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Episodic behavior of the Jordan Valley section of the Dead Sea fault from a 14-kyr-long integrated catalogue of large earthquakes


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The continuous record of large surface-rupturing earthquakes along the Dead Sea fault brings unprecedented insights for paleoseismic and archaeoseismic research. In most recent studies, paleoseismic trenching documents the late Holocene faulting activity, while tectonic geomorphology addresses the long-term behavior (> 10 ka), with a tendency to smooth the effect of individual earthquake rupture events (M w > 7). Here, we combine historical, archaeological, and paleoseismic investigations to build a consolidated catalog of destructive surface-rupturing earthquakes for the last 14 ka along the left-lateral Jordan Valley fault segment. The 120-km-long fault segment limited to the north and the south by major pull-apart basins (the Hula and the Dead Sea, respectively) is mapped in detail and shows five subseg-ments with narrow stepovers (width < 3 km). We conducted quantitative geomor-phology along the fault, measured more than 20 offset drainages, excavated four trenches at two sites, and investigated archaeological sites with seismic damage in the Jordan Valley. Our results in paleoseismic trenching with 28 radiocarbon datings and the archaeoseismology at Tell Saydiyeh, supplemented with a rich historical seismic record, document 12 surface-rupturing events along the fault segment with a mean interval of ∼1160 yr and an average 5 mm=yr slip rate for the last 25 ka. The most complete part of the catalog indicates recurrence intervals that vary from 280 yr to 1500 yr, with a median value of 790 yr, and suggests an episodic behavior for the Jordan Valley fault. Our study allows a better constraint of the seismic cycle and related short-term variations (late Holocene) versus long-term behavior (Holocene and late Pleistocene) of a major continental transform fault.
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Episodic Behavior of the Jordan Valley Section of the Dead Sea
Fault Inferred from a 14-ka-Long Integrated
Catalog of Large Earthquakes
by Matthieu Ferry,*Mustapha Meghraoui, Najib Abou Karaki,
Masdouq Al-Taj, and Lutfi Khalil
Abstract The continuous record of large surface-rupturing earthquakes along the
Dead Sea fault brings unprecedented insights for paleoseismic and archaeoseismic
research. In most recent studies, paleoseismic trenching documents the late Holocene
faulting activity, while tectonic geomorphology addresses the long-term behavior
(>10 ka), with a tendency to smooth the effect of individual earthquake rupture
events (Mw>7). Here, we combine historical, archaeological, and paleoseismic
investigations to build a consolidated catalog of destructive surface-rupturing earth-
quakes for the last 14 ka along the left-lateral Jordan Valley fault segment. The 120-
km-long fault segment limited to the north and the south by major pull-apart basins
(the Hula and the Dead Sea, respectively) is mapped in detail and shows five subseg-
ments with narrow stepovers (width <3km). We conducted quantitative geomor-
phology along the fault, measured more than 20 offset drainages, excavated four
trenches at two sites, and investigated archaeological sites with seismic damage in
the Jordan Valley. Our results in paleoseismic trenching with 28 radiocarbon datings
and the archaeoseismology at Tell Saydiyeh, supplemented with a rich historical seis-
mic record, document 12 surface-rupturing events along the fault segment with a mean
interval of 1160 yr and an average 5mm=yr slip rate for the last 25 ka. The most
complete part of the catalog indicates recurrence intervals that vary from 280 yr to
1500 yr, with a median value of 790 yr, and suggests an episodic behavior for the
Jordan Valley fault. Our study allows a better constraint of the seismic cycle and re-
lated short-term variations (late Holocene) versus long-term behavior (Holocene and
late Pleistocene) of a major continental transform fault.
The occurrence of large earthquakes on continental
faults holds crucial questions on their physical and mechan-
ical characteristics, their size, and their time distribution in
terms of magnitude and frequency. Recent field investiga-
tions in paleoseismology and archaeoseismology along the
Dead Sea fault (DSF) show evidence of historical coseismic
surface rupturing at the Sicantarla Tell in Turkey (Amik
basin; Altunel et al., 2009), the Al-Harif Roman aqueduct
in Syria (Meghraoui et al., 2003), the Lebanese restraining
bend (Gomez et al., 2003;Daëron et al., 2004;Nemer and
Meghraoui, 2006;Daëron et al., 2007;Nemer et al., 2008),
the Jordan Valley gorge and Hula basin (Ellenblum et al.,
1998;Marco et al., 2003;Marco et al., 2005), the Jordan
Valley (Reches and Hoexter, 1981), and the Wadi Araba (Zil-
berman et al., 2005;Haynes et al., 2006). Paleoseismic
studies along the Jordan Valley fault (JVF) revealed the
episodic activity from a long-term earthquake record
(50 ka) in the Lisan lacustrine deposits (El-Isa and Mustafa,
1986;Marco et al., 1996;Migowski et al., 2004) and from
the correlation between cumulative stream offsets and 48-ka-
long paleoclimatic fluctuations (Ferry et al., 2007). This epi-
sodic activity is expressed not only by periods of earthquake
clusters affecting a single segment but also by a sequence of
earthquakes on different segments during a short period of
time (Ambraseys, 2004;Sbeinati et al., 2005). The long-term
record of past earthquakes contributes to better understand
the faulting behavior and stability of segment boundaries
(Sieh, 1996), as well as fault interactions during earthquake
sequences (Stein et al., 1997). Although earthquake-induced
soft-sediment deformations were largely studied in the Lisan
formation, earthquake surface ruptures associated with the
*Also at Institut de Physique du Globe, Strasbourg, France.
Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, Vol. 101, No. 1, pp. 3967, February 2011, doi: 10.1785/0120100097
JVF needed a detailed paleoseismic and archaeoseismic
study in order to document the earthquake sequence and
related seismic cycle on a single fault segment.
The DSF forms the boundary between the African and
Arabian plates and accommodates 1cm=yr of relative left-
lateral strike-slip motion (Quennell, 1959; Fig. 1). The fault
system exhibits a relatively simple geometry with large
pull-apart basins distributed along strike (the Red Sea, the
Dead Sea, the Hula basin, the Ghab basin, and the Amik
basin) and a single major restraining bend at its center
(Mounts Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon). It is composed of
eight major segments (Fig. 1a), all of which are capable
Figure 1. (a) General map of the Dead Sea Transform system. Numbers are geological slip rates (in black) and geodetic strain rates (in
white). Sources: Klinger et al. (2000);Niemi et al. (2001);Meghraoui et al. (2003);Reilinger et al. (2006);Ferry et al. (2007). Pull-apart
basins: ab, Amik basin; gb, Ghab basin; hb, Hula basin; ds, Dead Sea. Major fault segments: EAF, East Anatolian fault; AF, Afrin fault; KF,
Karasu fault; JSF, Jisr Shuggur fault; MF, Missyaf fault; YF, Yammouneh fault; ROF, Roum fault; RAF, Rachaya fault; SF, Serghaya fault;
JVF, Jordan Valley fault; WAF, Wadi Araba fault. (b) Detailed map of the JVF segment between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The
segment itself is organized as six 15-km to 30-km-long right-stepping subsegments limited by 2-km to 3-km-wide transpressive relay zones.
The active trace of the JVF continues for a further 10 km northward into the Sea of Galilee (SG) and 20 km southward into the northern
Dead Sea (DS). The color version of this figure is available only in the electronic edition.
40 M. Ferry, M. Meghraoui, N. Abou Karaki, M. Al-Taj, and L. Khalil
of producing large destructive earthquakes and surface fault-
ing as documented by an extended historical record (e.g.,
Guidoboni et al., 1994;Ambraseys and Jackson, 1998;Sbei-
nati et al., 2005;Ambraseys, 2009). However, other than the
1995 Mw7.3 Aqaba earthquake, none of the main segments
has released a large earthquake in the last eight to nine cen-
turies (Fig. 2). The lack of seismicity and elapsed time since
the most recent historical earthquakes suggest that a tectonic
loading has been accumulating along most of the DSF.
Global Positioning System plate velocities along the fault
system suggest 2:56mm=yr (Fig. 1a; also, McClusky et al.,
2003;Wdowinski et al., 2004;Reilinger et al., 2006;Gomez
et al., 2007;Le Beon et al., 2008;Alchalbi et al., 2010) that
are comparable to 47mm=yr geological slip rates (Garfun-
kel et al., 1981;Ginat et al., 1998;Klinger et al., 2000;
Niemi et al., 2001;Meghraoui et al., 2003;Gomez et al.,
2003;Daëron et al., 2004;Akyüz et al., 2006;Ferry et al.,
2007;Karabacak et al., 2010;Sbeinati et al., 2010) measured
at 2-to-100-ka time scales. It implies 35 m of slip
deficit for the different segments and suggests an increasing
potential for destructive events in the near future.
After a geology, tectonic geomorphology, and seismicity
setting, we present the paleoseismic investigations with four
trenches across the fault and the archaeoseismic studies at 11
different sites, with a specific focus on the Tell Saydiyehda-
mages. Our results yield an integrated catalog of faulting
events and related large earthquakes for the last 14 ka. The
earthquake catalog of faulting events that includes both clus-
tering and quiescence periods sheds light on the distribution
of interseismic periods and the associated tectonic-loading
process. The long-term faulting behavior of the JVF and
its relationship to neighboring segments is also discussed.
Geological Setting
The northsouth-trending DSF transform (Fig. 1)is
made of a transtensional system to the south (including the
Hula, Dead Sea, and Gulf of Aqaba pull-apart basins), the
Lebanese restraining bend (the Yammouneh, Rachaya,
Seghaya, and Roum faults) in the middle, and a strike-slip
system to the north (the Missyaf fault and the Ghab pull-apart
basin). The seismicity described by Aldersons et al. (2003)
suggests that the lower crust has a brittle behavior below
20 km and possibly as deep as 32 km. This is supported by
thermomechanical modeling (Petrunin and Sobolev, 2006),
which suggests the brittle part of the cold lithosphere beneath
the Dead Sea basin may be locally as thick as 27 km.
Similarly, heat-flow measurements indicate relatively low
values not typical of a rifting region (Ben-Avraham et al.,
1978). Furthermore, Ryberg et al. (2007) image subvertical
major faults and deep sedimentary basins along the Wadi
Araba segment. Although the level of background seismicity
is low (M<5), the seismotectonic characteristics along the
plate boundary show a systematic pattern of strike-slip focal
mechanisms and some normal faulting solutions (Salamon
et al., 2003). The DSF is a typical continental transform fault
Figure 2. Seismicity of the Dead Sea Transform system.
Instrumental events with M4from 1964 to 2006 (IRIS Data
Management Center; see Data and Resources section) in filled
circles. Background seismicity is very scarce and mainly restricted
to the Lebanese Bend and the Jordan Valley. The 1995 Mw7.3
Aqaba earthquake and aftershock swarm dominate the seismicity
of the Red Sea basin. Historical events with I0VII (Ambraseys
and Jackson, 1998;Sbeinati et al., 2005) in open circles. Apart from
the 1927 Mw6.2 Jericho earthquake, no significant event has
occurred along the JVF since A.D. 1033 (see text for details).
The color version of this figure is available only in the electronic
Episodic Behavior of the Jordan Valley Section of the Dead Sea Fault 41
and exhibits a narrow deformation zone dominated by strike-
slip faulting that affects a thick cold crust. The post-Miocene
left-lateral offset along the fault is estimated to be 45 km,
which is consistent with the accumulation of more than 8 km
of clastic, carbonatic, and evaporitic sediments in the Dead
Sea basin (Quennell, 1984;ten Brink, 1993;Ginzburg and
Ben-Avraham, 1997;Bartov et al., 2006). At a large scale,
the DSF is highly segmented, and the JVF section is limited
by the Lebanese restraining bend to the north and the large
Dead Sea pull-apart basins to the south.
