Excavating in Jordan, Twice in One Season

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Dawat the tell. Photo by Friedbert Ninow

Dawat the tell. Photo by Friedbert Ninow

By: Josephine A. Verduci, 2016 G. Ernest Wright Fellowship Recipient

This year I had the good fortune to be asked to join the Madaba Plains Project to work on the Tall al-‘Umayri Archaeological Project in Jordan. I must thank ASOR and the G. Ernest Wright Fellowship donors, Eric and Carol Meyers, for their generosity and support, without which I would not have been able to participate in this amazing opportunity. I am also extremely grateful to Professor Douglas Clark, director of excavations at Tall al-‘Umayri, whose generosity with his knowledge and his tireless energy were an inspiration to us all.

Tall al-‘Umayri is located approximately 15 km south of Amman, and consists of an acropolis and lower terraces that extends to the south. The multi-period site has a five thousand year occupational sequence, extending from the Early Bronze Age to the modern period. Amongst the significant finds from this site are: Early Bronze Age megalithic dolmen; a massive defense system that dates to the Middle Bronze Age, with a dry moat and a steep earthen rampart; a Late Bronze Age temple that includes a cultic niche; a well-preserved Early Iron Age four-room house; and evidence of a significant administrative complex that served the town and region during the Late Iron II/Persian period.

Lecture time at camp. Photo by Jillian Logee

Lecture time at camp. Photo by Jillian Logee

A few years ago I spent a five-month period at the American Centre of Oriental Research (ACOR) in order to study the southern Levantine jewelry of the Early Iron Age as part of my PhD. This was followed by a research project in the Ghawr es-Safi area of southern Jordan that involved one excavation season followed by one study season. So, with several fruitful trips to Jordan behind me, I was eager to participate in the Madaba Plains Project and work once again in Jordan.

My role at Tall al-‘Umayri this year was two-fold: first and foremost, I was to document the jewelry from the past 32 years of excavation; and second, I would participate in archaeological fieldwork on the tell.

The daily program of early starts and bus-rides to the tell, watching the sun rise as daily photos were taken, and (in my case) excavating a layer-cake of Early Iron Age surfaces, invariably led to disappointment at having to leave the site at the end of each day. The sense of resolving questions of stratigraphy that would help understand this period of history at the site, and the keen interest shown by Professor Clark and Chief Archaeologist Kent Bramlett in even the smallest discovery, meant my contribution – like that of every team member – felt valued and significant.

Me and my fellow trench mate - Shaun Eccles. Photo by Owen Chestnut

Me and my fellow trench mate – Shaun Eccles. Photo by Owen Chestnut

My major focus of cataloguing the jewelry from Tall al-‘Umayri was a slightly more challenging process, but equally rewarding. The afternoons were typically spent building a catalogue and retrieving all the available data from various sources. This meant the creation of database for what proved to be a surprisingly large quantity of jewelry. The second part of this process required me to locate (excavate) these finds within the Department of Antiquities’ storerooms and museums. As the first weeks of the dig coincided with Ramadan, there were some initial impediments to accessing material, but with the end of Ramadan my search for material began in earnest. While the search was not always fruitful, I went some way to discovering what was (and what was not) in the storerooms, and in maintaining reasonable expectations during what can at times seem a formidable task. To date, there is no centralized database of archaeological material in Jordan, I hope that my ongoing contribution in cataloguing one category of material culture will assist in preserving at least a small part of Jordan’s heritage.

It is perhaps especially important at this point in history to be mindful of the need to preserve and record as much cultural heritage as possible. The role of the staff and students in revealing, analyzing, and recording the rich material Tall al-‘Umayri benefits our global heritage, particularly in the face of assorted crises now threatening ancient sites, and due to the urban expansion of Amman to the south, relentlessly advancing towards the tell. In fact, a landownership dispute with one of the two private landowners of the site means the 2016 may be the last, although I sincerely hope not!

Dinner at Kan Zaman.

Dinner at Kan Zaman.

My memories of time spent with my fellow team members will be some of the fondest from my time spent in Jordan. The shared laughter, bus rides, mealtimes, and evenings out all contribute to what was a wonderful experience, and to what I’m sure will be several enduring friendships. One experience in particular was especially memorable. In the final week of the season we had a staff dinner at Kan Zaman restaurant in the countryside, overlooking a stunning nighttime view. The restaurant was beautiful, and the food was exceptional. It was a wonderful conclusion to a fantastic season.

Dr Josephine Verduci completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Archaeology (2004), a Master of Arts degree in Archaeology (2009), and recently completed her PhD in Archaeology (2016), all at the University of Melbourne. Josephine is also a Research Fellow of the Australian Institute of Archaeology (AIA). Josephine has a strong research interest in ancient adornment and has published several papers on Aegean and Near Eastern archaeology. This was her sixth trip to Jordan and her first season on the Tall al-Umayri Archaeological Project.

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