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An Early Islamic papyrus fragment from Faynan

I promised previously that I would discuss Hannah Friedman and colleagues' paper, "Fragments of an early Islamic Arabic papyrus from Khirbet Hamrā Ifdān" — published in the same issue of Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy as our paper on Khirbat al-Manā'iyya — in more detail. Since then I've been distracted by several projects (more on which soon eventually), but wanted to return to this paper, as their conclusions are relevant to some of the points I make about Khirbat Hamra Ifdan (KHI) in my dissertation, and the find itself is quite fascinating.

The key find discussed in the paper is, as the title suggests, a poorly preserved four line papyrus fragment with an Arabic inscription. There isn't much to say about the content of the inscription, because it's quite fragmentary, with only one complete word preserved: "Allah." (Given the content, it's worth noting that I don't find their suggestion that "it is highly probable" the author of this text was a Muslim [Friedman, et al. 2017: 291] compelling, for reasons I'll discuss below.) On paleographic grounds, they date the inscription to somewhere between the late 7th and mid-8th centuries AD. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a papyrologist, so I can't comment on their paleographic arguments, but I can comment on the archaeological context. They were working in the northern portion of KHI, to the north of the large Early Bronze Age settlement that makes up the most famous component of the site. By contrast, my work with ELRAP has concentrated on the southern portion of the site. The primary feature relevant to the discussion here is Area L, a large square structure excavated in 2000 and, unfortunately, still essentially unpublished (I'm working on it, though). It was identified at the time as a caravanserai, but I think it's more likely to be a farmhouse reusing portions of an earlier Roman tower, a point I discuss in my reevaluation of this material in my dissertation (the papyrus fragment doesn't necessarily point to one identification over the other). In Figure 1 (the image quality for this portion of Wadi Fidan in Google Earth is unfortunately rather bad), the black patch south of the red pin is Area E, a copper slag mound dating primarily to the Iron Age II, and the square structure barely visible to the north of the pin is Area L.

Google Earth image of Khirbat Hamra Ifdan.

The Barqa Landscape Project team, in addition to the papyrus fragment, claims to have found "Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic pottery" in the northern, thinner portion of the site, although the ceramics aren't yet published and the exact location of their excavations isn't clear from the published report. The basic claim isn't surprising, though, and is consistent with what we know of the site. In our 2014 chapter we refer to a late 8th-late 9th century AD radiocarbon date from Area L — which has since been properly published in a chapter in Mining for Ancient Copper: Essays in Memory of Beno Rothenberg I'm mistaken and must apologize; we took this out of the submitted version — to which Friedman, et al. (2017: 292) refer. In addition to this, the 2000 excavations in Area L produced pottery dating to the late 8th or 9th century, and a surface collected coin likewise dates to the 8th century. This material is unpublished (but written up in my dissertation and in my publication queue), and I point it out not to critique Friedman and colleagues for not being aware of something I didn't tell them about, but rather to point out that their interpretation fits what we know from the southern portion of the site. Certainly I'm surprised to read that they found a papyrus fragment since, as they point out, papyri from this period in southern Jordan are exceedingly rare, but I'm not surprised that they found Early Islamic period material at KHI. I'm curious to read more about the context they excavated, and in particular the depth of the later occupation, however. Many of the primarily Early Bronze Age areas in the central portion of the site had fairly shallow Byzantine and Early Islamic reoccupations above, but only Area L had relatively deep Early Islamic period loci. It will be interesting to see how the northern building compares to these. (MacDonald [1992: 252] also noted slag in the northern part of the site, and while I'd love to be proven wrong on my assertion that there isn't any Early Islamic period copper smelting in Faynan, this is probably something they would have mentioned if that were the case.)

Comparison to Khirbat Faynan

Later in the paper, Friedman, et al. discuss the broader Faynan region, and particularly Khirbat Faynan, a large site in the eastern portion of the Wadi Fidan/Faynan system. Khirbat Faynan was the Roman and Byzantine town of Phaino, site of an imperial metallum, and was certainly occupied into the Early Islamic period. In general I think this discussion is sensible, but one part of it took me by surprise. On pp. 291-292, Friedman, et al. state that "Khirbat Faynān ... has never been excavated." Part of why this surprised me so much is that the citation following this statement includes "Jones et al., 2014: 184," where I make reference to the ELRAP excavations at Khirbat Faynan. In fact, as shown in Figure 2, ELRAP conducted excavations in 2011 and 2012 in three areas of the site. You can even make out the step trench we excavated in 2011 in Area 16 on the satellite imagery (the portion to the left of the "Area 16" pin is particularly easy to make out).

Google Earth image of Khirbat Faynan

In fairness to Friedman and colleagues, these excavations are not as well published as they should be. I do, however, refer to them in our 2014 chapter, and the 2011 excavations are discussed in a paper in the Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, a scan of which is available here. The ADAJ paper only discusses earlier occupations at Khirbat Faynan, but even without the Early Islamic area we excavated in 2012 — Area 18 — it would be incorrect to say the site had never been excavated. Nonetheless, Friedman and colleagues correctly note that the site continued to be occupied into at least the later 8th century. This is basically consistent with the dating of the Early Islamic phases in Area 18, although the latest of these contained several forms that continue into the 9th century, as well.

The Islamization of Faynan: An Early Islamic Mosque in Wadi Fidan?

I should now return to the point I brought up above concerning the religious identity of the author of the inscription, which isn't the critical point of the paper, but is the major point I disagree with. Friedman, et al. (2017: 291) point out that the content of the inscription does not actually point to an identification of the author as a Muslim. As the Arabic word for "God," "Allah" appears in Arabic Christian texts of this period (and later, of course), as well. Friedman, et al. provide some examples, to which more could certainly be added. Nonetheless, they also think it is "highly probable" that the author was a Muslim, apparently on the basis of the archaeology of the site.

