Weekly Reports from Jordan

Choose Year: or Choose week

Rubble, Rubble, Toil and Trouble

Larry G. Herr and Douglas R. Clark

Western part of the tell under unusually cool and cloudy skies.Although Shakespeare's three weird sisters in Macbeth didn't chant their mantra in exactly the way it appears in our title, we can't resist playing with their words as the theme of our week's activities. Many people wonder how ancient cities build themselves into mounds. Most of our diggers this week discovered just how it happens, at least, at a site like `Umayri where stones were the primary building materials.

When stone walls fall down during a destruction or after the site has been abandoned, they form a large stone pile. Later builders might mine some of the stones, but they leave many of them behind as piles of rubble upon which later walls are built. This week, our teams dug through those piles of rubble, sometimes several layers deep. But, toward the end of the week, good things began to appear under the rubble-the walls and buildings from which the rubble fell.

Buried and abandoned hand pick from 2004, still held by someone from the earlier season and re-discovered by Ellen Bedell and Bethany Reiswig this week.The excavation of rubble is somewhat slow going. The space between the stones needs cleaning to make sure they are not part of a wall; everything then has to be brushed so the diggers can see the stones clearly; when they are clearly visible, we draw the stones on a plan (called a "top" plan); then they are carefully removed while cleaning up excess dirt that might hide relationships to architectural features. If any of the stones are large and can't be carried by hand, they have to be hammered into smaller fragments by a sledge hammer. Some people like to do this as they work out their frustrations (a few perhaps imaginatively etching the name of someone they don't like on the face of the stone).

In Field A (supervised by Bob Bates) Audrey Shaffer, Derek Bobst, and Erica Hufnagel plowed through rubble for a second time while removing a balk. Next week they will uncover more serious remains as they dig down into the architectural horizon looking for the entrance into the city. Brenda Adams, Amy Bellinghausen, and Tyler Mitchell also removed a layer of rubble in one corner as they tried to reach the bottom of a late Iron Age II wall (ca. 700-500 BC). They hope to find the western edge of a room that has produced a marvelous assemblage of pottery from the eighth century BC.

Three other Field A teams (Debra Haberman, Christina Widmer, Aaron Davis, Caroline Houghton, Myron Widmer, Steven Salcido, Tom Venner, Kassie Skoretz, and Heather Merizan) also fought with rubble as they descended along an Iron I wall (ca. 1100 BC) looking for the surface upon which the rubble fell. They hope that the bottom of the rubble will match the bottom of a wall they are seeking to remove so they can descend to an earlier phase of Iron I, one from the 12th century BC.

Late Bronze Age brick wall and sacred niche being uncovered from the cement cocoon we created for it in 2004.  The following photos illustrate the process of recovery.In Field B (supervised by Kent Bramlett) two of the four teams (Ellen Bedell, Bethany Reiswig, Carolyn Waldron, Katie van Petten, Anneliese Weiss, and Boris Brajnikoff) worked through various rubble fields to arrive at the bottom of important walls, carefully outlining their faces. Although it was lots of work, everyone was successful. Another team (Janelle Worthington, Lindsey Hill, and Matt Vincent) finished a deep layer of rubble in a balk and began to uncover the Late Bronze Age shrine niche in a mud brick wall that we had covered with dirt and entombed with cinder-blocks after discovering it last season. Fortunately, it was still in good condition, as the following sequence of photos to dismantle its cocoon demonstrates. The niche will be covered over again in a similar cement coffin until 2008 when we will remove it to a museum in Madaba, Jordan, and replace it with a cement replica.

This team also discovered a second doorway into the room, as well as a small plastered presentation altar in front of the niche. A presentation altar is too small for burnt offerings, but could hold offerings in kind, such as grain, oil, figurines, etc.

