Saturday, May 28, 2016

Flight 20160526 - East into the Badia

The second flight of the 2016 season saw Becc and I heading east to the Azraq area, taking in Qasr Aseikhim, a wonderful and significant multi period hilltop site but which is suffering badly from the bulldozer as access roads make it more accessible.

Qasr Aseikhim showing signs of damage from bulldozing. Photographer: Rebecca Banks. APAAME_20160526_REB-0132.
We then headed to assess the impact of the construction of the Azraq by-pass on the stone built structures on the Harrat al-‘Uwaynid. It was truly depressing seeing what had been destroyed without thorough investigations (a presentation at ICHAJ13 by Romel Garib said a survey had been conducted with the help of Prof. Gary Rollefson, but no excavation); truly a missed opportunity as the area is rich in kite-sites, wheels, and pendants (one of which we have been monitoring and has had its tail smashed through – seemingly unnecessarily). These sites are representative of this part of the basalt plateau, and we know so little about them.

A pendant showing damage from tracks associated with the building of the Azraq by-pass over the Harrat al-'Uwaynid. Photographer: Rebecca Banks. APAAME_20160526_REB-0176.
There are archaeological teams from America, Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Jordan and Italy working in the basalt region in cooperation with the Department of Antiquities. These numerous teams are giving us a better insight into the date and function of many of the sites, and the migrating patterns of important species such as the gazelle. Results from all of these were being presented and discussed at the ICHAJ13, some of which we had to miss because of the flying. It is a pity more were not approached for a one-off collective “rescue archaeology” project, but unfortunately it sounds like the Department of Antiquities were brought into survey the site after the ink had dried on the plans. Better integration between infrastructure development planning and archaeological survey and the respective responsible departments is a must if this is not to be repeated in the future, which is something we are trying to achieve with the Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa Project.

However our reconnaissance is part of the investigations. We assist a number of projects and it is only by the use of the helicopter that we can cover so much ground – from Azraq to Ruweishid and then back to the Wisad and Qattafi areas. Fortunately we have surveyed Harrat al-Uwaynid in the past and those photographs of sites provide somewhat of a legacy for future knowledge.

One of the excavated sites of the Jebel Qurma Project. Photographer: Rebecca Banks. APAAME_20160526_REB-0301.
From Harrat al-Uwaynid we progressed to the Jebel Qurma where Professor Akkermans’ team have been investigating the numerous sites, then onto the main section of the Harret al-Shaam where two projects, the Northern Badia Project under Bernd Müller-Neuhof and the Eastern Badia Project with Prof. Gary Rollefson are working. It was a long day, and much warmer than the first flight, with many targets close together and much orbiting – which all contributed to the demise of the “crew man” who was not well, on three separate occasions during the flight. I wondered about curtailing the mission but every time we landed and re-fuelled he seemed fine and happy to continue.

The green bed of a wadi system near the Bakhita area. Photograph: Rebecca Banks. APAAME_20160526_REB-0584.
The black basalt desert is one of the most striking and unique landscapes anywhere in the world and never ceases to impress; this year it was the light greenery in the some of the wadis providing a context for the archaeological sites and a welcome relief from the blackness.

Bakhita enclosures site around a water catchment area. Photographer: Robert Bewley. APAAME_20160526_RHB-0635. 
Highlights included dense structure activity grouped around water catchment areas – still holding water with the late Spring weather Jordan has been experiencing. One such area we had named as “Bakhita enclosures” – a natural depression (still with some water in it) surrounded by a variety of stone enclosures –of an unusual form, and with stone walls leading into the pool, perhaps part of a water catchment system? The enclosures may be remains of settlements or occupation evidence of the people, many thousands of years ago, who had found a perfect location for seasonal living.

Chain Wall site. Photographer: Robert Bewley. APAAME_20160526_RHB-0479.
Not all the sites are untouched and we saw many instances of the random use of the bulldozer, dissecting sites for no apparent reason, as not all the bulldozed tracks become roads. We did see good examples of the “chain-walls”, small stone built structures all linked together and forming an enclosed area, but for what purpose and by whom we have, as yet no idea.

