Sunday, 20 November 2011

Day 7 - A steam engine and some 'ornamental' forts.

On the way to today’s dig site we stopped and spent a few minutes looking at a 1959 steam train and carriages used as a tourist train for the Hejaz railway. Halted in a siding on the line, it was quickly covered in GARP 2011 members, with many taking the opportunity to take atmospheric photos. We also took this year’s group photograph which will be posted on the blog soon.

Next we went to begin investigations of two small structures which we have been describing as ornamental forts, largely because some of the features they exhibit seem inappropriate for defence or construction purposes. One of these, which we are calling the round fort, was planned by a small team while the other square fort, which is known as Saleh’s, was also planned while the rest of the group excavated a series of nearby, relatively indistinct, tent rings. This is definitely a work in progress and we are still thinking about how these features fit with the others we have examined in the region.

Now to the next in our series of pen-portraits of group members this season. Here is a contribution from John Raiswell, who is actually making his second visit with us.

“My second season with GARP! My first in 2007 marked the start of a new interest in archaeology, I made new friends and enjoyed both the work and the location very much. So I’m back.

John Raiswell planning an excavated tent ring in Southern Jordan

In preparation for the season I’ve read many of the published papers and I’m impressed with our level of knowledge of the conflict around the Hijaz railway. I particularly liked the paper by Shaqiarat al Salameen, Faulkner and Saunders which showed the nature of the interactions between the conflict and the environment of the Hijaz. Arriving at Wadi Musa, it was a real pleasure to meet old friends from the core team and the volunteers and I’m enjoying getting to know the volunteers I haven’t met before. One big change from 2007 – the majority of volunteers are not from the UK.

When we’d recovered from jet lag over the following couple of days we had an excellent orientation lecture from Nick and later a tour around Ma’an station and the Hill of the Birds. But what a disappointment to see how the trenches at the Hill of the Birds have been destroyed, or at least allowed to decay. I understand the site is to be built up as a tourist destination – it’s to be hoped the Jordanian  authorities can be persuaded to protect this important site.

We began work last Thursday at Ghadir el Haj station. When we arrived it was literally a pile of rubble – the result of a bomb attack by Lawrence. We worked steadily throughout the day and at the end had done, I believe, an excellent job of clearing and revealing the structure. Very satisfying.

Arriving back at the hotel, the core team set to work recording the events of the day, cataloguing finds, photographs and writing reports. All of this done on laptops in the hotel foyer – a huge change from 2007 when I believe the team had only one laptop. Very professional. I was also impressed at how swiftly the team responded to John Winterburn’s revelations about the fortifications around the ‘ornamental’ forts. We spent today (Sunday) in a previously unplanned investigation in the area.

Today we are about half way into the season and I am hoping very much that will be able to get permission to investigate the conflict around the road to Aqaba. This should provide a really interesting contrast with our work around the Hijaz  railway – the contrast between guerrilla warfare and more conventional battles. I hope also we can start work on some of the oral histories planned. These should compliment and flesh out the site work and contribute significantly to our overall understanding of the war in the desert.

Meantime it’s off to the bar for a can of Petra ale and scintillating conversation! Some things never change!”

Many thanks to John for his comments. Tomorrow is a rest day and many of us are visiting Petra. Pictures and a report will be posted later in the day.

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