large double mound tentatively identified as the biblical Zarethan, situated in the central Jordan Valley, approximately 1.8 km (1.1 mi.) east of the Jordan River, on the south side of Wadi Kafranja (32°16′15″ N, 35°35′00″ E; map reference 2046 × 1861). The higher of the two mounds lies to the east, rising to about 40 m above the present plain level. Approximately 20 m below the summit, the Lower Tell extends from the western side as a benchlike projection. Altogether, the site occupies an area of about 10 hectares (25 acres).
The first detailed archaeological survey of the site was undertaken by Nelson Glueck during his Survey of Eastern Palestine between 1939 and 1947. His collections of surface pottery indicated a long history of occupation from the Chalcolithic period to the Byzantine era. In 1953, small-scale soundings were made by Henri de Contenson at yet a third element of the site, Tell es-Sa῾idiyeh et-Tahta, a small, almost imperceptible mound lying about 400 m west of the Lower Tell. A thin occupation layer was found, with flints and pottery, dating to the Middle Chalcolithic period (fourth millennium).
It was not until 1964, however, that large-scale systematic excavations were begun at the main double mound. Between 1964 and 1967, four seasons were undertaken by a University of Pennsylvania expedition directed by James B. Pritchard. In 1985, a new campaign of excavations was initiated by Jonathan N. Tubb on behalf of the British Museum; to date (1993), seven seasons have taken place.
Combining the results of the two expeditions, the earliest remains so far excavated belong to the Early Bronze II period. At this time, occupation was extensive, covering not only the Lower Tell, but also, in all probability, the base area of the Upper Tell.
On the Lower Tell, three main areas have yielded significant and sophisticated architectural remains. In the best-preserved exposure, part of a large domestic complex shows a suite of carefully planned and well-constructed rooms built of mud brick on stone foundations (see figure 1). This complex, together with most of the buildings revealed in the other excavation areas, is assigned to stratum L2, which was destroyed by fire toward the end of the first quarter of the third millennium.
Following the destruction of L2, there seems to have been some short-lived occupation within the burnt ruins. This somewhat ephemeral phase of campsite occupation (stratum L1) is characterized by the patching and modification of surviving L2 structures, with only minor and poorly constructed additions.
Stratum L1 has all the appearances of a temporary squatter occupation. It is not yet known whether occupation continued uninterrupted on the eastern. Upper Tell; however, as far as the Lower Tell is concerned, it appears to have been completely abandoned until the very end of the Late Bronze Age, when it became the site of an extensive and intensively used cemetery.
Between 1985 and 1992, some 480 graves were excavated in an area toward the center of the mound; fifty had been excavated on the north side by the Pennsylvania expedition. Of the total, about 5 percent can be attributed to the Late Iron–Persian periods; the remainder, possessing datable finds, can all be assigned to LB III (end of the thirteenth, beginning of the twelfth centuries BCE). The graves show considerable variety with regard to construction method, disposition of the deceased, grave goods, and burial customs—indicative indeed of a mixed population.
Many of the graves consist of simple pits without further elaboration. In some instances, use was made of structural elements (foundation stones, mud bricks) from the underlying EB occupation to create kerbs or markers. Toward the center of the area, a group of more elaborate graves was found. These should more correctly be considered tombs and were clearly intended to be partially visible above ground level: they are constructed of purpose-made mud bricks and roofed with slabs of the same material.
The grave goods and burial practices pertaining to the Sa῾idiyeh cemetery make it quite clear that the site was under Egyptian control during this period. The richness and variety of the finds indicate society's affluence. Large numbers of bronzes have been found—vessels, weapons, and ornaments—many of them Egyptian in style. It is, however, the seals, amulets, stone vases, items of jewelry and ivory objects which most clearly display Egyptian craftsmanship. More significantly, perhaps, the burial practices also appear to be Egyptian in origin: the use of linen for wrapping the burial gifts and for the tight binding of the deceased.
One of the most interesting and important burial types found in the cemetery is the so-called double pithos, in which the deceased was enclosed in a “coffin” composed of two large storejars joined shoulder to shoulder. This type of burial, represented at Sa῾idiyeh by twenty-seven examples, while extremely rare elsewhere in ancient Palestine, is quite commonly found in LB cemeteries in southern and southwestern Anatolia. Its occurrence in some number at Sa῾idiyeh may well indicate the presence within the population of an alien, perhaps Sea Peoples, element—not altogether unexpected for a city under Egyptian control. The results of the cemetery are supplemented by those from the Upper Tell, where excavation revealed remains of the contemporary settlement. [See Jar Burials.]
