Weekly Reports from Jordan

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Personal Impressions

Organized by Douglas Clark & Tevin Maker; Photos by Jillian Logee & virtually all of the impressed.

Participants were asked to write up brief paragraphs, accompanied with photos if possible, of impressions they have experienced in Jordan, like:

my impressions of excavating at Tall al-`Umayri
my impressions of coming to Jordan for the (first, second, tenth) time
my impressions of archaeology in the Middle East
my impressions of the people of Jordan
my impressions of something exciting that happened to me while here
my impressions of discovering something in the field (describe and explain)
my impressions of friends I have made on this adventure
my impressions of visiting __________ in Jordan
my impressions of ...

Our thanks to all who participated.

The Song of the Supervisors

(adapted from the song “Deliver Us” in The Prince of Egypt)
Monique Vincent, Stephanie Brown, Carrie Duncan, Nikki Oakden (field supervisors)

Monique VincentStephanie Brown

Carrie DuncanNikki Oakden

[Volunteers & Workers]

[Field Supervisors]

[Volunteers & Workers]
Scoop...the dirt
Pile...the rocks
Guffas, and raise up!
Now sift

[Field Supervisors]

[Volunteers & Workers]
With the sun on our backs in the morning. With the trowel in our hands on our knees. Doug and Kent, my oh my, can you hear your workers cry?
Help us now....
This noon hour....

Deliver us!
Hear our call,
Deliver us!
From the tall,
Remember us down in this burning sand.
Deliver us!
There's a floor you promised us!
Deliver us, from our digging now.

Some impressions on my tenth season by Mary Boyd

Mary Boyd My first dig season was in 1994. What a joy all of the seasons have been, including this one. I feel at home in Jordan, this place which is so different from my green Puget Sound island home. There is great beauty here in the impressive places like Petra, and in the ordinary golden fields and green trees. (I do love being warm.) But the greatest beauty is in the people, who embody the "welcome to Jordan" that is so often on their lips.  On my tenth season I've been reflecting on all the experiences I've had here, on the many people who have touched my life, and of course, on the adventure of digging. Those first two seasons in Field H I dug through rubble heaps--pails and pails of pottery, but delightful figurine fragments, and a pair of silver earrings that Will Piller found.

Then years in Field L exploring the Hellenistic farmstead--the day three women moved 300+ guffas! And found three oil lamps! That was the year of juglets as well. On the last day a final clay lamp tumbled out in front of me. I'm still learning--using iPods instead of paper is a learning experience for sure. And I'm still delighted at the unexpected--like the cobble floor I found last week. And I love all the textile tools that we have found: spindle whorls and loom weights that tell of the work of women producing cloth for family and home. The sense of place and ancient life enlivens my reading of scripture.

I marvel at the spread of communications technology--from that first year of snail mail and a few phone calls from the main gate to wi-fi and cell phones. I remember walking up the hill 300 meters to the main gate, giving the guard the number I wanted to call. He translated my number into Arabic numerals, dialed the number, pulled out the cord in the phone, banged on it a few times, called someone else to put the call through. We talked for three minutes and the call shut off. The next day I walked back up to the gate to pay.

So many memories, so many guffas full of dirt, so many locus sheets, so many objects, so many mornings with a 4:15 bell, so many trips to get ice cream, so many friends--I can't imagine life without digging at 'Umayri!

The Balk Walk by Murray Brandstater

Murray BrandstaterAll that unwanted rubble and debris that has to be excavated from our Iron Age 1 room has to be physically carried across uneven rocky walls and precipitous balks to be disposed of at the side of the tall.  As we carried our loads this morning we were using a balk whose side had partially collapsed, and then we had to cross another area on top of an exposed wall where some boulders were firmly secure while others were dangerously loose.  Travel required a good sense of balance, careful eyesight and an attentive vestibular system.  It helped to have navigated the balk a few times to determine just where the footing was safe and which rocks were likely to send you sprawling down 6 feet into the square below while carrying a 40 pound boulder.  To an onlooker the line of bodies progressing back and forth across the balk would have offered an intriguing spectacle.  Individuals would be seen making sudden random athetoid-like waving movements of the arms, interspersed with an occasional ballistic fling.  The upright body would unexpectedly contort with a sudden sideways lean or forward flexion and there was no regular bipedal rhythm to placement of the feet – timing and step length were irregular and amusingly inconsistent.

