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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to the discussion here is Area L, a large square structure excavated in 2000 and, unfortunately, still essentially unpublished (I'm working on it, though).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.

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.

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.

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.