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,
Department of History
Missouri State University