The Wadi Arabah Project is an international multi-disciplinary project which aims to establish the key historical role of the Wadi Arabah as a dynamic interface between southern Jordan and the Negev of southern Israel. The project brings together scholars who have been carrying out fieldwork on both sides of the Wadi Arabah, in Israel and Jordan, to co-operate in producing a collaborative overview of an area which was always more of a route than a barrier.

Aims and objectives
Methodology and Output
Directors and scholars involved


The Wadi Arabah, running between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, and separating the Negev from southern Jordan, marks the line of the modern political border between Israel and Jordan. For the early first millennium BC it is usually regarded as the border between the kingdoms of Judah and Edom. Together with its supposed barrenness, this idea of the Wadi Arabah as a boundary has tended to condition modern interpretation of it as a barrier. However, the Wadi Arabah has a number of springs and dense vegetation in places. Moreover, recent research shows that in most periods southern Jordan and the Negev were part of the same socio-economic system, implying that the Wadi Arabah was a bridge between them. Particular trade routes are known, and ethnographic sources indicate that beduin groups from southern Jordan regularly crossed the Wadi Arabah to reach the Negev and beyond.

Parts of the Wadi Arabah have been surveyed archaeologically and some sites have been excavated, particularly Timna and Wadi Faynan on the west and east sides respectively, which form the largest copper production centre of the southern Levant. Nevertheless, archaeological research in the Wadi Arabah has been constrained by three factors:

  • Fieldwork has inevitably been carried out completely independently on the east (Jordan) and west (Israel) sides of the wadi, and no overall understanding or even map of all known sites has ever been produced.
  • With certain exceptions, the wadi has in general been regarded as a barrier and as a hinterland of sites in the east or west, but its role as a route - not only north-south but especially east-west - is so far poorly understood.
  • Much of the survey work in both Israel and Jordan is unpublished, and even lists of sites and their coordinates are difficult to access.

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Aims and Objectives

The Wadi Arabah Project is problem-oriented. Its aims are to study the Wadi Arabah as a historically dynamic area linking southern Jordan with the Negev. Its objectives are:

  1. To achieve a comprehensive overview of how the Wadi Arabah was formed and how it developed geologically and environmentally.
  2. To determine its resources in terms of minerals, water, flora, fauna and routes.
  3. To establish the settlement patterns from the Palaeolithic to Ottoman periods.
  4. To investigate how the Wadi Arabah was used throughout history, including ethnographic data, and to map its role clearly as a bridge between southern Jordan and the Negev.

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Methodology and Outputs

The Wadi Arabah Project is planned in three phases:

Phase 1 has been completed: A Geographic Information System (GIS) of all sites recorded by surveys and excavations (currently 6000+ sites). Unpublished survey data available in Israel and Jordan is included, with the co-operation of the surveyors and excavators. The GIS uses a digital terrain model (DTM) to show the diverse topography of the wadi and to allow three-dimensional manipulation of the data. The area covered by the GIS is the entire Wadi Arabah, including the wadi systems and mountain ranges on both sides, in order to indicate how the wadi interconnected between southern Jordan and the Negev.

Phase 2 has been completed: A conference under the title Crossing the Rift: Resources, Routes, Settlement Patterns and Interaction in the Wadi Arabah was held in November 2003 at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta, GA, within the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. This conference consisted of 26 papers from all those who hold primary data on the resources, archaeology and history of the Wadi Arabah. Its purpose was twofold: firstly, to address the four objectives of the Wadi Arabah Project, listed above, as far as current evidence allows; secondly, to identify the gaps in knowledge and discuss further fieldwork. The discussions provide the framework for Phase 3 of the project. The proceedings of the conference have now been published in the British Academy Monographs in Archaeology series, edited by the project directors, published by Oxford University Press, and funded by the Council for British Research in the Levant.

Phase 3 (2004-): A three-pronged strategy to complete archaeological coverage of the entire Wadi Arabah, in cooperation with other projects on both sides of the wadi in Jordan and Israel:

  • Analysis and publication of unpublished surveys of parts of the west-central Wadi Arabah
  • Enhancement of existing survey and excavation data to make it usable in GIS format.
  • New survey and excavation, especially in the central and north-western Arabah. The survey methodology will use GIS database design and models, particularly useful for locating ancient roads, by generating GIS 'optimal path' statistical functions to delineate fully the most probable route between contemporaneous sites.

This work will be published in a series of journal papers, and eventually will form the basis of a second comprehensive monograph on the archaeology and history of the Wadi Arabah.

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The institutions sponsoring this project are (alphabetically):
W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research
American Schools of Oriental Research
Center for Old World Archaeology and Art, Brown University
Council for British Research in the Levant
Fernbank Museum of Natural History, Atlanta
Manchester Museum
School of Archaeology, Classics and Oriental Studies, University of Liverpool
Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University

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Project directors

Dr Piotr Bienkowski
Deputy Director, Collections and Academic Engagement, Manchester Museum,
University of Manchester, England
Professor of Archaeology, University of Manchester

Dr Eveline J. van der Steen
Honorary Research Fellow, School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology,
University of Liverpool

Scholars in
volved in the Wadi Arabah Project
The Wadi Arabah Project has brought together scholars from all over the world, specialists on the geology, ecology, history, and archaeology of the Wadi Arabah in all periods, from the Palaeolithic to the present day. For more information on scholars and expertise involved, follow the link below.

* Scholars and expertise *
(affiliations, areas of research and interest)

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© Wadi Arabah Project - Eveline van der Steen - last updated 16 September 2008



How old is the Kingdom of Edom?
Another dissenting view
(24 Sept. 2006)

Crossing the Rift:
the conference

Settlement history
of the
Wadi Arabah


History of Research

Flora and Fauna

Wastewater management projects

UNESCO project