Stein's site 'al-Qseir Ghadir'. Photographer: Rebecca Banks. APAAME_20160526_REB-0485.
One of the places we flew was originally photographed by Sir Aurel Stein in his reconnaissance of Transjordan in 1939. Becc has digitized these images (in cooperation with the British Academy) and this site, Al Qseir Ghadir, she was able to locate and schedule into our reconnaissance. Stein had visited on the ground but found no surface material to date it, likewise a more recent visit by colleague Bernd Müller-Neuhof, who considers it could be Early Bronze Age. It is interesting to see the change – some 77 years later. Becc presented the site along with other ‘forgotten’ sites from Stein’s aerial survey at the ICHAJ conference. It is evident stone robbing has occurred to build a corral nearby, and the built structures seem to have been damaged and reduced to incoherent rubble, but the outline of the water catchment area is still intact.

Rebecca Banks in action in the Eurocopter. Photographer: Robert Bewley. APAAME_20160526_RHB-0543.
It is always fun to take a “few “action shots” showing what it is like undertaking the photography and we were able to do so, too on this flight. We certainly had put the pilots through their paces (and the poor crew man), and after almost 6 hours we were ready for a break, so we finished the day with a quick final re-fuel at Azraq before the final leg to Marka in the relative comfort of a seat in the Eurocopter.

- Rebecca Banks and Robert Bewley.

Friday, May 27, 2016

FL20160523 - Clouds in the North

The Aerial Archaeology in Jordan project has just begun its 20th season (after David’s flight in 1997) and it coincides with ICHAJ13- a conference to celebrate and be informed of recent archaeological work in Jordan. Balancing the commitments of the conference with trying to fly was always going to be tricky but the opportunity to undertake aerial surveys should never be missed, especially in this region.

Jordan Valley; Tabaqat Fahl
Jordan Valley near Pella. Low cloud made visibility and photography not ideal. Photographer: Robert Bewley. APAAME_20160523_RHB-0219.

Jordan never ceases to surprise, and this year has seen the demise of the Air Force’s Huey helicopters, which we had come to love – despite their the noise, and discomfort too, but also great space and views with the door open, and relatively slow speed. So, this first fight (Andrea Zerbini and I) was also experimental in learning the art of aerial photography in a new machine – the Eurocopter (or EC 635).

With 3 of its seats taken out the two of us were able to sit side-by-side at the open door, with similar panoramas as the Huey, but a quieter, smoother ride. Sadly the weather was not great; cloudy and cold and we were heading north, so less likely for a clearance in the weather. However we photographed most of the targets, only missing the last sector because of the cloud. We were with a new squadron, so the pilots were also new to our work, but they (as ever) provided us with top-notch flying. The internal communication system also is an improvement on the intermittent service we used to get; this makes the “strike rate” of targets photographed per hour much better as we can communicate the move to every new location clearly (and the EC is also faster, having two engines – so safer too).

The flight started in the region of Jarash photographing structures identified by PhD candidate Don Boyer for the Jarash Water Project, and also to catch a glimpse of the East Baths that are currently being excavated by a French-German Mission with the Department of Antiquities and recently yielded this magnificent statue. The flight then progressed over the Ajlun highlands to focus on wadi systems that empty west into the Jordan Valley. This fertile region saw settlement over millennia and the concentration of sites, such as tells and low level ruins, was vast. Many sites were previously unphotographed, while others we monitored to assess change over time, such as at Pella/Tabaqat Fahl. Unfortunately, a few sites showed evidence of looting.

Hammeh Cemetery
The looted cemetery at Hammeh. Photographer: Robert Bewley. APAAME_20160523_RHB-0216.
The discovery of sites which have not been previously recorded also gives us the desire to carry on; we spotted a site in passing and photographed it. Becc tells us it is not in MEGA-J, and a reasonably substantial site, rectilinear stone structures, in a prominent location. One for further investigation and adding to the EAMENA and MEGA-J databases.

