Building a home for an extended family during Iron Age I (1200–1000 B.C.E.) was a huge task. An analysis of Building B, the well-preserved four-room house at ‘Umayri, shows just how large an investment in manpower and material was needed to assemble such a structure. We know because we have been restoring the first story of Building B and plan to build a full-size replica of it to use as a visitor center.

Let’s look at what went into each component of the house.


Building B had two types of floors: stone and beaten earth. Stone floors, not surprisingly, required greater labor, including finding and gathering flat stones, hauling them to the house and installing them carefully so they would be even. It would have taken at least two men and a donkey to locate, transport and lay the stones. The paving stones in Building B together weighed 8 tons. The sections of the floor that were of beaten earth consisted of finely laminated layers of ash and clay. Although this part of the floor would not have required as much effort to build as the stone floor, it still would have needed a fair bit of expertise and labor to make it level and smooth.


The exterior stone walls at ground level were about 3 feet thick. The exterior wall of the broad room, however, was between 7 and 8 feet thick, since it was built against, and formed part of, the perimeter wall of the city and served to thicken the city’s defenses. The stones ranged from small field stones to large boulders; they had been either transported from the surrounding slopes or reused from earlier structures at the site. The wall was chinked with cobbles to give it more stability. Raouf Abujaber, a local historian and landowner, estimates that it would take four men and a donkey about a month of intensive labor to collect the stones and to erect the first-story exterior walls. The interior walls and the animal pen would take another week. The stones in the walls weighed more than 280 tons.

Mortar and Plaster

Stable and smooth walls required mortar and plaster, which required lime, not an easy product to manufacture. Laborers had to carve large kilns in a hillside and fill them with wood and limestone; it took three to six days of continuous burning at 900 degrees centigrade to turn the stone into lime. Two tons of limestone and two tons of chopped wood were needed to produce one ton of lime. The mortar and plaster in the house weighed about 14 tons.


Large wooden posts, capable of bearing many tons of weight, supported the house’s second story. The ancient builders had to locate, fell, transport, trim and securely install these posts. Much lumber was also needed for beams spanning walls and posts and for branches to give additional support to the first-floor ceiling and the roof. All this lumber would have weighed 27 tons.

Ceiling and Roof

Small branches served as the base of the house’s two ceilings. Above the first-story ceiling these branches supported 8 to 10 inches of clay and mud mixed with sand, charcoal, ash and other types of temper; the second-story ceiling, because it also served as the roof, had a mixture 15 inches thick. The material in the two ceilings weighed about 14 tons.

Mudbrick Walls

The walls of the second story and the parapets were built entirely of large mudbricks measuring about 20 by 16 by 6 inches. The mudbricks were laid with mortar and were evidently plastered to form smooth, finished surfaces. Making the bricks required digging, collecting and transporting the clay, mixing the wet clay with straw or dung (about 130 pounds of straw were needed per 100 bricks), molding the bricks and laying them in place. The ‘Umayri house contained more than 2,000 bricks, which weighed 124 tons.

The total weight of the four-room house? About 470 tons!

Our partial reconstruction of the four-room house is part of a wider restoration project at ‘Umayri. The first phase of the project involved consolidating the stone walls of Building B. We then rebuilt the first story to show visitors what the structure originally looked like. For the sake of low maintenance, we used old utility poles as posts and beams (covering them with branches to give them a more authentic look), and we used concrete imitations to recreate the ceiling and mudbricks. In the next phase, undertaken just this past summer, we drew up plans for a platform from which visitors can view the site, and we installed fences, walls and a guardhouse to protect against grazing animals and would-be looters. The last and most ambitious phase calls for a full-size replica of the four-room house, which will serve as a visitor center, and the installation of directional signs to the site and interpretive labels at the site itself. Initial funding came from Jordanian royal and government sources, as well as from foreign sources, but the remainder—about $100,000—has to be raised by our project. If you would like to support us, write to Douglas Clark, Walla Walla College, College Place, WA 99234 (e-mail: Contributions are tax deductible in the United States and Canada. For more photos and information, visit our Web site at