Friday 23 October 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 16 October 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 15 October 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 10 October 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

FL20151005-06 - Migrating south for the archaeology

One of the purposes of our aerial reconnaissance in Jordan is to cover places we haven’t flown before as well as to monitor sites we may have photographed a few years ago. We also respond to requests for targets to be photographed. With all this in mind we organised a two-day trip to stay overnight in Aqaba on the Red Sea, flying from the air base in Marka (Amman).
An example of one of the impressive landscapes we were treated to. APAAME_20151005_REB-0152.
We flew down to the Tafilah-Kerak area, recording many stone-built sites and villages, and of course the odd Roman road, and crossing the very impressive Wadi al-Hasa and Wadi ad-Dana. However the light was not great, until about 8 o’clock, as the weather was on the change. The landscape did its best to distract us from the archaeology- except where the two went hand in hand such as the Iron Age site of Shag Rish dramatically perched above the Dana Nature Reserve to the south.
The Iron Age site of Shag Rish. APAAME_20151005_REB-0134.
We had to refuel at the desert oasis of Al-Jafr and en route spotted an archaeological excavation (in the middle of nowhere), which we presume to be part of the Japanese expedition exploring neolithic sites (Directed by Dr. Sumio Fuji). Arrival at Al-Jafr was a first for our co-pilot, who, despite having been in the RJAF for 6 years had never tasted the delights of Al-Jafr. Courtesy of a small convenience store the pilots indulged us with some Chocolate Milk before we headed south-east to record sites on the high plateau before dropping down into the Wadi Araba.
Excavations north-west of Al-Jafr. APAAME_20151005_DLK-0085.
We had the unexpected bonus of a reasonably high-level flight over Petra (gone are the days when we could descend in the helicopter to take close-ups of the tombs, but look at the photos from 1998 (Flickr album Flight 19980520)).
Petra. APAAME_20151005_DLK-0426.
Jordan was having a warm spell and Aqaba was 37 degrees, and as we were informed as we arrived at the hotel, the sea temperature was 26 degrees. Water has to be that warm to entice me in and very refreshing it was. Drying off on the beach I was joined by our crew-man, who spoke good English and asked why we always photograph the same sites (as he has been on many trips with us). I explained that we didn’t but that we fly very similar areas as there are so many sites, often very close together. He then asked if the sea was "perfidious". I struggled for an answer, but said that if he meant treacherous then yes, but we wouldn’t necessarily use “perfidious” for the sea.
The landscape of Wadi Rum. APAAME_20151006_REB-0013.
The next day was one of the rare days when not only is the archaeology stunning, so was the scenery and the flying. We literally climbed the hills out of Aqaba to the east (and slightly north), and emerged (having dodged a few clouds) into the Wadi Rum. It doesn’t matter which way we looked, into the hazy sun, or with the sun behind us, the scenery was quite enthralling.

The archaeological site of Wadi Rum. APAAME_20151006_REB-0026.
We then aimed for the Hejaz railway to continue where we had left off the previous year, helping the Great Arab Revolt Project (GARP) with its surveys; many Ottoman installations and tent circles are clearly visible. The isolated Hajj Fort of Qal'at Fassu'ah was also a highlight.
Qal'at Fassu'ah. APAAME_20151006_DLK-0097.
An extended break between sites along the Hijaz saw our pilots give us an example of their idea of flying. The pilots decided that the helicopter was a train and they flew at low-level above the tracks making “chuff-chuff” noises. Bored with this, and seeing that the main road to Saudi Arabia adjacent to the railway they decided to pretend to be a lorry, on the wrong side of the road; all the while reassuring us that the oncoming lorry drivers were laughing and waving, thinking how much fun this was for them. We do now have some very “low-level obliques” of vehicles not many feet away.
A lorry driver waving as we flew by. APAAME_20151006_RHB-0137.
We were glad of a pit-stop at Al-Jafr to regain some composure after such 'interesting' flying, and refuel for the helicopter and ourselves, consisting of dates and digestive biscuits sitting in the shade of the Huey.
Qasr Mesheish. The damage, probably done for the building stone, is clearly evident. APAAME_20151006_DLK-0347.
The final leg heading north back to Amman took us to a site Sir Aurel Stein had photographed in the 1930s, Qasr Mesheish – the site was visited by both Musil and Glueck, but has not been researched since to our knowledge. Their opinion was it may have Nabatean origins, perhaps a caravanserai. There are clearly other features nearby, a structure or enclosure with tower, as well as cisterns, and a later(?) cemetery. Unfortunately, the site is clearly suffering extreme damage. Our final target for the day was over the caravanserai of Khan es-Zabib.

The secondary structure at Qasr Mesheish - a tower within a larger enclosure. APAAME_20151006_DLK-0350.
Tired but invigorated after a very special and privileged two-day reconnaissance over southern Jordan, we drank tea (or coffee) with the flight commander to plan the next day’s flight, over the Greater Amman area.

- Robert Bewley and Rebecca Banks

Saturday 3 October 2015

Flight 20151001 - And we’re off the ground

After a very busy and engaging four days taking part in the Protecting the Past Conference at The Jordan Museum, on the first of the month we finally got air borne.

The 'Mafraq-Zerbini' formation. APAAME_20151001_RHB-0240.
There were a few “firsts” on this flight – Andrea Zerbini’s first trip in the Huey helicopter over Jordan, which he survived well and it was very useful to have his knowledge of the sites in this region. After 18 years this was the first time that we discovered (with the useful intervention of the ground crew at Mafraq) that the so-called ‘donkey seat’, which normally faces forward, could be turned through 90 degrees and join the rest of us on the bench. We’ll now refer to this as the “Mafraq-Zerbini’ formation.

The Irbid Bypass in construction. APAAME_20151001_MND-0126.
True to the theme of the Conference “Archaeology, conservation and tourism in the north of Jordan”, our first flight was to the north in the vicinity of Irbid. There is a large bypass being constructed around the west of the city, a concentration of limestone quarries to the south-west, as well as a few sites we had not seen for quite some time – so we thought we would have a look at how the archaeology of the region was faring.

The remaining half of Tell esh-Sheqaq (JADIS:2221018, MEGA-J:11494). APAAME_20151001_REB-0210.
As much as we hate to be a stick in the mud, there is evidence that this region’s archaeology and heritage is under pressure. Many of the small tell sites to the west of Irbid showed evidence of damage from quarrying or the removal of earth for what we presume is agricultural purposes. There were numerous examples of cemeteries having been found and systematically looted. Some of this damage appears to have taken place well in the past, but some was indeed fresh. Our camera also captured exposed excavations, sites in the vicinity of, or being cut by, the new bypass, and many sites precariously close to the edges of limestone quarries.

Samad (JADIS:2220050, MEGA-J:11471). Quarrying can be seen in the distance. APAAME_20151001_REB-0399.
That said, there are so many and diverse sites in this region that there was no shortage of ones that appear not to have changed in the time we have been monitoring them, and they are testimony to the depth of time and culture in this region. It was a great start to this season’s flying and we are grateful to the Royal Jordanian Air Force for their professionalism, skill and hospitality.

Rebecca Banks & Bob Bewley