Visual Report: Preliminary Report and Field Work on the Water Project

Preliminary Report, 6 September 2015

Archaeology at Umm el-Jimal, April-September 2015, in the NORHED Birzeit-Bergen URBAN TRANSFORMATION Program

Bert de Vries

Umm el-Jimal Project Director

  1. Summary of Project
  2. A. The Umm el-Jimal Water System Preservation and Reactivation Project
    1. Goal

    To demonstrate how preservation of archaeological heritage can serve modern communities not only in heritage preservation and enhancement of tourism economy, but also in reviving ancient economic/technical facilities for the benefit of modern social and economic activities. The specific goal is to preserve and reactivate the ancient water collection and storage system for reuse by the modern community.

    2. Rationales

    a. Water issues. The Ancient water collection system took advantage of the age-old water collection technology on which the local Arab population of the Nabataean, Roman and Byzantine eras built their elaborate run-off collection and storage system which sustained extensive agriculture and large communities. Even in the mid-20th century that system was still providing water for household food production in the ancient garden plots. However, this technology was abandoned less than 25 years ago when deep aquifers were tapped using the modern drilling techniques not available to the ancients. Instead the 300 m deep Hauran aquifer was tapped for the development of irrigation based mega-farms developed by large landholders. With that new water supply the old surface collection system was neglected, with the result that local residents had to buy expensive imported municipal water for their domestic and horticultural uses. But, because the commercial farmers over-pumped to irrigate their commercial crops and, since 2012 over 100,000 Syrian refugees have been supplied from the same aquifer, the water table has dropped rapidly, and the still available water has become saline and sulfurous to the point of making it undrinkable and unsuitable for many orchard crops (including grapes and peaches). This is therefore the crucial time for preserving and reactivating the ancient run-off system for modern use, specifically for supplying the local community households with water suitable for maintaining their flocks and raising their local food crops.

    b. Community Engagement. Not only will this reactivated system serve the community with a supplementary water supply, but the community itself will be engaged in creating the system and then operating and maintaining it. The economic benefits are therefore two-fold, improved water supply and increased local job opportunities. In effect, the project will restore a benefit to the modern residents that was created by the ancients, but still effective among their own very recent ancestors.

    c. Visitor appeal. The preserved and reactivated water system will not only engage the local community, but will also make the site more interesting to local and foreign tourists, who will share in the excitement of seeing the ancient system not merely preserved, but also functional. To make this immediately real to site visitors from the outside, the project plan includes the restoration of an ancient garden plot, for which the goal is the replication of the horticultural methods and vegetation of the past.

    3. Outcomes

    1. Preserved water system
    2. Increased water supply
    3. Display of ancient agrarian economy
    4. Engaged community, as applied to a rural setting
    5. A distinctive site narrative with appeal to local, in-country and foreign visitors
    6. Combining of heritage and environmental awareness
    7. Highlighting the role of antiquities in the urban transformation process
    8. Providing a model for application throughout the Levant

    4. Summary of introductory work done in the 2014 field season

    1. Preliminary site map and water-system survey
    2. Study of the History/Archaeology of Water Engineering and Management
    3. Development of a project strategy, including:
      1. The archaeology of the supply channel and reservoir system
      2. The water-proof preservation of selected reservoirs
      3. The design and installation of the distribution system
      4. The planning and implementation of a long-term maintenance and management structure

    5. Means and Schedule.

    The Umm el-Jimal Project is currently funded to do major preservation and presentation of the site with focus on standing structures. Grants from the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP, USA) enabled the preservation and presentation of the House XVII-XVIII Complex from 2012 – 2014. In 2015 a grant from USAID SCHEP Project administered by ACOR is paying for (1) the preservation and presentation of the West Gate area of Umm le-Jimal, which includes the Commodus Gate and (2) the completion of the Eastern Interpretive Trail, complete with signs in English and Arabic which will guide both community members and tourists through the site. The Um el-Jimal water Project is being done in tandem with these two projects.

    Last year the water project was begun with a small grant for work on (1) the overall project design, (2) basic contour mapping of the watershed and site drone photography, (3) a contextual study of water systems, water sources and historic climate variations and (4) preliminary engineering study into the practical aspects of community water needs, creation of an effective distribution system and the organization of a sustainable community operating system.

