Monday, April 30, 2007

Yo is Lame

Clearly there will not be many posts while I am away in Greece, Yo is lame. I have been in a whirlwind since I left Jordan. I spent 4 days in Toronto/Ingersoll organizing my stuff for the field season in Greece and getting my postdoc set up at Toronto. It was busy, but I got to do some excellent trampolining (a word?) with my nieces and nephew and their pals. I left Toronto for the SAA (Society for American Archaeology) meetings in Austin. It was the first time I had been back to Austin since we moved after Yo's graduation in 1998.

It was a great visit, but somewhat bittersweet. Austin is really Yo's town, he lived there for some 11 years, I was a later addition - only for 3 and he had to stay behind in Jordan. While I was there in addition to attending the meetings and catching up with archaeology pals, I met up with some of my old Austin friends and their new additions. I had the great pleasure of watching the Philadelphia Chicken dance, as well as the Moo Dance as rendered by Maia and Arik. I got to meet the newest addition to that family - 7 month old Ezra. I also had a wonderful dining companion in Miss Vivi. It was such a treat to see familiar faces, drive around old haunts and visit the married student housing complex where Yorke and I lived for 3 years. Thanks so much to Leslie, Eitan, Elizabeth and Lanette for making me feel like I had not been anywhere but Austin for the past 9 years.

Then back to reality as I struggled to write something coherent for the session on Imperialism - War, Violence, and Archaeology. There were a lot of really great papers and I was asked to comment on the themes in general. For an admitted control freak it was tough going, getting the papers only a few days before the session (I like to finish my papers up before I hit a conference), hopefully I appeared calm, cool and collected. I doubt it though, as I came down with a nasty bout of laryngitis just before I was scheduled to speak - nice timing. Then Sunday morning I was off to Athens, from where I write this entry.
These are some replicas of the types of figurines (although ours will all be broken) we uncovered last year. Hopefully we will uncover some more this year.

I arrived this morning and immediately received a panicked phone call from one of the team members in Greece. Apparently there might be a ferry strike tomorrow and I am not sure where that would leave me and 10 students all scheduled to leave on the 5:30pm ferry. The latest update is that our ferry will leave, but there will be no metro service, so we will have to take taxis to the port. Hopefully we can still meet the rest of the students at the metro stop, so we can board the ferry as a group. This is an interesting beginning to an adventurous summer.

Keep your fingers crossed that we get on the Blue Star tomorrow...

Friday, April 27, 2007

Keeping Our Noses to the Grinding Stones

Tuesday I (Yo) took advantage of intrepid volunteers J, Miss A, and W, all of whom were desperate to visit a protohistoric archaeological site (rather than do their research?). Our goal? To record the larger ground stone items remaining on the site of Numeira, only identified as an Early Bronze Age site in 1973 by Walt Rast and Tom Schaub, and later excavated by them in the 1970s. As part of the Notre Dame EDSP ( effort to publish Numeira, we planned to record the type and location of these ground stone items. Based on this documentation we hope to match them with the original excavation photos that would give the context of the ground stone. Ground stone is a shorthand term to cover a large variety of artifacts, but at Numeira we primarily identified grinding slabs (called metates in the New World), handstones (the smaller, more mobile upper stone moved against the grinding slab, called manos in the New World), mortars and door sockets. These items are still on the site because they are simply too large to move or store. Here are some examples of what we were documenting.

Pretty cool huh?

Oddly, some enterprising local or archaeologist thought that these stones could be combined to make sculpture by putting a worn out mortar on top of a grinder. We thought they were right.

After completing our work at Numeira, we retired to a shady tree for a magnificent feast of sardines, hummus, olives, and oranges. We then visited the site of Bab edh-Dhra (meaning "Gate of the Arm" in Arabic) about 15 kms north of Numeira, also an Early Bronze site and very well known to archaeologists for the extensive cemetery (one of the few known from the period anywhere in the southern Levant). There was also a walled town site near the cemetery; much of the town site has disappeared as severe erosion takes away the north side. Bab edh-Dhra was first occupied during the Early Bronze I, or first major phase of the Early Bronze Age, but continued to grow, with a wall built around the town estimated at about 10 acres.

In the cemetery, shaft tombs were dug into the soft chalky marls, and the remains of between 2-10 people were deposited in the chamber, including men, women, and some children (infants were rare). Mortuary goods were also included, including hand made pottery, bowls made of basalt, maceheads and other iterms. Unfortunately the site has been looted for years, destroying the majority of tombs and leaving scattered broken artifacts and human bones.

