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Kataret es-Samra, Jordan: The 1985 Excavation and Survey

July 2018 (122.3)

Book Review

Kataret es-Samra, Jordan: The 1985 Excavation and Survey

By Albert Leonard, Jr. (AASOR 71). Pp. xiv + 138. American Schools of Oriental Research, Boston 2017. $74.95. ISBN 978-0-89757-099-2 (cloth).

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The volume under review is a report on the excavation of Tomb 2 and a survey with test excavations undertaken in 1985 at the tell site of Kataret es-Samra in the Katar region of the central Jordan River valley, near the confluence of the Zerqa and Jordan Rivers.

The area known as Kataret es-Samra comprises 0.5 km2 that includes several distinct archaeological findspots (designated I–IV and South), of which the tell site was referred to as “I” and the cemetery as “IV” by the East Jordan Valley Survey conducted in 1975–1976 by M. Ibrahim, J.A. Sauer, and K. Yassine (“The East Jordan Valley Survey, 1975,” BASOR 222 [1976] 41–66; “The East Jordan Valley Survey, 1976,” in K. Yassine, ed., Archaeology of Jordan: Essays and Reports [Amman 1988] 189–207).

For reasons of clarity, it needs to be noted here that what is referred to as “Tomb 1” in the overall numbering of tombs had already been discovered by tomb robbers and then subsequently mapped and excavated in the course of the East Jordan Valley Survey (Ibrahim et al. [1976, 1988]). This tomb was subsequently reexcavated in 1978 during a campaign conducted by Leonard (“Kataret es-Samra: A Late Bronze Age Cemetery in Transjordan?” BASOR 234 [1979] 53–65). Leonard also undertook a second campaign in 1985, leading to the discovery of another multiple-burial tomb (Tomb 2) and further archaeological research at the adjacent tell site, on which the present volume reports.

Chapter 1 briefly describes the background of the project and then presents the results of the excavation of Tomb 2. This tomb, like the first tomb discovered, is an underground burial chamber entered via a vertical shaft, and it consists of four distinctive layers containing 11 interred individuals: three young children, three adult males, and five adult females. The evidence suggests a familial relationship for the tomb’s period of use. Each individual burial, associated with one of the tomb´s successive layers, is described in detail, with a listing of the specific finds discovered. Pathologies and other observations regarding the human bones found in Tomb 2 give additional insight into living conditions during the Bronze Age. Interestingly, remains of animal bones—which might hint at provisions of food offerings for the dead—were attested neither in the shaft nor in the tomb itself.

Chapter 2 deals with the pottery and small finds retrieved from Tomb 2. All in all, the repertoire of material culture from Tomb 2 resembles that known from other burial sites in the Bronze Age Levant and especially in Jordan, although at the time of discovery, the assemblage was almost without parallels in Transjordan. Two genuine Cypriote imports (Base Ring Ware), which date to the first half of the Late Bronze Age  (LBA IB–C to LBA IIA), stand out within the pottery repertoire. The small finds consist of several toggle pins or needles, fragments of bronze anklets or bracelets, and a tweezer, hinting at the fact that the buried were wrapped in garments. Various beads and one design scarab—presumably also worn as a piece of jewelry by one of the interred individuals and not used as a sealing device—dating to the 18th Dynasty were also found. A little out of place, a humble selection of small finds from Tomb 1, which is not otherwise discussed in this volume, consisting of two beads and four fragmented toggle pins, is also dealt with here.

Chapter 3 presents results from the investigation of the settlement that is identified with the tell site of Kataret es-Samra nearby and to which the cemetery belonged. Pottery from a survey of the tell site, as well as the slopes, revealed occupation during the Middle to Late Bronze Age, along with a few specimens dating to Iron Age II. A subsequent survey of the tell site in 2006, not cited in the volume, found pottery types dating to the Early to Late Bronze Age, Iron Age I–II B/C, and the Hellenistic, Roman-Fatimid, and Ayyubid-Mamluk periods (L. Petit, Settlement Dynamics in the Middle Jordan Valley During the Iron Age II. BAR-IS 2033 [Oxford 2009] 174‒75, 188–89).

The soundings at the tell exposed a stratigraphic sequence of five architecturally defined phases that cover the later part of the Middle Bronze Age and perhaps also the earlier part of the Late Bronze Age. Since the survey on the slopes of the tell showed a higher density of Late Bronze Age pottery, with few specimens dating to the Middle Bronze Age, one could perhaps argue that erosion has led to the partial destruction of the later levels on the tell or that a settlement shift or hiatus occurred sometime after the periods attested in the excavated trenches (see also Petit [2009] 175, fig. 10.10). Because only a few architectural structures were exposed during the excavation at the tell site, the main focus of this chapter is again on the presentation of the pottery found in these soundings and its chronological classification.

Chapter 4, on the faunal remains, deals exclusively with the animal bones found during the excavations at the tell site. Since the size of the faunal sample from the site is fairly small, it is not possible to make more than general remarks and observations of trends attested at other sites in the region.

The last chapter (ch. 5) is a postscript to the volume that explains its late appearance and places the excavation’s “setting” within scholarly research in the region. As is aptly noted in the chapter, the treatment of the pottery clearly benefits from the thorough contributions of Fischer and Bürge, members of the excavation team working at Tell Abu al-Kharaz in the Jordan Valley, applying that site’s chronological and stratigraphical sequence to the material from Kataret es-Samra.

It is unfortunate that not a single clear and concise map or aerial or satellite image showing the locations of the tell site and the cemetery in its immediate vicinity have been provided in the present volume nor in the older preliminary reports (for a general orientation, see Leonard [1979] fig. 3). This hampers understanding of the site’s overall layout and setting, as well as the relationship between the settlement site and the adjacent burial place. In a similar vein, one would have hoped for a more conclusive synthesis (even if preliminary) of the relationship between the cemetery and the tell site, particularly in terms of chronology. That the first tomb found and excavated at the site is also not dealt with, apart from the few small finds presented in chapter 3, is regrettable, since it would have been a useful addition to the material presented in this volume, if only for the sake of completeness. Although it is not explicitly part of the chronological focus of the present volume, the author could have opted for an updated presentation and discussion of his research results from Field 1 concerning the material from Early Bronze Age I in the region of Kataret es-Samra (“The Proto-Urban/Early Bronze I Utilization of the Kataret es-Samra Plateau,” BASOR 251 [1983] 37–59). Despite these minor limitations, the volume is a solid report on a small archaeological project, albeit belated in publication, which will hopefully inspire other such projects to follow suit.

Alexander Ahrens
Orient Department, Damascus Branch
Deutsches Archäologisches Institut

Book Review of Kataret es-Samra, Jordan: The 1985 Excavation and Survey, by Albert Leonard, Jr. 

Reviewed by Alexander Ahrens

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 122, No. 3 (July 2018)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1223.ahrens

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