A Vital Community's Story
After laying silent for over 1,000 years, Umm el-Jimal became a home again in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Reoccupation began with the Druze, a largely Arab people with their own unique history, beliefs, and traditions—based in part on Islam—living mainly in Lebanon and Syria. However, in the 1800s Druze fleeing social and political upheaval in Ottoman Lebanon began to move east and then south into what is now Syria and northern Jordan. Along the way Druze often allied with local Arab bedouin tribes, who herded their livestock. By the early 20th century Druze occupied Umm el-Jimal permanently, staying until the mid-1930s when the formal border was demarcated between Jordan and Syria. During this period families reworked much of the ancient site, reusing or reconstructing many of the buildings to make them habitable.
The Masa'eid Arrive
After the Druze abandoned Umm el-Jimal, a large Arab tribe known as the Masa’eid settled in the area and made the antiquities part of their own community. The site had long been used for materials and camping by Arab bedouins; the Masa’eid reused the Druze’s deserted buildings and pitched their tents among the ruins. For awhile, schools were even created among the Byzantine buildings. After the government prohibited such use of the antiquities, the Masa’eid constructed the modern village that now surrounds the ancient site. The Department of Antiquities fenced off the ruins in 1972. The modern village has continued to grow since the 1950’s, and now constitutes a community of 4,000 with its own well-run municipal government.
Find Out More
Two Umm el-Jimal Project scholars, Melissa Cheyney and Robin Brown, have explored the history and culture of Umm el-Jimal's modern people in their research. To discover more details about 20th-century Umm el-Jimal, download their articles on the Library page.
Or, check out Among the Ruins for more information about lintel graffiti and tent sites, two important sets of physical remains from this time period.