FF.08: a 1×1.5m hole in the desert

My trench for this season was FF08. It was one of three exploratory trenches dug in advance of the water project at Umm el-Jimal. The purpose of the water project is to reconnect the ancient water reservoirs on the site to the modern reservoir in Umm el-Jimal. This project is being primarily undertaken by Calvin’s Engineering department who are working in close conjunction with the local community. Most of the reservoirs at Umm el-Jimal have fallen out of use, or are in need of repair. The system of reservoirs used to be connected by water channels so that water could flow from one to another, but these no longer function. As of right now, the water in the reservoirs (particularly the Roman reservoir) is used by the municipality and not directly by the community. Every day a tanker truck comes and fills up from the reservoir. It did not used to be this way. In the early 20th century, the Bedouins who lived in the area lived directly in the site, amongst the ruins. The reservoirs were their sources of water. But things have changed. The department of antiquities has taken over the site and people do not live amongst the ruins. By recreating these water channels with a modern pipeline, the local community will have some of their connection to the site restored. By choosing to excavate three points along the proposed route for the new water pipes, we now have a better idea of some of the things (if any) that will be encountered while the trench for the pipe is being dug.

The first part of the trench consisted almost entirely of collapse debris. This part of the excavation was not particularly interesting because, while there was quite a lot of pottery, there was little else apart from sand, dust, and rocks. Things began to get more interesting by locus 003. Locus 003 is a different soil, courser and redder. This layer is likely a much older accumulation of dirt and collapse debris, probably made up of original top soil. There were two massive boulders protruding from the south balk and taking up almost all of locus 003. The bottom of locus 003 is where things start to get really interesting. As I excavated, I began to encounter flat stones that looked like they made up a surface.

During the initial digging of my trench I left the north east half of the trench undug because it was up against a wall made of loose stones which threatened to collapse. After finding a possible surface however, it became important to excavate the rest of the trench up to the wall (as had originally been planned) in order to see if the surface continued. Once the rest of the trench had been excavated it was not immediately clear whether the surface continued or not. That night however, it rained (a rare event during the summer), and the following morning things were much clearer. There was a definite surface on the bottom of the trench made up of some fairly large flat stones as well as quite a few smaller hand sized flat stones. This led us to believe that the surface could well have been a road. In the absence of further digging and knowledge of that part of the site however, nothing can be said with any certainty. Immediately underneath the flat surface were lots of small boulders which were likely placed as a base for the surface. These boulders were located close together and had smaller rocky rubble in between them. There were also air pockets next to and under the boulders, which suggested to me that they this had been deliberately constructed. It is possible that this is also collapse debris from an earlier era, but as previously stated; the quantity and placing suggested otherwise.

The primary goal of the trench was to prepare for the water channel. That goal was more than met. In terms of finding out what the channel would interfere with, apart from the surface, there was nothing of any real note. The presence of the two larger boulders above the surface may indicate the continuation of the wall from the house on the other side of the path, but further excavation on the rest of the path would need to be done to be certain.

Unfortunately, expanding the trench would pose a problem for visitors of the site. As previously stated, my trench was located on the side of a pathway. This particular pathway just so happens to be one of the main roads through the site. A trench taking up the entire road would seriously impede visitor’s ability to visit the site without crawling over and through various ruined buildings. Even my trench, extending one meter into the path proved problematic. The pathway is also used for occasional vehicle traffic as was proven when I arrived one morning to find tire tracks leading right along the edge of the trench. The passage of the water truck to the Roman Reservoir past my trench caused part of the balk to collapse and led to a lot of extra digging and cleaning that morning.

Trench FF08 may not have been the most interesting trench at Umm el-Jimal this season but it served its purpose well. As a result of my excavations, we have a better idea of what the water trench will encounter when it is dug. It also gives us ideas for possible future excavations. In the end I am glad that I found something interesting, but also glad that my trench wasn’t too complicated. Luckily for the people who will be doing the digging, the trench for the pipeline will be dug with modern equipment such as backhoes. I spent, four weeks digging my hole by hand and I would not envy anyone who had to dig the whole pipeline by hand.

asalt Surface, possibly a road
Trench prior to excavation

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