Weekly Reports from Jordan

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Week 5 – Wrapping up this Adventure

By Douglas Clark, Director; Photos by Jillian Logee and Douglas Clark

Doug Clark introducing the team to `UmayriJillian Logee

As they say, “All good things (including good adventures) must come to an end.” So it is with the 2016 season of excavations at Tall al-`Umayri, part of the Madaba Plains Project. And rightly so. Good stories, even good chapters in good stories, tend to carry “the sense of an ending.”

As is normally the case, the sense of an ending to the 2016 season comes with bitter-sweetness. I try to see everyone off, as they head to the airport for flights back home. With one exception, I succeeded this year. If, that is, succeeding is wistfully watching friends, new and old, depart for who knows how long, then it was good. At the same time, two months away from home are quite enough, already.

Several chapters to the sense of an ending to this adventure:

1) Closedown. “Closedown” is a civilized euphemism for an at-times incoherent collision of events, putting things away, writing up reports, taking inventory of everything from clothes pins to computer cords in order to prepare for next season, choreographing the movement of a hundred crates of stuff back up to the storeroom on the third floor of Building B at ATC, creating exams for credit-earning students, finishing up the accounting, taking down everything that functioned in the computer lab including our self-installed wireless system, etc., etc., etc. Combine this chaos with a typically intensifying hospitality vortex of social events and invitations to events before newly formed friends part ways, and it seems pretty clear that the end is near.

2) Adding to the typical closedown confusion, we decided this season to put together a container shipment of the entire storeroom full of artifacts and samples to send to La Sierra, some of which dates back to the beginning of the dig in 1984.  This translated into 308 crates of animal bones, pottery sherds, stone artifacts, and all of the 2016 finds, enough crates to fill a 20-foot container bound for truck, then ship, then truck transport to southern California. Inventorying and repacking took two full days. Getting 300 crates down from third floor to the staging area took two full days. Wrapping and transporting 300 crates up to the ATC gate took two full days. The government and shipping approvals took days and weeks, much more time than any of us imagined. As of this writing, the container sits on a dock in Aqaba, awaiting assignment to a ship. Hopefully, it will arrive in LA sometime around the first part of October. Then to the modular buildings behind the archaeology center at La Sierra.

308 crates ready for packing Wrapped crates being transported to container

 Off-loading into containerWrapped crates being off-loaded into container

Brand new container Brand new truck and diesel tank cap

3) Overheard. Wrapping things up helps us recall memorable statements, some quite casual, from six weeks of living and working together. Here are a couple:

“Welcome to Jordan!”
Typical of Jordanian hospitality, this exclamation occurs often in shops, on street corners, at tourist sites, sometimes following something crazy or totally unexpected. But the most memorable occasion took place in the Muqabalayn police station where all members of the team have to go for visa renewals if we are staying longer than one month. This process normally involves an hour or two of filling out forms (each of us), then filling out more forms (each of us), then getting a full-hand set of finger prints taken. Our ATC Steward, Mohammad Ahmaro, always goes with us, helping with translation and he has discovered a number of potential shortcuts over time. Halfway through the process of completing the second set of forms, he persuaded the policeman in whose office we were sitting to cut to the chase and get things done. In dramatic fashion the policeman grabbed the second set of forms, tore them all in half, said “Welcome to Jordan!” and permitted us to skip the finger-printing process entirely!

“All the best!”
The conclusion of a short speech (and letter) to our team from Rakan and Hanna Karborani, teenage sons of two Jordanian travel guides. Not young men to get up early in the summertime, they became addicted to the dig and had their parents bring them at 5:30 am, helping dig and sift in several fields. At the end, during one of our last second breakfasts in the Bedouin tent on site, Rakan read this letter:

Our dear archaeologist team of La Sierra University, Dr. Clark, Dr. Kent, honorable team members,
We are truly honored and very happy that the first job in our lives was with this group that is looking for treasures, considered to be the hidden history of Jordan.
Every minute of the day at this job felt like an adventure, hoping and aiming to find something new.
We wish you all successful discoveries, that will be of benefit to your university goals.
Forgive us if there were any mistakes given out by me and my brother during this experience.
All the best,
Rakan Karborani and Hanna Karborani

