Dhiban Excavation and Development Project

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Life and work from a tell site in Jordan

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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