Saturday, December 29, 2007

Boxing Day in the Desert

Other than the recent trip to Jawa, Mo hadn't been to the eastern desert of Jordan, and Yo wanted to revisit the site of Maitland's Fort (see earlier posting, November 1). The site is two hours east of Azraq via dirt tracks, just north of the Saudi border; Azraq is just over an hour from Amman. During the last visit we simply spent the night camped at the foot of the site, but these days it is quite cold -- and the days are much shorter. So we left from Amman at just past 5 am, arriving at Azraq at just before 7 am. Unfortunately one gas station was closed, so we had to turn around and go back to town in order to find an open one, just to be sure Said's trusty truck was topped up with diesel.

Headed back out through the last eastern farms of Azraq, it was just getting light, a beautiful hue to the desolate landscape. Luckily we were able to follow the modern rock piles and didn't really need to rely on a the borrowed GPS or the maps to find our way.

Arriving in the general area, Yo took the long way around (unintentionally!), but we eventually found our way to the foot of Maitland's Fort, the basalt topped mesa. At the foot of this mesa are a number of structures that seem vaguely similar to the nawamis of Sinai - dry stone built graves dating to the mid-fourth millennium BC, known in this region as the late Chalcolithic or early phases of the Early Bronze Age. Whether or not these structures at Maitland's Fort are similar in function (some are clearly larger than the nawamis of Sinai) and chronological related must be investigated. Those at M's Fort seem very well built and made us wonder if they weren't built much later. Here is one:

Walking up the slope there are a number of these, and it almost seems as if they are intentionally situated along the easiest path to the top. On the top of the mesa are numerous stone features; perhaps one of the most intriguing features are the series of cairns established along the southern edge.

Although many are destroyed and robbed, one can still get a sense of how similar they were, in size and formation. They all lead up to a very large (robbed) cairn on the southeast edge.

There are other more enigmatic structures on top as well, some of them wall-like structures, but built with vertial slabs that are heavy and seem like a lot of work just to make a sheep pen, such as those below.

And here is another. Ritual in function, or just an upright wall slab? This one is situated along the edge of the mesa, facing east: Down below at the very base of many of these mesas are animals corrals, which look quite different. These could have been made recently, or hundreds of years ago (or more?) and then re-used seasonally over many decades or even centuries. Here are some at the foot of Maitland's Fort:

We lounged in the warm sun on top while eating some fancy cheese imported by us from North America (sharp cheddar, yumm!) and decided to go visit the next mesa to the south. Named Tall Beta by Prof G. and A, this mesa is similar in size and configuration to Maitland's Fort, but has far fewer features on the slopes or on top. Still, there was one huge cairn on the top, also destroyed and robbed (photo below).The view to the north gives a very nice perspective of Maitland's Fort, and allows a view of the path leading to the top through the burial cairns on the lower slope. You can only barely trace this path in the photo below.

Finally we made a quick stop at Tall A to investigate what appears to be a similar "tumulus tail" as what we saw on Maitland's Fort. However, what appeared to be a regular pattern from a distance was apparently only a few cairns connected by a low stone line, barely visible in this photograph.

At this point we were getting a bit tired. If only you could hear the muttering that accompanied this final descent.

Although it was only 2 pm, we had only 2 1/2 hours of light, just enough to get back to Azraq. The drive back went smoothly, particularly as we went across the 'qa' (playa, dry lake bed), which is quite a pleasure after all the rattling and slamming over rocky tracks for most of the drive.
Smooth roads make us happy!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas in Amman

Happy Holidays!! Yo and Mo with the ACOR Christmas tree:We decided (based on the suggestion of our good friend BAP) to document the holiday season in Amman by visiting some of the fancier hotels and having our picture taken with their Christmas trees. Yo and Mo at the Meridien:Yo and our friend LH at the Marriott: Yo at the Hyatt with their very white Christmas Tree. No tree at the Intercontinental but a festive centerpiece:
BAP took this picture of Yo and Mo in front of the tree at the very strange Royale hotel. The Royale was built by Saddam Hussein and is filled with a weird mix of Mesopotamian and Art Deco decor. We went with BAP and Prof. G to the Embassies holiday bazaar. Crowds at the Embassy holiday event.
Mo lasted about 10 minutes - too many people bumping up to her and too many pushy holiday shoppers.
On Christmas Eve we were invited to the farm that our friend E is house sitting in Naur. E is an extraordinary cook and put on a fabulous feast - turkey mole (which E had to explain was mo-lay the sauce and not mole the rodent), fish pie, many types of salad and lots of wine. The company was excellent and the food divine.
The festive table:
Lots of cheer and merriment:
BAP and Yo enjoying the evening:
Reading the cups - our friend LH is an expert at reading people's fortunes in their coffee cups.
The fabulous hostess, thanks so much E!!!On Christmas day we made a pilgrimage to Starbucks and put together a gingerbread house with our pal EC.
We wish all our faithful blog readers the best for 2008!

