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