Sunday, January 31, 2010

Finding Artemis

     The most exciting find of this particular dig season was a life size statue of Artemis, found up on Area A. She had been lying just under the surface of the dirt, and was actually discovered by a couple of local workers who had been taking a break over where she was found. One of the younger guys who was sitting  on some big rocks over in an area where no one was digging (they were all chatting and drinking their noonday glasses of hot tea), noticed a lump in the dirt. Jumping down off the rock to take a closer look, he brushed some of the dirt away to find this gleaming white marble statue. Excitedly he started calling out to everybody, "Come look! Come look!" Of course J was estatic! We all were! There had been evidence on the coins minted at Abila that there had once stood a Roman temple at this site, but no one had as yet any evidence of where that temple might have stood, or to whom it might have been dedicated. Now it seemed certain that Area A, which was the highest point of Abila, and thus an obvious choice for a temple, was most likely the site of the temple depicted on the the back side of many of the coins, and that Artemis was the city's honored deity. Of course, the images of Athena (probably to pay homage to Athens) and Tyche (the goddess of fortune, who appears more often on Decapolis coins than any other deity) both appear on coins minted at Abila, with Herakles being the male god depicted most often. It appeared that he was the chief god of Abila, as well as of many other Decapolis cities, especially Philadelphia (or modern day Amman), where a temple to Herakles had been excavated and partially restored up on the city's citadel. But to find that there might have been a chief goddess worshipped at the temple of Abila was unbelievably exciting!
     The Greek god Herakles was known to the Romans as Hercules, probably the most famous hero of Greek mythology, idealized for his courage, his strength, and his skill in the face of adversity. He was called "the defender of the earth," receiving very little help from the gods, nor seeking the glory, fame, power, or eventual immortality that he acquired. He did what he did for one reason only, not because he wanted to (at first he refuses his labors), but because it is a divine command!  He was the son of Zeus and a mortal woman. Out of his great love for Herakles (Hera + Kleos: glory), Zeus promises to make him immortal, but in order to please his wife, Hera, he agrees that his son will have to perform 12 labors for King Eyrystheus of Tiryns, doing whatever he commands. For eight years he labors, until his 11th request from the King finds him taking on the task of holding up the world for Atlas, who has asked him to do so temporarily, but then leaves him with the awesome burden. His 12th and final labor takes him into the Underworld, a kingdom ruled by Hades. For this task he is given help by Hermes, the wayfinder, who leads the shades of the dead down into the Underworld, and thus must lead Herakles. Of course, Hades will only let Herakles pass through if he does him a favor, which he does in order to complete his 12th and final labor for the King. Eventually, Herakles goes on to live his life and have many more adventures. Unfortunately, many years later, when Herakles' wife gives him a tunic laced in a poison that is supposed to make him love only her (so Herakles' enemies have treacherously led her to believe), the heat from his body activates the poison, causing the tunic to stick to his skin and burn it. In agony he tears off the tunic, tearing his skin off as well. He is in such excruciating pain that only death will relieve him, and so he builds a funeral pyre, lays down on it, and waits until someone happens by who agrees to light the pyre for him. However, just as the torch touches the wood, a bolt of lightening flashes in the sky. A cloud immediately descends into the roaring heap of flames, envelopes Herakles, and carries him up to Mt. Olympus. Zeus has kept his promise, and Herakles is made immortal.
     What's intersting about this story is that it contains elements that can be found in both the Old and New Testament stories. (And of course most readers of the Bible know that Paul addressed a crowd in Athens, explaining to them the meaning behind their own statue to an unnamed god, a god that, once explained to them as representing Jesus Christ, many pagans were poised to accept. Their own mythologies, stories that reflected their spiritual foundations, had prepared their hearts and their minds to believe that such a God as Christ could indeed come in the flesh in order to save mankind, and that he could be born of a mortal woman!) What's interesting about the story of Heracles/Hercules is that most likely he existed in a matriarchal culture. The Hebrew Bible is written to address a very patriarchal culture, and by the time of the New Testament, matriarchal cultures had all but been demoted or swallowed up. And while both Jewish and Christian theologians point out that God is formless, neither male or female (and even God says, "I am that I am"), in truth, we have never been able to speak about God without using symbols and images. We have no other way of relating to the Divine, and while knowing that every image we do use to describe the Divine is transcended by the Divine, we have mostly created male forms, used male language, and male metaphors. Thus we have embedded into our belief system that God is really male, leaving us with no Divine Feminine imagery.
