Weekly Reports from Jordan

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June 20-27, 2008

Larry G. Herr and Douglas R. Clark

"Archaeology is like proofreading the dirt," observed book editor and graduate student Rob Saley, while he was brushing off a stone he had just discovered to see if it made archaeological sense. If so, he would leave it in the dirt and not delete it.

Or, "Archaeology is just like medicine," said nurse Stephanie Herr. "You're right," agreed ophthalmologist Gary Huffaker, "it's just like doing an autopsy of the tell!"

But each of the 78 other participants now on our team (another 19 are yet to come) probably have their own metaphors of what an excavation is like. Each participant has their own goals and each has their own first impressions. Some may be suffering from jet lag and want nothing better than to get a good night's sleep. Others may be charmed by the sound of the call to prayer, now coming through my window even as I write. Others may be entranced by the owls that fly overhead as we sit in the courtyard in the cool of the evening. And certainly many enjoy the new friends we meet as we work in close contact with each other. Some of those friendships will last many years.

Indeed, for Monique and Matt Vincent, just married last winter, the previous two seasons of the dig were the beginnings of their romance. Maybe they wouldn't see it as "proofreading dirt."

The first week of a dig is a time adaptation. Getting used to major time differences; meeting lots of new people and living with their various expectations; adapting to a hugely different culture; tasting new foods; and sleeping under mosquito nets.

Documenting archaeologists with new Bedouin tent in the backgroundBut most of all, it is learning to think and act like an archaeologist. Doug Clark of La Sierra University and Larry Herr of Canadian University College have been in Jordan for the last two weeks arranging for every aspect of dig life, from the cooks at the dig camp to obtaining the dig permit from the government; from supervising workers cleaning the site to organizing weekend tours around Jordan; from contacting other archaeologists who will give lectures on their sites to purchasing supplies for camp life and digging. One of the largest purchases this season was a goat hair tent, called a beit sha`r in Arabic ("house of hair"), that now perches on the top of the tell to provide shade for everyone during breaks from digging.

Lion-head figurine being drawn by Ronda RootEveryone on the team has a specific job to do. There are specialists like Gloria London of Seattle WA, who analyzes the way ancient people made their pottery, always looking for the people behind the pots; or photographers from Andrews University who are documenting our story this season: David Sherwin, and Sharon and Marc Ullom; there are even two videographers, Jason Daub and Jon Betz of Walla Walla University, who are filming every aspect of our life to turn this season into a documentary; there is a whole team of artists supervised by Rhonda Root of Andrews University; and registrars of pottery (Denise Herr of Canadian University College) and objects (Suha Huffaker of La Sierra University); our physician is Gary Huffaker of Riverside, CA assisted by nurse Carolyn Waldron of Portland, OR.

Field A teamAll the others are divided into six excavation teams, each with their own goals. The first one, Field A, supervised by Bob Bates of La Sierra University, wants to uncover the city gate from the time of the biblical judges, about 1200 BC, as well as to see whether they can excavate a family's house near the gate from the same time period. The "A-Team," as Bob calls it, is made up largely of his students at LSU: Aaron Davis, Steven Salcido, Stephanie Brown, Eli Te, Megan Channer, Kasey Brandt, Jessica Logan, Faith Stevens, Natasha Plantak, and Amanda Marquez. They are joined by Teagen Johnson from Canadian University College, Kemi Adedokun of Oakwood University, Anneliese Weiss of St. Augustine, FL and Brenda Adams of Seattle, WA.

Field B teamIn Field B, located in the northwestern part of the site, Supervisor Kent Bramlett of the University of Toronto hopes to finish the excavation of a very well preserved Late Bronze Age palace or temple approximately dating to the time of biblical Moses. Because it's a very large building with walls almost three meters (10 feet) high, he has six teams working on very specific problems. Some come from Walla Walla University: Cultic niche in Late Bronze Age building in Field BLindsey Hill, Talea Anderson, and Christina Daltoso; others are students at Andrews Univeristy: Leyna Ely, Kari Friestad, and Darren Heslop; from Canadian University College come Bethany Reiswig and Rachelle Mutch; the whole Huffaker family, Gary, Suha, Erich, Steven, and Danielle, come from Riverside, CA; Garrick and Stephanie Herr flew here over the North Pole from Alaska; others include Ellen Bedell from Pittsburgh, PA, Carolyn Waldron from Portland, OR, and Matt Vincent from Chicago, IL.

