Friday, January 10, 2014

Ghor al-Safi November 20-December 28 Part Two

During the five-week excavation season at Ghor al-Safi, most days were routine, but on some days we did special things.

On the afternoon of Monday December 2, the dig team went to Amman after work to attend an archaeology lecture at the National Museum. Afterwards we were joined by Isabelle Rubin, a Lot’s Cave veteran, for dinner at the Books@Cafe restaurant on Rainbow Street. That trip was fine, except for the fact that I came down with food poisoning from the restaurant food and threw up early the next morning, the first time I have thrown up in well over a decade. I took off work that next day, the only lost workday for anybody on the team that season.

On the first two Fridays I joined the group on trips to sites in the vicinity. The first Friday we went to the nearby Roman farmstead at Bulayda where Alex had excavated some ten years ago.

Alex showing us the Roman farmstead at Bulayda

The next weekend we went to see an ancient cemetery in Ghor al-Safi that was being actively robbed out, including one grave the previous night.

The cemetery that is being actively robbed out

We then went to the nearby Roman fort of Umm al-Tawabin on the top of the highest nearby hill.


Dino surveying Ghor al-Safi and the south end of the Dead Sea from the top of Umm al-Tawabin


The landscape around Umm al-Tawabin

Jamila, our representative from the Department of Antiquities for the first half of the season, invited us to her home for dinner one day.

Jamila with Dino and Alex at her dinner

December 24 was the last day of field work with all the workmen. The workmen at the sugar factory prepared a special feast that day for the 10:30 break.
The workmen with Alex and Ana and the special feast the workmen had prepared

After the full workday, we had a Christmas Eve party in the museum galleries that evening. The night guard did not like alcohol being served, so he called the museum director and district inspector for the Department of Antiquities who came and kicked us out of the galleries. The group simply continued the party in our living quarters one floor down.

The group in the museum galleries on Christmas Eve with the newly discovered chancel screen post.

December 25 I spent a full day at the site, taking final photographs and elevations. That afternoon we had a Christmas banquet back at the museum.

The Christmas banquet

After the field work ended, I spent the next three days doing post-season notebook work at the museum, before we all left on the morning of December 29 and I moved back in at ACOR.

Ghor al-Safi November 20-December 28 Part One

I had to leave the tour with my friends in India early because I needed to get back in Jordan for the start of an excavation season at Ghor al-Safi.

I arrived back at ACOR in Amman on Wednesday November 20, but I only spent one night there before going down to Ghor al-Safi the following evening.

On Thursday November 21 I had time in the morning to do only a few things before Dino Politis, the director of the excavations in Ghor al-Safi, picked me up. We did some shopping before going to the airport in the evening to pick up two other participants in the project. It was a challenge to fit all four of us, our luggage and lots of groceries into the small rental car for the two-hour journey to Ghor al-Safi at the south end of the Dead Sea.

The dig team stayed at the Museum at the Lowest Place on Earth at the foot of the Lot’s Cave monastery site, where I had worked with Dino during his excavations there starting in 1988. I had last joined Dino for an excavation season in Ghor al-Safi in 2004.

The museum at Christmas time

This season we had come to continue excavations at the main Byzantine and Islamic urban site of Khirbat esh-Sheikh ‘Isa located in the south area of the Ghor al-Safi oasis. The core members of the project were Dino as director and Alex, Ana, Andrew and me, with several others who came for shorter periods – Anni from Greece, Peter from Australia and his wife Penny who worked as registrar in the museum, Mario, who worked with me for a week, and Tony from the UK. Dino used our group photograph as a Christmas card.

Our group photo

Quteiba, a surveyor with the Department of Antiquities, came for a few days at the end of the season to take elevations and photographs with his boom.

Quteiba taking photographs

We employed twenty local workmen who were generally the best I have known in Jordan; I usually had four or five workmen with me each day.

The workmen who were with me most of the time

Two of my overachieving workmen

Our normal work schedule was to arrive on site at 7:00 am, but that was still well before sunrise, until the Jordanians ended summer time on December 20, so we die not really get underway for a while. We had a break between 10:30 and 11:00 and finished at 2:00. In the afternoon and evening we would put in a few more hours doing notebook work and processing pottery and other finds.

We worked six days a week with Fridays off. We lost two days due to high winds that made work on site impossible, and so I had a total of 24 days of work in my trenches.

The excavations in Ghor al-Safi had two components this season. The first was the Mamluk period sugar factory and the other was the main urban site of Khirbat esh-Sheikh ‘Isa across the road, where Dino has been directing excavations since 2002. I excavated in the Khirbat esh-Sheikh ‘Isa site in a building that can now be identified as a Byzantine period church with the first phase of post-church occupation dating to the Abbasid period, with later major phases of occupation in the Fatimid and Ayyubid-Mamluk periods.

The depth of stratigraphic deposits down from the surface to the level of the Byzantine church was three meters. That depth made it awkward to get in and out and clean up for photographs.


A workman brushing away the last footprints in my trench for a photograph

Khirbat esh-Sheikh ‘Isa is a rich archaeological site, and we found our share of museum display items. The prize in my trench was an intact marble post that was part of the marble furnishings of the church.