     Enter Artemis, the archer goddess (known as Diana to the Romans), an immortal child of Zeus. She was the twin of Apollo, the god of prophecy, medicine, archery, and music, and later the god of the sun. Artemis was the goddess of the hunt, and later became goddess of the moon. It is known that she was worshipped in Western Asia Minor (the temple to Artemis in Ephesus, Turkey was one of the Seven Wonders of the World), as a goddess of fertility, and in Minoan Crete as Mother Earth. Homer called her "the Mistress of Wild Animals," and in one of his Hymns he says she loved the woods and the wild chase over the mountains. During the Hellenistic period her character was altered so that she became known as the goddess of hunting and nature, and also the protectress of youth. She was a maiden goddess to whom young girls on their wedding day often offered a lock of their hair or beloved toys. As she was the goddess of nature her sanctuaries were in plains, on mountains, near springs and rivers, and even near coasts and capes. Her most beloved domestic animals were the dog, the goat, the hare, and especially the deer, while among the wild animals she especially loved the bear, the boar, the lion, and the wolf. It is said that in one of the parks dedicated to Artemis that the wild and domestic animals lived together in perfect peace. She herself was carefree and wild.
     While myths are the essence of religion, Carl Jung (and later, Joseph Campbell) said that they were part of a universal collective unconscious. I had studied this idea all throughout graduate school, writing several papers on it, as I personally tested the various mythological systems I had been taught were wrong. I had become extremely interested in the idea of the Divine Feminine, and once I converted to Christianity I  wondered how the feminine in such a dominant patriarchal theological system could possibly still be manifest.  Creation, according to the Greeks, moved from a mother-dominated society, in which the most important divinities were female, to a father-dominated society, in which the most important divinities were male. Gaea, who is Mother Earth, was the first Great Goddess. The people who were living in Greece when the Bronze Age tribes invaded the land, worshipped the Great Goddess because they were farmers, and the fertility of the earth, as well as their ability to have enough children to assure the continuity of their clan, was of prime importance to them. Gaea's daughter, Rhea (or Cybele) was also known as Mother Earth, but by the third generation of gods, Zeus, a male god, becomes the dominate deity (with Hera, Demeter, and Hestia still looked to as beloved goddesses). Artemis, who is fourth generation, is still venerated as Mother Earth in some areas, but Apollo, who is her twin and originally her equal, wins out over her in most places, becoming god of the sun. She later becomes goddess of the moon, or of deep intuition. And this is what was getting to me. To the Greeks, logic and reasoning become elevated, associated with education and male "thinking," while intuition, connected to the feminine aspect, gets demoted in importance (feelings cannot be trusted), and thus another important separation occurs within the Divine, and within mankind.
     Muslims (who strongly believe that God is male, and who operate within a very strict patriarchal society), refuse to allow any images of God or of man, thus when we found Artemis, it was without her head. During the Islamic Period, not only had statues been decapitated, but lots of other artwork had also been destroyed in order to maintain a strict adherence to their religious law concerning graven images. But Christians had already replaced her, and the Trinity was all male. However, the Greeks did ultimately preserve one feminine aspect of the Divine which has lasted in our texts, if nowhere else, and that was Sophia, or Wisdom. Unfortunately, the wise woman has become a crone in a society that worships youth. One book that has been published since my last visit to Jordan, Turkey or Greece, is a Christian work of fiction that has dared to put the feminine (and the non-white, non westerner) back into God. William Paul Young's The Shack not only portrays God (the Father) as a woman, but she's a big jocular black woman! And Jesus, who has never been portrayed as being overly masculine (as a child I took issue with his Renaissance portrait as being far too effeminate for a carpenter, but who has always been much more nurturing and forgiving than His Father--two aspects of the same God), is portrayed as a Jewish/Arab hippy type guy who is very easy to hang with and talk to, while Young's portrayal of the Holy Spirit is something more ethereal (and somewhat Oriental), something more celestial, a spirit being who lives in wonder, and fun, and creativity, who lives in a state of childlikeness. And together they make up three aspects of God, the masculine, the feminine, and the genderless child, touching the hearts of millions of readers who, like me, have been searching for this lost aspect of the Divine. This was what Artemis meant to me. Losing that wild, carefree, feminine, childlike aspect of the Divine meant losing a part of God. But she wasn't lost. She had been lying there just under the dirt, barely visible, but there just the same. I'm not sure that anyone else, including J, felt as deeply about her reappearance as I did, but Artemis, as a symbol for the divine goddess, would follow me for years to come.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Archaeological Finds

