Dhiban Excavation and Development Project


Life and work from a tell site in Jordan

Ma’assalama Jordan!

I am in disbelief that today was the last day in the field, or I guess surprised at how natural and normal waking up at 4AM seems to me.  Skipping back six weeks we all received an email from Professor Porter the night before our first day on site, we were all warned that we would have to wake up early the next day, but early for me is an 8AM lecture.  When I opened the schedule enclosed in the email Professor Porter sent out, literally my jaw dropped.  4:30AM breakfast?! Are they crazy?! That idea along with second breakfast seemed ridiculous, but now the thought of not waking up to the call to prayer and not hearing the call for istraha (break) seems foreign.  I wouldn’t be suprised if tomorrow I freak out that I overslept for the field and start getting ready, only to realize that the season is done.  I guess it is a bittersweet ending, but in all honestly I think a six week extension would kill me (or I would trip and be attacked by wadi dogs).  These last six weeks were some of the hottest, hardest, and most interesting I have ever had.  I think it is pretty cool that in sometime, when the site is developed, I can look back and say I helped with that, and know that I held a fragment/shard/sherd of history in my hands.


Author carrying a guffa of dirt at Dhiban

As we wrapped up the last day in the field it was like any other day; goats and sheep roaming the wadi, shepard boys on donkeys, and brushes flying.  The only noticeable difference was the movement of dirt back into the squares we had so carefully cleaned and excavated the past weeks.  As I sat on a boulder tossing cobbles into my unit to backfill I started laughing at the ridiculous game another student and I were playing, backfill bedrock rock basketball (basically trying to toss the cobbles in the section of the wall we knocked down).  As I was laughing, semi delusional from the heat, at the goofiness I realized I will really miss this work.  As the 12:30 call to prayer stated I was finished, I made it though with all the swass (sweaty butt), swack (sweaty back), and sweat t-shirt contests, it is over and I really cannot wrap my head around it.  I will miss chaotic Jordan.

Mackenzie Constantinou,  UC Berkeley

Author enjoying a climb to the top of Karak Castle

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Thankfully Eating Dirt

I’ve eaten a lot of dirt in my day–not intentionally that is, until arriving in the Middle East, Jordan to be exact, and working with the Dhiban Excavation and Development Project. After a day of heavy fraction in the lab, sifting and separating out bits of ceramic, pottery, bone and others from rocks, I’ve probably tasted around thirty samples, less than one half of which were actually non-rocks. As we learned the first week, pottery and bone stick to your tongue, while rocks do not. However, tasting ancient rocks was only one of the many new experiences my teammates and I had upon arriving in Madaba early last week. Along with the normal sounds of our alarm clocks at 4:00 a.m., comes a slightly fuzzy, but very audible Call to Prayer, the (self explanatory) Muslim call that begins with “Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest” that is broadcasted through loudspeakers atop mosques. Often, it is live and often it is recorded, but always at the same time, five times a day.  In a way, the Call to Prayer marks significant times in my teammate’s and my work schedule. Along with in the morning, it also greets us at the end of our work day at the excavation site in Dhiban, at 12:30 noon. That’s when we pack up our trowels, wheelbarrows, any artifacts collected from the day, and walk our extremely dirty selves down the tell and to our yellow bus. One may think that noon is an early time to “finish”, (I use quotes because an archaeology site often takes lifetimes until it is actually “finished”) but we have already put in a good seven hours of work by lunchtime. And while inhaling so much dirt that mud is the result of blowing your nose (the average person ingests around 3 pounds of dirt annually, as Professor Porter remarked one morning) may not seem entirely appealing, there is an enormous amount of satisfaction in finding your first piece of bone, or ceramic. And your second…and your third.

While we are all at different levels of archaeological experience, I feel very safe speaking on behalf of my team members that holding a little piece of history in our hands is pretty darn cool. What is even cooler than unearthing an ancient artifact, however, is being able to understand the environment around it, and its relation to the square excavated. Being able to work in the Middle East, an area so significant for ancient civilizations and biblical history, is any History major’s dream. There comes a newfound appreciation for history upon getting dirt evidence of the past under your nails (and on your face, arms and basically everywhere else). And, fortunately, that is exactly what we are doing, day in and day out for our next month. In Arabic, when asked “How are you doing?”, or  kayfa hal, a polite response is Al hamdulillah, which basically translates to “We are thankful to Allah” . And as my team members and I get ready for bed, at our latest suggested bedtime, 9:00 p.m., we all have quite a bit to be thankful for.

