Visual Report: Water Project Report, October-November 2016 Field Season

WATER PROJECT REPORT – October-November 2016 Field Season

By Bert de Vries, 13 December 2016

Summary of Field Season, Oct 10 – Nov 2

The primary goal of this season was to continue work on clearing, for reuse and presentation two other reservoirs that had been reused by the Masa’eid residents in the mid-twentieth century.

We began with reservoirs R7 in the courtyard of House 52, and R31 in the east courtyard of the Praetorium with two teams of eight (See figure 1 for reservoir locations. At the same time another crew worked on cleaning the residue of the soil mounds on the south side of R19; these were cleanout mounds for Reservoir 19, deposited by the Masa’eid in the 20th century that had been removed from the site in the fall of 2015. As the work on these three reservoirs neared completion, some workers were shifted to re-clean a portion of the floor of Reservoir 13 which had been exposed after the removal of 8000 cu. m. of water for distribution in the community. We also began the removal of soil mounds at Reservoir 16, and concluded with the removal of large amounts of basalt blocks from Reservoir 19 during the third week.

This report will use photographs to give brief summaries of the progress of the work in a before-during-after format, and then conclude with a discussion of the results and their context in the larger project plan. All photographs are by Bert de Vries.

Reservoir R7


This reservoir was reconditioned by the resident family in the mid-20th century. It was used for a generation until private domestic use was forbidden in 1970. The cobble surfacing ad plaster waterproofing was done by Druze builders employed by the Masa’eid. The story of ownership, reconditioning and use of these reservoirs will be recovered through a community survey in January 2017. The larger beams in the rubble were form the collapse of the roof, but an amazing amount of building stones and rubble filled the bottom half of the reservoir in the years between 1970 and 2016.

Reservoir R31

The story of R31, used by the Masa’eid family that re-inhabited the Praetorium, is essentially parallel to that of Reservoir R7.

Reservoir R19, west of Houses 73 and 74. 

The work began with the removal of soil heaps left from partial removal of the twentieth century cleanout of Reservoir R19 in the fall of 2015.A crew then proceeded to level that area to restore the pre-twentieth century flat landscape surrounding this reservoir.

Although we know that Reservoir R19 was cleaned and used for water supply by a Masa’eid family in the Twentieth Century, it was not re-plastered and water-proofed as R7 and R31 had been. As a result, the quarry marks were clearly visible on all the walls of this pit (see Fig. 17). It was therefore decided to preserve R19 as a display of the ancient stone quarrying technique.

Reservoir R16, North of the Cathedral

Reservoir R19, unlike the other reservoirs worked on from fall 2015 to now, was not reused by the modern residents. It is important because the soil accumulated in the bottom is a stratified deposit of silts that has accumulated over the history of its existence and use. We plan, therefore, to excavate a test trench through these sediments in order to get a profile of the sediments over time, including especially the evidence for paleo-botanical remains. To prepare the site of this work we levelled an uneven area to the west of R16, created by unintentional bulldozer gauges.

Reservoir R13, Roman Reservoir, Annual Cleanup

Reservoir R13, the great roman reservoir which was reconditioned in the Fall 2015 field season, had supplied the Umm el-Jimal Municipality and private flock owners in the community with over 8000 cubic meters of unpolluted runoff water. The value of this water is that it enables its recipients to forego the use of an equivalent amount of potable water, which is now increasingly scarce and costly. As the water in the reservoir was drawn down by pumping in the month of October, a shelf of flooring in the relatively high south east corner of the reservoir became exposed. As figures 20-21 show, this exposed a thin layer of newly accumulated sediment in which a thick stand of algae had grown and on which a large number of plastic bottles had been deposited, carried there across the reservoir by the prevailing northwest winds.

We decided to use a crew of five people for two days to clean this area, in order to demonstrate that a regimen of annual cleanup is required and will need to be budgeted in the operating costs of this reactivated water supply system.

The Team


The project has made great progress in the excavation and cleaning of the reservoirs that were once used by the Masa’eid when the Byzantine site served as their village. In the process we are learning much more about the use of the site and its water system in the Twentieth Century. We will be documenting this history more precisely through a series of interviews conducted in the village in January 20917.

In the course of this work we also discovered that the modern reuse of the system included the creation of new surface channels following the contours of the landscape as it is now. We also discovered that the ancient channels supplying these reservoirs are now buried under accumulated sediments from 20 to 50 cm or more below the current surface.  In the January excavation season we plan to locate a number of these for the prupose of dating their construction and use and in order to create a more accurate map of the ancient configuration of the channel system.

As always we thank the Norwegian NORHED/Norad, and our colleagues at Birzeit and Bergen Universities for the inclusion of the Umm el-Jimal Project in the Urban Transformation Project and for the funds that enable the work described here and in earlier reports!


Bert de Vries

For the Umm el-Jimal Project Team


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