What about the archaeology makes them say this? On pp. 285-286, Friedman and colleagues note that one of the authors, Russell Adams, visited the site in the mid-1980s as part of Burton MacDonald's Southern Ghors and Northeast 'Arabah Archaeological Survey (SGNAS) and observed a structure that looked like an open-air mosque, but with its mihrab facing Jerusalem, rather than Mecca. They go on to say that when he and my advisor, Tom Levy, began excavating the site in 1999, the structure was gone. It's unclear what this structure is, as it was apparently never mapped. I would note, however, that this sounds rather like a structure visible on a map of the excavations published by Levy, et al. (2002: 434, Fig. 5A), which was assigned to site Stratum II, dating to the Early Bronze Age IV. This isn't an exact match (the "mihrab" faces slightly northeast, more or less toward Damascus, rather than Jerusalem), but it's pretty darn close, considering the reconstruction is based on memory. Friedman and colleagues, rightly, don't seem to regard this as evidence that there was a mosque on the site. It is perhaps also worth noting WFD 105, published by Levy, et al. (2001: 176, Table 2) as an Islamic period cultic site. If that identification is correct, it would also be quite odd, as that structure oriented to the west, rather than the south. (To this discussion we could also add FJHP Site 136, a structure near Petra with a niche in its eastern wall [Kouki 2013].) The discussion of whether these structures, particularly FJHP Site 136, could be mosques revolves to a large extent around the mosque or musalla built of copper slag at Be'er Ora, which seems to have niches in its eastern and southern walls, although the eastern one is less clear. I don't really want to get into this in much detail. The key facts are that this mosque was suggested to have an east-facing mihrab later converted to a south-facing one, and that the excavations did not actually produce evidence that would support (or, to be fair, rule out) this claim (Sharon, et al. 1996). In short, there isn't a lot to go on here. It's not possible to rule out the possibility that WFD 105, FJHP 136, or the now-missing structure at KHI could have been mosques, but that isn't the same as being able to say they are.

Back to the point. Why do Friedman, et al. think the author of the papyrus was likely Muslim? The beginning of their discussion is not promising: "Archaeological suggestions of an early Islamic mosque at KHI dating to the seventh or eighth century are supported by the find of the papyrus" (Friedman, et al. 2017: 292). This is, of course, circular reasoning. The papyrus is likely to have been written by a Muslim if there is a mosque at the site, which in turn is likely if there's a papyrus written by a Muslim at the site. I'll return to this briefly, but first let me lay out the rest of their argument. They first suggest the "Negev desert mosques" as a model, and place the hypothetical mosque near 'Ayn Fidan, the spring to the south of the site. In the next paragraph, they suggest that "structures surrounding the missing mosque functioned as a venue for economic or social purposes," citing the farmstead at 'En 'Avrona (in the southern Wadi 'Araba, near 'Aqaba) as a parallel (Friedman, et al. 2017: 292). I don't think both of these models should be applied to the same site, and I would suggest that 'En 'Avrona, Nahal La'ana (Nahlieli, et al. 1996] and a number of other sites — which have rooms that served as mosques inside structures that look rather like KHI Area L — are probably a closer parallel to KHI than the hilltop Negev mosques. In other words, further excavation in Area L could probably tell us whether there is a mosque at the site or not. Which brings us back to their initial reasoning. The idea that there should be a mosque at the site assumes more about the Islamization of Faynan than we actually know. What we can presently say is that the region continued to be occupied well into the Early Islamic period. That doesn't, however, tell us much about the religious identity of the people living there. One can assume that these people were either early converts or Muslim newcomers to the region, but at our present state of knowledge, this is an assumption. Looking to Petra rather than the Negev may caution against this, as excavations at Khirbat al-Nawafla in Wadi Musa demonstrated that the population was either primarily Christian or confessionally-mixed into at least the late 8th century, and probably rather later ('Amr, et al. 2000). It's also possible that KHI and Khirbat Faynan don't follow the same pattern. Further excavation could very well find a mosque at KHI and continued use of churches at Khirbat Faynan. Presently, we simply don't know.

That said, however, I should reiterate that this is a really incredible find, and I'm definitely looking forward to hearing about the rest of the material they've found.

---ResearchBlogging.orgFriedman, Hannah, Tasha Vorderstrasse, Rachel Mairs, & Russel Adams (2017). Fragments of an early Islamic Arabic papyrus from Khirbet Hamrā Ifdān Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy, 28, 285-296 : 10.1111/aae.12099 

Other Works Cited

'Amr, Khairieh, Ahmed al-Momani, Naif al-Nawafleh, and Sami al-Nawafleh. 2000. Summary Results of the Archaeological Project at Khirbat an-Nawāfla/Wādī Mūsā. Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 44:231-255.

Jones, Ian W. N., Mohammad Najjar, and Thomas E. Levy. 2014. “Not Found in the Order of History”: Toward a “Medieval” Archaeology of Southern Jordan. In From West to East: Current Approaches to Medieval Archaeology. S.D. Stull, ed. Pp. 171-206. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars.

Jones, Ian W. N., Mohammad Najjar, and Thomas E. Levy. 2018. The Arabah Copper Industry in the Islamic Period: Views from Faynan and Timna. In Mining for Ancient Copper: Essays in Memory of Beno Rothenberg. E. Ben-Yosef, ed. Pp. 332-342. Tel Aviv University Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology Monograph Series, Vol. 37. Winona Lake, IN and Tel Aviv: Eisenbrauns and Emery and Claire Yass Publications in Archaeology.

Kouki, Paula. 2013. Site 136, an Open Mosque? In Petra — The Mountain of Aaron: The Finnish Archaeological Project in Jordan, Volume III: The Archaeological Survey. P. Kouki and M. Lavento, eds. Pp. 317-321. Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennica.

