Monday 12 November 2007

Day 14 – Home. But first – yesterday’s blog updated: Aqabat Hijaz and Fassu’ah 1

We surveyed the early Ottoman fort which we know as Fassu’ah 1 and which was a water source for the Hijaz Railway during the First World War. Because the fort is in a vulnerable position in a wadi dominated by high ground, unsurprisingly we found that the surrounding heights were defended with breastworks and trenches. Our survey also included the two cisterns beside the fort, from which we believe trains of pack animals carrying water skins transported water to Aqabat Hijaz station about 2 km to the east. The survey team also found traces of the Anglo-Jordanian army exercises that had taken place over the previous few weeks. We sampled abandoned ration tins, and found, much to our delight, that British Army issue chicken and herb paté is quite palatable!

At Aqabat Hijaz Station, a second team cleared debris and surveyed and planned the site. This revealed that the station had been converted into a mini fort with the addition of loopholes, mud brick walls, and extensive breastworks with blockhouses. A collection of elaborate Ottoman roof tiles was made for later study. Other finds included cartridges, buttons, fragments of uniform, and several Turkish grenades. Unfortunately, this complex site, while rich in finds, is being destroyed by mechanised earthmoving probably motivated by the pervasive myth of buried Ottoman gold.

Later in the day, to round off the season, the two academic directors of the project gave a Powerpoint presentation at the Ma’an campus of Al Hussein Bin Talal University to an audience of about 200 students. Discussion was lively, and the success of the event was evident when a number of both male and female students expressed an interest in volunteering for the 2008 field season.

This year’s field season has proved as successful as last year’s with many new discoveries and insights. We are discovering spectacular sites in the desert faster than we can investigate them. Many are completely unknown, unexplored and unrecorded. We plan to investigate several of these new sites next year. In particular we plan to study the fort and possible command centre on the Batn al Ghoul escarpment, and to excavate the nearby Ottoman Army camp from which we recovered parts of a military tunic and where there are other indications of superb preservation of First World War artefacts.

We will be returning to southern Jordan for our 3rd Field Season in November 2008. Essential details will be confirmed within the next few weeks. Recruitment will then begin immediately. Log on to this site again soon. Book early to secure a place.

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Sunday 11 November 2007

Day 13 – Final day......

..... well, final day here, but not the final blog. Very hectic day today with much happening, including the finding of 3 live hand grenades and an indication of more beneath the ground. So much has happened and we are really frantically busy this evening packing, trying to sort out next year’s accommodation and tomorrows transport for a start. The net result is that a full blog isn’t possible this evening unfortunately, but the plan is to try to do a closing blog tomorrow sometime, including hopefully details of next year’s season and a full round up of this one. Please log in tomorrow for the update and more info regarding what has been the most amazing modern archaeological experience here in Southern Jordan.

Day 12 - Rest day plus!

Most of the group had a well earned rest day today, with a long journey to the spectacular Wadi Rum via short stops on the way. First stop was at at the Ottoman fort at Guweira where the ruins of the fort sit interestingly alongside a modern day army camp. We have permission to excavate here at some point in the future. Then on to Abu Lissan to meet and give presents to the grandson of Auda Abu Tayi, close associate of Lawrence, (played by Anthony Quinn in the film Lawrence of Arabia). Two reasons to stop here – one being the personal relationship with David Thorp and another it being an integral part of GARP project itself.

On to the desert at Wadi Rum and two hours of spectacular travel through the awe inspiring geology of the Wadi, hurtling over and round the dunes in 4x4’s, with each driver seemingly trying to outdo the others by virtue of pace and line. Intermingled with stops for tea, photos and a look at some Nabataean desert rock art and then a final thrilling dash back the few miles to the start. Exhilarating stuff indeed. Then a fantastic lunch of traditional local produce with the Bedouins at Palms Desert Camp.

Then we moved again – this time to the sea side resort of Aqaba. A bustling town with sights and smell s so typical of the Middle East. It also boasts the second largest flagpole in the world, and as the sun set spectacularly over the water we witnessed the proud raising of an enormous (20m x 40m) flag of Jordan, gently and beautifully unfurling and climbing into the deepening red evening sky.

Whilst all this was going on, four people set off in a 4x4 down the road from Ma’an to Mudowwara and the Saudi border. Their mission was a field reconnaissance down the Hijaz Railway beyond Wadi Rutm to locate Shahm, Ramleh and Mudowwara stations and any other Ottoman military installations in between. The trip was spectacularly successful.

