Universität Bonn

Islamic Archaeology Research Unit of the University of Bonn

Tall Hisban, Excavation Season 2021, Week Two (10-16 October 2021)

The second week of a three-week archaeological dig is often the most important for field work: the first week every archaeologist is finding their feet, coming to terms with the typology of their site and building a rapport with workmen, who often cannot speak the same language. The final week is a rush, wrapping up squares and everyone busy with post-excavation work. The second week is a sweet sport where some of the best digging gets done.
Week Two at Tal Hisban has been a success, with phenomenal progress made onsite in all fields.
The team at North Church have remained as busy as ever, working with a complex, multi-faceted site that has required days of their time and will now have invaded their moments of relaxation and their dreams: but the quality of the discoveries, the artefacts and their cultural significance for understanding Tal Hisban within the cultural and historical landscape of Jordan, make the hours and days invested worthwhile.
The main team, working in the terraced houses of Field O, on the lower slopes of the tell, have made great strides as well. They have not only exposed multiple occupation layers, passing through centuries of various cultural occupation and reoccupation with each locus and plaster floor, but have come to understand how each of their rooms relate to the others. A ceramic vessel found in Field S, higher up the slope, was made using a mold found in one room in Field O and was fired in another room. This gives us an idea to the nature of ceramic production in Mamluk-era Tal Hisban and shows how many of the incredible vessels being found on this storied archaeological site were locally-made.
The actions of looters in the summer preceding the dig season have played merry hell with forming a satisfying stratigraphy in Field S. The robbers now appear to have burrowed down to bedrock within the uniquely-preserved in-situ chamber in the southern part of the structure, before infilling the entire chamber when they left. This has meant all soil found within the chamber has been terribly mixed, resulting in such confusing discoveries as a palaeolithic hand axe side-by-side with the broken head of a modern mattock. An understanding of the site, despite this disturbance, has been gradually forming however: it seems the structure in S is a Byzantine building built over a much-older quarry at the entrance to a natural tunnel in the hillside, the walls built onto, and often incorporating, the natural bedrock. During the Mamluk reoccupation the entrance to the tunnel was sealed up, and the room was used for the storage of food.
On the home front, back at the hotel in Madaba, pots are being washed at a rate of knots and read by Professor Walker and her expanding team of ceramic specialists. This is to form an accurate understanding of who exactly used Tal Hisban, and which parts for which purposes. Our floatation teams have been judiciously sampling and studying biomatter, which will go towards developing our understanding of what was eaten by the inhabitants of the tell, and what kind of ancient environment they lived in.
In this week we were also joined by the ebullient presence of Professor Warren Schultz, a numismatist from Depaul University. A numismatist specialises in the study of coins, and while some coins have been found onsite this week, Professor Schultz spent the majority of his time with a trowel or gufa in hand, excavating the room in Field S, where he has charmed the workmen who will miss him next week when he returns to his family and students in Chicago.
Weekends on an active archaeological dig feel about as short as an artic day in winter, but the day and a half we have off from excavations has been put to good use. The team indulged in the ‘Wadi Weekend.’ Three parties departed for three different ‘wadis’ – that is, valleys – across Jordan. A daytrip to Wadi Mujib, which empties into the Dead Sea, involved canyoning and diving into refreshing white waters. Meanwhile, a two-day expedition went south to Wadis Musa and Rum. Wadi Musa is the gateway to the fantastic Nabatean capital of Petra, made famous by such archaeologically-uninclined (but still entertaining) films as the Indiana Jones franchise. Wadi Rum is a surreal, Martian landscape of red desert and humped mountains on the Saudi border and is the home of the Bedouin, who toured the team around their magnificent and historical heartland.
The Wadi parties returned to Madaba late on Saturday, home in time for dinner and the final week of the 2021 dig season at Tal Hisban.

Report by: Nikolaus Cox

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© Sherihan Inalo
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© Islamic Archaeology
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© Islamic Archaeology
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