Museums in the Levant are changing. Whilst the fate of the Palestine Archaeological Museum (the Rockefeller) in East Jerusalem looks uncertain, a bold take on a central part of the biblical narrative is on show at the Israel Museum, and a new museum facility opens in Ramallah.
By Felicity Cobbing (PEF Executive Secretary & Curator)
The Missing: Rebuilding the Past 15th April -7th May 2016
4 Mandeville Place, Marylebone, London. www.jessicacarlisle.com
The PEF has a new neighbour in the form of an art gallery, run by Jessica Carlisle and Valerie Wallersteiner, located just round the corner from our offices. Their first exhibition, The Missing: Rebuilding the Past is curated by Erin Thompson, Professor of Art Crime at the City University of New York.
I visited the exhibition which has received quite a bit of publicity following the erection of the replica Palmyrene arch in Trafalgar Square.
The Missing is a response from artists to the recent destruction of ancient monuments and art by so-called Islamic State (ISIS or DAESH), and examines the nature of this loss, what it can mean for humanity, and how the artefacts themselves are transformed by this action.
There were several artist’s work on display, each offering a very different response to current events.
James Brooks’ Stoic Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is a multi-media work combining an image of Palmyra with a soundtrack, alongside quotes from the Roman philosopher-emperor’s Meditations. It is an introspective work, which acknowledges our feelings of loss when such monuments are destroyed, but also puts this loss in a wider historical perspective.
Dimitra Ermeidou’s evocative photographs of defaced Greek relief sculptures from the National Archaeological Museum in Athens forms Demos – for a Hall of Portraits. The images form a collection of rather ghostly figures, like memories of once living people whose features and unique characteristics are slowly fading from the collective consciousness. The sculptures were vandalised by persons unknown, at some time in the past. They are a timely reminder that iconoclasm is not confined to any one group of people or set of beliefs. It is a part of human nature to destroy as much as it is to create.
Also on display is a small 3D printed version of the replica Palmyrene arch currently erected in Trafalgar Square, and next to be displayed in Time Square New York. Created by the Oxford Institute of Digital Archaeology, using images taken on low-cost, easy to use 3D cameras distributed to activists in Syria, it provides an example of the possibilities that technology can bring to the process of reconstruction envisaged in the future. Through the Million Image database, an international project supported by UNESCO, similar activities are taking place in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt.
A stunning piece by Piers Secunda shows a replica of an Assyrian relief, and then the same relief punctured by bullet holes. The holes are casts of damage caused to ancient monuments in Iraqi Kurdistan by DAESH fighters seeking to destroy cultural heritage in the region. Bizarrely, the damaged piece is in some ways as beautiful as its pristine pristine: perhaps a commentary that imperfection and the marks of history have their own resonance and beauty. Maybe it is a question as to whether we should be quite so enthusiastic about instantly ‘restoring’ everything to its former glory – as if to wipe out the reality of DAESH’s barbarism? After all, we do preserve some icons of extreme pain, such as the remains of Auschwitz, to serve as a permanent reminder of what took place there, and what should never be allowed to happen again. Would a total ‘restoration’ in itself be a form of iconoclasm, wiping out as it would all traces of this horrendous moment in our history?
Our cultural heritage is not just threatened by destruction from bombs and guns and fanatics wielding hammers. Erin Thompson has been collecting images from social media of ancient artefacts for sale on the antiquities market – a trade which the whole world is complicit in, and one in which London is a major player. Artefacts which have been looted are made untraceable through cleaning and falsification of records, and sold for profit in an illegal trade which causes huge damage to our shared cultural heritage. Ironically, the images of looted artefacts posted by middle-men on social media to aid the sale of these antiquities, form an ‘image trail’ which Erin is tracking, in the hope that some artefacts may be identified. A selection of these images is displayed in the exhibition. The installation covers a whole wall, but forms a tiny fraction of the data that Erin has collected.
