Protecting, Preserving, and Presenting Cultural Heritage in Petra: The Temple of the Winged Lions Cultural Resource Management Initiative

treasury, petra, tweissi

Figure 1: Petra’s most famous icon, the Al-Khazne (‘the Treasury’) tomb façade with tourist camel riders (Q. Tweissi).

By: Christopher A. Tuttle

Two hundred years ago, on 22 August 1812, the ancient city of Petra was re-identified by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, the first European on record to have visited the site since the 13thcentury. Word of his discovery quickly spread and other visitors soon followed in his footsteps—inaugurating a bicentennial of exploration and research at this amazing site located in what is today southern Jordan.

Petra served as the capitol city for the kingdom of Nabataea from at least the second century BCE until Trajan’s annexation of the region into the Roman Empire in 106 CE. Under Roman rule, the city retained its importance and became the administrative center for the new province of Arabia Petraea. Although heavily damaged by a major earthquake in May 363 CE, the city continued to play a significant role in the region during the Byzantine period when it served as an episcopal see of the Christian church. Continue reading

“Weathering Life” at the American Center for Oriental Research in Amman, Jordan

Contributed by Sarah Tobin, ACOR Fellow, PhD Candidate at Boston University

Perched atop a hillside across from the University of Jordan, ACOR is the perfect location for observing the patterns of life in Amman. Each morning, trucks delivering cooking gas to neighborhood homes drive by, announcing their presence with what can only be described as the familiar tunes of an American ice cream truck. Throughout each day, the Muslim call to prayer, the athan, comes from several mosques to the north and south of the building, each reflecting the unique voice of the local muezzin, or the prayer caller. Each evening, the balcony on the east side of the building provides for breathtaking views of the colorful reflections of the setting sun. My own room looks upon a set of archaeological ruins and the now-green blanketed hillside of this northern area of Amman in springtime. 

Snow at ACOR in 2009.

Snow at ACOR February 20th, 2009.

Spring has arrived in Amman, but not without the tense struggle of making it through winter. See, winter came late this year in Amman. In 2008, snow had fallen several times by the end of January, along with several inches of rain. But it wasn’t until the last two weekends of February that Amman saw snow fall. Rainfall has been slow to arrive. The late snowfall and colder temperatures so late in the season made the longing for the signs of springtime particularly observable.

Anxious to take advantage of ACOR-sponsored excursions to local sites otherwise inaccessible, many of the ACOR residents went out, only to be rained on. Others stayed in to avoid the weather, choosing instead to increase their caffeine intake with the always-ready tea and coffee on hand at ACOR. In the evenings, dinners were ordered in, the satellite TV played everything from Obama’s Inauguration speech to films commemorating the Chinese New Year, and building-wide festivities included a delightful celebration of Mardi Gras foods and drinks. We were anxious to do anything to pass the time in the cold evenings; winter felt like it was never going to end.

With the arrival of the Spring Equinox, it appears that spring has made its appearance at long last. The hillside outside my window shows some signs of life again as wildflowers bloom in shades of red, yellow, and purple. Residents are taking advantage of the weather and the weekends to get out, exploring areas as distant as Petra and Wadi Rum or as close as the Roman Amphitheater and Omayyad Ruins in Amman. The TV has been off and the pizza delivery guy has made few appearances.

Spring in Jordan near Pella.

As the semester continues, and as the weather begins to make its shift from the moderate temperatures of spring to the hot temperatures of summer for which the Middle East is so famous, ACOR too will makes its shifts. Some fellows will depart and new ones will arrive. Those living here and studying Arabic will begin to transition out, making way for the summer students to pick up where the others have left off. Temporary visitors will each share their own unique experiences in Amman with those here. And thus life is “weathered” at ACOR, with new seasons and new faces and new experiences. But before things change again, those here at ACOR appear to appreciate greatly what is finally here. 

Secrets of The Bible’s Buried Secrets

Contributed by Tristan Barako, Ph.D., Senior Researcher, Providence Pictures

When The Bible’s Buried Secrets premiered on PBS this past November, it was NOVA’s most watched show in the past five years, attesting to the enduring interest that biblical archaeology holds for the general public. The two-hour special was produced by Providence Pictures, where I now work as senior researcher and writer. The president/producer/director of Providence Pictures, Gary Glassman, took the unusual step of hiring me—someone with absolutely no prior experience in film production—on the strength of my background in archaeology and biblical studies. He and NOVA wanted to make sure that the film was as accurate as possible. To that end we enlisted the support of more than 30 ASOR members, who generously gave of their knowledge and granted us complete film access to their excavations and artifacts. Through their participation and the collective effort of all our staff and crew, we’ve shown that a documentary about biblical archaeology can be both a popular and scholarly success.

To give the readers of this blog some sense of the filmmaking process, here are a few behind-the-scenes peeks of the challenges we faced while making The Bible’s Buried Secrets. Most of what follows relates to my uncredited cameo appearances. In the interest of full disclosure, it must be said that Michael Homan, the moderator of the ASOR blog, also appears in the film. It was originally a more substantial role—his big line went something like “Ron, you better come down here; we just found something that’s going to make your day!” —but that part of the scene, unfortunately, ended up on the cutting room floor.

A reenactment of the discovery of the Tel Zayit abecedary.

