Monthly Archives: April 2012

US Ambassador Visits Umm el-Jimal

On Thursday morning, April 19, US Ambassador Stuart Jones and his entourage visited Umm el-Jimal to celebrate the official opening of the House XVII-XVIII Preservation Project for which the main funding comes from the AFCP, the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation. Because we’ve already done eight weeks of field work we could use the occasion to show off the tremendous progress we’ve already made.

Over thirty invited guests and about twenty security – American and Jordanian – attended the site tour and reception. The whole thing was a joint effort, initiated by Anneliese Reinemeyer, US Embassy Cultural Affairs Officer and Reem Abdul Hadi, her assistant, who worked with me to prepare the guest list.  My project staff member Muaffaq Hazza’a helped me with setting up the reception and getting the juices and pastries we served at the project house.

The amazing aspect of this visit was that the guests represented all the significant groups associated with Umm el-Jimal Project: The US Embassy, six persons; the local Jordanian community, five community leaders, incl. the regional governor and acting mayor; Yarmouk University Archaeology Dept, five persons, all project specialists; Department of Antiquites Amman, four, including the acting director General; DoA Mafraq, three, including project engineer Na’il Tuhamer; ACOR, four, including Director Barbara Porter; the Umm el-Jimal Project, three. Calvin College and Open Hand Studios were represented by me.

The tour was successful in staying on schedule and conveying of the right mix of general UJ and the specific House XVII-XVIII Project; a successful afterthought was a stop at the great reservoir with a description of the USAID water storage repair project of the late fifties. The ACOR group also visited my landlord’s, Sultan es-Serour, nearby farm for camel petting.

Ambassador Stuart Jones in House XVIII

Everyone is having a good time in House XVIII

Ambassador Jones enjoyed meeting the workmen – here Atallah (blue shirt) and his crew; they were thrilled to meet him.

Reem Abdel Hadi and Anneliese Reinemeyer, the Embassy’s organizers of the visit

Barbara Porter, ACOR Director, at rain-filled Roman Reservoir

Bert de Vries posing with the Department of Antiquities Amman central office staff (left to right): Jihad Haroun, Director of Projects; Ghassan ed-Deir, Accountant; Amer Qamash, Architect and Assistant to the Director, and Faris Hmoud, Acting Director General

Muaffaq Hazza’a, Umm el-Jimal Project Archaeologist, Sa’ad es-Serour, Umm el-Jimal’s former Speaker of Jordan’s Parliament and yours truly socializing with the Ambassador

ACOR Fellows Ted Van Loan (left) and Karen Britt, center, petting baby camel as owner Sultan es-Serour, (beige jacket), Muaffaq Hazza’a (right) and ACOR employee Sa’id Adawi (behind) look on.

THIS DAY WAS NOT JUST ABOUT THE PRESERVATION OF AN ANCIENT STRUCTURE, IT WAS ABOUT THE BRIDGING OF LIVING CULTURES, THE BONDING OF COMMUNITIES AND THE FORGING OF FRIENDSHIPS.

Photographers: Barbara Porter and Muaffaq Hazza’a

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The Western Easter Was a Field Day at Umm el-Jimal

To wish all of you in the West a Happy Easter Sunday, I’ve posted this Magnolia blossom which I photographed in my garden in Grand Rapids during the March heatwave.

HAPPY EASTER and PASSOVER!

The first phase of the field work is the creation of access routes in and around House XVII and XVIII. For the first week, while waiting for the government to implement its budget, Department of Antiquties engineer  Na’il Tuhamer and I (Bert de Vries) worked with only three stone masons to do initial cleaning and set work strategies. Yesterday, however, a crew of thirty workers from Umm el-Jimal began moving stone from the passages to designated areas. As you can see from the following pictures, they do this mostly by hand, and with amazing speed. They actually do very little lifting, but use gravity and leverage to move the stones and get them onto the wheelbarrows.  Their clever stone ‘management’ enables these rearrangements with a minimum of disturbance to the site and avoids the serious damage heavy equipment would inflict.

Seven am Easter morning: The main gate of House  XVIII needs a little more clearance after the first day, but will be ready for excavation on Monday!

Here are the “Thirty” posing before their 10 am breakfast. Several of them had heard it was “my” Easter, and wished me “Eid Mubarak,” which means, literally “Blessed Feast.” And I felt blessed.

The Umm el-Jimal House XVII-XVIII Preservation Team

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Umm el-Jimal in Bloom – April 1, 2012

A “bloom” of lichen at Umm el-Jimal

The following set of pictures illustrates the effects of lichen on the appearance of basalt. Basalt stone is normally a dark steel grey color, but accumulations of dead lichen resulting from growth cycles of many years result in calcified encrustations (caliche) that give some stones the appearance of light-colored lime stone, as seen in the first picture (House XVIII). The next three pictures, taken April 1, show a bloom of living lichen, which is particularly colorful this year in a northern section of the UJ ruins. The free dictionary defines lichen as “The mutualistic symbiotic association of a fungus with an alga or a cyanobacterium, or both.” That’s about as integrated as living beings can get.

Flowers in bloom at Umm el-Jimal

In April all of Jordan is ablaze with a huge variety of spring flowers. Umm el-Jimal, though it is usually described as “in the desert,” has a fair share of these. Following are close-ups of a few that I found spectacular against the backdrop of basalt-grey and lichen white.

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