Our first discovery, at Shahm, was a fortified and heavily disturbed station, with breastworks, trenches, and a loop-holed mud-brick parapet on the station roof. Nearby, was a strong hilltop breastwork, and beneath the hill a large Ottoman army camp, composed of aligned and evenly spaced tent-rings, several square features, and a possibly contemporary access road.

Next we reached the site of Ramleh station, which, though recognizable from Ottoman masonry blocks and surviving in-filled trenches, had totally disappeared. Several kilometres further south, we visited a dramatically sited breastwork fort on top of a precipitous rocky outcrop. Between this fort and the railway line was a sizeable military encampment represented by numerous tent rings.

Finally we reached Mudawwara station, two of whose buildings survive intact because they are in use as Bedouin houses. The appearance of Mudawwara station, overlooked by a dominating ridge about 500 m to the west, corresponds exactly to T. E. Lawrence’s description in his Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Friday 9 November 2007

Day 11 Wadi Rutm/ Aqabat Hejaz.

Team member testing the trajectory of Ottoman latrine.

Work continued on the camp in an attempt to finish off the entire site this morning. All hands were involved in planning the remaining tent circles and similar features or continuing to excavate the now rapidly expanding latrine. The site planning was completed by around mid-day and whlst the drivers were at their Friday mosque services an impromptu metal detecting demonstration was given to those waiting for them to return with the transport. Several folk had what for them was a first go at detecting and everybody found something, ranging from an old nail to a Turkish button, so it was a great success.

The latrine pit (yes we’ve had every joke about bottoming your feature and feeling a breeze in the Wadi) turned into another potential megalithic structure, with the Ottoman brick latrie structure cut into it millennia later. More recording in the heat and the flies and we finally finished the work at Wadi Rutm. Oh, and we got to use the phrase ‘faecal staining’ in the report.

In the afternoon the team transferred to a new site, Aqabat Hejaz railway station, which is two stations north of Wadi Rutm, about 10 km up the line. This station seems to have been turned into a small fort with loopholes in the walls and both mud brick and the addition of dry stone wall breast works. The site is largely ruinous and at risk from modern industrial activity from the modern railway and nearby phosphate works. Creating a plan of this station-fort is therefore a form of rescue archaeology. Finds within the area of the buildings included a live 303 round, a book, elaborate Ottoman roof tiles and other artefacts. Around the exterior of the buildings

The day ended with a dramatic illustration of how different and exciting conflict archaeology can be. Attempting to visit the site of an early Ottoman fort which we call Fassu’ah 1, team members found themselves almost in the midst of a joint Jordanian British army exercise, with smoke shells bursting, machine guns rattling and soldiers crouching, running and firing whilst the start shells burst overhead. And all this occurred on and around the site of the Ottoman fort1. The team members discussed with a member of the British armed forces the possibility of visiting the site on Sunday 11th, Remembrance Sunday. This would be a dramatic and fitting conclusion to our two week expedition and study of modern conflict archaeology.

Tomorrow is a rest day and most of the group are going down south to see the stunning Wadi Rum and spend some time in the resort of Aquaba.

Thursday 8 November 2007

Day 10 – Wadi Rutm.

Work began at pace today in an attempt to complete the excavation and recording of the Ottoman army camp at Wadi Rutm. With several tent circles as yet untouched it was a big ask! All teams worked really hard throughout the day but in the end it proved to be too big a task to complete, so we will be going back tomorrow morning to absolutely finish off this site. There was one excellent outcome from today. At the end of last season it was unclear where both the cooking for the camp was done and where the latrines were in the camp. Having found the cooking pit a few days ago the quest for the latrine remained. This was eventually positively identified and excavated this afternoon, leaving two of the significant unanswered questions from last season now well and truly answered.

Also during the morning a small group went to a site near to Wadi Rutm station where the Bedouin had camped overnight with flocks of goats and sheep and a large herd of camels. This was an overnight stop on their migration path south for the winter and the location was one which has been used for thousands of years for travellers in both directions. The intention was to experience firsthand the nature and presence of such a troop of travelling nomads, and to hopefully begin to understand it within the context of the overall historical and ethnographic landscape. Evidence of a fire, tea making, animal feeding and children playing were all found and photographed, together with modern day cartons for milk, eggs and mango juice. This together with other information found and recorded will hopefully form the basis of some further research and publication.