Levy, Thomas E., Russell B. Adams, Andreas Hauptmann, Michael Prange, Sigrid Schmitt-Strecker, and Mohammad Najjar. 2002. Early Bronze Age metallurgy: a newly discovered copper manufactory in southern Jordan. Antiquity 76:425-437.

Levy, Thomas E., Russell B. Adams, Alan J. Witten, James Anderson, Yoav Arbel, Solomon Kuah, John Moreno, Angela Lo, and Mark Wagonner. 2001. Early Metallurgy, Interaction, and Social Change: The Jabal Ḥamrat Fīdān (Jordan) Research Design and 1998 Archaeological Survey: Preliminary Report. Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 45:159-187.

Levy, Thomas E., Mohammad Najjar, Aaron D. Gidding, Ian W. N. Jones, Kyle A. Knabb, Kathleen Bennallack, Matthew Vincent, Alex Novo Lamosco, Ashley M. Richter, Craig Smitheram, Lauren D. Hahn, and Sowparnika Balaswaminathan. 2012. The 2011 Edom Lowlands Regional Archaeology Project (ELRAP): Excavations and Surveys in the Faynān Copper Ore District, Jordan. Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 56:423-445.

MacDonald, Burton. 1992. The Southern Ghors and Northeast 'Arabah Archaeological Survey. Dorchester: The Dorset Press.

Nahlieli, Dov, Yigal Israel, and Yehudit Ben-Michael. 1996. The Nahal La'ana Site: An Early Islamic Farm in the Negev. 'Atiqot 30:67-78, 130.

Sharon, Moshe, Uzi Avner, and Dov Nahlieli. 1996. An Early Islamic Mosque near Be'er Ora in the Southern Negev: Possible Evidence for an Early Eastern Qiblah? 'Atiqot 30:107-114.

That new coin hoard from the Sasanid invasion

Hello, and welcome to the latest installment of "Ian rambles about the latest archaeology news." I've seen this story shared in various forms on the various Near Eastern archaeology social media thingummies, and I've read it with interest each time. This is, in part, because much of the reporting on it has been . . . rather strange. The gist of the story is that archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority found a hoard of nine 6th and early 7th century AD copper folles in salvage excavations at 'En Hemed, and based on the dating of the latest coins have suggested that they were hidden prior to the Sasanid invasion of 614.

It's been reported in the Jerusalem Post (use an ad blocker!), which seems mostly to rely on the IAA press release, and a much stranger article has also appeared in the Washington Post. I'm sure there are other versions out there, too, though I can't imagine any are quite as strange as that one.

First, the less strange one. As I mentioned, the Jerusalem Post story mostly seems to repeat the IAA press release, but with nicer photos. The major contribution seems to be that in the JPost story the hoard is called "rare," which is probably not the word I would use, as quite a few hoards can be attributed to the Sasanid invasion. In fact, to quote Alan Walmsley (2007: 324), "Quite a few hoards can be attributed to the Sasanid invasion." Beyond that, it's a bit weird that both the JPost article and IAA release give dates of birth and death for each emperor, which, when discussing coins, is somewhat less useful than regnal dates. (It would, indeed, be quite rare to find a coin of Phocas dating to 547 AD, as that's 55 years before he became emperor. . .) This isn't a huge issue, though, and the rest of the release seems pretty straightforward.

The dating issue is corrected, at least for the reign of Phocas, in the Washington Post version. Sort of. They give the dates as 604-609, which is not quite right for the reign of Phocas, but I suspect the archaeologist, Annette Landes-Nagar, has narrowed this down on numismatic grounds. I'm not a numismatist (and the coins are, as would be expected in a news story like this, not presented in much detail), so I'm not totally sure. I am, however, more sure that it is not accurate to say that Landes-Nagar "estimated that the coins were minted sometime between 604 and 609 because they bear the faces of Byzantine emperors of the time," considering that the hoard also contained issues of Justinian and Maurice, neither of whom was Byzantine emperor at that time.

I imagine that at this point you're saying to yourself, "I don't know. That doesn't seem that weird." Agreed. That is just me being nitpicky. What's weird is that, of the 18 paragraphs that make up the article, only five are about the 'En Hemed excavations. The rest seems to be about the archaeological evidence for early Christianity in Israel and, uh, the existence of Jesus, for some reason. The first, we're told, is "a potent point, offering proof of the Christian connection to the Holy Land and the Middle East, alongside that of Judaism and Islam." This seems fairly obvious, but on the other hand, I don't think anyone who follows the archaeology of Israel will be surprised to see the phrase "proof of the X connection to the Holy Land" in an article. So, fair enough?

Stranger is the point that archaeologists haven't found "physical evidence of [Jesus'] existence." True, but . . . what does that have to do with a hoard of 6th and 7th century coins? I think the idea here is something to do with the development of the Christian community, but it seems like a strange way of introducing this coin hoard, especially since that connection is never made very clear.

None of that is, of course, a critique of the excavations, and I'll be curious to see the publication when it comes out. Considering that the hoard was found in collapse, I'll be interested, in particular, to see if they consider the possibility that it might actually have been dropped during the earthquake of 633, as Russell (1985: 46) suggested for three houses at Bet She'an (where the latest coins, it turns out, were also issues of Phocas). That does seem less likely in this case, but still possible.

Works Cited

Russell, Kenneth W. 1985. "The Earthquake Chronology of Palestine and Northwest Arabia from the 2nd through the mid-8th Century A.D." Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 260:37-59.

Walmsley, Alan. 2007. "Economic Developments and the Nature of Settlement in the Towns and Countryside of Syria-Palestine, ca. 565-800." Dumbarton Oaks Papers 61:319-352.