Here you can see the "Craters of Bab edh-Dhra", where a vast cemetery has been turned into a wasteland. Looters will make very little money for the items they find but the middlemen who buy them will enjoy a hefty mark-up. Unfortunately the destruction to the archaeological remains is devastating.

We had a very good, productive day and after the disheartening site of Bab edh-Dhra, we went off to visit the PPN site of 'Dhra, just up the road. The site has been excavated so there is very little to see now, but the flowers were in bloom, the goats were happy, and the blade cores bountiful, so all in all, a fine finish to the field day. We then headed off for the new Panorama overlook site, where the breeze keeps the ghor flies at bay and the capucho is pretty good. We also had to go looking for a gas station after climbing the hill to the Panorama overlook.

Thanks everyone for all the hard work!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Why I Love "Fly Amercia"

With some grants there are various stipulations about which air carriers you can fly. I (Mo) guess this is a way to ensure that some of the US grant money gets channeled back into the US economy. My research in Jordan was funded by the Council for American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC) and as a result I had to "Fly America". While I am extremely appreciative of the grant, "Fly America" is never the cheapest option, nor it is the most direct route. As most seasoned travellers will tell you these flights are often the most expensive and often a circuitous route. Here are some of the reasons why I love "Fly America":

1. The "Fly America" flights from Amman leave at a reasonable hour and not at 2:50am,
2. United Airlines is a code share with Lufthansa, which means you get to spend a delightful 12 hours in the Frankfurt Airport waiting for a connecting flight,
3. You can always book your seat ahead of time ensuring the most legroom and the best view of the movie,
4. They often don't have a movie, which means extra quality sleep time,
5. And finally "Fly America" doesn't allow your final destination to be troublesome countries like Canada.

So after arriving at Washington Dulles, I waited around for another 4 hours for my flight to Toronto, only to be told that I was on standby because I didn't originate in the US. Luckily two drunken, seasoned business travellers interceded on my behalf at Dulles (they could see the impending melt down).

Thanks "Fly America" for making my travel experience one I won't soon forget.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

M's Farewell ACOR Dinner

M's last night was a collective meal at ACOR, J. in charge of a magnificent mound of her freshly made spring rolls, curried veggies, salad, beverages and sweets.

M is off to many far flung places such as Canada, Texas and oh yes, Greece. We will all miss her and think it terribly unfair that she abandoned us! But we know that she will have a wonderful time visiting nieces and nephews, commenting on papers about archaeology in war zones, guiding lost students on ferries around the Aegean and Greek dancing. We will expect updates M! This means that although the adventures of yo&mo continue, the chronicler changes for the present. So if you notice quirks, tics and blips, and other inconsistencies, these may be ironed out through time. Or not.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Leaving Amman

Today is my (Mo) last day in Amman for a while. It might also be the last day for the blog for a while, unless I can get Yo up to speed on blogging. Hopefully he will continue on in my absence with tales of his adventures with our friends Miss A, J and W here in Jordan.

I have really enjoyed my 7 months in Jordan. It was great to finally spend time with Yo, meet some new people, travel to Syria, conduct research and generally just get to know Jordan. My fellowship at ACOR( provided me with an excellent base from which to conduct my research, meet people and just hang out. The Director (BAP) and Asst. Director (CT) were gracious hosts and incredibly helpful. As an added bonus BAP makes a mean martini, which has become my new drink of choice... Here are some images of life at ACOR
Thursday night we (residents and fellows) usually cook, well really our Philippina friend Janet (that's Janet making a snowman) cooks because she is an awesome chef.

During the week we have our main meal of the day at 2:00pm where everyone gathers to eat some interesting delights cooked by Abu Ahmed, who has been cooking at ACOR for some 46 years. This is him with two of his sons, who also work at ACOR - Said the taxi driver (not really, but he was always gracious enough to give me a lift all over the city and we had a running joke that he was my personal taxi driver) and Abed the handyman.
Here is Miss A working diligently in the library. There is a great collection of books in the library, which made it all the easier for us to spend 10-12 hours day hanging out there. Yo basically took over a carrel and is now taking over my office.

I am off to Toronto late this evening for four days. I will get organized, repack and then head to Austin TX for the Society of American Archaeology meetings. From Austin I head directly to Greece where I meet the students at the Athens port of Piraeus. We then embark on our 6 week excavation adventure on Keros. We have no Internet access on the island, so I won't be doing any blogging until I get back to Canada at the end of June. I am sure that I will have many adventures to report on... Until then, I leave you in the capable hands of Yo, who will continue his adventures in Jordan. Next week they may be off to Bab ed Dhra and Numeira, so look for a post from him.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Adventures in Madaba and Wadi Mujib

Yesterday we (Yo, Mo, Miss A, J and B) ventured to Madaba and its environs in our rented car. It was a great day and we saw some very interesting sites. The Wadi Mujib is a gorge in Jordan which enters the Dead Sea at 410 meters below sea level. The Mujib Reserve of Wadi Mujib is the lowest nature reserve in the world, located in the mountainous landscape to the east of the Dead Sea, approximately 90km south of Amman.

