I joined ACOR as an intern to participate in the Temple of the Winged Lions (TWL) Publication Project, through which I have handled, documented, and rehoused objects from the temple and also managed the digitization and cataloguing of archival materials from this important Nabataean- and Roman-era site.
The Temple of the Winged Lions is a large Nabataean temple complex in Petra, Jordan. The temple is currently believed to have been completed around the end of the first quarter of the 1st century C.E. The American Expedition to Petra (AEP), an independent archaeological mission, conducted modern scientific excavations on the temple between 1974 and 2005 under the direction of the late Dr. Philip C. Hammond. ACOR has continued work at the site since 2009 through the Temple of the Winged Lions Cultural Resource Management Initiative (TWLCRM).
I have always been interested in archaeology and wanted to develop better understanding of ancient cultures. Visiting an ancient site and connecting with its ruins, surrounded by the same walls and pillars that people from 2,000 years ago (or more!) lived among, gives me a sense of euphoria. This has always felt surreal to me. ACOR gave me the opportunity to get further involved, for which I’m very grateful.
Digging In: Object Documentation
My supervisor was Dr. Jack Green, and I also worked closely with Dr. Pauline Piraud-Fournet, TWL Publication Fellow, to process and document materials retrieved from the TWL excavation. Both Jack and Pauline have broad knowledge of archaeology and cultural heritage and are passionate about the site of the TWL specifically. I have learned so much about this important site over the past several months.
In the first stage of my internship, I collaborated with Pauline to document about 6,000 objects excavated from the Temple of the Winged Lions, each day handling different pieces of pottery, glass, bones, stone, painted plaster, beads, tesserae, and coins that had been retrieved from the sifted soil dumps surrounding the temple. We were responsible for identifying, photographing, and measuring the objects, which are to be further assessed in coming months as the TWL moves into the research and publication phase. Our documentation of these materials will add to that of the American Expedition to Petra.
Pauline and I primarily worked on a crate of special objects found in sifted material, including a piece of red painted plaster with an inscription in Greek. It appears to feature the words ‘’Zoi sti” (transliterated from the original Greek), which perhaps means ”life to….” which would have been followed by a name which no longer survives.* This was just one of the many intriguing objects I came across while processing countless ordinary pottery sherds and plaster fragments; it will be studied and published in the future alongside other inscribed objects encountered during the TWLCRM sifting.
New Challenges: Archaeology in the Time of COVID
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic started during the middle of my internship at ACOR, but we adapted to the “new normal.” As it became clear there was going to be a lockdown, I redoubled efforts to finish as much of the object processing as possible. We reached a total of 111 crates just before ACOR had to close to the public and Jordan began its curfew.
With the support of Jack and Pauline, I continued remote activities from home, on my laptop. I worked on an initial analysis and overview of the sifted materials from the TWL, synthesizing the information by listing, categorizing, and counting the different types of objects. Pauline and I discussed the best way to organize this inventory and then started another task—creating a detailed Excel spreadsheet of the all items that the AEP had uncovered and registered. As the item registers had been digitized already and I had remote access to the files, it was possible to begin this lengthy but extremely important task during lockdown. Organization of data will significantly aid future researchers. There are about 2,600 objects listed by Hammond and the AEP, all registered and described briefly with a photograph. I relabeled the AEP object photographs with AEP numbers to make them easier to use in the future.
In June, we were able to return physically to ACOR after the lockdown, taking the necessary precautions and maintaining social distance, of course. During this phase, I worked on cleaning the remaining marble sifted from the TWL, and I photographed and added these items to our increasingly full Excel spreadsheet.
Then, in July, Jack Green arranged a visit to Petra that included Pauline and me. The park had just reopened—luckily, Petra and Wadi Musa had had no reported cases of the virus by this time.
This visit was different from my last time in Petra, mostly because it was the first time I’d seen Petra almost empty—completely vacant except for a few local people we met and employees of the park. Usually, there are thousands of tourists coming through every day. This time was also unique because I was coming with a new view of the place, having gained knowledge during my internship.
Through our visit, I observed the TWLCRM’s work to support the local community and get them involved. Petra is very important to the people of the area because it is the basis for employment of many Bedul Bedouin and other members of the local community.
In addition to visiting the site, we went to the new Petra Museum and took a look at a few special objects from the TWL on display. Fortunately, among objects not currently displayed, we caught a glimpse of the idol of the goddess of Hayyan, an inscribed limestone stele with a stylized female face. It was discovered at the Temple and thought to represent Al Uzza. Al Uzza is an important Nabataean deity thought to have been the main focus of worship at the Temple of Winged Lions.
In the future…
After my internship, I plan to complete my studies in anthropology through an M.A. degree program. I wish to study the connections between modern societies and individuals and their antiquities and heritage, historically and up through modern times. I hope to better understand how societies are affected by their own heritage up through the present day.
I gained knowledge during this internship by being in close contact with objects, practicing how to handle and document archaeological items, and understanding where these items had journeyed even relatively recently (since excavation). I got to interact with people who have knowledge, experience, and passion for this field; I learned from them so as to better make connections for myself. Without a doubt, I will be saying yes to future opportunities in the archaeological field.
Thanks to ACOR for this great opportunity and to everyone else who played a part in my internship experience!
*The latter idea was suggested by Dr. Konstantinos D. Politis, an ACOR-CAORC fellow at the time.
Nora Al Omari completed her B.A. in anthropology with a minor in conservation and management of cultural resources from Yarmouk University in 2019. She served as an ACOR intern for the Temple of the Winged Lions Publication Project from December 2019 to September 2020.