Paving the Way to an Iron Age Gate: A Glimpse into the 2015 Season at Tall Jalul

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By: Trisha Broy, ASOR Member Supported Excavation Grant Recipient

It says a lot about a country that teaches every man, woman, and child at least one English phrase – “Welcome to Jordan.” Here a plethora of cordiality is poured out on every visitor. I could not have been the delighted recipient of this renowned hospitality without the generosity of ASOR and their sponsors. They made this excavation and research tour a reality for me. I have fallen in love with Jordan, with her people, her warmth, and her history.

This season, together with a remarkably friendly and knowledgeable team from Andrews University, I have been excavating the entrance and gate system on the east side of Tall Jalul, part of the Madaba Plains Project in central Jordan. This area of the tell is known to many familiar with the site as “Field B.” Our goal of more firmly establishing the dating of the roads leading up to the gate has thus far been successful. Additionally, we are gaining a greater understanding of the revetment wall associated with the lower of the two known pavements. Most rewardingly, we have found a third, even earlier road below that. With intriguing and complex stratigraphy, our field is never boring. Our discoveries this season even included two burials. We concluded with fair certainty that they were originally interred during the Ottoman period. It is always so exciting to dig. Even an area that has an expected stratigraphy can, and most probably will surprise you. When you excavate you truly have no idea what each day will hold. This is the fire in the bones of most field archaeologists.

Excavation of adolescent male burial.

Excavation of adolescent male burial.

A typical day for me begins around 4:00 am. After dressing and grabbing my packed “dig bag,” I run up to the top floor of our hotel for breakfast. During the day the view is fantastic, with windows providing a near 360 degree view around Madaba. At breakfast, however, everything is still dark and sleepy. After a light meal, the team meets at the cars around 5:15 am. The drive from the hotel to the tell takes about ten minutes this early – it can take up to twice as long coming home at noon. We park in the pre-dawn light and load as much as we can carry on our backs and in our arms. Nothing wakes you up quite as much as climbing a tell in the cool early morning while loaded down with bags and equipment. By the time I get to the top I am warmed up, trying to catch my breath – my blood pumping in my ears. It is at that moment that I am truly ready to start the day.

The first 30 – 45 minutes on the tell are usually spent setting up equipment and taking morning photographs. Our site is not covered with any type of shelter, so the best light is right at sunrise, before the sun is bright enough to throw shadows. The relative moisture from the night dew stills the dust and brightens the colors in the balks, making the stratigraphy crisply visible at these hours. After taking photos and levels, scrutinizing our balks, and writing labels for pottery buckets – all while drinking a few savored sips of Jordanian tea from my travel mug – we get down to the real business of digging. Around 9:00 am we rest and have “second breakfast.” This is easily my favorite meal of the day. It usually consists of a falafel sandwich, fresh crunchy vegetables, and a variety of fruit. It always includes a juicy desert watermelon. At home these melons just are not the same. I’m not sure if it is the desert they are grown in, the water, the variety, or the hard physical labor that always precedes their consumption. Either way, they stand out in my mind as the best watermelons of all time.

Watermelon at 2nd breakfast.

Watermelon at 2nd breakfast.

After second breakfast, enthusiasm begins to wane. Picks fall more slowly and sifts are shaken much less vigorously. “Gooffaws,” the buckets we use (made from old tires in an Egyptian design concept), fill more slowly. The heat rises and the sun beats down. The local boys that work in our square begin to talk more and move less. Menwir, a young man of fifteen insists on “English only, no Arabi!” Every two minutes he shouts cheerfully, “Everybody good?” – to which we all respond, “Everybody’s good!” The boys repetitively sing a song in Arabic about a fly. The Andrews team in Field B can hum along by now, but most have not yet mastered the words. We pack up around noon and return to the hotel. After showering and another superb meal, we head for the covered outdoor pottery lab. The ceramics found from the previous dig day are laid out on tables by the square supervisors. The field supervisors carefully examine the pottery and explain the form and general date of each identifiable piece. All participants are encouraged to watch and learn.

Local workers Menwir and Abdullah in the field.

Local workers Menwir and Abdullah in the field.

Pottery reading with Hala Ejeilat and Paul Greggor.

Pottery reading with Hala Ejeilat and Paul Greggor.

Finally the ceramics from the current day are washed and set out to dry for the next day, while the publishable pieces are registered. This process provides the time for everyone to observe and participate in the pottery washing, reading, and registering. If we finish early we may have time to do a little shopping in town, or visit the popular ice cream shop. A light dinner follows at 6:00 pm and I am usually asleep by 8:00 pm. Our days are full and never boring. The work week this season runs from Sunday through Thursday. We are off on Friday and Saturday. Most of us spend weekends touring together.

Wadi Rum Group

Wadi Rum Group

Wadi Rum Jeep Tour

Wadi Rum Jeep Tour

This season we have had some amazing tour opportunities. We first explored Madaba, where our dig hotel is located. Later we visited Mt. Nebo, Umm ar-Rasas, Iraq el-Imir, Tell Dhiban, Machaerus, Khirbet Ataruz, Aqaba, the Dead Sea, Bab edh-dhra, and most enjoyably Wadi Rum. In Wadi Rum we were able to spend two days touring with one night camping in the desert. Half of us chose to sleep in the “glamping” tents and half slept under the stars. The adventure was wonderfully memorable and the scenery phenomenal. The benefits from weekend tours are felt throughout the group. The chance to rest from the routine of the work week and spend time exploring together as a team (particularly with a group as small as ours is this season) does wonders for stress relief and “family” comradery. It also produces many, many enjoyable photographs.

In addition to my time on the tell, I have had the opportunity to pursue some of the first “live” research I must complete for my dissertation. I met some wonderful people at the local museum and through them have examined and handled a satisfying number of the ceramics I need in my research. For a budding ceramicist, there is little more thrilling than touching, photographing, and measuring the forms one has been reading about and staring at in pictures for months. I know it sounds ridiculously unprofessional, but I had to quell the urge to hug my first pot. It was so beautiful in its sheer tangibility. Such was my enthusiasm for the work I was able to undertake this summer. I moved further ahead in the days that I have worked at the museum, than I was able to in three times the amount of time at home. Furthermore, I have been able to complete research that is not even possible to do outside of Jordan.

Thanks to the fellowship provided to me through ASOR and its donors, I am enjoying a memorable season of excavation and moving another step closer to finishing my graduate research. My gratitude for this opportunity is greater than I have words to express. Thank you for believing in me and the other recipients of this year’s excavation grants. Your generosity has made a difference.

Trisha Broy is a doctoral student at Andrews University. Her research is focused on the Iron Age ceramics of Jordan.

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