Dhiban Excavation and Development Project

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Life and work from a tell site in Jordan

In a Mamluk Ruin

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For the last week I have been excavating a Mamluk-era barrel vault, previously excavated in 2004 and 2005. After cleaning out tons of limestone blocks used as backfill, we started to try to sort out the major architectural features in the building—in particular there’s a mysterious cistern, which was cut in the northern wall that I’m itching to investigate. While trying to clear some of the caved-in ceiling (and upper floor) from the barrel vault, I found a nice little fire pit, dug right next to the east wall and full of charcoal. We sampled the charcoal extensively, and I started to excavate the feature.

From the top the fire pit was circular in shape, but as I went deeper it became obvious that the people who dug the pit couldn’t be bothered to move the same rock tumble I was struggling with. This fire pit was dug after what we call the primary occupation of the site—the structure was used opportunistically by people who appear to have had a bit of goat for dinner, judging by the nearby bone and tooth I found. We’ll know better when Alan sorts out the phytolith and flotation samples that we took. He’s looking for evidence of plant remains to determine ancient climate and regional diet.

So these people who dug the pit chose the very northeastern corner of the building, which is quite far away from what we think was the door. Yet at this time, the building had at least caved-in partially, as the fire pit intrudes into a collapsed layer. The fire pit was also quite small, measuring only about .3m x .3m x .3m deep and the area near the fire was only large enough for one person to cook.

The town of Dhiban is situated on the next tell over, and it is cacophonous, full of shouts and dogs barking, calls to prayer at all hours (including 3am), welding, sirens, you name it. I began to wonder if the tell site of Dhiban was once the same way, noisy and full of mayhem. But I also know that it was not always this way, that Dhiban has been through periods of occupation and near abandonment, and I wonder if the fire pit was built during one of those quiet times, a single line of smoke dividing the evening sky, and a very small group, perhaps only one person, standing in the Roman, Byzantine, and Mamluk ruins and enjoying the view of the wadi and the night sky.

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Extreme Archaeology!

Sara Patterson: Hello everyone from Dhiban. We have now been on site a few days and it has been quite an experience. Our first day we developed a new extreme sport; extreme weeding, weeding with pickaxes. Mid western weeded have nothing on Jordanian weeds. The prinicpal plant we were removing is called shoke (note all of my spellings of Arabic words are phonetic and I will attemept to include pronuncialtion guides because my spelling is iffy at the best of times. For shoke imagin the first half of shock mashed onto the front of choke). Anyway shoke is a thigh high thistle like plant that has prickels eveyrwhere and not just little prickles, BIG prickles. It does have pretty purple flowers on top and the goats seem to like it. The other plant we were removing is called crown of thorns and it is only about 6 in high but it has masses of one inch long thorns that seem to leap out of nowhere to stab unsuspcting flesh. Both the shoke and crown of Thorns prickels go through leather gloves like they weren’t there.  After a morning of battle the local flora was defeated, altought we were not without our casulties, and we moved on to clearing several areas in which we are to work. I was set to removing the back fill from a previously excavated Mamluk house. The work was hot and hard (there were lots of big rocks to move). We also removed some of the soil fill. (note According to all the archaeologists I have spoken with it is only dirt when it is under your fingernails at all other times it is soil.) During this adventure I met some of the more famose members of the local fauna; the black and brown scorpions. Luckly scorpions tend to be slow moving and generally confused so it is not hard to capture and dispatch them. Unfortunatly, the only one of the 8 we discovered that excaped was a brown scorpion. The brown scorpions are more poisones than the black ones. And so there is a wily brown scorpion still lurking in the fill we are going to be removing in the next few days. So my first few days here have been an introduction to many things; dirt in vast quantities (and not just under my nails), hot dry heat, the local wildlife etc. Tune in next time and you will hear about a wedding party the girls will get to attend, the early morning call of the muezin (moo-eh-zin), adventuers in Jordanian driving and much much more.

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Ready to Fly!

I’m coming to the Dhiban project out of a desire to excavate and document a comparative site for my dissertation. When the site that I usually work at, Çatalhöyük, decided to have a study season this year instead of excavation (of course they’re still excavating!), I looked around for other projects that would fit well into my dissertation work.  I contacted Benjamin Porter in UC Berkeley’s Near Eastern Studies department, and have worked with him on projects since that time.

My primary role at Dhiban will be photography and video documentation of excavation and finds, but I hope to have some time to excavate as well. I feel well prepared for work in the Middle East, and though I will miss Turkey tremendously, it will be great to explore the history of a new part of the world, as well as take in a few of the regional attractions.  I’ve wanted to go to the Dead Sea since I was a small child, and now I finally get a chance!

So my bags are packed and the last minute preparations are finished–I’ll be flying out tomorrow, SFO -> JFK -> CDG -> IST -> AMM! Wish me luck!

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Thoughts About Dhiban

Here are a few thoughts in anticipation of leaving for Jordan, by Abigail Harms:

I am hoping that the Dhiban Field School will teach me many valuable things not only about archaeology and the history of Dhiban, but about Jordanian culture in general as well. Their way of life will be entirely new to me, and by the end of the field season I am sure I will have a much greater understanding of the people, or at least that is what I am striving for. In the technical aspects, I am excited to learn what it actually takes to be an archaeologist and how this field of study works in the real world outside of college classrooms. Overall, I see this trip as being a life-changing experience and I am greatly looking forward to it!

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Photos from Dhiban