A Journey to Jordan
By: Jacob Moody Platt Fellowship Recipient
I am deeply grateful to ASOR and to the late Mrs. Katherine Barton Platt for the Platt Fellowship, which made my wonderful trip to Jordan possible this summer. I thank you, and all ASOR fellowship donors, whose contributions help so many people be able to participate in amazing experiences while furthering the field of archaeology.
Not everyone who participates on an excavation learns to love the pre-dawn wakeups, the dust and the heat, the scrubbing of ancient broken dishes, and the meticulous recording of it all. I tend to thrive in this setting and find myself looking forward to it all year long. But there is more to look forward to on an excavation than just the digging, recording, and trying to understand and reconstruct what is being uncovered. Even if the labor side of an excavation makes some cringe, there is a journey in the overall experience that undoubtedly leads to uncovering something unforgettable and that something isn’t necessarily in the dirt. There is the comradery of friends both old and new; touring and seeing ancient settings and modern wonders that the surrounding country has to offer; the discoveries of present-day villages, little shops, and souqs; along with the uncovering of new foods, and experiencing different cultures. Participating in any excavation provides a myriad of experiences.
My primary reason for going to Jordan this summer was to participate in the Tall Jalul excavation run by Andrews University. The Jalul expedition is in a publication phase and this season represented a very small-scale project set to answer some lingering questions. Our small yet diverse team represented people from Croatia, Korea, China, Brazil, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Jordan, and the United States and that is with only 15 people. We worked mostly in three squares inside the massive open-air water system that is being uncovered at Jalul in Field W and in two small probes in Field B.
Over the years Andrews University has developed close relationships with the local people who live in modern village of Jalul. They take pride in the archaeological site that is their community namesake and love welcoming the dig team warmly into their country and their homes. We hired a group of local workers from the village to help with the dig, many of whom have years of experience excavating with our staff and are considered true friends.
As part of trying to better understand the intriguing water system being discovered at the site, I was one of the luck ones who climbed a rope ladder 25 meters down into an impressive cistern. This was the first modern foray down into its depths. Being able to be one of the first people to see or experience something that no one else has viewed or touched in millennia is one of my main draws to this field. A flashlight and headlamp were a must and they illuminated a plaster-lined chamber with a fair amount of standing water still in the bottom. I was able to take photos and measurements and help set the stage for future excavations inside.
Something else that has always fascinated and excited me is the ever-evolving marriage of technology and archaeology. Photogrammetry, the process of using photographs to survey, map, and measure, is fast becoming a standard for recording and daily mapping an excavation’s progress. One of my assignments this season was that of photogrammetric technician. I would daily photograph and create 3D models of each area of excavation and from those models render orthographic two-dimensional top plans. I must give credit where it is due and state that this is all thanks to the software we use, I’m just the luck bloke who gets to push buttons and make things happen. Either way, I still love and enjoy what I do.
Jordan is full of beautiful sites and wonders and our regular tours and self-guided excursions provided some truly neat experiences. Our team was stationed in the city of Madaba, which recent won the World’s Mosaic City title. I loved being able to see renderings such as the famed Madaba Map, with its 6th cent. CE depiction of Jerusalem, or the floor of the Apostle’s Church with its beautiful Byzantine mosaic showing the sea incarnate. Sites such as Mount Nebo, Dibon, Machaerus, and Umm ar-Rasas were only a few minutes drive from Madaba, and visiting places like Jerash, the Dead Sea, the Amman Citadel are always a treat. We usually visit Petra when our team is in Jordan but this year we walked in the footsteps of T. E. Lawrence and spent a few days in Wadi Rum. This was my first time there and the majestic vistas and otherworldly rock formations held a special beauty. We took a guided two-day tour where we road camels across the red sand, took jeeps to remote canyons and historic sites, and camped out under the stars. I absolutely loved Wadi Rum and and hope to visit it again someday.
It went by fast, too fast. The individual days of work and of travel may seem have seemed long but the weeks definitely flew by and suddenly my journey to Jordan was over. With each experience of an excavation I get to broaden my skillset, strengthen my research, and truly experience a part of the world. I love my work as an archaeologist and treasure the journeys that this pursuit brings my way. My time in Jordan this summer was a truly rewarding and memorable experience. Thank you again to ASOR and to those donors who help to make these amazing journeys possible.
Jacob Moody is a Ph.D. student at Andrews University where he is also the Assistant Curator of the Siegfried H. Horn Archaeological Museum. Moody lives in Berrien Springs, Michigan with his wonderful wife Joanna and their four children.
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