Dhiban Excavation and Development Project


Life and work from a tell site in Jordan

Paleolandscape Assessment Award and Field School Information

From http://serc.carleton.edu/acm_face/dhiban/index.html:

A Collaborative Research project (Faculty Research) awarded to:

  • Dr. Katherine Adelsberger, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, Knox College
  • Dr. Danielle Steen Fatkin, Visiting Assistant Professor of History, Knox College

The FaCE grant awarded in spring 2009 provided funding for the first season in summer 2009 of an interdisciplinary project in Jordan to develop a paleolandscape assessment of Dhiban as part of the Dhiban Excavation and Development Project (DEDP), an established archaeological project in the area.

The interdisciplinary FaCE-related portion of this project involved a regional survey for paleoclimate proxies and water resources, detailed site-specific survey for previously undiscovered cisterns and occupational periods, and the training of undergraduate students.

The excavations are part of a broader project to develop “best practices” in archaeological scholarship through the integration of outreach, excavation and geoarchaeology, and the project would be the first step in the longer-term involvement of Knox College (and other ACM faculty and students) in the Dhiban Project.

As part of the work of the DEDP, we bring about 20 archaeology students from different institutions to participate in the project. We train them in archaeological field methods by rotating them through various learning stations, including excavation, materials processing, flotation, topographic survey and geologic survey. They are taught to dig, record, and analyze archaeological and geological materials. In addition, there are evening seminars on methods, theory, and history twice a week and two weekend field trips to major Jordanian archaeological sites during the season.

  • Field Season Dates: June 23 – August 8, 2010
  • Estimated Cost: $5,000 ($3,000 program fee + $2,000 airfare)
  • Application Deadline: December 15, 2009 (application must be received by this date)

For complete information and application materials, download the Student Application for 2010 DEDP Field Season (Acrobat (PDF) 106kB Nov24 09).


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Changing Perspectives

From Courtney:

It’s been nearly a month and a half since I left Dhiban for two weeks of adventures around the Levant and then home. As I think back on the entire experience, the things I discovered both in the world outside of America and within myself continue to surprise me. Tapping into the surface of an entirely different culture and experiencing history from a fresh approach changed the lens through which I perceive American society, as well as the hopes and plans I have for my own future.

I found myself challenged in unexpected ways, and having come through such experiences, I feel like a more solidified and confident individual. As the youngest on the dig, I think I was more aware of the age difference because I felt as if my lack of years somehow implied a lack of intelligence, or perhaps capability is more appropriate. This was especially the case because I was among people whose opinions and ideas I valued understanding, as they were students of a field I was just beginning to unearth (Haha, I have a poor sense of humor). My experience was quite the contrary. The team was willing to share and teach, allowing the newbies to make mistakes and ask all sorts of questions. It was a fascinating and engaging learning environment. I keep thinking back to my first archaeology class at Knox, reading the section about the various soil types and yawning. It was of little use to me when I memorized the information from a text book, but when I was down on my hands and knees, with my face six inches from the ground, carefully scraping at the soil to reveal a tabun, what had seemed like vapid jargon made tangible sense.

My personal growth during those two months continues to surprise me. I learned that I can live in an environment that is completely foreign to me. I adapted to the heat, the rather strict code of dress and behavior, the language barrier, food variants, the insect issues, and the culture differences with a fluidity I would not have expected of myself. I had the privilege of making some fabulous friendships across different cultures that brought me such laughter and happiness.

I am very excited to return to Jordan next summer with an idea of what awaits me. I am already craving some delicious falafel and fatayer. I miss the beauty of the desert and the never ending adventures that go along with placing a bunch of Westerners into a small Jordanian town. I look forward to continuing my study of archaeology and beginning a new dig season in Dhiban!

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Thoughts after the Excavation

From Abby:

As I am sitting back at home in Topeka, KS, I realize what an impact Jordan had on my life. I miss the constant conversation that is always taking place between people on the streets and their usually welcoming personalities.  There is such a great community environment in Dhiban that you can’t get in many American towns.  The way men greeted and interacted with each other was something I will never forget.  They were not uncomfortable showing affection to their friends and while they could not show the same affection to female friends, it was still very refreshing.  They have a great respect for their elders, family members, and friends.  Relationships are extremely valuable to people in this part of the world.  While outsiders may be considered less valuable and sometimes treated with less respect, as an outsider, I was still able to see the compassion that went into their interactions.  But even to foreigners (or ajinab), most people are overwhelmingly friendly.  They invite strangers to tea freqeuntly, and one of my most fond memories is sitting with a Bedouin woman at Petra, drinking tea and talking about her children.

