Courtesy Larry G. Herr and Douglas R. Clark

Viewed from a distance, the mound of ancient ‘Umayri rises from the softly rolling landscape south of Amman, Jordan. The ancient city’s excavators have wondered if they are uncovering a site belonging to the tribe of Reuben, who is consistently named by the Bible as the eldest son of Jacob. The Bible also records that Reuben settled east of the Jordan before the other Israelite tribes conquered Canaan, west of the Jordan (see map). On that score ‘Umayri fits the bill as a site in Reuben, but its excavators have put forth two other criteria to test their hypothesis: They would expect cities in Reuben to be slightly older than Israelite sites west of the Jordan, because they were settled earlier, and to have been somewhat larger and more prosperous, befitting the tribe that was the leader of the Israelite tribal federation. One key to unlocking ‘Umayri’s identity is a four-room house, shown in the inset.