In amongst all the publicity surrounding the destruction of monuments in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, and events such as the erection of a replica of the Palmyrene triumphal arch in Trafalgar Square, there has been some criticism that perhaps artefacts of the past mean more to some of us than living people – what about the inhabitants of Tadmor (the modern town next to the ancient site of Palmyra, for instance? Don’t they matter? Is their suffering ignored because of the focus on things?
These are relevant questions to ask, and they deserve thinking about. It is a terrible thing to learn that whilst a media circus surrounded a pile of stones, the suffering and circumstances of living people are actually being ignored.
The monuments of ancient Palmyra, Aleppo or Nineveh are the palpable remains of human civilisation. I think that by studying them and visiting them we learn to appreciate the achievements of our fellow human beings who just happen to have lived in the past. In my very humble opinion, they are inherently important as reminders of our shared humanity. Iconoclasts – whether they be those of the past or modern day – want to deny that shared humanity. Our desire to recreate (in some way) what has been destroyed of our cultural heritage is a natural reaction, and has a place alongside the efforts to restore some sort of normality to those whose lives have been shattered. It is not, and should not be, an ‘either / or’ situation. I think it is very true that the inhabitants and custodians of Palmyra – Tadmor, Aleppo, and those cities and towns in Iraq where monasteries and mosques have been destroyed, feel their loss with an intensity that we lucky souls elsewhere can only begin to imagine. Some of them have died trying to protect them. In wanting to help mend them, we are sharing a little of their pain.
This reality, that these monuments matter profoundly, and constitute a visible and lasting metaphor for human life and memory which are in themselves so transient and fragile, was made very apparent to me at the exhibition in the form of a model of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, made by Tmam Alkhidaiwi Alnabilsi, a 25 year old Syrian refugee currently living at Zaatari Camp just outside Jordan. The model was featured in an article in The Guardian by Charlie Dunmore entitled ‘How art is helping Syrian refugees keep their culture alive’. The Umayyad Mosque, a unique and beautiful example of very early Islamic architecture, has suffered extensive damage, caught in the cross-fire of Syria’s ongoing civil war – an accidental victim rather than the intended target. The building is the latest incarnation of religious structures on the site that go back to at least the second millennium BCE, if not earlier. This destruction is such a tragedy.
I remember visiting the mosque on several occasions in happier years. As a visitor to Syria, it was one of my favourite places. What was so lovely was not just the beauty of the building itself, or the exquisite green and gold mosaics which adorned it, but how this place was alive as the true heart of the city. All were welcome. Children played and scholars studied verses of the Koran. Grannies chatted, and new parents brought their precious new bundles of life to be blessed. The place was filled with the echoes of whispering clerics and quietly laughing children. It was a privilege to witness Syrian life at its very best, and to see the part this wonderful historic building played in it. Tmam’s model is a homage to all of this – to the life of the building as much to the building itself. It is a symbol for all that Syria has lost. Remarkable in its accuracy, it is made from bits of plywood, food crates, and kebab sticks: anything that came to hand in the camp. Tmam clearly knows this building intimately, and his model is an expression of his relationship with it. It is a deeply moving artefact.
There are plans to take this exhibition travelling after its London stint, and a fine thing that would be. The exhibition is a brave and eloquent expression of human creativity and destructive impulse – opposite sides of the same coin, perhaps, and a relationship which deserves exploring.
Here are the projects we will be funding this year.
‘Umm at Tawabin’: A Nabataean/Roman Military Camp, Ghor as-Safi, Jordan
Umm at Tawabin is an extensive Nabataean/Roman military site in southern Jordan. The site consists of some fortified buildings, circular stone structures, a roadway and other features enclosed by a massive wall and with a predominance of Nabataean and Roman surface pottery on the ground. Up until now, Umm at Tawabin has only been documented in brief in a handful of survey reports since its discovery in the late 19th century and its chronology has remained the subject of some conjecture among scholars. With funding from the PEF in 2014, I surveyed the site and studied its surface pottery and architectural remains in detail, the results of which are to be published (forthcoming) in the PEQ. However, in order to better understand the occupational history of this undoubted historically important and unique site, and as an extension of my work at Umm at Tawabin, I propose to undertake a 30 day excavation to be co-sponsored by the PEF. I plan to publish my findings in the PEQ, and eventually as a PEQ Monograph.
