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