Missouri State University
Historical Archaeology

Dr. Walker’s Report from the Field, Week Two.

Reports From the Field

Tall Hisban Excavations, 2013 Field Season

Week Two (May 26-30)


The second week of a brief three-week field season is the most “excavation-heavy”, with less time spent on logistics and all efforts channeled into achieving our research goals. It was a very eventful and productive seven days. The week also brought to the site many visitors: old friends (Dr. Robin Brown and Prof. Tom Parker of North Carolina State University, both members of the original Heshbon Expedition of the 1970s, and Prof. Debra Foran, Director the Madaba Excavations, and her students from Wilfred Laurier University, Canada), officials and local dignitaries (representatives from the Madaba District Department of Agriculture and Dr. Mohammad Safa al-Nabulsi), and tourists (two bus loads from China and South Korea).


There is no doubt about it: the site is a massive rock pile. With an occupational history that spans the Paleolithic through modern times, and a ready quarry of limestone in the tell itself, excavation at Tall Hisban is complicated by the tumble of overburden created by collapsed vaults, ceilings, and walls; centuries of erosion; and repeated earthquake damage. In spite of this, this week we managed to reach post-collapse levels, beginning to clarify architecture and the organization of space across the slopes of the tell in the process. In some cases we reached plastered floors and other beaten earth surfaces, which produced evidence of a range of domestic and pastoral activities. Studying the room of a Byzantine building at the top of the reservoir was challenged by the discovery of three large pits there – the evidence of successive use of the building for medieval trash. This week we also gained some knowledge about possible ancient agricultural terracing, the interconnectedness of various water systems and their development over the centuries, the structure of Mamluk-era settlement at the site, and trade connections in the early 13th century CE. It is our hope to eventually be able to say something new about family and community structures at Hisban in the Middle Ages after this and forthcoming seasons.


The gradual transition to a completely digital world continued this week. Pottery readings have been integrated into our new Filemaker-based locus sheets (developed by Prof. Bob Bates of Andrews University), and we experimented with 3-D photography of the site through a combination of traditional cameras and aerial photos taken with the low-flying drone, each supported with special software.


Several smaller projects were initiated this week in support of the excavations, including ethnographic work in the village (interviews with families about their collective memories about the archaeological site, and with local herbal and spice merchants about the multi-sided use of local plants) and cave exploration (drawing floor plans of structures, investigating the connections with other caves and water systems, and documenting the built environment of cave-based architecture).


Monday and Wednesday evening lectures this week highlighted the work of our environmental team and artists. On Monday Chiara Corbino and Annette Hansen spoke about scientific approaches to the study of changing human-animal and human-plant relations, as well as the preliminary results of their bone and seed analysis at the site. On Wednesday Aris Legowski and Felicitas Weber (Egyptologists based at the University of Bonn and Swansea) gave a spirited, hands-on workshop on inscriptional drawings. The lectures of the previous week were presented in the same spirit: to introduce new methods and approaches in the study of the history of the site and its peoples. Sofia Laparidou’s Sunday lecture offered insight in the kinds of questions phytolith analysis can answer and how to sample soils for this kind of silicate plant fossil. Last Tuesday Sten LaBianca (Senior Director, Hisban Cultural Heritage Project) and I gave brief presentations to open the field school, addressing the topics of the conflicting narratives of Hisban’s history and the excavations’ contributions to current debates in Islamic historiography.


The weekend tours are an important component of the field school’s educational and cultural program. Friday found the team at the Dead Sea and the Bethany baptism site in the Jordan Valley, and Saturday we travelled to four of the Umayyad “desert castles” (Kharanah, Quseir Amra, Qasr Azraq, and Mshatta).


We are all feeling the pinch now of the impending end of season, and all of the report-writing, artifact processing, photography and drawing, and packing and shipping arrangements that go with it. With only three “dig days” left, and two more devoted to a variety of project-ending duties, our field season is flying quickly to a close.