I considered naming this spectacle at Umayri the Archeologist’s Dance, or simply the Balk Dance, but finally settled on calling it the Balk Walk.  I wondered what the reception might be if I were to introduce it to a Hollywood night club.  From what I have seen on the occasional video the Balk Walk seemed to have much in common with what happens on the typical night club dance floor.  But I quickly realized that the chaotic movements of the Balk Walk could never synchronize with the regular pounding beat from the band - the movements of the Balk Walk are so spontaneous, arbitrary, erratic, haphazard, aimless, inconsistent, arrhythmic and un-choreographed that patrons just would never be able to follow it.  They would simply stay with what they had – varying patterns of obscene gyrations as they participate in a rude public display of virtual sex.  The Balk Walk will have to stay at Umayri, and once the excavation has been completed it will depart, remembered only by those who danced it and who impatiently yearn to see its revival next season.

Carolyn Waldron

Carolyn WaldronOne of my favorite things to do in Jordan is getting to know the workers in my field better.  This season I've worked with Yehyeh more than Zeid, Wasfi and Adel.  It's been fun to watch his face light up when praised for his good work.  I have a movie of his first swings with a mahada, and been part of his shift from sifting goofas to excavating as well.  Yehyeh is part of my Jordanian family.

Part of my job here in Jordan is handling the bills.  Because of that Munir, our Palestinian cook, has become a friend as well.  He pays attention to what foods we like and is ready with a smile no matter how tired he may be.  With Ramadan he sometimes works several hours on our food, then goes to his restaurant job until 2am.  But his graciousness hasn't faltered.  He's on vacation this week and twice has shown groups of us how to carve a watermelon and small vegetables.  As a group, the Umayrites hope Munir is back in two years....

Impressions of the friends I have made here by Nicole Lalonde

Nicole LalondeWhen I first decided to come to Jordan, I had no idea who I was going to meet here. I was a little concerned that I may not fit in, but this fear has been proved wrong. There is not a person here that made me feel like I didn't belong. As a younger student, I spent most time with the younger group but I have always had discussions with the older group as well. Everyone is fantastic and we all work so well together. Since I have more experience with the younger group, those are the people I will focus on. The way that we can all interact with each other without it being a sort of clique is really cool. Everyone talks to everyone and sure you have your main group of friends that you talk to regularly, but everyone talks to and hangs out with everyone. For example, this past weekend twelve of us traveled to Aqaba and Wadi Rum. 

There was not one single time when we weren't in a large group hanging out together for the main things unless we were dealing with food. It gave us time to get to know each other a little better than we had before. It was overall a great time and a good experience for all of us I think. It's nice that we can all share this experience together whether we have all been here before or not. I will miss everyone I have met here very much but wish everyone the best of luck in the future.

My first impressions of sleeping out under the stars in Wadi Rum by Jillian Logee

Jillian LogeeAs my friends and colleagues settled down for the night on top of a sand dune in Wadi Rum, I was setting up my camera to take long exposure shots of the beautiful valley and the night sky. I caught the streaking headlights of the last Jeeps making their way to Rum Village and caught the moonlight illuminating the striking rock faces of the cliffs. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life and one of the best experiences I've had in Jordan.

As a photographer, there's nothing like settling down to sleep knowing you've captured one of your (now) favourite memories. 