Tectonic Geomorphology along
the Jordan Valley Fault
The active JVF is made of five 15-to-30-km-long subseg-
ments (Fig. 1b;Al-Taj, 2000;Malkawi and Alawneh, 2000;
Ferry et al., 2007) limited by relatively small (2-to-3-km-
wide) transpressive and transtensive relay zones. Using aerial
(1:25000 scale) and satellite photographs (SPOT-5, Landsat
7, Google Earth), field investigations, and offset measure-
ments, we mapped in detail a total of 120 km of the active
fault trace from the Hula basin to the Dead Sea. The active
fault trace is visible within the valley and cuts through the
former Lake Lisan (6518 ka B.P.) and clastic Damya
(18 ka B.P. to present) deposits. The geomorphology of the
valley shows regionally flat Lisan lacustrine terraces display-
ing an average slope of 0:1° toward the present-day Dead
Sea. The very fine-grained Lisan sediments (mostly varve-
like detritus and aragonite), combined with a semiarid
climate produce classical badland morphology, where mate-
rial is eroded away through a dense dentritic gully network.
The hydrographic system provides clear markers for the
study of left-lateral cumulative offsets along the fault trace
(Ferry et al., 2007;Ferry and Meghraoui, 2008;Klein, 2008).
The JVF displays complex transtensional features with
numerous 100-to-300-m-long and 50-m-wide pull-apart
basins (Fig. 3) separated by right-stepping en echelon ruptures
(fig. 3 in Ferry et al., 2007). Located in the southern section of
the JVF, the impressive Ghor Katar badland area is made of
numerous stream incisions that expose 50-m-thick Damya
and Lisan lacustrine units in remarkable cliffs (Abed and
Yaghan, 2000). The fault is well visible in the many incisions
of Ghor Katar before it enters the flat lacustrine terrace.
Located 2.5 km south of Ghor Katar, the Ghor Kabed
pull-apart system (Fig. 3c) affects the Damya and Lisan
terraces and illustrates the pattern of active faulting in the
valley. The accumulation of late Pleistocene and Holocene
deposits in the Ghor Kabed pull-apart depressions constitutes
a good record of past faulting events. Indeed, a detailed
microtopographic survey (12-m resolution) illustrates the
basin morphology and related northsouth-trending 6-m-
high fault scarps with 415° slope cutting through the middle
of the depocenter. The clear fault scarp morphology and
active alluvial and lacustrine sedimentary processes present
a good potential for paleoseismic trenching at this site (see
the Paleoseismology section).
In the middle section of the JVF, at the Tell Saidiyeh area,
small stream offsets and abandoned beheaded channels
provide an ideal site for faulting event characterization and
slip rate calculations (Fig. 3d). We performed a detailed
microtopographic survey (Fig. 3d) of the site in order to study
the cumulative offsets along the fault revealed by the drainage
system. These stream channels expose the fault and exhibit a
conspicuous shear zone with evidence of recent faulting
(Fig. 4b). On the eastern block, the drainage system consists
of a small catchment area to the north and a single linear stream
(E1) flowing from the east with a 60° N80° N direction that
cuts into an abandoned alluvial terrace (Qt0). Because of the
catchment area, the northern bank of that stream has been
eroded and modified, and only the southern bank is adequately
preserved. Against the fault, stream E1 flows into a marshy
water hole that may be partly man-made based on an existing
depression. On the western block, two strongly incising
gullies flow westward to the valley. The northern one (W1)
continues west of the water pond (E1) along a 60° N direction
and displays a subtle offset of 70:5m. The southern one
(W2), while being very well expressed, has no counterpart
east of the fault where a small catchment area has been formed
by regressive erosion. Hence, the only possible source for W2
is E1, making W2 a beheaded remnant left-laterally offset by
114 5m. Because W1 and W2 cut into the upper surface of
the Lisan formation, they necessarily are younger than its
ultimate deposits; that is, they are younger than 25 ka B.P.
(Abed and Yaghan, 2000). Furthermore, a trench exposure
(see the Paleoseismology section, Fig. 4a, and Fig. 5) reveals
channel deposits related to Qt0, which have been subse-
quently radiocarbon dated at 19,70016,800 B.C. (see sample
L-02 AkR fraction in Table 1). Considering that sample L-02
originates from the middle of the stratigraphic section (see
Fig. 5), the associated age is a minimum value for the empla-
cement of the channel, which suggests a minimum age of 22 ka
for W1 and W2. Additionally, because the drainage source is
limited to the surface of the late Lisan terrace, we may adopt
the approach developed by Ferry et al. (2007) in the same re-
gion and assume the inception of that drainage was triggered
by an abrupt lake-level drop of Lake Lisan. The present eleva-
tion of the terrace at Tell Saidiyeh is 255 m below sea level,
which, from the lake-level curve of Bartov et al.(2002) and
inferences by Ferry et al. (2007), yield an age of 2125 ka
B.P. for the latest level drop below that elevation and indepen-
dently confirms our age inference. Taking into account the dat-
ing of channels and terraces, we infer that the total left-lateral
offset of 114 0:5m has been accumulated during the last
2225 ka. The resulting long-term average slip rate is 4:9
0:3mm=yr for that period, which is in good agreement with a
previous geological slip rate obtained from 20 offset streams
(Ferry et al., 2007).
Instrumental Seismicity
The Dead Sea fault exhibits scarce instrumental seis-
micity with mostly low to moderate earthquakes (M<6,
42 M. Ferry, M. Meghraoui, N. Abou Karaki, M. Al-Taj, and L. Khalil
Figure 3. Geomorphology of the Jordan Valley fault. (a) Central section of the JVF (see location on Fig. 1b), showing drainage (outlined)
that is systematically left-laterally displaced at the passage of the fault. The active trace of the JVF is pointed out by the arrows. (b) Geo-
morphology of the Tell Saidiyeh site from a high-resolution total station topographic survey (contour spacing 0.5 m). South of the archae-
ological tell (located 100 m to the north, see inset in Fig. 8b), the morphology displays a recent terrace strath (Qt0) affected and left-laterally
displaced by the fault. The southern edges (dashed lines) of streams serve as piercing points because they are less likely to be eroded than the
northern ones in a left-lateral setting. Stream E1 flows westward along the southern edge of Qt0and is displaced by 70:5m across the
fault. Stream W2 is a beheaded remnant of E1 and displays 114 5m of offset. A minimum emplacement age of 22 ka for W2 yields an
average slip rate of 4:9mm=yr for that period (see text for details). Solid rectangles represent trenches T3 and T4 (see text for descriptions),
which display faulting evidence for the last 17 ka. Blanked areas could not be surveyed due to the presence of agricultural and military
facilities. (c) Geomorphology of the Ghor Kabed site from a high-resolution total station topographic survey. The eastern fault strand shows a
linear and continuous geometry with a gentle slope (the steep slope visible to the north is artificial), while the western strand displays a steeper
slope and a left-step geometry. Two trenches were excavated at that site: T1 on the central strand north of the depression, and T2 on the eastern
strand southeast of the depression (see logs in Fig. 5). Height curve spacing is 0.25 m. (d) The Ghor Kabed site displays a very subtle
morphology that could not have been fully deciphered without high-resolution topography. The color version of this figure is available
only in the electronic edition.
Episodic Behavior of the Jordan Valley Section of the Dead Sea Fault 43
Figure 4. Field photographs of the Tell Saidiyeh and Ghor Kabed sites showing the shear zones (thick lines). (a) Oblique view of
trench T4 showing Lisan units affected by faulting and liquefaction in the foreground and sand and silt units in the background.
(b) The main shear zone is outlined by a 1-cm-thick layer of crushed sand (thick lines) and displays numerous oriented pebbles. (c) Seismites
affecting aragonite and detritus layers from Lisan units as observed at a nearby roadcut. (d) Main shear zone in trench T2 affecting
Lisan (massive clay) and Damya (clastic) units. Thin lines are stratigraphic contacts, thick lines are faults, and dashed lines mark the
bottom of the trench. (e) Main shear zone in trench T1. (Legend as in part d.) Letters in parentheses in (d) and (e) refer to units in Figure 5.
The color version of this figure is available only in the electronic edition.
44 M. Ferry, M. Meghraoui, N. Abou Karaki, M. Al-Taj, and L. Khalil
Figure 5. Trench logs with lithological descriptions. (a) Trench T1 shows a distributed pattern of vertical faults that may be resolved within the uppermost layers but cannot be followed
through massive clay units of Lisan age. Radiocarbon dates suggest the most recent event occurred before A.D. 14901800. (b) Trench T2 displays a main fault zone filled with breccia that
have been ruptured afterward and documents the most recent event, radiocarbon dated after A.D. 560660. Combined, these observations suggest two surface-rupturing events occurred at
Ghor Kabed between A.D. 560 and A.D. 1800, which may be related to the A.D. 749 and A.D. 1033 events. (c) The exposure of T3 is mainly composed of Lisan sediments. A series of fine-
gained colluvial and alluvial units overlays Lisan clays and provides insight on recent events. (d) Trench T4 is originally a road cut that was noticeably extended and cleaned. It is oriented 45°
to the fault, which widens the deformation zone. This exposure provides the bulk of the paleoseismic dataset. See text for details. (e) Correlations of stratigraphic sections of trenches. The
geological formations of Lisan and Damya are common basement-bottom units for trenches. Erosion processes (tilde lines) have major effects on soft sediments, and Trench T3 shows a
significant hiatus of the Damya formation. The correlation between alluvial and lacustrine deposits and the related radiocarbon dating (see also Table 1and Fig. 7) illustrate the different recent
depositional environments at trench sites. The color version of this figure is available only in the electronic edition. (Continued)
Episodic Behavior of the Jordan Valley Section of the Dead Sea Fault 45
Fig. 2a) mainly concentrated along the Lebanese Bend and
the Jordan Valley fault with three recorded moderate
earthquakes (11 July 1927 Mw6.2; 23 April 1979 Mb5.2;
and 2 February 2004 ML5.2). However, the DSF is capable
of producing large destructive events, as attested by the 22
November 1995 Mw7.3 Aqaba earthquake (Hofstetter,
2003) and by large historical events (Fig. 2b;Ambraseys
and Jackson, 1998;Sbeinati et al., 2005).
The 11 July 1927 event is the most destructive earth-
quake to strike the region in the last century, with a known
toll reaching 285 people killed and 1000 injured. Wide-
spread destruction was documented by Willis (1928) in
Amman, Ramallah, Nablus, the Mount of Olives (a mile
east of Jerusalem), Reineh (Nazareth), As Salt, and Jericho
(Fig. 6for location). The event was recorded at more than
100 seismological stations throughout the world, and its
epicenter was located within the northern basin of the Dead
Sea (Shapira et al., 1993). On the basis of reinterpreted
historical documents, Avni et al. (2002) confirm these find-
ings and describe a seiche wave in the Dead Sea that pleads
for either a submarine landslide or a displacement of bathy-
metry along a surface rupture. Submersible images of the
bottom of the Dead Sea (Lazar and Ben-Avraham, 2002)
show an apparently fresh and sharp scarp continuing the
11200-12000 BC
AD 1490-1800
1320-1520 BC
450-790 BC
AD 560-660
14700-16300 BC
AD 1490 - 1640
12170-11720 BC
11790-11310 BC
7500-4400 BC
10200-8800 BC
1610-1410 BC
5470-5110 BC
5060-4770 BC
AD 1690-1920
(AD 87-319)
AD 1660-1950
(17655-16475 BC)
11600-10910 BC
11460-11270 BC
~~~~~~ ~~~~~~
1 m
Figure 5. Continued.