Report submitted by Prof. Bethany Walker,

Director of Excavations


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Dr. Walker’s Report from the Field, Week One

Reports From the Field

Tall Hisban Excavations, 2013 Field Season

Week One (May 19-23)


Phase III of the long-running excavations at Tall Hisban began last Sunday with a new administrative structure, a new research agenda, new housing, and new technologies. The multi-disciplinary project, now subsumed by the larger Jordan Field School through Andrews University and Prof. Øystein LaBianca, consists of the archaeological excavation (directed by myself), a landscape project (led by Prof. Stan Beikman of Andrews University), and a community development/restoration component (directed by Elena Ronza and run through a new cooperative agreement with the Municipality of Hisban, the Nabulsi family, and German-Jordan University).


The sixty-some-member excavation team is our most international one to date, representing five countries, eight universities (American, European, and Jordanian), and an enlarged environmental team, drawn in part from my Northern Jordan Project.  We have moved “camp” from Amman to Madaba, putting us closer to the airport and closer to the site.


This season presents novelties on many levels. We are piloting low-flying, high resolution aerial photography – with a combination of heptacopter and remote-control miniature plane – as well as a Filemaker-based digital data entry system on I-Pads. While the latter is still under development, we are trying it out in a limited fashion this season, with hopes of launching a fully paperless excavation next year. The environmental team is new, and includes Dr. Chiara Corbino of Florence (project zooarchaeologist), Ms. Sofia Laparidou of UT-Austin (our phytolith specialist), and Ms. Annette Hansen of the University of Groningen, Netherlands (archaeobotanist). The three environmental scientists are collaborating on issues related to changes in climate, diet, and food production, and their integrated data collection, research, and analysis holds real promise for the future.


For the third major phase of excavations at Tall Hisban we have moved off of the summit of the tell to its slopes and the saddle below, where the medieval and early modern village settlement was concentrated. The primary goal of this season is to better under the physical layout of that village and to understand its structure against the backdrop of changes in imperial engagement in local society suggested by medieval Arabic texts. I am struck by the dense settlement of the slopes during the Mamluk period, the repetitive plan of the housing units, and the rather untraditional layout of the houses in relation to the Citadel. The structures suggest a kind of town planning that deserves intensive study this season and next.


One field of excavation is located inside and adjacent to the enigmatic Iron Age “reservoir”. The complex rock-cut installations and connected caves and cisterns together suggest that there were multiple (and functionally different) phases of water collection and water diversion from the Iron Age on. We are investigating these water channels and storage facilities as part of the larger water systems that maintained local communities and helped them to prosper over the millennia.


Parallel to the excavation, team members began projects in support of our goals for final publication, including a survey of spolia that were removed from the archaeological site and reused in the modern village and professional drawings of our architectural inscriptions. Work has begun on developing an on-site botanical garden, as well as rehabilitating the Nabulsi “qasr” for the off-site visitor’s center.


We have shifted our work schedule, as well, to a Jordanian one, with Fridays and Saturdays free of fieldwork but packed full of tours to sites of archaeological, historical, and cultural interest. Friday this week was devoted to a tour of sites in northern Jordan (Jerash, Ajlun, Umm Qeis) and Saturday to those of central Jordan (the Amman citadel and Tells Umeiri and Jalul).


With a full schedule, and many interrelated sub-projects, we are off to a good start!



Report submitted by Prof. Bethany Walker,

Director of Excavations

Missouri State University/Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg – Universität Bonn

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5/22/2013 Update from Nikki

Greetings from sunny Madaba Jordan! The city is so beautiful and I am happy to be writing to you as one among the most diverse and talented teams Tell Hisban has seen. We are extremely international this year, representing such countries as Germany, Denmark, Russia, Greece, Italy, Norway, Jordan, and the United States. Our team also comes from many disciplines such as History, Anthropology, Archaeology, Medicine, Zooarchealogy, Environmental Archaeology, Psychology, Landscape Design, Architecture, Residential Construction, Engineering, Geography, and Sociology. Basically we are an international dream team and our goal in this third season of Tell Hisban is to improve the site as a destination which will increase tourism. As a part of this goal the architecture team is hard at work designing a welcome center for Tell Hisban–more on that later!


