The 2011 campaign: Survey in the Northwest Quarter in Gerasa

"Ionic building" seen from the East
Ionic capital found in "Ionic building"
Monumental architectural block in the shape of an altar

With a three week long survey campaign the Danish-German Northwest Quarter project in Jerash was begun in September 2011. The team consisted of the directors Prof. Dr. Rubina Raja and Prof. Dr. Achim Lichtenberger, the archaeologists Dr. Georg Kalaitzoglou, Dr. Annette Højen Sørensen, Stefan Riedel MA, Ditte Maria Damsgaard Hiort BA, an architect Jens Christian Pinborg  and two geophysisists from the firm Eastern Atlas Dipl. Min. Dana Pilz and Dipl. Geophys. Rudolf Kniess. The representative from the Department of Antiquities of Jordan was Mr. Akram Aiktoum.

The aim of the 2011 campaign was to undertake a survey of the city’s Northwest Quarter, which stretches from the Artemision in the southeast to the city wall in the northwest. The survey laid the ground for a long-term project in this area of the city. It consisted of the following elements:

  1. An architectural field survey and documentation of all architectonic remains.
  2. Geodetic measuring of the topography and the architectonic remains.
  3. Geophysical prospection of the area through geomagnetic and georadar examination.


With these methods it was possible to fulfill the following aims:

A detailed documentation of the area and the archaeological remains, which until then neither had been examined nor documented. Furthermore information about the urban development of the quarter from the Hellenistic period to the early Islamic period was collected in order to compare with the development of other known areas of the city. On the basis of the combination of the survey results areas was selected for excavation during the 2012 campaign.

The survey

The urban survey was conducted by two teams that each worked in one of the two main sectors, which the area of examination was divided into at the beginning of the campaign. The survey was exclusive non-invasive and concentrated on a surface architectural survey. Therefore surface ceramic was not included in the documentation. The survey teams were assisted by an architect, who documented 25 architectural elements as well as a Roman period relief fragment. All elements were documented in a 3D-Photo-Modeler-System. Within the area of examination around 350 wall structures were identified and documented in detail. The survey showed that the area was laid out on an orthogonal grid with streets and supporting terraces on which the multiple wall structures made up various complexes of different sizes, functions and periods.

Primarily the visible structures could be dated to the period between the Late Imperial period, early Byzantine period and the early Islamic period. In the following sections the most characteristic buildings of particular interest will be introduced. These will be examined in the following field work campaigns.

The ‘Ionic Building’

This monumental complex is located centrally on the hill top within the Northwest quarter . It consists of a fairly large and roughly square building with several rooms. In front of the complex an oblong more than 50 meter long terrace stretching towards the East in the direction of the Sanctuary of Artemis extends. The building itself incorporates a significant number of spolia, among these several of the Ionic order. These would originally have been part of one or more Roman period buildings. The location and layout of this complex indicates that it could have been an important residence of Islamic period Jerash. Particularly noticeable are three adjoining “courtyard houses” which seem to belong to the same period as the “IonicBuilding”. This area and its complexes deserve to be treated in more detail as it may reveal interesting results about societal structures in the period between late antiquity and the Islamic period. The “Ionic building” complex will be an object of investigation through carefully placed sondages in the years to come in order to clarify aspects of its history and use over a longer period.

In the adjoining area a monumental monolithic altar was also detected in an open pit indicating earlier cultic activities in the area

South Street and cistern

The ‘southern street’ and adjoining complexes

In the southern part of the area of investigation a street was identified. It is East-West oriented and runs from the city wall to the rectangular cistern. On both sides of this street complexes branch off. A variety of complexes could be identified hereunder complexes used for production purposes, a complex with a small cistern and several courtyard structures. This “quarter” stretches over terraces laid out on the hill sloping towards the South. Between some of these complexes side streets leading up the hill were identified. Although most visible structures in this area seem to be of late antique to Islamic date the overall layout of the area roughly fits into the orthogonal street grid of the ancient Roman city. Thus this area needs to be treated in more detail in order to comprehend its changing use and development over time.

The cistern

In the Southeastern part of the investigation area a large rock cut rectangular cistern is situated. It measures app. 41 by 21 meters.  The cistern abruptly blocks the Southern street and it is thus likely that the cistern was built sometime when the street had lost its urban function as a line of connection between the western and the eastern parts of the area.