Idol smasher: The climax of the destruction of Hazor was a close-up, slow motion shot of a statue of a seated male being decapitated. We had originally planned to shoot this scene in Israel, so we had our Art Director there, Gal Oren, make three replicas of the statue, but we ran out of time so we had to do it in the U.S. instead. The location we ended up using was Gary’s garage in Providence, where we clamped the statue (made of plaster, not the original basalt) to a low table and positioned a Duraflame stick in front of the camera. Then we smoked up the garage and I put on a robe, dirtied up my arm and hand, and grabbed the mallet. I was a bit nervous because I wanted to make sure that the head came off cleanly, similar to how the original was found at Hazor. To stay in the frame I had to approach the statue at an odd angle, but this did not get in the way of a near perfect strike: the head flew off and crashed against the back wall. Good thing, because I shattered the next two replicas.

Smashing idols in Gary’s garage.

German scholar: This was my most challenging role given the amount of time on camera and the task at hand—channeling Julius Wellhausen. To prepare for it we bought a nineteenth-century German Bible and rented a three-piece suit from a costume company in California (surprisingly we couldn’t find anything on the east coast). I also let my beard grow out a little. Finally, I found a section in my Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia that contained clear J and E passages. Despite all these preparations we overlooked something, as pointed out to me by a friend who is a German historian: the wedding band was on my left hand, whereas Germans typically wear it on the right. There goes the Emmy for best research.

Playing Julius Wellhausen

Gila’s assistant: In this scene, a recreation of the discovery of the Tel Dan Stela, I played only a supporting role: the guy holding the stadia rod for Gila Cook who found this famous inscription in 1993. We followed her recollection of events throughout, which included loading her up like a pack mule, while I ambled off the tell empty-handed. I felt especially insensitive because she was battling laryngitis that day and we made her go up and down the hill with all that equipment a few times on multiple takes, but she was a real trooper and the scene turned out beautifully.

Loading up Gila

Dead Israelite: We used Nazareth Village for many recreations including the scene where one of the Jerusalem priests rescues scrolls from a building set aflame by the Babylonians. Again I donned a robe and got smudged up, but this time all I had to do was lay sprawled out in the background. I’m really not visible because of all the smoke. Our Director of Photography, Nick Gardner, inhaled so much of it that he woke up that night with a splitting headache.

Tristan as a dead Israelite

YHWH: In one of the many scribal scenes, we wanted an extreme close-up of someone writing the personal name of the Israelite god, YHWH. Most of our recreation actors were modern-day sopherim, whom we casted for their ability to write Torah scrolls. The problem was, though, they refused to write the divine name. I volunteered to do it, but I write left-handed and all our scribes were righties. So we pressed into service our thoroughly secular, dread-locked soundman, Amir Liani, who did a great job considering that it was his first time writing in paleo-Hebrew.

YWHW in Paleo-Hebrew

For more information about Providence Pictures and The Bible’s Buried Secrets, including additional behind-the-scenes features, visit: and

Mohammad “Abu Ahmed” Adawi, Chef at ACOR 1968-present

Contributed by Sarah Harpending, American Center of Oriental Research

Mohammed “Abu Ahmed” Adawi has spent more than 40 years cooking for archaeologists in Jordan and Palestine. He began as a laborer at the dig in Jericho with Kathleen Kenyon in 1956. By 1960 he was cooking at ASOR in Jerusalem under then Head Chef Omar Jibrin. Abu Ahmed learned his basic techniques on the job, but he recalls that Omar could be secretive about his recipes.

Abu Ahmed preparing a Thanksgiving feast in 1982.

He first served as a cook at an excavation site in 1961 when Paul Lapp invited him to cook at Iraq al-Amir in Jordan. Without previous experience cooking outdoors, he says he just copied what he had seen Omar doing at the center and it usually worked. While they didn’t have the equipment of a regular kitchen, he was able, using a primus stove, to prepare the traditional repertoire such as roast beef, roast chicken, and stews for the dig crews. The roasts he would brown in a pan, then add water and cover the dish, leaving it to finish ‘roasting’ slowly on low flame. Abu Ahmed noted that serving this kind of good simple food in the remote areas where they were digging really made people happy.

Abu Ahmed notes that food fads have come and gone, (low fat, high carb, no carb…) but that he has not changed his style because he really likes the old fashioned recipes for hearty food. More and more frequently the ACOR residents will ask Abu Ahmed to prepare traditional Arabic dishes, which he does, although he balks at dishes such as rolled grape leaves or stuffed vegetables, because these are very time consuming and they demand many hours of preparation.

Abu Ahmed relies on the library of cookbooks given to him over the years by women such as Meredith Dorenemann (Rudy Dornemann was the first Annual professor director of ACOR), Vivian Van Elderen, Sue Sauer and Linda McCreery. That said, he likes to read food magazines and doesn’t mind to try new recipes occasionally.

Abu Ahmed cooking in the ACOR kitchen

Abu Ahmed cooking in the ACOR kitchen, 2009

One of the desserts that Abu Ahmed is best known for at ACOR are his date bars, which are indeed heavenly – sweet, moist, and sticky. He shares the recipe below:

Makes 3 dozen bars. Preheat oven to 400Ëš and prepare a 13×9 inch baking pan.

Date Filling:
dates 3 cups cut up
sugar 2 tbs
water 1 ½ cups cook for 10 minutes, stirring, until thickened. Set aside.

Cookie Mix:
butter ½ cup
shortening ¼ cup
brown sugar 1 cup cream together with a mixer.

Flour 1 ½ cup
Salt 1 tsp
Baking Soda ½ tsp
Oats 1 ½ cups Mix into butter mixture, stirring lightly

Press half the cookie mix evenly into the greased pan. Spread all the date filling on top. Cover with the second half of the cookie mix, pressing it flat by hand.

Bake 25 minutes, cut up the bars in the pan while they are still warm.