Our 2019 field season is underway, with some exciting new trenches and some new faces (including me). In this post, I’ll provide a brief overview of the various strands of fieldwork for this summer, as well as an introduction to our team members. First, let’s introduce the team.
Our team for this year consists of Umm el-Jimal Project senior staff members, field school students, and co-workers from the local Umm el-Jimal community. Prof. Bert de Vries continues as our Senior Director, with returning team members Dr. Elizabeth Osinga, Jenna Morton, Sally de Vries, Muaffaq Hazza, Ali Aqil, Rebecca Lawson. I have also joined the senior staff this year.
Students are a crucial component of our team and this year we have 8 students from Calvin College and visiting students from Wake Forest University and Lehigh University. The Calvin College contingent includes Allison Fan, Kat Fetter, Adrienne Ora, Austin Rohl, Reagan Rohl, Darcy Stubbs, Neil Sutherland, and Kees Van Liere. Kayla Rowe has joined us from Wake Forest and Olivia Lee from Lehigh. Keep an eye on this blog for new posts from these students over the next week or so (Calvin students need to complete two posts each as part of their field school assignments).
There are 3 key strands to our fieldwork this season: the Churches Project, the Water Project, and the Interpretive and Hospitality Center opening.
The Churches Project
The Churches Project is more formally called the “The Archaeology of Christianity and Society at Umm el-Jimal” and focuses in on three of the site’s 16 Byzantine period churches. This season marks the initial fieldwork specifically planned within this new research project. The three churches we have chosen (the West Church, the South West Church, and the Julianos Church) are representative of Umm el-Jimal’s range of Byzantine worship spaces: the West Church and South West Church are both designed in a basilica format (having a central nave with side aisles) while the Julianos Church is designed in the hall format (a long nave with no side aisles).
The churches also offer three different physical relationships between the built structure of the churches and those of surrounding domestic architecture: the West Church is free-standing and not physically connected to any domestic structures (i.e. houses); the South West Church has been inserted into a pre-existing network/neighborhood of domestic structures and is physically connected to these houses, featuring entrance doors accessible from the street; the Julianos Church was also built into pre-existing domestic structures and is physically connected to adjacent house walls but, is only accessible from the interior courtyard of one of the houses.
This project seeks to examine the relationship between each of these churches and the wider domestic character of Byzantine period Umm el-Jimal, and to account for some of the differences between the site’s various churches. We also seek to gain greater clarity about the dating of the churches’ foundations and the interior changes that occurred within them (such as the additions of altar screens). Sadly, each of our church excavation trenches for this season also corresponds with recent looter’s pits: while the information that could have been gained from these illicit excavations can never be fully recovered, our new trenches will be in the form of expansions from these looter’s pits, carefully recording the stratigraphy that the looters cut through in their illegal excavations.
The Water Project
For a number of years, we have been working with the Clean Water Institute of Calvin College in efforts to study, conserve, and functionally restore Umm el-Jimal’s ancient water management system in order to capture an estimated volume of more than 12 million liters of water per year to assist with Jordan’s worsening water crisis. Last summer a new water channel was planned and this season we are excavating a sample of three small evaluation trenches over the course of this planned channel. The aim is to identify any archaeological features that may be affected and/or damaged by the digging and construction of this new water channel.
Interpretive and Hospitality Center Opening
After years of planning and preparations, a new Interpretive and Hospitality Center will be opening at Umm el-Jimal on Saturday, June 15th. This will include a cafe, restroom facilities, museum exhibits, and an outdoor inscriptions garden. A number of our team have been focusing their time during this field season on the final preparations for this grand opening.