THE CITY OF COPPER AXES: ARCHEOLOGICAL RESEARCH,
RESTORATIONS AND TRAINING IN THE EARLY BRONZE AGE SITE OF KHIRBET AL-BATRAWY
Lorenzo Nigro, Department of Ancient World Studies, Sapienza
Monther Jamhawi, Department of Antiquities of Jordan
excavations, restorations and valorization, and training of local staff (2010-2012)
Introduction: The Discovery of the City of Batrawy
The city of Khirbet al-Batrawy represents a rare example of an early urban center arising in a peripheral
area of the ancient Near East at the dawn of urban civilization in the third millennium BC.
The discovery of Batrawy in 2004 by a Rome Sapienza Expedition, and the ﬁndings at the Royal Palace in 2009,
opened up new perspectives on the inhabitance and settlement of these fringe regions, especially in the
period before the domestication of the camel.
Exploration of the "Palace of Copper Axes" and of the City-Walls
The planning activities for exploration moved from the discovery in 2009 of the Royal Palace
(the "Palace of copper axes"), a public building of the third millennium BC which has provided a wealth of data
and ﬁndings in an extraordinary state of preservation. Field operations have focused on the completion of the
excavation at the Western Pavilion of the Palace, where beside the ﬁnding of whole vessels and valuable objects,
faunal and paleobotanical remains have also been sampled for chemical-physical analyses, which involves:
C-14 dating, pollen analyses, isotope analysis for metal artifacts, thermoluminescence.
A second aim of the Expedition has been the exploration of the well-preserved great city-walls in Area B North,
just north of the Royal Palace. The excavations have been carried out towards the west, exploring the triple line
of fortiﬁcations with its projecting towers and bastions.
Training of Local Personnel
In cooperation with the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, the project for training local personnel for
possible tourism in the site is carried out, with the realization of paths and panels; while the formation of
local restorers focuses on the restoration of ceramic materials and stone structures.
Activities for the creation of a future museum hosting a collection of all the objects which have been found
has been established in collaboration with the Department of Antiquities, and has begun with a systematic
restoration of the artifacts, in particular the ﬁndings from the "Palace of copper axes".
The project is being carried out with annual campaigns of six weeks during the months of May-June and September-October.
Until 2004, no one could have imagined that an ancient city (from the beginning of the third millennium BC)
had risen on the hill of Batrawy, a rocky cliff now in the northern periphery of the modern city of Zarqa
in north-central Jordan. In December 2004 the archaeological Expedition to Palestine and Jordan from Sapienza,
during a survey along the Upper Wadi az-Zarqa Valley, discovered a human settlement on this hilltop.
Since spring 2005, with the collaboration of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, systematic excavations
began at the site and immediately revealed a fortiﬁed city with massive defensive structures.
Researches have so far been able to deﬁne the main stages of development of the ancient city, founded at the
beginning of the third millennium BC, as the pivotal center of the Upper Wadi az-Zarqa Valley, and in a
strategic position to control the ford across the river, located in a hinge between the desert, a hilly
plateau and irrigated valleys, capable of controlling commercial routes and a vast and rich territory,
which integrated sedentary agricultural production, herding, trade. In previous campaigns (2005-2009) at
Khirbet al-Batrawy, the EB II-III (3000-2300 BC) city-walls, the city-gate, the temple on the eastern terrace,
and a series of houses and public buildings were all brought to light inside the city, which was destroyed by
a ﬁerce ﬁre around 2300 BC, and reoccupied by a rural village in the last two centuries of the third millennium BC.
During the 2010-2012 campaigns a large building, which proved to be the EB IIIB Royal Palace
(the "Palace of copper axes"), was discovered just inside the city-gate. It consisted of several pavilions and
yielded a large amount of ﬁndings in an extra-ordinary state of preservation, due to the ﬁerce ﬁre which destroyed
the city. So far, works have involved the excavation of the pillared hall, the rectangular storeroom, and the
central hall of the Western Pavilion (maybe the audience hall of the Palace). More recently works have also moved
to the western courtyard, which is still being excavated. Among the ﬁndings, it is worth mentioning the presence
of ceremonial vessels (including two jars decorated with applied ﬁgures of snakes and scorpions), ﬁve cop-per axes,
bone objects, potter's wheels, an Egyptian siltstone palette, and a four-string necklace of about 650 beads in
amethyst, carnelian, rock crystal, frit, bone, shell and copper. Findings point to a ﬂourishing center,
able to import metal (copper) objects, and precious stones, at that time symbols of economic wealth and political
power of the ruling class. The discovery of some Egyptian items (a "Lotus Vase" and the siltstone palette)
also reinforced the image of an urban center capable of establishing long-di-stance contacts, up to the Egypt
of the earliest Pharaonic dynasties.
The excavations at the monumental northern fortiﬁcations have, instead, brought to light a complex defense system
with a triple line of fortiﬁcation, which reachs the overall thickness of about 20 m, with projecting towers and
bastions built in large lime-stone blocks. This defense system protected the main city-gate.
The Expeditions have carried out systematic restorations on all the monuments brought to light,
creating an Archaeological Park.