Lessons Learned from a New Collaborative Archaeological Adventure

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Architects at the MRAMP site.

Architects at the MRAMP site.

By: Douglas R. Clark
[With Suzanne Richard, Andrea Polcaro, Marta D‘Andrea, Basem Mahamid]

It all began over a decade ago. Then Director General of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan (DoA), Fawwaz Al-Kraysheh, sat me down in his office, looked me straight in the eyes, and issued three rapid-fire requests, or more like three urgent appeals: 1) help us upgrade and renovate the current Madaba Museum which for years has been in decline, 2) train the museum staff, and 3) digitize its records.

Immediately it became clear that it would take a large Bedouin tent full of people to pull this off. Within a few months, the majority of dig directors in the Madaba region, along with representatives from the DoA and artists, architects, and other archaeologists, met and began the process of laying plans for a better archaeological museum. The Madaba region encompasses everything between the southern outskirts of Amman and the Wadi Mujib, and between the Dead Sea and the desert, a large region rich in archaeological sites whose excavated remains cover all periods from the Paleolithic to the Ottoman, and which find their way to the Madaba Museum for storage, study, and display.

ASORBlog 03.MRAMP

ASORBlog 02.MRAMP

ASORBlog 04 Madaba Archaeological Park West.APAAME Robert Bewley

Maddalena Hew Marco

Maddalena Hew Marco

Early on, the majority opinion among regional dig directors veered into uncharted territory, favoring only temporary measures at the current museum and, simultaneously, an ambitious long-term plan to establish a new archaeological museum near the center of Madaba, along the route visitors take to get to St. George’s Church to see the sixth-century mosaic map. Delays of various kinds slowed progress until a new and energized international collaboration emerged in 2015. Key players included Americans (Suzanne Richard, principal investigator and co-director at Khirbat Iskandar and me from the Madaba Plains Project-`Umayri), Italians (Andrea Polcaro, co-director of the Mutawwaq project in the Wadi Zarqa, and Marta D‘Andrea, co-director at Khirbat Iskandar), and Basem Mahamid, District Director of the Madaba Region of the DoA.

Built on the synergy exuding from this nascent collaboration, there grew the beginnings of MRAMP, the Madaba Regional Archaeological Museum Project. In cooperation with the DoA, MRAMP carried out a two-week cleaning operation in May, 2016, at the Madaba Archaeological Park West, site of a long stretch of Roman Pavement, the Burnt Palace, the Martyrs Church, and a segment of Madaba’s early modern, that is Ottoman, settlement. Clearing and cleaning the Ottoman buildings, excavated previously by the Franciscans, the DoA, and ACOR, the MRAMP team exposed houses belonging to several settler families from Karak, one of which lives in an adjoining house, overlooking the ruins.

ASORBlog 05 MRAMP Welcome Sandals 01.MRAMP

Welcome Sandals

Welcome Sandals

Welcome Sandals

The results of those two weeks, supported by a Harris grant from ASOR, were stunning (see report). And significant. The reason: the exposed Ottoman settlement of several buildings will provide the ground floor of the newly envisioned state-of-the-art museum which will cover and protect the settlement with an additional raised floor or two for displaying finds from Madaba regional excavations. Success in 2016 opened the way for a $117,000 award from USAID, channeled through SCHEP (Sustainable Cultural Heritage Engagement through Local Communities Project), housed at ACOR in Amman. This will support ongoing work at the museum site over a period of 15 months, involving numerous workers from Madaba and from the Madaba DoA office, as well as a second May season to complete the clearing of the remainder of the Ottoman buildings and preparation of architectural plans for the museum. On a quest for additional funding from US and Italian sources, the co-directors are optimistic about future potential.

Read a partial report on progress.

Chiara P. with Madaba boy.

Chiara P. with Madaba boy.

MRAMP Work Area

MRAMP Work Area

The rush of the past several months of planning for and working toward a new regional museum in Madaba has taught me several lessons:

1) These kinds of projects happen collaboratively, in this case collaboratively among international project co-directors of MRAMP, among Madaba regional dig directors, and including everyone currently working to preserve the cultural heritage of Jordan. The number and scope of stakeholders, of course, also includes a huge and growing network of friends and professional colleagues: for example, the royal family, the Ministry of Tourism, the DoA, the Madaba Municipality and Madaba businesses and citizens, the Madaba Institute of Mosaics, mosques, churches, schools, members of the 19 families who can trace their roots back to the 1880s settlement of their grandparents in the city, etc., etc., etc.

Maira Andrea Marta Chiara Chiara Nisreen

Maira Andrea Marta Chiara Chiara Nisreen

MRAMP Team

MRAMP Team

2) These kinds of projects represent the best possible of outcomes growing in part out of our collectively hanging around forever, out of the long haul of excavation seasons and research, from the sustained tenacity of archaeological projects in Jordan. While we cannot quite claim le longue durée for our work in Jordan, thirty, forty, and for some, fifty years of archaeological engagement in the central part of the country are paying off in collective results not otherwise easily achieved.

3) These kinds of projects affirm, encompass, encapsulate, and engender hospitality. Co-directors of MRAMP maintain home addresses in their countries of citizenship, but it is beginning to feel more and more like we are living much of our lives in Jordan, within the hospitality vortex of Jordanian warmth and provision. This has led us to recommend as the logo for MRAMP and the new museum an image drawn of a pair of sandals embedded in the mosaic floor near the entrance to one of the buildings in the Burnt Palace, a fitting emblem of open-hearted welcome.

While it all began over a decade ago, the end of the story portends positive outcomes. We are looking forward to a new museum in Madaba and will continue to expand our collaborative participation and long-term engagement in the development of a welcoming resource for preserving and presenting the Madaba region’s considerable cultural heritage.

Douglas R. Clark is the Director of the Center for Near Eastern Archaeology (CNEA) at La Sierra University and the Director of the Madaba Plains Project-`Umayri.

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