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Iron Age and Roman settlement in the hills of southern Jordan (or, a photo of me appears in a peer-reviewed journal)

I have (as usual?) been remiss in my blogging duties here, and have allowed the August issue of Journal of Field Archaeology (40.4) to come out without blogging about my colleague, Kyle Knabb (et al.)'s, paper in the June issue (40.3). That can't stand, of course.

His paper (long title in the citation below) presents some of the results of a survey he conducted in 2009 in Wadi al-Fayḍ (transcribed al-Feidh in the paper), near Petra in southern Jordan. The focus is primarily on the settlement patterns of this wadi system during the Iron Age and Roman periods. He argues that, during the Iron Age, Wadi al-Fayḍ was settled by people who subsisted on a combination of farming and herding, in contrast to the plateau, where the evidence suggests a "loosely organized agricultural state" (375). During the Roman period, evidence for settlement sites disappears, suggesting that Wadi al-Fayḍ essentially became the agricultural hinterland of more concentrated settlement in and around Petra.

The really interesting part of the paper, though, is that I was, in fact, a member of the Wadi Feid Expedition (WFE) survey team way back in 2009. Actually, now that I think about it, the WFE was the first archaeology project I was involved with in Jordan (followed very shortly by the excavation at Khirbat al-Nuḥās that same year). Should you read this paper, there is actually a photo of me rappelling down a waterfall on page 372 (why yes, I'm wearing a previous pair of Merrell Moabs, although you can't really tell). If you're reading it for the photos of me, though, I should point out that the previously linked National Geographic site is a rather better source of those.

Incidentally, Kyle and I (with a few others) are currently preparing something of a sequel to this paper, which will focus on the settlement patterns in Wadi al-Fayḍ during the Middle and Late Islamic periods. Stay tuned for more.

ResearchBlogging.orgKnabb, Kyle A., Najjar, Mohammad., & Levy, Thomas E. (2015). Characterizing the rural landscape during the Iron Age and Roman period (ca. 1200 B.C.–A.D. 400): An intensive survey of Wadi al-Feidh, southern Jordan. Journal of Field Archaeology, 40 (3), 365-380 DOI: 10.1179/2042458214Y.0000000004

These boots weren't made for this amount of walking

A little while back (a few months ago now, actually), I was back in Faynan for two weeks of archaeological survey. The project was, unfortunately, right in the middle of the UCSD Spring quarter, but it was small and fun, and we found some interesting things. I'll leave it to my girlfriend to describe those at some point, though, as it was her project, and we were mostly looking for prehistoric sites, which isn't exactly what I do, as occasional readers will have noted. I'm writing about it because, on this trip, I destroyed another pair of boots.

Dead Boots

There they are, on the floor in my room at ACOR, looking the way most archaeologists feel when they get back to ACOR after a field season.

This was my second pair of Merrell Moabs. On the one hand, I really like these boots. They're comfortable, they breathe well, and they provide enough ankle-support to survey fairly rocky terrain. Also, they tend to be easy to find on sale, which is nice if you're super cheap a grad student. On the other, I'm beginning to think they might not be my best choice in the future. Sure, survey is pretty rough on boots, but you'd think a pair of $100+ boots could stand up to more than two field seasons. . .

Also, I noticed as I was about to post this that Bill Caraher has recently posted about his own boot woes. To be fair, had I posted this when I intended, I would have beaten him by a few months!

