Bayt Ras

Depicted at the center of the west wall of the recently-discovered Bayt Ras Tomb: center, enthroned, Zeus Kapitolios (Jupiter Capitolias), after whom the city of Capitolias (Bayt Ras) was name. To his right, Tyche (fortune); to his left, Tyche of Caesarea Maritima. (Photo courtesy of CNRS.)

Modern-day Bayt Ras stands on the ruins of ancient Capitolias, one of the ten cities of the Decapolis League, founded by Pliny the Elder during the Hellenistic age. A Roman-era tomb was discovered at the site in late 2016, dating from the 1st to 5th centuries A.D. The tomb features 64 unique inscriptions in Greek and Aramaic, as well as dozens of frescoes that represent details of daily life that are not often mentioned in historical records. Consequently, the tomb is both visually beautiful and remarkably valuable for scholarly understanding of the region in this time period.

The tomb itself consists of two rooms carved into the limestone bedrock. In the larger main chamber, the ceiling reaches 2.5 m at its highest point, and a second, smaller room is connected via a small opening in the north wall. While the larger rectangular room features paintings and inscriptions on its walls, the smaller one is square and covered in plain plaster. 

South, west, and north walls. (Courtesy of Ifpo.)

The tomb was discovered by accident in November 2016 while workers were attempting to expand a sanitation network near the local elementary school. They immediately realized that they had stumbled upon something spectacular when they saw tomb walls covered with elaborate paintings and inscriptions, which have since been shown to be of great historical and cultural value. This truly unique find required extensive documentation, conservation, and scientific study.

The site posed a major challenge, both technically and in terms of jurisdiction. However, the support of local community members and an international coalition headed by the USAID Sustainable Cultural Heritage through Engagement of Local Communities Project (SCHEP) have preserved and protected the tomb.

The Bayt Ras Consortium began fieldwork in April 2017. SCHEP supported consortium members undertaking excavation and conservation work, including hand drawings, photos, technical surveys, and “first-aid” cleaning and conservation of the frescoes. SCHEP-supported efforts have resulted in a set of topographic maps, laser scans, and models of the tomb that have allowed many students, experts, and enthusiasts to learn more about Bayt Ras even if they cannot enter the tomb itself. Security is vital to the long-term survival of any site—and particularly for a newly discovered one like this painted tomb in Bayt Ras. The Bayt Ras Project has therefore also enhanced the site’s security, including fencing the area and assigning guards at the entrance.

Bayt Ras Consortium Members

Department of Antiquities of Jordan (DOA)

American Center of Oriental Research, Sustainable Cultural Heritage Through Engagement of Local Communities Project (ACOR, SCHEP)

Istituto Superiore per la Conservazione ed il Restauro/Italy (ISCR)

Istituto Superiore per la Protezione e la Ricerca Ambientale/Italy (ISPRA)

French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS)

Institutes Francais Proche Orient (Ifpo), Amman

For more details, see:

Haron, Jehad. 2020. “ACOR Lecture: ‘Heritage vs. Development: The Bayt Ras Tomb Project 2017–2019.'” YouTube video, 51:43, 29 September 2020.

Haron, Jehad and Claude Vibert-Guigue. 2018. “Bayt Ras (2016–2017).” Archaeology in Jordan [1]: 21–22.

Haron, Jehad, Nizar Al Adarbeh, and Ahmad Lash. 2019. “Bayt Ras: Founding the Roman City.” ACOR Newsletter 31 (2): 1–6.

USAID SCHEP. 2018. “’The Results of the Bayt Ras Tomb Project’ by USAID SCHEP.” YouTube video, 3:25, 11 April 2018.

Coming Soon: USAID SCHEP:  “Awareness” and “Capacity Building” on usaidschep.org.

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