Islamic Bayda Project, Season 2016

By Micaela Sinibaldi

The third season of the Islamic Bayda Project took place from July to August 2016 and was again affiliated with the Council for British Research in the Levant. The Palestine Exploration Fund has generously co-funded the project since its first season; this support has been essential to reaching our important results.

This season, a larger team was in the field than in former years. In addition to a team of international and Jordanian volunteers, archaeology students from Cardiff University joined as part of their courses and trained in archaeological documentation and excavation. As usual, the project included local team members from the Ammarin tribe from Bayda, whose experience in excavating in Bayda from the former seasons was crucial to the team.

Fig. 1: The location of Islamic Bayda in relation to Petra, from the 1st edition of Jane Taylor’s Petra (London 1993).

This season was very exciting, as receiving funding for six weeks allowed the team to complete the excavation of Mosque 2, dated to the Late Islamic period, which we had started excavating in 2015. While in 2015 we had uncovered the mihrab (niche pointing to Mecca) of the mosque and its southern part, this season we uncovered the mosque entrance and its northern part. The good state of preservation allowed a detailed reconstruction of the architecture of the mosque. Particularly interesting was discovering that one of the arches supporting the roof had collapsed in such a way to allow reconstructing its height and curve, and therefore the height of the mosque. The evidence from this campaign confirmed the hypothesis that the mosque had been destroyed by an earthquake.

The team also carried on a survey of modern villages in the region and visited houses of the modern Ammarin village in Bayda and Dana and observed that there the construction techniques have many elements in common with the buildings excavated at Islamic Bayda. In addition to sampling organic material from selected stratigraphic units, we also took samples for micromorphological analysis of the stratigraphy. We also investigated parts of Mosque 1 and its relationship to the earlier phases, which had been detected in the 2015 season.

Fig. 2: The team practicing excavation and documentation in Mosque 1 (photo by Micaela Sinibaldi).

Fig. 3: Study of local building techniques at the nearby Ammarin village (photo by Sarah Elliott).

The project had numerous visits this season, as the news have been spreading about our important discovery: the first mosque ever excavated in Petra, and, moreover, in very good conditions of preservation. We had visitors from the Petra Park, the Department of Antiquities, the Hussein Bin Talal University in Petra, children from a workshop organized by the Petra National Trust, and a one-day visit by a team from the Council for British Research in the Levant, including Carol Palmer, the Director of the British Institute in Amman, and a group of staff and research fellows, who have helped with their expertise in advising on sampling for laboratory analysis. After the end of the season, a presentation on the Islamic Bayda Project was also part of a special day organized by the Council for British Research in the Levant on the cultural heritage in Bayda and the potential of involving its community in its promotion.

On our weekly day off, Friday, the team was as always free to relax and enjoy several well-deserved trips to Petra and other sites, like Aqaba, and camping weekends in the beautiful Petra region. Congratulations to the team for this excellent season which has allowed accomplishing all the original goals!

Fig. 4: Weekend trip to Dana Natural Reserve (photo by Micaela Sinibaldi).

Fig. 5: Presentation of the results from Mosque 2 to the local community (photo by Qais Tweissi).

The Islamic Bayda Project, Season 2015

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.

Team cleaning E. Wall, Mosque 1. (MS)

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.

Schools Day - visiting Mosque 1 (QT)

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!

Tea break! (MS)

(Image credits: Micaela Sinibaldi, Katleen Couchez, Ahmad Thaher, Qais Tweissi, Mahmoud Eid Ammarin).