This 2014 season, PNRP’s directors focus their attention on a series of tombs and domestic sites located on that ridge. Some have been partially opened in past field seasons while others are newly selected areas for excavation.
Luckily for archaeologists, offerings, burial goods, bodies, and trash left by Nabataean, Roman, and Byzantine denizens are not the gold and silver riches depicted by Arabian Nights or the Indiana Jones saga. Instead, we find broken and damaged traces of the past from two thousand to 1600 years of burial.
This past week, tomb B-8 uncovered buckets of both broken and whole ceramics, shards of multi-coloured glass, broken alabaster jar stoppers, shell scraps and beads, blocks of stone with drilled holes, tombstones, disintegrating coins, iron nails, and plaster mixed between bright sandstone of lavender, royal purple, rose, scarlet, white, and orange – the same stone used by clever and colourful artisan depictions of camels, palms and other Jordanian landscapes along avenues of tourist shops.
Tomb B-8 is another shaft tomb on the North Ridge, but its status as a grave has been questioned by a stone wall that has emerged from under thick tumble and sand. The wall’s construction quality ascends from top to bottom. Where the bottom sits on the bedrock of the tomb, the stones are cut and fitted neatly together with dry mortar. This wall ends approximately 2 and a half feet from the right adjacent bedrock and opens into a low but wide chamber. Nature has painted deep coloured palms and fern shaped fans over its walls and filled the chamber almost 5 feet full of sand, silt, mud, and dirt.
For the first two weeks, our team descended slowly but steadily through the tumble that filled the tomb shaft. These deposits are the rich strata entombing those remains listed above plus the delicate remains of an infant initially misidentified as faunal or animal remains. Now that we have reached the floor of our shaft an interesting quandary has made itself clear.
Textbook archaeology involves neat balks and cutting vertically through soil until the cultural horizon ends and your trowel descends into what I like to call the “dead zone” or the level at which deposits of humans and all material culture disappears. In Tomb B-8, our little team will be forced to excavate horizontally, with a careful eye towards vaguely distinct stratigraphy between layers and layers of soil deposits.
In order to neatly and efficiently excavate this enormous pile of dirt, we’ve chosen to slowly peel back the layers from top to bottom with a careful eye towards stratigraphy. While some layers are clearly delineated, delaminating levels of dry mud and silt, others are more closely backed, red clay and silt levels deeper within the columns. The team may also chose to utilise a step approach for excavation. This involves pealing back the soil horizontally but in evenly stepped intervals which appear, no surprise, like a stairway.
Since there’s no telling what other remains are still inside this shaft tomb, our excavation approach may change depending on our findings. Only another new day in the field can tell.