Red plaster from the 3rd century (?) walls in Trench B.1

Our third week of excavation has been truncated by the upcoming American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday and Thursday.  As Tom and I are both Board members, we are leaving early Wednesday for Amman, leaving the excavation for the day in the capable hands our our Assistant Director, Jen Ramsey.  We return early Friday morning to give the board members a tour of our excavation, along with the ongoing work of ACOR (directed by Chris Tuttle) at the Temple of the Winged Lions and restoration of the Petra Church, and the Brown University-sponsored project directed by Chris and our fellow board member, Sue Alcock.

The students get the treat of a two-day weekend, Thursday and Friday.  They are heading off to explore and camp in Wadi Ramm, then heading on Thursday to Aqaba for snorkeling and general beach-related laziness, and plan on returning on Friday evening.  I think all of us could use a little break, despite the exquisite weather that we have been experiencing (upper 20s/low 30s during the day, upper teens at night).

We have closed out excavation in two of the three trenches in Area A, having reached the bottom of the city wall, the bottom of 1st century A.D. (?) domestic structures, and finally, bedrock.  The last trench seems to have been reused in later periods, into the 4th century it appears, and Geoffrey and Jordan have been going through successive floor layers, which has slowed down operations in this trench.

Khafiyyehs come in handy for post-sunrise photo shoots

Pamela and Carlos finally also reached bedrock in their room in trench B.3, which seems to have been an open courtyard – the room spans at least 6-7 meters, with no evidence of arch supports/springers – and that plus the beaten-earth surface has lead me to the theory that this is a courtyard, perhaps part of a larger structure.  It went out of use at the same time as the rooms in the structure just below that appears in Trenches B.1 and B.2 – B.1, with its architectural fragments and huge amount of painted plaster and molding, and well-cut ashlar blocks was decorated much finer than the room in B.2, which had the exceptional wall collapse.  We still hypothesize that these three areas (the courtyard and two lower rooms) were destroyed in the 363 A.D. earthquake.

Meanwhile, all man- and woman-power is focused on removing the fill from the tombs.  We appear to have two additional rectangular burial niches in Tomb B.4, and just about 20-30 cm of fill to remove from the chamber.  We have a bit more fill to remove from B.5, but the tomb architecture seems to parallel that of Tomb B.4, with burial niches on the left and right walls and one at the back of the chamber.  There are signs that some of these niches in B.4 may still contain painted plaster, which will only be confirmed once they are opened after the chamber fill has been removed.

Burial niche in the east wall of Tomb B.4 prior to excavation

Tomb B.6 has slightly different receptacles for burial of the corpse, in the form of rectangular graves cut into the floor, at least 4 (three to the north, one to the south).  This tomb was disturbed in antiquity as well as recently, for we found scattered human remains and numerous lamp fragments, almost complete bowls, figurine fragments, etc. in the layers just above the bottom of the shaft.  Today we began removing soil to the south of the shaft, and I hope that we at least find some intact burials.

We and our local workers are struggling through a flu outbreak that seems to have surfaced in Amman and inundated other archaeological teams.  Each day finds 2-3 people too sick to work.  I hope it ends quickly – for all of our sakes!

Megan Perry