Stratum XII, the lowest phase of occupation so far reached on the Upper Tell, has been examined in three excavation areas. Toward the center of the mound, parts of a large and impressive public building were found whose plan and construction methods conform to the so-called Egyptian Governors' Residency. This type of building, known from a number of Egyptian-controlled sites west of the Jordan River (e.g. Beth-Shean, Tell el-Far῾ah [South]), is characterized by a peculiarly Egyptian method of construction which, for example, utilizes deep brick foundations instead of the more usual stone.
On the west side of the tell, behind a substantial casemate city wall, a second administrative complex has been partly excavated (see figure 2). Termed loosely the Western Palace, this complex consists of a series of rooms, courtyards, and chambers laid out on either side of a narrow passageway which leads through the city wall to the exterior by means of a small opening (possibly a postern). The complex's most interesting features are a pair of interconnecting vaulted cisterns and a semicircular pool with an elaborate system of inlet and outflow channels. That the pool was concerned with commercial activities rather than purely domestic functions is clear from the large number of storejars of Egyptian design found at its base. It is possible that this pool served as a cooling tank, perhaps for storing wine.
The third main structure which can be assigned to stratum XII is the water-system staircase, beautifully constructed out of stone and cut into the tell's north slope. Having descended the mound in a series of broad, shallow steps, the staircase turns 90 degrees at the base and continues down through a flight of much steeper steps to a depth of some 8 m below plain level. At this point, the two sidewalls curve in to enclose a small semicircular pool; the water is supplied to the system by an underground spring and fed into the pool by a skillfully manufactured conduit.
The stratum XII architecture and the contemporary cemetery provide clear evidence for an Egyptian presence at Sa῾idiyeh during the twelfth century BCE. It seems likely that the city was a major taxation center or entrepôt, serving the needs of the Egyptian Empire during its final phase under the pharaohs of the twentieth dynasty.
Stratum XII was destroyed by fire toward the middle of the twelve century BCE, when use of the Lower Tell cemetery also came to an end. The site appears to have been abandoned for some time following, perhaps for as long as one hundred years. Toward the end of the eleventh century BCE, a rather ephemeral phase of campsite occupation (stratum XIB) was established within the now silted-up stratum XII ruins. Consisting of little more than beaten-earth surfaces, fireplaces, and postholes—presumably for shelters—this phase seems to have been preconstruction rather than post-destruction. In any event, stratum XIA, which follows it, represents a very restricted occupation. It remains, which can be dated to the early tenth century BCE, have only been found near the center of the tell. A single, rather poorly constructed building was excavated which, for reasons of its proportions and ground plan, is thought to be a type of temple. It is bipartite, with the smaller room to the rear. This rear room, or sanctuary, had a plastered bench against the back wall, incorporating an inset niche; a burnt area with an incense stand and a pile of gazelle bones was found in front of the niche.
Little can be said of the next three phases (strata X-VIII). Again, they appear to represent restricted and poor settlements which, in the area examined, consisted of roughly paved, cobbled courtyards with traces of flimsily built mudbrick walls.
The next important period in the site's history appears with stratum VII (late ninth–early eighth centuries BCE). Perhaps as a consequence of the renewed occupation of Transjordan by the Israelite king Jeroboam II, Sa῾idiyeh underwent a major expansion at this time. Stratum VII, extensively excavated by both the Pennsylvania and the British Museum expeditions, shows a densely packed settlement consisting of houses, stores, workshops, and industrial installations arranged on a well-planned grid of intersecting streets and alleyways. For the first time since stratum XII, a city wall encircled the settlement. Weaving and textile preparation seem to have been the main industrial activities: many hundreds of clay loom weights were found in what must have been workshops, often in distinctive alignments indicating the configuration of the looms.
Almost all of the stratum VII housing units had bathrooms containing both basins and toilets, suggesting that cleanliness and sanitation were major concerns of the inhabitants. The best-preserved example consisted of a raised room approached by three steps. Inside was a large plastered basin and a sitting-height mud-brick pedestal with a comfortably rounded seat made of fine mud plaster. Both units could be flushed through with water, being provided in each case with inlet and outflow channels, the latter leading to a combined soak-away drain (a drainage basin that does not have a constructed conduit) in the courtyard below.
