Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Day 14 - 2009 Season summed up

What have we learnt this season? Completing the field reconnaisance of the railway from Ma’an to Aqabat Hijaz, and carrying out detailed investigation of selected sites on this stretch of the line, we have discovered much more about how the Ottomans operated in the region. One of two contrasting juxstaposed interpretations is that they  attempted to dominate the landscape and prevent guerrilla attacks.

Between stations were a series of intermediate military posts. These posts were intervisible, capable of mutual support and ensured that the entire length of the line was kept under observation. From them, undoubtedly, regular patrols were sent out to check for mines and to discourage guerrilla interventions by their visible presence in the field.

This may have represented a relatively static counter insurgency strategy, but it must be regarded as an intelligent enough attempt to keep the railway line open with the limited resources available.

An alternative interpretation of the various discoveries we have made is that they represent camps for construction labourers in the period preceding WW1. The distribution and location of many of the tented encampments suggests that whilst moving down the line to build it, the camps were still in need of defending. However the defensive locations were a lot weaker than ensuing military occupation of larger sites have revealed, as the ‘enemy’ in the case of line construction workers would have been the local Bedouin tribes rather than an Ottoman force.

This does not of course preclude a degree of military occupation across all sites as and when needed during the war.

As the GARP project progresses and more seasons are undertaken the data provided will enable us to refine the model of occupation of this landscape.

Investigations at Wuheida have revealed different aspects of the war. This site, located close to Ma’an on the road to Aqaba, displays the intensity of the fighting in this sector as the Anglo-Arab forces fought their way northwards from the Red Sea in the second half of 1917. The Ottoman position consisted of three strong hilltop redoubts on the main eastern hill and outworks on the Northern and western hills covering the approaches to that main position. We are not clear as to the strength of the holding force at the time of initial attack. Nonetheless the position was taken and the advancing Arab forces are also then represented on this site by significant numbers both on the hill tops and sides and in the wadi.

The archaeological imprint of the Arab army could not be more different from that of the Ottoman army, consisting of complexes of irregular stone alignments representing, we think, enclosures and tents, each probably reflecting the campsite of a different Arab tribe. A scatter of bullets, cartridges and cartridge clips throughout the site confirmed the Arabs were using munitions supplied by the British.

As usual, we have found new sites faster than we can investigate the old. There is recording still to be undertaken at Wuheida, but we also hope to look at sites deeper into the desert on the line of the Hijaz railway to the East. GARP’s picture of the war between Arab and Ottoman in the deserts of Southern Jordan between June 1917 and September 1918 is yet far from complete.

Next year's Prospectus out soon… Season dates 23rd October - 6th November... Keep checking back for more information and updates…

Thanks to all who have contributed to the blog this season.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Day 13 - Pics from the season and plans...

Last day in Jordan this season. Trips, packing up, plans...

Here are a few images from this year - more to follow soon.

Keep checking back over the next few weeks for exciting news of upcoming press releases and information regarding the discoveries we have made and all our plans for the future. And many thanks to all of you who have followed us daily on our exciting, exhilarating, challenging and fantastic journey this season. Special thanks to the Edom Hotel Wadi Mousa for providing us with Internet access during our stay, and for  making us most welcome. We thank them especially for their hospitality and look forward to coming back to stay with them next season.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Day 12 - Rushed recording and investigation of new sites.

The last day on site is always frantic. No new work can be started and lots of jobs have to be finished before we depart. There is huge pressure on recording equipment and today it was measuring tapes that ran out with Arab tent complexes on the western hill and Ottoman structures on the eastern hill at Waheida being drawn at the same time. In spite of that all tams worked very hard to get a much done as possible to provide the vital data for the post excavation work back home.

At the same time as this a small team went in search of the site of an RFC (Royal Flying Corps) advanced landing strip about 5 kilometres from Ma'an. This was intended for bombing runs on Ma'an itself, still held by up to 6000 Ottoman troops. The probable site for the strip was at the foot of a hill, adjacent to a significant disused and broken mill, ideal for providing updraft for aircraft take off in the thin air at this altitude. Evidence of military occupation of the site was found by the metal detectorists in the form of incoming WW1 rounds fired into the site - someone was shooting at it - but there was not enough time for a complete survey - something for next year.

We also visited Jerdun - a station on the Hijaz railway which was the site of 4 battles during WW1. In a recently published book (citation to follow) there is a map of the station showing extensive trench systems and defensive positions. Unfortunately our hopes were somewhat dashed on arrival at the site when we discovered the buildings had gone and all of the surrounding area had been heavily trashed by earth moving equipment. Some evidence of battle in in the form of various spent munitions confirmed the site was indeed the correct one.   It may be that we go back for some specialist detecting methodological trials next season, to see if we can extract any useful data from the site.

More to follow later and tomorrow together with lots of previously unseen photographs when we have completed all our finds, publications and other meetings tonight.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Day 11 - A Lawrence of Arabia trail?

Jordan's Minister of Tourism announced plans for a Lawrence of Arabia Heritage trail to be developed in Jordan last year. This year discussions have begun about making it a reality. A representative of the Ministry of Tourism is expected to visit Waheida tomorrow, and the Minister herself is expected to visit in due course.

Waheida, with its Ottoman redoubts and Arab camp site, is now one possibility for  new heritage tourism site. This development reflects GARP's discovery this year for the first time of a site with clear evidence for both Ottoman and Anglo/Arab occupation. In redout C the eastern hill fired 303 cartridges were found in one trench and fired Mauser cartridges found in a trench 10 metres behind. Here is a very strong defensive position held at first by on side and then the other.

Other sites  likely to be under consideration for the trail include the station and entrenchments at Ma'an, investigated by GARP in 2006 and 2007.

In another foray, one adventurous group set out on foot to walk the 21 kilometres from Wadi Waheida to Jebel Semna and then on to the Hill of the Birds at Ma'an, (see GARP blog season 2007 and 8) roughly following the route that the Arab forces would have taken to launch their successful attack on the Ottoman trenches at Semna in April 1918. Traces of these trenches can still be clearly seen, and the area surrounding looks as if it may contain the original craters from artillery shells. We found one shard of large shell case in this general area.

Arriving eventually at the Hill of the Birds as the sun was setting we explored an intriguing looking mound a couple of hundred metres north of the main road between Ma'an and Aqaba, which turned out to be a fairly well preserved substantial Ottoman redoubt. An area for work in another season probably, and soon if at all possible. The surrounding landscape is increasingly damaged and every year we come back more of the archaeology we are working on has been destroyed forever.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Day 10 - Archaeologists go mad in Jordan

First day off after 10 days of arriving, planning and digging. The team went in several different directions exploring the historical and scenic sites of the country.  One set walked into Petra to see the fantastic ruins of the Nabatean city and it's Roman development. Another group travelled north to Kerek, a huge crusader castle later developed and used by the Mamluks. Following this they visited the Dead Sea and paddled in the sharp intensely salty water. The plan was to also try to take in Shobak, but unfortunately this was too ambitious given the light and distances involved.  Images below give a flavour of some of the locations and indicate typical behaviour of archaeologists out of their usual habitat.