Some slightly outdated news

You may or may not have noticed that, since my last post, Landscapes of the Islamic World: Archaeology, History, and Ethnography, edited by the excellent Stephen McPhillips and the equally excellent Paul D. Wordsworth, has been published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. It's divided into four sections, each dealing with a different aspect of rural landscapes across what might be termed "the Islamic world," as well as a conclusion by Alan Walmsley and a wonderful introduction by the late Tony Wilkinson. My copy arrived in my anthropology department mailbox a few weeks ago, and overall I have to say it's quite excellent. I would say that, though, because I happen to be the author of Chapter 6, which is an expanded version of the paper I presented at the Materiality of the Islamic Rural Economy workshop in Copenhagen. The whole book is worth a look, though, even if mining isn't your thing (or perhaps especially if mining isn't your thing, as mine is the only chapter on mining. . .).

The "world's oldest Qur'an manuscript"

You may recall seeing, back in July, the news that radiocarbon dating showed that a Qur'an manuscript at the University of Birmingham was one of the oldest, if not the oldest, in the world. The parchment evidently dates to 568-645 AD at 2-sigma, or 95.45%, accuracy. I was somewhat surprised to see, a few days ago, that it was back in the news. I'm not sure whether this second wave of media attention has anything to do with the upcoming exhibition of the manuscript in October, but it seems like it might.

The twist this time around, though, is the idea that the fragment may predate Muhammad. Keith Small is quoted in the Independent piece and states that the date

gives more ground to what have been peripheral views of the Koran’s genesis, like that Mohamed and his early followers used a text already in existence and shaped it to fit their own political and theological agenda.
Admittedly, I'm not exactly an expert on the history of the Qur'an's composition, but nonetheless this surprised me a bit, because I hadn't heard this idea before. I'll also point out, before moving on, that this date doesn't really seem to me to support this very strongly. If, to use Edwards, Lindman, and Savage's famous phrase, "probability is orderly opinion, and . . . inference from data is nothing other than the revision of such opinion in the light of relevant new information" (full, embarrassing disclosure: I first encountered this phrase on the dreaded Wikipedia), this new date gives us little reason to prefer this theory or the traditional one, as most of the more balanced stories have already pointed out.

It's strange, though, that none of the pieces I've read mentions the "revisionist" history I'm more familiar with, as that seems to me to be what's really "destabilized" (as Tom Holland phrases it) by this date. The tendency among the revisionist historians has not been to argue for an early dating, but rather a late one. Nevo and Koren (2003: 11), for example, argue that the Qur'an "was not canonized until the end of the 2nd century A.H. or perhaps early in the 3rd" (that would be the late 8th to early 9th centuries AD). While their view is fairly extreme, some degree of "late" dating is standard in the revisionist view (Motzki wrote an article in Der Islam that summarizes many of these and which is, happily, available here on his page). These ideas have been debated for decades (see, for example, Whitcomb's archaeological consideration of earlier works by Nevo and Koren, also happily available on his page), but this new date is a pretty big problem for the "late canonization" camp. It's still possible, I suppose, that fragments existed earlier but weren't codified into the Qur'an until much later, but this view doesn't seem very tenable in light of the Birmingham Qur'an. Perhaps this isn't a big deal because there isn't anyone who thinks this these days, anyway?

"Not Found in the Order of History" now found exactly there

I got word a few days ago that a book featuring a chapter on Islamic period Faynan (and southern Jordan, more generally) has just been printed. As you might guess, I'm the lead author on that chapter (with Mohammad Najjar and my advisor, Tom Levy), and I'm excited to see it appear in print. The book, published by Cambridge Scholars and edited by Scott Stull, is From West to East: Current Approaches to Medieval Archaeology, which developed out of the first Conference on Medieval Archaeology. The conference itself was a great experience — and although I couldn't make the second one last year, I hope it continues — and the book reflects this. It's a nice survey of the current state of medieval archaeology, and the coverage is fairly broad. Ours is the easternmost (and southernmost) of the contributions, many of which, perhaps unsurprisingly, focus on the U.K., but there are several on Anatolia, as well, so we're not alone in the eastern Mediterranean.

Our chapter — titled "'Not Found in the Order of History': Toward a 'Medieval' Archaeology of Southern Jordan" (catchy, no?) — builds on the relationship between copper and sugar production that we've previously proposed and places this in a longer-scale analysis of the economy of the 'Araba, from the decline of Petra and a shift to an "Arabia-facing" economy in the Early Islamic period, to the decline of this system and the shift to a "Syria-facing" economy in the Middle Islamic. This is also the first publication, I believe, where we address the Late Antique and Early Islamic period material from our excavations at Khirbat Faynan, which I also covered in my most recent ASOR talk. This is, of course, very preliminary, considering that I gave the talk on which this chapter is based in 2013, but it's still quite exciting. Beyond this, we also try to connect the archaeology of southern Jordan to "medieval archaeology," by which people normally mean the medieval archaeology of Europe. We're not the first people to try to make this connection, but it does open up some interesting possibilities for thinking about the roles that a tiny copper mining village out in the desert might play.

The title itself, "Not Found in the Order of History," is taken from an Exodus itinerary reproduced in several medieval pilgrimage guides (in this case, the 12th century guidebook commonly, but incorrectly, attributed to "Fetellus"), which describes Faynan (or Fynon [Punon, really, I suppose]) in these terms. This account, in turn, is based on a letter of Jerome, who actually had rather more than this to say about Faynan. I discuss this account in more detail in my dissertation and an upcoming publication, but here it serves as a nice shorthand for the problems of doing "medieval archaeology" in southern Jordan. Medieval archaeology and Islamic archaeology are generally thought of as "historical archaeology" (in the broad sense of archaeology informed by history, rather than the narrow sense of "the archaeology of capitalism"). Southern Jordan, though — and Faynan in particular — is, for the most part, absent from the historical sources of this period. What does it mean to do historical archaeology in a place "not found in the order of history"? It's a difficult question to resolve, but we try here.

