Archives for the month of: May, 2012

Heidi in her more mobile days

Of course, with all of the weddings going on, as I mentioned in my previous post, we inevitably get invited to sometimes more than one in an evening.  Tonight we went to share bukhari with our “landlord” and foreman, Dakhilallah, in honor of his grandson’s marriage.  I actually have never had roz bukhari before, but it is served similar to mansaf – in a large, circular tray at least a meter in diameter – but in addition to the typical rice and goat and roasted almonds there are more veggies, and spices more typical of Indian, rather than Levantine, dishes, making it a (slightly) lighter meal.

However, I and Jennifer, our newly appointed Assistant Director, had to leave early to transport one of our students who fell while hiking to the hospital.  Heidi was very disappointed to have to leave the impromptu camping/hiking trip to get a couple of stitches in her knee – but the cut was very deep and I’m glad that she opted to come back rather than make it through the night.  The doctor insists on at least 7 days of rest, so she is upset that she won’t be back in the field anytime soon.  Luckily for her, there are lots of in-camp options to choose from – helping with animal or human bone processing, sorting of ceramic sherds (which in some areas can number 1600 from ONE stratified deposit in a day), washing the ceramics, or helping the conservator with data entry.

Of course, the entire ER visit – x-rays, stitches, local anesthetic, consultation with an orthopedist and surgeon – cost 74 Jordanian Dinars, or about US$100.  Amazing.

Monastery at Petra, courtesy of

Tomorrow brings a much-needed day off.  Most students will use this day to either catch up on sleep and leisurely activities, while others plan to use it exploring Petra beyond the city center most frequently visited by tourists.  Those on the camping trip will be hiking to ed-Deir, or the “monastery” via the “back route” from Beidha to the south.

I’m just looking forward to sleeping beyond 5 am.

Megan Perry


Wedding season is in full swing here in Umm Seihoun, the Bdul bedouin village within which we currently reside.  The days leading up to the weekend during the summer normally are chock-full of wedding parties, and this year even more so since the holy month of Ramadan begins the latter half of July, cutting short the typical season.  Goats are being slaughtered – often by the tenfold – for the traditional celebratory dish, mansaf.  A typical wedding can last 3-4 days, with parties every evening that culminate in the main event.

Weddings are happy and festive events, but for archaeologists who must wake up at 5 am – not so much.  Noise is the main factor, with joyous music and singing and tabla drumming lasting well into the night.  In addition, as the village is small, most of our field employees are closely involved in the preparations, and thus have to miss one or two days of work, leaving us without their valuable expertise and extra hands.

These extra hands have been essential in uncovering some of our latest finds, such as the beautiful wall collapse in Trench B.2 – the wall of well-carved ashlar sandstone blocks fell in one cataclysmic event (an earthquake, perhaps the famous 363 A.D. tremor that leveled much of Petra?) and lie horizontally across the trench.  We’re excited to see what lies beneath – will it show a glimpse of the structure immediately before its destruction, with grinding stones, ceramic vessels, and other artifacts forming a tableau of daily life?

LK (Kate), our conservator, photograping “special finds” recovered from the excavation

The adjoining room to the west in Trench B.1 also seems to have suffered the same fate, and the colorful fragments of painted plaster that covered the walls have been found scattered in the layers of collpase and debris.  Tomorrow our conservator, Kate, a recent Master’s recipient in ECU’s Maritime Studies program, will venture into the field to try and stabilize and recover some of the larger fragments.

Tom Parker analyzes pottery from the Area B tombs with our Department of Antiquities representative, Jihad Darwish

The tombs continue to produce a fascinating array of ceramics and other artifacts, with three complete or reconstructable 1st century A.D. bowls turning up in the robber debris in Tomb B.6.  We selected tombs with varied stages of intrusion for excavation to compare the differences in artifact composition in more vs. less disturbed tombs.  Tomb B.5 showed no recent attempts at tomb robbing; Tomb B.4 only had disturbance in the eastern third of the shaft, and Tomb B.6 had the greatest evidence of disturbance, involving almost 3/4 of the northern chamber.  With this evidence, we hope to demonstrate to funding agencies such as the NSF that robbed tombs still contain valuable information and a representative sample of what we would expect to find in a less-disturbed funerary feature.

Today we had khamaseen conditions – the result of a low pressure system that comes in from the Sahara in northern Africa, bringing it with it warm winds and lost of dust.  This makes sifting dirt or trying to keep a clean trench a very dirty, frustrating process.  The benefit is that usually cooler conditions follow – although I have to say that even at its hottest, Jordan is nothing like the muggy, oppressive heat of North Carolina!

