This was billed as a Working Holiday - a chance to participate in an archaeological dig. My interest is more in the historical aspect than in a chance to practice any archaeological skills. I had been a student of Middle Eastern history beginning with a fascination with T. E. Lawrence some fifty years ago.
So I grabbed at the opportunity to participate in the Great Arab Revolt Project’s third fieldwork session where I could be in the area so identified with Lawrence, the Arabs and the Ottomans. I had been in Jordan before, but only as a traveler passing through; this would be two weeks of exploration.
There were ten staff and eighteen volunteers; Among the volunteers, seven were returnees, five were Americans, one Australian and the rest, Brits. Ages ranged from 18 to 79. Three were metal detecterists It was a compatible crew with the experienced ones showing good humor and patience with those of us struggling along with our improper techniques of troweling and brushing and sifting.
For the most part, I scraped and sifted . I did less well at measuring for I was still stuck in the world of inches and feet rather than metres. My friend, who I had encouraged to sign on for this experience and is a scientifically trained person, did well with metres.
We spent several days investigating tent rings at Batn Al-Ghoul before we moved up to the fort at Fassu’ah Ridge. There our team of three checked out a possible trench - that turned out to be where water drained down. Then to a outward curve in the rock wall where we did find a couple of expended cartridges; the curve was measured and drawn, both en face and from above.
Then we spent several days out beyond the Fort a kilometre or so to a possible trough and mule lines. That kept us busy. One afternoon was spent bagging aged mule excrement found in our sieves. All recording had be exact: precise measurements and photographed.
There seemed to be little evidence of a any serious Ottoman battles but there was an abundance of finds,. Which made me feel my efforts, as basic as they were, were helpful even though I found little seemingly of significance. But no finds can be as significant as finds.
The several evening talks by the Project Director, the Field Director, the Cultural Anthropologist and the Landscape Archaeologist were excellent, most helpful to me in providing a context for the work. In many ways, they were the high points of the experience.
There were two days off: one I spent at Petra - we stayed in nearby Wadi Musa - retracing some of my steps of several years ago, and the other, we went to the old Fort at Aqaba, scene of one of Lawrence’s great triumphs, and then careened around in 4+4s at Wadi Rum, that absolutely gorgeous piece of Jordanian real estate.
Excitement was provided by BBC who spent two days filming as they were doing a program on Lawrence with Rory Stewart as the commentator. I finally had the chance to talk with him - missed out in Kabul where he heads up the Turquoise Foundation. Ended up being filmed while interviewed by him - suspect it may be cut for my responses weren’t that great.
How did I feel as a novice? Overwhelmed and out of my element, as I do with any new task. Not comprehending many of the whys and wherefores. But it slowly came together; I was with a great group of colleagues. The scenery was inspiring;. I could visualize Lawrence galloping by on his favorite camel, romantic that I am.
So likely, I’ll return next year, a bit more knowledgeable. Though history is still my overriding interest , what is archaeology but confirmation of the past.
For those interested in the nitty-gritty, accommodations were fair to good. Fair was the original hotel, with it’s lack of hot water and equally lukewarm food. Due to an overbooking, we were moved to another hotel for the last few days, one used by Explore when I had been there before. It was good: hot water and hot food. Morale went up - though that was never a problem.
Food was the usual Middle Eastern fare: an orangy juice, pita bread, hummus, hard cooked eggs, cucumbers, tomatoes and cheese for breakfast; pita bread, hummus, cheese, spam and dates for lunch, with rice, a cooked meat, a chicken dish, vegetables, salads and a dessert for dinner. Drank a lot of tea.
And let me tell you, it was a long miserable ride home. Had something like a twenty hour layover in a cold air conditioned Termnal 1 at Heathrow before an eleven hour flight to SF.