An Investigation of Fāţimid Metalwork from Ṭabariyya and Ḳayṣāriyya: Two Archaeological Findspots from Medieval Bilād al-Shām
My proposed research through the Palestine Exploration Fund will be undertaken at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, which holds cultural material from two Fāţimid period cities. The two cities, Ṭabariyya and Ḳayṣāriyya, are now ruined however recent excavations at both cities have yielded two metalwork hoards likely buried during the turmoil of the 11th century CE. These twin discoveries have provided a solid context for the identification and provenance of metal objects datable to the Fāţimid period and the information provided is therefore considerable.
The proposed research will support my overall PhD studies at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies in the area of medieval Islamic archaeology. My area of specialization covers Fāţimid produced metalwork, including its dissemination through the regions of the Mediterranean and Red Seas. This research on Fāţimid period metal objects has often been overlooked in the scholarly record. The research is necessary however toward advancing our understanding of the objects’ circulation in the regions with a Fāţimid interaction.
Karimeh Abbud: Lady Photographer of Palestine
In the male-dominated landscape of early Holy Land photography, Karimeh Abbud stands out as one of the first female Palestinian photographers of the 20th century. My research will investigate Abbud’s photographic archive, the majority of which is held intact by the Nazareth Archive Project, with the goal of measuring her contribution to the larger scope of early Palestinian photography. Abbud worked in five major Palestinian cities in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s (Bethlehem, Tiberias, Haifa, Nazareth and Caesarea) and set up a commercial studio during that time. I aim to examine two aspects of Abbud’s photographic practice: her access to women and families who felt comfortable in the presence of a female photographer and its resulting, perhaps specialised, imagery, as well as her professional interactions with male photographers during the British Mandate period.
The Islamic Bayda Project
The Islamic Bayda Project focuses on archaeological investigations of an Islamic-period village in the area of Bayda, Petra region. Former archaeological work has established that the site has been in use from at least the Nabataean to the Ottoman periods, and that the most recent phase of the village is very extensive. This continutiy of occupation originates from the fortunate geological and climatic conditions which have always made this area one of the most favoured of the Petra region for agricultural activities.
The site includes village habitations organised in several clusters, a church, and two mosques.
Some of the principal aims of the Islamic Bayda Project is to investigate the range and development through time of the forms and dynamics of settlement in the Petra region during the whole Islamic period and to explore the important relationship between the Petra valley, where settlement continued without major gaps, and its hinterland.
Yusuf Kanaan: local agency and its limitations in nineteenth-century Palestinian archaeology
The history of Western archaeologists working in Palestine has been widely studied. But the voices of the Arab Palestinians who worked alongside them have largely remained unheard, with the exception of research into the ethnological work of Tawfiq Canaan and his colleagues. The archives of the PEF hold notebooks from the late 19th century by Yusuf Kanaan, an archaeological site manager and perhaps specialist dragoman who helped PEF archaeologists on several excavations and whose name appears in PEF publications. Drawing on existing research into Palestinian and other Middle Eastern antiquities, as well as my current research into the lives and works of Stephan Stephan, Elias Haddad and Tawfiq Canaan, this paper pushes back the history of Arab Palestinian engagement in the archaeology and ethnography of Palestine back to the nineteenth century, revealing local agency in the exploration of Palestine’s history whilst also exposing its limitations in the colonial setting.
In the Footsteps of Bliss and Dickie on Mount Zion
The earliest excavations on the slopes of Mount Zion were carried out between the years 1894-1897 by Frederick J. Bliss and Archibald C. Dickie, on behalf of the London-based Palestine Exploration Fund. Their methodology involved the excavation of a series of shafts that interconnected via tunnels located along the outer face of the defence walls surrounding Mt. Zion. The detailed and comprehensive publication of their excavations (Bliss and Dickie 1898) is a milestone in the history of archaeological research in Jerusalem since it contains illustrations, detailed plans and clear sections of two fortification systems.