The grand entryway to the increasingly important Late Bronze Age Palace/Temple in Field B with steps and threshold into the building and steps leading to the left (our right) up to the second story.The best find of the week goes to the fourth team in Field B (Monique Acosta, Allison Hade and, sometimes, Boris) who came down on the eastern wall of the Late Bronze Age palace/temple (ca. 1400 BC). Although it is not yet completely excavated, it provided several surprises. We knew the door into the building had to be in that general location, so we were not surprised to find it there. But we WERE surprised to discover the monumental entranceway that presented itself. Orthostatic stones standing on their edges flanked the wide entrance (about 1.5 meters wide) that led down a series of steps into the foyer of the building. Immediately to the left of the stairs inside the building was a stairway that ascended to the second story. Some archaeologists see this as a temple, while others see it as a palace with a sacred shrine in one of the rooms.

Teams in Field L (supervised by David Hopkins and Mary Boyd) uncovered the last of their rubbly topsoil to expose surfaces and the tops of walls belonging to a Hellenistic farmstead (ca. 200-100 BC). Diggers (Greg Kremer, Steve Barbery, Mike Dubbs, Laura King, and Tom Tipton) very skillfully separated the darker gray earth from on top of the lighter beaten-earth surface and also noted where it stopped toward the eastern parts of the field.

An exuberant Henry Hopkins, holding his field notebook which received high-pass marks from Denise Herr, the overseer of the notebooks.The best small find of the week was found in another square of Field L dug by Henry Hopkins, Jenn Harris, and Charles Harris. It was a very nicely stamped coin from the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus, one of the Ptolemaic kings who ruled Egypt and our territory during the first half of the Hellenistic era (ca. 200 BC). The coin was large and thick, ca. 2.5 cm (1 inch) in diameter and 3 mm (an eighth of an inch) thick. When cleaned, it showed the head of a curly-headed ruler on the obverse, and an eagle surrounded by writing on the reverse. Two days later this same team found another, smaller coin from the same time period. Coins are rare at our site, most of which was occupied before coins were invented. So it's nice to have these fine examples.

Even Field H (supervised by Dave Berge) couldn't avoid the rubble trouble. Two squares removed the cobbles of the lowest layer of our courtyard sanctuary last week (Don Mook, Larry Murrin, Erin Carr, Jeannie DelColle, Stefanie Elkins, and Sean Haskell). This week, they began the removal of the rubble destruction layer of the Iron I levels (ca. 1200-1000 BC) below. They have not yet reached the bottom, nor have they uncovered any coherent walls lines. Perhaps there is another open area below this rubble. The answers lie below.

Only two squares in Field H avoided rubble, but they held the dubious honor of removing a course of heavy stones from a large wall to reveal the lower phases of the wall (Julie Cormack, Russ Dedul, Barbara Trip, Marcin Czarnowicz, Nikki Oakden, and Aga Ochal). They were able to establish that the cobble layer they were excavating was in use with the lower wall course and that, therefore, it was equal to a similar cobble surface on the other side of the wall. Such a conclusion may not sound like much, but we were very excited by it!

Petra's al-Khazneh (The Treasury), as viewed through the end of the Siq into Petra, a view not unlike that of Indiana Jones.Although archaeology takes first place this week, we cannot forget last weekend-Petra! There is no place in the world like it. Although people like Doug and Larry have walked the two kilometers (about 1 mile) through the narrow canyon of the siq to the famous monument of the Treasury many times, it never fails to awe.

Petra's al-Khazneh behind two camels which did not charge extra for the photo. Petra's al-Khazneh, from an overlook across the open courtyard in front of it.  Not at all like the Indiana Jones movie makes it out to be on the inside.

In the words of the Victorian traveler Dean Durgon about Petra:

"Match me such a marvel
sure in eastern clime
a rose-red city
half as old as time."

