Sunday, December 20, 2009

Middle East Chronicles Part ! - November 2009 Back to The Dig, plus Toting and Sievin

Back to The Dig, plus Toting and Sieving

Last year I spent two weeks on a dig along the Hejaz Railroad in an effort to determine the extent of the WW1 Arab Revolt. It is part of a ten year conflict archaeological project sponsored by the University of Bristol and the Jordanian Ministry of Antiquities. Exhausted and filthy dirty at the end of the 2008 session, I promptly signed on for this year’s expedition. Along with other volunteers, I paid for a three star hotel, meals, time at Wadi Rum, Aqaba, Petra and ten days physical labor.

There were thirty-two in the group, twelve of whom were staff and the rest, like myself, enthusiasts: students, seniors, archeologists, former military and a photographer-writer. A number had been with the project since the start. We began with a recce at Wuheida, south of Ma’an; east of the wadi originally Turkish territory and the west side an Arab encampment, both tribal and Arab army, with a large stone-marked area that might have been Prince Feisal’s compound. Most of the time was spent checking out and digging in this area, though we did return to the Betn al-Ghoul camp sites along the Hejaz for a day.

Rain sent us to an area that we named Makin’s Fort in honor of the Air Corps pilot who photographed the area. - dug at what might have been a dwelling whose roof had burned - artillery shelling? It is exciting to work on sites whose function is under continuing speculation. And so each days work went. My finds improved over last year’s mule pucky: I advanced to an unexploded British Army .303 cartridge.

And this year we had more visitors than before. By the time we finished up at Makin’s Fort, we had been questioned by the Bedouin police, the Army and the Traffic police.

At Wuheida, The local Sheikh came by, claiming the land was his and so, we must hire his two sons to help us haul ourselves and equipment. State visitors and authors came by. Students came by - we were a popular bunch. The sadness was that a good share of the eastern site at Wuheida had been raped by bull dozer.

The off-days were great! Rather than return to Petra - I had been there several times before - I went with a few to Karak (one of the old nearby Crusader Castles), the Dead Sea and finally by Tafilah, scene of a pitched battle between Ottomans and Arabs. - driving by at dusk, there was little to mark the area as memorable, though several of our group spent a day there with one of the military guys, doing a recce.

The final off-day was spent at Wadi Rum; four of us marked out our own path of travel rather than spend part of the day a Aqaba. This was my third session at Wadi Rum: the first by camel and the second by jeep. This was another run by jeep, but we were able to choose our exact itinerary. One person spent most of the day wandering about Lawrence’s Spring while others went off to various canyons and natural bridges. I could spend days trekking around the area. We ended the day with a royal Bedouin feast.

As with last year, there were evening talks by our leaders, helping us appreciate the meaning of what we were doing; most particularly to understand the nuances of conflict and landscape archaeology. In my school days, admittedly awhile back, there was cultural and physical archaeology - and not much else.

I ended this season with a couple of days in Amman where a healthy climb got me to the Archaeological Museum, the Citadel, Temple of Hercules, a Byzantine Basilica., the Uumayyad palace and cistern with adjacent sights. Also, did a wander about town with a fellow digger from the GARP expeditions.

In Wadi Mousa, the Hotel was the Edom: I have stayed there twice before: first with an Explore tour and twice now with GARP. Would guess it to be moderate in price; certainly convenient and comfortable. In Amman, I stayed at the Toledo Hotel, a very elegent 3-star hotel, just up from where the main bus depot been: #1 on Lonely Planet’s current listing. Airfare: BA SFO-Heathrow-Amman; Tel Aviv-Heathrow-SFO: $1491.

Coming: the Middle East Chronicles part 2 - December 2009. The King Hussein/Allenby Bridge and Beyond.

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