Interestingly, around the same time I heard that our chapter had been printed I also heard that Hagit Nol's paper in Palestine Exploration Quarterly, "The Fertile Desert: Agriculture and Copper Industry in Early Islamic Arava (Arabah)," had come out. I've been looking forward to this publication since she e-mailed me about it a year or so ago, and it is, indeed, a very cool paper. Hagit looks at a lot of material from the 'Araba, including a lot of work previously only published in Hebrew, and tries to grapple with the rather persistent misdating of Early Islamic sites in the 'Araba — a problem we also note in our chapter. It's funny, though. When I started working on my MA thesis six(ish) years ago, I would have been surprised to hear about multiple publications on the Islamic period in the 'Araba coming out in the same year, much less the same week. As Jasper would say, "What a time to be alive."

Ripped from the Headlines: Biblical Archaeology!

Given my recent posts, you'd probably think I work in a much earlier period than I actually do. I suppose I'm going to add to that now by pointing to three stories that have come out of Israel in the past week or so.

First is the news that "King David's palace" has been discovered at Khirbat Qeiyafa, identified by the excavators as the Biblical site of Sha'arayim (I didn't want to comment much on any of these, but I will point to Aren Maeir's response, which is both the shortest and the sweetest I've read so far). Second, a house at Tel Rehov has been identified as the Prophet Elisha's. And the third is the most recent update on Simcha Jacobovici's libel lawsuit against Joe Zias.

I could probably say a lot about any one of these stories, but don't really want to. I bring them up, actually, because I just got around to taking a look at the (open access!) Richard III skeleton paper in the most recent Antiquity (Buckley et al. 2013). The authors of that paper begin their abstract by stating, "Archaeologists today do not as a rule seek to excavate the remains of famous people and historical events" (Buckley et al. 2013:519). One might be forgiven for assuming that the opposite is generally true in Biblical archaeology. . .

Works Cited

Buckley, Richard, Mathew Morris, Jo Appleby, Turi King, Deirdre O'Sullivan, and Lin Foxhall2013 ‘The king in the car park’: new light on the death and burial of Richard III in the Grey Friars church, Leicester, in 1485. Antiquity 87(336):519-538.

More on the Exodus at UCSD

Recently, a page dedicated to the Out of Egypt conference went up on the Calit2 (actually, now the Qualcomm Institute) site. As I mentioned previously, this is the conference that the EX3: Exodus, Cyber-Archaeology and the Future exhibit was associated with, and Tom Levy and our colleagues at Calit2 have done a fantastic job of making everything available to those who couldn't attend the exhibit or conference.So, in addition to seeing photos from the conference (if you scroll through long enough you can see a few of me with the rest of the Levantine Archaeology Lab crew and some other UCSD Anthro folks), you can also watch videos of every talk that was given at the conference and get a guided tour of the exhibition (from Tom himself!). Plus, at the bottom of the page, you can read the three panels on the Exodus in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, including the contribution I put together with Prof. Babak Rahimi.I have to say, I'm impressed with how much of the conference has been made available online. It would definitely be a good thing if, at some point in the near future, it became common for conference organizers to provide open post-conference access to talks and other materials.

Donner on belief

A few weeks ago, I was asked by my advisor (who also happens to be the curator of this exhibit) to put together a few paragraphs describing Islamic traditions of the Exodus story for an exhibit called EX3: Exodus, Cyber-Archaeology and the Future (I planned to post this while the exhibition was still open, but it closed over the weekend). This is actually a topic I didn't know all that well before this, so although the panel had a maximum of only 250 words, I ended up doing a fair amount of research. In the course of this, I came across a quote from the historian Fred Donner that, although it's actually a metaphor for Islamic history, sums up pretty well some of the issues of Biblical archaeology:

But the parting of the waters – the actual supernatural event that, according to the story, was God's act of salvation for the Israelites – this the historian simply cannot evaluate. . . . because it involves an event that is explicitly represented as supernatural, it is simply beyond his competence as a historian to evaluate its supernatural content. (Donner 2011:34)
It's a useful compromise in some ways, and reminds me of a quote that Aren Maeir used in his presentation at the conference associated with the exhibition. It's by the Zionist author Ahad Ha'am, from his essay "Moses":
For even if you succeed in demonstrating conclusively that the man Moses never existed, or that he was not such a man as we supposed, you would not thereby detract one jot from the historical reality of the ideal Moses — the Moses who has been our leader not only for forty years in the wilderness of Sinai, but for thousands of years in all the wildernesses in which we have wandered since the Exodus.
For the believer, this seems like a rather sensible position to me.(Actually, though, we all know that what these quotes really remind me of is "Lisa the Iconoclast," the episode of The Simpsons where Lisa proves that beloved town founder Jebediah Springfield was actually the murderous pirate Hans Sprungfeld, but as a serious academic I can't bring that up. It's a perfectly cromulent association to make, though.)Works CitedDonner, Fred M.2011 The historian, the believer, and the Qur'ān. In New Perspectives on the Qur'ān: The Qur'ān in its historical context 2. G.S. Reynolds, ed. Pp. 25-37. Routledge studies in the Qur'ān. New York: Routledge.

Does the word "sugar" come from southern Jordan?