Audrey Shaffer

Audrey ShafferOne of my favorite activities at the excavation is to expose walls of ancient houses and try to imagine what the residents did in these houses.  Another activity I find fascinating is to sift guffahs of dirt dug from the houses.  The sifts are located on the side of the hilltop community, and this gives me the opportunity to occasionally gaze out beyond the confines of the excavation.  To the north there are modern homes, but on the south there is a valley that has stubble from a grain crop.  Every day there are several herds of sheep and goats that are brought by their herders to graze on the stubble for a short time and then they amble out of site beyond the valley.  I can imagine that the residents of the hilltop houses must have viewed similar scenes 3,000 years ago, and this gives me a feeling of connection to them.

Impressions of Jordan by Nikki Oakden

Nikki OakdenReturning to Jordan and the dig for the third time honestly felt like coming home. I woke up in my bunk the day after flying in and it felt like I’d never left. The experiences I have here every year stay with me permanently, and some of my closest friends now are those I met my first time here. The time I spend here is not only of great value to my career in archaeology,  but is a period of immense personal growth. Here I am braver, more adventurous, more self-assured and open to new things and experiences. The challenge thus far has been less about adapting to Jordan, but in bringing what I find in myself here home to a Western lifestyle and making it stick.

I never get tired of visiting the amazing places here. I have always been like that, going to the same places over and over simply because I like seeing them. Every time something different happens, or I find something new, or I am there with new people. This year’s visit to Petra, I was asked where I intended to go first and I only shrugged and said this time I’d just go wherever my feet took me. I meant it partly as a joke, but that is just what I ended up doing. I spent most of the day with the Bedouin, drinking numerous cups of tea, talking about Petra and their homes and families and Transformers (yes, Transformers!), and sketching portraits as thanks for their hospitality. I was escorted personally around the park by someone or other for nearly the whole day. I was shown things I’d never seen before, met at random the brothers and sons and daughters and sisters of people I’d met previously, and was treated like a friend and honoured guest the entire time.

That is the impression of Jordan that I will be taking home with me, and I will try with all my power to make it stick.

My "Impressions"
 by Vera Kopecky

Vera KopeckyWhile traveling, I love to see and taste regional food. You get a pretty good idea about the life style of ordinary people if you take time to visit a local "farmers market". 

I did same here in Jordan, and I think my photos can tell this story much better than I ever can.

 Fruit, herbs and vegetables are fresh and plentiful. Chickens, ducks, or rabbits can be purchase alive, and other meat is hanging for your inspection.

Food is tasty and inexpensive. Life is good in Jordan. 

Megan Bereza

My impressions of coming to Jordan for the first time were originally of un-ease. We had studied the culture and read about all the dos and don’ts but I knew that this wouldn’t completely prepare us for the complete culture shock. I was nervous at first, mostly relating to the customs about women, and I didn’t want to offend anyone the first day if I wasn’t dressed appropriately but I had prepared myself at home before coming over with what I thought were clothes that would be appropriate. After the first week, I became more relaxed and experienced the hospitality and kindness that the men and women of Amman showed to our group on a daily bases. I really loved Jordan by the time I had to go home and I would definitely come back again in the future after my experience in Amman. 

My Impression of Excavating in Jordan by Kevin Burrell

Kevin BurrellComing to Jordan for the first time, I did not know what to expect. But having been here for the last several weeks has really made me come to appreciate being here. The friendliness and hospitality of Jordanians really set them apart.  All my interactions with Jordanians have been cordial and inviting. Additionally, this is a country with a rich and vibrant culture. There is no experience like a trip to the souk whether for shopping or browsing; and if I thought I was missing out on anything Western, a trip to Abdoun or a local mall makes me feel right at home.  Not to mention the rich historical and archaeological heritage of the “other” land of the Bible. Indeed, Jordanian cultural experience is extraordinary.

