Islamic Bayda Project 2017

By Micaela Sinibaldi

In October/November 2017 the Islamic Bayda Project has carried on its fourth season of archaeological excavations at Khirbet Bayda in Petra. The project, which I direct since its outset and is affiliated with the Council for British Research in the Levant, in season 2017 had a duration of 4 weeks.  The Islamic Bayda Project, part of a larger project, which I also lead, The Late Petra Project, is a project of excavations, surveys, conservation, training and community engagement.

In season 2017, we returned to the two mosques at the site, which are also the only two mosques ever excavated in Petra, therefore important witnesses of the Islamic-period settlement in Petra. After removing the backfill, we completed the study of Mosque 2 by studying in details its phasing and building style with the methodology of Archaeology of Standing Buildings (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Recording building styles and building phases in Mosque 2 (photo by Steven Meyer).

The building and its use included six different phases and it reused a former Nabataean columnaded structure; we also reconstructed that about 40 worshippers could be accommodated in it. The project is now fundraising for the complete conservation, protection and presentation to the public of the two mosques; solutions have been discussed with the local authorities for a potential development and an opening of the area to the public.

To make it possible for the public to see the Mosque details before its conservation, this season we took photos to create a 3D model reconstruction of this important structure, which will be made available to the public.

As for Mosque 1, this season more excavation along the southern wall has revealed more exciting discoveries: the mihrab was built directly on top of a former, most likely Nabataean, structure, which included a plastered water tank, consistent with the important, former Nabataean phase at the village. Moreover, remains of red-painted plaster were revealed not only on the side walls of the mihrab, but also on its floor and along the western wall of the mosque, an important find so far without known parallels locally, which shows that the whole mosque was probably largely decorated in this way (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Exposing remains of red-painted plaster in the mihrab of Mosque 1 (photo by Micaela Sinibaldi).

The project includes a study of the local, modern culture, acknowledging its importance for understanding the material culture analyzed by the excavation, which has a very long tradition locally. In 2016 the team focused on analyzing the local traditional architecture; in 2017 we have visited a tabun, a bread oven which we regularly find in the excavation of the site, to observe its preparation and functioning. A local family has agreed to let us assist to the process of use of the oven over two days (Fig. 3). The bread we had as soon as it was baked in the oven was, needless to say, absolutely delicious.

Fig. 3: Our visit at a tabun in Bayda (photo by Micaela Sinibaldi).

The Schools Day is an outreach initiative I organize every year in cooperation with the Petra Archaeological Park, but this time the day has been particularly engaging: I invited the children to try simplified versions of the archaeologists’ activities of excavation, survey, study of the architectural material and recording of the data. The day was so successful that a class from the girls’ primary school from Umm Sayun, hearing about the initiative, organized a surprise visit (Fig. 4)!

Fig. 4: The girls’ school of Umm Sayun visiting the site (photo by Shayma Taweel).

Visits at the site have been particularly numerous this season, especially because Mosque 1 was completely visible for the first time. We received visits by the staff of the Petra Archaeological Park and the Department of Antiquities, staff and scholars of the American Center of Oriental Research and the Hussein Bin Talal University and  we have also been much honoured by a surprise visit by Prof. Hugh Kennedy from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5: The Islamic Bayda Project team, 2017 inside Mosque 2, during a visit of the staff of the Petra Archaeological Park (photo by Mohammed Eid Ammarin).

In addition to my core local team from Bayda, my team was very international this season: there were archaeology trainees from Jordan, the U.K., France and Australia. As always, being part of the Islamic Bayda Project included lots of barbecues under the stars and, of course, weekend visits to Petra, including a day trip to the Jabal Harun.

This year the project has launched a Facebook page.  Moreover, a video on the project’s activities and results is currently in preparation.  Finally, on 4 December, 2017, The Jordan Times published an article on the Islamic Bayda Project.

Umm at-Tawabin, Ghor as-Safi, Jordan, 2017

By Alexandra Ariotti

In February this year, I excavated the large fortified site, Umm at-Tawabin, positioned on a hill above the town of Ghor as-Safi and Wadi al-‘Arabah in Jordan, along with three Greek volunteers and some local Safi workers. With its vast size (880 x 450 m), strategic location, at least four interior buildings and over one hundred stone circles all fortified by a 2.5 km perimeter wall, this site has never been fully investigated since it was first discovered in the late 19th century until recently.

