Hello fellow archaeology enthusiasts! My name is Lauren Coughlin and I am working for the Umm el-Jimal Project. I am a graduate student at the American University of Rome studying Sustainable Cultural Heritage and my focus is on community archaeology and women’s rights in Jordan and the Middle East. The long-standing relationship between the Mas’eid Bedouin tribe and the archaeology team led by Bert de Vries is partly what makes Umm el-Jimal so unique. Bert’s and his wife Sally’s presence on the site of Umm el-Jimal for over 40 years has had its impact.
Traditionally, Middle Eastern archaeology has involved the local population solely in the labor of excavating and disregarded any input of interpretation locals may offer. This has also resulted in many locals becoming detached from their own cultural heritage. At Umm el-Jimal the local community has been working toward interactive community involvement through excavation training that gives participants the skills to excavate their own trenches and make their own interpretations of the past. This has transitioned the role of a local ‘worker’ to that of a ‘team member’. What is even more extraordinary is that for the first time in the history of Jordanian archaeology, women are participating in the excavation of sites. This is not only true at Umm el-Jimal, but in other parts of Jordan. Community archaeology has elevated the roles of community members in their position in archaeological fieldwork and in doing so has encouraged women to fill these roles. This field season we only had one female Mas’eid team member excavating on site, however she sets precedence for other Mas’eid women and the opportunities that await them.
Umm el-Jimal is affiliated with a local women’s group project that is encouraging women to participate in the tourism aspect of the archaeological site. Local women are being trained to create crafts to sell in a museum gift shop and there is a future project in the works to train the women to give innovative and engaging tours to school groups wishing to learn more about the site. While ‘women’s empowerment’ is a coined phrase in this UN women’s project, I have difficulty with the term ‘empowerment’. The women of the Mas’eid tribe are already empowered. They are some of the most feisty and exuberant women I have ever met. What this project does for them is utilize the strength they have in their hearts through craft production and eventually tours. I have been tasked with creating a preliminary curriculum for these school groups. The difficulty that has presented itself in this task is primarily the fact that I am not Mas’eid. I am from Baltimore city, and while I am a former Baltimore city teacher with a masters in teaching, I am unwilling to pretend to know about the students of Umm el-Jimal. It is paramount, therefore, that collaboration be a priority in this endeavor. I’ve finished the curriculum and it has been given to Bert to assess, but I hope that it will fall into the hands of the local teachers (after being translated into Arabic) and that they will be given the opportunity to make changes according to their student’s needs. It is important to remember when doing projects like this that ownership takes a backseat to community development and success. It is my hope that locals will take my preliminary tour structure and create their own lessons based on similar tour methods. Teamwork!
Over the next few months I will be writing a dissertation on the relationship between community archaeology and women’s participation in Jordan. While I am using Umm el-Jimal as a case study, there are other projects in Jordan who are doing similar work. My hope for Umm el-Jimal is that we can create a successful and outstanding example of community involvement and development for other projects to copy in order to make Jordan archaeology some of the most productive, innovative, and inclusive archaeology in the region.