Jordan (Some)Times

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THE (Occasional) JORDAN (Some)TIMES

Sunday 18 July 2004
Volume 2, Issue 1

The weather in Amman, Jordan
Yesterday – High 31C/88F – Low 19C/66F– Sunny skies
Today – High 31C/88F – Low 19C/66F – Skies without clouds
Tomorrow – High 31C/88F – Low 19C/66F – Unbroken blue skies

Today – High 37C/99F – Low 25C/77F – Winds northerly and the seas are calm
[For the benefit of the office staff in Boston, it’s actually 117 in Aqaba.]

Overheard in Jordan

– “Ahlan w’ Sahlan” Welcome to Jordan! or better “It is easy to be part of our family!” – from our gracious hosts at ATC, the Amman Training College, sponsored by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency on behalf of Palestinian refugees (principal, Dr. Saleh Naji; business manager, Houssam; dorm mother, Siyham 1; housekeeper, Siyham 2, head cook, Mohammad 1; next-to-the-head cook, Mohammad 2, computer department director, Mohammad 3).

– “Saba al-Kher” Good morning! – from Abu (Father of) Mohammad, our bus driver who faithfully takes us to the tell at 5 am every day.

– “You are our family” – from Vicky, Iyad and Emad at the Guiding Star Travel agency who constantly provide for us help traveling around Jordan; reconfirming flights out of Jordan; purchasing for us everything from TP to food to mosquito nets (mostly quasi-elegant pink or baby blue carrousel drapings to fit any decor, including those of our 0.4 - star accommodations) to burlap for the outhouse to TP; bringing us second breakfast on the tell (and sometimes TP); updating our passports from two-week visitor permits to three-month working authorization; sending sweets, sandwiches, Mirinda orange drink and other goodies on occasion, and that without provocation of any kind.

– “Ahlan w’ Sahlan” Welcome to Jordan! – stationary traffic policeman who pulled me over a little more than half way from Amman to Aqaba on the Desert Highway at 11 pm one recent night. I really was not speeding (really), but it didn’t matter. When they pull you over you have been pulled over. Once he came around to the driver’s side and saw me, he grinned largely, greeted me kindly and directed me on my way.

– “Ahlan w’ Sahlan” Welcome to Jordan! – military personnel at checkpoint about midnight near Aqaba on the Desert Highway at the point where the new Aqaba Free Trade Zone begins. We exchanged happy greetings, he in his broken English and me in my broken Arabic. He waived me on with a huge smile, his circle of seated subordinates in cheerful agreement.

Current Excavations at Tall al-`Umayri
The 2004 excavations at Tall al-`Umayri are going extremely well. As did the other MPP excavations this spring/summer. Randy Younker and David Merling of Andrews University directed a short, more technology-focused project at Tall Jalul in May and Sten LaBianca (Andrews) and Bethany Walker (Oklahoma State University) mounted a full season in May/June at Tall Hisban. So have numerous other excavation projects been successful this year, with over 60 excavations or surveys in the field at some point during 2004. Things seem the same around here as they normally are in Jordan. It’s not that we are paying no attention to the volatile political crucible in which we work, but that we celebrate the hospitality and security Jordan affords us.

This summer’s `Umayri excavations boast almost 45 people, although not that many are in the field at any one time, given the half-season schedule a few participants chose. Readers are more than welcome to keep track of our progress with illustrated weekly reports located on our website (, clicking on “Jordan Updates” and then “2004"). We have people from the U.S., Canada (including an Indonesian), Poland and Iraq, in addition to 15 Jordanian laborers and two Jordanian representatives from the Department of Antiquities of Jordan. The Iraqi woman is being sponsored by a dig veteran, Dean Holloway, who gave us instructions about where to place her in the field so she could avoid one of his ex-digging buddies who might cuss on occasion. There are university students, professors, specialists, pastors, retirees and one ten-year-old here with her father. Four elementary/secondary school teachers defied the fact that the National Endowment for the Humanities withdrew its $155,000 grant for a Teachers Summer Institute for liability reasons and came anyway, paying their own way. They were part of a group of 20 teachers already accepted for the institute.