In 2015, I carried out a survey and study of some surface pottery which provided the evidence for a 1st century BC to 6th century AD occupation in one area especially, the site’s main fort on the citadel. However, to firmly establish the chronology of all of the site’s architectural features distributed over a wide area, the next logical step was to dig some strategically-placed sondages to retrieve pottery and other material and to compare types of building and construction where possible. Five trenches were excavated with Trench I in the middle of Fort A on the citadel and four trenches (II-V) below the fort on the site’s west side.

Work begins up on Umm at-Tawabin’s citadel where we’re hoping to expose the architecture of Fort A, a large defense post overlooking Wadi al-‘Arabah and the southern Dead Sea. Photo by Nikos Angelakis.

Some of our team made up of Safi locals, three Greeks and one Australian digging the fort, with spectacular views all around us. Photo by Nikos Angelakis

Our excavation of Fort A revealed some of the structure’s original architecture including a water reservoir and has produced a considerable quantity of pottery, coins and other finds like a stone slingshot and part of a Nabataean incense burner.

Fort foundations including a water reservoir are at last revealed. Photo by Nikos Angelakis.

This material has so far shown that Fort A was built and occupied from the first century BC onwards, serving as a lookout post designed for defensive and monitoring purposes.

At the same time, our team excavated two of the stone circles (from which the site gets its name “mother of bread ovens” in Arabic) that have been the subject of some longstanding debate concerning their origin and function.

Omar excavating one of the site’s one hundred circular stone installations situated along the west side of Umm at-Tawabin. Photo by Nikos Angelakis.

Stone Circle A (Trench II) did not yield much in the way of interior features beyond a thin layer of ash and a few residual pottery sherds. However, Stone Circle B (Trench III) was found to have been built directly on top of two walls belonging to an altogether different structure/s that dates to a much earlier (Early Bronze Age or Middle Bronze Age) period.

Antonis sieving for pottery and other finds from within one of the stone circles that will help to date these unusual features. Photo by Nikos Angelakis.

Some stratified pottery was found within the circle that I’m eagerly waiting to study. Trench IV was excavated as a probe along a line of very large boulder stones on the southwest side of the site that, together with another parallel line of boulders, forms its enclosure wall.

Two of our Greek volunteers excavating a probe along Umm at-Tawabin’s enclosure wall on the west side of the site. Photo by Nikos Angelakis.

We can now determine how this massive fortification was constructed, as well as the depth of its foundations, made all the more clear by the excavation of Trench V further to the south. This probe was dug across the two wall lines of boulder stones which showed us that Umm at-Tawabin is enclosed, on its west side at least, by a very wide type of case-mate wall. Once a study of the all of the finds recovered by excavation (as well as some surface sherds recently collected) has been completed, I hope to better understand the occupational history of Umm at-Tawabin which may now be much broader than previously thought, for example, with origins that date to the Bronze Age.

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).

Pilgrim Camps on the Hajj Roads to Mecca

By Claudine Dauphin

The Desert is green! My arrival in Jordan on 13th April 2016 coincided with hail, strong winds, lashing rain and intense cold, turning the semi-arid desert immediately south of Amman into a green carpet (Fig. 1). Courtesy of global warming, three days later, it was full Summer and a ‘‘baptism by fire’’ at 38°C in the shade for my first day of fieldwork on the camps of the Darb al-Hajj al-Shami, the ‘‘Syrian’’ Pilgrimage route running from Damascus to Mecca and bisecting Jordan lengthwise.

Fig. 1A green desert, mid-April 2016 (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

Fig. 1 A green desert, mid-April 2016 (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

Following the central ridge of Jordan, which was densely populated in Antiquity, the original ‘‘Mediaeval’’ road (7th-15th centuries) incorporated stretches of the Iron Age and Nabatean Kings’ Highway and of the Roman Via Nova Triana. It was replaced in the 16th century by the Ottoman route further east into the desert, with which the Hijaz Railway competed between 1900 and 1918 (Figs 2 and 3).

Fig. 2Hijaz Railway Mafraq Station (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

Fig. 2 Hijaz Railway Mafraq Station (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

Fig. 3Original Hijaz train carriage in wood, exhibited in the courtyard of The Jordan Museum, Amman (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

Fig. 3 Original Hijaz train carriage in wood, exhibited in the courtyard of The Jordan Museum, Amman (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

In 2014, I had followed the Ottoman Darb al-Hajj by taxi and on foot from Ramtha on the Syrian border southwards (425 kms or 264 miles), section by section between historically-attested stop-overs, whilst checking the changes in the landscapes pre-detected on geological and pedological maps, aerial photographs and Google Earth. This Spring, I put my steps into those of Ottoman pilgrims returning from Mecca, starting at the fort of Qala’at Mudawwara (Fig. 4) on the border with Saudi Arabia, thus reversing the order of the 12 stop-overs, and focused on the open-air encampments, which I had reconstructed on paper from the descriptions of 19th century travellers, J.L. Burckhardt and Ch. Doughty, Arab, Persian and Indian illuminated manuscripts and miniatures, and early photographs.