4) Caught on camera.
Here is a small collection of memorable photos which capture something of the spirit of adventure of the 2016 season at Tall al-`Umayri:

Moving car out of the way of our bus in AmmanMacro-archaeology at Site 84 around wine press (don't do this)

4K GoPro camera on the end of a GPS rod for photogrammetry in deep placesMacro-archaeology at Site 84 around reservoir (don't do this either)

At the beginning of the day on the tellCarolyn in solitary confinementCraig working a new pulley system attached to his contraption

 Glo and Betty deep into the rampartFriedbert and Bernina Ninow at the Jordan Museum

 Jillian reflecting Monique and othersKent instructing in the fine art of picking and troweling

Nivin asking for help to get out Monique and her square, tri-pod mortar

Practice sifting Puzzling over find during object reading

Site's in situ relief station Shayla at the end of a successful season

Sunrise over `Umayri, Ibrahim, and his sift Taking notes

Tea time with 'Bedouin whiskey,' a brew of regular tea plus a ton of sugar, sometimes with mint Tea time courtesy of Abu Issa, labor foreman

Using the GPS unitWaiting at the tool tent

The great 2016 team at `UmayriEnd-of-season core staff dinner at Kan Zaman (photo by Jo Verduci)

5) The fate of Tall al-`Umayri
Ever since the 2012 season of excavations, we have not known if `Umayri, with its incredibly well preserved architecture, history, and culture would be available to us or not, due to land-owner disputes. We have lived in limbo for several years now. Following several conversations, presentations, symposia, articles, etc., about the danger and potential disaster of losing `Umayri to the encroaching development of land for residential use, we appear to be no closer to resolution than at any time in the past. Land owners have imposed a December 2016 deadline for the government to resolve the problem (purchasing the land is the best option, but it is very expensive), and Kent and I have imposed a deadline of June 2017 so that we can make other plans if `Umayri is lost to archaeology.

While all the stakeholders – the royal family, the Ministry of Tourism, the Department of Antiquities, land owners, archaeologists, local communities, the Jordanian people – enthusiastically favor some kind of land purchase by the government, the funds have not materialized to this point. It may well be that the La Sierra team will need to excavate at another nearby site in 2018, maintaining affiliation with the larger Madaba Plains Project. Stay tuned.

6) Sense of an ending.
Another kind of ending is occurring at the conclusion of the 2016 season at `Umayri. I have decided that this will be my final full excavation season in Jordan. Having begun my archaeological career in June of 1973 at Tall Hisban, and having played a leadership role at Tall al-`Umayri since its inception in 1984, I am hanging up my pick and trowel. While I will still direct the dig for another year or so, will likely continue as a consultant after that, especially for developing `Umayri if land-owner issues are resolved, and have become engaged in an international project (American, Italian, Jordanian) to build a new museum in Madaba, I am proud to turn over the reins to Kent Bramlett of La Sierra with 22 years of archaeological experience, and Matt and Monique Vincent, who began at `Umayri in 2004. Matt has just taken a position in archaeological technology and applications through the University of South Florida (the position is in Trento, Italy) and Monique has just become the Publications Manager at the Center for Near Eastern Archaeology, working long distance from Italy. They will make a great team of directors for the La Sierra excavations, wherever they work; their extensive qualifications speak for themselves. All three are former students of mine and I could not be more proud to see them take up this newly expanded role.

(In a bait-and-switch conspiracy at the end of the season, involving these three, photographer Jillian, Carolyn, and even my wife Carmen [long distance], they invited the entire team to view slides of the season. Instead of featuring the dig participants, as advertised, the PowerPoint presentation roasted and toasted me, even reaching back to my high-school annual photo. It was memorable.)

Monique opening conspiracy program roasting Doug at end of seasonEnjoyment of roasting

Recovery attempt at roastingMore enjoyment of roasting

7) Locking up the storeroom.
As with closedown each season, it is the ceremonial locking of the storeroom door at the end of the hallway on the third floor of Building B at ATC that puts the period on the season’s sentence. In record time we closed shop at 10:08 am on Friday, 29 July, as documented in our photo records.

Doug and Mohammad at the ceremonial locking of the storeroom doorTen o'clock and eight minutes Friday morning

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