Explore the incredible and mysterious history of Khirbat al-Baluʿa
Perched along Wadi Balu’a, the site of Khirbat al-Baluʿa controlled the major north-south route through Transjordan. The most extensive period of occupation at Baluʿa dates to the Iron Age II period (c. 1000–550 B.C.E.) when the impressive city included a large, walled lower settlement with building walls preserved to over 6 feet in height and doorways with stone lintels still intact. The site is located in central Jordan, within the heartland of biblical Moab. A multiperiod site, Khirbat al-Baluʿa stretches over approximately 40 acres.
In preparation for the 2022 dig season at Khirbat al-Baluʿa, scheduled for June 23–August 4, Biblical Archaeology Review spoke with one of the directors of the project, Dr. Monique Roddy of Walla Walla University and La Sierra University, to learn more about this intriguing site.
What are some of the most intriguing archaeological finds from Khirbat al-Baluʿa?
“Khirbat al-Balu’a has several intact doorways in the stone walls of the Iron II period domestic structures. Excavating three of these doorways in one house has been an exciting moment for participants to feel like they are walking through a doorway into the past, literally!
Archaeological interest in Baluʿa arose in 1930 after the discovery of the Baluʿa Stela by the qasr, a monumental public structure now dated to the Iron II period.”
[Ed. Note: The Balu’a Stele is a six-foot-tall basalt carved stone. The stone, which includes several lines of a poorly preserved inscription, features an Egyptian-style depiction of a god and goddess along with a figure that is possibly a local Shasu ruler. Neither the date of the stele nor the language of its inscription are known, although most scholars suggest that it comes from the latter half of the second millennium B.C.E., well before the site was enlarged by the Moabites in the Iron Age. The Egyptian style of the stele may thus give evidence regarding the Egyptian influence in the region during the Late Bronze Age.]
What makes Khirbat al-Balu’a unique?
“Khirbat al-Balu’a is built almost entirely of basalt, a dark gray volcanic stone that is found naturally in the area. The hardiness of this stone and its distinctive color create quite a moody atmosphere when viewed against the wheat fields and blue sky! Some of the early investigators found the site to be too ‘gloomy’ in its remote location and gray stone, but we find it to be beautiful and dramatic.”
So what made your team want to dig at the site originally and how long have you been digging there?
“Balu’a is a large and spectacular basalt site set on the edge of a wadi that ultimately fed into the Wadi Mujib, an enormous canyon that divides Jordan from east to west. Walking surveys of these wadis led scholar Friedbert Ninow to propose that Balu’a once controlled one of the major north-south routes in this prominent location on the Karak Plateau. The Balu’a Regional Archaeological Project (BRAP) began officially in 2017, directed by Kent Bramlett, myself, and Friedbert Ninow. The project is supported by La Sierra University, Friedensau Adventist University in Germany, and Walla Walla University. Preliminary surveys and test excavations were carried out in 2010 and 2012 and provided the incentive to carry out more work with a larger team at this large and well-preserved site.”
What periods do you plan to excavate this season and what are your main research questions?
“We will be excavating in the Iron Age II settlement, including the qasr, a domestic structure, and the site’s fortifications. We will also be starting excavations of the medieval Islamic village. Our goals for this summer are related to refining our understanding of the occupational phases and dating of the settlements at Balu’a. This means we are particularly interested in carefully excavating in each area to collect ceramics and radiocarbon samples that will help us build a chronology for the site and a ceramic typology for the region. As a stratified site, or a site with multiple periods of habitation, Balu’a provides a rare opportunity that most of the single-phase Iron Age sites in the region do not. We also study the artifacts left behind to build our understanding of the political and economic history of this large site which was located on a major route in multiple periods.”
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