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.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Mapping Jordan

Quite recently John Bartlett published a marvellous survey of Mapping Jordan through Two Millennia, London (Maney for PEF, 2008). Until the First World War all mapping had been terrestrial. Much was based on compass bearings and estimates of distance derived from travel time. As such there was progress but often still very inaccurate. Some of it was linear and reminiscent of the similar routes in the Roman map known as the Tabula Peutingeriana.

Major developments came in 1867 and – in particular, 1881 when the two expeditions sponsored by the Palestine Exploration Fund saw teams drawn from Britain’s Royal Engineers at work ‘east of Jordan’. The expedition led by Lt. Conder in 1881 had previously mapped extensively in ‘Western Palestine’. Now the grid was carried to ‘Eastern Palestine’ and places in north-western Jordan were carefully located by a sophisticated triangulation survey.

The next major development in mapping techniques and in increasing precision, was a by-product of war. All the protagonists on the ‘Palestine Front’ were in desperate need of reliable maps of both the wider area and specific sections of the Front. Much of the work of aerial photography for intelligence purposes and mapping was delegated to the sole Australian Squadron amongst the British Imperial air forces. No. 1 Squadron AFC was also sent across the R. Jordan to photograph specific places and bring back vertical and overlapping aerial photos of key features such as the major roads and the Hedjaz Railway line.

The British expeditions across the Jordan to attack the Turkish administration centre at Es-Salt and to Amman to cut the railway and block Turkish forces retreating northwards from Arabia and southern Jordan  took place in March, April-May and September 1918. There is no surprise that the Royal Engineers were soon preparing maps of the region between the R. Jordan and the Hedjaz Railway.

Three editions were published of each of two sheets – one for Es-Salt and one for Amman. Copies are held at The National Archive in London and in the State Library of New South Wales in Australia – and doubtless other places.

Rubric from 'Composite Map East of Jordan (Amman) 2nd. Edition' - "...detail overprinted in purple is from photographs taken by the R.A.F. ...", the first known use of aerial photographs in mapping Jordan.

What makes these sheets significant is that for the first time for Jordan, aerial photographs were utilized. Specifically, the 2nd editions of both the Amman and Es-Salt sheets have a rubric saying that the map was originally published on 22 April at which time they had already inserted some information from ‘RAF aeroplane photographs’ onto maps based on that originally made by Conder’s survey of 1881. Both sheets then have printed in purple: “The detail overprinted in purple is from photographs taken by the R.A.F. 7th Field Survey Coy. R.E., G.H.Q. E.E.F. 26th April 1918”. (27th April in the case of the Es-Salt sheet).

This is the first known use of aerial photographs for mapping in Jordan. It seems to follow on from the second abortive ‘raid’ east of the R. Jordan and may reflect the need for improved maps before the third – successful, expedition. Both sheets represent the use of aerial photos for Jordan which predates the use by the Germans on some of their maps of the same region – the German Salt sheet of 5 August 1918 has a rubric reading: ergänzt nach eigenen Messungen und nach Luftbildern der Feldflieger Abt(eilung) (“supplemented from our own measurements and from aerial photographs of the Field Aviation Unit”).

Once begun in 1918 the use of aerial photos for mapping was soon to become the most cost-effective and accurate method for Jordan and for everywhere else.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Publications: Kites in Saudi Arabia

The November 2015 Special Issue of 'Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy' Desert Kites - Old Structures, New Research contains a paper on this project's research into the Kites in Saudi Arabia conducted by David Kennedy, Rebecca Banks and Matthew DaltonThe paper specifically focuses on the case study area of Harret Khaybar.

The collection of papers is the result of a stimulating workshop on Kites organised by Dr. Ueli Brunner and held at ICAANE IX in Basel, Switzerland (See blogs: May 2, 2014, and June 23, 2014).

David Kennedy, Rebecca Banks & Matthew Dalton
Kites in Saudi Arabia
Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy Vol. 26 iss. 2
Pages 177-195
DOI: 10.1111/aae.12053

The paper can be accessed through Wiley Online Library.