As I've mentioned before, my research on copper production has led me to be more interested in the history and archaeology of sugar production than I otherwise might be. This interest has exposed me, on several occasions, to a wonderful etymology for the English word "sugar." Allow me to present a brief outline:At some point in the second millennium AD, the technology of sugar production made its way west into the southern Levant, where sugar became a lucrative cash crop in Galilee, the Jordan Valley, and – the important part for our story – the lowlands (aghwar; أغوار) around the Dead Sea (the exact date is a bit unclear, but some time in the 12th century AD is likely for the area around the Dead Sea). One of the key centers of this production was a town to the southeast of the Dead Sea, in Ghawr al-Safi, known then as Zughar. Zughar produced a lot of high-quality sugar, some of which was exported to Europe. Because of its quality, or the amount they produced, or whatever else, the name of the town became so closely associated with sugar that people simply began using the name of the town to refer to the sweetener.It's a neat story, especially for those of us who work in southern Jordan, as it confirms our suspicion that our research area is the center of the world. That's not to say that Zughar wasn't an important place, of course. 19th century scholars like Le Strange (1890:287) noted that, "[t]o the Arab Mediaeval writers, Zughar, the City of Lot, was as well known a place as Jerusalem or Damascus," which isn't that much of an exaggeration. Al-Muqaddasī (1896:2), for example, calls the town a "little Busrah."Getting back on track, I've always wanted to repeat this story, but two things have stopped me from doing so. First, it's simply too good a story, which raises my suspicions. Things that seem too good to be true, as the old adage goes, probably are. Second, it's difficult to trace the origins of the story. For example, the Rough Guide to Jordan tells the story and attributes it to a museum display. Politis repeats the story in brief reports in the AJA and the ACOR Newsletter, but doesn't give a source (Politis 1999:519; Politis 2010:4). I'm sure I've seen it in other sources (and I've been told the story in person on several occasions), but it's difficult to make much sense of where it came from, and I've been looking.I was rather content to regard this story as probably apocryphal without looking into it too much, but this quarter I'm TAing for a world history/writing course covering the period from 1200-1750 AD. One of the themes of this course is the commodification of luxury goods in the Early Modern period, and sugar is, of course, one of the goods that we're discussing. I'm certainly no linguist, but I have a passing interest in etymologies (and I enjoy ruining everyone's fun), so I decided to look into this one a bit to see if there was anything to it (tl;dr version: not really).My first thought, before really looking into it, was that the word for "sugar" is more or less the same in most languages I'm familiar with, including Arabic, and a quick look at the OED more or less confirms this. The first example given in the etymology for "sugar" is the French sucre, and most European languages seem to use basically the same word, derived from the Arabic sukkar (سكر). The exceptions are, of course, English, which replaces the "k" sound with a "g," and Spanish and Portuguese, which also include the Arabic definite article (in Arabic, al-Sukkar (السكر) is read "as-sukkar"). (Messner [1992] points out that leaving the article off is characteristic of Arabic words coming through Italian, apparently.) Ultimately, the Arabic word is derived from a Persian word, which in turn comes from an older Sanskrit word. All of this took place before sugar was produced in Zughar, so already things aren't looking good for our story. Let's not stop there, though.It's still possible that European sources conflated the two words (sukkar and Zughar), linking the two as sugar became more common in Europe. This also seems unlikely. As one example, William of Tyre's Historia refers to the town as "Segor" (see here, Book 10, section VII), but calls sugar zachara (unfortunately this isn't in the Fordham Medieval Sourcebook version, but see here, for example). It doesn't seem likely, then, that these two were closely associated, at least in William of Tyre's mind.The only thing we're really left with is the anomalous English word, with its "g" sound. As the OED notes, though, this isn't entirely uncommon in English, either. The word "flagon," for example, is derived from the Old French word flacon, and even in Middle English was flakon. It seems much easier to attribute the English word "sugar" to this change, rather than to an association with a town that most people in England were certainly unaware of.I wonder, to some extent, if the origins of this story don't have as much to do with the true etymology of the English word "sugar" as they do with a bit of clever wordplay on the name of the town. Obviously there's the "Sugar from a town called Sugar? No Way!" response that we can imagine. Beyond that, though, there's this excerpt from Yāqūt in Le Strange (1890:291): "The name of Zughar, according to the same authorities, is also spelt Sughar and Sukar." It seems fairly straightforward, then, to assume some connection between sukkar and Sukar. The hint to what's going on here, though, is in the fact that Le Strange also calls Yāqūt "Yakut," and generally transcribes the Arabic letter qaf as "k." What he's saying, then, is not that the town is also known as Sukar (سكر) but Suqar (سقر). And therein lies the punchline.You see, one of the sources that gives this alternate name is al-Muqaddasī, who quips, "The people of the two neighbouring districts call the town Sakar" – (read: Saqar, سقر) – "(that is, 'Hell'); and a native of Jerusalem was wont to write from here to his friends, addressing 'From the lower Sakar (Hell) unto those in the upper Firdûs (Paradise)'" (1896:62). So it seems that Zughar was closely associated with hell before they ever produced sugar there. If you've ever been through Ghawr al-Safi in summer, of course, you know this is pretty accurate.Overall, it doesn't seem like there's very much truth to this story. I definitely don't blame people for repeating it. It's certainly, to borrow a term from journalism, a story that's too good to check. Of course, it often turns out when you do check them that they're too good to be true, as well.Works CitedLe Strange, Guy1890 Palestine under the Moslems: A Description of Syria and the Holy Land from A.D. 650 to 1500. London: Alexander P. Watt.Messner, Dieter1992 Further Listings and Categorisations of Arabic Words in Ibero-Romance Languages. In The Legacy of Muslim Spain. S.K. Jayyusi, ed. Pp. 452-456. Leiden: Description of Syria, Including Palestine. In The Library of the Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, Vol. III. Pp. 1-103. New York: AMS Press.Politis, Konstantinos D.1999 Deir 'Ain 'Abata and the Ghor es-Safi. Pp. 518-520 in Archaeology in Jordan. Virginia Egan and Patricia Bikai, eds. American Journal of Archaeology 103(3):485-520.Politis, Konstantinos D.2010 Ancient Landscapes of the Ghor es-Sāfī: Surveys and Excavations 1997-2009. ACOR Newsletter 22(2):1-5.

