Wednesday 28 August 2013

Research: Emily Beke's description of a 'Kite'

Our research into 19th century travellers' accounts of Syria and Transjordan, and more specifically what they encountered in the 'Hinterland of Roman Philadelphia' continues. Every now and then we turn up something fantastic, but not necessarily on our current topic of research.
Portrait of Emily and her husband Charles Tilstone Beke photographed by Ernest Edwards (Lovell Reece, 1867, 'Dr. and Mrs. Beke', in Portraits of Men of Eminence, Vol. 6, London: L. Reeve & Co.: 21. Original in the Natural History Museum, London: 051942).
Recently, we found a description of the function of a kite by Mrs Emily Alston Beke, wife of Charles Tilstone Beke. She wrote the following:
"It is curious how these animals are caught by the Beduins in the desert country lying to the east of Harran. Two walls of considerable length are erected, commencing at some distance from each other, and converging to a point. Before the two ends quite meet, a mound of earth is thrown up between them, and the two walls, being continued beyond this mound, are united by a cross-wall of about half their height; behind this lower wall is a large pit, the earth dug out of which had served to form the mound. Horsemen now contrive to drive a herd of gazelles between the two walls, where they are furthest apart. The timid animals rush forward towards the extremity of the enclosure, at first not seeing the low cross-wall, which is hidden by the mound of earth; and when, at length, they find themselves closed in on both sides, they naturally try to escape by ascending the mound and leaping over the low wall, when they fall into the pit beyond it, and are taken, often as many as twenty or thirty at a time."

The entry is dated Tuesday December 24th, 1861 when Emily and her husband were visiting a Dr. Wetzstein in Damascus where they were sampling wine made from Helbon/Halbon grapes. The description must be that of a Kite. The description is particularly useful as what we currently know about the function of a kite is almost entirely derived from their remains and some inscriptions, whereas here we seem to have a contemporary account of their use, and what's more, it implies that Kites were still being used to trap gazelle into the 19th century. The area she refers to 'in the desert country lying to the east of Harran' is the northern tip of the Harrat ash-Sham east of Harran al 'Awamid. A large group of kites are located in this area, beginning roughly 15 km east of Harran al 'Awamid (or 40km east of Damascus), which we have located using satellite imagery freely available through Google Earth and Bing Maps. These kites were first photographed by Poidebard - one is published in La Trace de Rome (1934: Pl. XIV) (see Bewley & Kennedy, 2012, 'Historical Aerial Imagery in Jordan and the Wider Middle East', in Hanson & Oltean (Eds), Archaeology from Historical Aerial and Satellite Archives: Fig. 13.2 p. 226).

In exploring Harran in pursuit of a theory about an Old Testament place name, the Bekes discovered an inscribed stone (p. 199 ff.) which was later identified as a Roman milestone (p. 124ff.). Another was later found in a neighbouring village the name of which Emily gives as Ghassule (p. 125). Very unexpected.

Emily was 37 years younger than her husband but a fitting companion and his equal in many respects. Her published diary, and notes in the archival material of her husband show that she is highly intelligent, independent and active woman- accompanying her husband on at least one journey, helping him in his academic pursuits and publications as well as running their household as smoothly as she could with the expenses from research tours and publishing. After her husband's death she remained a staunch advocate for his lifetimes work, continuing to publish his research at considerable cost to her financial position.

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Miss Mary Arnold - Missionary at Kerak

Image: T. Durley, 1910, Lethaby of Moab; a record of missionary adventure, peril, and toil, Marshall Brothers, London: 190.
In the 1880s and 90s an intrepid British missionary called Willian Lethaby took up residence at Kerak in what is now west central Jordan. The indigenous population was mixed Muslim and Christian but fairly uniformly lawless, preying on each other and on any travellers passing by. Lethaby and his wife lived a hard life and suffered a great deal there from neighbours who often could be aggressive and even violent. Some of the burden of their efforts to proselytise and provide basic health care and education was shared when they were joined by Miss Mary Arnold. She appears in books of the time as a robust character and well-able to deal with the harsh neighbours and environment. One of the reports she sent back to Britain concerns a journey she made from Kerak to Jerusalem. In it she explains that because of feuding between beduin north of Kerak, she travelled south, down from the plateau to the valley south of the Dead Sea then north through Hebron to Jerusalem. The description makes it clear she was following the old Roman road known as the Zoar Ascent. This is the route I followed on the ‘walk’ organised by Prof. Haim Ben-David last year (blog post) and readers might like to read Mary Arnold’s account (see below). Of interest, too, is that when the missionaries were all forced to leave Kerak in 1894, it was said that she returned to her family in Western Australia. In the 1890s, the population of WA was small and the numbers who belonged to the Weslyan Methodist Church must have been tiny. A remarkable woman indeed.

LETTER FROM MISS ARNOLD extract from A. Forder (1902) With the Arabs in Tent and Town, an account of missionary work, life and experiences in Moab and Edom and the first missionary journey into Arabia from the north, 3rd ed., London, Marshall Brothers: 16-25.
"August 15th, 1893.
"To Major General Haig,
"Dear Sir,
"Knowing you take such interest in all our movements and work both in and out of Kerak, I thought you would also be interested in my last journey from our mountain  home to the Holy City; and more especially so, as you yourself have also been over part of the road by which I came, viz:- through the Ghor Es-Safeah and Hebron.