This season’s excavations focus on four major periods at the site in central Jordan a few miles south of Amman, the capital – Late Bronze Age (at `Umayri ca. 1350-1300 BC); Iron 1 (ca. 1200-1000 BC); late Iron 2 (ca. 600-550 BC); and late Hellenistic (ca. 150 BC). The Late Bronze Age is represented by a building (Building C) with surviving walls high and thick enough to suggest something more than domestic use. At one point we began using the “P” word: Palace. Two large rooms with a hallway into what are clearly additional rooms supported this hypothesis. This past week we exposed a standing stone within a brick-wall niche which is leading us down another path – toward the “S” word: Shrine. Of the extremely limited architecture from this period in Jordan, most buildings are religious in nature. This seems to be the case in spite of the fact that archaeologists normally default to religious interpretations of whatever they cannot explain otherwise. Time will tell on this, so we have only been whispering about recent finds until we have better reason to shout.

The Iron 1 period is well represented on the western end of the tell, especially by remnants of a massive defense structure (dry moat, retaining wall, earth rampart and plastered perimeter wall) as well as several houses in Field B. While the impressive “four-room” house has been exposed since 1996, it continues to draw the attention of scholars studying this time period (time of the Judges in the Bible), as does the building next to it with its small household shrine, kitchen area and storage room. Excavations in Fields A and H have also revealed significant Iron 1 material, including the rounded perimeter wall of what might be a gateway. Another site of religious significance surfaced last season which maintains our interest and motivates our efforts. It has produced fragments of several ceramic shrine models, used evidently in some type of cultic services. Stones and dirt have been flying to clear more of this sacred precinct.

Of great importance to our excavations have been the administrative structures of the late Iron age. Huge basement storage rooms suggest a large center for administering the city around 600 BC and its extensive wine marketing system of small farms. Most of what we are currently clearing represents remaining bits and pieces of the center in search of what is below from the Iron 1 period.

Field L on the southern edge of the tell contains what is left of a Hellenistic farmstead. Inhabitants built their walls directly atop earlier wall lines in order to reduce the labor involved in digging out a foundation trench, laying the foundation and then constructing the wall itself. Why not save some energy for more important endeavors and use what others had done before. And save in construction costs in the process. Lots of household objects surfaced in this Field: lamps, juglets, textiles implements. This year we expand our exposure of the farm and hope to learn more about the people who built and inhabited it.

Everyone seems to be having a good time digging into `Umayri’s past. Either that or they are just putting on a good face about it. In spite of the many downsides of the current political situation in the region, it tends to bring out only the brave of heart to dig here, those serious enough about archaeology to heed not the warnings of friends and family.

The Madaba Plains Project excavations at Tall al-`Umayri are currently sponsored by La Sierra University in Riverside, CA, in consortium with Canadian University College in Lacombe, Alberta, Canada; the Division of Architecture at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, MI; Mount Royal College, Calgary, Alberta, Canada; Pacific Union College, Angwin, CA; Walla Walla College, College Place, WA.

A personal note about a major transition affecting my family and me. After 17 years of teaching and administrative responsibilities at Walla Walla College (plus five earlier years there as a student), I have decided to accept a position in Boston, as Executive Director of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR). The premier archaeological organization involving North Americans working in the Middle East, ASOR has 1300 individual members and 100 institutional members (universities, museums, etc.) and operates out of offices in Boston and Atlanta. It has long been affiliated with three overseas centers: the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research (AIAR) in Jerusalem, the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) in Amman and the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI) in Nicosia, Cyprus. Other ties exist with research groups in Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

So, this country boy is leaving the backwoods of the land-locked, rural, inland west, where Republicans outnumber Democrats ten to one, for the big city. College Place’s personable Fourth Street has been replaced by the anonymous avenues of East Coast urban American. Not being overly urban in constitution, my wife, Carmen, and I have found a place to live north of town, where I suspect there are some Republicans but don’t know for sure. It’s in Chelmsford (pronounced Chemsfid in proper Bostonian), about 30 miles from downtown. In a beautiful forest of large deciduous trees at the end of a ruralish cul de sac, our new address is 16 Clydesdale Road, Chelmsford, MA 01824.

The News from MPP-`Umayri (with apologies to Garrison Keillor)
Well, it’s been a quiet week (sort of) at MPP-`Umayri, my home town away from my home town. It may not appear that the summer is particularly busy, but that perception doesn’t tell all there is to know about archaeologists. They tend to work hard during the school year, earning enough money to play, er ... participate, in archaeological recreation, er ... research, during the summer months. So not all is quiet.