Since 2007 we have re- excavated a large part of the city walls first exposed in Bliss and Dickie’s tunnels. The aim of the proposed research is to examine their original letters, maps and reports, which are housed in the PEF archives, and to bring to light any details which were not published in the original book, thereby providing important insights to our current fieldwork on Mount Zion.
by Mary Pelletier (PEF Volunteer)
Stepping into the Aslan Tiles workshop is sort of like stepping back in time. Just off a busy street in downtown Nablus, a short driveway opens into a kaleidoscopic work-yard, and colourfully patterned tiles decorate every wall, floor, and step – it’s almost like walking into a fun house. Here, the Aslan family operates the last traditional tile factory in the West Bank, helping to preserve a unique Palestinian craft.
I recently had the opportunity to visit Aslan Tiles with a couple of other journalists, interested in seeing how this small-scale business operates under the occupation, and how exactly these tiles get made. Anan Aslan, the company’s welcoming, middle-aged manager, greeted us and showed us around the workshop where everything, from the tools to the employees, is covered in a fine layer of cement dust.
It’s a small set-up, with three outbuildings and seven employees, including Anan and his father Jalal, who recently handed over the management to his son. For much of the time we were there, Jalal kept a watchful and fatherly eye over the two youngest tile-makers, Luay and Omar, who are both in their teens.
The two young men stood across from one another, taking turns using a large, hand-cranked tile press that was imported from Avignon decades ago. This is the kind of machinery that the family has used since starting the business in the 1930s. Over the years, the business moved from its original location in Jaffa to Acre, and then to Nablus’ Old City before settling into their present location, but the tile production methods have remained the same.
Luay and Omar each clean a copper-based mould, and then set an intricate stencil inside its frame. They have a set of old, caked pigment cans beside them, and using a small paint-ladel, fill the stencil sections with quick precision. The stencil is carefully removed, and the watery pigment is covered with ground cement – first a layer of fine dust, followed by a chunkier, wetter variety. The mould is placed beneath the press and after only a few seconds, the finished tile emerges.
Luay and Omar are working on the same design, and each of them will complete between 120 and 150 tiles per day. Across the way, Thaer and Abu Walid are working on two other designs, and work even quicker than the young boys. Abu Walid has certainly had the practice – he’s been working for the Aslan family since 1947, and inspects each tile he produces with a quiet seriousness.
After trying my hand at pouring a tile design (which needed a deft paintbrush touch-up from Thaer), we made our way to the third building on site, the office. Anan led us to a room where combinations of mosaics made up the walls, and tile stencils were everywhere – hanging from the walls, overflowing from a massive cabinet, even hanging off a light over the bathroom sink. There are over 700 designs, and customers can choose any colour patterns they like. As we tried to learn some of their names – Pigeon’s Egg, The Egyptian Rose, Upside-down Chessboard – we were treated to a surprise delivery of local knafeh from Jalal, who made sure we knew that Nablus knafeh is the best you can find.
Anan explained that, with the rise of inexpensive, mass-produced tiles in the 1980s and 1990s, the demand for local tiles waned, and local producers around the West Bank disappeared. But for the past ten years, they have seen a renewed interest in their locally-made, bespoke product. “In the last 10 years, there has been a growing appreciation of this product because people now feel like it is a tradition, a heritage, something that reminds them of their past and their roots,” he said. “It used to be a necessity and people liked its durability, but now it is seen as more of a luxury. People want to enjoy this art.
A link to my full photo story about Aslan Tiles on Al Jazeera English can be found here:
By Elisabeth Sawerthal
Last week we published a couple of pictures of a group of objects from the PEF collection (see blog post “PEF Mystery Objects” from 27 January 2016), seeking suggestions regarding their identity.
The original image shows miniature plaster copies of the standing stones in the High Place at Gezer. It is a reconstruction of the frontispiece in R.A.S. Macalister, The Excavation of Gezer 1902-1905 and 1907-1909, Vol.2, 1912. London: John Murray.
