Main image: An ancient monumental tomb

Skeletal Remains

Animal and human remains are a key category of archaeological data. What types of animals were present at a site? How did people dispose of animals after their lifetime? What could evidence from burials, cemeteries, and tombs tell researchers about how people lived—and died? Umm el-Jimal's cemeteries, tombs, and animal remains help tell the story of the people who lived here long ago.

Excavating a grave

Read the Field Reports

Take a more detailed look at the evidence and findings from Umm el-Jimal's many tombs and several large cemetery areas by reading lead author Missy Cheyney's recent report, "Umm el-Jimal Cemeteries Z, AA, BB, and CC," and other research articles available in the Library.

More information about the project's animal remains findings is available in chapter 13 of Umm el-Jimal, volume 1.

Human Remains

Much of the project's field research in the 1990s explored Umm el-Jimal's major burial areas, including discovery of almost two dozen stand-alone tombs. Most of the site's discovered graves and tombs occur on an East-West orientation, reflecting the wider regional cultural importance of positioning individuals at their death. Excavation and survey areas focusing on human remains include O, T, V, W, Z, AA, BB, and CC.


Extensive cemeteries have been discovered on the south, west, and north sides of Umm el-Jimal's main town site, and may even extend around its eastern border as well. Crucially, with rare exception these cemeteries exist outside of the town's boundaries. The separation of the living and dead typical of many cultures, removal of human remains from the town itself was probably spiritual, in terms of religious custom, and pragmatic for hygienic reasons.


Monumental tombs are scattered throughout the vicinity of Umm el-Jimal; however, the tombs do not appear in clusters or groups. Further genetic testing of multiple remains found in the tombs might suggest kinship among occupants. If so, their wide distribution in the landscape could also be evidence they were located on land owned by these respective family groups. Many of these tombs were reused in antiquity, or are even surrounded by cist burials which may reflect further social or familial relationships.

Animal Remains

Research in Areas A, B, and C—inside the main Byzantine and Umayyad town—during the project's early years recovered a significant volume of animal remains. Sheep, goats, and cattle were the primary local domestic fauna. Poultry was also kept in local homes. Most deposits resulted from human activity; in particular, sheep and goat remains found inside the ancient town occur at all stratigraphic layers, and tend be 2–3 years old. Since this age coincides with these species' prime meat weight, this evidence is consistent with a subsistence strategy of locals using their sheep and goat herds for meat production. Meanwhile, cattle remains form a much smaller proportion of the total faunal remains. The maturity of cattle bones recovered may suggest that these animals were primarily used as plough animals. At the same time, camel, horse, donkey, pig, and dog bones combined make up less than 5% of total animal remains recovered in early excavations; therefore less can be said definitively about these species and their role at Umm el-Jimal.

Interestingly, the site's history of reuse has left less evidence for animals in earlier occupation layers: Because Umm el-Jimal's residents tended to remodel and reuse buildings over hundreds of years, Early Islamic strata tend to contain higher amounts of animal remains despite the importance of animals throughout all of the site's occupation periods.