We did not go all the way to the nature reserve, but we did see the very impressive Mujib Dam. The Wadi Mujib is the biblical Arnon River, which acted as the dividing line between the Moabites and the Amorites.

We also spent some time in Madaba, which is famous for its Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics.

The most famous of the Mosaics is the Madaba Mosaic Map, which is an index map of the region, dating from the sixth century CE. The Madaba Map is preserved in the floor of the Greek Orthodox Basilica of George. The over two million pieces of colored stone depict hills and valleys, villages and towns in Palestine and the Nile Delta. The mosaic contains the earliest representation of Byzantine Jerusalem

The map provides important details as to its 6th century landmarks, with the cardo (the central street colonnaded street and the church of the Holy Sepulchre. This map is one key in developing scholarly knowledge about the physical layout of Jerusalem after its destruction and rebuilding in 70CE.

After a great late lunch/early dinner at Haret Jdoudna, we travelled back to Amman and all decided that because we had a car we should go through the Starbucks drive through in Abdoun.

Our travelling companion J, a Starbucks barrista in another life, explained away the variability in coffee drinks as the difference between the preparer loving coffee and someone just doing their job. "Good coffee comes from the heart".

We had great coffee from our Jordanian barristas, who clearly made the coffee with love (and willingly put up with our photo taking). A fun day and hopefully a good birthday for Miss A.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Run to the Lowest Point on Earth!

Yo and Miss A completed a 10K this morning with great style. They left bright and early (Yo left the house at 4:45am) and started the run about 7:50am. Their cheering section (Mo, W, J, L, and T) left Amman a few hours later and drove down to the Dead Sea to see them cross the finish line.

As with most things in the Middle East, nothing started on time, which was good for the fans as we were stuck in traffic and rerouted at least three times and ended up going the long way through Madaba. As we drove along the highway we looked for our running pals and finally spotted Miss A, who was way out in front. We rushed on to park the car and see them cross the finish line.

First Miss A (who was among or the first woman to finish the 10K)

And then Yo

The two runners

The Fans

And after the race it was decided that we would treat the runners to the all-you-can-eat buffet at the very posh Movenpick Dead Sea Spa.

Tonight we are off to our favourite happy hour haunt - Nai and then to Fakhr ed-Din, a very tasty Lebanese restaurant. More pictures to follow...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Spring in the Middle East

As my (Mo) my time winds down here in Amman the days are flying by. I have been conducting some last minute interviews and attempting to photocopy half of the ACOR library. Yo has been preparing for the Dead Sea 10K fun run that he and Miss A are running tomorrow. Don't worry, I will take a lot of pictures of the intrepid duo and post them. It's Miss A's birthday on Saturday so we have an event-filled weekend planned.

In the mean time I leave you with some images of spring flowers from Syria and Jordan. I post these especially for Mrs Goodwrench, because I know she checks the blog regularly and I know how much she likes flowers. Happy Spring Mrs Goodwrench!

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Back to Syria

After visiting the Krac and Maloula we made our way back to Damascus. We spent our last day in the city shopping. This is the rug shop:

We bought a rug (and I know there are many of you thinking, a rug, why do they need a rug, they don't even have a place to live), some table cloths and some interesting art. A bought an inlaid chest and B bought some pottery. We all bought scarves. Traffic in Damascus:

The next morning after some stomach upset, which we can only attribute to figs on a string, we headed back to Amman. The end of our Syrian adventure...

There are a lot of old cars in Damascus and here is Yo with just one example.

Happy Easter!!

Friday, April 6, 2007

Day Out at Petra

Yesterday I (Mo) went to Petra to conduct some field research.

I was fortunate enough to catch a lift with C the Assistant Director at ACOR. We drove into Petra the back way (so I did not walk down the Siq as most tourists do) down through Beidha and then into the Park.

It was one of the first sunny and warm days we have had in a while, so there were a lot of tourists in the Park. Good for me as I was there to interview people about their visit, ask if they were offered real archaeological artifacts (illegal) to buy, and ask them what they ended up buying as a memento of their trip.

