Week 1: The Price of Progress

The building on Site 52

By: Amanda Hopkins, 2012 Heritage Fellow

When I returned to Jordan for the 2012 dig season  of the Madaba Plains Project excavations at Tall al-`Umayri, with a fellowship from ASOR, I was dismayed to find that my proposed survey site now hosted a large and fully constructed shell of an apartment building dug into the center of it. There on Site 52, (a few kilometers north of `Umayri which was discovered in the five-kilometer-radius survey several years ago) stood a modern edifice.

This apartment building should not have been here. What should have been here was a deposition from the late Iron Age that included rectilinear structures, perimeter wall lines, a cistern, cup holes, terraces and field embankments.

An earlier sherding and probe from 1992 hinted that the site boasted a significant deposition of rich cultural remains from the late Iron II period/ early Persian period. The findings included “Amonite” burnished ware and an agate bead. The preliminary finds hinted at the presence of a large and elaborate building complex such as a government deployed fort.

Nothing but partial outlines remain of the massive structures which must have constituted this site. Most of the early masons’ building materials lay in piles at the bottom of the slope around the new apartment building. The ingenuity and labor that had procured and fashioned these foundations were irretrievably lost.

My attention is now focused on returning to another MPP-`Umayri survey site, Site 84, located 2 kilometers south of `Umayri, and initially excavated by David Hopkins. The site’s features are associated with the production of wine, and include five pressing surfaces, cup holes, cisterns and reservoirs. The central structure of this site had been fully excavated in 1992. Earlier excavators were unable to complete the investigation of several installations.  These features included a sizeable cave cut into the limestone with special attention given to the mouth of the cistern/ cave/ reservoir or rubbish collection area.  Only further excavation will yield answers to its use and how it would have best been incorporated into the larger complex.

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