Weekly Reports from Jordan

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July 6-12, 2002

Larry G. Herr and Douglas R. Clark

Mount Nebo Church (photo by Karl Ordelheide)We have been clobbered by a summer heat wave. Well, maybe not "clobbered," but working on the tell on Wednesday was not very pleasant. Temperatures were probably in the mid 90s by quitting time. We are all very thankful for the air conditioning in the MPP Internet Café where most of us spend the afternoon from 3:00 to 4:15. That very same evening, at an ACOR lecture, we met people working at a site deep in the Great Rift Valley near the Dead Sea where the temperatures soar to 105-110 during the day and don't cool off much at night. We are fortunate to be working almost 3000 feet above sea level. And then, relief. On Thursday, it cooled back down to a more normal 88. Add to that a nice fresh breeze and we felt comfortable pretty much all day.

Machaerus From a Distance (photo by Carmen Clark)

Restored Columns on Machaerus (photo by Carmen Clark)The weekend trip took place on Sunday under the direction of David Hopkins and took us to many places west and south of us: the newly discovered site of the baptism of Jesus at Bethany in the Jordan Valley (complete with a 2K walk down to the Jordan River); Mount Nebo with its wonderful church mosaic and panoramic views of the Dead Sea and Jericho; Madaba with the mosaic map and many other Christian archaeological sites; Machaerus, Herod's mountain palace high above the Dead Sea, where John the Baptist lost his head to the lure of Salome's dancing; Umm ar-Rasas where recent excavations have uncovered wonderfully preserved church mosaics and architecture; and finally Lahun, an early Iron Age site with a spectacular view over the Wadi Mujib, the Grand Canyon of the Middle East. In many ways, this is the tour that sets our region into its context.

Learning opportunities included two MPP-sponsored evening events: "Building and Unbuilding Buildings" on Tuesday evening and "Grapes and Goats" on Thursday evening. The first took the crew back to the tell for on-site discussions about ancient construction techniques and materials as well as life in houses of stone and mudbrick and the demise of ancient buildings - all in the outer courtyard of the four-room house in the last hour of daylight before the sun set over the hill to our west. The second, by David Hopkins, covered ancient agriculture and what it meant for a family and village to survive in biblical times in an area and under climatic conditions not always friendly to human efforts to make a go of it. Sandwiched between the two discussions, on Wednesday evening, Meredith Chesson from Notre Dame lectured on urbanization during the Early Bronze Age.

Upper Left Corner of Ceramic Shrine Model (this and all remaining photos by Douglas Clark, unless otherwise indicated)In the field we discovered important parts of a major find from the 2000 season. Last week we mentioned that Dean Holloway found pieces of a second shrine model in Field H. This week, Dean and Denise (Herr) came upon an important missing part of the shrine model we found last season-the upper part of left jamb of the door just above the figurine. Compare the picture of this find with the photos of the shrine model. It will fit perfectly. Now we need to find the head of the figurine just below it.

Two Levels of Cobbles in Field H from the South

Two Levels of Cobbles in Field H from the East

The cultic remains from both seasons were located sandwiched between a plaster surface and the lower of two levels of cobbles. The photo shows both layers of cobbles, the upper one providing underlayment for the massive plaster surface pictured many times previously in Field H photos and dating from the late Iron I period. People have to use their imaginations to remove the walls depicted here, as they were constructed later, during late Iron II/Persian times. How large were these pavements? What function did they serve? Who walked the surfaces? All questions of interest to our project.

Heads on Ptolemaic Coin

Tails on Ptolemaic Coin

Doug Clark has been busy lately taking pictures of objects and artifacts. The number of finds is forcing him to come into camp early to take photographs. Most objects are the normal types of finds, such as broken basalt grinder fragments. But every now and then something nicer turns up. On Thursday, while digging in the same earth layer in which the shrine models were found, Dean Holloway discovered two very nice Early Iron I (ca. 1100 BC) bronze pins, one complete and the other almost so. Included here as well are photos of the Ptolemaic coin reported on last week.

The large number of objects also forced Carmen Clark, our intrepid objects registrar, to return early to camp on Wednesday. She has discovered a great love for swinging pick and trowel, so we really don't think it was the heat that forced her to leave the work in the field. But while she was gone, Howard Munson, much to Carmen's chagrin, discovered a nicely made wall in their square. Carmen had instructed Howard not to find anything while she was gone, so we didn't tell her about it until announcement time at lunch when we dedicated a special series of announcements to her. Poor Carmen. She's vowed never to leave early again.

John Raab is doing his job well. At the beginning of the season we asked him to find a particular wall for us. It was the perimeter wall around the site. Sure enough, this week he, along with Pawel Surowka, Gayle Broom, and Candace Jorgensen, found it. Hat's off. We feel a lot better! John is also helping us with a number of computer problems which have arisen. An added bonus.