Here an extract from Distant Views of the Holy Land by Felicity Cobbing (Executive Secretary) and David Jacobson (former PEQ Editor) with some further information about this fascinating monument:
“The open-air High Place was an important feature of Canaanite religion, where the deity could come down to earth to commune with the priest or chosen intermediary. Parallels in the Hebrew Bible include the summit of Mount Moriah, the site of Abraham’s sacrifice of a ram, and the Mountain of God in the Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. The Samaritan worship on the summit of Mount Gerizim can also be seen as a continuation of the same tradition. The standing stones … are examples of masseboth: sacred stones associated with open-air worship rather than with an enclosed structure.”
The Archaeology of an Islamic-period village outside of the Petra valley
By Micaela Sinibaldi
When I had the opportunity to start a project at Bayda in 2014, I felt very fortunate. As an archaeologist who has now worked in Petra for the past 20 years on the subject of Medieval and Islamic-period settlements, I had realised that Bayda has a huge potential for understanding the largely neglected topic of settlement during the late historical phases of Petra. The best known sites of this period in Petra belong to the Crusader phases, which has always been the main focus of my research. However, the region saw also uninterrupted settlement through the whole Islamic period. Islamic Bayda consists of a village with a long history of settlement, with a very significant phase belonging to the Late Islamic period.
The second season of the Islamic Bayda Project took place in Autumn 2015 and was affiliated with the Council for British Research in the Levant. The Palestine Exploration Fund has generously co-funded the project since its first season, and this support has been essential to the success of the fieldwork. This season I decided to invite an international team of experienced volunteers to participate, which has resulted in excellent results and a remarkable team spirit. As usual, the project included local team members from the Ammarin tribe from Bayda, some of whom were already experienced from the former season.
In 2014 the project focused on the excavation of a village habitation. This season the team focused on the analysis of the two mosques of the village. The aim was to document the architecture and building techniques of these two public buildings, which are rare examples of Islamic-period mosques in Petra. Excavations revealed that Mosque 1 had been built over a former building. We were excited to find out that Mosque 2 was in very good condition, giving us an important opportunity for studying its architectural characteristics. We also continued to collect soil samples; these are destined for palaeobotanic analysis during the study season, as an aim of the project is to document daily life in the village. The plan for the next season is to finish excavating and recording these two important structures.
A new initiative, the Schools Day, was first launched in 2014, and it was repeated in 2015. With the important logistic cooperation of the Petra Archaeological Park, students from local schools have been invited to visit the site and learn more about its importance, about the job of the archaeologist, and about the destructive effects of looting the archaeological deposits. This season, I asked my team members to illustrate the results of the project, according to their expertise. Visits at the site have included local authorities, including staff of the Petra Archaeological Park and the Department of Antiquities, and the Director of the American Center of Oriental Research, Dr. Barbara Porter. Among the themes discussed with the Petra Archaeological Park was the idea of working on a future plan for the valorization of the site and increased access to tourists.
Working at the site has been lots of fun this season. Work in the field involved two tea breaks in the shade of our tents where the team relaxed and exchanged the news of the day. I chose to base my team of volunteers within the Bayda community, which meant that in the morning we would arrive there in minutes and could just walk to the site in the afternoon to complete drawings, but also that we had opportunities to visit friends or receive their visits in the evenings.
On our day off, Friday, the team was free to relax and enjoy Petra and the region. In Petra, the team visited the Jabal Harun, al-Habis castle and al-Deir, and we organised field trips to al-Wu’ayra castle and Shawbak castle. Every weekend we managed to camp outdoors, making tea, cooking and relaxing. Few things are as great as gathering around a fire under the stars after enjoying a stunning sunset!
(Image credits: Micaela Sinibaldi, Katleen Couchez, Ahmad Thaher, Qais Tweissi, Mahmoud Eid Ammarin).
By Elisabeth Sawerthal (PEF Librarian & Reviews Editor)
A group of objects from the PEF collection inspired Felicity Cobbing (Executive Secretary) and John MacDermot (Hon. Sec.) to do a photoshoot.