     Everyone you talk to who knows you dig always asks the inevitable question: "Have you ever found anything really exciting?" For most archaeologists the answer to this perpetual question usually goes something like this: Well, it depends on what you mean by exciting!" Of course the archaeologist can bet that the questioner most often has no idea what he or she means, but is hoping that the archaeologist will launch into a diatribe about some really fascinating find that will feed the imagination of the entire audience (whether it be an audience of one or one hundred). But let me tell you, this rarely happens! And when those really exciting finds are unearthed, it usually makes news headlines, and if you have any serious interest in archaeology, you will have already read about it (or will be seeing it soon on the History Channel!). Most Near East archaeologists are digging up ancient towns and cities, or fortresses and outposts, and while they are hoping to uncover some extremely important ancient text, or proof of some prominent ancient figure's existence, the day-to-day finds, while fascinating in every respect to the archaeologist, are often rather mundane and uninteresting to the average untrained individual. However, what the archaeologist learns to do most expertly (often in order to keep popular interest and therefore funding), is to tell stories of the ancient past that will bring those mundane objects to life! After all, it is the archaeologist's own vivid imagination, combined with his love of the past that keeps him returning to the field every season (either that, or he wants to escape the doldrums of academia, or both, more likely!).
     J was one of those professors who could make history pop off the page and literally walk across the room and breathe down your neck! With each power point presentation (which eventually replaced his thousands of slides, though unbelievably it still hasn't as yet for those archaeology dinosaurs!), he could mesmerize you with stories of horrific battles that left thousands lying slaughtered across fields, bloodying up the ground as their spears or hatchets, or swords and horses lay nearby; or of insane rulers who had rebellious or maybe even unsuspecting citizens beheaded, and with their heads still recognizable by their fearful eyes bulging out from their faces and with their hair all askew, had them mounted on tall spikes and displayed on city gates and walls, or lined up along roads into their cities; or of subjects being publicly burned, screaming as the flames engulfed them, scorching the flesh from their feet and legs before moving up the rest of their bodies; or of other powerful, yet brutal men pushing their personal attendants off of high cliffs, watching and listening as their bodies smashed on the rocks below, sometimes for no other reason than the pure sadistic pleasure of it; or stories of stronger men who were used as sport in the arena against wild beasts who would claw them to death and then shred them to pieces before cheering crowds of spectators. But then he could just as equally mesmerize you with stories of gods and saints, and elders and holy men who lived humbly and righteously, who sometimes gave up their lives, believing in something so strongly that nothing of this earthly existence mattered. He could bring to life all the ancient settings of the earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt, or the later civilizations of Greece and Rome, where the beginnings of western culture grew in splendor and magnificence.
     I wanted to catch some of that fever! I was digging up potsherds from the Bronze Age like they were candy. I was finding rims and handles, along with other pieces of pottery, all parts of cups and plates and bowls and storage jars, kitchen items I pictured women from the time of Moses using in their small houses to feed their families. I was trying desperately to imagine a time I had read about as a kid studying my bible correspondence lessons, a time in northern Jordan before Abila became a great Roman city, when life was more agrarian, more pastoral, much more like it was in the present day. A time when the God of the Old Testament was revealing Himself to individuals, to men who were eventually given the Ten Commandments and who entered into a covenant with Him that required so much duty and strict attention to detail that they would certainly fall short. Men so carnal in nature that they had to be told not to have sex with the beasts in their fields! Men who were firing pottery in kilns so that their wives could serve them meat and wine before lying down with them for comfort and warmth, and maybe even for love if they were lucky! I was falling in love with the Bronze Age in my imagination. And when I visited the museum of history in Amman I took more pictures of Bronze Age pottery than of anything else. While my home back in the states already housed a collection of potsherds that I had until now cared little about, I was beginning to connect to people of the ancient past because I personally had uncovered and then touched a piece of something well over a thousand years old! And I, too, became excited!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Nights at Abila

     Nights were my favorite times at Abila, nights during the work week. It was at that time when the whole business of the day had ended, when I felt like I had made it through yet again, that I could finally relax!  