Mary Boyd in the Morning.Also on Thursday Mary Boyd, a Methodist minister from Coupeville, WA, on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound, discovered a seal impression on a jar handle while she was washing pottery. (Don't tell anyone at her church, or her members will expect her to wash all the dishes at church socials!) The impression was in the shape of a seven-petal rosette. Because Mary discovered the impression at pottery washing, many people were around. Suddenly we heard seals barking everywhere as all who clustered around to see tried their best at doing seal impressions.

But this was also a week of ghosts, in fact a season of ghosts. The ghosts of Umayri. Those people who have played a major part on our project in the recent past but who, for one reason or another, are not with us this summer. We have thought of them often - usually several times a day - and their presence is with us even though they are still on the other side of the pond. The first ghost is the Bone Ghost. When we arrive back at camp, covered with dust and glory, a bit dazed by the intensity of the sun and the bumpy ride back in the bus, we half expect to see Joan Chase, our physical anthropologist, sitting on the pottery washing benches with a wide smile welcoming us all, somehow lifting us out of our daze.

Then there is the Pottery Ghost. At pottery reading we constantly find indications of the way potters did things in the past. On Thursday, we documented a major clay deposit at the foot of the tell that the ancients seemed to have mined, perhaps for making impervious rampart tops, but probably also for making pottery and maybe mudbricks. Gloria London, who does our pottery technology as she searches for the potters of Umayri, is also constantly on our minds. We miss her at the pottery table, but we're saving lots of things for her to research!

Our third ghost is the Art Ghost. Although Ela Dubis is filling in marvelously as our objects artist, there is an empty spot in the back of the Commons Room where Rhonda Root usually sits in the heat of her lamp, meticulously drawing our finds. Every time we pass by, she always has a new spectacular drawing to catch our eye. Somehow things are not right without that daily high and the twinkle in Rhonda's eye as she shows the drawing to us. On Wednesday afternoon we took the official dig photo of the whole group. As we spread over the steps near the laundry, we missed Rhonda in her usual place. Mary Boyd talked of drawing a picture of Rhonda and holding it up, but we all agreed that there was no substitute for Rhonda's quick, encouraging laugh.

The fourth ghost is the Phasing Ghost. There are few people able to understand the intricate phasing of walls and surfaces as quickly and cleanly as David Berge, past supervisor of Field H. Julie Cormack is giving excellent leadership in Field H this season. One reason is the work that David did - and is still doing as he corresponds with us by email. Everyone in Field H is living with David's ghost as they trace the plastered surfaces whose phasing was first established by him.

Our fifth ghost is the Stone Walls Ghost. Indeed, the gray walls of Field A appear haunted without the real flesh and blood of John Lawlor, stooping to examine an earth layer, struggling under the weight of a large stone, drawing a complex set of walls, or poking a trowel into a balk, trying to understand its language. Until this summer, John had not missed a season since 1974 at Heshbon! Field A is strangely silent without him. We especially miss John's careful attention to detail. But like the ancient walls, we can wait for next season.

A sixth ghost whose absence follows participation virtually all the way back to our first season at Tall al-`Umayri as dig brat, excavation volunteer, handy-man, etc., etc. - Garrick Herr, the Fix It Ghost. It's just not the same to wander around the ATC campus without Garrick here - and with him a mischievous grin, a telling sparkle in his eye, a wrench in his hand, screw-drivers hanging precariously out of patched pockets and who knows what species of animal or mineral secreted away in the others.

2002 Excavation Team at the ATC CampusBut more people come to fill in the ghostly spaces. Although Tony Sears, Ingrid Wang, and Gayle Broom have left us during the past week, six more have arrived. First came cousins Carolyn Waldron and Kathleen Geraty (Larry's sister) on Tuesday from the west coast (Kathleen from Riverside, CA and Carolyn from near Vancouver, WA). During the middle of the night Candace Jorgensen from La Sierra University and Caroline Riegel from Emory University in Atlanta, GA sneaked in from a flight that was three hours late getting out of Chicago. These were followed early Friday morning by Audrey Shaffer, long-time staff member of the Caesarea excavations and veteran MPP participant from Corona, CA and Christy Robinson, new as many are to the study of archaeology, hailing from Riverside.

The second half of the dig season is upon us. Friday was only a half day of work because soon we'll be boarding the buses for Aqaba and a bit of R&R. We'll enjoy the air conditioned hotel, the beach on the Gulf of Aqaba, the snorkeling, and the trip to Wadi Ram, Lawrence of Arabia's scenic old stomping ground. It will be hot, but we'll be in the water.

Irony As Pictured on a Dig:

Delicate Blossoms on Torturous Thistle Heads

Clean Dirt

Clean Dirt

Clean Dirt

Happy Campers

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