As a part of our first few days here the team took a tour of Madaba-which is as unique and multifaceted as this group of people-to get our bearings. Walking around is just like stepping into the pages of a history! Nestled among the shops and restaurants are buildings from the early 1900s beautifully highlighting Madaba’s rich history. Perhaps the most profound aspect of Madaba (and Jordanian) society is the hospitality of the local culture. One shopkeeper in particular, Yousef, is always welcoming to those who enter his extraordinary shop. He also makes the best tea in all of Madaba which he offers to anyone who happens to sit and visit with him. He is kind and generous with a wealth of information that is as free as the tea he offers to visitors. 20130516_205003



Personally I am extremely excited and humbled to be a part of this team. We have already begun forging lasting friendships-bonding over local ice cream-and will continue to grow as a family of scholars. That’s it for now! Look forward to more posts and more fun as the season continues.


……Oh, and did I mention we are loving the local food??


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Reports from the Field (Week Three – 2012)

Reports from the Field
Northern Jordan Project 2012 Season
The Upper Wadi Shellaleh survey – al-Shajrah and Kharjah villages

Week Three (June 3 – 8 )


The exhausted but happy feeling of accomplishment …..


On this, the students’ last day in Jordan, most of the team members are taking leave of new friends and doing last minute shopping for many of the loved ones reading this blog. As for me, I sit quietly at “home” in Irbid, report-writing and reflecting on what has arguably been the best field season to date for the Northern Jordan Project.

It was short field week, but an intense work week “at camp”, as we registered thousands of artifacts and completed reports. In the three days we were in the field, we completed the sample coverage of the lands of Kharjah and identified and documented two new sites. One day we were joined by a member of the Jerash team, who is doing research on ancient water systems. We used the opportunity to reexamine with him our storage and transport facilities, with an eye to alterations that may reflect shifts from imperially organized systems to localized ones. It was a good week for classical-era cemeteries and ancient watch towers; a poorer one for anything Islamic. The results of this week’s fieldwork provided further evidence for a major change in settlement in the Middle Islamic (namely Mamluk) period. Making sense of the reasons for the move to the eastern highlands in this period will be a focus of research this next year.

Wednesday was devoted to research-support activities. Some students worked on inventories, photos and drawings, while others visited museums in Irbid with comparative ceramic collections, in an effort to find good parallels for some of the pottery we picked up on survey. I spent the day in an archive, reading through Ottoman-era land registers relevant to our study area. Prof. Muhammad Shunnaq, the project Co-Director for Ethnography, gave the evening lecture on ethnographic methods and the promise and limits of community memory for researching modern history.

Thursday was tour day: visits to two of Jordan’s “desert castles”, Qusayr Amra and Mshatta.

We feel good about what we accomplished this season. As a group we processed, registered, and “read” over 7000 pottery sherds and dozens of lithics and ground stone objects; discovered two previously undocumented archaeological sites; successfully piloted new mapping initiatives with innovative technologies; and witnessed the culmination of efforts to integrate environmental and archaeological/historical methods in studying the history of land use and settlement in the later historical periods.

Archaeological research doesn’t end with the close of a field season. There is no “science” without post-season analysis and dissemination of results. The next two years will be devoted to publication – a full monograph on the last decade’s work of the Northern Jordan Project – supported by the implementation of our new multi-media database (which will be accessible on-line) and forthcoming lab results by our soil and plant scientists. Our students will be actively involved in these efforts, as they will continue to work in the “lab” at home as part of their academic programs. The fieldwork is only the beginning!

Report submitted by Prof. Bethany J. Walker,
Project Director
Department of History
Missouri State University

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Culture Corner (Week Two – 2012)

Week two of the NJP based in Irbid, Jordan, found our students exploring dusty caves, wandering through the ancient ruins of Jerash and the Amman Citadel, and enjoying simple pleasures such as stopping for strong Arabic coffee along the roadside.

