dead with great care in some of the largest ancient cemeteries known in the Middle East. What can we learn about the daily life of these people, their struggles to adapt to the environment, the form of their societies and their beliefs? The Expedition has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Geographic Society, the Wenner-Gren Anthropological Foundation, and by numerous grants from the universities and colleges of staff members and many generous individual donors.

A scholarly consensus recognizing the revolutionary nature of the Early Bronze Age in the southern Levant has gradually emerged over the past 35 years. Cultural practices adopted during this period, including agricultural innovations, the location of walled towns and the development of urban life styles, established patterns which profoundly influenced the inhabitants of this region for thousands of years. Since 1973 the regional project of the Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain in Jordan has recorded substantial evidence of several towns and large cemeteries dated to this critical formative period. The largest of these sites, Bab adh-Dhra’, is unique in the Southern Levant in its combination of several major features. The site was occupied throughout the entire 1300 years of the period beginning with camp site activity and progressing to village life and a walled town culture before returning to an open village in its last stages. Throughout the entire period the people buried their dead in a vast cemetery nearby with burial practices changing throughout the period. In contrast to Jericho which has a similar history and cemetery during the Early Bronze Age, the ruins and cemetery of Bab adh-Dhra’ have not been disturbed by later occupation.