This is also my first time participating in an archaeological excavation, but I sort of had some idea of what to expect.  I expected hard work, heat, getting dirty and finding some kind of spectacular artifact that would deepen our understanding of the ancient past. So far, I have experienced all of the above except the last one, but I’m still keeping my fingers crossed. There is an unexplainable thrill of knowing that where you are digging hasn’t been disturbed for thousands of years--that’s exciting. Of course, our dig experience wouldn’t be the same without our Jordanian workers.  They make our time at the tell even more interesting and enjoyable. Our workers are friendly, appealing and welcoming. Our mutual efforts to understand each other is remarkable, and often hilarious. My time here has been very enriching.

Tevin Maker (and friends)

Tevin MakerOver the last few weeks our team has been not only discovering the treasures of the ancient people of Jordan, but also the wealth of the modern culture. The greatest treasure our team has discovered is the boundless hospitality the Jordanians offer. Through adventures to the souq (open-air market) and around Amman, everyone has been captivated by this land and its people. Many of our first timers are surprised at the level of generosity and selflessness the Jordanians show. Between enjoying a Mensef dinner with our shababs (workers) or drinking tea with new friends, our team has experienced the genuine kindness of Jordan.

The general area of the Middle East often gets a bad rap in the media and plenty of people may have experienced some strange looks from concerned loved ones upon hearing of the adventure on which we were going to embark. Despite these preconceptions, everyone has felt surprisingly safe and comfortable in this unparalleled land. While the culture of Jordan and the Arab world may seem completely foreign to some, there are elements that feel westernized. These elements help to remind some of home and provide comfort when things get a little overwhelming. Especially a little bit of ice cream when the only words that come to mind are "shumps mushkala."

Through reading the accounts of our team, hopefully you can discover the finds our team has made on and off the dig site.

Shaking Hands with the Ancients by Amanda Hopkins

Amanda HopkinsWhile excavating this season I was most impressed by the sense of continuity that I felt with those who have come before. I touched the handles of two large pithoi (storage jars) that were removed from an ancient building at Tall al-`Umayri. In this visual and physical experience I felt that I was in connection with communities and cultures that were very real, very old and a great testament to the fragility and tenacity of human life.

Last Monday, after lunch, my husband and I decided to drive to Tall al-`Umayri in order to see these storage jars before they were removed for content analysis. It was quite exciting driving there as we were going to be the only ones on the tell at the time. 

We approached the pithoi. Our first glance was from a balk (an artificial wall that allows archaeologists to preserve a record of the layers of soil that they excavate). We stood parallel to the pithoi and about a meter above them.  Each one of them still had a handle and both of their bodies were clearly visible. However, the bottoms of the jars remained buried in the earth. 

Then I realized, somebody or bodies had placed them there over 2500 years ago. Not only placed but positioned. Pithoi are quite large and heavy and can measure a meter or so high, so they were tugged, lifted and positioned there by a group of people, possibly using ropes.  The pithoi were probably inserted there to safeguard the wheat and barley grown by the community for sustenance and trade.

Then the pithoi were lost, buried in time by the abandonment and disintegration of the community. Buried until the year 2012, when they were uncovered again by a community of human hands. At this point I couldn’t resist any longer, I wanted my hands to be part of that community. I left my observer’s perch and made my way down the balk and to the pithoi. Then I gingerly placed my hands in each one of the remaining handles and lightly grasped them. In this way I was connected very concretely to those who had come before me.

Sashiere Stewart

Sashiere StewartSomething that I wanted to focus on this season personally was "firsts" and really pushed myself to do something that I had not done before during the 2010 season. My birthday weekend, which was also shared by Tevin’s, was definitely one that brought with it a few of those first experiences. The first experience consisted of scuba diving in the Red Sea. Knowing that breathing under water is something that is not a natural thing for humans to be able to do caused a bit of nervousness when I first started. But once I really got into the swing of things, I was able to see an entirely different world. The world located under the water is both beautiful and impressive. This experience definitely left a great impression in terms of the natural beauty of the world and the wonders that the Red Sea possesses. It also provided me with more of an insight into the possibilities in terms of what I could experience if I decided to take a stab at underwater archaeology, especially after seeing a tank at  the bottom of the Sea near the coast. Yet another thing to add to my list of why I love archaeology - so many different areas of the world to explore, new cultures and time periods to experience, and the many ways of going about it.