Field H teamField H, in the southwest corner of the site is seeking to understand the Iron I period (time of the biblical judges) south of the gate area. They have to remove the Iron II (time of the biblical kings) overburden to begin to see the Iron I period more completely. They are also trying to locate the city wall around the southern part of the town. Four teams are working under the supervision of Monique (Acosta) Vincent of the University of Chicago: Julie Cormack, Jennifer Bernhardt, and Kaitlyn Kramer from Mount Royal College; Stefanie Elkins, Ivan LaBianca, and Rebecca Gauthier from Andrews University; others include Don Mook from Duluth, MN, Jeanne (Jersey Girl) DelColle from Marlton, NJ, Rob Saley from Catholic University of America, Larry Murrin from Canadian University College, Alice Holinger from Wasilla, AK, and Bethany Melendy from Dumont, IA.

Early Bonze Age Dolmen in Field KAfter several seasons of rest, Field K has once again drawn our attention, the Early Bronze Age (ca. 3000 BC) dolmen (a type of above-ground burial made of very large stones). Although thousands of such burials are known in the Mediterranean basin, virtually none have remains inside them because they were above ground. However, because ours was buried below debris washed down from the tell, it is the first one ever to produce significant finds (20 burials along with 20 complete pottery vessels). Elzbieta Dubis has come from Krakow, Poland to prepare the site for a team coming later from her home city. Sometimes we call Field K "Little Poland."

Field L teamField L is located on the southern lip of the site and has revealed a Hellenistic (2nd and 1st century BC) farmstead covering some huge Iron I walls made of very large boulders ("They're real 'HONKERS,'" says field archaeologist Larry Herr, in a not-so-scientific observation). This season, the team wants to try to date those large walls, as well as to define more accurately the eastern side of the Hellenistic farm. The team members, supervised by David Hopkins of Wesley Theological Seminary, include Ruth Kent from Washington, DC, Mary Boyd from Seattle, WA, and, during the first half of the season, Ciro and Gloria Sepulveda of Oakwood University, Slava Bouz of Canadian University College, and Billy Fitzhugh of Baltimore, MD.

Field M teamFinally, we are beginning a new field between Fields H and L, Field M. We chose this location because, like the very large Iron I walls in Field L, similar wall fragments have been found in Field H. Could there be more "honkin'" walls in between? Such large walls are very rare in the Iron I period in the Holy Land. Their presence at Tall al-`Umayri may indicate a special economic and/or social role for our site at that time. We need to explore the specifics of that possibility. Sean Haskell excavating away in Field MSo we are beginning the long-range process of connecting Fields H and L with Field M, supervised by Aren LaBianca of Andrews University. Assisting him are Elizabeth Brown from AU; Autumn Whiteway, Jennifer Ayles, Jenna Hurtubise, Elinor Matthews, and Lynne Fulton from Mount Royal College in Calgary Alberta; Jimmy Arsenault and Merle Otto-Steenbergen from Canadian University College; Sean Haskell from Portland, OR, Lloyd Willis from Southwestern Adventist University, Dana Waters from Seattle, WA, and Evelyna Laurie from Oakwood University.

Sunrise over Tall al-`Umayri

All of these teams woke up at 4:15 am Friday morning, gathered up all their dig supplies, ate a small breakfast, and got on dig busses at 5:10 am for the 10-minute trip to the tell. We learned how to dig carefully and accurately, how to record our finds, how to set up sifts, and how we live on the tell during work times. Because of all the learning we did, there was not much time for actual digging, but we still managed to find a few things. The honor for the first object find goes to rookie Dana Waters who discovered a small figurine of a roaring lion that probably was part of a model shrine (see fig. 2). Congrats, Dana!

In the past Larry and Doug have written the weekly reports. This season, however, Merle Otto-Steenbergen will write them. This is her first time on any dig and her reports will represent a "voice from the outside" instead of the usual view from the directors. Welcome, Merle!

[ Photos courtesy David Sherwin, Sharon Prest and Marc Ullom. ]

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