The region immediately east of the Dead Sea, known as Moab in ancient times, consists of a narrow strip of cultivable land between the rugged Dead Sea escarpment and the Syrian (or North Arabian) desert. This is rolling plateau for the most part, but it is interrupted by the deep Wadi el-Mujib canyon that separates northern Moab from central Moab, and the less steep but equally formidable Wadi el-Hasa canyon that bounds Moab on the south. Northern Moab is much better known from epigraphic sources, the Hebrew Bible, and archaeological exploration, but presumably central Moab, the region between the Mujib and the Hasa, would have been the heartland of ancient Moabite settlement. Later, central Moab was part of the Nabatean realm, until 106 CE, when Trajan joined Nabatea with Perea and the Decapolis to form the Roman province of Arabia Petraea. Written sources from the Roman period indicate that Rabbathmoba (present-day er-Rabbah) and Charachmoba (present-day Kerak) were important cities at the time. Because central Moab is situated between Mecca and Damascus, it would have been central to the Umayyad caliphate. The Crusaders built a major castle at Kerak to protect the southeastern flank of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. The Mamluks expanded the castle and Kerak flourished during the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries CE, when it served as a favored city of political exiles from the Mamluk court in Cairo. Central Moab experienced increasing urban decline thereafter, especially during the Ottoman period, when it was dominated by fiercely independent bedouin tribes. All towns and villages had been abandoned by the beginning of the nineteenth century CE, except for four straggling settlements (Kerak, ῾Iraq, Kathrabba, and Khanzira), and outsiders entered the region at risk. [See Kerak; ῾Iraq el-Amir.]

This situation continued throughout the nineteenth century; the results were that while other parts of Palestine were being mapped and explored for archaeological remains, central Moab was largely bypassed. Among the travelers who did enter the region and noted in their travel accounts its many abandoned ruins were Ulrich J. Seetzen (1805), Johann Ludwig Burckhardt (1812), Charles L. Irby and James Mangles (1818), Félicien de Saulcy (1851), C. Mauss and Henri Sauvaire (1866), Henry Baker Tristram (1872), Charles M. Doughty (1875), and Grey Hill (1890, 1895). As the century drew to a close, however, even the topography of central Moab remained poorly understood, and none of its ruins had been examined in any detail. Then, between 1894 and 1910, the Ottoman government reasserted its authority in southern Transjordan, rendering central Moab and its archaeological ruins more accessible for investigation. During that brief period Rudolf-Ernst Brünnow and Alfred von Domaszewski conducted a systematic study of the Roman road system and associated fortifications, while Alois Musil explored the geography of southern Transjordan and prepared a 1:300,000 scale map that included the names and approximate locations of more than one hundred ruins between the Mujib and the Hasa.

Thereafter, except for a brief excursion by William Foxwell Albright In 1924, the archaeological remains of central Moab received no further attention of consequence until 1930, when Reginald Head discovered the Balu῾ stela [See Balu῾.] This discovery prompted John Winter Crowfoot and Albright to mount a two-week expedition In 1933, at which time Crowfoot made soundings at Khirbet el-Balu῾ and Albright conducted soundings at Ader. That same year Nelson Glueck began his important survey of Transjordan. Paul W. Lapp excavated Bab edh-Dhra῾ In 1965–1967 and Fawzi Zayadine cleared a first-century BCE Nabatean tomb near Dhat Ras In 1968. [See Bab edh-Dhra῾.] Otherwise, Glueck's survey report, published in the Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research (1934, 1935, 1939), stood as the final word on the archaeology of central Moab until the late 1970s.

Specifically, In 1976 (and returning In 1982), Emilio Olávarri (1983) conducted soundings at Medeinet el-Mu῾arrajeh (i.e., Khirbet el-Medeineh north overlooking Wadi Lejjun), which proved to be an Early Iron Age fortress. [See Medeineh, Khirbet el-.] That same year S. Thomas Parker (1987) began a study of the Roman limes Arabicus in Transjordan; the project has involved, beginning In 1980, excavations at the Late Roman legionary fortress of Lejjun and a survey (led by Frank Koucky) of archaeological features in the immediate vicinity. [See Limes Arabicus.] Meanwhile, from 1978 to 1983, J. Maxwell Miller (1991) conducted a general survey of the whole plateau between the Mujib and the Hasa, complemented by less extensive surveys along the wadis leading from the plateau to the Dead Sea. Siegfried Mittmann and Linda K. Jacobs explored Wadi ῾Isal In 1979 and 1981, respectively (Mittmann, 1982; Jacobs, 1983). Udo Worschech examined sites in Wadi Ibn Ḥammad and the northwest quadrant of the plateau In 1983–1985. Worschech also (1986) began new excavations at Khirbet el-Balu῾ In 1985 that produced primarily Iron Age remains. Robin M. Brown (1989) conducted a sounding in the Palace Reception Hall in the Kerak citadel In 1987 and distinguished Mamluk and Ottoman phases. Jeremy Johns and Alison M. McQuitty (1989) examined several medieval Islamic sites on the plateau In 1986 and have excavated Khirbet Faris [See Faris, Khirbet.]

