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).

Medieval Metalwork in Bilād al-Shām

By Gregory Bilotto

Through the generous support of the Palestine Exploration Fund, I was able to visit two mediaeval Islamic archaeological sites and the metal artefacts recovered from their subsequent excavations for my research in metalwork in Bilād al-Shām (the Levant). These two sites, Ḳayṣāriyya (Caesarea) and Ṭabariyya (Tiberias), have provided the largest quantities of metalwork datable to the Fāţimid period (909-1172 CE).

My interest in mediaeval Islamic metalwork stemmed from working in numerous archaeological excavations completing my MA degree in Islamic architecture while living in Cairo, Egypt. My graduate studies focused the architecture of the Fāţimids – a dynasty that reached ultimate feats in structure and design.

Fāţimid decorative arts, principally the often-overlooked study of metalwork, also helped express these accomplishments. It was Fāţimid artisans’ metalwork production in mediaeval Bilād al-Shām, Ifrīḳiya (North Africa) and Miṣr (Egypt) that inspired me to continue my research in the doctoral programme at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

Fig. 1. Copper-alloy vessels, 11th century CE cache Ṭabariyya, Israel Museum.
Photo G Bilotto, April 2016, courtesy Dr Na’ama Brosh.

Travelling from London to Jerusalem, my research brought me to the archaeological sites, but also to several museums in the Holy City. The Israel Museum, which contained a large quantity of the excavated metal objects (Fig. 1), had among its collection a copper-alloy and enamel vessel with human figural decoration. This type of decoration and enamel technique is exceptionally rare as there are no related examples from the Fāţimid period.

Fig. 2. Fāţimid copper-alloy vessel with human figural decoration in enamel, Israel Museum. Photo G Bilotto, April 2016, courtesy Dr Na’ama Brosh.

After holding this precious metal vessel in my hands, carefully examining the facial expressions and epigraphy, there is no doubt that it represents the epitome of Fāţimid art, which is truly incredible (Fig. 2). I also had the opportunity to visit the museum store administered by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in Bet Shemesh, outside Jerusalem (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3. A view of the IAA store, Bet Shemesh. Photo G Bilotto, April 2016, courtesy Dr Ayala Lester.

The store holds the remainder of the excavated metalwork, mostly consisting of tools and scrap. These objects were extremely helpful in determining centres of metalwork production and technique (Fig. 4). My research continued in Jerusalem with examination of several mediaeval Islamic metal vessels at the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum and a unique Fāţimid metal object at the Leo Aryeh Mayer Museum of Islamic Art.

Fig. 4. Copper-alloy scrap, 11th century CE Ṭabariyya, IAA store. Photo G Bilotto, April 2016, courtesy Dr Ayala Lester.

Arriving at the ruined mediaeval city of Ḳayṣāriyya for the first time, I was amazed and awed. The majestic coastal city has an exotic and almost tropical quality (Fig. 5). The living history was tangible, with years of habitation from the Romans to the Ottoman Empire, one can imagine ships and armies of conquest arriving throughout time.

Fig. 5. A northern view, Ḳayṣāriyya, with its antique and mediaeval ruins. Photo G Bilotto, April 2016.

The metal cache I was interested in was secreted away during the 11th century CE – a time when one of these conquering armies was invading; another such event occurred at Ṭabariyya.  I noted many unpublished details about the geography during my visit, and examining the findspot for the cache of metalwork was not only exciting but extremely helpful in placing the material in context (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6. Findspot of the Fāţimid metal cache, Ḳayṣāriyya. Photo G Bilotto, April 2016.

Further Reading

Arnon, Y., et al. 1999. ‘The Fatimid Hoard from Caesarea: A Preliminary Report’, in M. Barrucand (ed), L’ Égypte Fatimide: son art et son histoire, Paris: Presse l’Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 233-48.