Monday, December 24, 2007

In the spirit of the season...

Morag and I wanted to do this little dance for you. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

(And many thanks to Jamie U., who first drew our attention to this important leap forward in technology!)

Jawa Lost, Jawa Found

The approach to Jawa. Those are the city walls in the distance.In his blog post from June 3, Yo recounts an interesting adventure with AMP and JK to Qasr Burqu and the search for the Bronze Age site of Jawa. As Yo mentioned Jawa was excavated by Sven Helms (see Jawa: Lost City of the Black Desert, 1981) in the 1970s and it claims to have one of the earliest sophisticated water management systems in the world (3000 BCE). Jawa is out in the eastern desert of Jordan up near the Syrian border. Due to the fact that Yo had experienced a previously failed attempt to find the site we got up extra early to set out, so early that there was still frost on the truck:Here Mo is using a credit card to scrape the ice from the windshield. After getting a little lost in East Amman (we definitely needed the navigation skills of JK here in East Amman) we managed to find our way to Azraq, with a couple of pit stops at Quranah (our friend L's site) and some weird structures in Azraq. Then it was off to find Jawa. Armed with a great set of Google earth maps supplied by our friend SR from the CBRL we had no trouble finding the site after about a 45 minute drive across the arid basalt landscape. YEAH! we found it, we promptly celebrated by having a lunch of tinned sardines, mandarin oranges and dates - very Christmassy. This is the landscape approaching the site.After lunch we went off to poke around the site and found some very impressive walls and structures and a lot of recent evidence of looting. This site is in the middle of nowhere and doesn't really have all that impressive artifacts on the surface and yet there were a lot of looter's holes. Here are some images of looting at Jawa. Jawa was much more impressive than either of us expected. We were very glad to finally make it to the site.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Eid ul Adha

Today is the beginning of the Eid ul Adha (the feast of sacrifice). It is a religious festival celebrated by Muslims and Druze worldwide as a commemoration of Ibrahim's (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice his son Ismael to Allah. It is one of two Eid festivals, whose basis comes from the Quran. There are some traditions associated with this Eid: Men, women, and children are expected to dress in their finest clothing to perform the Eid prayer in the mosque. The accountant here at ACOR was telling me the other day that she was taking her 13 year old daughter to the dreaded Mecca Mall to buy some new clothes for the Eid. We were talking about the tradition of getting new clothes for certain holidays (the Eid, or in my family it was Easter) and how everyone does it on the same day, at the same hour, in the same crowded malls. It doesn't seem to matter where in the world you are, shopping at the holidays is a nightmare.

Those who can afford to do so sacrifice their best domestic animals (usually sheep, but also camels, cows, and goats) as a symbol of Ibrahim's (Abraham's) sacrifice.
These cut outs of sheep with a telephone number are all over Amman - telling you when and where to get your sheep for the Eid. Last year while we were here for the Eid we just happened to be out in the city when the butchering was taking place. Lucky for you we have no pictures of sheep being slaughtered for the Eid. According to the Quran a large portion of the slaughtered sheep should be given to less-fortunate families so everyone can partake of the Eid. This is also the festival that occurs the day after the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca - the holiest Muslim site.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Looting in Jordan

Looting at Bab Edh Dhra, JordanAs many of you know, Mo is examining different laws that countries have to help stop looting in the Eastern Mediterranean. Yesterday we drove down to the Dead Sea area known as Ghor es-Safi (Arabic Al Ghawr). Entirely below sea level and bordered by steep escarpments, the Ghor is part of the Great Rift Valley complex. People have inhabited the area for thousands of years and yesterday we were checking out the Early Bronze Age cemetery sites at Bab Edh Dhra and the EB site of Numeira. This is the pock-marked lunar landscape that once housed an Early Bronze Age burial ground and is now a looted mess of holes. Here is Mo standing in one of the looter's holes. They can be quite deep (if the looters think they have found a shaft tomb) or rather shallow (if the looters decide there is nothing there and move on to the next hole).
Yo is holding part of a very typical Early Bronze Age bowl. During this period the dead were buried with a variety of grave goods, which included these types of pots. While Mo was conducting research for her dissertation in Israel she came across many of these bowls for sale in the various shops in Jerusalem. Part of her current research is trying to figure out how these bowls looted from this cemetery end up for sale in Jerusalem. How does a small juglet like this:
End up in a shop window like this?We had hoped to visit a few other sites but we spent a lot of time at Bab Edh Dhra, the Pre-Pottery Neolithic site of Dhra and then a huge (400m+) wall on a promontory. And we also spent some time looking for Yo's passport, which had dropped out of his shirt pocket at some point earlier in the day. Luckily we found it lying on the side of the road (looking like it had been run over by a truck). Whew, dodged that bureaucratic nightmare (getting the passport replaced, getting a new visa for Jordan and on and on).