Deir Abu Said Ruin 13
Unidentified site near Pella. Photographer: Andrea Zerbini. APAAME_20160523_AZ-0170.
We were in time to return to the conference, where the (royal) opening ceremony had just taken place and everyone was milling about having coffee. This gave the opportunity for many of the participants to thank us for the use of the aerial images from the APAAME website, and responding to their specific request for new imagery. Knowing the material is being used and is making a contribution to archaeological research gives us the stimulus and motivation to continue. One colleague said our images were able to “stop traffic”, a reference to people seeing an aerial photo on his screen as they were passing by his office, and would stop to ask what they were looking at.

Bob Bewley

You can find the images from Flight 1 on our Flickr:

Monday, May 23, 2016

Kh. el-Musheirfeh and MEGA-Jordan

The Jordanian village of Kh. el-Musheirfeh lies about 4 km southwest of the major Nabataean/ Roman/ Early Islamic village/ fort/ town of Umm er-Resas. A further 4 km south is the major archaeological site of Lehun on the rim of the great trough of the Wadi Mujib.

The published literature on the site is limited and the two entries in JADIS and now in MEGA-Jordan are confused, confusing and incomplete.

‘MEGA-J 12338 Musheirifa (sic)’ locates a ‘site’ on the south side of the modern village but that turns out to be only the modern village itself.

‘MEGA-J 12349 Musheirfeh (sic)’ is located 2.5 km to the northeast of the village but in an open area with no traces of any archaeological features.

Surprisingly, therefore, the record reports material of several periods - Nabataean, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic, Modern, and lists eight ‘Site Elements’ including a village, cistern, a bas relief and sherd scatters of the periods noted. The source of the information is given in two published references from the 1930s (Glueck and Savignac, below). A brief glance at these two publications confirms the obvious – there is just one site and it lies under and around the modern village. The second MEGA-J entry (12349) should be deleted and the information there should be transferred to the first entry (12338) under that spelling (as on the 1:50,000 map).

Musheirfeh is in fact an important site as the two published reports show. Glueck was there on 2 June 1933; Savignac in late April 1935. The latter knows of Glueck’s first major report on his survey which included this site but – inexplicably, does not refer to what he had published. i.e. the two reports are effectively independent of one another. Putting the two reports together allows a composite picture which can be considerably enhanced and developed by analysis of the satellite imagery on Google Earth and Bing, by interpretation of the survey aerial photographs of 1953 and the recent low-level aerial photographs taken by the Aerial Archaeology in Jordan project, all of which are in the APAAME archive.

As may be seen on Google Earth ( and the superior imagery on Bing (, amidst the houses the site consists of an area of high ground with traces of:
  • buried structures,
  • the openings of cisterns,
  • the foundations of a large masonry building extending eastwards
  • a further significant structure to the west.
The remains cover an area of about 10 ha though much of it was probably open ground between a scatter of structures and occupied by cisterns. Several recent cemeteries are scattered around the village. The major modern structure recorded by Glueck and Savignac is on the south side, marked as ‘Summit’ (Fig. 2).

This modern building (Summit) seen by Savignac and Glueck was built from re-used masonry and included a significant fragment of anthropomorphic sculpture and a substantial architectural piece (Fig. 1). As it was on a ‘sommet’, it may well be overlying an earlier structure (Fig. 3). More significant is the substantial building on the eastern end of the site (B) not reported by either early traveller (Figs 2 and 3). It is c. 25 x 15 m and oriented east-west. As seen from the air in 2010 and 2015, it has been robbed to a low level but the form is clear. There are at least two other places where traces of walls can be seen in this East Range (Fig. 7). West of the ‘Summit’ a further structure seems hinted at by a rectangular outline (C) (Fig. 6).

The sculpture was identified as Nabataean and there was Nabataean pottery on the site. Such an object implies a religious structure of some kind and more than a simple shrine. Glueck thought the architectural lintel he illustrated might be Byzantine – though he compared it to one he had seen at Umm el-Walid which is largely Umayyad.

Figure 1: Relief sculpture and lintel seen on the site in the 1930s by both Savignac and Glueck (1934: 38 Fig. 16)
The 1953 vertical survey aerial photographs show just one modern building there at that date and otherwise allow the broad outline of disturbance to be defined but without specific detail.

The satellite imagery indicates where structures lie but are recent (since the modern village expanded), are inadequate for detail but offer a useful photomap (cf. Fig.2).