46 M. Ferry, M. Meghraoui, N. Abou Karaki, M. Al-Taj, and L. Khalil
Jordan Valley fault into the Dead Sea. It should be considered
that the 1927 Mw6.2 earthquake may have produced surface
rupture locally with tenuous displacement, in the range of a
few tens of centimeters (Wells and Coppersmith, 1994).
The 23 April 1979 event (epicenter 31.24° N, 35.46° E)
was extensively instrumentally and macroseismically studied
by Arieh et al. (1982). It reached IoIVVMSK (though
isoseismal lines are available for Israel only) in the Jordan Val-
ley and according to Arieh et al. (1982), its focal mechanism
points to a 20° N-striking border fault of the northeastern Dead
Sea basin. The 2 February 2004 event (epicenter 31.69° N,
35.58° E) was felt strongly in Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and
Syria and produced slight damage in Jordan and Israel, injur-
ing a total of 20 persons (Jordan Seismological Observatory,
2004). The combined analysis of aftershock distribution and
fault plane solution suggests a normal fault branch perpendi-
cular to the JVF, probably associated with the Dead Sea
pull-apart (Al-Tarazi et al., 2006). One may notice that the
instrumental seismicity does not reflect the level of active de-
formation of the JVF and its potential for large earthquakes.
Figure 6. Archaeology of the Jordan Valley. White squares, main populated areas cited in historical documents; white dots, archae-
ological sites visited and reappraised in this study; gray dots are archaeological sites not studied here (lack of evidence and/or available
literature) but of potential interest for future studies; gray squares, paleoseismic sites; black squares, geomorphological sites studied by Ferry
et al. (2007). The color version of this figure is available only in the electronic edition.
Episodic Behavior of the Jordan Valley Section of the Dead Sea Fault 47
Historical Seismicity
The historical seismicity relies on inscriptions and docu-
ments from Greek, Hebrew, Roman, Byzantine, Arabic, and
Ottoman times (Guidoboni et al., 1994;Ambraseys, 2009). A
wealth of testimonies, invoices, and reports are available for
the last two millennia and document one of the most complete
historical catalogs to date. However, it should be noted that the
region was not evenly populated at any time in the past, with
densely populated areas along the Mediterranean coast and
the shores of the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea and barren
areas in the Negev desert and Wadi Araba. This situation
induces a systematic bias into intensity maps by (a) shifting
epicenters northward and (b) restricting the extent of felt tes-
timonies. Furthermore, magnitudes derived from historical
studies are usually very delicate to assess and carry a large
(and undefined) uncertainty, especially for older events.
Recent findings by Katz and Crouvi (2007) show that anthro-
pogenic tali of archaeological origin have very poor geotech-
nical characteristics and may amplify seismic shaking.
Previous works suggest that MS>8historical earthquakes
possibly occurred in the Jordan Valley (Ambraseys and Jack-
son, 1998). However, the length of fault segments and
thickness of the seismogenic crust suggest that Mw7.27.4
is a reasonable maximum magnitude in this region.
Based on historical seismicity catalogs and recent litera-
ture, we list here the main earthquake events that occurred in
the Jordan Valley (Fig. 2b):
Event ZH(A.D. 1033, 10 Safar 425 A.H.): According to Ibn
Al-Jawzi (A.D. 11131200), on that morning the walls of
Jerusalem crumbled down during construction, and the
cities of Jerusalem, Ramallah, Jericho, Nablus, and
Tiberias were heavily damaged (Abou Karaki, 1987). This
event was felt throughout Judea and possibly as far away as
Egypt and Syria, and it produced a sea wave along the
Mediterranean coast (Fig. 6for locations; Poirier and
Taher, 1980;Ambraseys et al., 1994).
Event YH(A.D. 749): Theophanes (A.D. 760818), a his-
torian whose work constitutes one of the main sources for
that period, narrates a powerful earthquake in Palestine,
along the river Jordan and throughout Syria, and countless
thousands of people were killed, and churches and mon-
asteries also collapsed, especially in the desert near the
Holy City [Jerusalem](Ambraseys, 2009, p. 232). This
event has been intensively studied by numerous authors,
due in great part to inconsistencies between calendars
(Abou Karaki, 1987;Tsafrir and Foerster, 1992).
Event XH(759 B.C.): This earthquake produced great
destruction and many casualties in Judea, Samaria, and
Galilee (Guidoboni et al., 1994). A thorough reappraisal
of this event by Ambraseys (2005) indicates that few con-
temporary accounts are available for this event, the earliest
one being the Book of Amos. The first detailed description
is given by Zachariah around 520 B.C. (i.e., 240 years
later) and suggests that a large landslide developed on
the Mount of Olives, southeast of Jerusalem, without a
clear causative link.
Additionally, numerous other earthquakes have been felt
in the Jordan Valley in historical times but may not be con-
sidered as candidates for surface-rupturing events along
the JVF:
One may consider a candidate earthquake in A.D. 418 (not
A.D. 419, as justified by Ambraseys, 2009). However,
evidence is very weak because contemporaneous chroni-
clers (Marcellinus Comes, Philostorgius; see also Ambra-
seys, 2009) and archaeological investigations (Meyers
et al., 1976) describe earthquake damage in the north of
Galilee region. There is no mention of major damage or
victims in Jerusalem, Jericho, and Palestinian villages
located in the Dead Sea vicinity in A.D. 418.
The A.D. 363 earthquake is better documented and consists
of a sequence of two shocks on 18 and 19 May (Ambra-
seys, 2009). Although a large number of sites in Palestine,
including Jerusalem, were damaged and a sea wave was
observed in the Dead Sea, further south half of Petra
was razed to the ground, and localities near the Red Sea
were badly damaged (Niemi and Mansoor, 2002).
The wide region of damage and the 250-km-long Wadi
Araba fault from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba
to the south may well be the site of two major shocks
of A.D. 363.
Historian Flavius Josephus (A.D. 37100) vividly describes
an event in 31 B.C. in the Jewish Wars:For in the early
spring, an earthquake shock killed an infinite number of
cattle and 30 thousand people; but the army was unharmed,
because it was camped in the open(Guidoboni et al., 1994,
pp. 173174). A critical and exhaustive reappraisal of that
event by Ambraseys (2009) suggests that Flavius Josephus
accountthe only coeval sourceis greatly exaggerated,
with a number of casualties larger than the actual population
of the region. The author also concludes that previously
reported damage to archaeological structures is actually
spurious and not associated with earthquake faulting. In
summary, a small to moderate earthquake probably oc-
curred in 31 B.C. but did not produce significant damage
to buildings or surface rupture. As mentioned by Ambraseys
(2009, p. 101), The reappraisal of the available data reveals
nothing more than that the 31 B.C. earthquake in Judaea that
caused damage and loss of life, which Josephus grossly ex-
aggerates. There is no evidence that Jerusalem was affected
and the destruction or damage of other historical sites in Ju-
daea is conjectural and cannot be tested on archeological
ground. The association of the earthquake with a fault break
at Khirbet Qumran seems to me untenable and I can find no
justification for the addition of Diospolis to towns affected
and the dating of the event to A.D. 31 (Guidoboni et al.,
1994;Guidoboni, 1989).
Previous studies consider an event in 64 B.C. that would
have damaged the Temple in Jerusalem and been felt
throughout the region and as far away as Antioch (south-
48 M. Ferry, M. Meghraoui, N. Abou Karaki, M. Al-Taj, and L. Khalil
east Turkey). However, the critical reinterpretation by
Karcz (2004) strongly suggests an opposite situation, with
an event source near Antioch (probably along the Hacipasa
fault or the Karasu fault) and related seismic shaking felt as
far as Jerusalem. This is supported by the fact that only
minor damage was reported in the Jordan Valley. Indeed,
this event is most likely the 65 B.C. Antioch earthquake
that claimed some 170,000 lives (Guidoboni et al.,
1994;Sbeinati et al., 2005).
In order to establish a correlation between seismites and
historical large events, Marco et al. (1996),Ken-Tor et al.
(2001), and Migowski et al. (2004) have taken advantage
of varvelike deposits in the Dead Sea around the southern
tip of the JVF and the northern tip of the Wadi Araba fault.
These authors claim an almost complete record of M>5:5
earthquakes for the last 50 ka. However, due to erosion
and depositional hiatuses, Ken-Tor et al. (2001) could not
identify the A.D. 1033 and A.D. 749 events in their varve
section. These events, as well as the 31 B.C. and 759 B.C.
events, were identified by Migowski et al. (2004) in a
different varve section. Furthermore, Migowski et al.
(2004) identify three additional events in 1100 B.C.,
2100 B.C., and 2700 B.C. (labeled events 36, 42, and
43) for which historical data must be supplemented with ar-
chaeology and paleoseismology.
Paleoseismic studies bring evidence for surface ruptures
that can be correlated with historical and prehistorical events.
While historical and instrumental data do not point to a
specific seismic source, active faulting studies and paleoseis-
mology may provide a direct observation of the causative
fault. In order to perform successful paleoseismological inves-
tigations, we carefully selected trench sites to ensure an opti-
mal expression of faulting events, a continous and detailed
sedimentary record, and material suitable for age determina-
tions. In the following subsections of this paper, we describe
four trench exposures (Fig. 5), for which deposit chronologies
are constrained by 28 radiocarbon samples (Table 1
and Fig. 7).
Two trenches were dug across the fault scarps that limit
the northernmost pull-apart basin along the fault at Ghor
Kabed (Fig. 3). Trenches are eastwest-trending and dug
across the eastern fault section (trench T1) and across the
western fault section (trench T2). The trenches expose the
fault zone and related lacustrine (Lisan) and clastic (Damya
formation and Holocene) stratigraphic units. The stratigraphy
in the two trenches (Fig. 5) is similar and made of (1) laminated
gray detritus (unit l in T1 and f in T2) visible at the trench
bottom, which can be correlated with the upper Lisan forma-
tion; (2) a succession of 1.2-m-thick intercalated sandy
and detritus layers (units kg in T1) that corresponds to the
Damya formation; (3) silt and sand units (units fcinT1
and f, d, and c in T2) that belong to the Holocene pull-apart
deposits; and (4) mixed units with detritus, silty-sand, and
sand (unit b in T1 and T2) visible mainly in the shear zones
overlain by scattered caliche and organic soil (unit a in T1
and T2).
Trench 1
In trench T1 (Fig. 5a), ruptures are distributed over the
section east of the main fault zone (Fig. 4e) and affect Lisan
and Damya deposits. All upward fault terminations corre-
spond to the base of the present-day plow unit (unit a)
and do not show clear indications for a chronology. However,
at the contact between Lisan/Damya and Holocene deposits,
the faulted units correspond to a narrow fissure filled by
pieces of unit b. Unit a, which covers the shear zone and
corresponds to an organic soil, has been dated at A.D. 1490
1800, postdating the most recent faulting event ZT1, which
possibly corresponds to the A.D. 749 or the A.D. 1033
Trench 2
In trench T2, the surface rupture consists of several fault
branches in a 2.5-m-wide shear zone (Fig. 4d and Fig. 5b)
that shows 1m of total apparent vertical separation, with
the western block being the footwall. Here, abutting relation-
ships permit the identification of four events:
Event ZT2: The most recent event observed in trench T2 is
associated with surface ruptures that affect finely lami-
nated unit b2, unit b1, and possibly c, d, and e with fault
splays terminating at the base of the top unit a. This event is
necessarily younger than unit b1, radiocarbon-dated
A.D. 560660, and may be associated with the historical
A.D. 749 earthquake and/or the A.D. 1033 earthquake.
