Exploring the Baq’ah Valley

16 09 2011

Apologies for not posting more frequently, but my time over the last few weeks has consisted of scanning pottery for 10-12 hours.  My wife and kids flew back to the States at the end of August.  So now all I do is scan every day.  Angela’s brother had come out to tour around Jordan so we had a car for his time here.  I kept it for a few days after to return whole vessels from Safut to the DOA warehouse and to explore the Baq’ah looking for some of the Iron Age sites.

I was specifically looking for the sites Pat McGovern had worked on in the early 1980’s, so I headed up to Umm ad-Dananir first.  The khirbet McGovern worked on consisted of a small Late Bronze and Iron Age settlement within the small village of Umm ad-Dananir.  Unfortunately this village has continued to grow over the last 30 years and I could find no evidence of the Iron Age settlement or perimeter wall.  Its possible that I wasn’t looking in the right place and its likely that some remains still exist in backyards of the town.  Despite not finding any ancient remains in this area it was my first time driving around that side of the valley.  One has a direct view across to Safut to the south and towards the Wadi Zarqa to the north through the wadi cut.  Its a very well protected ridge located where two wadis connect and run out towards the Zerqa.

After leaving Umm ad-Dananir I descended down to the valley floor and found Rujm al-Henu East and West.  The two Iron Age “forts” are located in a field next to the huge satellite dishes.  Rujm al-Henu West is not nearly as well preserved as East, but wall remains from each can still be seen.  I picked up a nice wheel burnished, red slipped late Iron Age bowl rim and the rim of what looks like a Roman krater.  These two Iron Age towers likely controlled traffic through the valley floor with the ancient road running between them, as well as acting as storage for the agriculture production being carried out throughout the valley.

Wall of Rujm al-Henu West

Corner of Rujm al-Henu East

It was very enjoyable to walk through the valley and experience the different perspectives offered, to imagine the landscape as the ancients would have experiences sans satellites.

Quick Update

13 07 2011

I am between touring around with my parents and sister, and beginning my survey work on Friday so there has been no time for blogging.  Just wanted to stop by and give a quick update.

My parents and sister flew in for 8 days and we spent the time touring all over Jordan, from Jerash and Umm Qais in the north to Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba in the south and everywhere in between.  We all had a great time, saw a lot of great sites, ate a lot of delicious food, and were all quite exhausted by the end.

Of course, the next day I had to give a presentation at the Second Annual Regional Archaeology Conference in Madaba.  The point of the conference is for all the different digs that are in the field during the summer to get together and share what they have been working on.  Even though I didn’t dig at Jalul this season, everyone from the team left Jordan about a month ago, so gave an overview on phase 1 of excavations at Jalul (the first 10 seasons) with a focus on what was excavated this season.  Other digs that gave talks included:  Wadi Zarqa Ma’in, Tall Madaba, Tall al ‘Umayri, Tall Hisban, Wadi Thamad Project, and Dhiban.

This morning I went to the Department of Antiquities and picked up my project permit.  It was very exciting to have in my hands.  I was amused to note that I am apparently Dr. Owen Chesnut on the permit, hopefully in a year en shallah.  Friday I begin working by setting up a new benchmark and control points on the summit of Tall Safut and then Saturday and Sunday I am walking the site with the GPS to create a new topographic map and outlining any walls.

Lead Codices Redux

27 06 2011

A couple weeks ago I received a text from one of my Jordanian friends “I was wondering if you would be interested in looking at a really old Bible looking book my uncle came across.”  I was intrigued and told him I would be happy to take a look.  He emailed me a picture and I recognized the object immediately:

The tablets in this picture look remarkably similar to the “lead codices” made public a few months ago.  Those tablets are largely considered by the scholarly world to be forgeries.  However there is still some debate being carried out on their authenticity.  So, despite my first assumption that these were fake as well, I thought it prudent to do some investigating.  I was invited over to the home of the uncle who lets say “dabbles” in antiquities.  I went hoping to look at the tablets, take pictures, and attempt to find out more information about their origin.  My friend took me to his uncle’s house and we had a very nice visit with good food and homemade wine (which was quite tasty).

Unfortunately the tablets were no longer there.  The person who was trying to sell them (9 tablets for 85,000 JD!) had taken them back to show to another potential customer.  Apparently this customer was not willing to give two of the tablets back and had somehow been shot in the leg and was now in jail.  Now I might have some of the details in that previous sentence wrong, but the uncle was speaking a combination of English and Arabic (and the more wine and scotch we had the worse his English got).  I think the meeting went quite well and before we were ready to leave the uncle admitted he had a disc with pictures of all of the tablets.  But with a twinkle in his eye he said those were for next time.  As we were driving back to Amman my friend apologized and said he would try to get the pictures for me, but also said that his uncle really liked me and would tell me more about the man trying to sell them next time.