I also talked to a lot of the trinket sales people, the donkey drivers, and the guys with tea shops. It was a fascinating day. People were very friendly and happily answered many of my questions.
Currently there is campaign to nominate the new seven wonders of the world and Petra is among the nominees. I had many conversations yesterday about Petra and its nomination ("Why is the Sydney Opera House one of the nominees - that is just wrong" one tourist from Jordan stated. This is one of the signs reminding people to vote. If you want to vote or you want to see the other sites nominated check out:

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Krac and Maloula

After our visit to Apamea we took a zig-zag mountain road to the Crusader castle Krac de Chevaliers. After a hearty lunch of mezzes and roasted chicken (which is apparently a specialty in the Krac region), we went to explore the castle.

Kac has been describe as "the epitome of the dream castle of childhood fantasies of jousts, armour and pennants" (Paul Theroux). It is definitely one of the best preserved castles we have visited in this area of the world. The fort is in the only significant break in the mountain range that stretches between Turkey and Lebanon.

The first fort was recorded in 1031, but it was the 12th century Crusaders who expanded Krac into the form that exists today. The Crusaders held the castle until 1271. We loved the Krac and had a great evening at the St. Francis hotel with some very LARGE whiskies and some candied fruit...

The next morning on our way back to Damascus we stopped off in Maloula. Maloula is an interesting little village, with houses set into the side of a cliff face.

There are some Muslims living here, but the population is predominantly Greek Catholic. Until very recently the main language of the village was a variation of Aramaic, the language thought to be spoken by Jesus. We visited a couple of sites and a gorge.

The Convent of St. Tecla (a pupil of St. Paul and one of the first Christian martyrs) and the Monastery of St. Sergius (where the remains of a Byzantine church remain). We also visited a mini-Siq (gorge) with 100s of other visitors.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Water, water everywhere

Sabkhat al Jabbul

Before we headed off to Apamea and Krac de Chevaliers, we made a pit stop at the protected nature reserve of Sabkhat al Jabbul. B is a cultural anthropologist studying the marsh areas of Iraq. Sabkhat al Jabbul was used in the training of Iraqi environmentalists, so B guided Khaled our driver to the site so we could have a look.

Part of the reserve is a seasonal saline lake, which covers an area of about 60 square miles. It is probably one of the most important wetland sites for bird biodiversity in the Middle East, with more than 10,000 flamingos stopping off during the winter, and it has a unique salt-tolerant flora. We didn't see any flamingos, but we did taste the water and it was very salty. The area exhibits some alarming signs of the 'tragedy of the commons syndrome' (see the Lorax) as the local communities have started to encroach on the water resources and many industries were visible around the lake, which made us wonder about management agreements and emission controls.

Next Stop: Apamea and Qala'at Mudiq

The Lonely Planet guide book states: "If it weren't for the unsurpassed magnificence of Palmyra, Apamea would be considered one of the highlights of Syria." We all thought it was fascinating and in an amazing setting, overlooking the Al-Ghab plain.

The site was established in the 3rd century BCE as an important trading post and one of the four important Seleucid towns. Its golden era was during the 2nd century CE after much of the city was rebuilt after an earthquake. During its peak it was home to almost 500,000 people and Cleopatra and Mark Antony visited. The city was sacked during the Byzantine and Persian periods and was later seized by the Muslims.

Under the Mamelukes a citadel (Qala'at Mudiq) was built and the site became a popular stopoff point for pilgrims on their way to Mecca. One of the things that I (Mo) find intriguing about the Middle East is the way in which people document their trips to Mecca. In Palestine you often see images of boats, planes and car alongside the Kaaba (a large black cubical building thought to have been built by Abraham). This is a doorway in Aleppo indicating that someone has made the pilgrimage to Mecca.

My (Mo) research

As many of you know, we never take 'real' vacations, often combining work with play. When we visit archaeological sites I am always on the lookout for looting, tourist behaviours, and the types of archaeological souvenirs (artifacts) on sale. As we approached Apamea, our driver Khaled warned us that we would be offered archaeological artifacts to buy. He reminded us that it is illegal to buy artifacts and take them out of Syria. I read the same warning about Apamea in our guide books.

Sure enough, not five minutes into our visit to Apamea we were approached by some guys arriving on motorbikes. They had the ubiquitous coins, roman glass and some very poor imitation cylinder seals (of a type, which would not be found at a Roman site).

The artifact sellers (who knows if they were the looters) appeared almost from nowhere and we wondered how they knew we were there. As we walked down the cardo (the central north-south street in any Roman town) we looked over to a grassy knoll where we realized that all of the "sales people" were hanging out waiting for their unsuspecting prey. They all seemed quite unconcerned when we told them we were archaeologists and what they were doing was haram (forbidden). All fodder for future articles and/or the book.

We then continued on our way to the famous Crusader castle of Krac de Chevaliers (or the Krac as it referred to in the guide books).