Event YT2: The event is attested by the formation of a
1.5-m-wide flower structure filled with breccia (b1) and
stratified silty clay (unit b2). In case unit b1 is a fissure
fill, the event would have taken place shortly before the
deposition of unit b1 (i.e., shortly before A.D. 560660).
However, if unit b1 is composed of preexisting layers
affected by this event, it may then have occurred after
the deposition of unit b1, which would naturally point
to the A.D. 749 earthquake. In that latter case, event ZT2
would correspond to the A.D. 1033 earthquake.
Event XT2: This event is documented by two fault splays
affecting unit d up to the base of unit c, as well as by a
40-cm-long vertical liquefaction dyke affecting unit d
with its source in the underlying sandy unit f. The scarcity
of available datable material does not allow us to date that
event accurately other than earlier than sixth century A.D.
Event WT2: The oldest event that may be observed in
trench T2 is attested by a Y-shaped rupture affecting units
g, f, and the base of unit e at the eastern end of the trench.
This event could be contemporaneous with the deposition
of unit e (Damya formation).
The burial of unit b1 and related shear zone by unit
a in the two trenches (Fig. 5e) indicates a bracket of
Episodic Behavior of the Jordan Valley Section of the Dead Sea Fault 49
Table 1
Radiocarbon Dating of Samples Collected in Trenches T1 and T2 (Ghor Kabed Site) and T3 and T4 (Tell Saidiyeh Site)*
(m) Material Fraction
Amount of Carbon
(AoC, in mg) δ13C()
Age (B.P.)
Date 2σRangeObservations
T1 Ka-T3-C04 KIA 24314 0.15 Sprig AkR 5.4 16:06 280 30 1490 1800
T1 Ka-T3-C05 KIA 24315 1.15 Charcoal HA 2.9 25:38 11600 50 12000 11200
T1 Ka-T3-S02 KIA 24317 0.45 Carbonate Carb 1.2 7:92 3160 30 1520 1320
T1 Ka-T3-S03 KIA 24318 0.25 Carbonate Carb 0.8 8:52 2500 20 790 450
T2 Ka-T2-1N KIA 24305 0.5 Charcoal AkR 5.3 26:16 1440 20 560 660
T2 Ka-T2-2N KIA 24306 0.15 Peat AkR 5.8 23:63 Modern - -
T2 Ka-T2-6N KIA 24309 1.5 Dust layer AkR 0.3 24:85 14570 250 16300 14700 Low carbon content; subject
to contamination
T2 Ka-T2-9N KIA 24311 0.2 Organic mat AkR 4.7 25:67 Modern - -
T3 Tol-01 KIA29719 0.3 Charcoal pieces in sand AkR 3.4 23:55 335 20 1490 1640
T3 Tol-14 KIA29720 0.2 Wood pieces in
sandy soil
AkR 0.2 Modern - - Mixture of prebomb
and postbomb carbon
T4 L-02 KIA29707 3.1 Carbonate pieces
in sandy soil
Carb 1.5 4:35 15920 70 17655 16475 Age difference between
Carb and AkR fractions
not statistically significant;
confirms quality of the date
T4 L-02 KIA29707 3.1 Carbonate pieces
in sandy soil
AkR 0.2 24:59 16950 570=530 19700 16800
T4 L-06 KIA29715 2.1 Charcoal dust in sand AkR 0.5 29:81 11630 120 11790 11310
T4 L-07 KIA29708 2.2 Charcoal dust in sand AkR 0.6 28:40 12010 100 12150 11720 Age difference between
AkR and HA fractions
not statistically significant;
confirms quality of the date
T4 L-07 KIA29708 2.2 Charcoal dust in sand HA 2.4 25:36 12125 50 12170 11880
T4 L-14 KIA29701 0.3 One small seed
of charcoal piece
AkR 0.4 21:41 118 55 1660 1950 14C age plateau; calibration
is undetermined
T4 L-15 KIA29702 0.3 Seed (pumpkin)
embedded in the soil
AkR 4.5 25:87 Modern - - Mixture of prebomb
and postbomb carbon
T4 L-21 KIA29717 1.9 Charcoal dust in sand HA 2.9 26:00 11455 45 11460 11270
T4 L-22 KIA29718 1.9 Charcoal pieces and
dust in sand
AkR 0.8 29:20 11040 70 11150 10910
T4 L-22 KIA29718 1.9 Charcoal pieces and
dust in sand
HA 4.1 24:54 11560 50 11600 11320
T4 Tbc-04 KIA30479 2.1 Sand with charcoal
AcidR 0.3 27:31 9940 180 10200 8800 Low carbon content;
subject to contamination
T4 Tbc-16 KIA29709 0.2 Sand with plant AkR 3.8 23:34 50 25 1690 1920 Age difference between
AkR and HA fractions
not statistically significant;
confirms quality of the date
T4 Tbc-16 KIA29709 0.2 Sand with plant HA 5.0 23:54 85 20 1690 1919
T4 Tbc-16 KIA29709 0.2 Small snail Carb 2.5 4:83 1825 30 87 319 Significantly older snail shell,
probably reworked
T4 Tbc-18 KIA 30480 1.7 Sand with charcoal
AkR 0.04 n.a. 7000 700 7500 4400 Low AoC, normalized to
specially prepared OxII-targets
T4 Tbc-23 KIA29711 0.9 Bulk sandy soil AkR 0.6 23:87 6015 55 5060 4770 Low carbon content; subject
to contamination
50 M. Ferry, M. Meghraoui, N. Abou Karaki, M. Al-Taj, and L. Khalil
Table 1 (Continued)
(m) Material Fraction
Amount of Carbon
(AoC, in mg) δ13C()
Age (B.P.)
Date 2σRangeObservations
T4 Tbc-24 KIA29712 0.7 Bulk sandy soil AkR 0.6 26:82 6320 60 5470 5110 Low carbon content; subject
to contamination
T4 Tbc-26 KIA29714 0.3 Bulk sandy soil AkR 1.7 24:81 3210 35 1610 1410
*Detailed measurements presented here give proper insights regarding the quality (amount of carbon should be larger than1 mg) of collected samples, the possibility of modern contamination (depth and fraction),
and the adequacy of calibration (δ13C).
AkR, alkali residue; HA, humic acids; Carb, carbonate; AcidR, acid residue..
The 2σcalibrations were performed using the OxCal 3.10 software (Bronk Ramsey, 1995) and the INTCAL04 calibration curve from Reimer et al. (2004).
Episodic Behavior of the Jordan Valley Section of the Dead Sea Fault 51
A.D. 5601800 of the last two faulting movements in
the pull-apart area. Our interpretation is that the two post-
sixth century faulting events may be correlated with the
A.D. 749 and 5 December 1033 large earthquakes in the
Jordan Valley (Abou Karaki, 1987;Ambraseys and Jackson,
Two further excavations were opened at Tell Saydiyeh
outside of the archaeological perimeter (see Fig. 3for
location), across the main fault scarp and into an alluvial
Trench 3
Trench T3 was excavated perpendicular to the fault
across a 2-m-high scarp used for agricultural purposes
(Fig. 3b). It exhibits a shallow network of subvertical faults
spread over 2 m and affecting Lisan deposits overlain with a
thin (<60 cm) succession of Holocene units. The bottom of
the trench (Fig. 5c) is composed of laminated aragonite and
detritus (unit g) typical of Lisan deposits. Stratigraphy is
marked by the conspicuous aragonite layers and may be
15000CalBC 10000CalBC 5000CalBC CalBC/CalAD
Calibrated date
AD 1490-1800
BC 450-790
BC 1320-1520
Phase Tbc-16
AD 1690-1920
AD 1690-1919
AD 1660-1950
BC 1610-1410
BC 5060-4770
BC 7500-4400
BC 10200-8800
BC 11460-11270
Phase L21-22
BC 11150-10910
BC 11600-11320
BC 11790-11310
Phase L-07
BC 12170-11880
BC 12150-11720
BC 5470-5110
AD 560-660
AD 1490-1640
BC 14700-16300
Phase L-02
BC 17655-16475
BC 19700-16800
BC 11200-1200
AD 87-319
AD 749
AD 1033
T2 ZT3
Events V
759 BC
1150 BC
2300 BC
2900 BC
depositional hiatus
pdf of calibrated date
pdf of event
hist./arch. event
Trench 1
Trench 4
Figure 7. Distribution of radiocarbon dates used in trenches 14 with inferred events, know historical earthquakes, and inferred
archaeoseismic events. Gray boxes indicate depositional hiatuses where no date could be determined. All dates given herein and in Table 1
correspond to 2σ(95.4%) intervals on these probability density functions (pdf). Event pdfs are modeled for a Gaussian distribution on the
basis of inferred uncertainties defined in Table 3.
52 M. Ferry, M. Meghraoui, N. Abou Karaki, M. Al-Taj, and L. Khalil
resolved with difficulty when only detritus is present. Unit g
is overlain with three groups of fine-grained deposits. A first
group is located on the central section of the trench and is
composed of (1) a 20-cm-thick layer of siltstone (unit f),
(2) a 5-to-15-cm-thick brown paleosol (unit e), and (3) an
8-to-25-cm-thick layer of cemented silty sand (unit d). To the
west, a second unit truncates all other units and is composed
of reworked material where remains of a wooden-soled boot,
rust-encrusted hinges, and large lumps of charcoal were
found. It is unclear whether this anthropic unit is backfill
from a small prior excavation or fissure fill. Indeed, the edges
of the unit do not display obvious signs of shearing, and no
apparent vertical displacement is observed across that zone.
The whole section is covered with a 2030-cm-thick plow
zone (unit b). At the toe of the scarp, all units are truncated
by a 1-m-wide man-made channel composed of two layers
of clay (units a3 and a2) at the bottom and a 40-cm-thick
layer of clean gravels (unit a1) on top.
Because the scope of our study is limited to the most
recent continuous record of events, we opted to focus on
Holocene deposits and did not investigate Lisan units in
details. Thus, we could identify two events in trench T3.
Event ZT3: This event affected unit e in two places, which
are east and west of a large modern root (see Fig. 5c). The
absence of unit e west of the two fault splays suggests that
vertical displacement was larger than 15 cm on each splay.
Event ZT3has likely occurred shortly before the deposition
of unit d dated A.D. 14901640 and probably corresponds
to the A.D. 1033 earthquake.
Event YT3: The oldest event recognized in trench T3 is
marked by the faulting of unit f, the oldest non-Lisan unit
observed here. It has likely occurred between the deposi-
tion of units f and e. However, because event ZT3cut
through the whole thickness of unit e while event YT3
affects it partially, we assume that event YT3occurred
closer to the deposition of unit e and event ZT3closer to
the deposition of unit d.
