Saturday 20 April 2013

Field Trip 19 April 2013 - Flying follow up

Salvaged columns on display at Umm el-Qundun.
Friday again and after our two flights this week it was time for some terrestrial visits. The main purpose was to follow up on two sites recorded from the air last Sunday and to check on another which we have been monitoring (and will report on in the next Blog).

Umm el-Qundun lies on a hilltop 13 km SSE of the centre of Roman Philadelphia (Amman). The region all around is fertile red soils and intensely farmed today – all along the roadsides farmers have set up boxes of their freshly harvested tomatoes, beans, melons etc. When we flew over the site on Sunday Mat photographed a large house on the hilltop in which he had spotted what looked like parts of columns lined up along a verandah. Zooming in on the photos in the Institute later that day confirmed they seemed to be parts of ancient columns.

Qundum was our first port of call this morning and easily found. It is a delightful house, seemingly unattended except by some loud (and, happily) enclosed dogs in the courtyard. The walls are largely constructed from what look like re-used squared blocks of ancient stonework – presumably recycled from some nearby ancient site. What caught our attention, however, was first the row of broken columns we had come to see (columns rather than milestone drums as I had hoped might be the case) then all the other pieces of architectural decoration: a few column capitals, piece of architrave, some finely carved pieces. Round the corner was the covered mouth of an ancient cistern and a rebuilt second cistern with a plaque recording it had been done by ‘The Messengers of Peace NGO’ and financed by ‘OME World Organization for Education’ of Geneva.

Of course the place is ‘known’ – a German survey had recorded material there as had a later team of the Madaba Plains Project. They noted the architectural pieces (without illustrating any) but supplied the detail that the farm belonged to Mamdou Bisharat and the pieces had been collected from the vicinity. As it happens I had met Mamdou – a very courtly gentleman, some years ago at drinks in his Amman home then subsequently swum in his delightful natural hot springs farm beside the R. Yarmuk just north of Umm Qeis (Gadara) and near where the Roman thermal spring site lay (now in Israel across the river). Both his town and Umm Qeis houses are festooned with pieces of ancient architecture and sculpture (whose provenance he has reported to the DoA).
Roman road on the outskirts of Hanafish. © APAAME_20130414_DLK-0075.
While searching for a possible stretch of Roman road a few kilometres southwest on the southern outskirts of Hanafish we visited the remains of a (Roman?) farm on the hilltop south of the modern town and the extensive traces of monumental tombs, rock-cut graves and cisterns. The ‘road’ turned out to be a phantom, but on our flight the keen eye of Bob Bewley spotted a genuine Roman road cutting the phantom at right angles. It showed from the air as a stretch of apparent kerbing. On the ground it was even more convincing. If the alignment is extended it picks up stretches of modern road and track to the south-southwest which point very closely to the small Roman town of Ziza (modern Jiza), famous for its huge ancient reservoir and, now following excavation, a church. It also figures in the Roman document called the Notitia Dignitatum – a battle order for the entire army, empire-wide, c. AD 400, which records: Equites Dalmat[ae] Illyriciani, Ziza (The Dalmatian Illyrian Cavalry, at Ziza). Such a road is not unlikely but this seems to be the first hard evidence for it.

Roman road near Hanafish at ground level.
All photographs taken by the Aerial Archaeology in Jordan Project are uploaded to the APAAME Flickr site after cataloging. Follow us on Twitter at @APAAME for updates.

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