A two-week ground survey of the Jarash hinterland was carried out between 17 September and 29 September 2005.
The 2005 season was intended to be the first season of a project of survey covering an area of about 10 square kilometres centred on the Roman city of Gerasa.
The project was directed by Professor David Kennedy of UWA and Fiona Baker of the Firat Archaeological Services with a team from Australia and the UK.
Despite the difficulties of surveying through the back gardens and little olive groves of the local land-owners, an enormous amount was recorded and opened up a new slant on what this area beyond the west wall was like in Roman times.
Foremost, of course, as expected, were the cemeteries and great tombs of the well-to-do. Two just near the west wall itself had long been known, with their extensive underground capacity for multiple layers of sarcophagi. Also long-known but far less familiar was what we called the Tomb of the Councillor.
Sarcophagi were found everywhere including one group, heaped in an olive grove apparently, which were the remains of a tomb uncovered when a nearby house was built.
Others were being reused – one for mixing cement. All told we recorded 26 sarcophagi, presumably dragged from some of the underground chamber tombs of all sizes we recorded.
Much more common were the rock-cut graves seen everywhere in the rocky outcrops of the area. We recorded 84 of those.
Although this latter type are relatively simple they probably still represent burial places of the upper end of the social scale.
Associated with the rock-cut grave types in particular were numerous minor quarries. Indeed, the two were linked – a rock-cut grave produced usable stone and quarries created slots and chambers. Thirty-one were recorded.
Cemeteries ringed every ancient town, often strung out along the approach roads. Familiar examples are the tombs, catacombs and cemeteries along the Via Appia at Rome and the cemetery outside the Herculaneum Gate at Pompeii. But in the late 19th century, excavation and development both turned up numerous bodies in great pits, presumably where the mass of poor were dumped.
Gerasa would have been the same. As a small Hellenistic town in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC its cemeteries would have lain around the settlement and were later overbuilt as the Roman town expanded rapidly and new, more distant cemeteries were developed. In fact there is an early cemetery near the Cathedral and by chance an undisturbed hellenistic tomb was discovered under the North Wall of the Roman city just a few years ago.
Most of Gerasa's cemeteries lie outside the visible Roman walls and traces can be seen on most sides. In fact, the necropolis, the City of the Dead, was more "populous" than the city of the living.
We may calculate that a medium-sized town like Gerasa had perhaps 10,000 inhabitants. Over the course of the first six centuries AD, when urbanisation in the Decapolis was at its peak, Gerasa would have had c. 150,000 deaths. Probably most of the c. 250 people who will have died annually in Roman Gerasa were put into simple pits, unmarked by any stone much less epitaph.
Especially interesting was the discovery of what may have been an 'industrial area', just west of the city walls.
Throughout an extensive olive grove large numbers of shards were found, mainly broken kiln-wasters, and here and there pieces of vitrified kiln shell. The pottery is of a Late Roman - Early Islamic type.
There were hints of other structures, perhaps once located in the vicinity – a monolith inscribed with Christian crosses (perhaps an extra-mural church), tesserae (mosaics from a house or church), a possible milestone base (a road) and inscriptions (8).
More than 217 'sites' were recorded in an area of 80 hectares.
Much of this area was already under roads, houses or inaccessible gardens. Much more undoubtedly lay beyond our time and resources.
In 2006 a brief visit revealed dozens of new houses in various stages, a bulldozer cut into the Tomb of the Councillor and evidence everywhere of the intensification of development.