It should be noted that the artificial fill unit at the wes-
ternmost end of trench T3 may provide evidence for an extra
event. Indeed, considering the magnitude of the 1927 earth-
quake, its location (Avni et al., 2002), as well as apparently
recent surface breaks at the bottom of the Dead Sea (Lazar
and Ben-Avraham, 2002), a surface expression cannot be
ruled out for that event, with as much as 1020 cm of co-
seismic displacement. It follows that the artificial fill unit
could be an associated fissure fill.
Trench 4
Trench T4 (see Fig. 3for location) is actually a cut
realized during leveling works to extend a nearby field, as
mentioned by the field owner, and has a northwestsoutheast
trend (i.e., oblique to the fault). It was widened and cleaned,
and the first meter of material (perpendicularly to the expo-
sure surface) was removed from the whole section to avoid
possible perturbations (e.g., ancient cliff collapse causing
artificial deformation, contamination of potential radiocar-
bon samples, dense vegetation on the top surface). Trench
T4 (Fig. 5d) displays a very well-expressed fault zone affect-
ing late Pleistocene and Holocene units. West of the main
shear zone (FZ1), the deepest unit (q) is composed of finely
laminated aragonite and very fine gray clayey sand that may
be attributed to the Lisan. Unit q is strongly affected by soft-
sediment deformation, liquefaction (unit r), and minor fault-
ing (lower part of unit q). The overlying unit p is composed
of massive clay with occasional pods of gravelly sand and
displays deformation bands. Following the detailed descrip-
tion by Abed and Yaghan (2000) of late Quaternary deposits
in the region, that specific stratigraphic contact may be attrib-
uted to the transition between Lisan (unit q) and Damya (unit
p) dated by Abed and Yaghan at 1615 ka B.P.. Unit p is
overlain with a series of alluvial units (n, m, and l) that dis-
play upward reverse grading. Unit n is composed of gray
coarse sand with occasional pebbles and grades into sand
against the fault zone. Unit m is orange-yellow coarse sand
with occasional large pebbles. Unit l is a clast-supported peb-
ble conglomerate that displays strong imbrication. The group
lies unconformably against unit p along an erosional surface
and forms the northwestern edge of an alluvial channel. It is
itself overlain with a thin red paleosoil (unit c) that caps the
main shear zone, an irregular dark clay unit (b), and a matrix-
supported sandy conglomerate (unit a) that truncates all units
and forms the surface.
Southeast of the main shear zone, Pleistocene units are
represented by a limited remnant of unit p that is observed
at the southeastern-most end of the trench. Its top surface
is erosional and overlain with a yellowish sandy clay unit (unit
o) that does not appear in the northern block. Unit o is overlain
with a regular 10-cm-thick unit (h) composed of yellow silt
with carbonate nodules that sits immediately underneath
the topsoil unit. Units p, o, and h are affected by conjugate
faults that display more than 50 cm of apparent vertical dis-
placement. Northwestward, unit o crops out at the base of the
trench and is affected by a series of minor faults. The top sur-
face of unit o is deeply cut into by subsequent units. Unit n
forms a wedge against unit o that we interpret as the eastern
edge of the channel described previously. At the same level,
the central part of the trench displays a different picture.
Indeed, the lowermost deposit is unit munits p, o, and n
do not crop out there and must be deeply buriedand is over-
lain with unit l, which pinches out against a major fault splay
(FZ3) to the southeast. It is then overlain with coarse-to-fine
cemented sand units k2, k1, and j that exist only there. The
common erosional top surface of units n and j is overlain
by a group of sandy channel units (i1 and i2) that cut into units
o and n and are overlain by unit h. Those three units extend
northwestward against the main shear zone (FZ1). While units
n, i2, and i1 cannot be clearly followed inside of the shear
zone, a 50-cm-long section of unit h can be observed within
it and is vertically offset by 40 cm. Unit h is overlain with a
group of subhorizontal fine-grained units (gd), composed of
Episodic Behavior of the Jordan Valley Section of the Dead Sea Fault 53
varying amounts of yellow to brown cemented silt and clay.
Capping the fault, unit c may be followed eastward for
30 cm. It is then confused with the topsoil.
The different units are affected by a complex network of
faults and fissures. The main fault zone (FZ1 in Fig. 5d)is
3070 cm wide and displays densely packed gravels (prob-
ably incorporated from unit l) with the long axis of pebbles
oriented subvertically along the main shearing direction
(Fig. 4b). Where it affects sandy units, the main fault zone
(FZ1) is outlined by a 1-cm-thick band of white pulverized
sand. Three supplementary fault splays can be traced from
the bottom up to the shallowest units and are named FZ2,
FZ3, and FZ4. They are 1cm wide and filled with a
brown-red silty clayey material that may originate from
the uppermost soil units. Besides, a wealth of minor splays
and numerous fissures affect the central part of the section,
between FZ1 and FZ3. It should be noted that the width of
the fault zone is only apparent due to the obliquity of the
trench with respect to the faults direction. Though not fol-
lowing standards of paleoseismic trenching, this situation
does provide a better exposure and extended wall surface
to collect more observations and samples for dating.
Starting with ZT4as the most recent event, we identified
a set of eight to nine surface-rupturing events affecting
alluvial Holocene and Damya units, as well as three older
events affecting Lisan deposits (see circled letters in Fig. 5d).
The lack of visible stratification in the massive clays of unit p
prevents us from identifying deformation features and recon-
structing the corresponding part of the faulting history.
Event ZT4: This most recent event is illustrated by three
major splays (FZ1, FZ3, and FZ4) that affect the whole
stratigraphic section up to 2030 cm below the present-
day surface. Vertical displacement can only be resolved
on FZ3, where it reaches 5cm. That rupture does not
affect the shallowest units b and c. It has likely occurred
after the deposition of unit d and before the deposition of
unit c, thus yielding a time window between A.D. 87 and
A.D. 1920 (Table 1) and pleading for a historical event.
Because the A.D. 87 lower bracket is based on a snail shell
that is significantly older than the surrounding soil, we
consider that the event occurred significantly closer to the
upper bracket; that is, more likely after A.D. 500.
However, from the available radiocarbon datings alone,
it is not possible to decide if this exposed fault has experi-
enced rupture in A.D. 749 or A.D. 1033 or both. Alterna-
tively, one may argue that unit c (dated A.D. 16601950)
exhibits noticeable warping across the main fault zone with
an apparent vertical deformation of 25 cm and that unit b
thickens at the toe of the related scarplet into what may be a
colluvial wedge. Age and dimensions of those features
correspond to a recent Mw6earthquake, such as the
1927 Palestine earthquake. This interpretation is supported
by the occurrence of a modern fissure fill unit in T3.
Event YT4: This event is interpreted from small (a few
centimeters) displacements affecting units along FZ2.
All units in the central section from m to e display minor
offsets. Unit d caps the rupture and forms the event
horizon. Event YT4occurred between the deposition of
units e and d and may be dated by samples Tbc-23 and
Tbc-26 (Table 1). This yields a wide window of occurrence
between 5060 B.C. and 1410 B.C.
Event XT4: This event is marked by a fan-shaped network of
splays located immediately southeast of FZ2. Three splays
affect units h, g, and f and produce 5cm of cumulated
vertical throw. They are consistently capped by a thin, silty
clay unit. Event XT4can be dated by bulk soil samples
Tbc-23 and Tbc-24. The stratigraphically lower sample
23 is dated 5060 B.C.4770 B.C. and appears to be slightly
younger than sample 24 (dated 5470 B.C.5110 B.C.), thus
suggesting an age inversion. However, samples 23 and 24
only produced 0.6 mg of carbon and may therefore be
subject to contamination. Because samples are bulk soil,
contamination is probably related to exposure, manipula-
tion, and storage conditions and should then be associated
with a rejuvenation process. This would imply that the
actual age of samples may be slightly older than the mea-
sured ones. In summary, this suggests that sample 23 should
be somehow older and points to an occurrence shortly
before the deposition of the thin, silty clay unit (i.e., between
5470 B.C. and 5000 B.C.). Event XT4may also be documen-
ted by a fault splay located immediately west of FZ3, which
affects the limit between units g and f. However, the fault
termination could not be pinpointed.
Event WT4: This event is documented by a fault splay
located 1m northwest of FZ3. This splay affects all units
up to unit h and is capped by unit g. Its occurrence time
may be bracketed by samples Tbc-23/Tbc-24 and Tbc-18
and yields a window between 7500 B.C. and 5080 B.C.
Considering the stratigraphic position of event WT4with
respect to samples, we propose the actual date is closer
to the age of sample Tbc-18 and is therefore probably com-
prised between 7500 B.C. and 5500 B.C.
Event VT4: This event is located on FZ3, a fault splay that
broke during event ZT4. However, the bottom limit of unit i1
displays about twice as much displacement as the bottom of
unit h, thus suggesting that an event took place between the
deposition of units i1 and h. This yields a probable time of
occurrence between 11,600 B.C. and 4400 B.C. Considering
the possible rejuvenation of sample Tbc-18 (total amounts
of carbon [AoC] of 0.04 mg; see Table 1) and the intermedi-
ate stratigraphic position of event VT4, we estimate the
occurrence date between 10,900 B.C. and 7500 B.C.
Event UT4: This event is located along the same fault zone
as event XT4but 0:8m deeper. In that part of the section,
the faulting pattern is somehow more complex and more
mature. Because the top limit of unit k2 is strongly sheared
and cumulatively offset by 60 cm, we infer that an older
event took place there after the deposition of unit k1. Fault
terminations are unclear in that particular part but affect
some features that we correlate with the bottom limit of
unit i2. Upward, the splays cannot be resolved, and it is
54 M. Ferry, M. Meghraoui, N. Abou Karaki, M. Al-Taj, and L. Khalil
unclear whether they affect unit i1 or not. Several splays
seem to stop within unit i2 (see splays left of event symbol
U in Fig. 5d), suggesting event UT4took place after the
deposition of unit i2. This yields a time window between
11,600 B.C. and 10,200 B.C. Considering the stratigraphic
location, we propose an event date between 11,500 B.C.
and 10,500 B.C.
Event TT4: This event is documented by a splay that
originates from the main fault zone FZ1 and displays an
apparent dip of 45°. This splay strongly affects unit l
(gravels) and displaces the bottom of unit k1 vertically by
20 cm and its top surface by only a few cm, and it may
be followed upward 50 cm into the base of unit j. The as-
sociated event may hence be postdated by sample L-02.
However, this sample has a relatively low AoC (mg), is
composed of carbonate (susceptible to be reworked), and
appears to be older than the stratigraphically lower and well-
dated samples L-07 and L-06. Thus, we choose not to rely
on sample L-02. Consequently, we propose that event TT4is
bracketed by samples L-21/L-22 and L-06, which yields an
occurrence date between 12,060 B.C. and 10,910 B.C.
Event ST4: A conspicuous group of minor fault splays
affect a clearly defined subhorizontal layer within unit o
in the southeast section of the trench, thus indicating that
event ST4occurred after the deposition of unit o. However,
due to subsequent erosion of that unit and the emplacement
of younger channel deposits, all fault splays have been cut
and stop at the erosion surface. Considering that the older
channel composed of units n, m, and l has originally cut
into units o and p (and totally removed unit o from the
western-most section) we may infer that event ST4has ac-
tually occurred prior to the deposition of unit n. This strong
erosion process has erased part of the stratigraphic record
and limits the availability of dating samples. Consequently,
event ST4may only be defined as having occurred within
the same time windows as event TT4; that is, between
10,910 B.C. and 12,060 B.C. It may be assumed that the
main channel fill is noticeably thicker than the exposed
section, which would put event ST4stratigraphically close
to sample L-06. This would suggest that event ST4oc-
curred closer to the lower end of the bracket; that is,
presumably between 12,060 B.C. and 11,500 B.C.
