Umm Al-Jimāl: 2022 Field Season Summary
Earlier this summer, I led new excavations at the archaeological site of Umm Al-Jimāl in Jordan on the occasion of the Calvin University Umm Al-Jimāl Archaeological Project's 50th anniversary. Fieldwork officially started on 16 May and proceeded for three weeks, ending on 2 June 2022. Excavations focused on a single large open-area excavation trench over the remains of architectural features attached to the east end of the site's iconic West Church, a Byzantine period basilica. Full results await our team's continued analysis and will initially be published, in compliance with regulations and agreements made for our excavation permit, in a forthcoming issue of the Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan (ADAJ). So, while I'm unable to provide precise details here right now, I'd still like to give a quick summary.
Our season this year was not only a major milestone (our project's 50th anniversary working at Umm Al-Jimāl) but a significant transition in both leadership and methodology. While I was honored to direct excavations during our previous 2019 season, this year was our first without our project's founding director: the late Dr. Bert de Vries, who unexpectedly passed away in March 2021. Without Bert's overall direction, we are now steered by a primary team of three Co-Directors: myself, Dr. Elizabeth Osinga, and Ms. Jenna de Vries Morton, supported by our superb local team of Muaffaq Hazza (now completing his PhD on Islamic Archaeology at the University of Bonn), Dana al-Farraj, Mais Haddad, Samar Srour, and Jehad Suleiman. With the tremendous loss of Bert, many have had questions about whether or not our project can continue, but I'm proud to say that we have proven ourselves repeatedly in the past 15 months and that our season was a fabulous success! Our other major transition saw us switch from an excavation methodology that focused on small excavation trenches scattered across the site to a more British-style single-context excavation method in which our entire team worked side-by-side in one large excavation trench that sought us much clarity on the horizontal dimension as the vertical (i.e. rather than seek deep layers in small narrow trenches, we sought to reveal the full scope of activities across a larger contiguous space).
Our work this year offered a number of surprises. Most importantly is that the rooms we thought were probably later additions to the Church (perhaps constructed only after the Church no longer served a Christian religious function) now appear to have been used at the same time as the Church and may have only been added on relatively soon after the main basilica was constructed, AND at least one of these rooms must have had a fairly significant function in the Church's activities: a well-constructed and painted plaster surface was uncovered, along with fragments of fine marble decoration. We were also successful in reaching the outer foundation trench for the main Church wall, and charcoal and ceramic material uncovered from this trench will be further analyzed to help us better pinpoint the Church's likely construction date, which is currently a point of controversy. As we continue to process this season's finds and to carefully analyze all collected data, we will add greater clarity to current knowledge and shape future priorities and research questions for future fieldwork. All of this is contributing to our project's current archaeological focus: Religion and Society at Umm Al-Jimāl, 300–800 CE, seeking to better understand the relationship between religious practice/institutions and the daily domestic life of this uniquely well-preserved small Late Antique town.
I look forward to providing further details here soon, and will be sharing some further details at the upcoming 15th International Conference on the History and Archaeology of Jordan (ICHAJ) at Yarmouk University, Irbid in early August, and then at the ASOR Annual Meeting in Boston in November.
I'd like to personally thank our project team, especially my Co-Directors Elizabeth Osinga and Jenna de Vries Morton, our local operations coordinator Muaffaq Hazza, Samar Srour of Hand by Hand Heritage for coordinating our local food service, and Sana Chowdhry who greatly impressed this year as our Field Supervisor! In addition to this team, we were assisted by 12 Calvin University students and a visiting student from the University of Georgia, all participating as part of Calvin's Middle East Study Tour off-campus program, and a team of local temporary staff managed by our long-term foreman Ali Aquil. I'd also like to thank the Department of Antiquities of Jordan for their continued partnership in our work at Umm Al-Jimāl, especially the Director General Dr. Fadi Bala'wi, Director of Excavations and Surveys Mr. Aktham Oweidi, Director of the Al-Mafraq office Mr. Emad Obeidat, and our department representative Mr. Jamil Al-Masaeed.
Our season was funded from numerous sources, including the Calvin University Middle East Study Tour off-campus program, a Nagel Institute faculty fellowship, an ASOR Joe D. Seger Excavation Grant, donations from anonymous donors, and personal contributions from the project's core staff. I thank all for their generous support, without which this field season would not have been possible.