Universität Bonn

Islamic Archaeology Research Unit of the University of Bonn

Tall Hisban, Excavation Season 2021, Week Three (17-21 October 2021)

The 2021 field season of Tall Hisban has ended in dramatic and successful–and admittedly at times stressful–fashion. It was a true climax to a season that has confronted and overcome fresh challenges, as well as continuing the proud archaeological tradition of Tall Hisban.
The week opened like every other, with early starts and mornings spent excavating on the tell, while the afternoons were defined by long hours reading an ever-growing wealth of ceramic sherds, washing the latest influx of fresh pottery, and paperwork. The start of the week was not all work, however, with birthday parties for members of the team and farewell parties for those whose research demanded that had to leave the season early. This social life has made the archaeologists the darlings of the local Lebanese restaurant.
As the week went on, however, the knowledge that the season was ending turned the working day into a rush to get everything done; and done right.
Wednesday was our last day in the field with our workmen, who for many of us have become firm friends. They have welcomed us into the Beni A’Jarma community and through their generosity we have been lucky-enough to excavate on their land. Life-long friendships have been formed, not only among the students, but with their Jordanian colleagues. The greatest discovery may not be the material culture found in the loci, but the friends made along the way. But we also made some pretty great discoveries in the loci.
Wednesday was a triumph for field archaeology. Field O was closed with bedrock having been struck in some of the oldest and deepest parts of the structure: an accomplishment never before attained in Field O, where the depth of occupation–which looks to be at its oldest Byzantine–had never been known. Tabuns were sampled, walls removed, cooking pots discovered, and in all the 2021 season has added comprehensively to the archaeological canon of Field O.
Field S, with its solitary square, also saw great success on Wednesday. The Byzantine structure was completely cleared of debris and earth loci, dug completely down to bedrock. A feature which had been unknown before last year’s looting has now been completely excavated and recorded. The structure is indicative of Tall Hisban as a whole: a prehistoric quarry, covered by a Byzantine shelter, used as a Mamluk storeroom and finally as an Ottoman tomb, gives a reader some idea as to the sheer depth of history a site of multiple reoccupations can bear witness to. The diagnostic artefacts coming out of the scant loci not disturbed by robbers have also provided us with an all-new understanding of Mamluk ceramic production, trade networks, and metallurgy.
North Church, as ever, was a hive of activity until the last moment, and it was with relief that the archaeologists could finally turn their backs on the ruined chapel and focus on the mounds of paperwork awaiting them back at the Salome. Great progress has been made on this complex site too, in understanding the relationship between the cemetery and the nave: they appear to not be contemporaneous, overlapping each other in places, and once-more reminding us that in places like Jordan life has been happening for millennia, and archaeological sites overlay themselves in a country where culture is coming out of every hillside.
Following Wednesday were three days of incredible stress, as supervisors and assistants worked in a flurry of activity to prepare reports and complete paperwork in time for the close of the season and the team’s return to Europe. Patiences were tried and tensions were at times high, but all carried themselves with gravitas and poise and came together for each other wonderfully. Anyone feeling overwhelmed by their post-excavation responsibilities soon found themselves surrounded and supported by their colleagues and friends, and in such a collegial and collaborative mindset–which is aspirational for academia as a whole–the work was completed on schedule and in a thorough and satisfying fashion.
The work continues even now. Some team members have returned to Germany to commence the post-season processing of finds and preparations for final publication, led by Professor Walker, whose leadership, kindness and drive made this season as successful as it was and inspired the students and specialists who joined her.
Some students have remained in Jordan to further their own research. Some are surveying castles in the Eastern Desert even as I write this from Amman Airport; others begin their fellowships at ACOR and a new, exciting period in their professional and scholarly lives; others still travelled the Desert Highway in a quest for vernacular Ottoman architecture; while some simply took a well-earned break from work altogether, instead sharing tea and stories with the Bedouin of Wadi Rum.
For many members of the team this field season was the first time meeting individuals who will play an ongoing role in their professional and social lives in the coming years at Universität Bonn. The end of the field season is only the beginning.
I for one am excited for what comes next.
As the coolest kids in Amman say; “Yalla, peace!”

Report by: Nikolaus Cox

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© Islamic Archaeology
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© Islamic Archaeology
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© Islamic Archaeology
Prof. Dr. Hani Hayajneh, Dr. Ahmed Al-Shorman, prof. Dr. Bethany Walker, and Dr. Hussein Al-Sababha.jpg
© Prof. Dr. Hani Hayajneh, Dr. Ahmed Al-Shorman, prof. Dr. Bethany Walker, and Dr. Hussein Al-Sababha
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