The students have shared a variety of experiences this week.  Some were invited into the homes of local residents for sumptuous meals. Plates were piled high with meat and rice as a healthy dose of sweet-sour-ish yogurt was liberally poured over the mountain of food.  Our students bravely submitted to being dutiful guests and ate as much as they possibly could!  Others sampled local cuisine at restaurants and roadside felafel stands.  One popular felafel stand is located directly across the street from the university housing.  On any given day, after a long, hot morning surveying fields, hiking through rock quarries, and crawling on stomachs through rock-cut tomb filled caves, you can find a small knot of students gathered around the stand munching felafel wraps stuffed with piping hot fresh falafels and French fries.  A cold Fanta or Pepsi is required to wash down this satisfying lunch.

As the students wrap up the second week and look to the third and last week of the program here in Irbid, they all look forward to interacting more with the locals and getting as much field experience as they can.  There will be a lot to do this upcoming week and the students have their days fully packed and planned with activities.  Their thoughts may start to turn to returning home but are mixed with the desire to soak up as much of the lifestyle and culture here in Jordan as they can.


Kunti D. Bentley.

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Reports from the Field (Week Two – 2012)

Reports from the Field

Northern Jordan Project 2012 Season
The Upper Wadi Shellaleh survey – al-Shajrah and Kharjah villages

Week Two (May 26-June 2)


This week we completed the survey of the village of al-Shajrah and began fieldwork at Kharjah. With many fields unavailable to us (inaccessible because they were cropped in grains and vegetables or in terrain too rough to explore), we chose to survey fallow fields, olive groves (where we cannot harm the crops by hiking and where deep plowing brings more artifacts to the surface), and rocky outcrops. Each represented a different land use pattern, and we were able to sample a cross-section of different topographical zones in the process. The quantity of ceramics, ground stone tools, and lithics was abnormally large for a traditional pedestrian survey: pottery washing and reading alone in the afternoon averaged two hours a day. Having covered the major natural and cultural zones of al-Shajrah and its hinterland by mid-week, we moved on to the village of Kharjah, which faces al-Shajrah on a hilltop across the Wadi Shellalah. Our survey here was initially guided by aerial photos, in an effort to investigate abnormalities on the land surface visible in the images.

The results of this week’s fieldwork were exciting, suggesting extensive settlement in the Mamluk and throughout the Ottoman periods. We are beginning to better understand the possible contours and intensity of settlement and land use of the Mamluk-era village, in particular. The Umayyad ceramic corpus was one of the richest I have encountered in Jordan, and provides evidence for a substantial village or perhaps town in the vicinity in the 8th century CE. As the results of the phytolith and pollen analysis become available, we should gain a clearer picture of land use, climate, and diet in these periods.

In recent days we experienced some of the most exhilarating hiking in Jordan – mouth-dropping views around each corner, brief glimpses of pastoral communities, and exploration and documentation of ancient building and even tombs. We hiked, crawled, and climbed – gaining a deeper appreciation for the richly diverse landscapes of the northern hill country in the process.

This week the ethnographic and environmental teams began their own fieldwork, pulling our students into their data collection efforts and training them in new scientific methods in a hands-on fashion. We rotated students among the various research groups, including those doing ethnographic interviews in the villages, documentation of historical buildings in the study area, and soil sampling and studies of soil profiles in the countryside. The students on different days hiked in the mountains and groves and collected pottery and other surface finds, shared conversation with and the hospitality of village families during interviews about the history of their communities and land use, drew floor plans of Ottoman-era houses and mosques and shrines, and investigated different soil zones in an effort to better understand that landscape formation processes that ultimately defined the parameters of settlement.

Appropriately, this week’s lectures centered on the topic of plants. Monday Ms. Sofia Laparidou of University College, the project’s phytolith specialist, spoke on the potential of this kind of analysis for an environmental project such as ours and what it can tell us about changes in settlement and land use in the later Islamic periods. Prof. Peter Warnock of Missouri Valley College followed up on Wednesday evening with an introduction to paleoethnobotany, emphasizing the pollen analysis he does in northern Jordan and its potential for environmental reconstruction and studying cultural practice. Both lecturers spoke about sampling strategies, introducing students to the methods they would employ with them in the field that week.