While most of the time I ended up collapsing from pure exhaustion into the fold up chair I had brought with me from the states, it was still a good feeling sometimes, which really surprised me. There would be about an hour from around 9:00 when the sun had started to set, until around 10:00 before going to bed that I could just sit and stare up at the stars. Since there were no street lights or outside lights of any kind, it would get dark enough to see the most amazing display of God's handiwork. It was then in the quiet that I would think about how enormous the universe is, and how insignificant we all would be in it if we didn't have some purpose, some reason, some design. It is especially easy to think about God when you are in a strange land far away from home. Every single night, without fail, I would hear the muezzin's call to prayer made from the mosque a few miles away in the nearest village of Hartha. It would be the last call to prayer before dawn, when I would hear it again as I got up, and I knew that every Muslim was kneeling down before God, being mindful of what He had done for them, and how He had provided for them. Hearing the calls five times a day not only kept the Muslims mindful of God (or Allah, as they call Him), but it kept me mindful of Him too. A devout Muslim must plan his life around prayer, being careful not to be caught out somewhere and not able to stop what he is doing and make ablutions and pray. Five times a day-- at dawn, at noon, in the afternoon, at sunset, and at nightfall, a Muslim knows that prayer must take priority over non-obligatory matters. They begin with the prayer, "God is most great." In Arabic it is Alla lu Akbar, and then saying Ashadu anna la ilaha illa Allah, meaning "I bear witness there is no god but God." The ritual prayer continues, and its melodic rhythm becomes enchanting to hear, especially from a distance. From where I sat at night, it seemed like God Himself was calling me to prayer! "Come to prayer!" "Come to well being." "Prayer is better than sleep." More of the ritual prayer, only it was being spoken in Arabic. 
     I felt like I had been searching out God my whole life. When I was around two years old, my  parents joined a Sabbatarian church, a church that put more emphasis on works than on grace. When I was school age I often told people that I was Jewish, as it was easier than explaining what I knew they would never understand. It was a religious view that taught me a strict meaning of the observance of the Sabbath, and of a cycle of Holy days that not only called to mind a people's past, but signified a greater future when God would return to establish His Kingdom. It taught me that Christmas and Easter, seeped in pagan traditions, were as heretical to observe as going to church on Sunday. It taught me that I must obey strict Old Testament dietary laws against eating unclean meats (which helped to better appreciate the Muslim edict against eating pork), and laws about tithing would teach me how to go without, trusting more in God (another Muslim requirement is that they give alms to the poor). These teachings I took very much to heart, all the while believing that everyone else was wrong. At age eighteen, I quit. What I decided to do then was, if not totally disregard, then at least call into question everything I had been taught. Thus began a long spiritual journey of discovery, one in which I truly believe God led me along. As a child I had learned to pray, and as a family we often prayed together on Friday nights, after the Sabbath had begun. And like most families did during the 1960s, we  made it a point to pray before every meal, thanking God for what he had provided. And so I grew up praying. I kept it up off and on in my teens and twenties, but eventually I got to where I calIed on God only when I was in distress, and even then I often forgot. I guess it was when I became a practicing pagan, more or less, that I started talking to God again, and then really trying to listen back. I began meditating, until eventually I began to hear and actually feel God's presence. And then talking with God became something I virtually did all day long. That is until I converted to Christianity, joined a conservative church, and found myself back in a box, or so I felt. So many of my prayers became prayers of desperation once again, only this time I was begging God not to let go of me, all the while fearing that I would struggle to get free of Him, if this in fact was Him, a notion I often regretted.  I had begged God to show me who He was, not who other people thought He was, or professed Him to be. Did that have anything to do with how I ended up here? In Jordan? With J? Without my daughter? But honestly, how does one learn to see the true face of God? Does God Himself not show you all of His faces until it is you that you see more honestly? Will He not take you behind every nook and cranny of yourself until you must stand absolutely naked in front of Him with no illusions of anything. Islam was another face of God. Islam, with its 99 names for God (or rather for His attributes); Islam, with its religious divisions (Sunni, Shi' ite, and Sufi); and Islam, with all its strict regulations rolled into its more appealing aspects. I was yet again seeing God, only in a different light. And so for that night, and every night while I sat under the stars of the Jordanian skies, I would often hear God's voice saying to me, "Where ever you are, there I also shall be." God was everywhere, and He was still calling all of His children to come pray, come into well being. Don't sleep; seek Me. The lesson I was learning was that I would find God even in the most barren of places. And so it was that I would indeed need this lesson of the dessert later on when I was back at home, back where I was comfortable. Back where I would not so clearly hear the call to prayer.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Camp Life