The marble post and the six workmen who managed to get it out of the three-meter deep trench

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Junagadh, Somnath and Rajkot November 17-19

On Sunday morning November 17, we left Dholavira and travelled most of the day before reaching Junagadh, our next stop. The mountain peak of Girnar looming out of the haze as we approached Junagadh was a most impressive sight.

The mountain peak of Girnar seen from the Junagadh fort

Late in the afternoon we went to the Junagadh fort to see some underground Buddhist rock-cut caves.

A Buddhist cave

The surface of the area of the Buddhist caves

But we saw little else of the fort beyond a deep well approached down a long flight of steps, because we were pressed for time before sunset to get to the place near the Girnar Mountain where the Emperor Asoka had recorded a number of his famous edicts on a rock in the 3rd century BC.

The steps leading down to a deep water reservoir at the Junagadh fort

The rock bearing the Asoka edicts

The building enclosing the rock with the Asoka edicts

The next morning Monday November 18 we went to the nearby Gir forest and lion preserve, where we took an hour-long bus safari tour at 9:30, which was not all that impressive.

Two lions resting under a tree in the Gir preserve

We then continued on to Somnath, arriving at noon. Somnath is one of the most important temples in India for Hindu nationalists, because of its history of destruction by the Muslim invader Mahmud of Ghazna in the 11th century, leading to its reconstruction as a priority after Indian independence in 1947. Roxna was an especially welcome visitor here, due to her husband, so in the afternoon we were shown around a few temples with caves a short distance from the main temple and then we were escorted to the main temple where we hung out until the evening darshan service got under way. That was the loudest and longest-lasting darshan service I have attended anywhere. Cameras were not allowed so I do not have any photographs of Somnath.

The next morning Tuesday November 19 I left the group because I needed to return to Jordan, while the others continued on for a couple more days to Dwarka, the westernmost point in India.

I took a 7:00 am bus from Somnath to the city of Rajkot, arriving at 12:30. I walked around the city and spent a couple hours at an internet place, before arriving at the airport with plenty of time to hang out before my flight left late at 9:00 pm for Mumbai. My flight arrived at 10:00 and I hung out in the domestic terminal for a while before I took the shuttle bus to the international terminal and then slept for a few hours on the sidewalk outside the terminal, as I have done a couple other times at the Mumbai airport before catching an early morning flight.

The next morning Wednesday November 20 I checked into my flight to Amman at 6:15 am, but they would not let me on the flight because I did not have a ticket for an onward flight from Amman. Showing them my passport full of Jordanian entrance and exit stamps and police registration stamps did not have much of an impact, and I spent the next two hours in limbo until they decided to give me a boarding pass, just minutes before the flight closed. I have not had to face that sort of difficulty ever before.

The flight left Mumbai at 9:30 am and after a change of planes in Riyadh, I was back at the American Center of Oriental Research in Amman at 6:15 pm.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Dholavira November 15-16

We left our eco camp at the Little Rann of Kutch in the morning of Friday November 15 and headed on to Dholavira, another major site of the Indus Valley Civilization.

We had a lively discussion about religion and politics along the way. Roxna’s husband, Subrahmanian Swamy, is a leading Hindu nationalist / Hindutva ideologue, and Roxna’s sympathies lie in that direction as well, although she is herself a Parsi. They are both especially interested in the Rama Setu (Rama’s Bridge) line of coral reefs and sandbanks stretching some 30 km from the southern tip of India to Sri Lanka, which may or may not be a human-made feature that may or may not be associated with the events of the Hindu Ramayana epic, which tells of the God Rama building a bridge there so he could cross over to Sri Lanka and rescue his kidnapped wife Sita.

A NASA photograph from 1994 clearly showing the line of shoals attracted Hindu interest, and Subrahmanian and Roxna have been involved in legal cases to stop damage to this religiously significant feature by the planned construction of a shipping canal across it.

The NASA photograph from 1994 of the Rama Setu (from Wikipedia)

Dholavira is located on an ancient island once surrounded by the seasonally flooded Great Rann of Kutch, not far from the Pakistani border. At Dholavira we stayed in some government tourist bungalows and met up again with Dr. Rawat, the Director of the Gujarat State Department of Archaeology, who had excavated there in the 1990s. That afternoon Dr. Rawat took us to the nearby site of Jhandiasar on the shore line of the Great Rann of Kutch where there are fossilized trees from the Jurassic period.

The bungalows at Dholavira

 The fossil site of Jhandiasar

A fossilized tree
The next day, Saturday November 16, Dr. Rawat gave us a lengthy tour of this large and spectacular archaeological site with an upper citadel and a lower town and especially impressive water reservoirs.

 Dr. Rawat speaking about the site with the well-preserved eastern walls of the citadel in the background

Dr. Rawat by a remarkable column base

Dr. Rawat and his assistant in a room with two remarkable pillars

The remains at the top of the citadel

 We took our group photograph in the north gate into the citadel.