Although attention from archaeologists to central Moab increased, its archaeological features remain poorly known. Much of what is known is derived from surface surveys conducted with benefit of very little stratified pottery from the region itself to provide control. It does seem clear, however, that central Moab was occupied to some degree throughout historical times. Moreover, to the extent that the relative density of sites with surface pottery from a given period corresponds to the density of sedentary population during that period (which may not be the case), some trends are noticeable. Central Moab seems to have had significant sedentary occupation during the Early Bronze Age, for example, with the strongest showing during EB II–III and slightly less during EB IV. Fewer sites present surface pottery for the Middle Bronze Age, a trend that seems to have continued well into the Late Bronze Age. At that time, an upward trend in sedentary population seems to have begun, probably near the end of the Late Bronze Age, that continued until Iron II. The transition from Iron II to the Hellenistic/Nabatean period is unclear, but the latter period is strongly represented, especially with Nabatean pottery, throughout central Moab. Numerous sites with Roman and Byzantine pottery indicate a continuation of relatively dense sedentary population until early Islamic times. Relatively few sites produced surface pottery clearly attributable to the early Islamic periods, in contrast to the Ayyubid/Mamluk, which is well represented.

Two intriguing basalt stelae have been discovered in central Moab, the Balu῾ stela mentioned above and the so-called Shiḥan stela, which actually was discovered at Rujm el-῾Abd/Faqu῾ by de Saulcy In 1851. The Balu῾ stela bears an illegible inscription and depicts three figures, apparently a local ruler flanked by a god and a goddess. The script and language are uncertain, but the scene reflects Egyptian influence suggestive of the New Kingdom period—for example, the central figure wears a headdress of the sort usually worn by Shasu in Egyptian scenes, while the god wears the double crown of upper and lower Egypt and the goddess wears a crown similar to that of Osiris. The Shiḥan stela presents in bas-relief a man in helmet and short skirt, holding a spear, with an animal, possibly a lion, at his left. Stylistic similarities with monumental art of the “Neo-Hittite” cities in northern Syria suggest an Iron Age date. An inscription fragment, reportedly discovered at Kerak, exhibits parts of four lines in Canaanite (Moabite) script similar to that of the famous Mesha inscription discovered at Dibon. In one of the broken lines it is possible to read “K]mšyt king of Moab.” [See Dibon; Moabite Stone.] Finally, a large proto-Ionic pilaster capital was found at Medeibi that resembles those found at several Iron Age sites west of the Jordan River (Hazor, Jerusalem, Megiddo, Ramat Raḥel).

[See also Moab.]


  • Brünnow, Rudolf-Ernst, and Alfred von Domaszewski. Die Provincia Arabia auf Grund zweier in den Jahre 1897 und 1898 unternommenen Reisen und der Berichte früherer Reisender. 3 vols. Strassburg, 1904–1909. Surveys all published materials relevant to the archaeology of Moab, up to and including their own study of the Roman road and fortification system. Find it in your Library
  • Glueck, Nelson. Explorations in Eastern Palestine. Vols. 1–3. Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 14, 15, 18/19. New Haven, 1934–1939. Find it in your Library
  • Miller, J. Maxwell, ed. Archaeological Survey of the Kerak Plateau. American Schools of Oriental Research, Archaeological Reports, 1. Atlanta, 1991. A comprehensive gazetteer of archaeological sites on the central Moabite plateau, with full bibliography for each site through 1990. Find it in your Library

Recent Field Reports

  • Brown, Robin M. “Excavations in the Fourteenth Century A.D. Mamluk Palace at Kerak.” Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 33 (1989): 287–304. Find it in your Library
  • Jacobs, Linda K. “Survey of the South Ridge of Wadi ῾Isal, 1981.” Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 27 (1983): 245–274, figs. 1–15. Find it in your Library
  • Johns, Jeremy, and Alison M. McQuitty. “The Fâris Project: Preliminary Report upon the 1986 and 1988 Seasons.” Levant 21 (1989): 63–95. Find it in your Library
  • Mittmann, Siegfried. “The Ascent of Luhith.” In Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan, vol. 1, edited by Adnan Hadidi, pp. 175–180. Amman, 1982. Reports Mittmann's survey of Wadi ῾Isal. Find it in your Library
  • Olávarri, Emilio. “Sondeo arqueológico en Khirbet Medeineh junto a Smakieh (Jordania).” Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 22 (1977–1978): 136–149. Find it in your Library
  • Olávarri, Emilio. “La campagne de fouilles 1982 à Khirbet Medeinet al-Mu'arradjeh près de Smakieh (Kerak).” Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 27 (1983): 165–178. Find it in your Library
  • Parker, S. Thomas, ed. The Roman Frontier in Central Jordan: Interim Report on the Limes Arabicus Project, 1980–1985. 2 vols. British Archaeological Reports, International Series, no. 340. Oxford, 1987. Find it in your Library
  • Parker, S. Thomas. “Preliminary Report on the 1987 Season of the Limes Arabicus Project.” In Preliminary Reports of ASOR-Sponsored Excavations, 1983–87, edited by Walter E. Rast, pp. 89–136. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, Supplement no. 26. Baltimore, 1990. Find it in your Library
  • Worschech, Udo F. Ch., et al. “The Fourth Survey Season in the North-West Arḍ el-Kerak, and Soundings at Balu῾, 1986.” Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 30 (1986): 285–310. Find it in your Library

Inscriptions and Artistic Representations

  • Reed, William L., and Fred V. Winnett. “A Fragment of an Early Moabite Inscription from Kerak.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 172 (1963): 1–9. Find it in your Library
  • Ward, William A., and M. F. Martin. “The Balu῾a Stele: A New Transcription with Palaeographic and Historical Notes.” Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 8–9 (1964): 5–29. Find it in your Library
  • Warmenbol, Eugène. “La stèle de Ruǧm el-῾Abd (Louvre AO 5055): Une image de divinité moabite du IXème-VIIIème siècle av. N. È.” Levant 15 (1983): 63–75. Find it in your Library

J. Maxwell Miller