(Ar., “dry valley”),

perennial wadi located in northern Jordan, with a total catchment of almost 200 sq km (124 sq. mi.). The wadi descends westward a distance of 18 km (11 mi.) from the hills of Jebel ῾Ajlun at 1,200 m above sea level, to the central Jordan Valley, which is 300 m below sea level. The great topographic and climatic range within this short distance results in a steep environmental gradient, with remnants of dense pine, oak, and pistachio forest at the highest elevations yielding to open scrub oak forest in the middle reaches and then to steppic grasses, weeds, and Acacia st. arboreal species in the valley. Tamarisk and oleander grow thickly along the banks of the wadi and the Jordan River. Terra rossa soils mantle the limestone highlands, while colluvial and alluvial soils accumulate on hill slopes and in wadi bottoms. Permanent springs are common along the eastern escarpment of the Jordan Valley, at the confluences of small tributaries, and at the headwaters of the Wadi el-Yabis catchment. [See Jordan Valley.]

The first Westerners to explore the antiquities of the region were early twentieth-century biblical geographers and classical art historian (Steuernagel, 1925, 1926; Augustinovič and Bagatti, 1952). In the 1940s, and again in the 1960s, the area was included in extensive surveys of northern Transjordan that identified the most prominent ancient tells (Glueck, 1951; Mittmann, 1970). The central Jordan Valley has been surveyed several times (Glueck, 1951; Mellaart, 1962; de Contenson, 1964; Ibrahim, Saner, and Yassine, 1976; Muheisen, 1988). Since the 1950s, limited excavations have been conducted at several valley sites near the wadi mouth, dating variously to the Lower Paleolithic (Huckriede, 1966; Muheisen, 1988), the Neolithic (Kirkbride, 1956), the Chalcolithic (de Contenson, 1960; Leonard, 1992), the Early Bronze Age (Fischer, 1991), and the Middle Bronze Age (Falconer and Magness-Gardiner, 1989). Between 1987 and 1992, a series of intensive archaeological surveys and test excavations was conducted throughout the wadi catchment (Mabry and Palumbo, 1988, 1992; Palumbo, Mabry, and Kuijt, 1990; Kuijt, Mabry, and Palumbo, 1991; Palumbo, 1992; Palumbo and Mabry, 1993). Almost 250 sites dating from Lower Paleolithic through Ottoman times were recorded within this area by 1992, and soundings had been excavated at six sites dating from the Kebaran period to the Iron Age.

The oldest clues of human use of the wadi are Lower Paleolithic handaxes, at least 100,000 years old, found at the edge of the Jordan Valley buried in wadi banks, cemented in limestone outcrops, and on the surface at flint quarries on the first ridges above the valley floor. Open-air and buried Middle Paleolithic sites are found at all elevations, but particularly on ridges near the valley, at the former margin of a lake that filled the central Jordan Rift during the late Pleistocene. Upper Paleolithic and Epipaleolithic sites are rare, but their presence attests to continued use of the wadi during the dramatic climatic fluctuations of the final Pleistocene.

In a cliff above the wadi, about halfway to the valley, a cave was inhabited by about 9200 BC, the beginning of both the Holocene and the early Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPNA) period. A large (6 ha; 15 acres) village developed nearby between 8200 and 7000 BC, the late Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPNB) period. Pottery Neolithic camps and villages were restricted to the valley. In addition to smaller settlements in the valley, large villages (up to 20 ha, or 49 acres) were occupied in the lower highlands during the Late Chalcolithic period (c. 4500–3500 BC). Extensive fields of piled stone tumuli and megalithic dolmens, both interpreted as tombs, are found in their vicinity and may date to that time.

At the beginning of the Early Bronze Age (c. 3500 BC), villages were established throughout the wadi highlands, implying extensive forest clearance for dry farming and herding. After 3000 BC many of these open villages developed into fortified towns, evenly spaced throughout the watershed to command roughly equal territories. Most of these were abandoned in the mid-third millennium and settlement dispersed into smaller villages and seasonal camps. Only the largest villages in the valley may have had protective enclosures during the Early Bronze IV (EB–MB) period (2400–2000 BC), a transitional interval between urban phases. A cemetery of rock-hewn EB shaft tombs covers an isolated ridge above the valley.

A new pattern again developed at the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000 BC), the start of the historic record in this region, when settlements were reestablished at a number of abandoned protohistoric tells. Sedentary settlement in the wadi declined, however, during the later Middle and Late Bronze Ages. Rural villages flourished again throughout the region during the Iron Age (1200–586 BC), when the hillsides were first terraced for agriculture. A large fortified town developed at Tell Maqlub, which has been identified by some scholars as biblical Jabesh Gilead.

Only a few sites dating to the Persian and Hellenistic periods have yet been recognized, but this may be because of gaps in the ceramic chronology. Rural settlement greatly expanded during the Roman period though, when this region became a hinterland between the large urban centers at Pella in the Jordan Valley and Gerasa on the plateau. A road with mile markers was built to connect Pella, ῾Ajlun, and Gerasa, crossing the Wadi el-Yabis near Tell Maqlub, and a second road was constructed along the eastern floor of the valley. Expansion of the areas of agricultural and pastoral production and timber harvesting for these urban centers led to rapid deforestation of the ῾Ajlun highlands, and the resulting erosion led to the abandonment of some villages. This erosion was controlled by the intensive terracing of hillsides during the Byzantine period, when population and rural settlement in the area reached an all- time peak. On isolated hills, early Christian churches and monasteries were surrounded by their own terraced fields. In several still-occupied villages in the wadi, elaborate Byzantine mosaics are preserved in buildings that were once churches.

The Islamic conquest of Palestine was completed in ad 636 with the Arab defeat of the Byzantine army at the Yarmuk River, and the balanced relationships between urban, rural, and nomadic populations in the region were disrupted. A large number of settlements were abandoned during the period of Umayyad rule from Damascus. This decline accelerated after the ῾Abbasids moved the capital of the Arab Empire to Baghdad in ad 762, and the region became peripheral to major trade routes. Economic stagnation and village abandonment led to the neglect of agricultural terraces, resulting in another phase of soil erosion in the hills of Jebel ῾Ajlun. During the twelfth century, the Jordan Valley was the frontier between areas controlled by European Christians and Arab Muslims, but the highlands of northern Jordan were protected by the Islamic fortress built at ῾Ajlun.

After the Ayyubid general Salah edh-Din defeated the Crusaders at Ḥittin, near Lake Tiberias, in ad 1187, the region prospered as a result of its position between a united Egypt and Syria under the control of the Mamluks, a Turkish-Circassian military class. Many new settlements were established in the southern Levant, and the rural population of northern Jordan increased almost to the peak level of the Byzantine period. Along with the other major streams entering the Jordan Valley, Wadi el-Yabis was used to irrigate sugarcane plantations and to power mills processing the sugar for export.

After the beginning of Ottoman rule in 1516, repeated nomadic incursions into the cultivated lands of northern Jordan, along with the heavy taxation of the peasants, led to the abandonment of many villages. Only pockets of settlement remained in the highlands by the early nineteenth century, when the regions briefly returned to Egyptian control under the Balkan prince Muhammad ῾Ali. Most of these remaining villages continued to be occupied into the twentieth century. Today, rapid population growth, intensifying land use, and illicit digging for antiquities increasingly impact the region's rich archaeological heritage.

[Most of the sites mentioned are the subject of independent entries.]


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Jonathan B. Mabry and Gaetano Palumbo