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.

Dr. Smith has explained to me that our goal here is twofold. First is to expose the architecture for documentation. Second is to excavate to the floor of the cistern in order to find its depth. We know the lateral dimensions of the structure because the outline of it is in plain sight on the surface. If we can determine its depth, then we can estimate the volume of water which it was capable of holding. Through a comparison of other sources (other archaeological excavations and literature, such as Strabo), it may even be possible to determine the estimated size of the caravans during the height of the caravanserai’s operations.

9-1After laying out our square (which includes a set of steps and a water channel – both of which lead into the cistern) we began taking levels and measurements. Dr. Smith took pre-excavation photos for his records, and then we began clearing the first layers of soil.

The specific point that we will be excavating has already been disturbed by – we can presume – looters. There is a pit on the southwest side of the square which is about a meter deep. Therefore, our goal for today was to clear away the soil around it so that we reach the level of that pit. We did not bother sifting or looking for material finds for several reasons. First, it is not the normal practice in the archaeology of this region to look for evidence in the top layer because this area sits in a subduction zone and is prone to earthquakes. These earthquakes virtually liquefy the top soil and mix any artifacts around, making them useless as indicators for stratigraphic dating. Second, as mentioned above, this particular site has been disturbed. Much of what we cleared away today was the backfill from the pit that was dug in the cistern. Once we bring the rest of the square down to the level of the pit bottom, we can then begin to sift and cautiously make our way to the cistern floor.

The make-up of the team has also changed from what was originally discussed. The new team now consists of Dr. Smith as my advisor, Greg, Petra, and me. Greg and Petra were chosen to accompany me on this excavation because, like me, they have demonstrated a certain resilience to everything this environment has thrown at them. Incidentally, the three of us were also part of the group who volunteered to come out and join in on the survey of the site on our first day in Aqaba.

Muhammad – our antiquities rep. – is also on hand to deal with any questions from the Jordanian military, since we are pretty close to the Israeli border. The rest of the Bir Madhkur excavation team have come to call this new site the “minefield square.” Rumors are going around that, although it is purported that this former demilitarized zone has been cleared of landmines, there’s still a risk that a few of them are still in place. I’m more worried about hassles from the Jordanian military than I am about landmines. We’re not wandering away from the actual site itself, and if there were mines on the route that our truck takes, then we would have blown up a few days ago.

At least . . . that’s what I’m telling myself.

Until next time,

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