region of Jordan, located between Wadi el-Yabis and Wadi Rajib, that drains the western face of Jebel ῾Ajlun (biblical Gilead), entering the Jordan River at Tell es-Sa῾idiyeh. The region is well watered, receiving 300–600 mm (12–23.5 in.) rainfall annually and possessing numerous springs. Cereals, olives, and vines are cultivated on slopes and terraces near the wadi head, and its drier southwestern tail is suitable for grazing. Pine, pistachio, and oak forests cover the ridges dominating the valley. In medieval times iron was mined in the surrounding limestone hills and smelted locally. The sharply dissected topography with elevations up to 1100 m (3,610 ft.) isolate the region from the plains north, east, and south and the Jordan valley to the west.

There have been no systematic excavations in Wadi Kafranja. Qal῾at er-Rabad (map reference 2185 × 1922), built in 1284–1285 at Saladin's behest, is the principal monument. The castle was cleared and repaired during the British Mandate of 1921–1948 (Johns, 1932), but never excavated. In ῾Ajlun village (map reference 2213 × 1940) the Department of Antiquities has carried out salvage excavations and the Department of Religious Affairs has restored a Mamluk mosque.

Nineteenth-century travelers visited Qal῾at er-Rabad and extolled the verdure of Wadi Kafranja (Merrill, 1881; Le Strange, 1886; Conder, 1892). Gottlieb Schumacher conducted the first concerted survey around 1900 (Schumacher and Steuernagel, 1924–1926). Nelson Glueck reconnoitered the wadi in 1942, but reported only four sites (1951; pp. 231–235). Augostino Augustinović and Bellarmino Bagatti (1951–1952) explored ῾Ajlun village and the highlands east, north, and west, but did not descend into the wadi. Ernst Kutsch (1965) found evidence of ancient occupation at modern Anjara and Kafranja and at sites along the wadi bottom. Siegfried Mittmann (1970) incorporated this earlier work into a comprehensive study of ancient settlement in northern Transjordan. Wolf Dieter Hütteroth and Kamal Abdulfattah (1977) examined early Ottoman tax records for Wadi Kafranja in a study of the historical geography of the sixteenth-century CE southern Levant. The most recent archaeological survey of the Wadi Kafranja was completed in 1986 (Greene, 1996).

This superbly habitable but rather remote region was settled perhaps as early as the Chalcolithic, if the seven dolmen fields at the wadi's southern end date to that period, and not, as previously believed, to the Early Bronze. Early Bronze occupation in the wadi is well attested (eight sites), but the Middle Bronze is not (three sites). Late Bronze settlement is more widespread than initially supposed (five sites). The Iron Age saw a clear increase in settlement (Iron I, fourteen sites; Iron II/Persian; twenty-nine). There was a sharp decline in the Hellenistic (ten sites) but settlement grew again in the Roman period (twenty-two sites). The Byzantine collapse in the early seventh century was not accompanied by a serious retraction of settlement in Wadi Kafranja. Byzantine (sixteen sites) and Late Byzantine/Umayyad settlement (eleven sites) shows strong continuity and significant ceramic connections with contemporary Jerash nearby. There is a significant and surprising increase in ῾Abbasid settlement (twenty sites). Later, the construction of Qal῾at er-Rabad, intended to prevent Crusader incursions across the Jordan, enhanced security in the region. The castle was rebuilt in the ensuing Ayyubid-Mamluk period coinciding with the densest occupation (thirty sites). There was a simultaneous expansion of water-powered grist mills in the wadi. Remains of nineteen mills probably dating in this period line the wadi between ῾Ajlun and Kafranja villages. Ottoman tax records indicate that at least sixteen mills were functioning in 1596 CE. Only one remained in use after World War II (Greene, 1995).

Wadi Kafranja and sites in it are not mentioned in biblical or other ancient Near Eastern texts, though such mentions are common in medieval Arabic literature (see the article “῾Adjlun,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., Leiden, 1960– , vol. 1, p. 208). Ottoman tax accounts name settlements in the wadi corresponding to sites of Ottoman date recorded by archaeological survey.