    This year we are incorporating the Water Project into the Umm el-Jimal component of the Birzeit-Bergen NORHED “Urban Transformation” Project to feature it as a showcase example of the integration of archaeology into the practical life of a modern community. The goal for the year is to engage in preliminary excavation to understand the stratigraphy and archaeological history of the water system, and to complete the detailed mapping of the storage, supply channel water shed configuration in order to replicate (virtually) the historic system and plan the actual activation of components of the system.

    Our goal is to make the “Archaeology of the Water Project” a major component of the NORHED funding for Umm el-Jimal, with the goals of the understanding of the role of water in ancient communities (field work and publication), and the preparation of both the site and the community for the installation and operation of the modern redistribution system. Funding for the creation of the actual modern redistribution system will sought through further grant applications.

  3. Report on the Water Project Field Fork, May-June 2015
  4. A. Maps

    The Water System of Umm el-Jimal form the Nabataean era to the 2oth Century
    The following map is a schematic representation of the water storage system that was in use at Byzantine and Umayyad Umm el-Jimal. A portion of these birkehs are to be waterproofed for the redistribution scheme.

    Schematic Reference Map of Byzantine-Umayyad Umm el-Jimal as it survived through earthquakes and reuses by Medieval and Twentieth Century ‘Jordanians’ – medieval local Arabs, Druze from Syria during World War I and in the middle of the 20th Century the forebears of the current Masa’eid villagers. Showing location of Area F trenches.

    B. Excavations: The Water System Probe, Area FF

    Introduction. The Excavations.Area FF, focusing on the gardens and soils of the of the west central sector of Byzantine Umm el-Jimal, were a careful examination of the soil accumulation in areas undisturbed by building activities.

    1. FF.1, located in the ‘garden’ of House 77.

    The top 30 cm contained artifacts like shrapnel from the 20th century. Below that the loci contained Byzantine to Umayyad Period and Late Roman/Early Byzantine Period respectively, below which was undisturbed soil.

    2. FF.2, located in open area between the Commodus Gate and the Cathedral

    This probe was opened to see whether a long row of stones running south towards the Praetorium could have been a water channel. Instead, it proved to be a flimsy ‘garden’ wall, surviving in one course founded on soil close to the surface. Below that the trench contained a series of loci with pottery ranging successively from the top, dated to Late Byz-Umayyad and late Roman to Early Byzantine.

    3. FF.3. located east of the Praetorium Reservoir.

    This probe was opened to locate the possible ancient channel supplying the reservoir. No channel was found. Instead FF.3 provided the best gradual soil sequence dated from modern above to Roman immediately above undisturbed soil. This probe showed that what was found in FF.1 and FF.2 was typical of the soil accumulation during the various use periods of the site. In this case the level above undisturbed soil represented the ground surface in the Nabataean/Roman periods of site occupation. The 75 cm above that represented the gradual accumulation of soil over the subsequent periods of occupation and abandonment.

    4. Area FF interpretation

    The process of accumulation of about 75 cm of soil from the Nabataean/Roman period of occupation to the present represents the process of soil accumulation on the site in relatively low lying areas. Though each of the three trenches were slightly different they had in common the accumulation of a fine grey soil, that in FF.1 may have been used for gardening up to the twentieth century, while in the other two trenches the accumulation appeared more ‘natural.’ Overall, while evidence for water channels was not found in FF2 and 3, the new knowledge of Umm el-Jimal’s soil morphology in open areas is helpful for understanding the site formation process. The coming analysis of similar soils by Bernhard Lucke of the University of Erlangen will convey useful information for understanding the agricultural potential of our planned garden restoration project.

  5. Presentation: Water and Community
  6. The Water project study and field work is also producing important new information on the ancient system and its relevance to the modern community. We are therefore including 5 points of interest with interpretive signs, to be installed by the spring of 2016. For a list of these signs with text to be adapted for the signs, see Appendix A. The central motif of this presentation is that water is a BRIDGE from the ancient ruins to the modern community.

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