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Semper Gumby – Always Flexible

Saturday, 28 June, 2009

Last Saturday was moving day. Our team left Amman with all of our possessions and made our way to our new home in Al Raisha. Most of the volunteers for this season showed up at ACOR the evening before the move. It was nice to finally meet some of the people with whom I would be sharing a living space for the next month.

The first to arrive at ACOR was Andrea Kay. She is 27 years old and has an advanced degree in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). She flew in the night before from Seattle, but jet-lag had not yet set-in.

Andrea Kay

Andrea Kay

Daniel Gerber

Daniel Gerber

Next to arrive were Daniel Gerber and Kelly Wilhelm. Daniel works in the IT field, is 36 years old, and lives in Melbourne, Australia. He had saved up money and vacation time for several years and has been travelling around the world for the last four and a half months. Kelly, on the other-hand, is 23 years old and from Iowa. He holds a BS degree in Geology and Archaeology. He has also been on several archaeological expeditions—his most recent in Mongolia and geological surveys in Turkey.

Kelly Wilhelm

Kelly Wilhelm

Kelly and Daniel had met-up a few days before this expedition began and had travelled together to the Dead Sea.

Coincidentally, after Daniel and Kelly arrived to make their introductions, “Momma” Jen Ramsay, Bill Caccese and Miranda Angus arrived at ACOR for a final visit before heading back to the field on their expedition this year in Petra. It was odd—to say the least—to have past members of the Bir Madhkur Project sitting on one side of the ACOR veranda, while current, new members sat together on the other side. Andrew arrived from a supply-run soon after, at which point he began to talk and answer questions about this year’s project to the new members of our team. Afterward, Andrea, Daniel, Kelly, and I went for dinner and an argilla (it is a water-pipe, much like a hookah) and got to know one another.

The following morning we all met-up at ACOR for the big move. Our final volunteer for the season arrived at ACOR sometime late in the morning. Maria Carmen Zorita Arratibel, who goes by Mentxu (pronounced Menchu) arrived in Amman at 1:50 am from Spain. She is Basque, is 39 years old, and works in a small advertizing company that she started with a long-time friend of hers from college. She will earn a degree in history with a focus on ancient religions.

Mentxu Zorita Arratibel

Mentxu Zorita Arratibel

After loading all of our possessions onto trucks, we made our way to the town of Madaba, where we picked up our bedding—thick foam mattresses and pillows. We then wound our way down to the Dead Sea Highway and proceeded toward Al Raisha. Al Raisha is a small town approximately a half hour south of Bir Madhkur. It was a long, hot journey through the desert (approx. four hours), but we arrived with plenty of daylight to move our equipment and supplies into the building that the Jordan Valley Authority (JVA) had set aside for us.

Unfortunately, the building was not ready for us to move into when we arrived. Water and electricity would not be ready until the following day. Luckily, Andrew had two apartments reserved at the Showkini Center (our living quarters last season) in Aqaba. So, after moving our equipment into the building, we again set out on the road, this time for Aqaba, where we would spend the evening.

The next morning, after extending our visas, we returned to Al Raisha and began the tedious process of setting-up a suitable living space. The kitchen was organized, the bathroom was cleaned and mopped, and our bedrooms were swept clean.

Setting up the kitchen

Setting up the kitchen

The tasks were made infinitely easier with the air-conditioners running. Yes, th

Scrubbing the Showers

Scrubbing the Showers

e JVA had come through with their promise and our home for the next month was made livable. I share a room with Kelly.

My room

My room

Andrew has his own room, and Daniel shares a room with Naif (a Bedouin we hired from ACOR, who specializes in archaeological restoration)

Naif at work on the farmhouse

Naif at work on the farmhouse

, while the girls all share a single room.

In the afternoon we hopped back into the trucks and went out to Bir Madhkur for the first time this year. The archaeological site itself has not changed much in the last year and is in, overall, good condition. One section of wall that was excavated on the north side of the fort had collapsed, however. And the farm house where “Momma” Jen excavated was covered with goats, as a Bedouin family had pitched their summer camp in the immediate vicinity. Most striking of all was what the Hashemite Fund had done to develop the little cottages located next to the fort. All of them sported a new coat of pink plaster and the interiors had been completely redone. There was still much work left to be done regarding electricity and water, but it would not surprise me to return next year to find a whole slew of tourists living comfortably in them.

