Weekly Reports from Jordan

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July 3-9, 2004

Larry G. Herr and Douglas R. Clark

Current `Umayri OuthouseIt was hot at the beginning of the week. Monday wasn't bad, but the usual westerly wind altered course on Tuesday to the northeast and brought temperatures very near the 100 F (38 C) mark. When we got back to camp Denise Herr thought she would try to help and let us know that the temperature in Cairo was 105; Baghdad was 114, and Kuwait was 116. Maybe misery likes company, but it didn't help those of us who felt bushed and dehydrated. We were simply glad we weren't in Kuwait. Fortunately, there was still water to take cold showers. Nothing like a good plunge into cold water.

The fun of the week took place in Field L, largely at the expense of avid digger and teacher Greg Kremer from Key West, FL, who made the thrilling discovery of a plastic cup coated with lime at a depth of about 50 cm below topsoil. A quick look at the balk confirmed our suspicions that Greg had uncovered the outhouse hole from the 1984 season.

Current Outhouse Accoutrements on the InsideAlthough it was already 20 years old (and therefore almost an ancient treasure trove), the jokes flew thick and fast. Greg would have to submit his pottery the next day for "potty reading." We had him convinced that he had to send in some of the lime accretions for geological analysis. Perhaps the most archaeological remark about the discovery was made by Walla Walla College student Matt Vincent who correctly observed that the find was, indeed, best interpreted as "anthropogenic bio-turdation." Alas, we are not confident that the term will ever enter the dig database.

The irony of Greg's find was that, soon after his discovery, he turned the area over to square-mate Tony Sears who proceeded to unearth a mostly complete Hellenistic juglet and the bottom of an ancient oven called a tabun. Earlier Tony and Greg, along with Mary Boyd and a workmen had set a new record for volume of earth removed by digging, removing, and sifting 431 guffas (baskets) of debris. That's over 4 cubic meters of dirt.

The Treasury at Petra with new excavations beneath the grate at the entranceThe weekend that preceded this week's work, however, was much more thrilling. Any time spent in Petra is thrilling. The awesome silence; the ring of footsteps in the siq (the long narrow gorge that enters the city); the dramatic sight of the Treasury at the end of the siq; the glimpse of the new excavations in front of the Treasury showing that there are more, earlier tombs below Petra's most renowned façade; the panorama of cliffs and tombs surrounding the large inner city; the stunning new excavations in the city, such as the Great Temple (under excavation by Martha Joukowsky), the Pool and Garden (being cleared by Leigh-Ann Bedal), and the Blue Chapel; and, of course the golden color of the setting sun at the Monastery high on the cliffs on the other side of the city. One of the more memorable moments was during a quiet time in the siq when Megan Owens was overhead singing excerpts from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Pie Jesu creating stunning multi-leveled echoes within this great natural wonder. Several of us who had been to Petra The Theatron at the Great Temple in Petra, with Artemis Joukowsky explaining thingsseveral times took the opportunity to visit Little Petra, also called the Siq el-Barid, another narrow gorge-like valley with a number of tombs, one of which is covered with plaster decorated with paintings of plants and mythological scenes. Nearby was one of the earliest Neolithic sites excavated in Jordan, Beidha. Recent reconstructions of houses show what it may have been like to live in the late Stone Age.

Discoveries in the field are coming fast and furious. Most of them are solving aching problems we have had for several years by dismantling balks (the "catwalks" One of the facades in Little Petraof earth left standing between excavation areas) and removing late walls that can teach us nothing more except by revealing what lies beneath them. In Field A John Lawlor's team is quickly giving us a glimpse into what the site looked like before the time of the Ammonite Administrative Complex, while also showing us what the Ammonites did to build and modify their complex through time. Conversations and strategy sessions talking about "phasing" and "foundation trenches" are flying thick and fast where Gary Arbino and Christine Shaw are working. A good surface in Brenda Adams' square, where Andrew Curtis and Audrey Schaffer are also working, conveniently connects two walls and a bin. Meanwhile Cynthia Temoin and Myron Widmer have removed a wall dated to the 6th century BC and have suddenly found themselves going through a time warp into the 12th century BC. Talk about jet lag.

Janelle Lacey with a patina of dust and gloryA lot of dust flew in Field B supervised by Kent Bramlett. Janelle Lacey's dusty face proved her solid commitment to digging and was sufficient to earn her entry into the All-Herr Archaeological Team. Indeed, the other excavator in her Square, John Raab, probably came in second only because his face was more tanned than Janelle's and the dust was harder to see. They were removing a very large earth-and stone rubble pile that was over 50 cm deep. Indeed, it was dangerous to walk by the square as Janelle was pitching stones at the rate of about one per 10 to 15 seconds. Meanwhile, Janelle Worthington and Matt Vincent were working hard to find the bottom of the 6th century foundational fills and get into the destruction debris from the 14th century BC building we know to be directly below. They had to work through a lot of ash, which also colored their faces with a significantly darker hue. Ellen Bedell and Monique Acosta may have found a mudbrick wall connected with the top of a curious stone. Stay tuned for next week's report on this discovery. Meanwhile, Shawne Hansen and Dan Hantman continue to search for the perimeter wall as it turns to the east. They may have found it! They need to excavate a little bit more to convince us.

David Berge showing off Field HWall removal in Field H, supervised by David Berge, has revealed earlier walls and surfaces connected with an open-air sanctuary of the 11th and 10th centuries BC near the southwestern corner of the site. Don Mook and Larry Murrin are removing later debris that will allow us to remove the last vestige of more recent walls so we can trace the surfaces of the sanctuary to the south. They found a very interesting ceramic plaque that seems to contain a depiction of a hyena in appliqué. If so, this would be a very rare find and probably connected with another model shrine or the statue's fragments found nearby. Andrea DeGagne and Kristy Huber have discovered how the cobbles of the sanctuary floor seem to ascend to the level of an older wall, reusing the wall stones as part of the cobble floor. They have been patiently outlining and cleaning stones so we can easily see the stone relationships. Farther to the north Marcin Czarnowicz and Magda Kamionka have removed a later stone wall and revealed and excavated the surfaces below that may have been the formal entrance to the sanctuary.

David Hopkins and Mary Boyd explaining Field LIn Field L, Megan Owens, Ruth Kent, Billie Fitzhugh, and Noni Zachri, supervised by David Hopkins and Mary Boyd, removed balks to expose the full extent of the Hellenistic plaster surface in the farming complex dating to the 2nd century BC. Beneath the surface are walls from the 6th century BC. The big debate here has been to separate the walls belonging to the Hellenistic period from the earlier ones. This is much more difficult than it sounds because the Hellenistic builders reused the earlier walls and it is sometimes very difficult to tell just where the reuse begins. At the same time Toni Sears and Greg Kremer did much more than find the old outhouse. They have uncovered a whole new series of walls and rooms that were probably related to the Hellenistic farm.

The most interesting finds of the week were two figurine molds, a small one, preserved from the waist up, to make copies of a goddess and another one of the upper torso and head of a male king or deity. We had only found one figurine mold in all nine seasons prior to this year. We also found another figurine of a woman's head with a very high hairdo that we can't resist calling "Marj Simpson."

This much actionIt was a week of interesting action and our story of Tall al-'Umayri is getting better and better. It may have been hot when we began the week, but by Friday it had cooled down to a perfect day. The very nice day reflected a very productive week.

We hope within a few days to have online a photo gallery of all the dig participants, so keep checking the website.

Sunrise Over `Umayri

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