     Most days on the dig would not differ in any way from every other day, as I would quickly learn. We would begin digging at 5:00 a.m., work until 9:00, then take a half hour for 2nd breakfast, and then work until 1:00, at which time we would pack up our stuff, get back on the buses, and head back to camp. This we would do Monday through Friday, with Friday being short work days, since it is the Muslim "Sabbath," or  noon day congregational prayer time, which lasts several hours, as in most mosques the congregational prayer is followed by a sermon (given by the imam). While Friday attendance at the mosque is a requirement for men, it is not for women, though women may attend. All observers of this prayer time go to the nearest local mosque to pray, but men and women both enter and pray separately. Prayer is required of Muslims five times a day, and while the use of a prayer rug is optional, both the body and place of prayer must be clean. This prayer consists of several cycles of standing, bowing, prostrating one's self, and sitting, all the while reciting very specific prayers during each position. Prayers are always made in the direction of Mecca, and mosques are architecturally designed to insure that everyone is praying in that direction. Fridays are not to be strictly observed as days of rest or of refraining from activity, and devout Muslims may work before this prayer time, and may return to work following it. However, to be respectful, digs in the Middle East usually work shorter hours on Fridays (sometimes requiring only the westerners to show up, giving the Muslim workers the entire day off), letting everyone dismiss early, as it is also the beginning of the Sabbath for Jews and Sabbatarian Christians (for example, the Seventh Day Adventists). It also marks the beginning of the (ever so looked forward to) weekend for all westerners. In any case, every last one of us was always happy to quit work early!
      So except for Fridays, after we returned to camp we would take quick showers, go to the main camp for lunch, retire to our rooms for rest until 3:00, at which time we were required to show up for pottery readings and work in the registry until dinner at 5:00. Bed time was at 9:00. This would be our basic schedule for eight weeks, and with this being the case, everyone's focus and concern over FOOD and WATER seemed to grow inproportionately to other activities, eventually becoming a major point of contention among dig participants in regards to how much money had been paid in dig fees versus how much money appeared to be being spent on said food and water (never mind the lodging). Needless to say, people began calculating costs versus expenditures in their heads, which eventually gave rise to varying degrees of both suppressed and expressed anger, depending on each individual's personality. For example, take showering. When we would arrive back at camp, most of us would literally be covered head to toe in dirt. It would be in our hair, in our mouths, in our noses, and in our ears; it would be on our necks, on our hands, in our fingernails (even with the use of gloves), and in our boots. Many a day would be when I'd arrive back in camp looking like I had put on a black face. This meant that we ALL desperately wanted to shower. Keep in mind that at the girl's camp where J and I were staying two of the four bathrooms had been converted into showers, and while this was 50%, it was still only two! On the first day we arrived in camp, J, with the help of a another guy, ran hoses from the water spigots that were located near the floor of each toilet (these were so that the user could fill a small container with water in order to "flush" the toilet, a method that often failed to adequately get rid of the object needing flushed). These hoses were run up the walls and connected to shower heads. Placed over the toilet would be a hand constructed cover made of wooden slats, separated so that the water from the "shower" would be able to drain down the toilet. The water, which was stored in large drums located on the roof of each building, would be heated from the sun (a system used all over the Middle East). This would usually ensure that by 1:00 we could all expect to take warm showers. However, not only would our Director often fail to schedule the water trucks so that they would come and fill the tanks early in the day, but sometimes he would fail to pay them to deliver the water at all! While everyone undoubtedly preferred a cold shower over having no shower (which happened only in our camp, not the Director's), this became one of those points of contention that gave rise to anger, including J's. Never mind that when we took showers, we took them with one or two spiders hovering above in the corners (something that always upset me, as I have a particularly strong dislike of all arachnids!). As for our clean change of clothes, those would be draped over the door, along with our towel and robe. J would often shower with his clothes on, something he thought would better help him do his laundry, soaping up both himself and his clothes before rinsing off. Sometimes I thought that had to be better than standing naked in this makeshift shower, but I never quite got the hang of undressing from wet clothes without knocking everything off the door, or dropping it all on the wet floor, so I usually just opted to do my laundry from a bucket by hand, though it was hard to get all the dirt stains out either way.  Fortunately, J had a plan of escape from all this, but we would have to wait until Fridays to make our getaway, something I personally thanked God for every time.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Archaeological Finds at Abila

     The thing about digging (besides the fact that it is hot as hell!), is that unlike teaching, you can actually observe some immediate progress. Plus, while you may not know how far down you're going to dig (I think all supervisors keep this to themselves, or else are figuring it out as they go along, observing what you're actually uncovering), it doesn't matter so much because that's all you've got to do all day anyway! As for how wide and long your square will be, that you pretty much do know in advance, as your supervisor has announced to his crew that "we" will be putting in this many squares in this area during this dig season, looking for such and such because "I expect we should be coming down on that at some point pretty soon." Now this could be anything from mosaic tile floors, to an important wall, to paving stones, to a water channel, or anything else once it becomes more clear what had most likely once been located in that particular area.
