Udhruh Archaeological Project

Area of study:

Udhruh, Ma’an Governorate.


Status of Project and date of conduction:

Project is still ongoing since 2011.



Project directors: Dr. Fawzi Abudanah (Al Hussein Bin Talal University) & Dr.ir. Mark Driessen (Faculty of Archaeology – Leiden University; Netherlands).[1]


Other interdisciplinary partners: Prof.dr. Frans Theuws (Faculty of Archaeology – Leiden University); Prof.dr. Jakob Wallinga (Centre for Luminescence Dating – Wageningen University: OSL-dating); Prof.dr.ir. Hans van der Plicht (Centre for Isotope Research – University of Groningen: 14C-datings); Dr.ir. Maurits Ertsen (Water Resources Management, Civil Engineering and Civil Sciences – Delft University: advisor irrigation systems and human agency); Dr.ir. Dominique Ngan-Tillard (Geo-Engineering, Civil Engineering and Geo-sciences – Delft University: advisor and controller geophysical research); Roeland Emaus MA (Saxion University for applied science: GIS, IT and geomatics); Maarten Sepers MA (Panoptes Heritage: photogrammetry and 3D-scanning and IT); Dr.ir. Marcel Hoosbeek (Department of Soil Quality – Wageningen University: soil quality analyses; advisor soil biogeo-chemistry, climatic change and terrestrial ecology); Prof.dr. Petra Sijpesteijn (Faculty of Humanities – Leiden University: analyses antique Arabic texts and inscriptions); Prof.dr. Jacques van der Vliet (Theology and Religious Studies – Radboud University: analyses antique Greek texts and inscriptions); Sarah Wenner MA (Department of Classics – University of Cincinnati: analyses Nabataean-Roman ceramics); Dr. Joanita Vroom (Faculty of Archaeology – Leiden University: analyses Byzantine-early Islamic ceramics); Prof.dr. Khaled al-Bashaireh (Yarmouk University: marble provenance determination); Mohammad al-Marahleh (DOA regional director Ma’an).


Brief about the Project:

The overall aim of the resulting Udhruh Archaeological Project (UAP) is to initiate an in-depth research into the development of a complete region in the hinterland of Petra. The central place of this region is the town of Udhruh, which housed an important Nabataean settlement, is best known for the presence of a Roman legionary fortress and became a major centre in Byzantine and Islamic times which seems to have replaced Petra itself.

The UAP, a joint venture between Leiden University and Al Hussein Bin Talal University, started in 2011 with a field-survey program, small-scale excavations and diverse GIS-related and subsurface-detection techniques. After five years of field campaigns we were able to reconstruct a significant part of the 48km² Udhruh region. With this we could create a geomorphological GIS map of the region and all visible archaeological structures (see for an example of such a map, figure 1). This field work revealed an actively exploited landscape reflecting investments of great effort and ingenuity in water management, agricultural intensification, trade services, communication and security networks.

Now we focus on the one hand on excavating parts of the centre – Udhruh – itself and the transformation processes that took place here from Nabataean till Islamic periods. On the other hand we work on the antique agro-hydrological solutions employed in the region of Udhruh.[2]


Significant Finds:

Almost all (approx. 90%) precipitation in (semi-)arid regions is lost through surface runoff and seepage, and becomes unavailable for agriculture.  In ancient times land-use systems and resource management, particularly elaborated water-harvesting schemes, were employed to prevent this loss. In the Udhruh region, 12 km to the east of Petra, a wide variety of such techniques was practiced in antiquity. People were thus able to benefit from large water catchment areas in the western direction of Udhruh, not only from the perennial spring, but especially from the large quantities of run-off and deep percolation water that else would get lost for human usage.

Three ancient agro-hydrological systems can be distinguished in the Udhruh region (see figure 1).

I.          A perennial source in Udhruh was used to irrigate a patchwork of small fields, with retrieved ceramics dating from the Nabataean period and onwards.

II.        In the hilly area northwest of Udhruh a combination of ancient rainwater-catchment and floodwater-harvesting techniques is observed, with surface finds dating from Nabataean and Byzantine times. This was employed to make use of the enormous amounts of run-off water.

III.       An impressive network of well-preserved ancient subterranean and surface-water conservation measures and connected irrigated fields – a qanat-system - was recorded in a large flood plain largely covered by alluvial deposits southeast of Udhruh. This system was constructed in order to collect vast quantities of deep percolation water.


Local community engagement (employment and public awareness):

Access to water is one of the greatest challenges mankind has to face in the 21st century. Ancient societies dealt with similar problems, as can be seen for the Udhruh region where innovative investments in agricultural and water resources management led to a massive transformation of the landscape and turning parts of the desert into green oases. For the Udhruh Archaeological Project we have gathered an international and interdisciplinary research team of scholars that will examine, in close cooperation with the local communities, on the one hand what the key to this water management and agricultural success was in ancient times. We hope on the other hand that the acquired knowledge of the antique agro-hydrological systems can contribute to sustainable agricultural and water management solutions for the future. We also have established an oral history project in collaboration and for the local communities of Udhruh. Ameliorating public awareness for cultural and archaeological heritage is one the aims of this oral history project.


Publications related to the project:

Driessen, M.J./F. Abudanah, 2016: The Udhruh Archaeological Project, in Glenn J. Corbett, G.J./Keller, D.R./Porter, B.A./ Ch.P. Shelton (eds.), Archaeology in Jordan 2014 and 2015 seasons, American Journal of Archaeology 118(4): 667-669.

Driessen, M.J./F. Abudanah, 2015: The Udhruh Archaeological Project – the 2011 - 2012 field surveys, in Vagalinski, L./N.Sharankov (eds.), Proceedings of the 22nd International Congress of Roman Frontier Studies Ruse, Bulgaria 2012, Sofia, 297-306.

Driessen, M.J./F. Abudanah, 2014: The Udhruh Archaeological Project, in Glenn J. Corbett, G.J./Keller, D.R./Porter, B.A./ Ch.A. Tuttle (eds.), Archaeology in Jordan 2012 and 2013 seasons, American Journal of Archaeology 118(4): 671.

Driessen, M.J./F. Abudanah, 2013: The Udhruh lines of sight: connectivity in the hinterland of Petra, Tijdschrift voor Mediterrane Archaeologie 50, 45-52.

Aldrabee, A., Wriekat, A., Tarawneh, M., Abudanah, F., & Radtke, M. (2017).  Semi-Quantitative Analysis for Pottery Fragments Excavated at Udhruh Site, Jordan by Non-Destructive SR-XRF Analysis Employing Multivariate Statistical Methods. Jordanian Journal of Physics, 10 (3): 127-137.

[1] ir. is a Dutch academic title relating to an elaborate MSc-graduation at a technical university.

[2] Mark Driessen is not only an archaeologist, but was educated and worked as an agronomist in the 80’s and 90’s of the last century.