Hopefully I will have more to say on this subject in the near future.  And hopefully I will have a complete set of pictures of the tablets as well.

If anyone has insights as to the inscription on the tablet pictured above please let me know.

Back in the Dirt

14 06 2011

This past week we rented a car and went down to check out Jalul with the family.  The team there was winding down (they had little over a week left) so it was great to catch up with friends as well as assess the progress that had been made over the previous 4 and a half weeks.

The most exciting development is the excavation of the water system in Field W.  Last season a water channel was excavated dating to the 7th century BCE and running out of the city.  This season a small section of the actual reservoir (or what is assumed to be a reservoir) has been uncovered.  The dean of  Andrews Seminary, Denis Fortin, excavated three distinct surfaces running under the channel and (possibly?) abutting the substantial wall of the reservoir.  The pottery from these surfaces was trending towards the beginning of the Iron Age II, so mainly 9th and 8th centuries BCE.  The reservoir itself is plastered and currently about 4-5 meters deep.

We also got a chance to see the work that Abe and Jeff (two Andrews archaeology grad students) were doing in Field G.  They are uncovering another room of the pillared building that dates to the late Iron Age, including walls and pillars standing 2.5 meters high (so basically full height, which is unusual).  During this time Jack was having a great time digging in the dirt with a trowel and getting pushed around in a wheelbarrow by one of the shabab.  We then went down to the Islamic Village and Jacob (another Andrews archaeology grad student) showed us the Byzantine (?) crypt (?) that is being excavated.  It is very impressive and stands out in the village.  They uncovered a blocked entrance on the outside of the building and chamber on the inside.

We then went back to Madaba, to the Mariam Hotel where the dig team stays and while they were finishing up for the day we had a swim in the Mariam’s lovely pool.  After the swim we enjoyed the buffet lunch with the team and then went to pottery reading so I could take a look at the finds from the previous day and get an idea of the time periods they are dealing with.  During this time Jack was wanting so badly to hold the sherds, but he couldn’t so he was getting frustrated.  Erika Fortin (the dean’s daughter) was washing pottery and this intrigued Jack, so she taught him how to do it with some body sherds that were going to be tossed.  He loved it, and was really good at it.  Between the digging, washing, and love of pottery I think we have a budding archaeologist on our hands!

After pottery reading we took the kids into town and did some shopping in the Madaba Souk.  We went in a number of mosaic shops looking for the best quality and prices.  Madaba is one of the only places where they still make mosaics by hand, and they were more than happy to show us their techniques and let Jack put a few mosaic squares in place.  We also ended up buying two copper jugs, which we had been wanting for a long time.  The prices in Madaba are much cheaper than in Amman or other places in Jordan.  We finished the day by picking up Jacob and Abe and going to Adonis, a new mezzeh-style restaurant.  It is in an old Ottoman period building (that ACOR used to own) that has been renovated.  The place looks great and the food was inexpensive and very tasty.

The next day I got up a 5AM and drove out to Jalul so I could dig for a day.  I have been itching to dig throughout most of the fellowship, but especially now that so many digs are under way.  Zeljko Gregor (professor at Andrews and supervisor of Fields G and W) put me with Abe, who was taking down balks in Field G in order to finish excavating part of a large pillared building dating to the late Iron Age.  As we took down the first balk we discovered what is likely the city wall.  The top courses had been robbed out (likely by the builders of the Islamic Village).  The next balk we took down revealed an ephemeral wall of the Iron II building.  Why is it that walls always seem to hide in balks?  The day was windy so I returned to ACOR happy and extremely dirty.  It was a good day.

Looting the Past

26 04 2011

After enjoying a lovely sunrise Easter service on Mt. Nebo, we traveled down to the Jordan Valley Road and north to the Wadi Zerqa.  We followed the wadi east winding through fields of corn, tomatoes, and other produce until we got to the site of Tulul adh-Dhahab. 

The site consists of two mounds located on either side of the Zerqa, it is thought to be biblical Penuel (or perhaps Mahanaim, note the dual).  The name of the site means Hills of Gold in Arabic, it is a very unfortunate name and brings us to the subject of this post: looting.

