The Historic Jedars of Tiaret Province

Located around 30 km south of the Algerian city of Tiaret, the Jedars are thirteen tombs dating back to the era referred to as Late Antiquity, generally agreed to be between the 4th and 7th centuries CE. Three of these ancient structures stand on Jabal Lakhdar, with the other ten situated on top of Jabal Arawi. Scholars agree that these elevated positions, as well as the size of the structures themselves, indicate that they were constructed for royalty. Unfortunately, the Jedars have been ruined and any evidence pointing to who they were built for, and by whom, has been lost as a result of being plundered through the years. Nevertheless, their similarities with smaller Berber tombs in the area suggest that they are of Berber origin.

Constructed primarily in the dry stone method, without the use of mortar, the monuments have very shallow, if any, foundations and were built directly on the surface of the hills. A variety of materials were used, including locally quarried sandstone and limestone and building fragments likely taken from older necropoli. All the tombs have a square base – the smallest being 11.55 meters and the largest measuring 46 meters – and are thought to have been in the shape of a pyramid. Although the tops of the tombs are no longer intact, judging from the base and shape it has been determined that some tombs may have been up to 13 meters in height.

Some of the Jedars contain funerary chambers which are reached via steps on the one side. The solid Jedars are thought to cover a single tomb which has been excavated from the rock below. Most of the tombs were surrounded by low walls and a courtyard, some of which remain. The courtyards have an extension in the middle of the east-facing side. A smaller version of the tomb is found in the east-facing extension of the larger tombs. Researchers believe that this may have served as a sleeping chamber for obtaining divinatory dreams.

Words of Latin or Tifinagh origin are etched on the stonework, but have been all but obliterated by the elements over the years. So, while researchers have determined that these are in fact tombs, they have not been able to confirm who built them. However, on the largest of the Jedars, are murals of religious scenes associated with 5th century and later Mediterranean Christianity.

Various excavations of the Jedars has taken place since French military expeditions came across them in 1842. In 1940, the anthropology student who had been given permission to excavate the tombs, used explosives which did much damage. The first systematic archeological study was carried out by an Algerian student, Fatima Kadria Kadra. Published by Algiers University in 1983, her work remains the most complete reference on the Jedars.