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Exploring the Spice Route: Bir Madhkur Project (2016)

Location: Bir Madhkur, Jordan

June 16, 2016 to July 24, 2016

Session dates: 
June 16 - July 24, 2016

Application Deadline: 
Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Deadline Type: 
Contact for details

Flyer: PDF icon bmp_brochure_proof-rev-2.pdf

Program Type

Field school
Staff position

RPA certified



The George Washington University

Project Director:

Andrew M. Smith II, The George Washington University; and Jennifer Tobin, The University of Illinois at Chicago

Project Description

The Bir Madhkur Project is a multi-disciplinary, archaeological field project aimed at exploring the economic hinterland of ancient Petra, a cultural heritage treasure in southern Jordan, as well as documenting the rich cultural landscape for purposes of preservation and community development. In 2015, the project will focus on excavating the cvilian settlment and the fort. We will also be documenting the course of the ancient Spice Route through the region.

Overview of Site

Bir Madhkur, located in the Wadi Araba in southern Jordan, is a Roman/Byzantine fort and settlement as well as a major caravan stop along the Arabian Spice Route that connected the ancient city of Petra, now one of the Seven Wonders of the World, with the Mediterranean port of Gaza. The site was occupied in the late Hellenistic (Nabataean), Roman, and Byzantine periods. The main features of the site include a Late Roman/Byzantine fort, a domestic settlement, a bath complex/caravanserai, and various ancillary structures. Sites in the vicinity of Bir Madhkur include additional caravan stations, farmhouses, and nomadic encampments. There is also extensive evidence of ancient agriculture in the region around the site.

The inhabitants of Bir Madhkur and of sites in its territory were a mix of native peoples practicing subsistence strategies based on pastoralism, agriculture, and trade, at varying levels of intensity over time. These groups intermingled with non-native peoples, including pilgrims, merchants, and soldiers, who passed through or were stationed in the region throughout much of the Roman and Byzantine periods. The Bir Madhkur Project examines, through historical, archaeological, and ethnographic research, the relationships between these native and non-native populations. Emphasis is on revealing the past function of Bir Madhkur as a regional center of social, economic, and cultural interaction and exchange, in the context of Petra's rural economy and urban development.

Period(s) of Occupation: Prehistoric through Islamic periods (focus is on Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine)

Bir Madhkur, located in the Araba valley in southern Jordan, is a Roman/Byzantine settlement and caravan station along the ancient Spice Route that connected the ancient city of Petra to the Mediterranean port of Gaza. In 2016, the project will focus on excavating the bath/caravanserai at the site. We will also continue the archaeological, landscape survey of the environs of Bir Madhkur with special attention paid to mapping the ancient agricultural features and documenting the course of the ancient Spice Route through the region.

Project size: 
1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: 5 weeks

Minimum age: 

Experience required: 

Room and Board Arrangements

On room and board arrangements, contact the project director.


Academic Credit

Number of credits offered Contact directors for more information


Contact Information
Andrew M. Smith II
Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations / The George Washington University / 345 Phillips Hall / 801 22nd St. NW
Recommended Bibliography: 

Smith, Andrew M., II. Roman Palmyra: Identity, Community, and State Formation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Smith, Andrew M., II, Beyond the Nabataean and Roman City: Surveying the Central and Southern Wadi Araba, Crossing Jordan: North American Contributions to the Archaeology of Jordan, 393-400, 2007,

Smith, Andrew M., II, Pathways, Roadways, and Highways: Networks of Communication and Exchange in Wadi Araba, Near Eastern Archaeology, 68: 180-189, 2005

Smith, Andrew M., II, Bir Madhkur Project: A Preliminary Report on Recent Fieldwork, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 340: 57-75, 2005,