Umm el-Jimal is a small village in northern Jordan that is built around the ruins of an ancient city. The ancient town, starting as a rural settlement, was built under the influence of the Nabataeans (the culture that built Petra) in the late first century AD, eventually falling under the influence of the Romans who controlled it for several centuries. Most what is visible now was constructed later in the Byzantine era and continued to prosper under the Umayyad Caliphate only starting to decline during the Abbasid period. A major earthquake damaged the town around AD 747 and many scholars have suggested that shortly afterward the region experienced a plague. By AD 900 Umm el-Jimal was all but abandoned, having only sporadic occupation from 900-1900 with sparse archaeological remains.
In the early twentieth century new life was breathed into the site when a community of Druze people came down from the mountain range known as the Jebel Druze (alternately known as the Jebel Arab) and began reconstructing the ruins as their homes. Their alterations are still visible throughout the site. The local Bedouin Msa’eid also used the ruins as part-time homes until quite recently, allowing their herds to roam through the ancient town. After World War I, under the British mandate, the previously nomadic Msa’eid began to settle into the modern sedentary village built around the ruins.
The Umm el-Jimal Project aims to use archaeological methods to promote tourism, cultural heritage, and respect for antiquities in this village of northern Jordan. The 2012 field season of the Umm el-Jimal project started when Calvin professor Bert de Vries received an Ambassador Grant from the U.S. Government for cultural preservation. The money from the grant is going towards preserving and consolidating a large Byzantine/Umayyad building in the ruins called House XVII-XVIII. This building is at the center of the work being done over the 2012 interim.