The transformative political events in the Middle East over the past two years have had, among many other unexpected outcomes, profound effects on the direction of research in Near Eastern archaeology.War and civil unrest act as both a carrot and a stick, forcing the cessation of fieldwork in some areas, while promoting new investigations in places that might otherwise have gone unexplored. The geopolitics of the post-Arab Spring world are changing where we are able work, and by consequence they will shape the research questions we investigate, as well as the regions where future generations of scholars will likely specialize. But the present moment of realignment is far from unique—our discipline has been shaped from the beginning by the tumultuous political history of the Middle East.
In the spring of 1920, James Henry Breasted and a group of scholars from the University of Chicago’s newly founded Oriental Institute embarked on a survey of major archaeological sites in Mesopotamia and Syria. It was Breasted’s hope that the return of political stability under British rule after the end of World War I would facilitate renewed investigations in Mesopotamia. Having traveled by steamer from Egypt, via Bombay, to Basra in southern Iraq, the team began making their way up the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, visiting many of the most prominent sites in the region, including Uruk, Babylon, and Nineveh.
Oriental Institute expedition team members pose with British officers at the west gate of Dura Europos, May 1920. (Image reproduced courtesy of the Oriental Institute Museum’s Photographic Archives http://oi.uchicago.edu/museum/collections/pa/).
I received financial assistance as a Heritage Fellowship recipient which helped me to purchase my plane ticket. In addition to this practical benefit, I was able to share my experiences through the ASOR blog. Now, as I reflect upon my earlier posts (First, Second, Third, and Last) I have various markers that show me how understanding is a journey of perspective. For example, when we were originally given permission to excavate the cave we imagined that it could be a wine cellar. Now we realize that the depth and shape of the cave best lends itself to being a reservoir or cistern. Continue reading →
Returning to Khirbat al-Mudayna as a square supervisor this past summer was a life-changing experience for me. I was awarded the Heritage Fellowship thanks to the generous donors of ASOR, which allowed me to revisit the ancient Kingdom of Moab to supervise and excavate under the direction of Dr. P.M. Michèle Daviau. Continue reading →
The first thing that struck me once the post-excavation haze wore off a few weeks after my return to the United States, was the sudden realization of the vast difference between “education” and “edification.” The classroom’s education provides the theoretical framework with which to situate my perception of the world, but through the context of labor, the act of archaeology provides an ephemeral emic understanding of the past, becoming a contextualized reification of the course-based educational experience. And with memories of the field still fresh in my mind, I found I was no longer content to confine my learning to a lecture hall listening to someone pontificate about the past. What I wanted was to go out and uncover it. Continue reading →
By: Douglas R. Clark, Director, and Kent V. Bramlett, Chief Archaeologist, La Sierra University, Riverside, CA
[photographer: Jillian Logee, Calgary, AB]
Figure 1: Douglas Clark
Figure 2: Kent Bramlett
Figure 3: Jillian Logee
What began as a normal, and 15th, season of excavations at Tall al-`Umayri, Jordan—part of the Madaba Plains Project—turned out to be anything but normal. Land ownership issues forced the team at the last minute to change course drastically and plan as if this were the last summer excavation season ever at a site deserving another 15 or 50. While negotiations continued, the 2012 team braced for the worst and reconfigured their entire set of objectives for 2012, a move which pressed them to sharpen their focus, record everything digitally as if there were no tomorrow, and push themselves to the limit of what is possible in five weeks. In the end, the 2012 team accomplished every single newly minted objective, including especially the following:
1) Accomplish several things archaeologically (in chronological order):
a. Complete recording of Early Bronze Age dolmen
b. Clarify buildings of the Early Iron I settlement along the western perimeter wall by exposing the fourth contiguous structure (Building D) in a row
c. Sort out pre- and post-earthquake phases of the buildings in this Early Iron I settlement
d. Expose a slightly later “four-room” building plan plus surrounding attached rooms and connect this stratigraphically with the Early Iron I settlement
e. Further clarify Iron II and Iron II/Persian remains
2) Document absolutely everything possible with all the technology available should the team not be able to return Continue reading →
By: Amanda Hopkins, 2012 Heritage Fellow
Read Amanda’s earlier posts here (1), here (2), and here (3).