Filling gaps in Middle Islamic settlement

My colleague and good friend Kyle Knabb just posted an abstract for a paper he's giving at the SAAs in Honolulu this year, and I thought, "Oh, I'm also presenting half of that paper. I should probably mention it."So, as Kyle said, we're working together right now to analyze some of the pottery from an intensive survey he led in Wadi al-Faydh, near Petra, in 2009. I was a member of his survey team, so it's exciting to get to analyze a lot of this material finally. As Kyle also mentioned, the majority of the assemblage is made up of rather coarse hand-made pottery (how coarse, you ask? Here's an example collected in Petra by the International Wadi Farasa Project, which gives you an idea of what we're talking about). In addition to not being the most attractive pottery (though I would argue that it has its charms), much of it is also rather difficult to date, especially when it comes from surveys, rather than excavations. One of our arguments, however, is that recent (and in some cases not-so-recent) excavations have produced evidence that enables us to date some of the ceramics Kyle found – especially some distinctive decorated forms – to the 11th and early 12th centuries AD.Our abstract begins with a related problem, which is that evidence of settlement during this period has been somewhat tricky to actually find. To get an idea of this, we just have to check out the DAAHL's (that's the Digital Archaeological Atlas of the Holy Land, for those not yet in the know) Archaeological Periods page. If you zoom to the study area and select Fatimid or Crusader, you see relatively little settlement. If you click Ayyubid, Ayyubid/Mamluk, or Mamluk, the picture is different (and this is also true if you select 'Abbasid/Fatimid, actually). If, as we're going to argue, many ceramics of the Fatimid and Crusader periods have been misclassified as Ayyubid/Mamluk – especially in the south – we have to wonder how good our understanding of settlement patterns in the Middle Islamic I (1000-1200 AD) actually is.These dating concerns have implications beyond simply establishing the chronology of settlement in the region. The biggest issue for me is that sites which weren't occupied during the same period obviously can't be directly connected to one another. This is important for reconstructing local patterns of trade, and one of the things I'm concerned with in terms of my work in Faynan. As the dating of sites becomes more precise, connections that seemed obvious when all the ceramics were lumped together as "Ayyubid/Mamluk" suddenly disappear. But that's a different story for another day. . .

Sharing data on the web

As I was doing some reading for a project I'm working on, I happened to come across a decade-and-a-half old Antiquity review of a few survey volumes, mostly dealing with the Mediterranean world (Alcock and Cherry 1996). One of the last points Alcock and Cherry tackle is the dissemination of data – specifically, rather large sets of artifact data – from surveys. A lot of ELRAP team members have recently been involved in discussions of how to do just that, and it's instructive to look back and see what's changed in the past 15 years. They present these options: publish the artifact data as a separate hardcover volume; include the artifact data with the survey volume on microfiche (I'm so glad this never really caught on); publish the artifact data in a separate, but inexpensive, paperback volume; publish the data on a CD-ROM included with the survey volume; or publish the data on the web (Alcock and Cherry 1996:211).Again, it's worth keeping in mind that this review is rather old. Perhaps my perspective is skewed by my age of scarcely more than a quarter of a century and, worse, my academic focus in the first half of the second millennium AD (practically yesterday by archaeological standards), but I think it's important to consider just how long ago this really was in terms of technology. This Wikipedia illustration demonstrates what I'm getting at rather nicely. At the time the review was written, web browsers had only been available to the public for five years, and it had only been three years since the release of a web browser anyone actually used (I'm thinking of Mosaic). Internet Explorer was less than a year old. Surely, in the fifteen years since, web publication has become the obvious choice, even if it wasn't then.Yet, this isn't really the case. To single out one example, only three years ago the Wadi Faynan Landscape Survey publication was released, which included a CD-ROM with supplementary data (Barker et al. 2007). I'm not saying this approach is necessarily bad (though one might object to their decision to include the site gazetteer as a 530 MB PDF), but it still seems strange that web publishing isn't the obvious choice for this sort of data. I can understand the appeal of media – like CD-ROM or, heaven forbid, microfiche – that are directly associated with the survey publication, and I appreciate when artifact data are made available in any form, but I still think web publishing is preferable, not least because it opens up our results to people who are neither associated with large institutional libraries nor able to justify the cost of a large survey volume or subscriptions to all the journals in which preliminary reports may have appeared.  (Of course, that's another argument in favor of so-called "Green Open Access", or self-archiving and sharing of publications in non-open journals and books.  ELRAP actually does a fairly good job of this; you can download many, though not all, of the recent publications from our lab here.)Alcock and Cherry (1996) mention the Pylos Regional Archaeological Project as an example of a project that was already moving in this direction in 1996. It's still, despite a few flaws, a good example of what data sharing on the web should look like.  In part, though, this may be because there don't seem to be that many other examples, or at least examples that I'm aware of, of other projects that share this much data online.  ELRAP is, of course, just as guilty of this as any other project, although we're at least currently discussing ways to make our data available to others.  Still, it's a bit more complicated than just saying, "OK, I agree to share.  Put it all up on the web."  I can understand why there would be projects whose members just don't want to deal with it.  All things considered, I wonder how close we are to this type of data sharing becoming the norm.  It's only been 15 years. . .

1996     Alcock, Susan, and John CherrySurvey at any price? Antiquity 70(267):207-211.
2007     Barker, Graeme, David Gilberston, and David MattinglyArchaeology and Desertification: The Wadi Faynan Landscape Survey, Southern Jordan. Oxford: Oxbow.