As another summer field season draws to a close, the UJ15 team took a few minutes at dawn for our annual team photo outside ancient Umm el-Jimal’s Commodus Gate in the West Entry area. This season work has focused on our 2015 grant project from the Sustainable Cultural Heritage through Engagement of Local Communities Project (SCHEP) program. SCHEP is four-year, USAID-funded program being implemented by the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) and several partner archaeological projects around Jordan. Its goal is to develop new ways of empowering local communities directly in archaeological research and sustainable development through cultural-heritage based economic projects.
As one of the SCHEP partners for 2015, we officially launched on June 1. This year the Umm el-Jimal Project’s main goals are to:
- Prepare ancient Umm el-Jimal’s West Gate area for visitors through archaeological excavation and conservation of the Commodus Gate and surrounds.
- Develop the site’s eastern segment of the interpretive signage trail, consisting of 15 signs running from the West Gate to House 119, the future site museum and visitor center.
- Increase local capacity (and provide economic stimulus) by using these projects to train 17 community members as specialists in site management or digital communications.
We’re excited to join SCHEP because all three of these goals are intertwined. Partnering with community members on research and conservation is not only providing new knowledge and immediate preservation of an important, relatively unexplored area, but continues to develop a corps of local professionals to ensure Umm el-Jimal’s survival as a major Jordanian heritage site. At the same time, preparing the West Gate area and eastern trail signage will create an engaging experience for visitors that also connects directly to the heart of the modern community by literally and symbolically opening up the fence between the town and antiquities. Umm el-Jimal residents tend to see this growing relationship between the community, site, and visitors as mutually beneficial in a municipality traditionally excluded from equal participation in Jordan’s economic growth.
We’re fortunate to have had some great days on the site again this year. Most inspiring moment? Seeing our young friend Sattam Aqil, the eldest son of conservation foreman Ali Aqil, help move stones from the Commodus Gate in preparation for their recording and analysis. To us, there’s no better illustration of what SCHEP is about.
And stay tuned for more about our SCHEP-related work. As things continue we’ll introduce our digital communication trainees, share more about the site signage, and update progress on the Commodus Gate.
Photography by Paul Christians; team portrait by Jeff DeKock.