Windy Azraq

May 19, 2009

Another few days have passed and the field work is now in full swing. We’ve got a number of test pits and some survey going in the Azraq area of eastern Jordan. Nothing too exciting yet as we’ve mostly been making our way through the upper disturbed portions and will only be coming down on any cultural material in the next day or two. Based on last years test pits we can expect Kebaran, possibly Upper Paleolithic, Middle Paleolithic, and even Lower Paleolithic. In addition to the rich paleolithic history in Azraq there is also a significant Roman, Byzantine, Islamic, and Crusader marker on the landscape. Azraq is home to the famous Azraq castle that was built by the Romans, occupied by various groups over time, and used by Lawrence of Arabia. A castle in the distance makes for nice scenery while working in the excavation units!


To help ourselves out a bit this year we have rented a local wedding tent to provide some shade over the excavation units. The tent is basically a six legged frame with three cross-beams (all of substantial size and weight) that support very nicely decorated canvas segments (two on the roof and three sides). Unfortunately I don’t have a picture yet but the outsides are plain beige and when you step inside you get confronted by vibrant colours and memsmerizing geometric patterns. As a shade it has been working great, making the days a bit less draining by keeping the sun of our backs. However, in the afternoon today the winds really picked up from the west-southwest almost lifting the tent like a kite. It took five of our crew members plus one friendly and incredibly helpful local to keep the thing from taking off. We tied every possible piece of rope we had to rocks, trees, and fences plus we anchored the leg posts with the biggest boulders I could carry. After about an hour we felt confident it would make it through the storm. Now, as I sit here in the lodge, I am question whether it will be there in the morning. The wind is howling and whipping things around as though they were wieghtless. All of the trees in the area are being held at a significant angle and before the sun went down the skies looked particularly daunting. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the night brings and then assess the damage in the morning. Reconstrcuting the tent is a setback we would all really like to avoid!

First Full Day of Work

May 16, 2009

Just finished up the first full day of work here in eastern Jordan. The temperature wasn’t too bad today, in the low 30s probably. It was pretty dusty but that is to be expected in a windy desert. It’s not your stereotypical desert in this part of Jordan, that is to the south in the Wadi Rum area and is also the location where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed. We are working near the town of Azraq and the desert has a darker colour. There is a lot of basalt, as you will hear about shortly, some scrubby plants, and a lot of flint on the surface that takes on a desert varnish which gives it a blue-ish colour. There is a lot of sand but not the fine grained dunes that immediately pop into everyone’s head. This what the landscape looks like in our area around the town (North is roughly straight up and thanks Google Earth!).


We spent this morning getting our site area ready for excavation. This involved tying our survey equipment back into last years grid, finding the trenches from last year, cleaning them off and starting to remove the backfill. We were a bit concerned about how much disturbance the past year of construction had below the surface so we also put in a small test pit to determine the stratigraphic integrity. This testpit was finished up by lunch (good news!) and we had made good progress on identifying the perimeter of the pit from last year.

After a short break for lunch and a few minutes rest at the lodge we split into two crews and headed back out. One crew of 4 to the morning’s site to finish clearing off the perimeter. Myself and two others headed a bit further north to follow up on a project started last year, as well as survey the upland basalt for more evidence of the prehistoric lake shore. The project we started last year looks at the natural patterns of desert weathering on bone and it involved quickly locating and mapping some bone we documented last year. After that was done I headed up slope into the basalt areas and found a few more blocks with eroded shorelines in them. I am specifically looking for an eroded bench with the right types of sediment attached that I can use to get a reasonable date for the shoreline. Although we don’t have a date yet, based on some sedimentary analysis that myself and Carlos Cordova presented at the Association of American Geographer’s annual meeting this year, we think the shoreline fits into the Marine Isotope Stage 5e interglacial (or roughly 110,000-130,000 years  ago). So, no dateable sample yet, it just  means I get to keep looking. I have to do more survey regardless if I am going to get a reasonable map of the shorleine perimeter and an accurate elevation anyway. Unfortunately nothing knock your socks of exciting to report yet but spending the day hiking through the desert isn’t that bad. Here’s a picture of one upland bench to give you an idea of what I have been and am looking for.


Mmmmmm Baklava!

May 14, 2009

Well, am I ever glad to be writing on here again. All it took was a month of insane work and an 11 hour flight to Amman. During that time I managed to get the draft of my MA thesis put together, present at the Association of American Geographers (AAG) meeting in Las Vegas, attend the Palaeoanthropology conference in Chicago, decide where I am going to do my PhD (Montreal, Tucson, and Stillwater…don’t ask), and get prepared for another season of fieldwork in Jordan. It sounds even more ridiculous now that I’ve written it down but it’s all done now and I get to enjoy my fieldwork and read a whole bunch of stuff about geoarchaeology, soils, geomorpohology, and Jordanian prehistory. Sounds like it’s going to be a pretty good five weeks in Jordan.

I am part of a crew that is working on the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic in the northeastern part of the country. Last summer our survey turned up a substantial sequence of Lower Palaeolithic (likely about 250,000 year old) through Epipalaeolithic (around 15,000 years old). The craziest part of this is that it is located in a depression that used to be a swamp only 20 or so years ago. After looking at the sediments in our test trenches we also discovered that the basin used to be a lake with substantially fluctuating water levels in the past, fluctuations appearing to correlate with the global patterns of glacial advance and retreat. I presented these preliminary results at the AAG this past March and reconstructing the basin throughout the past 300,000 odd years – lake levels and associated environments – is going to be my PhD project… or I guess is my PhD seeing as it has already started!

For now we are in the American Center for Oriental Research until we can get a hold of the proper permits and any gear we still need.  As soon as possible, most likely tomorrow, we will be heading north to Azraq to truly get the work underway. So, over the next five weeks I’ll do my best to get the exciting new events up here and any anecdotes from the field. In the evenings I’m probably going to try and get the ball rolling on a few other papers and touch up my thesis, so don’t be surprised if some of that stuff pops up on here as well.

And, no, I haven’t had any Baklava yet, but soon….I hope.

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