The images show five objects that are held in the collection of the Palestine Exploration Fund. They date back to the first decade of the 20th century and their size is indicated by the scale (inches) in the first, and by C-3PO in the second picture. They are made of plaster and are copies of objects from antiquity. Can you guess from which archaeological site their ancient originals came?
The Lego C-3PO serves as a clue to the original published image (1912).
The answer will appear here in a week’s time!
By Ken Dark
The Sea of Galilee Project is an archaeological analysis of the Roman-period and Byzantine landscape surrounding the Sea of Galilee. It involves both new survey and new analysis of data derived from earlier work by other scholars. The Project has been supported by the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) through two grants.
The first of these provided funding towards fieldwalking in the Ginosar Valley on the western side of the ‘Sea’ in 2012, on which an interim report appeared in the Palestine Exploration Quarterly (PEQ) in 2013. The second grant, the subject of this note, funded the use of satellite imagery to seek new evidence of settlement location and landscape organization dating to the Roman or Byzantine periods around the ‘Sea’. Whereas fieldwalking produced surprisingly extensive evidence for Roman-period and Byzantine activity, satellite imagery has yielded disappointingly few new data.
A field-by-field search of the area around the lake-edge using satellite imagery revealed two main categories of features on the west and north of the ‘Sea’: pre-modern water-courses (of natural origin), and undated relict field boundaries (mostly linear strips and rectilinear enclosures, perhaps for olive-groves). However, there are no similar features to the east of the ‘Sea’, which may be explained by the relative proximity of high hills to the shore, allowing little room for agriculture. There is no evidence of unknown occupation areas on any of the satellite images examined so far.
That is, both conventional fieldwalking by this project in 2012 and surface surveys previously conducted by other scholars, have seemingly been far more effective as means of identifying the Roman-period and Byzantine settlement-patterns than using satellite images. This raises interesting methodological questions about the limitations of satellite archaeology overall. While a useful tool, details of topography, present landscape-use and geoarchaeological considerations may all limit its effectiveness. It also raises questions about landscape organization around the ‘Sea’: were there really no more Roman-period and Byzantine settlements than those already recognised?
By Rosanna Sirignano
(Continued from “Introducing ‘Sitt Halima‘”)
Those who have women as informants are in a specially favourable position; the women are very much interested in their conditions and linger with pleasure over things which men glide over lightly.” (Granqvist 1931: 22)
Having obtained PEF support to go to Artas, I travelled there this October. After spending a couple of days in Jerusalem I left for Bethlehem together with my husband. Fadi Sanad, president of the Artas Folklore Center, welcomed us at Bab al-Zqaq from where we took a shared taxi to the village. He had arranged everything for us: the first two weeks we stayed in an apartment provided by Abu Sway family. Thanks to their hospitality and open mindedness we soon felt part of the community. The night we arrived women from Sanad family encouraged me to wear a traditional Palestinian dress and to attend a henna party.
A few days later Fadi´s younger brother got married. I had the privilege of getting involved in wedding preparation from the women’s side, while my husband enjoyed the atmosphere from the men side. When my husband left, I moved to Fadi Sanad´s mother´s place. She lived with three unmarried and beautiful daughters. Here my field work really began.
My research assistants were children from Abu Sway and Sanad family. They helped me to learn the local dialect and find my research participants, and they assisted me in doing the interviews.
I interviewed eleven women from 50 to 97 years old belonging to some of the families described in Granqvist´s work.
I explained frankly the purpose of my research to all my participants at the beginning of the interview process. They had a similar attitude toward wailing songs (in Arabic tanāwiḥ) and they didn’t feel comfortable speaking about it because they considered it sinful (ḥarām) and shameful (cēb). It seems that the Prophet Muhammad recommended to not express grief with loud wailing, beating one´s chest or cheeks, tearing off the clothes etc.
While my participants had never sung or wailed during a funeral, they have seen this practice at least once. Because of contrasting information they gave it was difficult to establish how common the practice had been and when exactly it disappeared. Some women preferred referring to wailing as a very old and uncommon practice in Artas. Some others admitted that it was a common practice which disappeared only ten years ago.