Saturday’s tours focused on central Jordan: Amman Citadel (the Decapolis city of Philadelphia), Tall Hisban (with the Mamluk castle I have been excavating with Andrews University since 1998), Tall Jalul (and its “Islamic Village” excavations), the Madaba Church (with the famous Byzantine-era mosaic with its “map” of the Holy Land in the 6th century), and Mt. Nebo (for the view!). The tours of Hisban and Jalul were led by the excavators themselves. During the work week, we took excursions, as well, to the Roman theater in Bayt Ras and a late Ottoman shrine in ‘Al‘al. After work on day this week, our bus driver invited the team (all 25 of us that day!) to his home for refreshments!

With only three more field days remaining this season, followed by report-writing and packing, we have a busy week ahead of us. Our expectations for the coming week are high, and we look forward to the surprises it may bring!

Report submitted by Prof. Bethany J. Walker,
Project Director
Department of History
Missouri State University


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Culture Corner (Week one – 2012)

From breathtaking views of the Sea of Galilee and taking salty dips in the Dead Sea to sampling local foods and experiencing Bedoin hospitality, the students of the 2012 NJP have already had a variety of adventures…and it’s only the end of the first week!

Most of the students agree that one surprising aspect of visiting Jordan has been the hospitality extended to them. They hear “Welcome to Jordan” many times from the locals. More than once, a team working in the field has been invited into the home of local family to enjoy a mid-day break. One memorable meal came in the form of hot cardamon spiced coffee followed by sweet minty tea and a full spread of home made olives, hummus, yogurt dip, and delicious stuffed eggplant. Working in the field in the surrounding villages has its perks!  The locals there are genuinely curious, open, friendly and eager to open their homes share what they have with the students.  One student professed concern at working too close to a family’s back yard. Ali, a team member from a local village, replied, “If you get too close to the house, the only thing you are in danger of is being invited to dinner!”.  That is a risk most of the students don’t mind taking!

As everyone adjusts to a different time schedule (being on “Jordanian time” is a little different!), they all continue to be open to the possibilities that each new day holds.  As team member Sam Drier puts it, “Every day is totally different than the day before…in a good way!”.  All are looking forward to the rest of their time here to see what the coming days hold.


Kunti D. Bentley

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Reports From the Field (Week One, 2012 Season)

Reports from the Field
Northern Jordan Project 2012 Season
The Upper Wadi Shellaleh survey – al-Shajrah and Kharjah villages

Week One (May 20-June 26)


The Northern Jordan Project began as a modest one in 2003, with four students, one faculty member, and limited scope: to investigate the settlement and land use history of the hill country and plateaus of the region north of Irbid. Our primary interest was to better understand the pressures on village life in the Late Islamic period and to compare settlement history here with other regions in Jordan and beyond. Nearly a decade later, this modest project has blossomed into a large international and multi-disciplinary one, with a comprehensive component of environmental scientists, an ambitious program of archival research, and a complement of ethnographic research. Our project includes students and faculty from the U.S., Jordan, Germany, and the United Kingdom, and this season we have a team of thirty archaeologists (and archaeologists-in-training!), supporting specialists, and technicians.

This is our fourth season in the field, with three previous seasons of survey and excavation. This year we are surveying the upper stretch of the Wadi Shellaleh – the “Grand Canyon” of northern Jordan – in the region framed by the villages of al-Shajrah and Kharjah, as well as these villages themselves and their agricultural and pastoral hinterlands.  This territory represents a transitional zone between the deeply dissected northern highlands and the gently rolling plateau of the southern Hawran further east. They also geographically connect fieldwork we have previously done in the villages of Hubras and al-Tura, and will complete a picture for us of the diverse environmental and topographical regions of the North. The land covered this year has some of the most striking vistas in all of Jordan, with beautiful mountains, deep gorges, and a landscape full of color and diversity.

This summer, moreover, we continue to develop new technologies. Having done data entry on smart phones used in 2010, we are now doing field entry on Samsung tablets. We are further developing a multi-media database to combine archaeological field data, artifact analysis, ethnographic interviews, and architectural analysis into an integrated format. It “goes live” this season.

