From the Field: The Tell Madaba Archaeological Project…Crusader castles, ancient cities, and desert valleys!

Posted: July 9, 2011 - 13:08 , by royal

By Daniel Kwan, Gallery Facillitator and Volunteer

The excavations of my unit have come to an end! We have revealed a considerable amount of Iron Age architecture (walls, a blocked doorway, and a possible staircase), discovered a modest amount of pottery, discovered a few very interesting objects (arrow heads, the eye of a needle, a glass bead, and a stone blade), and moved a considerable amount of earth! After four weeks of hard work, my students and I have dug approximately five meters down! Although the dig season is not over, we are unable to dig any further in our unit for both technical and safety reasons. We will now conduct our excavations in a new square (5M11A1), which lies directly under a stone archway and against Tell Madaba’s fortification wall.

As you probably know from my previous posts, my trip to Jordan isn’t all about digging. I recently returned from a weekend trip to southern Jordan. During my travels in the summer of 2010, southern Jordan (despite the heat!) quickly became one of my favorite places to visit.

Our excursion began with a visit to Kerak, an incredibly well-preserved Crusader castle whose construction was facilitated by knights of the successful first crusade beginning in 1142. Interestingly, Kerak was inhabited by Reynald of Chatillon, who notoriously encased the heads of his prisoners in wooden boxes so that they wouldn’t lose consciousness when he threw them off of the castle walls! Reynald’s treacherous and vicious nature soon led to the downfall of the castle during the 1187 Battle of Hattin at the hands of Salah ad-Din.

Immediately following our exploration of Kerak, we made our way to Shobak castle, which was one of the first to be built by the Crusaders in Transjordan. Although a little worse for wear, Shobak is one of my favorite castles to explore because of the secret passage contained within its mountainous foundation. Putting on a headlamp and descending from the small opening at the top of the castle, I slid, jumped, and ran down the tunnel until I finally emerged, covered in sweat and dirt, onto a modern road.

Made famous for its brief appearance in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Petra is a remote valley basin nestled in the heart of the Shara mountains. One of the most iconic sites on my trip, at the peak of its construction Petra represented the capital of the Nabatean world. With an ancient system of water works, incredible buildings carved into the sandstone mountains, and wonderful views, Petra is a must see. In 2010, I explored the ruins on horseback, mules, camels, and on foot. It was quite the memorable experience! My trip this year however, was cut short due to an allergic reaction to nuts that stopped me cold in my tracks as we approached the famous Treasury.

If you ever ask me what some of my favorite places in the world are, I will always recommend the awe-inspiring desert landscape of Wadi Rum. Easily one of the most extraordinary natural environments in the world, the Wadi consists of parallel faults that form a desert valley south of the Shara mountains. Running almost perfectly north-south, Wadi Rum is comprised almost entirely of sandstone, basalt, and granite mountains. Traveling in jeeps, we visited various geological and archaeological hotspots found throughout the Wadi.

The drive was absolutely amazing! The wind in your face, the sun shining, and an unbelievable amount of sand and mountains as far as the eye can see. After stopping to have tea with Bedouin and see petroglyphs carved into massive sandstone fragments, we arrived at the entrance to an imposing vertical fault. Accompanied by a small group of students and fellow supervisors (Zack and Kristen), we scaled the inside of the fault until we couldn’t climb any further. Although the ascent was relatively easy, descending the slippery rock faces proved to be a daunting task.

Exhausted, we made our way back to the jeeps for our final Wadi Rum destination, the sand dune. After parking in front of the 50-foot tall red sand dune, we began our climb. Many of the students didn’t make the climb (which Zack describes as feeling like 100 feet). After reaching the top, and having a much-deserved rest, we prepared ourselves for the best park of climbing a sand dune – running/leaping/bounding down the sand! Needless to say, Kristen was able to get an awesome photo of me mid leap!

The beach city of Aqaba was the last destination of our weekend trip. Situated on the shores of the Red Sea, Aqaba represents the southernmost tip of Jordan. Aesthetically similar to the beaches of Florida, in my opinion Aqaba is the hottest part of Jordan. Despite being a duty-free port city, I did not feel the need to shop and spent our brief visit there at McDonalds!

Needless to say, it felt good to return home to Madaba!