Amanda and other excavators in the cave entrance
Week Four and the end of this year’s dig:
As we continue our digging something very exciting happens- a white, hollow and crumbly residue is found clinging to the chisel marks. This is definitely plaster! The chiseling and plaster can be found on the ceiling and sides of the cave. Further chiseling is also found when looking at the natural dissolution features that trail off from the SE and Southern quadrants of the cave. One can clearly see how the natural fissures in the rock have been humanly manipulated into channels that bend upward and toward the surface of the earth. All this plaster and chiseling suggest that the cave had been manipulated into a cistern. Continue reading →
By: Bert de Vries (Calvin College) and Muaffaq Hazza (Umm el-Jimal)
In 2012 the Umm el-Jimal (UJ) Project received a grant from the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) to engage in preservation and presentation of House XVII/XVIII, the very large Byzantine/Umayyad House famous for its fourth-floor level double windows (Photo 1). The objective was to preserve the ruin as it was and make it presentable, safe and understandable for visitors. This conservation project is a component of a larger effort to make Umm el-Jimal meaningful in a participatory way in the lives of various communities ranging from international tourists and scholars to the local residents of the UJ Municipality*. See for example, the various components of the new website, www.ummeljimal.org, which is designed to serve these communities with multi-layered content like Site Histories, a Museum, a Guided Tour, the Education Curriculum Guide, a Research Library, Ethnological Films and much more. Continue reading →
Waking up at 4:00am is difficult no matter where you are in the world. But somehow, waking up in Jordan for the first time made it just a little bit easier.
Breakfast at 4:30am and troweling by 6:00am, it is a schedule regimented by environmental and social concerns of labouring outdoors in a culturally foreign country – which is exactly what field archaeology is. Despite this early schedule, my overall experience excavating with the Dhiban Excavation and Development Project (DEDP) left me craving for much more – more time spent in the field as well as need for a much greater understanding of the regional and methodological history of archaeology and excavation in the Near East. Continue reading →
By: Alison Damick, Columbia University, and Ahmad Lash, The Department of Antiquities of Jordan
Azraq, an oasis village in the northeastern Jordanian steppe, sits on the crossroads of the highways connecting Jordan to Saudi Arabia and Iraq [Fig 1]. Its remarkable archaeological record reflects millennia of human activity; the first recorded human occupation in the Azraq Basin dates to more than 300,000 years ago. Including prehistoric, Roman, Byzantine, and early and middle Islamic sites, the 13,000 km² basin area currently hosts a total of 157 documented archaeological sites. A great concern of recent years has been how to effectively protect those sites from the various threats they face, including environmental degradation and erosion, increased vehicle traffic, construction projects and looting. Co-emergent with this concern is the increasing interest among archaeologists in the close relationship between the contemporary world of which archaeological practice is a part and the narrative of the past that is produced from its activities. In 2008, the Azraq Community Archaeology Program (ACAP) was initiated to address these issues. We’d like to use this brief presentation of our experiences with the project to raise some of the issues we’ve encountered in practice and in theory, as launching pads for further discussion. Continue reading →
Figure 1: Petra’s most famous icon, the Al-Khazne (‘the Treasury’) tomb façade with tourist camel riders (Q. Tweissi).
By: Christopher A. Tuttle
Two hundred years ago, on 22 August 1812, the ancient city of Petra was re-identified by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, the first European on record to have visited the site since the 13thcentury. Word of his discovery quickly spread and other visitors soon followed in his footsteps—inaugurating a bicentennial of exploration and research at this amazing site located in what is today southern Jordan.
Petra served as the capitol city for the kingdom of Nabataea from at least the second century BCE until Trajan’s annexation of the region into the Roman Empire in 106 CE. Under Roman rule, the city retained its importance and became the administrative center for the new province of Arabia Petraea. Although heavily damaged by a major earthquake in May 363 CE, the city continued to play a significant role in the region during the Byzantine period when it served as an episcopal see of the Christian church. Continue reading →
This summer I had the privilege of receiving the Platt Fellowship. This generous grant enabled me to join Dr. Andrew M. Smith II for a second incredible field season at Bir Madhkur. In my photo I am sitting on a boulder in a wadi, recording a Bedouin camp built on a Roman-era wadi terrace. My friend, and our guide, Musa yells “Shoof, Ghadeer (my Bedouin name)!” I look up. A camel is walking up to me. Continue reading →
Figure 1: Map of southern Jordan with ‘Ayn Gharandal
Located in southern Jordan, the archaeological site of ‘Ayn Gharandal lies covered by the desolate sands of the Wadi Araba (Fig. 1). Even though the site is located near an ancient spring, Lawrence (of Arabia) described the Araba Valley as follows: “Every few hours’ journey a greener patch marks a stagnant hole of water, which is always nasty to drink, in part from its own sedgy taste, and in part from the mixed flavors added to it by… camels (Woolley and Lawrence 1915: 13).” Noting that the Wadi Araba contained minimal archaeological remains, Lawrence ended his survey of the valley at ‘Ayn Gharandal and headed toward Petra.