The western most of the two hills has been excavated for two seasons by the University of Dortmund

They have found mainly Hellenistic and Byzantine remains, although Iron Age orthostats were found in reuse.  That hill is mainly fenced off, perhaps due to the excavations or perhaps due to the water treatment plant located at its base.  I wanted to have a look at the foundation of a large tower located next to the eastern most hill along the Zerqa.  After looking around a bit we decided to climb to the summit. 

Angela had Safita strapped in her pack and I carried Jack.  It was quite a hike but well worth it when we reached the top.  The summit expanded out before us, it was a massive plateau not visible from the bottom. 

The other thing not visible were two teenagers illegally excavating at the site.

They had a metal detector, pick axe, and shovel.  I spotted them and told Angela to stay with the kids while I went and talked with them.  My Arabic is still barely existent so I did my best to find out what they were looking for and if they had found anything.  To my surprise they readily showed me four coins that they had already found that day and mentioned some pottery and stone artifacts that they had found previously.  They also let me take pictures of them, which indicated that they were not very experienced.  I originally approached them with the thought of getting them to stop, but quickly realized how futile that would be.  However, as soon as I got back to ACOR I informed Chris Tuttle (the assistant director) of the looting.  He will contact the DOJ to inform them of the issue and we will load some of the pictures I took into the Mega Jordan database.  One of the goals of the Mega-J website is to track looting and propose a schedule for monitoring the site being looted.

This trip to Tulul adh-Dhahab was the first time I have witnessed looting first hand, but I have seen its affects time and time again.  The Friday before Easter we made a trip south to see Bab adh-Dhra (an EBII-III site just south of the Dead Sea) and Makawir (Machaeurus, the Herod built stronghold where John the Baptist was beheaded) because Angela hadn’t been to those sites before.  A trip to Bab adh-Dhra also involves walking through the massive cemetery looking for sherds.  The cemetery consists of shaft tombs, which are essentially holes dug straight down, with a burial located at the bottom, and capped with a stone.  The landscape is honeycombed with illegally dug holes where looters were looking for telltale capstones. 

In the previous post I mentioned the town of Ghor es-Safi.  Besides being the location of Lot’s Cave and the Medieval sugar producing town of Sukar, there is also a large cemetery consisting of EB, Nabatean, and Byzantine remains.  Once again it has been massively looted, and unlike Bab adh-Dhra has not been scientifically excavated (although some salvage work has been carried out). 

Many of these looted antiquities are sold on the black market or are smuggled into Israel and sold in “legitimate” antiquities stores.  However I have also seen antiquities for sale outside sites such as Shobak and in stores in Madaba and Amman.

It is a somewhat complicated issue because people in places like the Ghor (where EB cemeteries mentioned above are located) are some of the poorest in Jordan.  They are at the bottom rung of a ladder of illegal activity culminating with the ones who buy the looted objects.  A combination of education and aid must be offered to these type of people in order for looting to stop.  I am mainly just offering a first hand account of what happens every day in Jordan, perhaps later on I can form some more cogent thoughts on looting in general.  However, I am glad that I was able (hopefully) to play a small part in stopping looting and am hopeful that Mega-J will help curb this illegal activity.

Mega Jordan

14 04 2011

This past Tuesday I attended the unveiling of Mega-Jordan with other ACOR fellows. Mega-J is basically an upgraded version of JADIS or a more detailed version of DAAHL.  It was created by the Getty and World Monument Fund in cooperation with the Department of Antiquities of Jordan.  It is a site documentation and management tool, cataloging all archaeological sites in Jordan.  It was created in an open source format using Google Earth and GIS tools.  It will have two main uses: monitoring sites in order to assess damage or potential damage and as a search engine for the location, periodization, and content of each site.

Personally I have been waiting for it to be unveiled so I can use it for my dissertation.  In part of a chapter I want to look at settlement patterns in the Baq’ah Valley during the major occupation periods at Safut.  Since there has been no recent complete survey of the valley (McGovern’s survey only covered the southwest corner)  I was planning on using DAAHL to get all the sites in valley. However there was no way to export the data sets, which is something easily done in Mega-J.

John, Matt, and I in front of the Jordan Museum

Day One at ACOR

4 03 2011

After a long night with the children we awoke at 130PM.  Jack woke up in the middle of the night and after screaming for Grandma’s house and throwing up on Angela’s face I finally got him back to sleep around 3AM. Angela has had the flu, both the kids are sick, and I’m getting over a cold.  So, suffice to say, we didn’t get much done today.  Jack and I explored the building and its environs (including a Roman farmstead, Khirbet Salameh, that was excavated when the building was constructed), I inquired about rental cars and attempted to get the GPS working on my iphone (partially successful, google maps now recognizes I am in Amman and not Chicago, but still no satellites).

