What is Umm el-Jimal?
Umm el-Jimal is both a modern town and archaeological site of unknown name, located approximately 70km northeast of Amman and just south of the Syrian border. In ancient times the site was occupied from roughly the 1st to 8th centuries AD. After its decline, Umm el-Jimal’s dark basalt architecture lay silent until Syrian Druze and bedouin Msa'eid reoccupied it at the start of the 20th century. Umm el-Jimal was a frontier town in the desert, likely first inhabited by Nabataean traders caravanning between Petra and Damascus. With the arrival of Rome in the second century AD the village eventually became part of the Limes Arabicus—the line of garrisoned forts that protected the Roman province of Arabia. Even so, Umm el-Jimal’s inhabitants existed in relative autonomy, and by the 5th and 6th centuries it peaked as a prosperous Byzantine town of perhaps five thousand souls. Over the following centuries Umm el-Jimal’s residents remodeled and reused its stone structures, until its probable decline and gradual abandonment in the late 8th century.
Today archaeological and cultural research continues to piece together Umm el-Jimal’s fascinating story of routine ancient life. Although located on the semi-arid plain of the Hauran, its residents devised an ingenious water storage system. Canals and reservoirs collected runoff from kilometers away, enough to sustain thousands of people, their animals, and agriculture. Umm el-Jimal is also home to a unique architecture. Ancient denizens used abundant black basalt from the region’s volcanic plain to construct sturdy, insulated structures reaching up to six stories skyward. Techniques such as corbelling allowed most buildings to contain multiple floors, while cantilevered stairways provided access to these upper storeys. Recessed, ground-floor mangers in the walls provided domestic space for family livestock. For hundreds of years Umm el-Jimal’s citizens successfully created a thriving home on the edge of empires.
The Umm el-Jimal Project
The Umm el-Jimal Project began as an archaeological research program in 1972, founded by Dr. Bert de Vries to continue work first begun by Howard C. Butler and the Princeton University Expedition to South Syria in 1905 and 1909. Today it is an ongoing collaborative enterprise between the project and its international partners, including the residents and Municipality of Umm el-Jimal, the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, Jordan’s Ministries of Education and Tourism, the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR), and Open Hand Studios.
In 2007 this collaborative group began a new phase of research and work to continue integrating the academic and archaeological context of Umm el-Jimal with the site’s physical conservation, the modern community’s everyday life and cultural heritage, sustainable development, and public dissemination of results via an educational curriculum as well as on-site and virtual museums. To complete this renewed mission, current work at Umm el-Jimal is organized into several cooperating research teams. Led by Prof. de Vries, these teams successfully completed several on-site digital documentation seasons in 2009-2010—the project’s 11th and 12th field expeditions overall. More rounds of on-site work were completed in 2012 and 2014 to fulfill two grants from the Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation Program of the US Department of State's Cultural Heritage Center. Since 2014, the project also has worked with the Umm el-Jimal Women's Cooperative and UNESCO on the Umm el-Jimal Women's Empowerment Project. Finally, in June 2015 the project launched a new round of community engagement and archaeology ventures funded by the USAID/ACOR SCHEP program.
Using this Site
While the project website continues to evolve, information is organized according to the following scheme and is accessible through the large buttons at the top of every page:
This introduction, director's welcome, blog, and information geared to media outlets.
Summaries of excavations and surveys by types of evidence such as architecture, inscriptions, ceramics, and bones.
A developing open catalogue of the field data created by the project since its beginning in 1972, including publications, GIS and 3D modeling, images, and drawings.
Timeline and brief overviews of academic interpretation by topic, for example people and politics, religion and society, environment, and site conservation.
Umm el-Jimal's modern culture, oral history archive, plans for a community-operated heritage center, and restoring the site's ancient water system.
An online museum featuring a virtual-reality site tour, short films, artifact highlights, Arabic-English educational curriculum, UNESCO updates, and tourism information.
Contacting the project, volunteer opportunities, acknowledgements, and our partners and supporters.
Multimedia Help Button
Need help or tech support for multimedia on this site? Each page with multimedia contains a how-to button in its title section like the example immediately above. Click it to show context-specific comments for the page you're using, or head to the Help page (link available in each page's footer) for site-wide assistance.