Hirschfeld, Y., et al. 2008. Tiberias Excavations in the House of the Bronzes, Final Report

Volume I: Architecture, Stratigraphy and Small Finds, (Qedem 48), Jerusalem: Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Khamis, E., 2013. The Fatimid Metalwork Hoard from Tiberias: Excavations in the House of the Bronzes, Final Report Volume II, (Qedem 55), Jerusalem: Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Rosen-Ayalon, M., 2013. ‘A Unique Metal Object from Tiberias’, Atiqot 76, 173-81.

Stacey, D., et al. 2004. Excavations at Tiberias 1973-1974: The Early Islamic Periods, (IAA Reports 21), Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority.

 

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)  Drawing internal elevation, E. Wall, Mosque 1 (KC)  Collecting soil for palaeobotanical analysis (KC) Drawing elevations, Mosque 2. (AT)
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) Schools Day - Wadi Musa class and Bayda team (QT) Visit of Barbara Porter (AT) Visit of Petra Archaeological Park Staff (AT)
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) Weekend visit to Jabal Harun, Petra (KC) Taking a break from fieldwork (KC) Relaxing by the fire (MEA)
Tea break! (MS)

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

Fuel Provision for the Copper Industry in Islamic Period Southern Jordan

By Ian Jones

This study, supported by the Palestine Exploration Fund, is part of the broader University of Californa, San Diego Edom Lowlands Regional Archaeology Project (ELRAP), directed by Prof. Thomas E. Levy and Dr. Mohammad Najjar. The focus of this study, in particular, is fuel provisioning for the Middle Islamic period (1000-1400 AD) copper industry in Faynan, based on analysis of material from ELRAP excavations at Khirbat Faynan (KF, Fig. 1) and Khirbat Nuqayb al-Asaymir (KNA, Fig. 2).

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Fig 1. A view of Wadi Faynan from the Middle Islamic slag mound at Khirbat Faynan. Sources of wood suitable for charcoal are not particularly plentiful in this landscape.

Fig. 2. The mountains around Khirbat Nuqayb al-Asaymir, as seen from the highest point of the site.

Fig. 2. The mountains around Khirbat Nuqayb al-Asaymir, as seen from the highest point of the site.

Faynan presents some interesting challenges and opportunities to archaeologists. While things like pottery are surprisingly rare at many sites in Faynan, copper smelting debris is plentiful, to say the least. Luckily for this project, charcoal, in particular, preserves quite beautifully in Faynan (Fig. 3). This fact often prompts our field school students to ask, “Where did all of this charcoal come from?”  It’s an excellent question, too. Looking around Faynan, it’s difficult to avoid noticing that there aren’t all that many trees. In much earlier periods, the landscape was much wetter, but during the Middle Islamic period, Faynan probably looked similar to the way it looks today. Producing even a small amount of copper, however, can require a surprising amount of wood. Current estimates for the ratio of tons of charcoal consumed to tons of copper produced range between 10:1 and 100:1.

Fig. 3. Former UCSD undergraduate Kat Huggins excavating a pit feature filled with charcoal and kitchen waste.

Fig. 3. Former UCSD undergraduate Kat Huggins excavating a pit feature filled with charcoal and kitchen waste.

So, where did it all come from? Work in the 1980s by a German team led by Hans Baierle showed that the Middle Islamic charcoal from KF was made up mostly of oak and juniper, trees that grow on the plateau to the east, but not in the lowlands of Faynan. The first radiocarbon sample that we processed at KNA, however, was a piece of charcoal from white saxaul, a desert shrub that can still be found growing at the site. This led us to wonder whether the use of plateau species at KF was the result of the environmental impacts of Roman copper smelting. Baierle’s analysis of the Roman charcoal from KF showed the presence of a number of desert species, such as saxaul and acacia, that simply don’t show up at the site during the Middle Islamic period. Were the populations of these plants near KF overexploited during the Roman period to the point that Middle Islamic smelters were forced to obtain trees from the plateau, while those near KNA, 7 km to the north, were left relatively intact?