We have completed the first of three weeks of survey. This week was devoted to a pedestrian survey and mapping of al-Shajrah, guided in part by aerial photos and aimed at identifying medieval settlements and ancient fields. The twenty students were divided into two teams, which walked two very different land use zones of the village. The “northern” team surveyed the rocky lands facing Wadi Shellaleh. The previously excavated, and extensive, Byzantine cemetery known as Khirbat Majid served as a reference point for this team, which carefully recorded groves, fallow fields, and rock-cut features related to agriculture, food processing, construction, and burial. The “southern” team surveyed the village lands further east, in order to complete a transect with the lands of al-Tura surveyed in 2010. The survey results for the two teams were notably different, suggesting different patterns and chronologies of land use and village history.

Every day, in the later afternoon, the group processed artifacts, washed pottery, and “read” pottery for dating purposes. Our afternoon labs have lasted a couple of hours each day. The survey area has produced an abnormally large quantity of pottery and excellent evidence for settlement and trade in the Mamluk (1260-1516 C.E.) and Ottoman (1516-1918 C.E.) periods. We are gaining more information each day about the little known Ottoman pottery of Jordan, as well as tracing the regional and international networks in which local villages participated during the centuries of Mamluk control.

In the meantime, our colleagues in environmental science and cultural anthropology have been conducting parallel projects, including our students and training them in new scientific methods as possible. Thursday Prof. Bernhard Lucke led a field practicum in geological processes and soil genesis with the entire group.

Monday and Wednesday evenings we have academic lectures, given by project staff. I opened the field school with an introduction to the theory and methods of the project and its research objectives, and Wednesday Prof. Lucke of Erlangen University spoke about landscape change and the archaeological record.

Saturday is “tour day”. This week we visited the Decapolis cities of northern Jordan – Umm al-Jimal, Jerash, and Umm Qeis – and were given personal tours by the excavators themselves.

On a final note, this is our first “family friendly” season, which includes children who are sharing in the cultural experience with their parents.

It was a very good start to what promises to be a productive season!

Report submitted by Prof. Bethany J. Walker,
Project Director
Department of History
Missouri State University

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Jordan Update 3

Reports from the Field
Northern Jordan Project 2010 Season
The al-Turra survey (June 15-28)

Following the Abraham Path tour, which took the students and staff hiking in the Ajlun hills and doing valuable work in local villages, half of our MSU team returned home to the States. The other half remained in Jordan, packing their bags and relocating to Irbid, which is the second largest city in the country and the administrative center of the North.

The Northern Jordan Project (NJP) returned to the field June 15-28, 2010 for a two-week multi-disciplinary survey in the village of al-Turra. The project was launched in 2003 with the objective of better understanding the settlement fluctuations of the Middle and Late Islamic periods in the well-watered region between Irbid and the Yarmouk River. Each season a different village has been the focus of fieldwork, which is combined with archival, ethnographic, architectural, and environmental analysis. Since its inception the Project has done surveys in Malka (2003), Hubras (2003), Saham (2006), and now al-Turra (2010), as well as excavation in Hubras (2006). The team this season consisted of 20 faculty, students, and staff from Missouri State and Yarmouk Universities, as well as two soil scientists from Erlangen University in Germany and University College in London. We were pleased to have our entire environmental team in the field with us this summer! Our team was truly international and multi-disciplinary, with specialists from the environmental sciences, ethnography, history, and geography, in addition to archaeology. The students learned important skills in surveying, mapping, and photography in the process. They also were shown considerable kindness and hospitality by the residents of the village, who brought coffee and tea and invited many of them into their homes for breaks during the work day.

The village of al-Turra is located eight kilometers north of Ramtha, its northern and north-eastern fields adjacent to the Syrian border. Traditionally part of an important grain-producing region of the southern Hawran, the gently rolling hills of al-Turra gained economic and military importance in the Mamluk period, its lands supporting religious institutions in Damascus and a tower built there as part of a system of communications on the Mamluks’ eastern frontier. Its grain fields continued to be an important source of revenue for the Ottoman state, and modern land registration began in the 1920s.

