Saturday, December 29, 2007

Boxing Day in the Desert

Other than the recent trip to Jawa, Mo hadn't been to the eastern desert of Jordan, and Yo wanted to revisit the site of Maitland's Fort (see earlier posting, November 1). The site is two hours east of Azraq via dirt tracks, just north of the Saudi border; Azraq is just over an hour from Amman. During the last visit we simply spent the night camped at the foot of the site, but these days it is quite cold -- and the days are much shorter. So we left from Amman at just past 5 am, arriving at Azraq at just before 7 am. Unfortunately one gas station was closed, so we had to turn around and go back to town in order to find an open one, just to be sure Said's trusty truck was topped up with diesel.

Headed back out through the last eastern farms of Azraq, it was just getting light, a beautiful hue to the desolate landscape. Luckily we were able to follow the modern rock piles and didn't really need to rely on a the borrowed GPS or the maps to find our way.

Arriving in the general area, Yo took the long way around (unintentionally!), but we eventually found our way to the foot of Maitland's Fort, the basalt topped mesa. At the foot of this mesa are a number of structures that seem vaguely similar to the nawamis of Sinai - dry stone built graves dating to the mid-fourth millennium BC, known in this region as the late Chalcolithic or early phases of the Early Bronze Age. Whether or not these structures at Maitland's Fort are similar in function (some are clearly larger than the nawamis of Sinai) and chronological related must be investigated. Those at M's Fort seem very well built and made us wonder if they weren't built much later. Here is one:

Walking up the slope there are a number of these, and it almost seems as if they are intentionally situated along the easiest path to the top. On the top of the mesa are numerous stone features; perhaps one of the most intriguing features are the series of cairns established along the southern edge.

Although many are destroyed and robbed, one can still get a sense of how similar they were, in size and formation. They all lead up to a very large (robbed) cairn on the southeast edge.

There are other more enigmatic structures on top as well, some of them wall-like structures, but built with vertial slabs that are heavy and seem like a lot of work just to make a sheep pen, such as those below.

And here is another. Ritual in function, or just an upright wall slab? This one is situated along the edge of the mesa, facing east: Down below at the very base of many of these mesas are animals corrals, which look quite different. These could have been made recently, or hundreds of years ago (or more?) and then re-used seasonally over many decades or even centuries. Here are some at the foot of Maitland's Fort:

We lounged in the warm sun on top while eating some fancy cheese imported by us from North America (sharp cheddar, yumm!) and decided to go visit the next mesa to the south. Named Tall Beta by Prof G. and A, this mesa is similar in size and configuration to Maitland's Fort, but has far fewer features on the slopes or on top. Still, there was one huge cairn on the top, also destroyed and robbed (photo below).The view to the north gives a very nice perspective of Maitland's Fort, and allows a view of the path leading to the top through the burial cairns on the lower slope. You can only barely trace this path in the photo below.

Finally we made a quick stop at Tall A to investigate what appears to be a similar "tumulus tail" as what we saw on Maitland's Fort. However, what appeared to be a regular pattern from a distance was apparently only a few cairns connected by a low stone line, barely visible in this photograph.

At this point we were getting a bit tired. If only you could hear the muttering that accompanied this final descent.

Although it was only 2 pm, we had only 2 1/2 hours of light, just enough to get back to Azraq. The drive back went smoothly, particularly as we went across the 'qa' (playa, dry lake bed), which is quite a pleasure after all the rattling and slamming over rocky tracks for most of the drive.
Smooth roads make us happy!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!!!!!

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