You are here

Walking Through Jordan: Essays in Honor of Burton MacDonald

April 2019 (123.2)

Book Review

Walking Through Jordan: Essays in Honor of Burton MacDonald

Edited by Michael Neeley, Geoffrey Clark, and P.M. Michèle Daviau. Pp. xvi + 422. Equinox, Sheffield, U.K. 2017. $120. ISBN 9781781792834 (cloth).

Reviewed by

This volume collects 18 papers written in honor of Burton MacDonald, who is best known for his survey archaeology work in western Jordan. He was one of the first survey archaeologists in Jordan who employed sampling via walking transects. In the process, he was responsible for identifying over 2,400 archaeological sites. MacDonald’s primary interest lies in historical sites, particularly in the biblical and early Christian periods, but his work has been profoundly important for scholars of prehistoric periods as well. The essays in this volume reflect MacDonald’s research interests, with papers considering several different eras, including the Paleolithic (3 papers), Bronze Age (3), Iron Age (4), Nabataean (2), and Christian (2) periods, and themes such as Neolithic and Paleolithic archaeology (4), biblical archaeology (5), and archaeological survey (4). The introduction provides a brief history of survey archaeology before introducing and contextualizing the papers in the volume. The introduction ends with the editors’ visions of the future of survey archaeology in Jordan.

The first three essays examine aspects of the Iron Age site Khirbat al-Mudayna ath-Thamad. Edwards argues that two Bronze Age objects found at the site were looted from tombs in the Dead Sea plain. Chadwick publishes the finds from a cave tomb near the site. Daviau describes several industrial finds that were likely used to weave textiles, based on parallels from Egypt.

Klassen’s contribution argues that Early Bronze Age IV pottery in the southern Ghors and northeast Wadi Arabah was unique compared to the pottery in nearby regions. He argues that the surface treatment of the ceramics in the region is the key indicator of this uniqueness.

Kafafi uses historical and archaeological sources to try to define the borders of small states in northern Jordan, including Ammon, Moab, Aram, and Gilead. Herr’s paper synthesizes pottery discovered in Edom from the last three of MacDonald’s surveys in the region. The plates should be helpful to future scholars interested in the evolution of Iron Age pottery in Jordan.

Two papers examine the Nabataean presence in Jordan. Ferguson’s paper reconsiders Glueck’s theory (N. Glueck, 1935. Explorations in Eastern Palestine, Vol 2. AASOR 15. [New Haven, CT: AASOR] 1939; Explorations in Eastern Palestine, Vol 3. AASOR 18/19. [New Haven, CT: AASOR]; and Explorations in Eastern Palestine, Vol 4.1. AASOR 25/28. [New Haven, CT: AASOR]) that Nabataean ceramics were absent west and north of Madaba, concluding that Glueck was essentially correct, using evidence from sites subsequently excavated. Smith’s essay attempts to identify the locations of Nabataean incense trade routes based on archaeological and survey evidence. He concludes that the task is impossible. The essay provides a valuable summary for Nabataean trade routes and the possible sites that facilitated that trade.

Two papers examine the Christian remains in Jordan. Fiema summarizes the results of his excavation at the pilgrimage site of Aaron’s tomb outside of Petra. He describes how a Nabataean sacred site was transformed into a Christian one and later an Islamic one. Foran’s paper examines the monastic site of Tall Ma‘in in its regional context. Her survey concluded that there was a larger number of sites from the Christian period around the monastic center of Tall Ma‘in than in surrounding areas, suggesting the importance of reciprocal relationships between the lay and monastic communities.

The essay by Adams, Friedman, Anderson, Homan, Grattan, and Rouse describes a survey conducted to the southwest of Wadi Faynan. The entire region is one of the most important locations for understanding the evolution of copper metallurgy. Previous work has concentrated on the site of Faynan, so this survey helps place the site in its regional context and demonstrates further the extensive industrialization of the area.

Three papers critically examine survey methodology and results. Richard’s essay concludes that Glueck’s survey in the Wadi Wala region around Khirbat Iskandar was relatively accurate in terms of sites discovered and in the dating of occupational periods. Van der Steen argues that Glueck’s surveys, though often maligned, are in fact quite accurate and often the only available evidence for sites that no longer exist because of development. Banning’s paper critically examines MacDonald’s earliest survey project (which Banning participated in) and concludes that new surveys in the region would likely reveal additional sites and information.

Four final essays examine prehistoric evidence collected by MacDonald’s surveys. Peterson describes the evidence for Pre-Pottery Neolithic in the Wadi al-Hasa, concluding that the Wadi al-Hasa contains extensive settlement through every period of the Early Neolithic, likely a result of its moist, fertile floodplain. Neeley and Hill’s contribution argues that there is less evidence of Late Epipaleolithic in western Jordan but focuses on the site of TBAS 212, the only large repeatedly occupied camp in the area. The essay by Olszewski, Munro, and Kennerty describes their research at the Middle Epipaleolthic site of Tor at-Tareeq. The finds there have few parallels in Jordan. The final essay by Clark summarizes MacDonald’s important contributions to the study of the Stone Age in Jordan. The essay serves as an excellent conclusion to the volume by emphasizing and summarizing MacDonald’s contributions in a very accessible format.

As this brief summary makes clear, the contents of this volume cover a wide range of topics, though every essay touches on some aspect of MacDonald’s scholarly legacy. The arrangement of the essays into the three categories archaeology of the Bible, archaeological survey, and Neolithic and Paleolithic archaeology seems arbitrary except in the case of the prehistory essays. This grouping means that several essays that belong together chronologically appear in different locations in the volume, a problem that afflicts many Festschrifts. The wide range of articles means that each scholar may only find a few papers interesting for his or her own work. That said, the number of articles on survey archaeology in Jordan, and on the prehistoric periods, is clearly a strength of this volume and is a fitting tribute to an important scholar of the history and archaeology of Jordan.

Walter Ward
Department of History
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Book Review of Walking Through Jordan: Essays in Honor of Burton MacDonald, edited by Michael Neeley, Geoffrey Clark, and P.M. Michèle Daviau

Reviewed by Walter Ward

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 123, No. 2 (April 2019)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1232.ward

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.