Universität Bonn

Islamic Archaeology Research Unit of the University of Bonn

Tall Hisban, Excavation Season 2018, Week One (24-29 June 2018)

It is a reunion! - This is the third Mamluk Archaeology Field School sponsored by the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg. We have thirteen participants this year: graduate students, post-docs, and professors of Mamluk Studies in its textual and material culture form. The Kolleg has been part of this project since 2013. A site where the standing architecture largely dates to the 14th century CE, and its architectural, artifact, and palaeobotanical preservation is outstanding, Tall Hisban has come to be known as a laboratory for studying rural societies on the frontier of the Mamluk state. For this reason, many Mamluk scholars will be visiting the site this season, and we will recount their visits in the blogs that follow. This season is also providing technical training and data for one Habilitationsschrift project, two doctoral dissertations, three MA theses, and one BA thesis by scholars at the ASK and students of the Islamic Archaeology Research Unit at the University of Bonn.
2018 is a special season, as it marks 50 years of American excavations at the site of Tall Hisban, in central Jordan. For this reason, this is a reunion year, with many veterans of the project (going back to 1968), former students, and old friends participating in excavation and visiting the site again. With some seventy team members, this season is one of the largest launched by the project since 1998, when Phase II excavations began with their focus on the Islamic periods. It is also one of the most international teams in the history of fieldwork at the site.

Three of the four fields of excavation this season focus on the farmhouses revitalized and developed into “clusters” of houses and storerooms during the 14th and 15th centuries. The “household” theme of fieldwork in 2018 has been designed to address several questions related to changes in social structure over time and the lifestyles of rural households in the Mamluk period. We specifically want to be able to date the original construction of these farmhouses (which go back to at least the Abbasid period, as we discovered in 2016), document how they changed structurally and functionally over time, identify “activity areas” (and reconstruct labor structures and patterns of socialization), and describe in some detail the contours of daily life. In support of this, we have further developed our digital recording methods (using the I-pad templates designed by Prof. Bob Bates at Andrews University), redesigned our methods of microstratigraphical recording and sampling and quantification of all pottery, expanded our use of photogrammetry and architectural modelling (through the expertise of Dr. Nicolò Pini, ASK), and are doing spatial analysis through GIS.

Highlights of the week – The complexities of our farmhouses, and the challenges to their interpretation, became readily apparent during the first few days of fieldwork. A wall we identified as belonging to a courtyard in 2016 (O12 – part of the southwest slope farmhouse cluster) now appears to be another domestic structure, with heavily plastered floors and walls and producing nearly complete glass vessels. In the adjacent North House (O9) a large complete, “elephant-eared” cook pot (stew pot) of the Mamluk period was discovered, buried deep into several layers of plastered floors, and plastered over. (Its contents will be excavated and sampled for botanical and residue analyses this week.) We have identified and begun to excavate the foundation trench of one wall in the Byzantine-Mamluk house in Field B (bottom of south slope), which produced jars burials and pits in previous seasons. And in M9, a wall constructed with monumental stones and part of what appears to be a massive, and possibly ancient, downslope enclosure wall, was identified as part of reused architectural elements in one of the Mamluk-era vaulted chambers on the north slope of the tell.

Technical training and evening lecture – This week our students received training in surveying, botanical sampling, and photogrammetry by Prof. Bob Bates (Andrews University), Prof. Alan Farahani (University of Nevada), and Dr. Nicolò Pini (ASK), respectively. Participating were also trainees from the village of Hisban, sponsored by SELA (https://selajo.org/en/home/). Evenings of lectures were given by Prof. Sten LaBianca (Andrews University) on the history of the project and zooarchaeology, Prof. Alan Farahani (University of Nevada) on paleoethnobotany, and by myself (Bethany Walker – ASK/University of Bonn) on our scientific goals for this season. In addition, I led two hours of ceramics training each afternoon during daily pottery readings, as is the project custom.

Our visitors this week – Archaeologists regularly visit the excavations of their colleagues at other sites. It is a sign of collegiality and good field practice, as one gets to see “sister” sites and is exposed to other methods and new ideas. This week we had visitors from the University of Leiden’s team working at Jebel Qurma, Prof. Megan Perry (East Carolina University– physical anthropologist), Prof. Emeritus Larry Geraty (director of the original Heshbon Expedition in the 1970s), and officers of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities. Tourists also spent time in the Mamluk Citadel.
 On a final note, this week the Madaba region experienced very high temperatures (up to mid-30s C / mid-90s F). Don’t you wish you were here?!                                            

Report submitted 30 June 2018,

Bethany J. Walker, Director of Excavations/Co-Director ASK

Esther Schirrmacher_Maria Gawjeska_Daisy Livingston in the South House.jpg
© Esther Schirrmacher_Maria Gawjeska_Daisy Livingston in the South House
map of excavation fields.png
© map of excavation fields
Alan Farahani uncovering the Mamluk cook pot.jpg
© Alan Farahani uncovering the Mamluk cook pot
elephant-eared cook pot buried in plaster floor of North House.jpg
© elephant-eared cook pot buried in plaster floor of North House
Anastasia Thamnopoulou and Kaori Otsuya in the North House.jpg
© Anastasia Thamnopoulou and Kaori Otsuya in the North House
getting elevations with the dumpy level in Field B.jpg
© getting elevations with the dumpy level in Field B
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