In fact, while I am not keeping score, it’s 6 to 34. I saw the closing point spread for baseball’s all-star game and it wasn’t quite that large a margin, even if it seemed like it to American League fans. And ice (-that-guy-with-a-blow-to-the-nose) hockey is over, so it couldn’t be a score for the Stanley Cup finals. And Greece’s win over Portugal in the Euro Cup of real football didn’t measure its final tally quite this high either. And it would be a slow basketball game with these point totals.

Although it’s not that important, the score is 6 to 34. The mosquitos 6 and Doug 34. The mosquitos at ATC (with help from two foreign attackers in Boston) nailed me 6 times since the dig began. But they did so mostly under a ruse. The first Weapon of Mosquito Desperation claimed a piece of my arm, almost netting her sufficient supplies of Type-B blood to raise a family.

The second assault was carried out covertly under the cover of darkness by three of these ladies of the night. Rather than courteously and courageously meeting me on a level playing field, they chose another, more nefarious approach. Searching all night to find an opening in my iron-clad, impenetrable, double-stitched mosquito net over my bed, they unfairly took advantage of a hole the size of Rhode Island to enter, like camels with their noses beneath the tent flap. By 2 am it was over. I was scratching even where it didn’t itch. The welts rose mountinously (East Coast mountainettes), waking me from a reasonably peaceful sleep.

Normally, we use mosquito netting, whether the quasi-elegant pink or baby blue carrousel type or not, to keep mosquitos outside and away from our skin. From experience, I would like to suggest that nets should not be used to keep them inside. There is only one advantage I can think of with this approach and that is to corral and crunch them. And it’s easier if you own one of these nifty tennis rackets, wired for zapping bugs of any kind. Two “C” batteries and away they go. A push of the button and the fry-wires are ready for action. Sparks fly and mosquitos die.

I am normally a peace-loving guy, a pacifist for the most part, but mosquitos and computer hackers don’t have any sympathy from me. I probably wouldn’t use my handy wire-grilled racket on computer hackers; it’s too small. But I sometimes think about it.

The other two points earned by the mosquitos occurred in the Boston area as we were house hunting. Without any provocation, they came at me, one at each of two houses on our top-three list. It was a rainy day and for some reason they just attacked. No request, no advanced booking, just out of the blue. It was really below the wrist on their part ... and on mine. Makes me mad when that happens. I tried my best to bury them, bruising myself in the effort. But it was too late.

It might be that they were offended at my efforts to learn Bostonian. Someone told me that the best way to do Boston speak is to put “R”s where they don’t belong and remove them where they normally go. My granddaughter, Sara, sent me a Father’s Day card before I left for the summer. It arrived in the shape of a fish and included the words: “I chose this cod just for you.” That’s good Bostonian.

Maybe I wasn’t doing Bostonian correctly, while under attack from the mosquitos near Chemsfid. But then I had an idear. If I could make use of another term common in Bostonian, maybe that would help – “wicked.” Everything is wicked. I think of mosquitos as wicked, but that’s not necessarily the meaning in Bostonian. “It’s a wicked blue sky today, even if it was wicked rainy yesterday.” “A wicked green color at Fenway Park, isn’t it?” It’s very much like “very,” which English teachers say we use too much. The way, I have heard from English teachers, to rid yourself of “very” is to substitute “darn” every time you want to write it and that will cure you. Thus the sentence, “It’s a very pretty shirt you have” could be corrected by either “It’s a darn pretty shirt you have” or (in Bostonian), “It’s a wicked pretty shirt you have.” If like me and most Field supervisors at Tall al-`Umayri, you don’t want to cuss, you choose the Bostonian approach. Thus, “Those are wicked big mosquitos.” I like that because it’s true of these bugs.

It’s not all that important to me what the score is, even if 6 to 34.

That’s the news from MPP-`Umayri, where all the directors are strong, the core staff are good looking and the volunteers are all above average.

Editor: Doug Clark
Assoc. Editor: Doug Clark
Managing Editor: Doug Clark
Editorial Board Chair: Doug Clark
Editorial Board Member: Doug Clark
Other Editorial Board Member: Doug Clark
Attitude Monitoring: Doug Clark
Quality Control: Doug Clark
Censorship: Doug Clark

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