Jenny Pierson, UC Berkeley

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From the Valley to Dhiban

From team member, Monica, reflecting on the first weeks of the project:

Coming from a predominately Mexican-American neighborhood, I never expected to find myself travelling across the world to Jordan. Having lost a member of my family to the current war, I never even really saw myself ever stepping foot on the Middle East. I had only been to Mexico and thought I could never afford to make a trip such as this one. I am so happy that all changed. I feel truly blessed to find myself in Jordan.

My family had mixed thoughts of me applying to Summer Abroad programs, especially when I mentioned the location. Recently, my father has been out of employment, so I knew that I had to figure out how to pay for everything. It is one of my dreams to become an archaeologist. Few archaeological field schools accept financial aid, and even fewer are directly for Berkeley credit. When I stumbled on a flyer to the Dhiban Archaeological Field School through Berkeley’s Summer Abroad Program, my heart almost stopped because I knew it was a field school that I could be eligible to attend. I was a little worried about whether I would be accepted or not, because of my rocky experiences at Cal and since my passport was due to expire. Luckily Dr. Porter and the Summer Abroad coordinator, Jessica, were very patient and kind in helping me in expediting paperwork to quickly obtain my passport. I can never thank you all enough for helping me part of this amazing program. Thank you.

No one in my family has ever studied abroad nor has ever attempted to receive a degree past the undergraduate level. Although I have much to catch up on, I will gain valuable experience from this project. I am truly blessed to have this opportunity. Even getting here was a learning experience…Now I know that I should never get the window seat on plane rides longer than an hour—that was interesting. Now I know I am capable of going off to far places by myself. Now I know that many opportunities await as long as I go out and look for them. No fear.

The first and second week have just come and gone. I have felt at home since the plane landed. Family values and the community are so similar to those found in Mexican tradition, so culture shock has yet to hit. I met one of my awesome roommates, Anna, at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. On my way to Mariam Hotel in Madaba, the streets and buildings overwhelmed me with a warm feeling of welcome. Upon getting to my room, I was warmly greeted by Aislinn, my other roommate, who shares my newfound obsession of learning how to wrap a hijab.

On site at Dhiban, I was worried my background of Colonial and Classical Archaeology would make me unprepared for what was to come at the field. Dr. Porter’s lectures make sure we have a good grasp on what we are excavating and I was surprised to see my backgroud in classical archaeology was not too far off. Having read about the process of archaeological work, it is hard to put into words how amazing it is to actually do it. Digging on Dr. Porter’s site has had its challenges, but there is never a time I cannot find myself learning and growing in heart and experience.

My peers all come from different backgrounds and bring an awesome vibe to the program. I can’t wait to get to know everyone a bit better. At the moment, I know I have already made life-long friends. I welcome every other experience that the program shall bring.

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Welcome to Dhiban, 2012!

Well, we may be half-way through the 2012 field season, but this year’s team has lots to say about life in Jordan and on the dig. Look for updates soon!

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Dhiban 2012 Field School

The Dhiban Project is now enrolling participants in their summer field school.  The field school dates are June 29 until August 10, 2012.  If you are interested in participating, see below:

Students affiliated with the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM), click here!

All other applicants will apply through Berkeley Summer Sessions after February 1, 2012.  Click here for more information!

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Follow the Dhiban Project on Twitter

Follow upcoming Dhiban project events and news on Twitter: @DhibanProject (#DEDP).

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New Dhiban Website!

Check out http://www.dhiban.org/ for updates regarding the Dhiban Excavation and Development Project.

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Dhiban, the Photo Show

One of my goals this season was to hold a photo show, highlighting photos from work on the tall and in the community to show some of the people of Dhiban what we were doing.  We rarely get visits from local folks so we thought it’d behoove us to bring some of the tall to them.  I intended to do something similar last year, but ran out of time.  It was a priority for the 2010 season.