The rest of the week was a long difficult one, as we began the dual process of surveying and becoming acclimatized to this brutal environment. On Monday we began surveying the alluvial fan to the northwest of the fort. It was slow going, as it seemed that we were stumbling across Bedouin graves every ten paces—all of which had to be documented on site forms. By noon the combination of terrain (black volcanic rock heated by the sun), heat and no wind had sapped our initial excitement for being in the field. We continued on for another hour and a half before calling it a day.

Walking the line

Walking the line

One of the quirks about doing archaeology in Jordan is that one has to be flexible in order to make for a successful dig season. Before we began work here, we had hoped to hire back our cook from last season, Joy. Joy, however, has returned to her home in the Philippines, and with all of the other expeditions happening this summer, reliable, trustworthy cooks are nearly impossible to find. That being the case, Andrew decided that we would be better-off cooking for ourselves. But it was not until we had set up our home that we discovered that nobody on the team other than me knows how to cook. Andrew was hesitant to ask me to be the designated cook, but I could see that he was in somewhat of a desperate state and that he really did not look forward to hiring a local Bedouin to cook gruel for us on a daily basis. So, I volunteered to run the kitchen. Basically, I rotate the other team members into the kitchen to cook on a daily basis. They do all of the prep-work and we share the cooking of the meals. I cook at home regularly, so I show the other team members what to do. So far it has worked out alright, though it can be pretty exhausting after having spent a whole day in the field.

On our second field day Andrew tasked Daniel and I with getting our refrigerator fixed. He arranged for us to meet with our Department of Antiquities (DOA) rep., Mohammad in the town of Saffi, which is approximately an hour north of Al Raisha. When we arrived we had a little trouble connecting with Mohammad, it being a new town to us. But after finding our bearings we were able to meet with him, at which point he took us to a repairman that he trusted to drop off our refrigerator. He then took us back up to his office, where we enjoyed some chai and he provided us with some lunch.

Mohammad put out a nice spread for us. Lunch consisted of pickled eggplant, humus, olives, cheese, and pita. I felt bad for the briefest of moments as I thought about the rest of our team huddled under a scrubby little tree in the middle of the hot desert, while we enjoyed this wonderful lunch in a nice, cool, air-conditioned room in Saffi. I quickly got over that feeling, however, and accepted this treat with relish.

After two hours our refrigerator was finished, so we paid the repairman, thanked Mohammad and made our way back to Al Raisha to drop the refrigerator off. Our next task was to drive to Petra to pick up (ironically) Petra Vaiglova, who was finishing up an excavation there. This took longer than we expected, as we took a wrong turn and were lost for a bit. Finally, we found our way to the right road and made our way up into the treacherous hills toward Petra. This is no exaggeration—the roads to Petra from Wadi Araba are some of the most frightening roads I have ever driven. The road is narrow, is two-way, and you are never certain what is waiting for you every time you go over a rise (i.e. a bus or a speeding car). To top it off, there are no guard rails and some very long drops. We made it safely and without incident, however, and after visiting for a bit with Bill, Miranda, and “Momma” Jen, who had been working with Petra on the project, we made our way back down the hill to home.

Petra Vaiglova (foreground), Mentxu (background)

Petra Vaiglova (foreground), Mentxu (background)

We surveyed for the rest of the week. The way it works is that in open spaces we spread out in a horizontal line, approximately 20 meters apart and walk till someone finds something—whether it is a pottery-sherd scatter, a grave, or the remnants of a possible structure. At that point the person who found it calls out and the team stops, while details of the site are entered on a site-sheet. Friday was a particularly fortuitous day. We were working toward the hills southeast of the fort on that day. Andrea told me that she had seen what looked like a structure on one of the satellite maps and asked me to go look over a small hilltop to see if we could find it. Sure enough, there was an ancient well there. A little further-on up the trail we found what appeared to be a Roman toll station, which bisected a trail that we think is part of a network that leads into Petra. We found a second one in the hills above this at the head of another trail, as well.