[See also ῾Ajlun.]


  • Augustinović, Augostino, and Bellarmino Bagatti. “Escursioni nei dintorni di ῾Aglun (Nord di Transgiordiana).” Studium Biblicum Franciscanum/Liber Annuus 2 (1952): 227–314.
    Archaeological, historical, and topographic survey of the highlands above Wadi Kafranja, east, north, and west of modern ῾Ajlun village.
  • Conder, Claude R. Heth and Moab: Explorations in Syria in 1881 and 1882. 3d ed. London and New York, 1892.
    See chapter 6, “Mount Gilead,” for the ῾Ajlun region
  • Glueck, Nelson. Explorations in Eastern Palestine. Vol. 4. Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 25/28. New Haven, 1951. Part of Glueck's archaeological surveys east of the Jordan. See pages 23–25 for his work in Wadi Kafranja (four sites only).
  • Greene, Joseph A. “Water Mills in the Wadi Kafranja: The Relationship of Technology, Society, and Settlement in North Jordan.” In Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan, vol. 5, edited by Safwan Tell, pp. 757–765. Amman, 1995.
  • Greene, Joseph A. “Ajlun-Kafranja Survey, 1986: Final Report.” Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 42 (1996).
  • Hütteroth, Wolf Dieter, and Kamal Abdulfattah. Historical Geography of Palestine, Transjordan, and Southern Syria in the Late Sixteenth Century. Erlanger Geographische Arbeiten, 5. Erlangen, 1977. Reconstructs the wadi's medieval agricultural economy through study of the Ottoman tax records (defters); see pages 162–163 for Wadi Kafranja. Some villages mentioned in the documents have been located by archaeological survey.
  • Johns, C. N. “Medieval ῾Ajlūn I: The Castle (Qal῾at er-Rabad).” Quarterly of the Department of Antiquities of Palestine 1 (1932): 21–33. The fullest and still standard analysis of the history and architecture of this important Crusading-period fortification (only the first part was published).
  • Kutsch, Ernst. “Beiträge zur Seidlungsgeschichte des wādi kufrinği.” Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 81 (1965): 113–131.
    The first detailed archaeological survey of Wadi Kafranja, with a discussion of settlement history. Summarized in English in Arnulf Kuschke, “New Contributions to the Historical Topography of Jordan,” Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 6–7 (1962): 90–95, esp. 92–93
  • Le Strange, Guy. “A Ride through ῾Ajlûn and the Belkâ during Autumn of 1884.” In Gottlieb Schumacher's Across the Jordan: Being an Exploration and Survey of Part of Hauran and Jaulan, pp. 268–323. New York, 1886.
    Enriched by the author's wide knowledge and frequent citation of medieval Arabic texts that mention ῾Ajlun
  • Merrill, Selah. East of Jordan: A Record of Travel and Observation in the Countries of Moab, Gilead, and Bashan. London, 1881.
    See chapters 27 and 28 for Wadi Kafranja
  • Mittmann, Siegfried. Beiträge zur Siedlungs-und Territorialgeschichte des nördlichen Ostjordanlandes. Wiesbaden, 1970. Extensive survey of north Jordan. See pages 78–89 for a report of Mittmann's work in Wadi Kafranja, based on Kutsch (above).
  • Sapin, Jean. “Prospection géo-archéologique de l'Ajlûn, 1981–1982.” In Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan, vol. 2, edited by Adnan Hadidi, pp. 217–227. Amman, 1985.
    Programmatic effort to integrate archaeological survey and paleolandscape studies in the ῾Ajlun region, including Wadi Kafranja
  • Schumacher, Gottlieb, and D. C. Steuernagel. “Der ῾Adschlūn.” Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 47 (1924): 191–240; 48 (1925): 1–144, 191–392; 49 (1926): 1–167, 273–303.
    Originally prepared to accompany the Karte des Ostjordanlandes (1913–1921). Primarily a work of physical and historical topography with ethnography excurses, this is the earliest and most comprehensive exploration of the ῾Ajlun region. See 1924: 234–237 and 1925: 300–327

Joseph A. Greene