Universität Bonn

Islamic Archaeology Research Unit of the University of Bonn

Tall Hisban, Excavation Season 2021, Week One (03-09 October 2021)

The third of October 2021 was the first day of the first post-pandemic season at Tall Hisban. These three weeks are among the most important in the history of the excavation of the storied tell site, and for many members of the team will be incredibly emotional, as years of field work come to a head. Professor Bethany Walker has been joined by such Tall Hisban alumni as Professor Bob Bates of Andrews University and bioarchaeologist Doctor Megan Perry, as well as a team of 12 PhD and 4 MA students affiliated with Universität Bonn. The team come from across the world and have brought a diverse range of talents and experience to this excavation. This wealth of experience and skill is a necessity in this dig season. Week one has been an exhausting introduction to Jordanian archaeology but also wildly successful.
Field O, last excavated in 2018, has been reopened and a team of 20, including graduate students serving as both square supervisors and assistants, have been excavating a series of terraced houses opening onto a possible central courtyard. The structures have been the homes of a multitude of cultures over the thousands of years that Tal Hisban–a city mentioned 13 times in the Bible–has stood, and it is impossible to say which culture called these houses home, because they have been home to many, dating back to the Byzantine period.
The houses this season have revealed a wealth of ceramics ranging from the Late Islamic Period all the way back to the Byzantine, with glass bangles of Ayyubid origin and a series of Mamluk-era tabuns found below a floor. Some of the rooms appear to have had multiple functions, from living spaces to more industrial settings.
Up the slope, just below the peak of the citadel–which offers sweeping views across the Jordan Valley to the distant city of Jerusalem–a new trench was opened. A boulder, falling from the former Mamluk fortress that caps the hill, broke through the roof of a structure buried beneath the soil, revealing an in-situ vaulted room of Byzantine style. The activity of looters opened this space further, prior to the beginning of the season, and a team of workmen have spent the entirety of the first week clearing the debris caused by their unscrupulous activities. By the end of the day on Thursday the space has been cleared, revealing the first archaeological locus of this chamber, much of which remains intact and roofed, and excavation can now begin to determine who has used this room since its Byzantine construction, and for what varied purposes.
At the end of the first week all clean-up of the previous season’s backfill, and removal of debris caused by robbers, has been completed, and the teams now anticipate a rewarding second week in their fields, digging into untouched loci in all squares.
As fulfilling as the archaeology is, the friendships made with the local Jordanian workmen, most of whom live in the neighbouring towns, has been for many of the archaeologists the best part of the week. Archaeologists and workmen have taught one-another their languages and customs, learning about their very different worlds, brought together by the common goal of preserving and promoting this unique heritage site.
It is not all work for all the team, and in the afternoon on Friday some members of the excavation travelled to the Dead Sea to experience the fabled inland sea which looks like a painting and tastes like gasoline.
Saturday has been spent exploring the town of Madaba, which the team are calling home for the month they are spending excavating in Jordan, enjoying the hospitality of the locals and strong coffee. A much-needed day of relaxation in preparation for another week onsite.

 Report by: Nikolaus Cox

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