Fig. 4DAoJ surveyor Qutaiba al-Dasouqi looking down to the Ottoman fort of Qala’at Mudawwara. The pilgrim camp filled the vast expanse surrounding it (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

Fig. 4 DAoJ surveyor Qutaiba al-Dasouqi looking down to the Ottoman fort of Qala’at Mudawwara. The pilgrim camp filled the vast expanse surrounding it (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

How is it possible to locate the bases of tents and hearths in a wilderness of sand and rocks? Setting information, culled, with an official permit, in the archives of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan (DAoJ) against RAF 1953 aerial photographs provided by the Royal Jordanian Geographic Centre, I applied British methods of Historic Landscape recording and interpretation (walking the entire area, detecting features thanks to slanting afternoon light, recording by GPS, measuring, drawing and photography). DAoJ surveyor Qutaiba al-Dasouqi and I plotted access from the main Hajj road or via secondary paths, determined the extent of each camp and defined its natural limits (wadi or terracing), recorded hearths, traces of tents, enclosures for the camels, donkeys, mules and horses of the Hajj caravan, which in its 16th-18th century heyday, comprised some 60,000 pilgrims and 80,000 camels.

Fig. 5 Goats feeding on bushes on the Darb al-Hajj at Qala’at al-Hasa. The kerb is visible between the two goats (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

Fig. 5 Goats feeding on bushes on the Darb al-Hajj at Qala’at al-Hasa. The kerb is visible between the two goats (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

Most exciting was recording al-Hasa: under a blazing sun, walking across the Ottoman bridge, along the Hajj road with its revetment of pebbles and flint (Fig. 5), and its drainage system, past the Ottoman fort and onto the pilgrim camp, measuring the circuit wall of an immense camel enclosure, picking out the faint outlines of octogonal and rectangular tents between artemisia bushes, with a cooking-hearth outside the entrance of each tent, gave me a real sense of Time abolished, a feeling of reaching out to the daily routine of 18th century pilgrims on the Darb al-Hajj. My greatest reward, however, was the discovery of the actual Hajj road (Fig. 6) running past Qala’at Daba, between the pilgrim encampment (also a First) and the modern tarmac road, and uphill towards Zizya.

Fig. 6 View of Qala’at Daba from the just-discovered Hajj road in the foreground. Between it and the Ottoman fort, to the left, lay the pilgrim camp (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

Fig. 6 View of Qala’at Daba from the just-discovered Hajj road in the foreground. Between it and the Ottoman fort, to the left, lay the pilgrim camp (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

In comparison, the camps of the Mediaeval Darb al-Hajj were more difficult to reconnoitre and delimit securely, the majority of them having been absorbed by sprawling urbanisation (Ramtha, Qasr Shabib in Zarka, al-Thaniyya now part of al-Karak, and Zizya), which has eradicated nearly all evidence of pilgrims’ resting places. It required a much greater leap of imagination to give physical substance to descriptions of the camps by Mediaeval Hajj pilgrims, such as the famous Ibn Battuta (Tangiers 1304-Morocco 1368-69 or 1377) who travelled on the ‘‘Syrian’’ Hajj road in 1326.

As dusk fell on the faint traces of the pilgrim camps, the ears of my imagination could still hear the clatter of the cooking and eating in front of the tents, the growling of camels and the neighing of horses, donkeys and mules, as they settled down to sleep before yet another gruelling day’s walk to the next stop-over on the road to Mecca.

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).

Blooming dolmens!

By Jamie Fraser (Project Curator – Ancient Levant, British Museum)

In March 2015 I submitted my PhD thesis “Dolmens in the Levant”. For six weeks I had worked frantically in the library at the American Centre for Oriental Research in Amman, attacking my keyboard like a pianist the Rach 3, dreams haunted by an unfinished Chapter 9, or a bibliography missing any author with a name starting with ‘C’. Oh the elation near midnight at the end of the month, when I clicked ‘submit’ on the University of Sydney’s webpage; the burden slipped from my shoulders; my head became light; and I ascended, weightless, the library stairs to the Residences above, where the Director poured me a scotch, agreed that she too could hear heavenly choirs, and suggested I go home to bed.

