Known today as the “Khatt Shebib,” the wall’s existence was first reported in 1948, by Sir Alec Kirkbride, a British diplomat in Jordan. While traveling by airplane in Jordan, he saw a “stone ancient wall running, for no obvious purpose, across country.”
Archaeologists have been investigating the remains of the wall using aerial photography. The researchers found that the wall runs north-northeast to south-southwest over a distance of 106 km. The structure contains sections where two walls run side by side and other sections where the wall branches off. Estimated to be around 1,900 years old, the structure has about 100 towers along its length, measuring 2 to 4 meters in diameter. Some of the towers were constructed after the wall was built, the researchers say.
Up until now the only dating information the scientists have comes from pottery found in the towers and other sites along the wall. Based on the pottery found to date, the ancient wall was likely built sometime between the Nabataean period (312 B.C.–A.D. 106) and the Umayyad period (A.D. 661–750).
Though one of the kingdoms or empires that ruled Jordan in that long stretch of time could have built the wall, the structure might not have been constructed by a large state.
The purpose of the wall is a mystery. Its low height and narrowness indicate that it wasn’t constructed for defensive reasons. Traces of ancient agriculture are more visible to the west of the wall than to the east, suggesting the structure marked a boundary between ancient farmers and shepherds. Or it may have marked a different type of boundary.
What is left of the Jordan ancient wall is in ruins, but David Kennedy, a professor at the University of Western Australia, and Rebecca Banks, a research assistant at Oxford University, note that “even in its original state, it cannot have been much more than a meter high and perhaps half a meter wide.”
The Jordan wall is not David Kennedy’s first foray into ancient mysterious structures that present a puzzle to archaeologists. As part of the AAJ Project, he helped a team that was trying to determine the history of a group of thirteen stone circles that dot the Middle East in modern day Syria and Jordan. Called “Big Circles,” these man-made circular stone structures that measure 400 meters in diameter. And, like the ancient wall in Jordan, the stone circles’ age cannot be truly told, although it is believed that they are at least 2,000 years of age, which means they might precede or be contemporaneous with the Jordan wall.