Tomorrow we hope to get some groceries and unpack, and I will finish a letter to the Department of Antiquities formally requesting permission to survey at Safut and access the DAJ warehouse (I have already been assured access, the letter is required).  Below are a few pics around ACOR (American Center of Oriental Research).

Publications Update

23 11 2010

If you click on the publications tab at the top of this blog you will see I have updated the links with my ASOR paper and presentation on the Middle Bronze Age at Tall Safut and my book review of Eric Meyers Festschrift to be published in the upcoming NEASB.

Post ASOR and SBL

23 11 2010

I was planning on posting more regularly over the course of the meetings, but I was too busy/without internet most of the time.  I presented on Thursday and was then able to enjoy the rest of the sessions sans stress.  The meetings are always a great opportunity to see old friends and network.  I saw friends from all over the world, people from: Wheaton, Jerusalem University College, Tell es-Safi, the Madaba Plains Project, and others random folk I’ve come to know over the years.  Since I am ABD networking is always an important part of the meetings and partially thanks to the 3D scanning I was able to make some new acquaintances.  I also attended a young scholars luncheon on post-doc fellowships, which was particularly helpful.

I attended many sessions and heard papers both good, bad, and ugly.  My paper in the Archaeology of Jordan Bronze and Iron Age session went fairly well.  There were technical difficulties at the beginning of the session, but all the papers were interesting, covering the Early Bronze Age through the Iron Age.  I saw many familiar faces in the audience and also the new director general of the department of antiquities (who Barbara Porter has introduced me to the night before).

A particularly interesting/telling series of lectures took place on Saturday afternoon and evening.  I went over to SBL to hear the Ussishkin Festschrift Session and then came back to ASOR to hear the session on the Archaeology of the City of David.  Both sessions were star-studded events with Israel Finkelstein, Naadav Naaman, David Schloen, and Baruch Halpern presenting in the first session and Amihai Mazar, Avraham Faust, and Andy Vaughn in the second (to name a few).  The SBL session was packed with people standing in the back and sitting on the floor, the ASOR session was also quite full but in a much larger room.  The SBL session had been moved from an even smaller room, making one wonder how seriously they take their archaeology.  In any case there was a real dichotomy between the two sessions one where the Low Chronology/Tel Aviv School was in full effect, and the other where the High Chronology was being favored.  It was quite a transition, going from Finkelstein tearing down the standard interpretation of Kh. Qeiyafa (while Garfinkel squirmed in the audience), to Vaughn pointing out all the flaws in Finkelstein’s interpretation of Jerusalem.

Despite the tension in the room (especially at SBL) there were many light moments as well. Finkelstein showed pictures of his great grandparents alongside Ussishkin’s grandparents back in Europe and told a story of Ussishkin’s parents staying at his grandparents hotel in Jerusalem and still owing them for a coffee.  At Faust’s lecture, he focused on redating Eilat Mazar’s monumental stone structure (called by her David’s Palace) to the Iron Age I, prompting Ayelet Gilboa (director of excavations at Tell Dor) to suggest he except the Low Chronology and then once again we could have David’s Palace (instead of a Jebusite stronghold).  I’ve written plenty here, maybe as there is time over Thanksgiving weekend I will write about a few of the more interesting lectures, and write a thorough critique of Finkelstein’s interpretation of Qeiyafa.


27 08 2010

The New York Times has posted an article discussing a new wave in scholarly journals, reviewing articles online.  The main example is Shakespeare Quarterly which made several articles available for review online.  These articles were reviewed by several scholars (making up the traditional peer-review) and also by anyone who logged in.  The journal has deemed the experiment a success.

I wonder how applicable this format can be in the realm of ancient near eastern archaeology.  I’m sure that with, its resemblance to wikipedia style editing and the ability for almost anyone to comment online, some scholars (Jim West, Bob Cargill I’m looking at you) will be hesitant.  I think given certain strict guidelines this format could be quite successful.

  1. Require the same scholarly input as in peer reviewed journals
  2. Allow anyone to comment as long as there name and information could be authenticated
  3. To go along with #2, perhaps only subscribers to the journal or people who paid a nominal fee for an online version should be allowed to comment
  4. Having an online editor of public comments would be necessary as well
  5. A quicker turnaround must be required, especially of the scholars who are doing the peer-review

The most important point is the fifth one.  This faster turnaround is a must even for peer-review journals.  In this digital age, where excavations have blogs and are publishing raw data online, scholars must get their information published much quicker.  Hopefully this new online format is an impetus for scholarly journals to rethink the way articles are accepted and published.