After a couple of meetings with the mayor, he allowed us to use the Dhiban town hall, a building in the middle of the town that is used for community functions.  We had the photos developed in Madaba, and bought frames there as well.  Hanging them was rough as the town hall, like almost every other building in Dhiban, was made out of cinder blocks.  But after much preparation (including runs to buy sweets and tea) we held the show last Thursday.

Along with the photos on the wall we ran a slide show with a lot more of the images taken from the season.  This seemed to be the most popular part of the show, and people sat and watched until photos of themselves or of people they knew appeared on the screen, then cheered.

A lot of town dignitaries showed up, but not as many of the regular townsfolk.  It was disappointing in that respect, but a good first step.  I’ll have a lot more details in my dissertation, if you care to know!

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A Day in Dhiban


Saleh and I moved 123 qufaf today, 80 of them before breakfast. A quffa (pronounced goo-fah) is a bucket made out of an old tire–they’re great for hauling dirt around, cheap, and relatively easy to repair. I hope to never use another plastic bucket. Anyway, I swung the pickaxe for most of the day, bashing through a layer of undifferentiated collapse inside my trench. There was a really late (I’m talkin’ TPQ 1970s here–modern screws and some bottle glass, along with a pull tab) pit cut into the eastern extent that was full of cobbles and very dark dirt that was pretty easy to boost out and once that was gone I was able to see that it cut into a relatively homogenous matrix. So, out came the pickaxe.

It was good to finally be able to move on my trench–I had been spending too much time on things like defining the big wall in the western extent and digging this late pit. I worked from known to unknown, removing the dirt where I could see spatial relationships to other architectural elements and moving out from there. A cluster of stones in the northwestern corner became an installation against the western wall, and I carefully cleaned around it to define the architectural aspects versus the stones that came in through the collapse. Soon, I came down to a nice flagstone paving for the room. Well, relatively nice, as it had been bashed up from the stone ceiling collapsing on it. The room terminated much more quickly than I had guessed–only two courses of stones remaining before the ground level. Some nice finds surfaced right above the floor–a nice fragment of a molded oil lamp, a bracelet fragment, and a whole lot of Mamluk-era pottery.

It’s surprising how none of the above description really does justice to excavating on a terrace over a wadi in Jordan. A hot wind whips up through the wadi, blowing your paperwork and any light artifacts. Little gazelle-like ants pause then scatter over my dustpan, too fast for my camera. Late in the day your tools become too hot to touch and any water left in the sun becomes tea-hot. I try to save most of my slow tasks for after our watermelon break, so I can draw or write up paperwork or bag artifacts instead of slinging dirt during the hottest part of the day. Sweat drips down your nose and splashes whatever you are working on, making dark spots on the ground that dry almost instantly. At the end of the day my arms are covered in swirls of white salt crystals that wash over my tattoos like a second skin.

So, today was a better day. I had some nice archaeology come up and was able to work out a few of the grad-school kinks in my back. Tomorrow I’ll finish revealing that nice paving, then photograph, draw, and otherwise fully record it.

Oh! And we found the missing rebar in a dip in the tell about 20 meters from the pit. So my hypothesis was correct: orneriness was to blame.

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Meet Saleh

<a title=”CLM_2872 by Miss_Colleen, on Flickr” href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/colleenmorgan/4757407899/”><img src=”http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4074/4757407899_8689d336e0.jpg” alt=”CLM_2872″ width=”334″ height=”500″ /></a>

Saleh has been working with the Dhiban Excavation Team since 2009 and is back this year to help with excavation.

Saleh graduated with a degree in archaeology, but he has had a hard time finding steady employment, much like other archaeologists in the world.  He knows some English and helps me learn Arabic, while I help him with the finer points of English grammar.  He’d love to study Hebrew for his PhD, but would also like to get married.

Saleh’s family is from the local Bani Hamida bedouin and he sang his family-specific song today as we cleaned off a section in the hot sun. He also has blingin’ shoes.

He asked me to post about him today, and I did! Marhaba, Saleh.  See you tomorrow.

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Photos from Dhiban