Part of MPP team overlooking Petra, on way to Nabataean pottery replica shop.The bus left early Saturday morning and arrived before noon. Although about half the group went to see potters make replicas of the eggshell-thin Nabatean pottery found in Petra, others couldn't wait and defied the noonday sun to trudge into the ancient site. Petra is vast; it is varied; it is infinitely colorful; it is packed with unique archaeological features; it is up mountains and down valleys; it boggles the mind; and it cramps the leg muscles. So we climbed; we snapped countless pictures; we sacrificed ourselves for the cause; we sweated; we rode camels, donkeys, and horses; we Teachers, who normally don't allow horsing around in class, in an educational sacrificial rite – Jeanne DelColle, Brenda Adams, Ellen Bedell, Stefanie Elkins offering up Greg Kremer.listened to the sounds of the siq; we drank water; we tried to avoid the sun; we chuckled at the hawkers trying to sell myriad souvenirs; and we all loved Petra. And the Shobak Crusader Castle we visited on the return trip. And the camels framing our photos. And the genuine, traditional black, goat-hair Bedouin tent nearby.

Christina Widmer atop a camel and surrounded by camel drivers in Petra, likely offering at least ten times this many camels for her hand in marriage.
Crusader Castle, Shobak, in the afternoon sun several kilometers north of Petra.
Bedouin tent in the hinterland of the Shobak Crusader Castle.

Crowne Plaza Hotel on the edge of Petra where we stayed while visiting the "rose-red city half as old as time."It was definitely an anticlimax to arrive back at camp, leaving the 5-star accommodations of the Petra Crowne Plaza Hotel for the 0.4-star rating of our dormitories. But several quipped on arrival back to ATC that it felt good to be home again. And then, as our digging week was about to begin, we had all that rubble to look forward to!

Unfortunately, this week has also brought media updates about what everyone is watching on the news about renewed conflict in countries to our west (reports vary significantly in perspective depending on the media sources). We Sunrise over `Umayri on an uncharacteristically cloudy morning this week.want to assure everyone that we are trying to keep up with the latest developments and that we maintain communications with the American Center of Oriental Research in Amman (our in-country point of contact and source of information) and the embassies representing members of our team. In terms of our daily life, nothing has changed. At least for now, we are entirely separated from the sad events across the river and have received no directives which would lead us to feel we are currently in any danger. The Jordanian secret police patrol our campus and tourist police accompany us on tours. Everyone in Jordan has gone the extra mile to help ensure our safety and comfort. As is usual for the part of the world in which we find ourselves here, locals may be angered by foreign governments, but they are typically warm and welcoming to fellow human beings.

Overheard this week:

"That's the first time I have had my hand under a woman's shirt when a priest walked by." – long-time veteran, Don Mook, after "gallantly" attempting to pull a large lizard from under the outer shirt of Nikki Oakden in order to rescue her from certain fright, just as the Seventh-day Adventist pastor from Amman, Kamil Haddad, stopped by Field H as part of a visit to the tell.
"Welcome to Jordan!" – Jordanian police officer after pulling over Mike Dubbs for driving the wrong way on a one-way street and then displaying his Pennsylvania driver's license.
"Since you are like family, I will not accept any extra payment from you or your archaeological friends, but will give it to the poor." – our Jordanian travel agent at Guiding Star Travel Agency, Vicky Khano.
"Thank you, sir; I must be one of the poor" – Vicky Khano's Filipino domestic in a phone call to thank us for our gift to the poor, distributed by Vicky within an hour of her receiving a check from members of our team.
"Firm bowels are a gift from God." – some of us who have long worked in the Middle East and experienced the discomforts of digestive upset in both directions.
Morphed Indiana Clark."The beatings will cease when morale improves." – caption beneath a morphed picture of co-director Indiana Clark with sword in hand, posted not-so-surreptitiously on the door to the Commons Room by "mystery" digital-photo morphographer, Matt Vincent.

© 2024 Madaba Plains Project. All rights reserved. Any unauthorized duplication of images or content on this site is strictly prohibited.