Another first that I experienced was that of another culture and way of life. Spending a night with the Bedouin in Wadi Rum gave me a little taste of how they lived. We had a dinner cooked in the traditional Bedouin way - a pit in the ground covered by a blanket and dirt - as well as the fun which followed - dancing, music, singing and everything else in between. It was a good eye opener into an aspect of their life. One of the best parts of the night was sleeping under the stars in the desert. It was such a calm night and the stars were so clear, something that is not usually experienced back at home in the city. Again, it was like a new world in the desert, a different culture, way of life and atmosphere.

Although these two "worlds" are so different - under the water and out in the open desert - they both brought with them something unique and impressionable, as well as similar experiences in terms of memories and learning experiences.

Impressions of visiting Wadi Rum by Stephen Lemmer

Stephen LemmerSashiere and Tevin, two of the volunteers, celebrated their birthdays this year with a weekend trip to Aqaba and Wadi Rum and, being one of the lucky attendees, I had the time of my life. Wadi Rum will forever be one of my favorite places on Earth, and I will never forget the whirlwind tour the Bedouin people were gracious enough to give us. We arrived in the town of Rum on Saturday in the late afternoon and, after meeting our Bedouin guide, were driven to a camp beneath an enormous sandstone cliff face. As we pulled into camp, the sun was just setting behind a mountain on the other side of the valley. After a delicious dinner and a relaxing evening dancing and sitting around the camp fire, we took to the beds we had prepared on top of a nearby sand dune and marveled at the stars as we fell asleep.

The next morning started slowly with our breakfast served around the previous night's fire, and time for us all to get ready for the adventure we had planned for the day. The Bedouin Jeeps rumbled into camp at around 9:00 in the morning, ready to cart us all to the best sights that Wadi Rum had to offer. Hiking and climbing around the mountains provided the most spectacular vistas that I have ever seen, and memories to last a lifetime. At one point near the end of the tour a handful of us hiked up a rubble mountain face to a spring hidden in the cliffside where a lone fig tree was growing in the rocks. One of my most memorable moments of the adventure was lounging in the shade of the fig tree and overlooking the desert landscape from its boughs.

Robyn Gray

Robyn GrayThis is the first archeology dig that i have been on and I am so happy that I chose the Madaba plains project. the people involved in the dig, the volunteers and the core staff, have all been open and friendly. I have made friends here that i hope to have for many years to come, and they have all made the experience more enjoyable. The country is amazing as well, from the sites like Aljoun Castle, Petra, and Jerash, to the local people. The local workers that we have working at the dig site with us have all been great as well, and I have made friends with many of them.

Overall this dig has been one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I hope I will get a chance to come back.

My impressions of coming to Jordan for the first time by Erin Matthews

Erin MatthewsEver since hearing about this trip in my first semester at Mount Royal University, I have wanted to participate on this dig, and this year I was finally able to make it. Coming on this trip I didn’t know quite what to expect but I knew that it would be amazing; and everything that I have experienced so far on this trip has totally exceeded my expectations. I have done things that I never thought that I would do and have seen things that I have only dreamed about seeing. This is an amazing country with amazing people, and I think that the rest of the East could really take a lesson from Jordan. The fact that they are so accepting of others and that their leader is one which has strong ties in the West makes Jordan the safest county in the Middle East.

Being here for a month I have had the opportunity to experience not all, but a major part of what this country has to offer and it has been amazing. Experiencing things that are so different from how you live your daily life back home has been a real experience, and I have done it with amazing people along the way. I could not have asked for a better group of people to share this experience with. This has been a once in a lifetime experience, and I am so grateful that I got to be a part of it.

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