Megan Perry

Finding fragments of ceramic lamps in deposits from the Classical period in Jordan is nothing to write home about.  However, we have found more complete lamps on this excavation than I have ever seen.  I love them – I think they harken back to some kind of Tales of Scheherazade fantasy construed when I was a kid.  No photos yet – we have to respect the Department of Antiquities’ protocol that they get first dibs in releasing the results of our excavation to the “media” – even social media.  But they are sweet little things.

We now also have pretty clear evidence on the date of the city wall – but mum’s the word!!!  The funny thing is, Petra has been excavated since the 1920s, and the city wall has been mapped even before then – but no one has confirmed the date!  Needless to say, the evidence points to a different date from what has been hypothesized…

Ashley excavates in Area A

Tomorrow we get our total station batteries.  I left Greenville with our oldest of 3 total stations within our department – I always figure that with the beating it gets being hauled across the ocean, I shouldn’t use one of the newer ones.  I was in such a hurry when I left that I forgot to definitively check the batteries.  They are now too old to hold a charge.  Thankfully, with the generosity of ECU’s Anthropology’s Department, and a colleague from U of Chicago who happened to be traveling to Amman this past weekend, we will have brand-new batteries tomorrow.  I’m looking forward to shooting in all of the new structures and features that we have uncovered!

Megan Perry

Week 2, Saturday

Heidi, Lizzy, Jessica, and Ali measure the tomb opening

The second week of an archaeological project often hums with positive activity.  It marks the point at which features become more defined, critical strata are reached, and project members have become accustomed to the daily routine.  Glitches in artifact processing have been rectified and all crucial pieces of excavation equipment have been purchased.  Bonds begin to emerge between students and their local workers, and friendships between staff have been established.

Area A domestic structures along city wall

This week was no exception.  The debris and tumble within the Area B domestic structures have revealed their relative architectural richness in the form of carefully-carved voussoirs and cornices.  Area A, particularly the ash dump in Trench A.3, continues to spit out a gargantuan amount of ceramics, including a complete lamp, and the architectural relationship between the domestic structure walls and the city wall soon may be within reach.  And – surprise – our first skeleton has emerged in one of the tombs, laid out within a rectangular niche cut into the tomb chamber wall.

Many of the staff and students were fresh off of a day trip to the Dead Sea, spent bobbing in the viscous, salty water and covering their bodies with its famous mud.  Another group had gone to the Roman legionary fortress of Udhruh, ca. 20km east of Petra, originally excavated by British archaeologist Alistair Killick in the 1980s and more recently by Fawzi Abu Danah, Mansour Shqiarat, and Hani Falahat of al-Hussein bin Talal University and the Department of Antiquities.  Despite these explorations, a large majority of the massive fortress remains obscured by tumble and later reuse of the structures, including the construction of a well-preserved Ottoman fort at its southern end.

Lauren excavating the first burial in Tomb B.4

I know enough not to be too optimistic this early in a field season, but I am starting to feel that our hard work and planning will definitely pay off!

Megan Perry

Ian and Lizzy sifting tomb fill

Jessica and Heidi discuss how to approach the tomb chamber fill

This new archaeological field project began its first season on May 19, 2012. A team of  10 professional archaeologists, 20 students, and 20 Jordanian workers began excavation in three main areas. One team is investigating rock-cut shaft tombs of the 1st century A.D. Another is digging apparent domestic structures built against the northern city wall of Petra. The third is also investigating another apparent domestic complex near the tombs. We hope that the tombs will yield evidence about the still mysterious Nabataeans, the Arabs who built the magnificent city of Petra, recently voted one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World”. Both domestic complexes apparently post-date the tombs and may produce evidence about the history of the city after the Roman takeover of A.D. 106. Finally, the excavation of the city wall may settle the question of the date of Petra’s city wall.

S. Thomas Parker

Dr. Parker oversees students working on the residential structures.

Dr. Perry and students enjoy a tea break in the field.

Students prepare for work in the rock-cut tombs.

This project is co-directed by two archaeologists with long experience in Jordan: Dr. S. Thomas Parker, Professor of History at North Carolina State University, and Dr. Megan Perry, Associate Professor of Anthropology at East Carolina University. Parker has worked in Jordan since 1975 and has directed two major archaeological projects there. Perry has worked in Jordan since 1993 and has directed several projects, including excavation of  the Blue Chapel complex and shaft tombs on the Petra North Ridge.

The project is sponsored by the directors’ universities and works under permit by the Jordanian Department of Antiquities. Three field seasons are envisioned in 2012, 2014, and 2016, with final publication to follow. The project will also focus on the conservation and presentation of this area as a cultural resource.