I awoke three days later like Dorothy in Oz, keen to explore a new technicolour world. “Let’s go dolmen hunting!” I cried to my friend Isabelle Ruben, an archaeologist, botanist and long-time Amman resident, whose books include a Field Guide to the Plants and Animals of Petra. Isabelle readily agreed, but on condition we visited the Wadi Zerqa, a likely spot to find in bloom the famous Black Iris of Jordan. “You hunt your dolmens, I’ll shoot my flowers”, she replied, reaching for her camera and macro lens.

Zerqa river, Wadi Zerqa

Zerqa river, Wadi Zerqa

7. Isabelle Ruben, shooting flowers

Isabelle Ruben, shooting flowers


The Zerqa is the second largest tributary of the River Jordan. It rises near Amman, then drops almost 2,000 m in elevation as it flows through the escarpment to the rift valley below. Known as the Biblical Jabbok, the wadi was supposedly the place where Jacob fought with an angel, and these resonances drew scholars such as Capt. Conder (1889) and Dr. MacKenzie (1911) of the PEF. However, it was the psychedelic carpet of wild flowers that drew Isabelle and me: poppies, anemones, daisies and buttercups – it was enough to stir the heart of any battled-wearied thesis survivor. Just as I was about to burst into song, Isabelle pounced. “Aha!” she cried, whipping out her macro lens like a great white hunter on safari, “Iris nigricans – the Black Iris of Jordan!” Although their petals range from purple to black, their beauty, Isabelle explained, belies a remarkable reproductive machine: three upright petals help advertise the flower to nectar-gathering insects; three drooping petals draw the insects to the stamen within. Unfortunately, their beauty has also seen numbers decline, and the iris is now protected by law.

Close up of a Black Iris.

Close up of a Black Iris.

After sniffing our last Ranunculus, we crossed the Zerqa to the Wadi Rayyan, one of the most fertile wadis in Jordan. The well-watered Rayyan has long been known, somewhat ironically, as the ‘dry’ or ‘barren’ Wadi ‘Yabis’. Scholars explain this incongruity by identifying in the toponym ‘Yabis’ the name ‘Jabesh’ Gilead, a town mentioned in the Bible in relation to Kings David and Saul and their battles with the Philistines and Ammonites. Regardless, the wadi was renamed the ‘verdant’ Wadi Rayyan in the late 1990s, with possible associations to the Rayyan door named in the Qur’an as one of the Gates of Heaven through which the virtuous may pass into paradise.

 A dolmen surveyed at Tell er-Ras in the Wadi Rayyan

A dolmen surveyed at Tell er-Ras in the Wadi Rayyan

The Wadi Rayyan is also renown for its dolmens. Dolmens are megalithic tomb monuments that were probably built as stone charnel houses by village communities at the start of the Early Bronze Age, c.3800-3000 BC. Early travellers were fascinated by these megalithic monuments, which seemed so familiar to the European experience; indeed, in his Survey of Eastern Palestine (1889), Conder declared dolmens to be “one of the most interesting features of the survey expedition”. Although they once numbered in their thousands, many cemeteries are now destroyed, and descriptions by travellers such as Conder are the only accounts that some dolmen fields ever existed. As part of my postgraduate research, I had surveyed over 100 dolmens on the north side of the Wadi Rayyan, and I was back to validate reports of a smaller cemetery near the Byzantine period site of Deir el-Halawa on the opposite ridge.

A dolmen near Deir el-Halawa in the Wadi Rayyan

A dolmen near Deir el-Halawa in the Wadi Rayyan

After parking the car at the bottom of a hill, we climbed through olive orchards towards the ridge-line above, which marked the south side of the wadi. We weren’t disappointed: although overgrown and partly collapsed, we found at least 15 dolmens scattered across the hill-side, their upright slabs, rectangular chambers and megalithic capstones highly distinct. I took a few notes, then we headed to the Deir el-Halawa ruins at the top of the hill, almost falling into a massive rock-cut cistern on the way.

Tell el-Maqlub in the Wadi Rayyan, possibly ancient 'Jabesh-Gilead'

Tell el-Maqlub in the Wadi Rayyan, possibly ancient ‘Jabesh-Gilead’

The ridgeline affords a spectacular view over the impressive site of Tell el-Maqlub (the ‘upside down mound’). The tell is strategically located on a perennial stream at the only point where the steep-sided wadi can be easily crossed, and it is no coincidence that the Roman road between the Decapolis cites of Pella and Jerash ran right past the site. This location makes Tell el-Maqlub the best contender for the Iron Age settlement of Jabesh Gilead itself, although no archaeological work has ever been conducted on the mound. Feeling the weight of my trowel in my back pocket, I sighed, turned around, and traipsed back down the hill with Isabelle, passing more dolmens covered in wild flowers on the way.


