Monday 15 April 2013

Field trip 20130412 - Towards Tuba

Qasr et-Tuba. © APAAMEG_20130412_REB-0061.
Our first field trip of the season! It was a short jaunt down the Desert HWY on a beautiful moderate day to visit the sites of Khan es-Zabib, Qasr et-Tuba and some World War One trenches located next to the Hijaz Railway.

Something we found quite amusing was that for the more major sites of Khan es-Zabib and Qasr et-Tuba there were signs, but only at the preliminary turn off from the Desert HWY, and only if you were traveling north to Amman. In the case of Qasr et-Tuba, the sign was of little help as you have to turn off the road to a dirt track and drive a further 2 km or so - none of which is conveniently sign posted or easy to spot from the road.
A gouge taken out of the outer rooms of Khan es-Zabib. © APAAMEG_20130412_RHB-0005
Nonetheless, we made it to all sites. Khan es-Zabib is a Caravanserai located along the Hajj route to Mecca. Today, it is conveniently located right next to a road and well visible, some walls still standing well over a metre high. The Department of Antiquities have excavated the site and the clean backfilling of the surface of the site is evident by the lack of sherds of pottery lying around. There has been some interesting incursions into the site however with two gouging scoop marks clearly evident in the north and west outer rows of rooms, and numerous excavated holes over the site, one of which revealed sections of crude wall plastering. Walk further to the east, past the excavated church (only foundations) and the amount of surface pottery markedly increases, and some traces of walls are just evident on the surface. There is also a cistern in use. The site clearly is larger than the excavated Khan and Church areas and may warrant further investigation.
Cistern? near Khan es-Zabib. © APAAMEG_20130412_MND-0029.
To visit Qasr et-Tuba we continued south and then east. Located isolated along a wadi at the foot of a series of low hills, the location of this large Umayyad desert residence, or palace, is puzzling and majestic. From quite far off the vaulted ceiling of part of the complex is visible, a deep ruddy orange against the stark brown flint landscape. Low walls of earth have been erected around the site to protect it from heavy winter run off. The Qasr was never completed: the complete plan is evident in satellite imagery, but most of this must have never existed above foundations, only visible as low rises across the expanse of the site. Only about a quarter to a third of the site (if that) contains lower stone work and baked brick walls, only two rooms roofed with vaulted ceilings of baked brick. As you can see from the comparison of this RAF aerial image published by Creswell in volume 2 of 'Early Muslim Architecture' (1969) and one taken by us in 2009, the site has deteriorated. This was very evident on our visit, with the exposure to the elements of the lower courses of stone blocks causing the walls to disintegrate. However, there was evidence that the Department of Antiquities was carrying out restoration work to replace those stone blocks that had become untenable and threatening the integrity of the upper baked brick walls. Despite some graffiti, the site did not seem to be suffering from the unwanted attention of vandals, possibly kept safe by its isolation.
Comparison of the RAF image of Qasr et-Tuba and an aerial photograph taken by APAAME in 2009.
On our return drive from Qasr et-Tuba, we investigated north and south of the Hijaz Railway crossing. Here there are located a few bridges, and on the hills above them are World War One trenches, once positioned to defend them. The Railway itself is a magnificent artefact - the railway tracks still have legibly cast upon their surface the manufacturing locations - Maryland, U.S.A., the sleepers: Ougree, Belgium (1903 and 1904 for the section we observed). The trenches range from small circular affairs on the summit of hills (giving us our exercise for the day!), to longer networks of trenches. Should you be interested in these sites, The Great Arab Revolt Project (GARP) is worth a look.
Section of the Hijaz Railway with two bridges as seen from a small circuit of WW1 trenches ©APAAMEG_20130412_DLK-0072.
On our return into Amman, we stopped briefly at Tell Umeiri which is cut by the Highway. We visited the East summit where a Church has been excavated. The mosaic floor had been covered in plastic, then reburied under sand, but unfortunately curiosity has gotten the better of some visitors and the plastic was ripped revealing sections of mosaic, some damaged extensively. As it was a Friday, there were also numerous Jordanians out on the lush Spring grass of the Tell for a picnic- a beautiful spot above the hub of the city's busy roads.
Tell Umeiri East Church. © APAAMEG_20130412_RHB-0086.
All photographs from our field trips will be made available on our Flickr site. They are referenced as 'APAAMEG'.

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