Weekly Reports from Jordan

Choose Year: or Choose week

Topsoil Dimensions

Larry G. Herr and Douglas R. Clark

An archaeological site is similar to a layer cake with topsoil covering the many cities like frosting. The first week of a dig is, in many ways, similar to digging through topsoil. It is a covering layer with a multi-dimensional mixture of pottery, stones, bones, and earth. We are now almost 60 people from the US, Canada, Poland, and the UK, coming from multi-dimensional backgrounds, each with our own history to tell and our own goals for the summer.

The most important dimension to describe is that everyone has arrived safely. Larry Herr arrived first on June 17, followed by Doug and Carmen Clark and Bob Bates (all from La Sierra University) three days later. Doug and Larry are the Co-Directors and Bob is the Administrative Director. We began making arrangements to set up camp and prepare the site for excavation. Larry hired workers to clean the old excavation units called "Squares," build trails from one excavation field to another, move the supplies from the storeroom to the site, and remove debris eroded into the site from the winter rains. The Clarks began the process of preparing the camp at the Amman Training Center near the southern edge of Amman and to organize the pickup of participants as they arrived at the airport.

The second dimension was the arrival of the participants, beginning with five students from consortium school Mount Royal College in Calgary, Alberta and the University of Calgary (Erin Carr, Jill Logee, Nikki Oakden, Russell Dedul, and Barbara van Viersen Trip). They had their first cultural experience with a trip to the bread bakery the next morning. But, as interesting as watching the bread being made in the fiery oven was, it was nothing when compared with its good taste. By the time we returned to camp they had devoured half the soft, warm flat bread.

They were followed by Greg Kremer, a teacher from Key West, FL and David Berge from Portland, OR. They immediately began work with a total work station (fancy name for a computerized theodolyte) to lay out the precise location for the excavation units, spending hours in the hot sun staring through an eyepiece and holding a stick at hundreds of locations on the site. A student from Walla Walls, WA, Boris Brajnikoff, also arrived then.

Perhaps this is the time to discuss a juxtaposed dimension to the arrival theme. We directors often wonder why it is that most dig people arrive at insane times of the day. Twenty-nine, that's 29, of the 48 people arriving by plane (12 came overland) arrived between the hours of midnight and 6:00 AM, most around 2:00 AM. The dimension of lack of sleep was very real. When that is added to the 36 hours it usually takes for a flight from western North America to reach the Middle East, it is clear that everyone was operating on deep reserves that only their enthusiasm for the upcoming adventure could balance into sanity.

But almost everyone was met at the airport, in spite of the inhumane arrival times. Such people included Kent Bramlett, one of our Field Supervisors from Toronto, Ontario; Marcin Czarnowicz from Krakow, Poland; Audrey Shaffer from California; self-proclaimed "Jersey-girl" and teacher Jeanne DelColle; other teachers included Tom Venner, Brenda Adams, Ellen Bedell, Stefanie Elkins, Anneliese Weiss, and Sean Haskell.

The consortium schools are well represented. From La Sierra University are Heather Merizan, Aaron Davis, Steven Salcido, Katherine Skoretz, and Christina Widmer; from Canadian University College are Bethany Reiswig and Katie van Petten; from Pacific Union College are Erica Hufnagel, Derek Bobst, Tyler Mitchell, Amy Bellinghausen, and Professor Myron Widmer; from Walla Walla College are Monique Acosta, Boris Brajnikoff, Lindsey Hill, and recent grad Janelle Worthington.

Others have come from all over North America: Audrey Shaffer (CA), who is approaching 30 seasons of excavation at several sites in the Middle East; Deborah Haberman who, in the 1994 season, uncovered the 80 storage jars now being reconstructed in the huge lab at Walla Walla College; Allison Hade from Iowa; Carolyn Waldron (WA) who is now in her third season with us; Mary Boyd, a Methodist minister from Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound and now in her seventh season; Don Mook, a retired US Forester from Duluth, MN now in his sixth season; Professor Julie Cormack from Mount Royal College, Calgary; Denise Herr, our pottery registrar from CUC, now in her 10th season; and Larry Murrin, CUC's registrar and our computer person; and artist Rhonda Root from Andrews University Division of Architecture.

A group from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, arrived overland on a tour of the Middle East as part of a cultural immersion program they have to fulfill for their seminary program. They include Professor David Hopkins, Field Supervisor for Field L, Henry Hopkins, Jennifer Harris, Charles Harris, Steven Barbery, Michael Dubbs, Laura King, and Tom Tipton.

We have an international dimension, as well: Caroline Houghton arrived from London, England, while, from Krakow Poland, come Elzbieta (Ela) Dubis and Marcin Czarnowicz.

A few more arrivals are expected which will bring our total number of excavation participants to 62.

We have all been fighting jet lag—especially menacing while we push ourselves through the orientation lectures and fight the mosquitoes at night. But almost everyone remembered to bring a mosquito net, so we're sliding into the regimen very quickly. Indeed, Friday (June 30) was our first full day on the site and, according to the directors, it was the best first day ever. This group is full of enthused but serious people eager to discover the ancient world in dimensions that will allow them to reconstruct the lifeways of ancient people and compare them with their own. It is an adventure of the mind that is just beginning.

Overheard from applicants on why they came to Jordan and what they hope to learn or might contribute to the project:

It's one thing to read about the past, but it's an entirely different thing to dig into the dirt and handle the past. This is what I love about archaeology.
I enjoy reading and learning about ancient cultures and history, and actually plan on going on to graduate school in Near Eastern Archaeology.
This project needs more than academic excellence and archaeological interest. It needs different backgrounds, different perspectives…
I cannot begin to tell people who have not done this kind of "digging" what an impact history has on our lives as we sift through the soil of a country half way around the globe that has informed so much of what we are about today. Anything that can give a gentler, more truthful understanding of a region so wildly misunderstood by so many is a good thing to do.
My goal at Tall al-'Umayri is to gather enough data to write a period-piece novel revolving around life and death of the villagers at the site.
I thrive when learning about other cultures and customs, and I have fallen in love with the Jordanian people during my past visits there.
I am insatiably curious… I will be an asset to this dig and after you get to know me, you will never look at Jersey Girls the same again.
My love for archaeology drives me to do things like this…
First things first–it has always been a dream to be involved in a great find or discovery, especially when growing up watching "Indiana Jones."
If I don't go on trip you all will miss my humble & passive nature.
My supervising pastor… tells me I will never read the Bible the same again.
After spending the last season digging through ash and just barely making it into the Late Bronze Age, I would like very much to be there when the floor of the temple is reached. In the United Methodist scheme of things, Square 8K12 seems to be a good location for the narthex. Perhaps someone dropped a bulletin from the last worship service on the floor and left it (as they do in my church).
I am absolutely hooked on archaeology.

Welcome to a new season of excavation in Jordan!

© 2019 Madaba Plains Project. All rights reserved. Any unauthorized duplication of images or content on this site is strictly prohibited.