Figure 2: Kh. el-Musheirfeh on Google Earth. Red outlines the overall area within which structures are located. Blue is a range of buildings, traces of building and probable cisterns. Other features noted are treated in subsequent figures (below) (Click to enlarge figure).

More importantly, there are 54 low-level oblique aerial photographs of the site in the APAAME collection from April 2010 and October 2015. Between them they reveal the presence of two substantial masonry buildings (A and C) which can be located and their form established, at least one more possible building (B), structures with re-used masonry (e.g. ‘Enclosure’) and the location of several cisterns (‘East Range’).

Summit’ and Enclosure (Fig. 3). This area of high ground is the probable location of what Savignac called the ‘sommet’ and where he and Glueck saw the architectural piece and the statue fragment. Today it is used as a small cemetery and the eastern half appears to have been quarried away. The enclosure on the west (bottom) seems to be formed from re-used masonry and arranged as a double face all of it surrounding a significant depression. The latter may be a dry reservoir, the ‘Bir Akial Awad’ recorded there on the 1:50,000 map.

Figure 3: Kh. el-Musheirfeh Summit and Enclosure (APAAME_20151005_REB-0008).
Building A (Fig. 4). A rectangular building located on the west side of the modern village. Approximate dimensions: 30 x 20 m. A square room is visible in the northeast corner (bottom left).

Figure 4: Kh. el-Musheirfeh Building A (APAAME_20151005_REB-0012(Cropped).
Building C (Fig. 5). Located at the eastern end of the East Range. It is the best-preserved of the various structures, with substantial walls with faced masonry inside and out and several rooms visible. The curving wall on the left may be part of an apse but the internal arrangements of the walls do not seem suited to a church. Overall dimensions are c. 35 x 20 m. Stones used in the modern graves are probably taken from this building.

Figure 5: Kh. el-Musheirfeh Building C (APAAME_20151005_MND-0031(Cropped).
Building B (Fig. 6). Located just west of Building C. It appears as an almost square structure incorporating a cavern on the right (north). It is c. 20 x 20 m.

Figure 6: Kh. el-Musheirfeh Building C (APAAME_20151005_REB-0014 (Cropped)).
East Range (Fig. 7). In addition to Buildings B (right) and C (centre), there are traces of other foundations including in the courtyards of the modern houses at the west end of the range. Depressions and caverns may be collapsed cisterns.

Figure 7: Kh. el-Musheirfeh East Range (APAAME_20151005_DLK-0013(Cropped)).

The MEGA-J entries for Musheirfeh are defective and limited in usefulness. At an elementary level – as with all MEGA-J entries, it would be immensely useful if references provided precise page numbers rather than just – for example, Savignac 1936. Many entries are taken over unchecked from JADIS and contain errors or errors are introduced in the transfer. Many entries would benefit from a reminder - and a specific link, that there may be aerial photographs available in the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East (APAAME).

– David Kennedy

Glueck, N. (1934) Explorations in Eastern Palestine, I, New Haven (AASOR XIV [1933-1934]: 1-113 at 37-8 (Site 95) and Fig. 16.
Savignac, R. (1936) “Chronique: Sur les pistes de Transjordanie méridionale”, RB45: 235-263 + Plates VII –XII at 242-3 and Pl. VIII.1.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Preflight work flow – AAJ May 2016

Our bags are packed, flights booked and we’ll be landing in Amman soon for this our 20th year of flying in Jordan (the first season was way back in 1997)!

This May will see a short series of flights, hopefully three in total – one to the north and along the Jordan Valley, one to the East into the Badia, and one to the south concentrating on the fertile Kerak Plateau.

We will also be attending the International Conference of the History and Archaeology of Jordan and look forward to seeing excellent presentations on the projects and research occurring. You can find the program on the conference website

See you in the air!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Publications (Correction): Pioneers Above Jordan

It has just come to our attention that the article
David Kennedy 2012 'Pioneers Above Jordan: revealing a prehistoric landscape', Antiquity 86 (332): 474-491.
contains an error for the image and caption of figure 10.

The image in the text is the following:
Ausaji Kite 28
Ausaji Kite 28. Photographer: David Kennedy (APAAME_20091008_DLK-0167).
The caption should identify the site as 'Ausaji Kite 28'.

