Saturday 28 May 2016

Flight 20160526 - East into the Badia

The second flight of the 2016 season saw Becc and I heading east to the Azraq area, taking in Qasr Aseikhim, a wonderful and significant multi period hilltop site but which is suffering badly from the bulldozer as access roads make it more accessible.
Qasr Aseikhim showing signs of damage from bulldozing. Photographer: Rebecca Banks. APAAME_20160526_REB-0132.
We then headed to assess the impact of the construction of the Azraq by-pass on the stone built structures on the Harrat al-‘Uwaynid. It was truly depressing seeing what had been destroyed without thorough investigations (a presentation at ICHAJ13 by Romel Garib said a survey had been conducted with the help of Prof. Gary Rollefson, but no excavation); truly a missed opportunity as the area is rich in kite-sites, wheels, and pendants (one of which we have been monitoring and has had its tail smashed through – seemingly unnecessarily). These sites are representative of this part of the basalt plateau, and we know so little about them.

A pendant showing damage from tracks associated with the building of the Azraq by-pass over the Harrat al-'Uwaynid. Photographer: Rebecca Banks. APAAME_20160526_REB-0176.
There are archaeological teams from America, Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Jordan and Italy working in the basalt region in cooperation with the Department of Antiquities. These numerous teams are giving us a better insight into the date and function of many of the sites, and the migrating patterns of important species such as the gazelle. Results from all of these were being presented and discussed at the ICHAJ13, some of which we had to miss because of the flying. It is a pity more were not approached for a one-off collective “rescue archaeology” project, but unfortunately it sounds like the Department of Antiquities were brought into survey the site after the ink had dried on the plans. Better integration between infrastructure development planning and archaeological survey and the respective responsible departments is a must if this is not to be repeated in the future, which is something we are trying to achieve with the Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa Project.

However our reconnaissance is part of the investigations. We assist a number of projects and it is only by the use of the helicopter that we can cover so much ground – from Azraq to Ruweishid and then back to the Wisad and Qattafi areas. Fortunately we have surveyed Harrat al-Uwaynid in the past and those photographs of sites provide somewhat of a legacy for future knowledge.

One of the excavated sites of the Jebel Qurma Project. Photographer: Rebecca Banks. APAAME_20160526_REB-0301.
From Harrat al-Uwaynid we progressed to the Jebel Qurma where Professor Akkermans’ team have been investigating the numerous sites, then onto the main section of the Harret al-Shaam where two projects, the Northern Badia Project under Bernd Müller-Neuhof and the Eastern Badia Project with Prof. Gary Rollefson are working. It was a long day, and much warmer than the first flight, with many targets close together and much orbiting – which all contributed to the demise of the “crew man” who was not well, on three separate occasions during the flight. I wondered about curtailing the mission but every time we landed and re-fuelled he seemed fine and happy to continue.

The green bed of a wadi system near the Bakhita area. Photograph: Rebecca Banks. APAAME_20160526_REB-0584.
The black basalt desert is one of the most striking and unique landscapes anywhere in the world and never ceases to impress; this year it was the light greenery in the some of the wadis providing a context for the archaeological sites and a welcome relief from the blackness.

Bakhita enclosures site around a water catchment area. Photographer: Robert Bewley. APAAME_20160526_RHB-0635. 
Highlights included dense structure activity grouped around water catchment areas – still holding water with the late Spring weather Jordan has been experiencing. One such area we had named as “Bakhita enclosures” – a natural depression (still with some water in it) surrounded by a variety of stone enclosures –of an unusual form, and with stone walls leading into the pool, perhaps part of a water catchment system? The enclosures may be remains of settlements or occupation evidence of the people, many thousands of years ago, who had found a perfect location for seasonal living.

Chain Wall site. Photographer: Robert Bewley. APAAME_20160526_RHB-0479.
Not all the sites are untouched and we saw many instances of the random use of the bulldozer, dissecting sites for no apparent reason, as not all the bulldozed tracks become roads. We did see good examples of the “chain-walls”, small stone built structures all linked together and forming an enclosed area, but for what purpose and by whom we have, as yet no idea.

Stein's site 'al-Qseir Ghadir'. Photographer: Rebecca Banks. APAAME_20160526_REB-0485.
One of the places we flew was originally photographed by Sir Aurel Stein in his reconnaissance of Transjordan in 1939. Becc has digitized these images (in cooperation with the British Academy) and this site, Al Qseir Ghadir, she was able to locate and schedule into our reconnaissance. Stein had visited on the ground but found no surface material to date it, likewise a more recent visit by colleague Bernd Müller-Neuhof, who considers it could be Early Bronze Age. It is interesting to see the change – some 77 years later. Becc presented the site along with other ‘forgotten’ sites from Stein’s aerial survey at the ICHAJ conference. It is evident stone robbing has occurred to build a corral nearby, and the built structures seem to have been damaged and reduced to incoherent rubble, but the outline of the water catchment area is still intact.

Rebecca Banks in action in the Eurocopter. Photographer: Robert Bewley. APAAME_20160526_RHB-0543.
It is always fun to take a “few “action shots” showing what it is like undertaking the photography and we were able to do so, too on this flight. We certainly had put the pilots through their paces (and the poor crew man), and after almost 6 hours we were ready for a break, so we finished the day with a quick final re-fuel at Azraq before the final leg to Marka in the relative comfort of a seat in the Eurocopter.

- Rebecca Banks and Robert Bewley.

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