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copper

Some shameless self-promotion

Posts have been a little light here for a while as I finish my dissertation, but enough things have come out in the last month or so that I should really mention them here. First, and certainly most excitingly, I was profiled in the Jordan Times on December 9 in an article by the amazing Saeb Rawashdeh. Saeb did a great job of presenting the key arguments of my dissertation research and the significance of that research for Jordanian archaeology. I'm somewhat biased, but I think you should check it out!

In the realm of peer-reviewed, unfortunately closed-access work, my co-authors and I published a paper in the most recent issue of Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy (if you don't have access to AAE and would like an offprint, please feel free to contact me). In it, we report on ELRAP excavations at a site in southern Jordan called Khirbat al-Manā'iyya in 2012. As I point out in the abstract, Khirbat al-Manā'iyya is exciting because (among other things) it's the first Early Islamic period copper smelting site known in the southeastern Wadi 'Araba (actually, in the entire eastern Wadi 'Araba). In addition to reporting the site, we also discuss how Khirbat al-Manā'iyya fits into the system of industrial settlements, including other copper smelting sites, in the southwestern 'Araba, and how this system articulates with Early Islamic mining in northern Arabia, expanding on arguments we first made in our "Not Found in the Order of History" chapter. I should also note that Brita Lorentzen," who I've mentioned previously on this blog, analyzed the charcoal assemblage from the site and found evidence for the use of deadwood, which tells us some interesting things about how the sparse wood resources of the southern Wadi 'Araba were managed during this period. I was quite excited to be able to work on this site, and I'm even more excited that the publication is out. Note also that it came out in the same issue as David Kennedy's paper on the "gate" features in Saudi Arabia, which got a bit of press, and a very interesting paper by Hannah Friedman and colleagues about an Early Islamic papyrus from the Faynan region, which I hope to discuss in slightly more detail in an upcoming post.

Lastly, I've been co-editing a book called Cyber-Archaeology and Grand Narratives: Digital Technology and Deep-Time Perspectives on Culture Change in the Middle East with my advisor, Tom Levy, and it has also just come out in the Springer One World Archaeology series. It's a cool volume, based on a session at the 7th World Archaeological Congress and a workshop at UC San Diego (the chapters have been updated since then, of course). The idea was that contributors would consider how digital archaeology can contribute to investigations of archaeological "grand narratives," and the contributions both explore the potential of new methods and provide insightful critiques of existing methods (you can check out the table of contents here). In addition to being one of the editors, I'm also first author in the intro chapter, which I think is worth a read (as is the entire volume!).

The southernmost Levant in the news!

Several interesting news stories have popped up in the last few days about archaeological research in southern Jordan and Israel. First, I was excited to see that my good friend and colleague Erez Ben-Yosef's work in the Timna Valley was featured in National Geographic. The gist of the article is that he and his team analyzed donkey dung (kind of a shitty project, to steal a joke from Ben Saidel), and were able not only to radiocarbon date the dung to the 10th century BC, but also to narrow the source of the donkeys' food to regions with Mediterranean climates, hundreds of kilometers to the north. That research has also been published in Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. It's behind a paywall, but you can at least read the abstract for free. I would do a proper Research Blogging summary, but I owe Erez revisions on a book chapter, so I should probably do that instead. . . But before that:

Second, John Oleson's work at al-Humayma has been highlighted in a Jordan Times article (I've seen it reposted in a number of other places, too) focusing on the earliest Nabataean settlement at the site. The article then goes into a brief history of the site itself — including its role in the 'Abbasid Revolution — and of the extensive research that Oleson has conducted there.

I'm a bit biased, as I'm always glad to see my general research area in the news, but these are both great projects, and the stories are definitely worth a read.

More on finding wood in the desert

I've mentioned my collaboration on Islamic period charcoal with the incredible Brita Lorentzen on this blog before. That time was to point to a short post on the PEF Blog. Note, incidentally, that the most recent entries are about Islamic Bayda, near Petra, and Islamic metalwork in the southern Levant. Told you that you should read the PEF Blog. Anyway, I recently found out that a short report I wrote on the charcoal project has been published in the latest issue of Palestine Exploration Quarterly. The report is only four pages long, but includes some interesting preliminary data on radiocarbon dating results and the charcoal species identification from Khirbat Nuqayb al-Asaymir and Khirbat Faynan. Excitingly, this report has come out right as we're getting ready to submit a paper that, among other things, will include more of the charcoal results. I'll post updates as that starts moving along.

If that doesn't convince you to check out the latest PEQ, there's also an interesting (open-access!) editorial by Philip Davies — that Philip Davies?! No, not that kind of "interesting." This Philip Davies — on the political neutrality of the PEF. Definitely worth a quick read. And it's free!

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. . .).

"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."

Backlog 2: On finding wood in the desert, posted elsewhere

Last year I received a grant from the Palestine Exploration Fund to analyze the rather large amounts of charcoal our project has found at the Islamic period copper smelting sites we've excavated, primarily Khirbat Nuqayb al-Asaymir and Khirbat Faynan. I've been meaning, for quite a while now, to write up a post for the PEF Blog — which is, incidentally, always an interesting read — with some updates on what we've learned so far about charcoal provisioning in Faynan. I've actually, finally, managed to do that, and there's now a short post on the PEF Blog summarizing our preliminary results and (tentative) conclusions. You should go check it out!