The caption in the published text is that for the following image:
Wisad Kite 14
Wisad Kite 14. Photographer: Robert Bewley (APAAME_20091004_RHB-0073).
The caption from the article reads as follows:
Wisad Kite 14 (APAAME 20091004 RHB-0073). A kite surrounded by an immense tangle of walls, few of them visible at ground level. In the top left is the Wisad Police Post on the Airmail Track.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Publications: Khatt Shebib

Khatt Shebib
The Khatt Shebib. Photographer: Robert Bewley (APAAME_20051002_RHB-0069).
Recently the academic journal Zeitschrift für Orient-Archäologie published our article on the wall feature in Jordan known as the 'Khatt Shebib'. The content of this article was recently reported on by Owen Jarus in the online science website 'LiveScience' - '93-Mile-Long Ancient Wall in Jordan Puzzles Archaeologists'

The LiveScience feature has led to other media taking up the story. 

The feature was investigated remotely in the course of the active aerial reconnaissance program - the Aerial Archaeology in Jordan project, as well as visited on the ground. The study utilised historical imagery (mainly 1953) and maps, as well as several archaeological survey reports conducted on different sections of the wall, notably those directed by B. MacDonald (Wadi el-Hasa, Tafila to Busayra, and Ayl to Ras an-Naqab Archaeological Surveys), F. Abudanh (in the region of Udruh) and G. Findlater (the Dana Archaeological Survey).

You can find the tagged images of the Khatt Shebib on our Flickr page by following this link.

The synthesis of the information gathered has potentially raised more questions than those that we were able to answer, and we hope this study will soon be followed up by a comprehensive ground investigation of the entire feature and sites directly associated with it which may be dateable.

David Kennedy & Rebecca Banks 2015. 'The Khatt Shebib in Jordan: From the Air and Space', Zeitschrift für Orient-Archäologie 8: 132-154.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Jordan Times article reports damage to the Via Nova Traiana

Ammar Khammash recently wrote an opinion piece in The Jordan Times regarding damage to a major monument in Jordan from the Roman period - The Via Nova Traiana ('Ancient Rome Reawakened', The Jordan Times, 27 December 2015:

This great Roman highway was constructed soon after the annexation of the Nabataean kingdom in AD 106 and – as some of its milestones declare, Rome – under the Emperor Trajan, had ‘redacta in formam provinciae Arabia viam novam a finibus Syriae usque ad Mare Rubrum” (“turned Arabia into provincial form and built a new road from the boundaries of Syria as far as the Red Sea”). Hence the modern description of it as the Via Nova Traiana.

Jimal VNT
A stretch of the Via Nova Traiana near Umm el-Jimal. APAAME_20060911_DLK-0290. Photographer: David Kennedy.
The road begins at Bostra in southern Syria then traverses Jordan from west of Umm el-Jimal in the north to Aqaba in the south. Though it bears the name of the Emperor Trajan, it is generally thought the road made use of earlier thoroughfares through the landscape, and its milestones are testament that it continued to be used well after, to the extent that sections of it are beside or underneath modern stretches of road. Well-preserved sections of the ancient road are increasingly difficult to find as development in Jordan continues at speed with the many pressures of increased demographics and modern infrastructure. In some places the road can be found complete with its paved substructure, in others only a side kerb of stones survives and paving may have never been laid; many sections are completely lost.

Due to his previous research regarding the course of the road through the landscape, Khammash reports that he met the news of the new wind farm in the Tafila Governorate with trepidation, and his visitation to the area confirmed his fears. He found that the road was cut in several places by the earthworks, platforms and access roads for the network of towers.

Khammash specifically reports that the Via Nova Traiana is directly intersected by the construction of turbine WTG 32. The Final Report for the proposed wind farm states that 'No Archaeological Remains' were found at this location (Table 13-2). Khammash also reports intersections or cuts in the vicinity of turbines WTG 26, 29 and 38. The first of these is also reported as having 'No Archaeological Remains' while the other two locations are from relocations to avoid other archaeological sites.

