by Jack Green, Ph.D.
In November 2020, ACOR published the second volume of Archaeology in Jordan (AIJ), an open-access biennial that continues the “Archaeology in Jordan Newsletter,” which appeared in the American Journal of Archaeology from 1991 to 2016. AIJ does not provide a full representation of all the archaeological fieldwork and research conducted in the country, but it does provide a snapshot of the range and diversity of dozens of international projects carried out each year. Its goal is to raise scholarly awareness of archaeological and cultural resource management activities taking place in Jordan and to make this information accessible to a wider readership through online publication. AIJ 2 covers fieldwork and related research conducted in 2018 and 2019, with fifty-three reports on Jordanian archaeological sites and related projects.
AIJ 2 was produced and published during the extraordinary circumstances of a global pandemic with repercussions that will be felt long after 2020. In Jordan, all international fieldwork projects scheduled for spring of that year onward were canceled or postponed. In March, the country went into a total lockdown that lasted for several weeks, resulting in the closure of Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport and other points of entry. Project directors from overseas began to contact ACOR for advice and assistance: When might they be able to return? While it was initially hoped that the novel coronavirus would be under control and fieldwork might resume by the late summer or fall, hopes were dashed by the pandemic’s “second wave,” which hit many countries, including Jordan. Project directors adapted to the circumstances, instead focusing on publication and digital projects that allowed their research to continue. We shall see surely see many new books and papers born from these efforts.
Perhaps one positive outcome of 2020’s “great pause” has been the opportunity for the archaeological community to think about future approaches or changes in direction for fieldwork and about how information is shared digitally with wider audiences. Some have managed to come to Jordan to conduct small-scale studies of objects and archives, despite facing a weeklong quarantine and other restrictions. It is currently possible for international projects and their fieldwork teams to return if they have the appropriate permissions in place and they follow guidelines to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 and to keep themselves safe. The arrival of vaccines is a new hope that may allow more projects to return to Jordan in the summer of 2021. Whatever the fate of fieldwork this year, it is clear is that the content of AIJ 3, covering the 2020 and 2021 seasons, will look a little different from what Archaeology in Jordan has published before!
Among the projects that have continued and even been initiated despite the challenges of 2020 are excavations conducted the University of Jordan at Ain Ghazal this fall and drone documentation and conservation interventions at a number of sites, including at Khirbet Salameh by ACOR and the Department of Antiquities. Recent salvage excavations by the DoA in downtown Amman followed the discovery of remains of a Roman-era bath complex during the course of a major urban infrastructure project.
At the World Heritage Site of Petra, which has been empty of tourists, work has continued on the Siq stability project, supported through UNESCO and the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation. Efforts have also been made through support from UNESCO/GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) to provide employment and training to dozens of local community members through the creation of new pathways that will help protect the site and aid visitors when they start to return to Jordan. Through the same UNESCO/GIZ project, conservation work is being conducted at Rihab, a site with remains of Byzantine churches with mosaics in northern Jordan. Meanwhile, the Madaba Regional Archaeological Museum Project (MRAMP) has supported museum training and development of digital and interpretive contents for virtual story-based tours for the “City of Mosaics” through funding from ACOR-SCHEP and the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, as was presented in a recent ACOR lecture.
In addition to ongoing maintenance and monitoring of archaeological sites exposed to the elements, there are also concerns about the potential for human-caused damage at archaeological sites, such as by looters seeking objects to sell on the illicit antiquities market. It is not yet possible to know the degree to which sites may have been negatively affected during the pandemic.
Although COVID-19 has had considerable impact on health and daily life and has deeply affected the tourism economy and jobs and the ability of cultural heritage professionals to do their work, it is hoped that the situation will gradually return to normal at some point this year – whatever that “new normal” will look like. Archaeological sites will be excavated, new discoveries will be made, objects will be conserved, and new projects to document and preserve archaeological and cultural heritage will be initiated. In addition, exciting new digital interpretation projects are likely, providing greater accessibility to heritage than previously. As part of these efforts, ACOR will be ready and will also continue to publish AIJ in order to share knowledge and widen awareness of Jordan’s rich heritage.
Click below to explore select images from AIJ 2 by theme!
Disclaimer: Anyone planning a visit to Jordan or traveling in Jordan should be aware of the ever-changing situation of the Covid-19 pandemic. They are advised to follow their own governmental guidelines and travel and health advisories, keep abreast of information from Jordan government sources including from the Ministry of Health and the Jordan Tourism Board, as well as regular news updates. The information contained in this blog does not constitute endorsement or recommendation to undertake travel or fieldwork during the pandemic.