Friday, October 16, 2015

FL20151014 - A fond farewell above Amman

Today was the final day’s flying of the 2015 season; we had hoped to fly at least one more trip but the weather intervened earlier in the week and the option of flying on the 15th was removed when the government announced that the Al Hijri New Year holiday would be on the Thursday, giving the Jordanians a long week-end.
Rebecca Banks and Jane Taylor getting ready for our last flight.
However there was a highlight, in that we were joined by Jane Taylor, author of the High Above Jordan and renowned photographer. It was Jane’s work which gave David Kennedy the inspiration to attempt to start an archaeological flying campaign; she blazed the trail which opened up access to the Royal Jordanian Air Force and she has been a great friend ever since, and supporter of our work.
The excavated site of Al-Kanisah Monastery west of Madaba.
The plan for the day was the greater Amman area, initially heading south for reconnaissance in the Madaba area – such old favourites as Rumeil, still looking in good condition but the terracing along its slopes becoming much more pronounced since we first photographed it in 1998 (see Ancient Jordan from the Air, pages 106-7).
The site of Rumeil.
Then on to Khirbat al-Mudayna, in the Wadi ath-Thamad, a substantial, defended hilltop enclosure, much changed since we were there in 1998 (ibid:112-113). It is an Early Iron age site, with its defences being started in the 9th century BC. The excavations have revealed the first ever excavation of a Moabite temple, and complexity of buildings which could only have been guessed at from its seemingly smooth surface. It may have been the site of Jahaz, the place name in the Bible of the battle between Sihon of Heshbon and the Israelites (Numbers 21, 21-4).
The excavations at Khirbet al-Mudayna.
We returned north to the now metropolitan landscape and were spoilt to a fly past the citadel of ancient Amman, a rare treat as air traffic is so restricted in the city centre.
Amman Citadel.
We refuelled at Marka and said our farewells to Jane, who we hope to see again in the skies above Jordan next year.
Quweismeh Tomb hidden amongst the modern urban fabric of Amman.
We returned to the air, this time just the two of us (Becc and Bob), to an intense 90 minutes of photography of targets, often crammed between roads, houses or hidden in trees. This may be the last chance to photograph some of these sites as the pressure for building land intensifies in Amman. The influx of refugees and others seeking work has made this city one of the fastest growing places in the Middle East.
Qasr Khilda, now sandwiched between urban apartment buildings.
Flying and photographing over cities is the most challenging of all aerial photographic missions; communication between pilot and photographer is key, as the targets are both difficult to spot and are so close together. Add to the mix the noise from “air traffic control” from the airport; continuously managing other traffic and then telling us that we can’t stay there and have to move away. Safety first, thankfully, given the proximity of some large buildings; at one point I was asking the pilot to orbit right – as I was looking out of the side of the helicopter; he replied “but doctor there is a large building in the way....” He is in charge so we went round the building.
"but doctor there is a large building in the way..." - photographing in Amman.
As this was our last flight of the season it is right to commend and thank all the pilots and staff of the RJAF for their professionalism and skill in taking us on these archaeological hunts, and bringing us back safely. We have covered the length and breadth of the country in almost 30 hours flying, and photographed many sites which we have not been seen before; sites under great threat and others which we hope will remain untouched for a long time to come.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

FL20151013 - From Wadi Feinan to Wadi Mujib

We were joined on this trip by Isabelle Reuben, archaeologist and resident of Jordan for many years. We started as early as possible as we had a long transit flight down to the Wadi Feinan, some 80 nm south. The pilot treated us to a low-level fly past of Kerak castle, bathed in the orange glow of the rising sun.
A haze layer had settled over the Wadi Feinan but the light was still good enough for our photography. This is an area which has been well surveyed, by many overseas teams and a number of sites have been excavated too. In this instance, our photography was at the request of the University of California, San Diego Edom Lowlands Regional Archaeology Project.
The site of Feinan through the morning haze.
Sites we hadn’t seen before were also photographed, as was even more evidence of looting.
Looting in the Dead Sea valley east of Mazra'a.
Once again our re-fuelling air base was Al-Jafr and flying from the western fertile plateau it was striking just how quickly the agriculturally successful plains give way to almost completely barren basalt-strewn limestone as we fly east.

We had our first experience of a Jordanian wind farm, and on the return from our pit-stop the pilots decided to fly through middle of the them, rather than divert around, so we were able to capture some close ups of the turbines.
A windfarm.
The day was one of contrasts from long transits to intense photography of sites on the summits of dramatic wadis, and a descent into the margins of the Dead Sea and then up to the relative greenery of the fertile Kerak plateau.
The dramatic location of Gosa/Qosa al Hamra.
It is always good to have another, new, pair of eyes in the helicopter; Isabelle was no exception as she knows the landscape of Jordan so well and sees so much more, including the swarm of butterflies at the bottom of the palm tree outside the squadron building at Al-Jafr.
Butterflies at Al-Jafr.