The charcoal identification, being performed by Dr. Brita Lorentzen is still ongoing, but the results we have now suggest a more complicated picture. Desert species are not entirely absent at Middle Islamic KF — although white saxaul is — but they are quite rare. At KNA, desert species, and especially saxaul, show up much more commonly than at KF. All of that is basically as we expected. Surprisingly, though, copper smelting contexts at KNA also contained a good deal of oak and juniper charcoal. While it is possible that stands of juniper existed closer to KNA, the closest source of oak was probably the plateau, more than 10 km to the east. It seems, then, that the populations of saxaul and acacia in Wadi Faynan had not yet recovered after their exploitation by the large Roman copper industry of the early 1st millennium AD, but also that these plants were not a sufficient source of fuel even at KNA. Continuing analysis of this material will allow us to make more definite conclusions about fuel provisioning by the Middle Islamic copper industry, and will hopefully also allow us to discuss shifts in these provisioning strategies over time, as we compare the charcoal identifications to our radiocarbon dates and ceramic analysis.

The Islamic Bayda Project

By Micaela Sinibaldi

The Islamic Bayda Project, affiliated with Cardiff University, was launched in 2014. It is co-funded by the Barakat Trust and the Palestine Exploration Fund.

During this first season of excavations, we excavated some habitations of this Islamic-period agricultural village to collect evidence about daily life at the site.

The Islamic Bayda Project team, 2014

The Islamic Bayda Project team, 2014. From left to right: Mohammed Abdullah Ammarin; Siham Nawafle (Department of Antiquities of Jordan, Representative); Ahmad Ibrahim Ammarin; Heather Crowley (Cardiff University, PhD student); Micaela Sinibaldi (Cardiff University, project director); Ghassem Jibril Ammarin. Standing in the trench: Mohammed Eid Ammarin. Photo: Qais Tweissi.

Cleaning a surface of occupation in the habitation courtyard.

Cleaning a surface of occupation in the habitation courtyard. In this area, we found a tabun (bread oven), and another one was found in the other sector of the trench. Photo: Qais Tweissi.

The visit by the staff of the American Center of Oriental Research: Barbara Porter (ACOR Director) and Glenn Corbett (ACOR associate director) with Micaela Sinibaldi, project director.

The visit by the staff of the American Center of Oriental Research: Barbara Porter (ACOR Director) and Glenn Corbett (ACOR associate director) with Micaela Sinibaldi, project director. Photo: Heather Crowley.

Tea break.

Twice a day we have a break to enjoy (very) sweet, energizing Bedouin tea, which is prepared every time by a different team member. Photo: Qais Tweissi.

Team members relaxing after a long final day in the field, and all dressed up for the final dinner of the Islamic Bayda Project. For this occasion, we organized a barbecue in Bayda, where we grilled chicken and vegetables.

Team members relaxing after a long final day in the field, and all dressed up for the final dinner of the Islamic Bayda Project. For this occasion, we organized a barbecue in Bayda, where we grilled chicken and vegetables. Photo: Micaela Sinibaldi.

The project has also launched a new initiative, the Schools Day.  Organised in collaboration with the Petra Archaeological Park, this year the project invited girls from schools in Bayda, Umm Sayun and Wadi Mousa (Petra region) to join us at the site with their teachers. The main aim of this activity was to involve the local communities in our archaeological work at Bayda. On this occasion, the students were introduced to the main features of the site and the meaning of the archaeologist’s job. The damaging effects of looting on the archaeological record were also discussed.

The schools day at the Islamic Bayda Project: visit to the church.

The Schools Day at the Islamic Bayda Project: visit to the church, which was created by reusing a Nabataean-period structure. Photo: Qais Tweissi.

The schools day at the Islamic Bayda Project: visit to the mosque.

The Schools Day at the Islamic Bayda Project: visit to the remains of the mosque and discussion about the effects of looting on the archaeological site. Photo: Qais Tweissi.

The schools day at the Islamic Bayda Project: visit to the trench.

The Schools Day at the Islamic Bayda Project: visit to the trench and questions and answer session on the job of the archaeologist. Photo: Heather Crowley.