Weekly Reports from Jordan

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July 17-21, 2000

Larry Herr, Doug Clark, and Warren Trenchard. Photos by Warren Trenchard and Larry Herr

 It was a cool (for Jordan in the summertime) and busy week at Tall al-`Umayri. Jackets were needed Monday morning as a strong damp wind gusted over the mound. Clouds rolled in from the west and it felt good to work. Each succeeding day got warmer, but even on Friday the temperatures were such that it was nice to be outside during the middle of the day.

Maggie DewWe sadly said goodbye to several of our participants who were with us only for the first half of the season and said hello to those coming for the second half. The new chemistry and enthusiasm energizes us. We're sorry that physician Wayne Jacobsen had to leave us, but nurse Maggie Dew has effectively helped some of our group through the usual ailments.

Bethany Walker of Oklahoma State University and a member of the Hisban wing of MPP delivered an insightful lecture to our group on Wednesday. Now holding a fellowship at ACOR to study the Islamic remains at Hisban, her lecture transformed the understanding of Islamic Hisban for many of us who had excavated there in the past. Her work on 14th-century Mamluk literary sources in Cairo has shed considerable light on what must now be understood as a governor's palace that included the bath and paved courtyard on the western edge of the acropolis. Based on studies of similar palaces in Egypt, she was even able to offer suggestions about the furniture and window architecture that the Hisban building would have had. For 50 years Hisban was the regional capital and housed a governor. Although many of us knew this past in general terms, most of us had no idea that Hisban was so important at that time. Perhaps the most astounding revelation was that the sources talk about a "university" at Hisban during the 14th century! Although not like our modern universities, it was apparently for advanced students in their late teens and early twenties. Kudos to Bethany for all her work and insightful presentation.

The surprising archaeological find of the week has not been a single find (though these were made, as well -- see below). Rather, it is the speed at which several of the fields have been uncovering Iron I remains. In previous years it has taken over a season or two to reach those levels, but this season most squares have reached it in the fourth week. Moreover, many of the phases we have distinguished date to the late Iron I period, the 11th century BC. One of the specific finds related to this material was the first example of a red-slipped, hand-burnished bowl. Ubiquitous at 11th-century sites west of the Jordan, this is the first such sherd we have seen at `Umayri. Alas, we will now have to acquaint ourselves with the raging debate about this pottery. At any rate, we are building an excellent corpus of this pottery for central Transjordan in Fields H (the southwestern corner of the site) and L (the south central edge). Although it is too early to be certain, several of the walls in Field L probably go with this pottery. The Iron I material is being discovered by Dick Dorsett, Gina Rogers, Sarah Knoll, and Jason Tatlock.

Nathan KemlarWe had previously thought that the large plastered room in Field H would have several phases of late Iron II and Persian remains. But we were again left flabbergasted when Nick Jones, Nathan Kemler, and John Heinz cleared the pits and fragments of plaster in the southwestern part of the room. There they encountered a clean late Iron I surface. The remains had merrily skipped right past most of the Iron II period without so much as a "thank you!" More astounding was the large amount of pottery lying on the surface, including fragments of a cultic vessel (perhaps a pottery incense stand -- this is just a guess) that included two slender standing figures, each slightly over 25 cm high. Facing each other, they flanked an opening in the vessel so that the viewer sees their sides. The figure on the left has a small right breast while that on the right has a left breast. Only one of the figures has a head, but it is topped by a crowned helmet, making it look like that of a warrior. Although we have not studied the figures at all, it is tempting to see them as hermaphroditic in some fashion, but why they divided the breasts between the two figures is still a mystery to us. It is easy to see the missing breast when viewing the figures from an angle. There were arms on both sides of the figures. The figures and the vessel had been painted red.

Meanwhile, Field A (the central western edge of the site) continues to expose the early Iron I house immediately south of the four-room house that we are now restoring. We already reported on the pottery found on the floor there last week. More of the surface is now being cleared in two other squares. The pottery found on the floor of the early Iron I building is so early (including a biconical jug) that we have now begun to date the pottery with a slightly different terminology to emphasize the LB connection, using "LB/Iron I" to emphasize the LB characteristics (out-turned jar and jug rims) and, to a lesser extent, the Iron I features (everted, flanged cooking pots and collared pithoi). This excellent corpus of finds most likely dates to the second half of the 13th century. In the square to the east, Ahmad ash-Shami and Ben Chambers have now begun to excavate beneath the building into the Late Bronze Age layers.

Niko GeneblazaIn the very western edge of Field H Niko Geneblaza has cleared evidence for the thickest LB/Iron I wall on the site. Running east-west, it is parallel to the perimeter wall where it curved eastward into the site. There is, however, a lot of massive late Iron II architecture in the way and it will take more than one more season to be able to establish a coherent explanation for this area of the site.

Rob HolmWe used to think that the site lay uninhabited for most of the earlier parts of the Late Bronze Age. No longer! The pottery coming from the LB building, in which we are now clearing the western room, and from Field A, where we are excavating beneath the LB/Iron I floors in one square, is clearly more archaic than the LB features in the LB/Iron I horizon and must date to the 14th and 13th centuries. This week Joe Rivers and Rob Holm found our first real Mycenean sherd, probably part of a stirrup jar with red painted patterns. Last season we found a local imitation of a stirrup jar, but the ware of this new sherd is so finely levigated and so different from anything else from the Late Bronze Age at our site that it must have been imported from the Aegean area.

Field B pithos teamNewcomer Dena Zook (who dug with us in 1987) was welcomed to her square (with Jeff Youker and Adam Rich) by the discovery of a completely preserved late Iron II (6th century BC) pithos buried deeply in earlier layers of debris. The foundation trench was very clear. The opening was covered by two large potsherds and the vessel itself was found empty, almost completely free of debris (and contents). Rodent bones inside illustrated the presence of a mouse which got caught in the cookie jar! During the last ten minutes of work on Friday the vessel was dismantled in many large and small pieces. We hope to reconstruct it in the near future. A clear potter's mark was visible on one of the four handles and on the rim.

Field K at the dolmen, Little Poland, continues to produce surface after surface surrounding the dolmen. The surfaces to the north and east are wonderfully preserved. Immediately in front of the dolmen, the eastern side, was a heavy concentration of EB IB (ca. 3000 BC) pottery that may have been used in association with activities around the dolmen.

Pouring a new concrete roof for the four-room houseRestoration on the four-room house continues. We have torn off the previously restored roof, which had been made too thin. We then chemically treated the wood beneath it, topped the wood with canes from the Jordan Valley, poured cement above everything, and treated the surface of the cement to look like mud in texture and color.

Making cement bricks for the four-room houseWorkers are now beginning to make cement bricks that are again treated to look like mud. These will be placed above the cement floor for about six courses to give an idea of what the house originally looked like. An architect has submitted a drawing for a viewing platform that will rise seven meters over the remains just to the east of Fields A, B, and H.

Much more has gone on, but we have to stop somewhere!

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