By the end of the first decade of the eighth century BCE, the prosperity of the city had declined; stratum VI, which succeeded VII without any evidence of a catastrophe of any sort, shows Sa῾idiyeh, once again, as a small settlement confined to an inner zone on the tell's surface. Fortunes must have revived, by the middle of the eighth century BCE, however, for stratum V is extensive. It has a new city wall and is similar in most respects to stratum VII, with the same pattern of workshops and industrial units arranged on a grid. In stratum V, however, the plan is even more strictly formalized, with insulae of workshop complexes, all with very similar internal room arrangements. Again, like stratum VII, the emphasis of the industry was on textile manufacture. Stratum V was relatively short-lived. It was destroyed by fire around 720 BCE, perhaps by the Assyrians. Although the inhabitants probably had time to escape, some of their unfortunate animals were abandoned: several burnt-out stalls have been excavated, each containing the charred bones of equids (donkeys).
The destruction of 720 BCE was one from which the city never really recovered. Stratum V was succeeded by an enigmatic phase (stratum IV) represented solely by large numbers of deep, unlined storage pits which had contained animal fodder. During the Persian period (fifth century BCE), an administrative building, or perhaps a fort, was established on the highest point on the Upper Tell (the so-called acropolis), but remains of any contemporary settlement (stratum III) have proved to be elusive. It may well be that occupation moved to the as-yet completely unexplored eastern side of the mound. Certainly some occupation is indicated by the presence in the Lower Tell cemetery of a number of graves of this period.
The Persian period building on the acropolis was replaced by a similar, but larger fortress in the Hellenistic period (stratum II); by then, however, the presence at the site may have been little more than token or strategic: no finds from this period have been found anywhere else on the site. The Roman period (stratum I) is represented by a solitary watch-tower guarding the northwest corner of the Upper Tell. The very last traces of occupation consist of a single-roomed farmhouse on the Upper Tell and what may be a type of khan, or caravanserai, on the north side of the Lower Tell, both dating to the seventh–eighth centuries CE.
- Contenson, Henri de. “Three Soundings in the Jordan Valley.” Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 4–5 (1960): 12–98, 36 figs. Account of the soundings undertaken at Tell es-Sa῾idiyeh et-Taḥta.
- Glueck, Nelson. Explorations in Eastern Palestine. Vol. 4. Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 25/28. New Haven, 1951. The first detailed survey of the site, including an extended discussion of the identification.
- Pritchard, James B. “Two Tombs and a Tunnel in the Jordan Valley: Discoveries at the Biblical Zarethan.” Expedition 6.4 (1964): 2–9.
- Pritchard, James B. “A Cosmopolitan Culture of the Late Bronze Age.” Expedition 7.4 (1965): 26–33. Popular account of the work of the Pennsylvania expedition; see also Pritchard (1964).
- Pritchard, James B. The Cemetery at Tell es-Sa῾idiyeh, Jordan. University Museum, Monograph 41. Philadelphia, 1980. Definitive report on Pritchard's excavation in the cemetery.
- Pritchard, James B. Tell es-Sa῾idiyeh: Excavations on the Tell, 1964–1966. University Museum, Monograph 60. Philadelphia, 1985. Final report of the Pennsylvania expedition's work on the Upper Tell.
- Tubb, Jonathan N. “Tell es-Sa῾idiyeh: Preliminary Report on the First Three Seasons of Renewed Excavations.” Levant 20 (1988): 23–88.
- Tubb, Jonathan N. “Preliminary Report on the Fourth Season of Excavations at Tell es-Sa῾idiyeh in the Jordan Valley.” Levant 22 (1990a): 21–42.
- Tubb, Jonathan N., and Rupert L. Chapman. Archaeology and the Bible. London, 1990b. Chapter 4 offers a popular account of the British Museum excavations.
- Tubb, Jonathan N., and Peter G. Dorrell. “Tell es-Sa῾idiyeh: Interim Report on the Fifth (1990) Season of Excavations.” Levant 23 (1991): 67–86.
- Tubb, Jonathan N. “Tell es-Sa῾idiyeh: Interim Report on the Sixth Season of Excavations.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 125 (1993): 50–74.
Jonathan N. Tubb