Putting Umaryi Survey Site 84 into Context

The cave before cleanup

By: Amanda Hopkins, 2012 Heritage Fellow
You can read Amanda’s previous post here.

We were given permission to dig a cave that we are hoping could be a wine cellar found at Tall al- Umayri Survey Site 84. The landowners of this site agreed. News of the ability to dig is very exciting since the opening that we are attempting to excavate may have been used in the storage of wine for this large wine production facility. Site 84 dates from the late Iron II/ early Persian period.  The farmstead itself was excavated during the 1994 dig season after an initial survey of site 84 produced such installations as wine presses, reservoirs and cisterns.

It is believed that after the fall of Judea this site was part of an upsurge in investment made possible by the Ammonite after the Babylonians put an end to the Judean monarchy and ravaged its territory. Babylon effectively destroyed Judah’s wine producing abilities. The Babylonians left untouched the Ammonite lands.

Apparently, the Ammonites took advantage of this two-fold opportunity. Their former Judean adversaries no longer blockaded their ability to trade their wine.  With the decline of Judah’s wine industry, Ammonite wine production facilities sprung up all over the Umayri region. Tall al-Umayri lies two kilometers to the North of Site 84 and it was a secondary governmental center for the Ammonites. A seal impression found at Tall al-Umayri mentions the name of the Ammonite King, Baalyasha‘ the architect of the Ammonite extension. This seal impression positively links the capital, Amman, with the secondary governmental site, Tall al-Umayri.

Baalyasha‘ makes a brief appearance in the biblical record of these times. He is blamed for the assassination of Babylon’s choice of Judean governor, Gedaliah, as they concentrated their post- war efforts to mine their new provinces for tribute. The Babylonians had reappointed the very man who for years frustrated the Ammonites by his ability to block their wine trade. Baalyasha‘ rightly worried about his old competitor who had returned to power. The Ammonite king chose assassination as a vehicle to protect his flourishing industry.

However, the Babylonians were not pleased. Amman had to pay the price of an invasion of its own territory by the Babylonians. Site 84, provides the concrete architectural and material cultural data for Amman’s brief rise as a commercial power.

With so much history surrounding Site 84 I cannot help but feel exhilaration even when I am simply standing at the site.  For me, the ability to more closely examine this cave as one of Site 84’s installations is also quite a privilege. If it is as predicted, the cave could be a wine cellar used to store the wine produced by the presses that once surround it. Only closer examination will help identify the cave’s purpose for Site 84.

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