Duncan Mackenzie at Beth Shemesh: first impressions

By Penny Butler

I’m starting on this new archive, and it’s always exciting writing on the database the number “001” and dreaming about how many more numbers there will be – surely not as many as Olga Tufnell’s photographs (my last project) which came to around 1,500 items.

Duncan Mackenzie (1861-1934) was a pre-eminent field archaeologist whose work was chiefly concerned with three very important Aegean and Ancient Near East sites. He worked at Phylakopi on Melos between 1896 and 1899 and under Arthur Evans he worked at Knossos from 1900-1910 and 1914-1934.  Between his two Knossos stints there was Palestine.  He went out in 1910, but couldn’t get a firman, so he went on a side trip with his photographer, Francis G. Newton, to Jordan, Syria and the Plain of Philistia. Afterwards he was appointed “Explorer” by the PEF and excavated at Beth Shemesh 1911-12.

A dolmen in Jordan with two armed tribesmen (PEF-P-MACK-33).

A dolmen in Jordan with two armed tribesmen (PEF-P-MACK-33).

The PEF has archived much of Mackenzie’s materials, including academic material and his correspondence with the PEF, dig reports and drawings. The Fund has also archives of some of his photographer F. G. Newton’s materials. A PEF Annual, which includes a transcription of one of his daybooks, will be coming out soon.

Felicity handed me three books. One, a fat larger than A4 size handmade photo album, bound in thick white paper, with two black and white photos per page mounted on brown paper -disappointingly faded – with so far views of ruins and dolmens near Madeba and other desert places, arid landscapes featuring at a rough count two people per 20 photos. Second, an old maroon-bound large book with list upon list of photographs, in handwriting. Third, a little yellow bound book with typewritten lists of photos, a collation of those catalogued in 1889 and those catalogued in 1920, with ‘x’s in three columns to denote various things too arcane for me to fathom. The job is to collate all three with specific reference to Mackenzie and write up the database. So my day is spent with three open books, poring over the lists and every so often working out which photo is which and making an entry.

I plan to write a series of blogs during this project.  So far I am still in Jordan – more in my next!

Surveying Umm at Tawabin, a Roman military site

By Alexandra Ariotti

Over the course of two to three days in January 2015, myself and Jordanian surveyor, Qutaiba Dasouqi, mapped the large Roman military camp of Umm at Tawabin (‘mother of bread ovens’ in Arabic) located on the south side of the Wadi al-Hasa, overlooking the town of Ghor as-Safi and the Wadi ‘Arabah in Jordan (Figs 1 and 2).


Figure 1. Myself and Qutaiba planning the site.

Figure 1. Myself and Qutaiba planning the site.

Figure 2. Umm at Tawabin on its west side facing north.

Figure 2. Umm at Tawabin on its west side facing north.

My goal was to document this historically significant site by photograph and by producing a topographical plan of its extensive enclosure wall encircling at least two forts, a possible observation post or tower, a likely barracks area, a citadel, and the numerous circular stone enclosures on the site’s west side, from which the site gets its name (Figs 3 and 4).

Figure 3. Planning the site with Qutaiba, the Jordanian surveyer.

Figure 3. Planning the site with Qutaiba, the Jordanian surveyer.

Figure 4. Main enclosure wall of Umm at Tawabin facing SE.

Figure 4. Main enclosure wall of Umm at Tawabin facing SE.

Over this period, I also collected some surface pottery, to be published, together with the site plan and photos, to learn more about the site’s chronology. Umm at Tawabin was first discovered in the 1980s and has since been described only briefly in a couple of past survey reports. We know it was an important site by virtue of its large size (880 x 453 m), by the number of its associated fortified structures made clear during the time we were planning the site, and by such historical sources as the Notitia Dignitatum Orientis (c. 400 C.E.) which lists the equites indigenae sagittarii, a Roman cavalry unit comprising native mounted archers based at Zoara (modern-day Safi) from the third to fifth centuries C.E. In this period, this military camp sat at the crossroads of the north-south and east-west communication routes flanking both sides of the strategically important Wadi ‘Arabah where the many east-west running arteries, roads and arable lands could be monitored, protected and policed.

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).


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.