Another bizarre intrusion into our conflict zone occurred today, although this was hardly an act of aggression. A female goat kidded somewhere near the centre of the camp while we were all having lunch some 100 metres away by our bus. On returning to the site the newborn kid was partially collapsed between one of our flight cases and our water bottle supplies, with the mother anxiously waiting nearby. After some gentle coaxing and moving of kit, and some carefully offered water by our local driver Salah to the mother, the two were reunited and the young kid immediately suckled. A few minutes later both were content and calm and were driven off by Salah in an attempt to find their owner. A short way down the road he came across a Bedouin anxiously searching for his lost goat. How surprised and grateful was he to not only have her returned but with a healthy kid as well! And it turned out to be the very same Bedouin who had entertained a couple of our group to Chi (Jordanian tea) in their camp the day before, so the favour was very well returned with smiling faces all round.

Tomorrow brings a last visit to Wadi Rutm and a first proper look for the team at the new site at Fassu’ah, with a blog report hopefully late afternoon/early evening.

Wednesday 7 November 2007

Day 9 – Wadi Rutm/Batn Al-Ghoul/ Fassu’ah 2.

Excavation and recording of the Ottoman army camp at Wadi Rutm continued and included the probable discovery of the military latrine for the camp. Meantime Bedouin nomads were moving down the Wadi migrating south to winter in the Hijaz. Early warning of this event is given when two archaeologists appear over the crest of the hill fleeing in panic from a pack of dogs. The dogs, having gained the western end of the hill, marked their victory by urinating on the excavations, proving this yet again to be a contested landscape. The dogs were i fact shepherding a huge flock of sheep and goats, most of whose Bedouin owners arrived in a lorry, a tanker and a pick-up truck to set up camp about 250 metres from the traditional caravan site by Wadi Rutm station. The oldest coins from this site we now know to be Nabatean, so that the arrival of the bed today proves at least 2000 years of use of this traditional place of gathering, camping and trading. In the afternoon they were all joined by a similarly impressive herd of camels.

Meanwhile at Fassu’ah 2 the geophysicists gridded the outer defended area within the walled enclosure into 30 metre squares. The magnetic survey of this area revealed several interesting anomalies which are worthy of future investigation. The metal detectors then followed them into the grids detecting and logging a range of initial finds for the site.

The rest of the team that had not visited Fassu’ah 2 before went up to the site in the afternoon to be universally struck by the quantity of historical and archaeological material and the awesome wonder of the place itself in its commanding position overlooking the wadi.

An initial investigation of the surrounding landscape revealed a system of stone lined roads, paths leading to a group of 4 stone quarries. These paths converged at a bend of the Hijaz railway just north of Batn Al-Ghoul station and were joined by another stone lined path which had exited the main administrative block within the main compound. This evidence suggests the possibility that a deliberate halt for trains was established at this point for the purpose of loading stones and access for officers, water and supplies to and from the train. If this is right then it’s likely to have been a response to the conflict pertaining at the time rather than an integral part of the pre-war railway system.

Tuesday 6 November 2007

Day 8 – Ma’an / Wadi Rutm/Batn Al-Ghoul.

Today the detectorists were dropped off at Ma’an and completed the gridded survey to the rear of the trench faces the second phase of which had begun yesterday. Yields were as expected with a significant clustering towards the redoubt and tapering away as the trench dwindled towards the town. The usual metallic objects were all found, incoming rounds from the attacking forces including French and British bullets, many grapnel balls and some heavier shell fragments. The defending Ottomans were found to have been firing their usual German Mauser weapons with plenty of cartridge cases in evidence.

This group then joined the main party at Wadi Rutm just in time for morning tea. The others had been completing the recording of the tended encampment. More tent rings had been excavated and the detailed recording had begun. This carried on throughout the day, reflecting the need and importance for the place of painstaking and thorough work in amongst all the excitement of new discoveries. In all three teams are furiously recording and two slogging through sand to uncover more of the Ottoman Encampment, and all in 30 degrees C in the shade, (although there isn’t any....) We are now more like silicon monkeys than dirt monkeys! Also of note is that one of the previously excavated rings had been tampered with since our last visit, with the central post hole enlarged and the central stone moved, probably by treasure seekers in a vain attempt to find gold, just as if to confirm the true conflict nature of this incredible landscape.

During the afternoon a team including the detectorists travelled in the 4x4 across country from the main road at Batn Al-Ghoul and up the escarpment from the base of Batn Al-Ghoul to the site we are currently calling Fassu’ah 2. An initial metal detector survey revealed evidence for Ottoman occupation and outgoing fire, together with some more horse shoes. In the courtyard of the main building complex a system of delicate paths radiate out from a central point which may have originally been a flag pole. Examination of the Fassu’ah 2 site has emphasized a growing impression that Ottoman defensive tactics during the First World War were sophisticated and likely to have been effective. The stereotype of a corrupt and incompetent army seems increasingly less likely on the evidence of modern conflict archaeology.