All of MSR now available online

A few days ago, I was checking out the University of Chicago Mamluk Studies Resources page, and I noticed something very exciting.  All of the back issues of Mamluk Studies Review, going back to 1997, are now available for free online.  The last time I looked, which was late last year sometime, the 2007 volume was the earliest one available, so they've been pretty busy over there.  This is especially exciting for me, since our university library owns exactly zero volumes of MSR, so I've had to request a few papers from the earlier issues via Interlibrary Loan.  I'm also excited that they now let you download individual papers, rather than the entire issue.  I can see some advantages to getting the whole issue, depending on how you store your PDFs (and they still give you the option), but it was a real pain keeping track of them this way in my Papers library.Anyway, this probably isn't news to anyone interested in MSR, but it's nice to see that they've completed the project and all of the back issues are available online.  I wish more journals would start doing this.

Why open-access is a good idea

There's a specific type of work that I often like to do during my morning coffee drinking/news reading ritual.  It's a kind of low-intensity reading of things that are interesting, but only marginally related to my current projects.  This morning, that took the form of reading a few pieces of William of Tyre's Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum, a 12th century account of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.  (Parts of it are available in translation here, if you're interested.)  This inspired me to check Google Books to see if they had a preview of a book I was looking for, so I wouldn't have to go to the library to get it.  They didn't, but the search also turned up a book I hadn't heard of before: Unknown Crusader Castles by Kristian Molin.  I have no idea whether this book is good or bad, as I only found out about it this morning, but it sounds like something that would have some appeal even beyond an academic audience (or would, at least, if it were available as anything but a $220 hardcover. . . another downside of many academic publishers).So, to determine whether I had much interest in tracking it down, I went looking for some book reviews. The second Google Scholar result was, indeed, a book review, in The English Historical Review.  I clicked the review and met, to my surprise, an Ingenta paywall.  This wouldn't have surprised me, except that I was already logged into my university VPN, and know I have several EHR papers in my Papers library.  Moreover, our library pays for access to a number of journals I regularly read through Ingenta.  But no, Ingenta wanted $36 for a two-page book review.  That wasn't going to happen, so I figured I would try JSTOR, but didn't have any luck there, either, since the review was from the year after the JSTOR cutoff.  Finally, I did the sensible thing and searched my university library's catalog, and found that we subscribe to the EHR through four services, including JSTOR, but that Ingenta isn't one of them.  In the end, it took far more time to actually track down the review than it did to read it.There are a few things wrong with this picture, but the one that really stands out to me is that Ingenta wanted $36 for a copy of this review.  I understand that the per-article fees are designed to encourage subscription, rather than to actually give access to individual papers, but that's an outrageous amount of money for two pages of book review.  In this case, too, it really highlights the problem everyone seems to have brought up with academic publishing: there's really no way for anyone to have access to a lot of this stuff unless they're affiliated with a research institution that has a good library.  Even for the most interested non-academic, buying a $36 book review to determine whether you should buy a $220 book isn't worth it.

Americanisms and the BBC

This article on Americanisms appeared in the BBC News Magazine yesterday.  I'm not what you'd call a "language expert," and I probably wouldn't comment on this article here, except that the author (I can't find a byline anywhere), Matthew Engel, makes a claim at the beginning that seems both too good to check and like something you could easily check over your morning coffee.  So I decided, since my university library provides access to the OED, to spoil everyone's fun and check it while drinking my morning coffee.  That claim, if you haven't read the article yet, is that five words listed at the beginning of the article "were never part of the English language until the establishment of the United States."Never?  Well, here's what I found (all information from the OED, should you want to check).  "Lengthy" does, indeed, seem to be an Americanism; the earliest example the OED gives is from the diary of John Adams in 1759.  We're off to a good start.Engel proves to be less reliable (get it?) with the next four, however.  "Reliable" has, in fact, been a part of the English language since the mid-16th century according to the OED, although it seems to have become rare for a few centuries and then made a comeback as an Americanism.  Nonetheless, Engel is technically incorrect; the word predates the establishment of the United States.  "Talented" is, arguably, even older, although its 15th century usage relies on an archaic meaning of "talent."  Still, the earliest examples of the modern sense are all British, and one, with a similar but slightly different sense, is from the early 17th century.  "Influential," again, predates the United States.  The earliest example the OED gives is from an Anglican sermon in the mid-17th century, although this is in the sense of being influential on something.  The first use in the sense of "an influential person" is from the early 18th century, and, of course, by a British man.  "Tremendous," in the sense of something awful, also dates back to the early 17th century, and the OED examples for this use are British.  The hyperbolic sense that we use it in now is later – early 19th century – but the earliest usages are, somewhat predictably, British.  I guess one out of five isn't too bad.Engel fares a little better with the rest of the words in the article, although there are still quite a few that don't meet the initial claim.  I'm also a little skeptical of the statement at the end of the article that modern British English is the "original version" of the language, though.  Do the British still use thorn and wynn when we Americans aren't looking?Edit (07/16/2011):  Looks like Mark Liberman, who actually is a language expert, covered this piece this morning over at Language Log, complete with an explanation of why it doesn't really matter whether or not the claims Engel makes are actually true.

Balzac on history

Though today is the 4th of July and it would be appropriate, I don't have anything to post about United States history or pyrotechnics (but, luckily, other people do). Instead, I want to share a quote with no relation at all to the 4th of July. Well, it comes from someone who did have a lot to say about the July Revolution of 1830. Does that count? Bear with me here, I'm reaching.Anyway, I'm currently reading (among other things) Collingwood's The Idea of History and Balzac's Béatrix. I mention Collingwood because in this passage, from the first paragraph of Béatrix, Balzac also comments on the philosophy of history:

Whoso would travel as a moral archaeologist, observing men instead of stones, would find images of the time of Louis XV in many a village of Provence, of the time of Louis XIV in the depths of Pitou, and of still more ancient times in the towns of Brittany. Most of these towns have fallen from states of splendor never mentioned by historians, who are always more concerned with facts and dates than with the truer history of manners and customs.
Balzac's nostalgia is evident here, but it's still something to ponder. I'll just let it stand without (further) comment.

