Batrawy in 3rd millennium BC Jordan and the concept of city in the southern Levant

Thursday 7 June 2018,
BP Lecture Theatre
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The definition of ‘urbanisation’ and ‘city’, and how (if at all) we can recognise these concepts in the archaeological record in the 3rd millennium BC in the southern Levant, has long been a matter of debate. There has been some scepticism as to whether the concept is present in Jordan at this early date. Even the definition of ‘walled-town culture’, which R Schaub coined after the excavation of Bab edh-Dhra’, has sometimes been questioned.

Thirteen seasons of systematic excavations (2005–2017), surveys and studies by the Sapienza University of Rome at the 3rd millennium BC fortified site of Khirbet al-Batrawy in Jordan have uncovered an articulated defensive system, a temple, and especially a monumental burnt building (ranked ‘palace’) with furnishings and goods inside, including a hoard of copper axes, a bearskin and a gemstone necklace, which hint at many features of an Early Bronze Age city-state. The excavations of the palace provided a large set of stratified materials useful for putting forward an updated description of the peculiarities of urbanism in Jordan during Early Bronze Age II-III (3000–2300 BC).

In this talk, Lorenzo Nigro, La Sapienza University Roma, argues that elements in evidence at the site – such as control over raw materials distribution and long-distance trade with Egypt, Arabia, Syria and Mesopotamia, a particularly strong relationship with Egypt, spreading innovations (the introduction of the potter’s wheel for example), ceramic specialisation, labour organisation, the administration of a labour force and a territory and its natural resources – all suggest a sophisticated urban centre which can be reasonably described as a ‘city state’.

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