Donald Whitcomb will be coming to speak as part of the Ravi and Seran Trehan Lectures in Islamic Art and Material Culture on Tuesday, December 13, 2011. His talk is entitled “Khirbet al-Mafjar or Qasr Hisham? Changing Perceptions of a Palestinian Monument.”


Donald Whitcomb is a an Associate Professor and Research Associate at the Middle East Center at the University of Chicago, a Research Associate of The Oriental Institute at University of Chicago, and an honorary Research Associate at the Field Museum of Natural History. He received his B.A. from Emory University, his M.A. from the University of Georgia, and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Dr. Whitcomb has conducted field work in Iran, Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Jordan, Egypt, and most recently, the Palestinian Territories in Israel’s West Bank, which he co-directs with Hamdan Taha.

The Umayyad palace complex of Khirbet al-Mafjar, located near Jericho, is the most important cultural Symbol of the early Islamic period for Palestine, comparable to Samarra in Iraq and Fustat in Egypt. The archaeological site was excavated by Dimitri Baramki in the 1930s and its architecture published by R. W. Hamilton in 1959. This was under the British mandate and Hamilton went on to create an interpretation involving the caliphate of Walid II.

The monument is popularly known now as Qasr Hisham, based on very minimal historical evidence. In late 2010 and early this year, new archaeological excavations began as a joint project of the Palestinian Department of Antiquities and the University of Chicago. The discoveries made there indicate the need for a new model of interpretation for this monument.

Dr. Whitcomb’s talk will outline the background and milieu of the archaeology of Baramki and suggest some origins for Hamilton’s model of the site. This will be contrasted with the current state of archaeology in Palestine and the need for new explanatory models. Among the significant discoveries of this season was a new gate, north of the palatial complex. This structure stands as a transition to the northern region of the site, a little known residential area of the same periods and never examined until the present fieldwork. Some very preliminary ideas may be offered toward the development of a new model for Khirbet al-Mafjar/Qasr Hisham.


Please RSVP and join us in the Lecture Hall at 38 West 86th Street, between Columbus Ave and Central Park West, at 5:45pm for a reception before the talk.

PLEASE NOTE that our Lecture Hall can only accommodate a limited number of people, so please come early if you would like to have a seat in the main room. We also have overflow seating available; all registrants who arrive late will be seated in the overflow area.

For more information, please contact [email protected]