You always have friends in Acre

This AP story promoting travel to Acre got forwarded around various archaeology lists the other day, and it got me thinking about my visit to Acre in 2009.  I was digging at Tell es-Safi at the time (there's a Crusader castle there, too, called Blanche Garde, although the current excavations focus on the earlier periods), and four of us decided to take a trip to see a few sites in northern Israel, including Acre, Caesarea Maritima, and Megiddo.  Acre was definitely a memorable place, and I'd say it's certainly worth a visit if you get a chance.The history of the site is, of course, fascinating.  As the article mentions, it was an important Frankish port up until its destruction in the late 13th century by the Mamluks, as part of a larger campaign wherein they destroyed nearly every Mediterranean port in the Levant (Gaza being the one exception).  Following that (and its abandonment in the 14th century), the city went through some ups and downs in the Late Islamic (Ottoman) period, and there are a few interesting stories there.  Notably, it was briefly a holding of Fakhr ad-Din II, starting in 1610.  Hartal (1997:111) describes that situation like this:

Following Fahr ed-Dîn's conquest of the city in 1610, he cleaned the harbor, renewed maritime trade, enlarged the city, and built some new buildings . . . In 1613, however, when the Ottoman Turks campaigned against him, Fahr ed-Dîn ordered the harbor to be filled in and had the city devastated.
I've always found this to be an amusing story, in a way.  In 1610, he cleans the harbor and expands the city, and three years later fills the harbor in and destroys part of the city.  There's also the story, mentioned in the AP article, of Napoleon's failed attempt to take the city in 1799, when it was controlled by Jazzar Pasha.  Al-Jazzar (الجزار), incidentally, is not a very nice nickname; it means "the butcher."  After Napoleon's unsuccessful siege, Jazzar Pasha understandably decided to fortify the city, using stone taken from the Crusader city as well as 'Atlit castle (Hartal 1997:112; generally, Hartal [1997] has a good, brief discussion of the post-Crusader architectural history of the city).Reading the story, though, I decided to go back and look at the photos I'd taken while I was there.  Of course, I got some nice, scenic shots of the city, like this one:Acre HarborLike most of coastal Israel, it really is a beautiful place.  I definitely wouldn't mind spending more time there.I also took quite a few photos of buildings in the Crusader city, like this one:AcreThis isn't the most interesting photo I've ever taken, but if you look at it closely you get some hints at the construction phases of the building.Then there's this one, taken in the refectory (dining hall) of the Hospitaller fortress in the old city:Acre, Crusader refectoryOh, hello there. . . didn't see you guys up there before.
1997     Hartal, MosheExcavation of the Courthouse Site at 'Akko: Summary and Historical Discussion. 'Atiqot 31:109-114.

And trying to meet halfway

I started this post in February, and didn't quite know how to finish it, so it sat here for months waiting for me.  I didn't want to post anything else until it was finished, and so I've decided to finally just finish it quickly (and not entirely satisfactorily) and put it up.YouTube can be a funny thing. Its suggestions are often really far off, but sometimes you wind up with something that's not really related to what you were looking for, but completely fascinating. Today Months ago, I came across this video in the sidebar to another video I was watching: you aren't familiar with Centralia, PA, it's a fairly recent ghost town, abandoned as the result of a coal seam fire that's been burning for the past 50 or so years. These are actually not as uncommon as you might think – the more notable examples include the Brennender Berg in Saarland, which has been burning since the mid-17th century, and Burning Mountain in New South Wales, which has been burning since the 4th millennium BC (there's also the well-known and striking Darvaza, in Turkmenistan, which wasn't a coal seam fire, but a long-lasting natural gas fire). And there are, of course, others.This video is rather interesting for a few reasons. First, most of the stuff you see in Centralia is no longer around. All of the buildings were condemned in 1992, and as a quick scan of Google Earth will tell you, most of them have been bulldozed. I was thinking this might be an interesting use of Google Earth's historic imagery feature, but unfortunately this only goes back to 1993 for the area, so you don't see a whole lot of change.  Of course, YouTube is facing no shortage of videos of what Centralia looks like now to juxtapose with this one.  Many of them compare Centralia to Silent Hill, but I've watched a few of them and no one seems to have caught the monsters on film, so I'm not sure this is the most apt comparison.  You can also get a glimpse of Centralia in 1986 in the beginning of Made in U.S.A. (soundtrack by Sonic Youth!), which is, as I update this in June, currently streaming on Netflix.But then there's an odd combination of a few other things. The mundanity of the video itself is almost striking, given what would eventually become of the city. It's a great example of an unintentional historical document: a record of a family trip (I assume) can become a record of a place that they simply passed through. The video is called "A Trip to Centralia, Pa Circa 1957," but the main event here actually seems to have been the Bloomsburg Fair. At roughly 2:03 or 2:04 there's a brief and ominous glimpse of the mining operation itself, but it only lasts a few seconds.  These things stand out now, but the video itself almost forces you to realize that nothing seemed out of the ordinary in the late '50s.I'm also reminded of this story I read in Wired (now more than) a few months ago about Picher, OK, another recent industrial ghost town, although abandoned for different reasons.  In that case, toxic mining waste made the town uninhabitable, and yet a few people continue to live there, which was the point of the Wired story.  In both cases, it's this emotional attachment to a place that interests me most.  The circumstances were, of course, much different, but it makes me wonder about the ancient miners and smelters in southern Jordan, and what they felt when those sites were abandoned.

Pleasure reading

In between the work I've been doing, I've also had some time to read a few things for my own amusement, and recently finished Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men on the Bummel, the equally-amusing-but-still-not-quite-as-good follow up to Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), from which the title of this blog is taken. In both books, Jerome often discusses the history of the places they visit, and many of these descriptions are pretty funny. Given my own work, I found this line in his description of Breisach especially good:

But when one begins to think of these things one finds oneself wondering why anybody in the Middle Ages, except kings and tax collectors, ever took the trouble to live at all