Event CT4: This event is the only clear liquefaction event
that was identified at that site. It is marked by a 0.5-by-1-
m-large pocket of homogeneous, fine-grained, red, well-
sorted carbonate sand surrounded by distorted detritus
and aragonite layers. Furthermore, the pocket truncates an
older fault that may be attributed to an older event (see
Event BT4).
Event BT4: This event is pointed out by a single fault splay
that cuts through Lisan units and was later truncated by
liquefaction from event CT4.
Event AT4: The oldest event visible in exposure T4 affects
the lowermost Lisan laminae as a fan-shaped splay
network. All splays, as well as a nearby seismite feature,
are consistently truncated by a subsequent deposit.
Events CT4,BT4, and AT4all occurred during the deposi-
tion of Lisan units or shortly after, while they were still water
saturated. This dates all three events back to the end of the
Lisan (shortly before 20 ka B.P.;Bartov et al., 2002).
To achieve the best possible characterization of events,
we took advantage of outcropping site-wide and region-wide
sedimentary formations (Fig. 5) and enhanced our analysis
using stratigraphic correlations across trenches at a given site
and across sites. Hence, our four paleoseismic trenches,
opened at two sites along the central and southern sections
of the JVF, yield a total of 12 surface-rupturing events: 2 may
be correlated to historical earthquakes (A.D. 1033 and
A.D. 749), and the remaining 10 are prehistoric. The oldest
events identified (A, B, and C) are synchronous with the
latest Lisan units deposited between 17 ka B.P. and 20 ka
B.P. It should be noted that, due to sedimentary hiatuses,
no event could be identified between the last historical earth-
quakes and YT4(5060 B.C.1410 B.C.), thus leading to a
significant gap in the record. Considering the proximity
between the active trace of the JVF and archaeological sites,
the adequate time period, and the rich record, we propose to
rely on archaeoseismology to compensate for the incomplete
paleoseismic data.
Rift valleys throughout the world are common passage-
ways for human populations and are thus generally rich with
the archaeological heritage of former civilizations. The evo-
lution and migration of human groups with respect to active
faults has hence long been established (King et al., 1994).
Here, we first provide detailed evidence for earthquake-in-
duced destruction at Tell Saidiyeh, an archaeological site that
sits a few tens of meters from the active trace of the JVF
(Fig. 3) and which has been studied by means of paleoseis-
mic excavations (trenches T3 and T4 in section 5). Addition-
ally, we present a critical reappraisal of published data about
20 archaeological sites scattered over the Jordan Valley and
neighboring regions (Fig. 3and Fig. 6), which show varying
degrees of evidence for earthquake-related damage and
possibly surface rupture. The archaeological evidence for
paleoearthquakes takes the form of destruction to buildings
with frequent fires and consequent signs of site abandon-
ment. Thus, a widespread burnt layer with a noticeable
content of rubble, pottery shards, and ashes may be a good
candidate for earthquake evidence. However, indication for
an earthquake is generally reduced to signs of destruction
that can be instead related to regional wars, local raids, or
even accidents (e.g., accidental fire caused by an unattended
oil lamp). In a recent review, Ambraseys (2006) underlines
the different caveats pertaining to the use of archaeological
evidence to identify past earthquakes and particularly to the
interpretation of toppled structures. We follow Ambraseyss
guidelines in making our interpretations of existing archae-
ological data from Tubb (1988 and 1998),Savage et al.
(2001,2002, and 2003), and Franken (1989) and retain the
Episodic Behavior of the Jordan Valley Section of the Dead Sea Fault 55
most robust evidence to identify destruction events that may
be attributed to past earthquakes.
For example, Tell Saidiyeh (Fig. 8) is located almost
exactly at the center of the Jordan Valley (Fig. 6), which
suggests the site would probably experience intense ground-
shaking in the case of a major earthquake on the JVF. Tell
structures are common throughout the Middle East and are
composed of layers of successive settlement (spreading over
a few centuries to several millennia), which may pile up to
reach 3050 m elevation above the base level. Tell Saidiyeh
has been studied for the last 60 years and been the object of
systematic excavations since 1964 (Tubb, 1988). The site has
produced a wealth of artifacts that document rather contin-
uous occupation from the Chalcolithic (fourth millen-
ium B.C.) up to the Roman period (Tubb, 1998). The tell
itself is composed of two distinct mounds (Fig. 8), with
noticeably different histories: an upper main tell where
elaborate structures were discovered (e.g., an olive-pressing
complex and a water staircase; see Fig. 8d) and a lower tell
that was mostly used as a burial ground during the Omayyad
period. A compilation of indications for strong perturbations
to Tell Saidiyeh (Table 2) point to two specific strata
for which destruction is significant: stratum L2, dated
2900 B.C., and stratum XII, dated 11501120 B.C. For both
strata, the author mentions widespread damage with intense
burning, collapsed walls, and broken potteries (Fig. 8c). An
additional event may be linked to stratum VI, dated to the
middle of the eighth century B.C., and may correspond to
the 759 B.C. Jericho earthquake (Nur and Cline, 2000).
Indeed, Tubb (1998, p. 126) mentions that houses of Stra-
tum VI were knocked down and leveled in preparation for
another major building programme.The reason for such
a drastic solution may be the prior intense destruction of
the tell by an earthquake with no possibility to re-use da-
maged buildings. Other strata show evidence for destruction
or abandonment but could not be related to seismic shaking.
In parallel, we compile existing data for 11 archaeologi-
cal sites in the vicinity of the JVF showing a potential for past
earthquake damage (Fig. 6and Table 2). However, we con-
sider earthquake-induced damage in archaeological sites only
if it is attested by a minimum of two sufficiently distant sites
and sites with evidence for surface rupture. The analysis of
damage to archaeological sites allows us to identify four
events likely associated with large earthquakes along the JVF:
Event ZA: This event is attested at Tell DeirAlla (Franken,
1989) and Tell Saidiyeh (Tubb, 1988) for the middle of the
eighth century B.C. Available descriptions lack details, and
it is probable that the corresponding destruction has been
indirectly associated with the well-known 759 B.C. Zechar-
iahs earthquake (Nur and Ron, 1996) without further age
determination. At Tell Saidiyeh, damage is not directly as-
sociated with an earthquake, but it is rather the subsequent
massive leveling of the site that suggests a catastrophic
event. Proposed date: 759 B.C..
Event YA: This event is attested at the neighboring sites of
Tell Saidiyeh and Tell DeirAlla, where the occurrence of
an earthquake in the early twelfth century B.C. leaves no
doubt for Franken (1989) and J. N. Tubb (personal comm..
2005). At Tell AlUmayri, 30 km east of the JVF,
contemporary destruction associated with a burn layer rich
in broken vessels is documented by Savage et al. (2001).It
should be noted that this event may be part of the
well-documented twelfth century B.C. earthquake storm
studied by many authors and summarized by Nur and Cline
(2000). Proposed date: 1150 B.C..
Event XA: This event is documented at Tell Abu en-Niaj
by Savage et al. (2003) as a series of ash layers offset by a
fault splay. According to our mapping of the JVF (Fig. 6;
Al-Taj, 2000;Ferry et al., 2007), Tell Abu en-Niaj appears
to be west and off the main active trace by 1km. Savage
et al. (2003) do not provide details about the amount or
intensity of deformation along that fault, and it is presently
not possible to decide whether the observed offsets are
related to coseismic fault slip. At Khirbet Iskander, located
30 km southeast of the JVF (Fig. 6), Savage et al. (2003)
describe a destruction layer in great detail (Table 2), where
fire was attested by burnt stones, ash layers, and charred
grain. Well-preserved wooden beams and human remains
suggest a sudden possibly earthquake-related catastrophe.
Proposed date: 2300 B.C.
Event WA: At Tell Saidiyeh, Tubb (1988) documents dense
destruction debris associated with fragmentary and dis-
turbed architecture and indicates these are consistent with
ground-shaking-related damage (J. N. Tubb, personal
comm., 2005). At the nearby Tell el-Fukhar site, Savage
et al. (2003) mention evidence of intense destruction to
walls and infer a possible earthquake-related origin. Pro-
posed date: 2900 B.C.
Overall, our compilation of archaeological studies on
tells in the vicinity of the JVF strongly suggests the occur-
rence of four events: in 759 B.C.,1150 B.C.,2300 B.C.,
and 2900 B.C.. Here, the archaeological record intersects
the historical record, as attested by the 759 B.C. earthquake
described in written documents. Furthermore, the archaeo-
seismic event XAcan be correlated with the paleoseismic
event YT4and compensates for the sedimentary hiatus
observed in paleoseismic trenches (period 1500 B.C. to
4500 B.C.). It should be noted that indications for surface
breaks affecting tells may not necessarily be considered as
faulting evidence. Indeed, tells are artificial mounds made
of heterogeneous material that includes rubble, dirt, and
architectural remains (Fig. 8a). As such, they are very sen-
sitive to gravitational collapse, especially under seismic
shaking. Hence, for sites that are not directly located across
the main active trace of the JVF, we consider surface defor-
mation as secondary evidence in the sense of McCalpin
(1998). Nonetheless, such indications may provide a relevant
chronological constraint for a seismic event. Thus, the
mention by Franken (1989, p. 203) of a victim found
56 M. Ferry, M. Meghraoui, N. Abou Karaki, M. Al-Taj, and L. Khalil
Figure 8. Tell Saydiyeh archaeological site. (a,b) General view of the site and satellite imagery (inset) showing its relationship to the
fault. The archaeological site is composed with a lower and an upper tell that were occupied at different periods. The original site was a
limited mound that looked over the region and has grown with the successive addition of settlement layers, each related to a specific period.
The obvious proximity of the JVF is marked by the active fault scarp. In (b), the satellite imagery shows the relationship between the active
fault trace (thick line), the archaeological site (LT, lower tell; UT, upper tell), and geomorphology (white outline represents the extent of the
microtopographic survey in Fig. 3b). (c) Open pit at the top of the tell showing conspicuous 5-cm-thick black burnt layers. Those layers
contain broken pottery, charred wood, and ashes and are remnants of a widespread intense fire. (d) The twelfth century B.C. olive processing
area (Palace) that displays signs of destruction (from Tubb, 1998). (e) Blocked doorway and broken vessel interpreted as a direct result of
earthquake shaking (from Tubb, 1988). The color version of this figure is available only in the electronic edition.
Episodic Behavior of the Jordan Valley Section of the Dead Sea Fault 57
Table 2
Compilation of Archaeological Evidence for Strong Perturbations at Archaeological Sites in the Vicinity of the Jordan Valley Fault
Documented Date
Date of Event
(Inferred) Site Description from Archaeological Source
Proposed Cause
of Destruction
Probability of
an Earthquake
Indication of
century A.D.
A:D:1350 Tell Hisban There is evidence of earthquake collapse and fire for
the mid 14th-century destruction that preserved the
contents of the store.(p. 446)*
Earthquake High
?Ayyubid-Mamluk A.D. 11701520 Tell Yaamun The mosaic floor of the east room is extensively
dented by collapsed wall stones, which suggests that
use ended with destruction caused by an
earthquake.(p. 457)
ZH(749 A.D.) A.D. 749 Khirbet Yajuz In area E, an earthquake that occurred in A.D. 748 is
illustrated by the collapsed vaulted arches and the
irregularities of the paved floor, which date to the
Umayyad period.(p. 448)
Earthquake High
century A.D.
