Digging Two Meters Down to Find Rectangular Rocks: Or My Work at Trench R20.

During the 2019 excavation season for Umm el-Jimal, I was part of an archeological excavation team of a trench to discover more of the history of Umm el-Jimal and how it impacts the present and the local community.  The trench that I worked on was unique in that it was not official on the archaeological site but of in a field close to it.  The reason why is that it was discovered in February 2019 that looting happened in that field and the looters discovered burials.  The coffins, tombs, and artifacts were disturbed, destroyed, and removed from their original places.  Because of that, it becomes difficult to date the history of the burials that could help in telling in the larger history of Umm el-Jimal. But the looting also showed that there was clear distinction of different soil layers, were there would be a need of careful recording to see what was happening to create those layers. The area that I worked in was called Area R and the trench number was 20.  The main reason then for the trench that I worked at was to dig in the same area of the looters’ holes and to have proper recording of data and collecting of artifacts and pottery as well as to figure out what could have created those distinct soil layers.  It was also part of the plans for the soil layers to collect samples of each layer to analyze them.  The final goal was to reach down all the way to the tomb at the bottom of the trench and to get a picture and drawing of it.

            Typical work schedule for Monday to Friday was that we arrived to the site around 6:20 and work to 9:30 where we would break to have second breakfast and start work again from 10 to around 11:50 where we would be picked up from our trench area.  We would take turns to rotate the work that is being done, one to dig up the dirt, one to fill the tire buckets with dirt and sort through them to find pottery, bone, glass, etc., and one to dump the tire buckets.

            As mentioned before I was part of small team where there were three of us, the other two being Jordanians from the local community.  The first part of the excavation was to remove the all the looters’ remains that where on top of the trench (locus 1).  It was about 115cm tall.  Since it was a mixing of soil layers from multiply different holes, there was no careful excavation of it or pictures of it, where instead we just went quickly through it and collect any pottery in that locus.  As expected, the pottery was mixed from many different historical periods. After finishing locus 1, we moved on to locus 2, the official top soil layer of the trench.  Like locus 1, there was less of a focus on careful excavation since it was the tope soil, having a missing of soil and pottery over hundreds of years.  Although for locus 2 (and most after it) we took a picture and a drawing.  It was also during the beginning of the excavation that I helped worked on locus 3, the contents inside the tomb.  While the inside of the tomb was contaminated from looting earlier that year, there were good samples of pottery still inside as well as remains of the coffin in relative good condition that were collected.

            The next locus that we excavated was locus 4, where we noticed the transition of brown soil of locus 2 to the gray soil of locus 4, the first locus after the top soil.  The soil became far more soft and easier to remove than the previous two loci.  This was also the locus where there was far more pottery, bone, and glass, where we found sizeable bone pieces and around 900 pottery pieces.  There were also lines of red and brown dirt (around 3 cm thick) that cut through locus 4. What most likely happened was that varies rainstorms caused heavy flooding, bringing different soil to that area, creating streaks through locus 4.  Unfortunately, that would be a separate locus but I dug through by accident and counted it as part of locus 4.  After getting through locus 4’s grey soil, it transitioned to a layer of rocks and brown soil that was more compact, becoming locus 5.  The rocks were not in any particular order or placement but general shattered all around the trench.   It seemed that locus 5’s rocks where the bottom layer of a dumping ground, where the burned remains/trash where put on top (locus 4).  Very unfortunate since that was over the tomb and looking at other holes near the trench it most likely was over other tombs as well.

            The next locus that was worked on was locus 7 after we removed the rocks and noticed the soil becoming a different consistency. This was the locus where the amount of pottery became drastically fewer and was the largest locus to excavate from. The top of the locus was this more reddish, grainier soil while the other 4/5s of the locus were this clumpy, compact brown dirt all the way down to the top of the tomb.  Locus 7 was most likely the backfill dirt dug out to put in the tomb and put back in over it.  The final two loci for our trench was locus 8 and 6.  Locus 8 was the top of the tomb and locus 6 was the tomb itself.  Locus 6 were three meter long basalt rocks placed over an opening in the dirt where the coffin would be placed.  Although it would be likely that there would be more long rectangle basalt pieces beyond the three but were removed from the looting. Locus 8 was the rocks and dirt that were placed between the large basalt pieces to stabilize them.

            To summarize what we discovered was that there was a tomb part of a larger graveyard outside the site and that many years later it became a dumping ground for burned trash, either by accident or on purpose. 

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