 Our group photograph

The group in the lower city

One of the large reservoirs

 Throughout the trip Prithi filmed the places we visited.
Prithi filming Dr. Rawat speaking about the reservoirs

In the afternoon we toured the Dholavira site museum and then went to a lady in the village who has handicraft textiles for sale; her son spent the time we were there watching videos on his computer.

Shopping for handicraft textiles

Nal Sarovar and the Little Rann of Kutch November 12-14

We left Ahmedabad on the morning of Tuesday November 12 with a hired car and driver on our trip to see sites in Gujarat. We first went to the archaeological site of Lothal, one of the major Indus Valley Civilization sites. We were met there by Dr. Yadubirsingh Rawat, the Director of the Gujarat State Department of Archaeology, who showed us around the site. The site is most famous for a large water reservoir that some think was a harbor.

Rani, Roxna and Dr. Rawat at the water reservoir at Lothal

Dr. Rawat with Rani and Romola at Lothal

Afterwards we went to a friend’s home in a nearby village for lunch.

Our lunch host and his wife

Rani, Roxna and Romola with the host’s wife

We then continued on to the Nal Sarovar bird sanctuary and checked into a hotel nearby. Our hotel, unfortunately, turned out to be unsatisfactory. The establishment was not yet fully ready to accommodate guests; we were among the first, if not the very first guests to stay there.

The next morning Wednesday November 13 we got up early and left at 5:30 am for the Nal Sarovar bird sanctuary and took a long boat tour through the marshes, getting underway well before sunrise.

Sunrise at the Nal Sarovar bird sanctuary


A boat in open water at Nal Sarovar

We had planned to stay at our hotel for a second night, but after we had finished our morning tour, we realized that there was not really anything more to do, and because two of the rooms had no water, we decided to check out and go to the Little Rann of Kutch a day early. We arrived there at an Eco Tour Camp at Jogad at 3:00 pm and soon went on a jeep tour to see the wildlife there. I do not have a telephoto lens for my camera, so my photographs are less than ideal.

A herd of wild asses at the Little Rann of Kutch

The next morning, Thursday November 14, we got up early for a dawn jeep trip to a distant bird watching area of the Little Rann of Kutch, where flocks of flamingos and pelicans were especially noteworthy. I had not seen flamingos in the wild before. More herds of wild asses were in evidence as well.

The group with our guide bird watching


The group having breakfast


Rani and me

Birds in flight

A flock of flamingos

We were back at the eco camp in time for lunch and we hung out there for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Ahmedabad November 9-11

On Saturday November 9 I flew from Hyderabad to Ahmedabad, leaving at 10:00 am and with a change of planes in Mumbai, arriving at 3:15. I had been in Ahmedabad once before in early 2001 for a heritage conservation meeting, so I sort of remembered the city. I took a taxi to the main train station and then walked for a while before checking into my hotel in the city center.

My reason for coming to India was to join some friends for a trip around the state of Gujarat, starting on Tuesday November 12. I decided to come to Ahmedabad a couple of days early to do some sightseeing on my own first.

The next day Sunday November 10 I walked around on the west side of the north-south Sabarmati River that bisects the city and went to the Sanskar Kendra city museum and the adjacent kite museum.

The Sanskar Kendra Museum


Some paintings by contemporary local artists in the museum

In the afternoon I walked around again, seeing some of the numerous monuments in the area of the Old City like the Swaminarayan Mandir Hindu temple compound.

The entrance to the Swaminarayan Mandir compound


A gate in the old city wall

Not far from the Swaminarayan Mandir there is a small plaza with a statue of a literary figure from the neighborhood from the 19th century. It is the only open space around, so some local boys were playing cricket there when I passed by.

The cricket players

On Monday November 11 I checked out of the hotel at 10:00 and walked the long distance to the hotel on the far west side of the city where my travel companions had booked rooms. Along the way I found a printing establishment and got a color print out of the reports of my revised “documentation” project. I arrived at the hotel at 1:30 and meet the others in the lobby. We soon went to the airport to meet my friend Rani, the last of the group to arrive.

That evening we went out to dinner in the House of MG, a famous landmark and now a boutique heritage hotel and restaurant in the city center built in the former mansion of Mangaldas Girdhardas, a prominent Ahmedabad business tycoon from the early 20th century. It is a favorite with Westerners, and my Indian companions were the only people I noticed there who were not foreign tourists.

After dinner we returned to our hotel and I got ready for our departure the next day on a trip to visit sites in Gujarat.

The first of my travel companions was my friend and colleague Rani Sarma from Visakhapatnam with whose support I am conducting my documentation of sites in Bhimunipatnam and elsewhere in the Visakhapatnam District.

Another member of the group was Roxna Swami, the mother of the wife of Rani’s son. Roxna is a high-powered advocate and member of the Supreme Court Bar Association. She is the wife of Subramanian Swami, an academic, economist and leading figure in the BJP, the Hindu nationalist political party.

The other two members of the group were Prithvi Narayan Chaudhuri and his sister Romola, two of the children of the late Indian literary figure Nirad Chaudhuri, a prominent anglophile best known for his Autobiography of an Unknown Indian, which I had not read before.