Four different walking teams did simultaneous walking surveys and mapping of the village’s western and eastern fields (and collection of surface pottery, lithics, and glass); investigations and mapping of ancient field, water, and potential road systems; architectural study of the oldest buildings in the village; and ethnographic work in the village related to land use and movements of people. In conjunction with this, specialists from the United States, Germany, and Britain did research on historical documents related to the village’s history and land use, soil and agricultural analysis, and lithics study, in an effort to isolate the factors that impact settlement and land use in the later historical periods. In terms of methods, this was the first time the NJP did a paperless survey, doing all data collection, documentation, and mapping electronically. This may be the first time this has been done in Jordan! The survey in 2010 provided evidence of occupation in the Late Byzantine, Umayyad, Abbasid, Mamluk, and Ottoman periods until today, with the most intensive settlement in the Umayyad and Late Ottoman periods.

The specific goals of this summer’s brief season were to document the settlement history of the village, begin to map ways the physical village changed over time, describe land use historically, document ancient field and water and transport systems, investigate locations in the village that could possibly be the Mamluk tower and Ottoman-era garrisons described in written sources and by local residents, and identify potential locations for future excavation. All goals were met, in part or in full. The most important discoveries of the season were the identification and systematic mapping of potential road and water systems that connected the village with a much larger region in the Roman through Late Ottoman periods; documentation of settlement here in the 18th and early 19th centuries (a period when many other villages are either abandoned or in decline); and recovery of extensive ceramic imports from Italy, Turkey, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria from the Renaissance and Ottoman eras. In the final days of the survey we identified ancient water and possible road systems that may have been connected in antiquity to a vast network of qanats and communications routes extending west to Abila and north through the Hawran.

A four-week excavation season with soil analysis is planned in the village in 2010, potentially to further investigate transport and water systems, in order to clarify the relationships of al-Turra with the imperial states of the medieval and post-medieval periods and with other villages in northern Jordan and the greater Hawran.

Although our field season with the NJP was brief this season, we did pack in four academic lectures by project staff and two days of tours. The lectures were designed to introduce students to the multi-disciplinary structure of the project and describe how the various components of the four survey teams worked together. They included presentations by Ms. Sophia Laparidou (University of College London, UK) on phytolith analysis; Prof. David Byers (Missouri State) on faunal research from New World contexts; Prof. Bernhard Lucke (University of Erlangen, Germany) on soil genesis and erosion studies; and Prof. Mohammed Shunnaq (Yarmouk University) on ethnography, site development, and community outreach. The weekend tours included visits to the Roman and Decapolis cities at Umm Qeis (Gadara) and Umm al-Jimal (famous for its white camels!) and so-called Early Islamic “desert castles” at Qasr Kharana, Qusayr ‘Amra, and Qasr Azraq. When the projects close on Monday, team members will have the chance to travel to places of their personal interest before returning home after a full six weeks in Jordan.

On two final notes, it actually rained this morning – a very strange summer, indeed! We should add, too, that our project was in the local news last week. We’ll add the headline to this blog site shortly.

Report submitted by Prof. Bethany J. Walker,
Project Director
Department of History
Missouri State University

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Jordan Update 2

Reports from the Field
Tall Hisban 2010 Season
Week Two (Saturday, May 29, 2010)

The unseasonably cooler weather, and cloudy skies, continued this week, making for very pleasant working conditions. While in the field we were visited by two tour groups from Japan and the Czech Republic and numerous local visitors. Our season’s research objectives moved forward in all four fields, with (welcome) surprises in each.

1. Field Q – The two excavation squares here began to yield important clues about the history of construction at the entrance to the citadel. In one unit (Q.5), a series of medieval walls were uncovered above the citadel steps that appear to belong to two structures of different periods. Their relationship to the by now well-known Mamluk storeroom and southwest corner tower are being clarified. In a smaller unit (Q.8), we identified what may be the single remaining stratigraphic connection between the medieval bathhouse and Mamluk storeroom, with a possibility of confirming the hammam’s construction date.