A:D:650 Tell Hisban After an earthquake in the mid seventh century A.D.,
which was responsible for the collapse of the stone
barrel vaults, the structure was reoccupied and used
into the Abbasid period.(p. 446)*
Earthquake High
?Late Byzantine A.D. 490640 Jerash The pottery and glass under this tumbled wall section
showed that the collapse must have occurred during
the Late Byzantine period, probably the result of an
earthquake that was responsible for the destruction
of other city buildings in the sixth century.(p. 458)
ZA(759 B.C.) Seventhsixth
century B.C.
500700 B.C. Tell Saydiyeh A series of building phases (IIIBIIIG) was defined
below Pritchards Stratum III (now termed IIIA), the
lowest of which shows architecture very similar to
Stratum V, with similar evidence for burning.
(p. 130)§
Fire Low
720 B:C:Tell Saydiyeh These stalls were frequently found to contain equid
bones, and it seems likely that these represent the
remains of unfortunate animals which had been
abandoned to the fire which brought an end to
Stratum V around 720 BC. The destruction of
Stratum V might have been accidental, but it might
also be attributed to the Assyrians, who were
campaigning in this region at the time.(p. 127)§
Accidental fire?
century B.C.
700800 B.C. Deir Alla Phase Mwas destroyed by earthquake and fire.
(p. 204)
Earthquake, fire
century B.C.
750 B:C:Tell Saydiyeh Towards the middle of the eigth century the houses of
Stratum VI were knocked down and leveled in
preparation for another major building programme.
(p. 126)§
58 M. Ferry, M. Meghraoui, N. Abou Karaki, M. Al-Taj, and L. Khalil
Table 2 (Continued)
Documented Date
Date of Event
(Inferred) Site Description from Archaeological Source
Proposed Cause
of Destruction
Probability of
an Earthquake
Indication of
YA(1150 B:C:) 11501120 B.C. Tell Saydiyeh The city of Stratum XII was obviously destroyed in an
intense conflagration, the dense associated debris
sealing a valuable corpus of finds, examination of
which has established a date for this event at around
1150-1120 BC, coinciding with the withdrawal of
the Egyptian empire... Some time in the last quarter
of the [twelfth] century the city of Stratum XII was
destroyed by fire, and at the same time the cemetery
on the Lower Tell fell out of use. There is no
indication as to the source of the destruction:
certainly there were neither bodies nor signs of
conflict amidst the ruined buildings of the Upper
Tell, and it could well be that firewas the result of an
accident.(p. 86)§
Fire High
Early twelfth
century B.C.
11501100 B.C. Deir Alla There is little doubt that the entire complex was
destroyed early in the 12th c. BC and that an
earthquake caused the destruction.(p. 203)
Late first Iron Age 12001100 B.C. Deir Alla This period ended again with an earthquake and a
victim was found completely squashed in a crack in
the earth.(p. 203)
Earthquake Yes
Early Iron Age 12001100 B.C. Tell al-Umayri In an adjacent building to the south, destruction debris
covered a layer of burned and broken ceramic
vessels.(p. 440)
?Middle Bronze
1600 B:C:Tell al-Umayri An earthquake distorted many of the northsouth
walls from this period at the site, including some of
those in the palace.(p. 463)
XA(2300 B:C:)Early Bronze IV 2300 B:C:Tell Abu en-Niaj [...] bulldozing on the western side of Tell Abu en-
Ni'aj cleared a 26-m-long stratigraphic cross-section,
revealing an earthquake slip fault. Early Bronze IV
deposits capped a series of offset ash layers,
indicating that the earthquake occurred during the
occupation of Tell Abu en-Ni'aj.(p. 439)
Earthquake High Yes
Early Bronze III 26502350 B.C. Khirbet Iskander [ . ... . ] section clearly revealed the tip lines of burnt
stones, series of ash layers, mudbricks, abd detritus,
clarified that these remains represent one destruction
phase. [...] the destruction debris [ .. . ...] included
restorable pithoi and wavy-handled vessels, well-
preserved wooden beams, and quantities of charred
grain, lentils, and peas. The charred bones of an
almost complete human arm lay on the plaster floor.
(p. 541)#
Earthquake?, Fire
Episodic Behavior of the Jordan Valley Section of the Dead Sea Fault 59
Table 2 (Continued)
Documented Date
Date of Event
(Inferred) Site Description from Archaeological Source
Proposed Cause
of Destruction
Probability of
an Earthquake
Indication of
WA(2900 B:C:)Late early
Bronze I
2900 B:C:Tell Saydiyeh Stratum L2 was found to be associated with dense
destruction debris (ashes, burnt mud-brick rubble
and charred timber), but both Strata L2 and L3 were
apparently built on the same plan. In the centrally
located area, excavations revealed extremely
fragmentary and disturbed Early Bronze Age
architecture, the remains having been all but
obliterated by the digging of graves in the thirteenth
to twelfth century BC.(p. 42)§
Unknown High
Early Bronze IB 33002850 B.C. Tell el-Fukhar The terrace walls were so damaged, presumably from
earthquakes of which we found evidence, that they
were difficult to distinguish from the huge stone falls
around them.(p. 462)
*Savage et al. (2002).
Savage et al. (2003).
Savage et al. (2001).
§Tubb (1998).
Franken (1989).
#Savage et al. (2005).
60 M. Ferry, M. Meghraoui, N. Abou Karaki, M. Al-Taj, and L. Khalil
completely squashed in a crack in the earthat Tell DeirAlla
(3km east of the JVF) and Savage et al.s (2003) previously
mentioned earthquake slip faultat Tell Abu en-Niaj are
not considered as strong evidence for surface rupture but
may document off-fault effects of a large earthquake.
Summary of Paleoseismic and
Archaeoseismic Events
We determined 3 seismic events from historical studies
(ZHXH), 4 damaging events from archaeological studies
(ZAWA), and 12 faulting events from paleoseismic investi-
gations (ZT2and YT2,ZT3,ZT4ST4, and CT4AT4). The con-
sistency in the correlation between historical, damaging, and
faulting events constrains the occurrence of the earthquake
events. Table 3presents the resulting catalog of 15 large earth-
quakes (ZO and CA) produced by the JVF between
A.D. 1033 and 12,060 B.C. and between 15,000 B.C. and
18,000 B.C. (Fig. 9). It should be noted that an additional event
was identified in trench T2 (WT2) for which we could not es-
timate an age. The fusion of the different datasets reinforces
the identification of past earthquakes. Indeed, of the 13 paleo-
seismic events, two are also present in the historical record and
one (possibly two) in the archaeological record. One event is
present in both historical and archaeological datasets.
Constraints on the Holocene Behavior
of the Jordan Valley Fault
With major barriers (the Dead Sea and the Hula basin) to
the rupture propagation toward nearby fault segments and
very weak structural relays (stepovers) within the JVF,it
is likely that large earthquake ruptures are characteristic in
length and associated with Mw7.27.4 and a 3:3m average
coseismic displacement. An estimate of the total seismic
moment release for the 12 faulting events (ZO in Fig. 9)
during the last 14 ka yields an 3:3mm=yr slip rate, which
probably indicates a lack in the paleoseismic record (possibly
due to the sedimentary hiatus). By contrast, using the total
seismic moment for the admittedly most complete part of the
catalog (events ZU) over a period of 3:9ka, we obtain an
4:2mm=yr slip rate (Fig. 10), which is comparable to the
slip rate obtained from offset streams and paleoclimatic fluc-
tuations (Ferry et al., 2007). The slight difference is easily
explained by distributed deformation around the main trace
(possibly 0:5m per event).
Taken as a whole, our integrated catalog of past seismic
events yields a mean recurrence interval of 1165 yr (standard
deviation 243 yr). A close examination reveals highly vari-
able recurrence intervals with values ranging from 284 yr to
2700 yr (Table 3). To some extent, we agree that very high
values may reflect the incompleteness of our catalog,
especially for its purely paleoseismic part (events TO).
However, long intervals are also present in the assumedly
complete historical and archaeological parts, between events
Y and X (1508 yr) and events W and V (1150 yr), which
suggests very long quiescence periods are real. In parallel,
short interval values are clearly observed through the whole
catalog: between events Yand Z (284 yr), between events W
and X (391 yr), and across events O, P, and Q (190520 yr).
We propose that these short intervals reflect clustering and a
generally episodic behavior of the JVF over the last 14 ka.
Figure 9. Events probability density functions for the last 20 ka along the JVF from historical, archaeological, and paleoseismic data.
The average recurrence interval is 1165 yr (σ243 yr) for the whole period but varies from 787 yr (σ1212 yr) for historical and
archaeological data to 1480 yr (σ705 yr) for paleoseismic data. See text for a detailed analysis. The color version of this figure is available
only in the electronic edition.
Episodic Behavior of the Jordan Valley Section of the Dead Sea Fault 61
This independently confirms the observation by Ferry et al.
(2007) of slip rate variations along the JVF from a long-term
value of 4:9mm=yr to a peak value of 11 mm=yr during a 2-
ka-long period.
The field investigations and collected data, their analysis,
and results provide a remarkable succession of past earth-
quakes and related rupture parameters along a single segment
of the DSF. We have identified several issues that can be sum-
marized in: (1) the complex alluvial stratigraphy (hiatus and
channeling) and related uncertainties on radiocarbon datings
led to a partial identification of some paleoseismic events
(e.g., A, B, C, R, and T); (2) the possibility that our paleo-
seismic record is short of a few events; and (3) the accuracy
in the identification of seismic clusters, episodes of quies-
cence, and definition of interseismic periods. However, the
combination of paleoseismic trenching, historical studies, ar-
chaeoseismic results, and their relationships allowed a most
favorable characterization of paleoseismic events ZV.
The analysis of paleoseismic results revealed nine fault-
ing events that we attempted to correlate (Table 3) with three
historical events (A.D. 1033, A.D. 749, and 759 B.C.) and four
archaeoseismic events (759 B.C., 1150 B.C., 2300 B.C., and
2900 B.C.). The oldest part of our catalog is based on paleo-
seismic trenching alone, which we strengthened by exploring
any alternative interpretation. In trench T4, event VT4is in-
terpreted on the basis of increasing displacement with depth
along FZ3 and related splays, suggesting that unit i1 has been
affected by at least one extra event with respect to unit h. An
alternative explanation might be that unit h is isopach, while
unit i1 is an erosive channel fill with a noticeable dip to the
westsouthwest (direction of flow). In this case, any horizon-
tal movement would produce apparent vertical displacement:
all offsets described along FZ3 could have occurred during
event ZT4only. However, our interpretation is supported by a
second observation close to the main shear zone (see labels in
Fig. 5d). Besides, the upper unit c appears to have been
deposited over a preexisting scarp across the main shear zone
(FZ1) or to have been warped with 10 cm vertical displace-
ment (Fig. 5d). In the former case, the most recent displace-
ment would have occurred between A.D. 87 and A.D. 1920,
thus indicating either of the historical events of A.D. 749 and
A.D. 1033. In the latter case, warping would have taken place
after the deposition of unit c and before the deposition of the
wedge unit b (i.e., after A.D. 1660) at a time when no large
earthquake is attested for the region, which is very unlikely.