Under the cistern a natural cave is located. This cave stretches East-West for a distance of at least 20 meters and becomes gradually deeper towards the West. At least the western part of the cave was used as a cistern as well. Two different kinds of plaster were detected, one of which was probably modern. In the ceiling of the cave a round stone cut opening for drawing water was located. When the large rectangular cistern was built on top of the cave cistern this opening had been closed. The lower cistern probably fell out of use at that point in time, but the modern plaster indicates a recent re-use of the cave cistern.

On the east side of the rectangular cistern where the natural cave comes closest to the surface the rock ceiling of the lower cistern at some point collapsed. The collapse was repaired by the construction of three walls and thick layers of plaster which together with the eastern rock made up a kind of repair-shaft which may have helped prevent water vanishing into the destroyed lower cistern.

One objective in coming campaigns will be to clarify the dates of construction, water supply to and use of the water from the cisterns. As not much is known about the water supply within the ancient city of Jerash one aim will be to examine closely whether water supply and distribution to the Northwestern part of the city can be traced through an investigation of the cisterns and their immediate surroundings.

The geophysical team from Eastern Atlas
Northwest Quarter with overlaid geophysical survey map

The northern domestic complexes and caves

On the North side of the area of investigation the hill is cut off by a steep rock hill side. At various places this hill side was worked both horizontally and vertically. The rock cut facades were integrated into several buildings some of which were connected with caves of varying sizes. At two points rock cut staircases created access from the area below the hill to the area on top. Two noticeable complexes are located between the rock hill side and the terrace of the “Ionic building”. These structures indicate domestic use in more phases.

Geodetic survey

Over fourteen days two surveyors undertook the geodetic survey which was done with a total station. With the aim of drawing up a detailed map of the Northwest quarter the area (app. 3.8 hectares) was measured with a Sokkisha Set5 total station. In close cooperation with the results of the survey teams it was possible to record all topographic as well as visible architectural remains. The map which shows the combination of the architectural and geodetic surveys gives a detailed plan of the visible structures in this area of the city.

Geophysical survey (geomagnetics and georadar)

The geophysicists from Eastern Atlas, Berlin, worked from 14th to 19th September 2011. They undertook a large scale geometric prospection of the entire survey area. An array carrying six fluxgate was used for the geomagnetic prospection. Due to the topography a positioning via DGPS was applied. The array was carried by two persons because of the extreme nature of the topography of the area, which did not allow wheeling the measuring tool across the area.

Through the magnetogramme anomalies were detected and could be interpreted as topographical, geological and archaeological features. A first analysis hints at the conclusion that some of these features can be correlated with architectural structures visible on the ground.

At the Northern edge of the surveyed area, the magnetogramme shows parallel structures which probably hint at the Western section of the Northern decumanus leading to a monumental city gate. On the terrace East of the “IonicBuilding” North-South running structures have been detected, crossing the terrace. They might be connected with some kind of division of or earlier constructions on the terrace. Also South of the same terrace several wall structures, which are not visible on the surface have been detected, hinting at a domestic quarter.

Ground penetrating radar was applied in carefully selected areas in order to test the feasibility of this method on the terrain. A GSSI SIR 3000 with a 270 MHz antenna was used. It proved difficult to distinguish limestone from limestone sediment and therefore also difficult to measure depths in the areas. However, for structures which were closer to the surface there may be more positive results.


The two week long survey campaign offered many results, which need to be further analyzed. Until now a detailed map of the Northwest quarter has been compiled and compared with the geophysical results. On the basis of the analysis areas of particular interest have been selected for laying out trenches in the 2012 campaign. The combination of architectural, geodetic and geophysical survey proved to be an excellent way to conduct non-invasive prospection of the site and provides us with optimal information for preparing the further excavations. Already during the survey and in the following months of analysis several structures, which are promising for future excavations that aim at examining the settlement history of the Northwest quarter of Jerash, could be determined. Most structures visible on the surface seem to be of post-Roman date. Nonetheless, structures which are geared towards answering more specific questions such as that of the development of the city’s water supply system and urban transformations at the end of classical antiquity were also detected in the first campaign.


Aarhus and Bochum:

Prof. Dr. Rubina Raja, Director

Prof. Dr. Achim Lichtenberger, Director

Dr. Georg Kalaitzoglou

Dr. Annette Højen Sørensen

MA Stefan Riedel

BA Jens Christian Pinborg

BA Ditte Marie Damsgaard Hiort 

Eastern Atlas:

Mineralogist Dana Pilz

Geophysisist Rudolf Kniess