Monday, May 23, 2016

Kh. el-Musheirfeh and MEGA-Jordan

The Jordanian village of Kh. el-Musheirfeh lies about 4 km southwest of the major Nabataean/ Roman/ Early Islamic village/ fort/ town of Umm er-Resas. A further 4 km south is the major archaeological site of Lehun on the rim of the great trough of the Wadi Mujib.

The published literature on the site is limited and the two entries in JADIS and now in MEGA-Jordan are confused, confusing and incomplete.

‘MEGA-J 12338 Musheirifa (sic)’ locates a ‘site’ on the south side of the modern village but that turns out to be only the modern village itself.

‘MEGA-J 12349 Musheirfeh (sic)’ is located 2.5 km to the northeast of the village but in an open area with no traces of any archaeological features.

Surprisingly, therefore, the record reports material of several periods - Nabataean, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic, Modern, and lists eight ‘Site Elements’ including a village, cistern, a bas relief and sherd scatters of the periods noted. The source of the information is given in two published references from the 1930s (Glueck and Savignac, below). A brief glance at these two publications confirms the obvious – there is just one site and it lies under and around the modern village. The second MEGA-J entry (12349) should be deleted and the information there should be transferred to the first entry (12338) under that spelling (as on the 1:50,000 map).

Musheirfeh is in fact an important site as the two published reports show. Glueck was there on 2 June 1933; Savignac in late April 1935. The latter knows of Glueck’s first major report on his survey which included this site but – inexplicably, does not refer to what he had published. i.e. the two reports are effectively independent of one another. Putting the two reports together allows a composite picture which can be considerably enhanced and developed by analysis of the satellite imagery on Google Earth and Bing, by interpretation of the survey aerial photographs of 1953 and the recent low-level aerial photographs taken by the Aerial Archaeology in Jordan project, all of which are in the APAAME archive.

As may be seen on Google Earth ( and the superior imagery on Bing (, amidst the houses the site consists of an area of high ground with traces of:
  • buried structures,
  • the openings of cisterns,
  • the foundations of a large masonry building extending eastwards
  • a further significant structure to the west.
The remains cover an area of about 10 ha though much of it was probably open ground between a scatter of structures and occupied by cisterns. Several recent cemeteries are scattered around the village. The major modern structure recorded by Glueck and Savignac is on the south side, marked as ‘Summit’ (Fig. 2).

This modern building (Summit) seen by Savignac and Glueck was built from re-used masonry and included a significant fragment of anthropomorphic sculpture and a substantial architectural piece (Fig. 1). As it was on a ‘sommet’, it may well be overlying an earlier structure (Fig. 3). More significant is the substantial building on the eastern end of the site (B) not reported by either early traveller (Figs 2 and 3). It is c. 25 x 15 m and oriented east-west. As seen from the air in 2010 and 2015, it has been robbed to a low level but the form is clear. There are at least two other places where traces of walls can be seen in this East Range (Fig. 7). West of the ‘Summit’ a further structure seems hinted at by a rectangular outline (C) (Fig. 6).

The sculpture was identified as Nabataean and there was Nabataean pottery on the site. Such an object implies a religious structure of some kind and more than a simple shrine. Glueck thought the architectural lintel he illustrated might be Byzantine – though he compared it to one he had seen at Umm el-Walid which is largely Umayyad.

Figure 1: Relief sculpture and lintel seen on the site in the 1930s by both Savignac and Glueck (1934: 38 Fig. 16)
The 1953 vertical survey aerial photographs show just one modern building there at that date and otherwise allow the broad outline of disturbance to be defined but without specific detail.

The satellite imagery indicates where structures lie but are recent (since the modern village expanded), are inadequate for detail but offer a useful photomap (cf. Fig.2).

Figure 2: Kh. el-Musheirfeh on Google Earth. Red outlines the overall area within which structures are located. Blue is a range of buildings, traces of building and probable cisterns. Other features noted are treated in subsequent figures (below) (Click to enlarge figure).

More importantly, there are 54 low-level oblique aerial photographs of the site in the APAAME collection from April 2010 and October 2015. Between them they reveal the presence of two substantial masonry buildings (A and C) which can be located and their form established, at least one more possible building (B), structures with re-used masonry (e.g. ‘Enclosure’) and the location of several cisterns (‘East Range’).

Summit’ and Enclosure (Fig. 3). This area of high ground is the probable location of what Savignac called the ‘sommet’ and where he and Glueck saw the architectural piece and the statue fragment. Today it is used as a small cemetery and the eastern half appears to have been quarried away. The enclosure on the west (bottom) seems to be formed from re-used masonry and arranged as a double face all of it surrounding a significant depression. The latter may be a dry reservoir, the ‘Bir Akial Awad’ recorded there on the 1:50,000 map.

Figure 3: Kh. el-Musheirfeh Summit and Enclosure (APAAME_20151005_REB-0008).
Building A (Fig. 4). A rectangular building located on the west side of the modern village. Approximate dimensions: 30 x 20 m. A square room is visible in the northeast corner (bottom left).

Figure 4: Kh. el-Musheirfeh Building A (APAAME_20151005_REB-0012(Cropped).
Building C (Fig. 5). Located at the eastern end of the East Range. It is the best-preserved of the various structures, with substantial walls with faced masonry inside and out and several rooms visible. The curving wall on the left may be part of an apse but the internal arrangements of the walls do not seem suited to a church. Overall dimensions are c. 35 x 20 m. Stones used in the modern graves are probably taken from this building.

Figure 5: Kh. el-Musheirfeh Building C (APAAME_20151005_MND-0031(Cropped).
Building B (Fig. 6). Located just west of Building C. It appears as an almost square structure incorporating a cavern on the right (north). It is c. 20 x 20 m.

Figure 6: Kh. el-Musheirfeh Building C (APAAME_20151005_REB-0014 (Cropped)).
East Range (Fig. 7). In addition to Buildings B (right) and C (centre), there are traces of other foundations including in the courtyards of the modern houses at the west end of the range. Depressions and caverns may be collapsed cisterns.

Figure 7: Kh. el-Musheirfeh East Range (APAAME_20151005_DLK-0013(Cropped)).

The MEGA-J entries for Musheirfeh are defective and limited in usefulness. At an elementary level – as with all MEGA-J entries, it would be immensely useful if references provided precise page numbers rather than just – for example, Savignac 1936. Many entries are taken over unchecked from JADIS and contain errors or errors are introduced in the transfer. Many entries would benefit from a reminder - and a specific link, that there may be aerial photographs available in the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East (APAAME).

– David Kennedy

Glueck, N. (1934) Explorations in Eastern Palestine, I, New Haven (AASOR XIV [1933-1934]: 1-113 at 37-8 (Site 95) and Fig. 16.
Savignac, R. (1936) “Chronique: Sur les pistes de Transjordanie méridionale”, RB45: 235-263 + Plates VII –XII at 242-3 and Pl. VIII.1.

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