11.2 mm/yr 8.3 mm/yr
11.2 mm/yr
Age (ka BP)
Ferry et al., 2007
This study
Cumulative slip (m)
12 14 16 18
4.9 mm/yr
4.3 mm/yr
Figure 10. Comparison between geomorphological data (gray curve, Ferry et al., 2007) and paleoseismological data (black curve, this
study) for the last 14 ka. With an average coseismic displacement of 3.3 m (see text), inferred slip rate reaches 4:2mm=yr for the last 5 ka,
slightly higher than the minimum value and slightly lower than the average long-term value given by Ferry et al. (2007). Inferred cumulative
slip from historical and archaeological events (19:81:8m) satisfyingly corresponds to the first geomorphic marker (17 5m).
Furthermore, our oldest events (O, P, and Q) suggest a short-term slip rate of 8:3mm=yr, comparable to the 11:2mm=yr value from
62 M. Ferry, M. Meghraoui, N. Abou Karaki, M. Al-Taj, and L. Khalil
Over the four trench exposures, we collected and dated 28
radiocarbon samples, most of which yielded large (>1mg)
amounts of carbon (AoC) and adequate uncertainties (20
50 yr) and appeared to be in stratigraphic order (Table 1
and Fig. 5). Some samples present uncertainties that should
be clarified: Samples Ka-T3-S03 (T1), Ka-T3-6N (T2), L-14
(T4), and Tbc-04 (T4) present low to insufficient AoC (0.2
0.8 mg) and were not used for event determination. Although
alkali residue (AkR) fractions of samples L-02 (T4) and L-07
(T4) yield low AoC, their respective carbonatic and humic
acid fractions yield similar ages that confirm the quality of
the results. However, because sample L-02 is older than any
other sample of the section by some 5 ka, including the stra-
tigraphically older samples L-07 and L-06, we consider it is
redeposited and chose to reject it. Sample Tbc-18 presents an
extremely low AoC and needed to be normalized to specially
prepared targets. Because it is used to define event R (paleo-
seismic event VT4) and rejuvenation is very likely, we relied
on nearby samples and stratigraphy to correct its age (see
description, Trench 4). We used the same approach for sam-
ples Tbc-23 and Tbc-24, which bracket event T (paleoseis-
mic event XT4) and show a relatively low AoC (0.6 mg each),
similar ages, and age inversion. Although we applied com-
pensation for rejuvenation of the samples, it is possible that
events R and T are actually slightly older. This would move
event T closer to event S and event R closer to events O, P,
and Q, while extending the empty period between events R
and S.
Although we combined three independent datasets into a
uniquely long catalog of large earthquakes for the JVF,itis
possible that some events are still missing. The mean recur-
rence interval for our paleoseismic record is 1480 yr, almost
double the 787 yr mean recurrence interval obtained for the
assumedly complete historical and archaeological periods
(i.e., the last 14,000 years). This may point either to the
incompleteness of the long-term paleoseismic record (one
extra event has been identified but not dated) or to different
faulting behaviors over the two periods. Considering the
situation of alluvial deposits in channels and the relatively
long sedimentary hiatus observed in trenches (Fig. 5), it is
likely that part of the sedimentary record of paleoseismic
events has been truncated. Furthermore, plotting age versus
cumulative displacement for our catalog (Fig. 10) reveals that
the paleoseismic period does not fit cumulative offsets
Table 3
Summary of Events Identified from Historical, Archaeological, and Paleoseismic Data along the Jordan
Valley Fault for the Last 18.5 ka
Event Records Date* IntervalConfidence Reference
Z A.D. 1033 284 15
ZHA.D. 1033 Ambraseys et al., 1994;Amiran et al., 1994;
Ben-Menahem, 1991
ZT2Ult:>A:D:560660 This study
ZT3Ult:<A:D:14901640 This study
ZT4Ult:>A:D:500 This study
Y A.D. 749 1508 25
YHA.D. 749 Abou Karaki, 1987;Tsafrir and Foerster, 1992;
Karcz, 2004
YT1Pen:<A:D:14901800 This study
YT2Pen:>A:D:560660 This study
X759 B:C:1 391 51 4
XH759 B:C:1Ben-Menahem, 1991;Nur and Ron, 1996;
Ambraseys, 2005
ZAMid-eighth century B.C. Tubb, 1988;Franken, 1989
WYA1150 B:C:50 1150 100 3Franken, 1989;Nur and Cline, 2000
V2300 B:C:50 600 100 4
XA2300 B:C:Savage et al., 2003
YT41410 B.C.5060 B.C. This study
UWA2900 B:C:50 2335 285 3Savage et al., 2003;Tubb, 1988
TXT45235 B:C:235 1265 1235 4 This study
SWT46500 B:C:1000 2700 2700 4 This study
RVT49200 B:C:1700 1800 2200 3 This study
QUT411000 B:C:500 485 1075 4 This study
PTT411485 B:C:575 295 855 4 This study
OST411780 B:C:280 4 This study
CCT416500 B:C:1500 4 This study
BBT416500 B:C:1500 4 This study
AAT416500 B:C:1500 4 This study
*Ult., ultimate; Pen., penultimate.
Time interval from preceding event.
Episodic Behavior of the Jordan Valley Section of the Dead Sea Fault 63
measured on streams. This may be only partly explained by
distributed off-fault deformation (Griffith et al., 2010).
Our catalog of seismic events allows us to identify earth-
quake clusters and quiescence periods and suggests episodi-
city for the JVF over the last 14 ka. It appears that the
majority of events from our catalog (9 events out of 12)
is grouped into clusters of two or three earthquakes: events
Y and Z (cluster YZ, interval of 284 yr), events W and X
(WX, interval of 391 yr), events U and V (UV, interval of
600 yr), and events O, P, and Q (OPQ, mean interval of
330 yr). These clusters are generally preceded and followed
by long periods of quiescence: up to 1800 yr after cluster
OPQ, 2335 yr before cluster UV, 1150 yr between clusters
UV and WX, 1508 yr between clusters WX and YZ, and at
least 977 yr after cluster YZ (time since the A.D. 1033 his-
torical earthquake). Although one may also consider events
A, B, and C as a cluster, the large uncertainty associated with
radiocarbon dating (1500 yr) implies that the three events
may have occurred any time within a 3-ka period.
Considering that the inland 120-km-long JVF may
extend southward inside the Dead Sea basin for a further
20 km (Lazar and Ben-Avraham, 2002;Ben-Avraham and
Schubert, 2006) and northward in the Hula asin for 10 km
(Marco et al., 2005), this yields a maximum 150 km sur-
face-rupture length. Hence, some of our inferences rely on a
maximum Mw7.27.4 magnitude and a related average
3:3m coseismic left-lateral slip estimated from a maximum
120150-km surface rupture length (Kanamori and Ander-
son, 1975;Wells and Coppersmith, 1994). Although the
22 November 1995 Mw7.3 Aqaba event is the only large
modern earthquake observed along the DSF until today, its
rupture parameters may not serve as a base of comparison
for earthquakes along the JVF. Indeed, it was composed
of two or three subevents along offshore faults (Hofstetter,
2003), and no surface rupture could be observed so far.
Unfortunately, the only coseismic slip values available were
modeled and may not be adequately compared to surface
rupture values (Hofstetter, 2003). However, several coseis-
mic or cumulative displacements were actually measured
along other segments of the DSF and typically show coseis-
mic values around 3 m (e.g., Klinger et al., 2000;Gomez
et al., 2003;Meghraoui et al., 2003;Marco et al., 2005;
Haynes et al., 2006), which suggests that a similar value
may be considered for the JVF. Furthermore, results of recent
earthquakes, such as the 1999 Mw7.37.4 Izmit earthquake
(Turkey) and related right-lateral strike-slip faulting, yield a
comparable estimate with 140 km rupture length and an
average 3 m coseismic slip (Barka et al., 2002).
The JVF is the main source of destructive earthquakes for
the Jordan Valley region. Its characterization has crucial
implications for the seismic hazard assessment of large urban
areas such as Jerusalem, Amman, and Irbid, as well as to
numerous historical and archaeological heritage sites such
as Pella, Jerash, Madaba, Qumran, Jericho, and Meguiddo
(Fig. 6).
Through an integrated approach involving (1) the com-
pilation of historical seismicity, (2) the careful reappraisal of
archaeological data, and (3) detailed fault mapping, tectonic
geomorphology, and paleoseismic trenching, we produce an
original catalog of at least 12 surface-rupturing events in the
last 14 ka and at least 16 events in the last 17 ka along the
Jordan Valley segment of the Dead Sea fault. The mean
recurrence interval (787 yr) indicates that the historical
and archaeological record might be complete, while lower
and upper bounds of the extreme recurrence intervals
(2841508 yr) imply a generally time-episodic behavior.
The plausibility of this episodic model should be compared
to apparent episodicity of conventional renewal models (Fit-
zenz et al., 2010). In contrast, the paleoseismological dataset
shows incompleteness with a mean recurrence interval of
1480 yr, suggesting sedimentary hiatuses and a gap in the
geological record.
Taking into account that the historical and archaeologi-
cal datasets provide a mostly complete catalog of surface-
rupturing events, we obtain a 787-yr mean recurrence inter-
val, 3:3m of slip per event (derived from Wells and Cop-
persmith, 1994), and a mean 5mm=yr slip rate for the last
5 ka (or 4:8mm=yr, using a regression curve; see Fig. 10), in
agreement with the mean value obtained by Ferry et al.
(2007) for the last 48 ka. This is also confirmed by the direct
measurement of a stream offset at Tell Saydiyeh that yields
4:90:3mm=yr for the last 25 ka (see Tectonic Geomor-
phology along the Jordan Valley Fault). Finally, the last mil-
lennium of seismic quiescence along the JVF indicates up to
5 m of slip deficit and points to either an imminent earth-
quake and/or a future earthquake cluster similar to the A.D.
749/A.D. 1033 sequence. Neighboring segments being at a
slightly lower, if not similar, level of tectonic loading (i.e.,
no large events since the twelfth century sequence), it is plau-
sible that a present-day large earthquake on the JVF may
trigger earthquake ruptures on nearby segments.
Data and Resources
Digital elevation model data used to produce maps are
from Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) 3 topogra-
phy from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
and are available from Consultative Group for International
Agriculture ResearchConsortium for Spatial Information
CGIARCSI Consortium for Spatial Information at srtm.csi (last accessed March 2009). Bathymetry used for
maps in Figure 1and Figure 2is SRTM 30produced by Uni-
versity of California, San Diego ( In-
strumental seismicity in Figure 2was obtained from the
Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology Data Man-
agement Center at (last accessed April 2007).
Calibration of radiocarbon ages was performed using the
OxCal software (Bronk Ramsey, 1995), available at c14.arch
64 M. Ferry, M. Meghraoui, N. Abou Karaki, M. Al-Taj, and L. Khalil with the IntCal04
calibration curve (Reimer et al., 2004).
The authors are indebted to the Deanship of Scientific Research (Uni-
versity of Jordan), the Jordan Valley Authority, the Natural Resources
Authority and Military Commandment, and Salman Al-Dhaisat (Royal Jor-
danian Geographic Center) for their assistance and help during our field in-
vestigations. We are grateful to Majdi Barjous (Natural Resources
Authority), Hani Amoush (University of Jordan), and Zoe Shipton and
James Kirkpatrick (Glasgow University) for their help in the field and to
Pieter Grootes and Marie-Josée Nadeau (Kiel University) for the radiocar-
bon dating. This study was funded by the EC 5th Framework Program and
APAME project (Contract ICA3-CT-2002-10024). Matthieu Ferry was in
part supported by the COMPETE program (FCT Ciencia 2007 FCOMP-
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