Set in a fold of the hills that overlook the Jordan Valley, Pella was perfectly situated, not least because of its perennial springs. Their lack of abundance today is due to the modern pump house, which has blemished one of the loveliest sites in Jordan.
Excavations (by Americans in 1958 and 1967; since 1979 by Australians) are stripping back the complex layers of Pella’s story. The main tell, inhabited since Neolithic times, includes Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age settlements; but by far the most significant early monument is on the south side of the tell – a large Middle Bronze Age temple with massive stone walls, built over an earlier mud brick version. This was again rebuilt, but in a smaller form, perhaps after an earthquake. More destruction in the Iron Age, in both the 10th and 9th centuries BC, led to more rebuilding, each smaller than the one before.
The first literary reference to the site is also Middle Bronze Age, in the 19th century BC, when it is referred to in Egyptian texts as Pihilum, or Pehel. It was an active trade centre, which had links with Syria and Cyprus as well as with Egypt, for whom it supplied wood for making chariot spokes.