The Medieval sugar industry at Tawahin es-Sukkar, Jordan

The Medieval sugar industry at Tawahin es-Sukkar, Jordan

This multi-disciplinary project investigates the Medieval sugar industry at Tawahin es-Sukkar, at the southern end of the Dead Sea in Jordan. It was launched in 1998 as a cooperation between the Department of Archaeology at Glasgow University (Richard Jones and Allan Hall), Scottish Analytical Services for Art & Archaeology (Effie Photos-Jones), Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division (GUARD) (Heather James and Gary Tompsett) and K.D. Politis (Hellenic Society for Near Eastern Studies).

The photograph above shows an aerial view looking NE showing the locations of the Tawahin es-Sukkar (TeS) and Khirbat Shaykh ‘Isa (KSI) with Wadi al-Hasa behind and modern Safi in the background



Tawahin: Location map

Two years of survey work were followed by a season of excavation in 2002 at Tawahin and at the adjacent settlement of Khirbat Shaykh ‘Isa, the probable site of Byzantine-Early Islamic Zughar/Zoara. The resulting study season in 2006 extended the collaboration to specialists at the Museum of London Specialist Services (Tony Grey), the Institute of Archaeology at London University (Liz Henton), University of Adelaide in Australia (Margaret O’Hea), the Ashmolean Museum (Luke Treadwell), Cardiff University (Louise Joyner) and Liverpool University (Eleni Asouti).

Work at Tawahin es-Sukkar has revealed much about the sequence of stages involved in sugar production. Excavation exposed the well-preserved mill room (Fig. 3), and laboratory analyses of materials recovered from the waste dump outside the refinery pointed to the use of fine-grained calcite/gypsum sediments, probably from the nearby Lisan peninsula of the Dead Sea, in the crucial step of clarifying the sugar concentrate.


Tawahin es-Sukkar: the mill room in the foreground and the two water chutes in the background

During the time the refinery was operating at the Tawahin in the 11th-13th centuries, Khirbat Shaykh ‘Isa was also involved in the sugar industry as there is plentiful evidence of sugar pot production. Two phases of occupation were exposed in one deep trench at Khirbat Shaykh ‘Isa: 6th-9th and 10th-15th centuries; the later phase, encompassing the late Islamic, Crusader to Mamluk periods, also appears in four other trenches distributed across the site. Study of the finds and in particular the plentiful and varied pottery points to Khirbat Shaykh ‘Isa having been a thriving market town operating within a network of trade probably dominated by the axis of the Jordan Valley, to the south as far as Egypt and north to Syria. The faunal evidence suggests an urban society reliant on agricultural production and using cattle and camel for draught.


Sugar pot (left) and molasses pot (right)



Sugar pot waster


The project grateful acknowledges the British Academy, the Seven Pillars of Wisdom Trust and the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland for recent financial support.

Prepared by REJ May 2007

Jones R E, G Tompsett, KD Politis and E Photos-Jones, 2000, The Tawahin as Sukkar and Khirbat Ash-Shaykh ‘Isa Project Phase I: The Surveys. Annual of the Department of the Antiquities of Jordan 44, 523-534.

Photos-Jones E, KD Politis, HF James, AJ Hall, RE Jones and J Hamer, 2002, The Sugar Industry in the Southern Jordan Valley: An interim report on the pilot season of excavations, geophysical and geological surveys at Tawahin as-Sukkar and Khirbat Ash-Shaykh Isa. In Ghawr As-Safi, Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 46, 591-614.

Photos-Jones E, AJ Hall, RE Jones and E Pantos, in press, “Sweet waste”: the industrial waste from the medieval sugar refinery at the Tawahin es-Sukkar in Jordan. Festschrift for Michael Tite (T Rehren, I Freestone and A Shortland eds), UCL Press.