ANEE Excursions in Jordan
After the conference part of the ANEE Annual Meeting 2022 concluded, some of the participants headed home, while the remaining group did what most tourists in Jordan do – headed to Petra. On the way to the South, the excursion group made stops in Iraq al-Amir (an archaeological site dominated by the famous Qasr al-Abad, a Hellenistic palace identified as the residence of the prominent Judean Tobiad family, thanks to an inscription found in the nearby burial caves), Umm al-Rasas (a partially excavated site with remains of a fortified Roman military camp and well-preserved Byzantine mosaics) and look-out points over Wadi Mujib.

The first day of the excursion was spent in Petra. On the second day members were given a choice to return to Petra, a trip to Wadi Rum (the largest and most impressive wadi in Jordan), or a hike on top of as-Sila’ to see an inscription by the king Nabonidus.

Ad-Deir was worth the climb. Photo: Benjamín Cutillas-Victoria 

Excursion to Petra

The ancient Nabatean city certainly lives up to its grand reputation with its breathtakingly beautiful sandstone formations and wealth of preserved architecture. The sheer size of the city alone makes it possible for the visitor to lose themselves within it for days. The excursion was also a happy reunion for some of the Finnish archaeologists with local business practitioners at Petra who had worked together on the Finnish Jabal Haroun Project two decades ago. This personal connection to the people making a living in Petra definitely added to the experience of visiting Petra, and allowed one to see it as not just an ancient site, but a living, changing place.

After exploring the central areas of Petra, some decided to face the seemingly endless climb to Ad-Deir, “The Monastery”. The climb was made more tolerable by the friendly locals selling souvenirs and generously offering tea to the tourists. Some of us were even invited to smoke nargila (water pipe) with locals. After recovering from the 800 steps to Ad-Deir, we followed the signs to climb even further up the hills to see “World’s Best View”, “Best View”, and “The View”, all of which were impressive views of valleys and hills around Petra.

Admiring the ‘Best View’. Photo: Benjamín Cutillas-Victoria 

Those of the group who did not get their fill of Petra decided to return there on the second excursion day. A few of the more veteran members who had taken part in the excavations at Jabal Haroun, the mythical burial place of the Prophet Aron, some twenty years ago, decided to make the journey up this awe-inspiring mountain and ancient pilgrimage site. They were accompanied on the strenuous journey by old friends, local workmen who had participated in the Finnish Jabal Haroun Project. Seeing the site once more brought back many memories to the fellowship, and they even found some of their old excavation equipment locked away in a small building once used as storage. The fellowship was amused to find that the hike they had regularly undertaken while excavating at Jabal Haroun now felt considerably more arduous. 

Excursion to Wadi Rum

4x4’s and a camel. Photo: Benjamín Cutillas-Victoria

Wadi Rum, located near the border of Saudi-Arabia, is the largest wadi in Jordan is Jordan’s largest wadi - the Arabic word for valley, sometimes used to indicate a watercourse that is only wet during the rainy season. Petroglyphs and other archaeological remains indicate human occupation for 12 000 years in Wadi Rum, which is today home to Bedouin people who have successfully turned the area into one of Jordan’s most famous tourist destinations. Wadi Rum’s impressive natural areas have been used as a backdrop to shoot scenes from other planets by several sci-fi directors.

Exploring Wadi Rum. Photo: Benjamín Cutillas-Victoria

The group drove to Wadi Rum in two 4x4s, stopping at various vistas along the way. In Wadi Rum, they saw petroglyphs of people on camelback hunting and inscriptions of varying ages. Some ANEE members got to try their hand at different modes of transport in Wadi Rum; some rode camels, some drove 4x4s. Their meals were prepared and enjoyed in the desert – the dinner served under starlight. In addition to a good time in the desert, the excursion to Wadi Rum served to understand migration practices and to illustrate the landscape of ANEE’s research.

Excursion to as-Sila’

 

The Nabonidus inscription as seen from the bottom of the mountain. Nabonidus on the left, divine symbols on the top. Photo: Jason Silverman

As-Sila’ is a multi-period mountain stronghold in northern Jordan, which was settled during the Iron Ages, Persian – Hellenistic periods, as well as the Early and Middle Islamic periods. There are some indications that the site may have been inhabited already in the Bronze Age, and it is also possible that nomadic populations have used the area without leaving much trace (Tebes 2020). As the site has not been excavated, much remains unknown. Of special interest to many members of ANEE was the Nabonidus inscription, which is situated high up on the steep wall of the mountain. Nabonidus was the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, who many modern scholars are fond of due to his interest in collecting antiquities and even carrying out excavations of a sort.

The group climbing as-Sila’. Samuel Reinikainen peeks into a cistern. Photo: Jason Silverman

The as-Sila’ Group set out in 4x4 vehicles early in the morning to avoid the August heat, as a challenging hike had been promised. The group had the pleasure to be guided by archaeologist Dr. Mohammad Najjar, who has surveyed the site. Mohammad met us at the base of the mountain, whence the group–after much scanning with binoculars– succeeded in locating the Nabonidus inscription high above. What followed was a challenging hike up the mountain along a dwindling, ephemeral staircase that at times was reduced to rubble or simply missing. The difficulty for an ancient army to conquer this stronghold became immediately apparent. At the top of the mountain the group was rewarded with a surprisingly large open area where the Edomite and other settlements had once been located. Traces of architecture were scattered in many places, a highlight of which were the cavernous cisterns carved into the rock. (See Samuel Reinikainen’s close investigation of one such cistern in the above photo.)

The group having a breather atop as-Sila’. Photo: Jason Silverman

For more on the visit to as-Sila’, visit ANEE member Céline Debourse’s blog at https://tuppublog.wordpress.com/2022/09/04/a-visit-to-nabonidus-at-sela…. Read the post about the conference part of the ANEE annual meeting 2022 here.

 

Everyone seemed to agree that their excursion option was the best, no matter which one they chose. Excursions served both to expand our knowledge on the culture and history of Jordan, and to build collective team spirit among members.

—-----------------------------------------------------------------

Bibliographic references

Tebes, J. M. 2020. New Radiocarbon Dates from the Edomite Highlands and the Hydraulic Systems of Southern Jordan. Antiguo Oriente 18: 61–94.