FL20151011 - Into the east

The longest day so far in this season’s reconnaissance flights.

We had a very ambitious trip planned to circumnavigate the Badia region, the Panhandle, or what I like to refer to as the “black basalt desert’. The furthest point of our flight is the air base at Ruweishid, some 116 nm from Amman; a place we have come to grudgingly love over the years.

The trip involved three re-fuellings and well over the 70 sites scheduled were photographed; the pilots were two of the best in that we flew higher than is normal (as most helicopter pilot like to fly low) and responded perfectly to our needs, orbiting the sites as directed.

We started the day photographing a site that we had been informed was targeted in what can only be described as a mindless act - a huge scoop taken out of the side of Qasr Mushash by heavy machinery. This is a site we have photographed many times, and seeing it so altered after surviving so many years at the mercy of the elements (it is directly alongside a wadi) is such a shame. We are informed that the Department of Antiquities has been informed of the damage and we hope the site is successfully stabilised.
Qasr Mushash, with the offending gouge clearly evident.
We have done many trips in this region but today we targeted areas in the northern sector as we had not flown so often here (but we had to stay at least 10 nm from the borders). What struck me was that there were a number of small rectangular features and collapsed stone piles in this area; there is of course a plethora of wheels and circular enclosures as well as our favourite “kite” sites, draping the basalt landscape. These rectangular and other structures, which we are told should be referred to as ghurra huts, are most likely to date from the Early Bronze Age.
A cluster of 'Ghurra Huts' in the landscape.
There were places which were particularly important or notable. One was what we loosely referred to as a hillfort; it looks to be fortified – there are clear double faced walls, and it is clearly in a defensible location on a hill top or ridge of basalt. But what is its history, or prehistory? We were accompanied on the flight by Bernd Müller-Neuhof, (of the DAI) who had supplied most of the targets for the day. He plans to visit this site next April and discover more about it.
The fortified 'hill fort'.
The other striking place was what looked to me like a remnant of a small volcano, with 70% of its caldera still intact, or possibly the edge of a basalt flow masquerading as such. Two kites use the outer edges of the caldera slopes at the point where the tails merge to form a narrow neck before the head. The sites obviously made the most of the hill and slope (presumably for hunting). Again this is not a place that has been explored but I am beginning to think a field trip out there next year would be very useful and rewarding.
Two kites flanking and using the geology of the basalt landscape.
The logistics of these longer trips means re-fuelling at numerous different places, the furthest away being Ruweishid; this always adds spice to our day with a variety of cups or glasses of tea or coffee with the local squadrons, and we have learnt to bring our own supply of food too. Starting at seven in the morning and finishing the flying at around two o’clock in the afternoon is a severe test of stamina if there isn’t some nourishment and liquid intake.

Even though our day was long, we had intended to photograph further sites in the south of the Panhandle for the Jebel Qurma Project, but sadly this could not be achieved. There is always next season, إن شاء الله (Insha'Allah).
The flight team for FL20151011.
Although tired after such a long day it is also very stimulating (and rewarding) to have seen such interesting and often unrecorded archaeological landscapes. We hope that future research can enlighten us as to the nature and origins of these sites in this most dramatic, and now barren, place.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

FL20151007 - Grounded due to weather

Our optimistic preflight preparations before the weather set in. Photograph: Mat Dalton.
The warm spell had gone, and the weather the morning of our scheduled Amman region flight (Wednesday 7 October) was decidedly poor but we sat in the helicopter with the engine turning in hope. Rather than a clearance, however, the rain started in earnest and we decided to post-pone. We had hoped to take an ex-student of David’s flying, who was having a short break in Jordan, but sadly all she experienced was the noise and anticipation of take-off.

The drive back from Marka to the British Institute (in the rain initially) was one of the worst we have ever had to do; climbing the final hills up from Sports City round-about was through low cloud with visibility down to a few metres. But we made it, unlike a few other motorists that day- at least 3 died as a result of the poor conditions across Jordan.

We planned to reschedule the trip to the 8th October but a combination of factors conspired to thwart this happening; the pilot had an exam at 0900 hrs, and the weather forecast continued to not look good. So this trip has now been scheduled for our last of the season on October 14th.

Today the weather is indeed better and we are anticipating taking off for our next flight to the east as scheduled tomorrow morning (11 October).
- Robert Bewley