Figure 2: Picture of ‘Ayn Gharandal fort prior to excavation
Thanks to the ASOR Heritage fellowship in 2012, I received the opportunity to be involved in a dig at Khirbat al-Mudayna, which is an Iron Age Moabite site half an hour South West of Madaba, Jordan. The dig lasted an intense six weeks and was nothing short of amazing. Not only did our team find many high end artefacts Continue reading →
The cave with brush removed and the boulder showing
By: Amanda Hopkins, Wesley Theological Seminary, 2012 Heritage Fellow
You can read Amanda’s previous posts here and here.
Digging is going slowly. Our first stumbling block, after cleanup is a large boulder (110 cm by 56 cm). The soft limestone boulder rests on loose soil (the accumulation debris) and it proved impossible to break into pieces. The sledge hammer blows were cushioned by the plug of soil upon which it rested. The most we could accomplish was the chipping of corners of the boulder. At some point it became small enough and round enough to lift up to the mouth of the cave and roll away. Continue reading →
By: Amanda Hopkins, 2012 Heritage Fellow
You can read Amanda’s previous post here.
We were given permission to dig a cave that we are hoping could be a wine cellar found at Tall al- Umayri Survey Site 84. The landowners of this site agreed. News of the ability to dig is very exciting since the opening that we are attempting to excavate may have been used in the storage of wine for this large wine production facility. Site 84 dates from the late Iron II/ early Persian period. The farmstead itself was excavated during the 1994 dig season after an initial survey of site 84 produced such installations as wine presses, reservoirs and cisterns. Continue reading →
When I returned to Jordan for the 2012 dig season of the Madaba Plains Project excavations at Tall al-`Umayri, with a fellowship from ASOR, I was dismayed to find that my proposed survey site now hosted a large and fully constructed shell of an apartment building dug into the center of it. There on Site 52, (a few kilometers north of `Umayri which was discovered in the five-kilometer-radius survey several years ago) stood a modern edifice.
This apartment building should not have been here. What should have been here was a deposition from the late Iron Age that included rectilinear structures, perimeter wall lines, a cistern, cup holes, terraces and field embankments.
On Friday, May 4th I arrived in Madaba, a small city in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, at 2:30am and completely exhausted. After the eight-hour flight from Toronto to Frankfurt, the seven-hour layover in the large German airport, and the four-hour flight from Frankfurt to Amman (complete with screaming toddlers), I was more than ready to pass out on my bed. However, I decided to send my parents a quick email to let them know I arrived safe and sound. When I opened my email I was shocked to see an email from “ASOR Fellowship” with “Dear Stephanie, I am pleased to inform you that…” in the subject heading. A full twenty minutes later (the internet was not the fastest) the email loaded and I was able to read that I received the Heritage Fellowship! The relief and excitement that I experienced in that moment still brings a smile to my face.
Ever since I decided to embark on the adventure of archaeological studies, I have been told by professors that, “it’s not what you find, it’s what you find out.” With this simple phrase, I was satisfied to participate in past field excavations, as well as my current excavation at Khirbat Ataruz, funded partly by my acceptance of the 2012 Heritage Fellowship. It wasn’t until the season was in full swing, that I discovered that sometimes, it isn’t even what you find out that makes archaeology so rewarding.
Abelardo Rivas with the team of Jalul Square W-7, Dr. Randall Younker, Dr Elena Gregor, and the stone in situ at the center of the square. On the left of the group is the partition wall and on the right side the plaster of the reservoir.
This year I participated, thanks to the Heritage Scholarship, in two excavations in Jordan. My duty was to supervise two squares, one at Tell Jalul and a second square at Khirbet Atarutz. Our goal for the season in square W-7 at Jalul was to trace the development, on the southern slope of the central depression in field W, of the wall and plaster of the Iron Age water reservoir found last season. To our surprise, during the first week we found a wall that seemed to be completely unaligned with the wall of the cistern and we thought it was perhaps a sharp turn. Continue reading →
By: Mariana Garcia de la Noceda, 2012 Platt Fellow
The Middle East is one of the few places in the world where you can be digging in your square, just minding your own business, while there are camels and donkeys walking around the site sniffing the picks and shovels. It’s also one of the few places in the world where people of all faiths, nations and languages can be found working together in the same field for the same reasons. This has been my experience in Tall Jalul, in central Jordan. In my square, which we nicknamed the United Nations, no two people are from the same country, or have the same native tongue. It’s a mix of color and accents that I have never experienced before. And it’s one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had, even if we have to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning.