Professor Wimmer

24 05 2013

Don Wimmer passed away on Monday, May 23rd. He was 80 years old, former professor at Seton Hall University and director of excavations at Tall Safut.

Don began excavating at Tall Safut in 1982 and I first met him 25 years later in the summer of 2007. He had been in touch with my Ph.D. adviser Randall Younker during the fall of 2006 in an effort to find a doctoral student to wade through material he had excavated over the course of 10 seasons at the site. I jumped at the opportunity to work on an actual site and on actual pottery that I could hold in my hand. That summer in 2007, I spent a week at Don’s house going through the Safut material and loading it up in a Uhaul to take back to the archaeology lab at Andrews University. During that week, there were bad storms and we had to deal with a blackout that lasted several days. Some of my favorite memories of Don involved illuminating the broken pieces of a storage jar by candlelight in the basement and then later enjoying a glass of wine (or two) on his back deck as the night slowly enveloped us.Truck Full of Safut

We stayed in touch via email and phone over the following year and met in Jordan the next summer. I was digging at Tall Jalul, and Don came over to show me Safut and introduce me to some people at the Salt Museum and in the Department of the Antiquities of Jordan. One day I got a 4-hour tour of Safut and its environs from Don. It was amazing to see his deep connection with every part of the site and to gain so many insights into what had taken place before. Another favorite moment came when we drove up above the site to the village of Suweileh. There is an abandoned parking garage with a perfect view down on the site. Unfortunately, the cement stairs leading to the upper levels of the structure had been broken off. This fact did not deter me and I decided to try to jump out onto the rebar protruding from the stairs and climb up. I managed to jump across the open drop to the rebar, but found myself somewhat stuck. I turned around to see Don quite amused at my plight, I managed to snap a picture (see below) before pulling myself up. We shared a good laugh about it later when I was safely back down, and Don was right: the view of Safut was spectacular.

Professor Wimmer

Professor Wimmer

The Stairs

The Stairs

A View of Safut

A View of Safut

It should be noted that Don saved the site of Tall Safut.  If he had not directed the salvage excavation in 1982, the highway running from Amman to Jerash would have been expanded directly through the site.  Instead, an extremely important site in Jordan has been excavated and preserved for future generations of archaeologists to explore.  To close, I thought I would post part of a document he was sending me bit by bit entitled “The Tell Safut Story.”  Unfortunately he never finished it, but here is the opening section recounting how Don began work at Safut:

“The Department (of Antiquities) is looking for people to salvage sites that are going to be destroyed either by highway development or building construction projects, that is, unless archaeological significance can be demonstrated in each case.”… I never thought of undertaking such a thing, but by 2 am we decided to retire and rise at 6 am to survey a site before leaving to the airport and returning to the States.

 We did that. The site was Tell Safut.  I said I didn’t know (if I could/would take it on). I left the message: “I’d do what I could.”  I took the idea to Dr. Sauer, former director of ACOR, now newly appointed professor of archeology at the University of Pennsylvania.

He figured I’d need about $13,000 and the assistance of the D of A. Impossible, I said. But I went away thinking about how this might be possible.   By February, I think, I agreed to take it on.  By August, I had a crew of volunteers on site, at the end of which Tom Parker, sitting across the table from me working on his notes, told me I was supposed to write a report before I left the country. A What? Made sense.

Wimmer at Safut in 1987

Professor Wimmer at Safut in 2001

I will miss you, Don. Rest in Peace.

Dissertation Weekly #13

27 07 2012

We are moving forward in time again this week…on to the Iron Age I!

These storage jars are located in the southwest corner of the square between the perimeter wall and a low mudbrick “wall” running in an arch from the corner towards the middle of the square.

This quote is referring to several collared rim storage jars found in B6.  These remains account for the only pure Iron I level at the site.  This general setup, with storage jars located against the main perimeter wall, is paralleled at sites such as Tall al-Umayri and Shiloh.  A fairly unique beer strainer was found in the same locus as the storage jars.  There are not many published Iron I sites in Jordan, so hopefully this chapter will help expand the picture for the 12th century BCE.

Top third of an Iron I storage jar

Early beer strainer from B6


Dissertation Weekly #12

19 07 2012

For this installment I am moving on to my Late Bronze chapter, which I rewrote after going through all of the pottery that I scanned while in Jordan.  I have already discussed a possible floor level in B4 and the sanctuary in B5, which are the two main Late Bronze phases on the site.  Today I want to write briefly about pottery.  A complete undecorated chalice was found in association with the metal figurine in B5, as I mentioned in a dissertation weekly from last summer.  Here is the drawing of the chalice:

Chalice from the LB sanctuary in B5

The brief mention of the chalice in B5 is an introduction into the sentence for this week:

There are two more unique forms represented, two sherds from a painted chalice and a Cypriote White Slip II milk bowl sherd.

These sherds come from D2, which is a square excavated on the southern perimeter of the tell in an attempt to identify a supposed glacis.  Despite the lack of a glacis much high quality fineware from the Middle Bronze Age and the Late Bronze Age were found here (perhaps indicating important remains from these periods further upslope below the Iron II remains).  This second chalice is much higher quality than the one in the LBII sanctuary, with bichrome paint and light slip.  It has direct parallels in the Late Bronze burial caves found by Dr. Pat McGovern as part of the Baq‘ah Valley Project.  The other interesting find from this square is the piece of a Cypriot milk bowl, evidence of the importance of Safut in the local trade network.  The form is clearly an import and not a locally made imitation and belongs to the White Slip II group that dates in Cyprus from the Late Cypriote IB2-IIA1 (LBIC-LBIIB in Jordan, 14-13th centuries BCE).

Chalice sherd from D2

Color image of the chalice from a 3D scan

Cypriote Milk Bowl from D2

Dissertation Weekly #11

9 07 2012

Over the last couple months I have been writing my dissertation again.  After coming back from Jordan I had a significant amount of data processing to do, mainly focused on drawing pottery.  I found so much more Bronze Age pottery in Jordan that I had to rewrite part of my Middle Bronze chapter and most of my Late Bronze chapter.  I have finished those two chapters and completed my Iron Age I chapter as well, so the next few dissertation weeklies will be taken from them.  I am currently writing my Iron II chapter, which I have divided by area because they are so spread out across the site and different material is found in each of them.  So without further ado lets get back into it:

It is likely that this phase dates to the Middle Bronze Age: The latest sherds found in the fill outside the wall date to this period; and, even though only a couple such sherds exist, the construction of this wall is of high enough quality to tip the scale in this direction instead of to the Late Bronze Age II.

Here I am referring to the first phase of the acropolis perimeter wall.  I have added a section in my Middle Bronze chapter describing the wall in detail and its different building phases.  The city was contained within this wall for the Middle Bronze Age (this is hypothesized as no other MB architectural remains have been discovered), Late Bronze Age, and Iron Age I before expanding greatly in the Iron Age IIB (although the wall continued to be in use during the Late Iron Age as well).

The acropolis wall is indicated by the innermost black line (with tower) at the southern end of the site.


I have to do more research on parallels for this type of city wall and will write more about it in my historical/archaeological conclusions chapter, but for now my best guess is MB.  The wall has not been excavated to its lowest courses on the interior, where other architecture would run up against it, and so fills outside the wall and its construction technique are all that there is to go on.

A view of the wall through squares B2 and B1, looking towards the west.



10 04 2012

I can’t believe it has been over 6 months since I posted on this blog.  I would like to apologize for the time lapse and give a brief update on what I have been doing.

I finished my ACOR CAORC fellowship at the end of August of 2011, but had so many sherds to go through and scan that I stayed two extra months by myself (sans family).  My days consisted of 12-16 hours sorting through crates and using the 3D scanner.  In other words not too much to blog about.  After two weeks of being back in America I flew out to California for the annual ASOR meetings, then came Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then Safita’s 1st birthday, Jack’s 3rd birthday, etc…

At Mabrak, a LB/Iron Age site near the Amman Airport Temple. On a FOAH trip close to the end of my stay in Jordan.

Throughout this time I have been going through the 2,000 (!) 3D scans of sherds and whole vessels, converting them in meshlab, and making drawings of them.  Again this process is not terribly exciting for blogging purposes.  However, now I am back to writing the dissertation full-time with the hope of finishing by the end of the summer. I have completed my historical geography chapter, it has been edited by my wife, my adviser, another professor, and sent to the dissertation secretary for format editing.  I am in the process of fixing and editing my middle bronze chapter, and so hopefully I will have more to blog about each week.  At the very least I will share little details from my chapters or the dig notebooks as I delve deep into the minutiae of Tall Safut.

Jack and Safita with her gumball birthday cake.

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.


9 08 2011

I wanted to highlight some of the work I did for the last map from my previous post. One of my goals when doing the survey work was to get enough high quality photographs and corresponding GPS points to be able to georeference the pictures in Arcmap.  Georeferencing is the process of aligning spatial data (in this GPS points)  to an image file (in this case photographs of architecture).  By doing this I can check previously drawn top plans of architecture and make adjustments or if I want I can use GIS Arcmap to draw new top plans.  This ability is especially important because there are a few squares excavated where original top plans were never drawn.  Below is a picture of the photographs from Area C georeferenced.