I am also deeply grateful for the skills I acquired this summer.  The field school provided me with hands-on experience as an archaeologist, which is not possible in a classroom setting.  I was given the opportunity to be a trench supervisor for a week of the season and I learned the process that each supervisor goes through, including the measuring and drawing of the trench, finding elevations, and completing paperwork for each stratum.  With the knowledge I gained, I have no doubt in my mind that if I chose to be an archaeologist, I would be well prepared.

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Thanks, Dhiban!


As the sun sets on Tell Dhiban, the colors become deeper, pink-tinged, and the limestone blocks look stunning against the blue sky. The wadi turns golden and a small wind picks up, cooling off the air. It’s really the best time to work up on the tell, and I saw several sunsets from the edge of my trench in the last week of the excavation. Everyone was working furiously on their trench reports and Harris Matrices. I was staying a couple of days later than most people, so I was up on the tell, drawing and photographing mostly alone.  It was nice, a break from the busy work days with so many people in the trench all the time.

In the last few days, I had tea with Zaid and Abu Jamal up on the tell. The teapot is a symbol of hospitality in Jordan, and the sugary sage tea they served was lovely.  I sat with them, chatted a bit in our patois of English and Arabic and realized that I would miss Jordan in the year to come.

Thanks to Dhiban for the hospitality and we will see you next year!

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Geology at Tel Dhiban

From Katie, our most excellent geoarchaeologist:

As the excavation moves into its last three weeks, most of the team members are feeling more confident, now very familiar with the daily schedule and day-to-day life up on the Tel. And then there are a few of us down in the Wadi Dhiban, dodging wadi dogs and goats in an effort to get a look at the sediments at the bottom of the hill. A wadi is a seasonal river valley, generally dry during the summer and subject to flash floods during the rainy season – most are fairly deeply incised and the larger ones in Jordan approach Grand Canyon proportions. Although a wadi is not a particularly good place to find intact archaeological features, it’s a great place to look for evidence of erosion, and the Wadi Dhiban also preserves a number of architectural features that we’d like to understand more fully. The rock walls may have been agricultural terraces or they may have been built in an effort to stabilize the hillside; finding out what lies behind and beneath the rocks is the first step toward understanding their construction and purpose. A few dedicated and long-suffering workmen have been wielding picks and shovels for several days, and we’ll soon be drawing, describing and sampling the sediment they reveal.

Other geologic efforts have also been going forward at Dhiban this year as well, as we try to incorporate a more specific environmental aspect to the research agenda. A few students have been lucky enough to end up as “geology assistants” as we’ve explored some of the local wadi systems in search of sedimentary records, mapped the local bedrock beneath the Tel, and done some preliminary mapping. And even if they didn’t appreciate the repetitive limestone and chert layers in our area, they got a taste of more exciting geology while exploring the fabulous sandstone at Petra this past weekend!

The geologic investigations here are brand new, but we’re already excited about the initial data and we’re hoping to pursue more extensive regional investigations next season. In the meantime, if you’re looking for some geology at Dhiban, head up to the main excavation and then turn left. Head west over the hill, and try not to fall as you navigate the scree slope. Don’t worry if you don’t see us right away – there’s a fairly large cliff that you’ll have to get around, and then another steep slope. You’ll find us eventually – and if you get lost, the barking of the wadi dogs as they protest our presence will probably help you find your way. See you in the wadi!

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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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Welcome to the Dhiban Excavation and Development Project Blog!

This blog is a collaboration between students at the University of California, Berkeley, Knox College, and the University of Liverpool. We hope to keep it updated with our impressions and findings from Tall Dhiban, an archaeological site in Jordan with evidence of 5,000 years of occupation, spanning the Bronze, Iron, Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic Ages.  We will also be working and living in the neighboring town, which is also called Dhiban.

We hope that you’ll check back to see our progress over the summer!

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Photos from Dhiban