Our staff continued research on the 1970s excavations at the ACOR library in order to relate the structures uncovered this week to those excavated 40 years ago.

2. Field M – Three excavation units in this field on the northern slope of the tell brought into more focus the pre-medieval periods of occupation of the tell. Removal of the balk between M.4 and M.5 (units excavated in previous seasons) made visible a series of walls possibly connected to either a Roman water harvesting system or an industrial-size press. Work in a new unit (M.8), the largest we are excavating this season, uncovered the walls of a large building extending down the slope of the tell. (The date and function of this structure remain to be determined.) The “cave operation” in M.3 was completed this week, with the mapping and limited excavation of probes in several chambers and a cistern provided some evidence for Byzantine-era construction of walls and cisterns and reuse of the space as the medieval “town dump”.

As this field borders a modern household, we were visited frequently by members of that family, with students eventually invited in for tea.

3. Field G – Several probes in two cisterns and a passageway in this, the largest of the cave complexes at Hisban, provided provocative evidence for the formation of its systems of chambers, cisterns, built structures, and passageways. A similar sequence of Byzantine construction and medieval reuse, as in Field M, was suggested by pottery reading this week. While bedrock was reached in two units, excavation will continue in the smaller of the two cisterns, in which “clean” deposits seemed to have been reached. A new probe was also opened in mid-week in a room bordered by built arches.

4. Nabulsi qasr – This field is unique, as it is located off-site in the modern village of Hisban. Working in a modern settlement presents many challenges, requiring adaptation, creativity, and, frequently, a sense of humor! This week a village wedding in the courtyard of the qasr, which lasted the full week, forced us to relocate sifts, restring squares some mornings, and restrict our field operations until the wedding tent came down. We worked in two units inside the stable this week, in order to investigate a building of some antiquity (possibly a fort) upon which was constructed the modern stable (built right after WWII, according to local informants). Although there was a considerable amount of modern fill to remove, we appear to be coming to stratified contexts that are meaningful for understanding the earlier occupational history of this space. What we understand of these interesting village buildings at this point is that in the mid-20th century a stable was built on top of a building long in ruins, which contained a massive water facility. The cistern was then reused for grain storage. Excavation proceeded with ethnographic work in the village.

The team spends the late afternoons washing and “reading” pottery and processing artifacts each work day. I am fortunate that I am joined each afternoon at the pottery table by Micaela Sinibaldi, a Crusader ceramics specialist at Cardiff University. She has identified some wares that may be late Crusader in date, and together we have begun to piece together periods of occupational history (particularly the Crusader, Ayyubid, and Ottoman) that have been poorly understood at the site. The identification of possible Aegean and Egyptian imports for the medieval periods suggests a much wider range of contacts outside of Greater Syria than was known before.

The academic program this week focused on the “light archaeology” of the Italian schools, a technique of non-intrusive archaeology through systematic study of masonry techniques. The complicated architectural sequences of the summit of the tell, with its centuries of reuse, rebullding, and reconstruction, makes the site an ideal candidate for this technique of archaeologically adapted architectural analysis. Dr. Michele Nucciotti of the University of Florence’s Shobak mission, and a specialist in “light archaeology”, spent the week with us in the field documenting the ancient and medieval structures at the site through photography, detailed measurements, Harris matrices of masonry typology, and computerized rendering. His lecture and field demonstrations introduced the students (and staff) to this very important analytical technique. The University of Florence will be working closely with the Tall Hisban project in the future to unravel the complicated architectural (and occupational) history of the summit.

The work week ended Friday with a visit to an eco-friendly house in Amman, which may well be the vision for future sustainable development in Jordanian tourism. This house is constructed with light and recycled materials and covered with adobe and is an alternative to the concrete constructions that characterize most local building projects.

This Sunday we are touring several sites of archaeological and environmental interest in northern and central Jordan, including the Decapolis city of Jerash, the medieval castle of Ajlun, the baptismal site at Bethany-on-the-Jordan, and the Dead Sea.

Report submitted by Prof. Bethany J. Walker
Department of History
Missouri State University

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