Southwest of the Husseini Mosque, King Talal Street and Saqf As Sayl meet at a large traffic intersection. To the south rises the hill of Ashrafiyyeh, while dead ahead (west), in the valley of the Sayl Amman, is an area known as Ras Al Ain (“Source of the Spring”). Here, just past an open colonnaded plaza known as Sahat Al Nakheel (“Palm Square”) featuring a public fountain at its centre, stands the Jordan Museum, still in a “soft opening” phase at the time of writing. This sleek building houses the world-class national archeological collection.
From the atrium, adorned with a Byzantine mosaic and a striking Nabatean relief,probably the goddess Agargatis, turn left. The chronological tour begins with one of the highlights – the oldest human statues in the world, roughly 9,500 years old, discovered at Ain Ghazal near Amman and superbly displayed, eerie and spotlit. Displays track the development of flint tools – becoming finer as large-brained homo sapiens evolved – before you reach the mysterious Tulaylat al-Ghassul mural, the earliest-known painting of human figures in costume, engaged in some kind of ritual procession four thousand years ago.
After a room devoted to bedouin culture, the Bronze Age displays are crowned by an exquisite wooden box from Pella, inlaid in ivory (from a species of Middle Eastern elephant now extinct) with a depiction of two Middle Eastern lions (also now extinct) beneath the sun-disc of the Egyptian god Horus. Beside a copy of the Mesha Stele stands the squat, imposing figure in stone of an Ammonite king from the eighth century BC. Displays on communication follow, including charts showing the development of alphabets, and a Hellenistic room discussing the arrival of coinage after Alexander the Great’s invasion.
The Nabatean hall, with exquisite sculpture and delicate eggshell-ware pottery, features a haunting bust of the Syrian rain god Hadad. Roman displays include a winsome statue of Apollo and a beautiful marble panel from a Byzantine chancel screen, discovered in Petra. There’s also a room devoted to the Dead Sea Scrolls. the upstairs galleries, which focus on the Islamic collection and modern Jordan, were still under wraps at the time of writing; fingers crossed they’re open when you visit.