I was a little bit discouraged, but I could not give up. I had to think up a way to complete my wailing songs mission. I thought: Why don’t I ask “Sitt Halima” and their patient collaborators for help?
I began to show the women Granqvist´s collection of wailing songs in Arabic. Most of them were very happy to see that someone had recorded part of their cultural heritage so carefully. Although they recognized only one song, transcribed below, they quoted other songs that I have still to analyse.
|ḥabībti w ana ḥabībtha
ištāk kalbi la zyāritha
yiṣcab calēyya yōm furkitha
|She is my beloved and I am her beloved
My heart has pined for her visits
My heart suffered when I had to depart from her
Gamliel, Tova 2014. Aesthetics of Sorrow: The Wailing Culture of Yemenite Jewish Women. Wayne State University Press.
Granqvist, Hilma 1931. Marriage Conditions in a Palestinian Village, vol.I, Helsinki, Societas scientiarum fennica, commentationes humanarum litterarum.
Granqvist, Hilma 1965. Muslim Death and Burial: Arab Customs and Traditions Studied in a Village in Jordan, Helsinki, Societas Scientiarum Fennica, Commentationes Humanarum Litterarum.
Wickett, Elizabeth. 2010. For the Living and the Dead: The Funerary Laments of Upper Egypt, Ancient and Modern. I.B.Tauris.
By Bethany J. Walker
For the best part of the last twenty years I have been doing archaeological fieldwork in Jordan, where I have sustained a long-term interest in the Mamluk period (13th-16th centuries CE). What drives much of my research today is to better understand how villages functioned in the medieval Islamic period and how farmers made use of their land and limited water resources. In 2013, while excavating a medieval castle and village in the Madaba Plains, I received a call from Jerusalem: “Bethany, there is site over here you might want to take a look at. It seems to be a Mamluk-era farmstead, similar to what you are digging now!”
As I had been working in central and northern Jordan, I was most anxious to see a contemporary rural site outside the country, and immediately made the trip across the Allenby Bridge. I was not disappointed. The architectural remains were spectacular. Mazmil was once part of an extensive rural site outside the Holy City. The standing architecture, which is largely preserved from floor to roof, is a walled agricultural-domestic complex of the Early Modern (Ottoman) period, conforming to the form and layout of the seasonally inhabited farmstead (Fig. 1).
It makes use, however, of many walls and structures from earlier periods (Byzantine, Crusader, Mamluk), and has a reservoir and many large cisterns. What is left of the site of Khirbat Beit Mazmil, large portions of which have been scarred by demolition and suburban construction, offered me a unique opportunity to investigate the physical and functional transformations of a single household of farmers and its household economy in the Judean highlands (Fig. 2).
Our current excavations, which began this year and are co-directed with Dr. Benjamin Dolinka of the Israel Antiquities Authority, are the only ones today devoted to the study of the Jerusalem hinterland in the medieval Islamic period. We are most grateful to the Palestine Exploration Fund for helping to finance our fall excavation season.
Urban archaeology is a new experience for me. I have excavated in the middle of “living” villages before, and certainly in remote locations, but being in the middle of an urban environment created many new challenges and, yes, opportunities. There is constant noise, dust, and traffic. However, I can also get to the site with the light rail, rather than a four-wheel drive. Fieldwork each day was made ever so much smoother with one of the best field crews with whom I have had the pleasure to work (Fig. 3). The young men, and their foreman, from Ramla, were well trained technicians, loved archaeology, and had solutions for every problem that presented itself.
Excavating in a city also means you get many visitors. Ours largely came to help and volunteer, doing everything from drawing architecture, to washing and processing pottery, and excavation. Our visitors lived in the surrounding apartment complexes and in the village of Ein Karem. They were extremely supportive of our plans to develop the site into an archaeological park, preserving and restoring the historical architecture, and to save this precious green space from further urban development.
The final days of the excavation found the team fighting one of the worst dust storms the region has faced in recent history. Our end-of-season photos are largely orange in hue, a permanent reminder of the realities of working outdoors (Fig. 4). We plan to return to the site in September 2016 and continue excavation for another several seasons.