The city of Madaba is best known for its Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics, especially the Madaba Map, a large Byzantine-era mosaic map of Palestine and the Nile delta.Mount Nebo, according to the Bible, is the site where Moses viewed the Promised Land. Mount Nebo, just west of Madaba town, formed part of the Madaba Diocese during Byzantine times. Here the mosaics discovered at the Moses Memorial together with those in the churches in the village of Nebo, in the ‘Uyun Musa valley and at ‘Ayn al-Kanisah carry inscriptions which date them to the times of the Bishops of Madaba from the late Fifth century to the middle of the eighth century AD. Um er-Rasas (Kastron Mefaa), on the southeastern steppes,also formed part of the diocese,laying as it is close to the Wadi Mujib-Arnon, a natural boundary of the Province. The history of early exploration in Madaba is a long and colourful one. It begins with the German explorer Ulrich Seetzen, who visited the site in 1806, and extends through a succession of travellers, adventure seekers and scholars who made numerous discoveries, culminating with the announced uncovering of the famous Mosaic Map of Palestine in 1896.The modern archaeological exploration of Madaba commenced in the 1930s with Nelson Glueck’s monumental survey of Eastern Palestine, and the start of the Franciscan excavations at Siyagha-Mount Nebo under the leadership of S.J. Saller and B. Bagatti. Saller and Bagatti quickly took an interest in the mosaics of Madaba, and published studies of two mosaic pavements, both of which are now part of the Madaba Archaeological Museum. In 1948, workers digging the foundations for a new house stumbled upon a Late Bronze-Early Iron Age tomb, furnishing the first archaeological evidence of pre-Roman occupation at the site. The ensuing decades witnessed a steady flow of salvage excavations and restoration projects conducted on behalf of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, and for the most part concentrated in the lower city of classical times.
A rare exception, in 1967, saw the discovery of a second Iron Age tomb, this one on the south-eastern edge of the modern town. The 1970s and 1980s witnessed the large-scale excavations of several Byzantine churches and their mosaic pavements, including the Cathedral Church complex, the Salayta Church, the Church of the Prophet Elijah and the Church of the Virgin. Earth removal along the western slope of the acropolis in 1980 exposed a series of barrel-vaulted shops paved with mosaic floors, adding still further to our knowledge of the classical town. With the exception of the two Iron Age tombs, the extensive clearing operations of the post-WW II era have focused exclusively on the remains of the classical town, leaving the pre-Roman occupational history of Madaba untouched. The large-scale excavations of the 1970’s and 1980’s created an acute need for consolidation and preservation in Madaba, and, in 1991, prompted the creation of a program to train skilled local mosaic conservators. Largely as a result of this initiative, a multi-faceted joint project was conceived by the Ministry of Tourism of Jordan and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to develop an archaeological park that would preserve these archaeological treasures, and render them more accessible to the general public. In 1993, under a grant from USAID, the American Centre of Oriental Research (ACOR) undertook a base-line study of the historic areas of Madaba with the aim of creating a database that could facilitate future research and development efforts in Madaba. As part of this effort, the principal investigator conducted an intensive surface survey of the urban core of ancient Madaba. A grid system set at 50 meter intervals was devised utilizing a topographic relief map (at 1:1250 scale to facilitate systematic collection over the entire survey universe, an area of approximately 40 hectares. The survey was conducted in 1993 over a 12-day period between March 27 and April 10. In all, 166 squares were surveyed, resulting in coverage of an area totaling 415,000 square meters, or approximately 42 hectares, with open and uninhabited space accounting for about 25% of this total. The results of this survey established the broad spatial dimensions and settlement history of the site, and identified it as one of the largest, if not the largest, settlements in the region.