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The Iron Age nation/state of Moab is known from biblical texts that mention its wars with Israel (2 Kgs 1:1, 3:4-5), from the royal inscription of its king, Mesha, who boasted of his successes, and from the inscriptions of its seventh century Assyrian overlords (Dearman 1989). The precise geographical limits and the cultural characteristics of ancient Moab are less well known. The Moabites float in our imagination somewhere east of the Dead Sea, north of Edom and south of Ammon. But this haziness has begun to be resolved. Thanks to the extensive survey of Miller, central Moab south of the Wadi al-Mūjib has been intensively explored, and the published results have encouraged new excavation projects, such as the work of Routledge (1995:236) at Mudaynat ‘Aliya and of Mattingly (1996:69) on the Karak plateau (1995).

The assessment of the character of settlement north of the Wadi al-Mūjib has depended primarily on the excavations at the Moabite city of Dibon (modern Dhibān) by Canadian archaeologists Winnett (Winnett and Reed 1964) and Tushingham (1972) in the 1950s. Though they uncovered only a limited amount of Iron Age architecture, they recovered important Iron Age pottery from tombs. The similarity of this ceramic material with that collected by Glueck and Miller formed the foundation for Moabite ceramic typology.1 While it is clear that this Moabite style of pottery appears at Iron Age sites south of Dhibān, the extent of its distribution further north remains to be determined. Current excavations at Khirbat al-Mudayna on the Wadi ath-Thamad (Daviau) and at Madaba (Harrison 1997) represent the beginning of this search for Moab’s northern border. Only an elaborate study of large collections of such pottery and its association with other features of the material culture from Iron Age sites will succeed in determining the degree to which these cultural correlates are indicators of ethnicity (Finkelstein 1996:203) and bring the nation/state of Moab into archaeological focus.


This article was originally published in Biblical Archaeologist, 60(4): 222-228. © 1997 American Schools of Oriental Research. Reproduced with permission.