Remnants of Roman tower

Remnants of Roman tower

Finally, deeper into the hills, the team came across what they described as the remnants a sizable village. I did not see this village myself, as Andrew had tasked Daniel and me with returning to the trucks and meeting the team on the other side of the hills in order to negate having to hike the longer distances back.

Today I worked with Fawaz Ishakat, our architectural surveyor (he arrived the evening before) on getting points marked on one of the structures that we excavated last year, while the rest of the team returned to the hills with Andrew. It was particularly grueling that day, since there was not wind, it was hot, and the work is extremely tedious. Basically, after setting up a transmitter to get a fixed point, Fawaz goes from stone to stone on the structure and marks each corner or feature of it into a computer. He then reads it off to me and I mark it down in a book. We count them off and classify them in order to keep track of them. As the temperature rose, the standard in humor dropped.

Fawaz Ishakat setting up our fixed point

Fawaz Ishakat setting up our fixed point

When we reached point a count of 666 I remarked to Fawaz that we were in trouble now, since that was the “Number of the Beast.” He laughed and then shot back, asking what the number 69 meant. I told him that was different. That was the number of the “Beast with two backs.” Someone in the past told me that this phrase was actually used by William Shatner, playing Captain Kirk in Star Trek, but I never bothered to check. In any case, we both had a good laugh and continued on working.

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All the King’s Men

[Note to readers: Sorry it has taken me so long to post these. This last week and a half have been extremely busy and we do not have internet in the town in which we are staying. As things settle down, I will try to post as often as possible, but this is mostly dependant on where I end up on the weekends.]

WednEarly Days of BMP-09 102esday, June 17, 2009

Andrew arrived last night at around 7 pm (local time). He did not sleep on the plane-ride over, so he looked exhausted. I went with him to exchange some money (he had rented a car), but all of the money exchangers had already closed for the day. So, we Read the rest of this entry »

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Prelude: A Warm Return

mountains-6

I arrived in Jordan at around 11 pm last night. The last two days are a blur to me due to changing time-zones and chaotic sleep patterns that go hand-in-hand with international travel.

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The End

11-1My last week in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has been an extremely busy one. Our excavation ended on Saturday, July 19th. Most of my day was taken up with helping out with cleaning up everyone’s excavation areas for final photographs. This involved mostly brush work. It was time consuming and we wound up leaving the field a few hours later than we normally would have.

The following day was supposed to be the first day of our weekend (our schedule called for Sundays and Mondays off), but a few of us volunteered to return to the dig site in order to backfill some of the more sensitive areas. The bath house complex in particular required some attention because it contained plaster floors that were in very poor condition. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Way It Is

10-2Today was our last day of excavation, but the excavation of my cistern at the caravanserai at Um Guntar ended two days ago, on Thursday – July 17th.

We were on our third day of excavating the site. We had worked hard the previous two days – the terrain is strewn with dark rocks which soak up the intense sun and we were lacking our normal breeze. Not that the breeze would have helped the person in the test square that much, since we had managed to dig down about a meter below ground level. To make matters worse, the soil we were digging through had the consistency of dried clay, which rendered our trowels useless and forced us to use hand picks to loosen the dirt. Still, we were all happy and still excited about the progress we were making. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mine…All Mine!

9-2This is our last week of excavation. July 19th will be our last day in the field, and then we have several days to take stock of our equipment and pack it off to Amman to be followed by ourselves on the 23rd. After that I’m on my own until the morning of the 30th, when I take a Royal Jordanian Air flight to New York, and then to Los Angeles. It will be a sad departure, since I don’t know whom I’ll ever see again out of this group.

All of this will come at the end of the week, but, for now, I have a very busy week to look forward to. We were finally able to open my new test square today. This new excavation is a 2.5 x 2 meter square in what looks to be a cistern that sits next to a caravanserai (a caravan way-station), which sits over the ancient spice route. To be honest, I don’t expect to find much in the way of material goods (a few coins if we’re lucky), but that is not the point of this excavation. Read the rest of this entry »

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