By chance, the Aerial Archaeology in Jordan Project flew in the vicinity of the wind farm in transit to and from sites planned for the 5th flight of its 2015 season. Dr Robert Bewley captured the site of Kh. ad-Dabbah (JADIS:2101035; MEGA-J:4804) in passing. What you can just see in the image is the traces of the Via Nova Traiana extending from the right of the site of Kh. ad-Dabbah in the foreground to the platform of the wind farm in the middle distance.

The Final Report documents that of the proposed 38 locations for wind turbines, 16 were changed due to concern for archaeological material (Table 13-2). Consultations and site visits through April until September of 2012 are listed in the documentation (Tafila Wind Farm Environmental and Social Impact Assessment, Stakeholder Engagement Plan, Table 3-1). Nowhere in the documentation is knowledge of a Roman road mentioned.

The Executive Summary for the then proposed wind farm states:
"...Where historical monuments were found, the locations of the turbines and the roads were revised. 
Even though the wind farm is planned in such a way that no historical artifacts are impacted, excavation works during the project construction might reveal further archaeological remains. Thus every effort must be made during construction to prevent damages on any findings."
Tafila Energy Project, Tafila Goverorate (Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan) Executive Summary, Report No. 11-1-3058f, CUBE Engineering GmbH, Al-Rawabi Environment & Energy Consultancies, 20th December 2012: 9.
The literature survey may perhaps be indicative of how the knowledge of the major Roman Road did not come to mind of the surveyors: two of the major archaeological surveys conducted in the area are not mentioned in the documentation - The Tafila-Busayra Archaeological Survey and the Dana Archaeological Survey as well as a survey conducted by Prof. Zbigniew Fiema which exists as a report in the Department of Antiquities. Also of note is that nowhere could I find in the assessment documentation reference to the current SMR for Jordan - MEGA-J, only its outdated predecessor, JADIS.

No comprehensive map of the distribution of these sites over the extent of the proposed wind farm is provided despite mention in passing in the Environmental and Social Mitigation Plan of numerous archaeological sites over the proposed area, a conducted survey, and consultation of aerial map surveys and experts in the field (Section 11.1). This is despite profuse inclusion of other GIS analyses in the project assessment, including a distribution of the 'best known' archaeological sites in the region which were assessed for indirect impacts.

It is clear that this international funded project for renewable energy in Jordan has done an assessment of the direct and indirect impacts of the project on the archaeological landscape and made alterations to their plans to best accommodate what they knew of the archaeological and heritage environment. So how did the major thoroughfare of this part of the Roman Empire escape inclusion in their assessments?

Is it simply a case that something as slight as a row of kerb stones was overlooked, or not considered substantive enough to warrant remark? An act of unconscious archaeological snobbery where a built structure is considered but a surface feature is dismissed? The reports do not tell us if the road was successfully investigated if it was discovered over the course of the construction of the wind farm. The Environmental and Social Mitigation Plan implies that his would be the case, and we for one hope there is an archaeological report on the excavation of a section of the Via Nova Traiana forthcoming. If not, we join Ammar Khammash in hoping that this destruction may highlight the importance of documenting and preserving where possible what is left of this ancient monument.

All assessment documents for the Tafila Wind Project were accessed through the International Finance Corporation website:
Tafila Wind Environmental and Social Review Summary,, accessed 5 January 2016. Hyperlinks have been provided throughout the text.

Aerial Archaeology in Jordan Project's images of the wind farm taken in 2015 can be found on the APAAME Flickr page. Other numerous aerial (and a number of ground) photographs of other stretches of the Via Nova and sites along its length can be found on the Flickr web site for APAAME by searching for “Via Nova Traiana” or “VNT”.

Published surveys mentioned in this text:
Findlater, George Macrae. 2003. Imperial control in Roman and Byzantine Arabia: a landscape interpretation of archaeological evidence in southern Jordan, PhD Thesis The University of Edinburgh: Appendix 1 Gazetteer of Archaeological Sites of the Dana Archaeological Survey.
MacDonald, B., Herr, L.G., Neeley, M.P., Gagos, T., Moumani, K., and Rockman M. 2004. The Tafila-Busayra Archaeological Survey 1999-2001, West-Central Jordan, American Schools of Oriental Research, Boston, MA.