Middle Islamic Faynan in BASOR

Oh right.  I meant to post something here right when this paper came out, but didn't, in part because of the beginning of a new quarter here at UCSD – as well as my first teaching assignment in two years, preparation for WAC 7, and some post-excavation things that needed to be taken care of – and in part simply because I completely forgot.  So, here we are, several weeks later, and I'm finally getting around to doing it.Anyway, as I said, I've just published a paper. The authors are myself, Tom Levy – my advisor – and our Jordanian colleague and co-PI of ELRAP, Mohammad Najjar, and it appears in the most recent issue of the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. If you have access to BASOR through JSTOR, you a) can just click that link and download the paper and b) have probably already seen the latest issue anyway.The paper is, essentially, a heavily-revised version of my master's thesis, and so represents the culmination of a few years worth of work getting the Islamic Faynan portion of ELRAP off the ground and running. Primarily, what that involved was a (preliminary) analysis of the ceramics collected during the 2002 JHF (the Jabal Hamrat Fidan Project; ELRAP's predecessor) surveys of Wadi al-Ghuwayb and Wadi al-Jariya (I'd link to a PDF, but that doesn't seem to exist at the moment; there's this, though), focusing on the material collected at Khirbat Nuqayb al-Asaymir (KNA), a site I've mentioned before. Our main goals here, in addition to finally presenting the later material from these surveys, were (1) to tighten up the chronology of KNA with a large ceramic sample (1300 sherds exactly) and (2) to put forward some ideas about why copper production was revived in this period.(1) In the paper we argue, based on the ceramics and other evidence, that KNA is primarily an early 13th century site. This isn't a terribly huge redating – most previous work assumed it was primarily a 13th century site – but it has some interesting historical consequences, as we make no assumption that there's an early Mamluk period occupation at the site. We left ourselves a bit of room to adjust this, and pointed out that we couldn't really rule out a later 13th century date, and that the late 12th century also seemed like a possibility. Now that we've excavated the site for two seasons, I'm glad that we left ourselves that room, as the ceramic assemblage has surprised us a bit. In one sense, the excavated ceramic assemblage is rather different from the survey assemblage in terms of the wares that make it up (though I don't want to talk about this too much until we've had more time to go over the material and compile better frequency data), but it's also forcing us to think about dates that are a bit earlier, again. That in itself was interesting, though not entirely unexpected, and we'll be addressing the point in at least one upcoming paper.(2) We were rather dissatisfied with existing explanations for the re-emergence of the Faynan copper industry in the Middle Islamic period, which we thought were either overly dismissive or somewhat anachronistic. Our suggestion, instead, is that mining in Faynan primarily supported the sugar industry. This would have gone primarily toward making boiling vessels – known in Arabic as dusūt – for the cane juice. This image, from flickr user ciamabue, shows an iron boiling vessel from the U.S. It's not an exact match – for one thing, the vessels we're thinking of are made of copper, obviously – but the image at least gives you a sense of scale. 13th century dusut were about 3 feet in diameter and could weigh as much as 550 pounds, so we aren't exactly talking about the Mauviel in your kitchen. This is something that would require a significant amount of copper.So, that's a short summary of two of our key points from this paper. The project is still a work in progress – and will eventually become my dissertation – but the early stages are now published and out there.

Jones, Ian W. N., Thomas E. Levy, and Mohammad Najjar2012  Khirbat Nuqayb al-Asaymir and Middle Islamic Metallurgy in Faynan: Surveys ofWadi al-Ghuwayb and Wadi al-Jariya in Faynan, Southern Jordan. Bulletin ofthe American Schools of Oriental Research 368:67-102.Levy, Thomas E., Russell B. Adams, James D. Anderson, Mohammad Najjar,Neil Smith, Yoav Arbel, Lisa Soderbaum, and Adolfo Muniz2003  An Iron Age Landscape in the Edomite Lowlands: Archaeological Surveys AlongWādī al-Ghuwayb and Wādī al-Jāriya, Jabal Ḥamrat Fīdān, Jordan, 2002.Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 47:247-277.

Hyperion in Faynan

Here's another thing that came out while I was in the field, and that I meant to write something about.  A paper by Stephen H. Savage, Thomas E. Levy and myself, titled "Prospects and Problems in the Use of Hyperspectral Imagery for Archaeological Remote Sensing: A Case Study from the Faynan Copper Mining District, Jordan," was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.  Actually, it's in the Feb. 2012 issue, but through the magic of the publishing process and the internet, this issue is already available.  You can get the article from ScienceDirect here, and Steve has made the preprint available on his web site here.As the title implies, one of the things we tried to do in this paper was describe the things that didn't really work, as well as those that did.  The inclusion of the section on the Principal Component Analysis is a good example.  Some large-scale landscape features were clear, but the false positives and negatives were a bit troubling, and reflect some of the weaknesses of the method and the instrument itself.  One of the biggest problems with using Hyperion for archaeological research is the rather coarse spatial resolution.  Although the spectral resolution is quite good, with 242 narrow bands (for our purposes only 156 were usable), the spatial resolution is only 30 meters.  As a comparison, newer commercial satellites like GeoEye-1 offer resolutions under 2 meters in multispectral bands, and under half a meter panchromatic.  What this means is that some things just don't show up on Hyperion images.  For example, the primary focus of my research, Khirbat Nuqayb al-Asaymir, is a fairly large site (something like 7 hectares -- 70,000 sq.m.), but it's sparse enough that it's basically invisible on the Hyperion images.  This is something of a limitation, and one of the reasons that the focus of this paper is the Iron Age smelting center of Khirbat en-Nahas, which, as you can see if you read the paper, is pretty densely packed with slag mounds.Anyway, I think it's important to publish negative results along with the positive ones, and I'm glad that we did that here.  You can, of course, read the paper and judge for yourself.

2012     Savage, Stephen H., Thomas E. Levy, and Ian W. JonesProspects and problems in the use of hyperspectral imagery for archaeological remote sensing:a case study from the Faynan copper mining district, Jordan. Journal of Archaeological Science39(2):407-420.