Weekly Reports from Jordan

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June 21-28, 2002

Larry G. Herr and Douglas R. Clark

The first full week of the 2002 Umayri dig is history. There were some nice finds, some dusty faces, some intestinal problems, some learning, some adapting, and some digging.

But first things first. If last season (2000) was the season of the heat wave (actually, heat waves), this year is the year of stable, comfortable temperatures, at least so far. Highs have been in the upper 80s and we have needed light jackets each morning when we arrive at the site at 5:30. On Friday there was a slight fog and the wind blew damp and cool all day. Let's cross our fingers that this pattern continues. It makes digging downright fun.

Four Man Wrecking Crew - (Photo by Douglas Clark)But along with the cooler temperatures comes a constant wind. This plays havoc with those sifting the dirt we excavate as the dust billows around their heads. The prize for the dirtiest face goes to Franke Zollman with a close second place to John Raab. But along with the dirty faces comes a great deal of glory. Franke and his squaremate, Tony Spears, (along with two local workmen) made history and reclaimed a major record for the testosterone types. Last year in Field L a group of 5 women had set the record for the number of baskets (guffahs) of dirt excavated in a day-315. That was 3 cubic meters of dirt! We called it the "day of estrogenic expression." This year, Franke and Tony, along with the two workmen, reclaimed the record for the males, processing 401 guffahs, or almost 4 cubic meters of dirt. Congrats to them! But we must be fair-they had a special break. There was very little pottery to be found in the sift allowing them to go somewhat faster than usual.

We continue to eat very well. One of the cooks, Muhammad, remembers how to make gluten from last year's cook, Nancy Igboji, for the vegetarians. Abu Faisal is charming all of us with a huge variety of meats and vegetables. Many of us came on the dig hoping to lose weight, but at the present rate...

Gathering Around Foundation Trench - (Photo by Douglas Clark)The week was profitable from an archaeological standpoint, too. We have begun in earnest to break in new hands and reintroduce the veterans to the rigors of archaeological excavation. It's not something we do every day (for some reason) and when old timers bend down in the dirt it is like meeting an old friend. Part of this reacquaintance means gathering the group around to learn together how to recognize some of the familiar stratigraphic features of a tell. This happened for the entire crew late in the week at a show-and-tell in Field H of a textbook illustration of a foundation trench, made more visible since the brown earth of the trench along the newly placed wall (newly placed 2,500 years ago!) contrasted markedly with the white plaster of the surface through which the wall line was cut.

But the week was productive for other reasons as well. On Monday Ruth Kent found a nice scaraboid seal with three small decorative etchings, including a scorpion. On Tuesday Mary Boyd found a large object made of volcanic tuff with a pattern of drillings. It might be a seal, too. On Wednesday, Wendell Bowes flicked up a frit scarab with some incised patterns on the bottom. We were beginning to think we would find a seal a day. This was confirmed on Thursday when James Hanson found a small tuff seal while he was sifting. But alas, we could not carry it into Friday. Still, it's a good record-four seals in a single week. We have found only 80 during all previous 8 seasons (a remarkable number, actually, when compared with other sites). None of the four new seals has any writing incised into them. Watch for photos on the web.

The finds in Field H are also beginning to bear fruit, led by new Field Supervisor, Julie Cormack. As Dick Dorsett and Jonathan Francisco excavate beneath the fine plaster floor in the largest room on the site, they have found our first good stratified remains of the ninth and eighth centuries BC. There are several plaster floors, one on top of the other, and Dick and Jonathan have dug very neatly, exposing an excellent set of laminated layers, including the foundation trench cutting through them. Don Mook found one of the finest figurines on the western side of the hill, where he is attempting to date a very large wall.

Wendell and James Near the Pit - (Photo by Douglas Clark)In Field B, three new squares are struggling through the sift debris from previous years (about 30 cm of it in some places) and have finally reached the original topsoil layer! A few wall lines are beginning to poke their heads above the surface. But Wendell Bowes is back to his old tricks, turning up hundreds of bones in the early Iron I (ca. 1200 BC) trash pit just east of our wonderful four-room house. In fact, after removing a few stones from later phases above the pit, he and his assistant, James Hanson, have discovered that there is much more to the pit than we had originally thought. Indeed, instead of only a few more centimeters to clear, we have found about six more meters! That means another 15,000 bones! Forget the bone bags. They use a pail! This was the pit that produced bones from a lion, a bear, and fish from the Nile in previous seasons. We can't wait to see what else the ancients may have eaten. Most bones come from meaty parts of animals (primarily sheep and goat, but also some cattle and pigs along with hunted animals, such as gazelle). This pit seems to lie alongside a huge Late Bronze Age (or Middle Bronze Age-ca. 1600-1300 BC) wall made of very large stones.

In Field L, David Hopkins and his team continue to map the plan of a Hellenistic farmstead (ca. 150 BC) by expanding to meet other walls of the building. Many pieces of reconstructable pottery were found in Field L last year. This year's team is just now beginning to reach below topsoil.

Hanan Azar with Lizard - (Photo by Douglas Clark)But life on the site is more than just dirt, stones, and dust. Lizards constantly scramble over the walls, baiting us by pausing in plain sight and watching us with as much apparent curiosity as we have when we watch them. James Hanson simply couldn't resist the temptation and caught one. He and Department of Antiquities representative Hanan Azar had a good time talking to it. Hanan swears it understood her, especially when she talked English instead of Arabic.

The weekend is upon us. We hope our friends and families have a good weekend. We're off to see the wonders of Petra.

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