      Like I said earlier, Abila was once a very large city, especially during the Roman period. There had once been as many as six churches, shops, roads, a theater, houses, quarries, water tunnels, cisterns, gates, a defensive wall, as well as other structures that have yet to be determined. Located up on Area A, where I was digging, once sat a large Byzantine church (not an overly exciting find for most archaeologists, as remains of these exist all over the Middle East). J wanted to do several probes (meaning, purposeful digging down past several stratigraphic layers) to determine if there had been earlier occupation. The thing with a probe is that eventually one does begin to get the feeling that he's digging all the way to China (and these probes can get very dangerous). Sometimes when the American workers started to get really irritated with the Director (which like I said, didn't take all that long!), lots of good humored plans would often be discussed as to how a person might push him into a probe and make it look like an accident. If nothing else, this just offered everyone a good laugh, helping relieve the collective tensions that were building up due to our very trying living conditions, combined with the realization that each person on the dig (except for a few of us; a fact I kept very quiet about!) had paid almost $2000 to be there!
     Anyway, back to digging. Lots of interesting objects and materials were found at Abila that season, just as had been the case in all the previous seasons. Loads of ceramic pottery has been found, dating from the Islamic period and going as far back as the Early Bronze Period (3300 -1950 BC), even while the occupation of Abila is known to have gone back to the Chalcolithic Period (4250-3300 BC). There may even have been occupation during the Neolithic Period (8000-4250 BC), as potsherds were found during an initial survey of Abila that suggested this possibility! So, as anyone can see, Abila has been a rich site to excavate. Besides all the pottery (including large and small storage vessels, jars, jugglets, dishes, lamps, and other objects), there have been finds of bones (both animal and human), glass vessels, clay figurines, an abundance of tesserae, loom weights, jewelry (both women's rings and signet rings, bracelets, and earrings), shell objects, limestone busts, plaster, chert spear blades, coins, tools, and other metal objects, along with the many columns and capitals belonging to another Byzantine church in Area D that had toppled over during a major earthquake (AD 747), which had destroyed much of the architecture in that region. Besides destruction from earthquakes, several occupation periods had witnessed large scale destruction from fires, which I came down on evidence of while digging in my own square.
     Abila is also rich in painted tombs, descriptions of which the French have also been recording and publishing. Loads of Abila’s objects have been discovered buried in these tombs, but word gets out quickly to all the local villages, and then tomb robbing becomes of great concern, not only to the archaeologists, but to the Jordanian government. J has spent more than one night in a newly discovered tomb, along with one or two other members of the American excavation team, in order to keep "guard" over it until it has been excavated. It's impossible to keep it a secret whenever another tomb has been found, as all the locals quickly spread the news, thinking there might be gold or something else really valuable in it. While the Department of Antiquities hires guards to keep watch over the excavation site during the off seasons (as well as the "on" season--there was a guard's tent up on our area), black marketing of antiquities is a huge business, and guards are easily bribed. Every season, under their “watchful” eyes, tomb robbers comb the hillsides in search of any indentation that might suggest a door or passageway into a tomb, knowing that Abila is famous because of their sheer number, boasting more than any other site in Jordan. Unfortunately, no one ever witnesses any theft! Besides the black marketers, there has been a lot of general looting and destruction of property from the Abila site, a process which has been ongoing and well entrenched in the local villages, even among the more affluent residents, in whose well-landscaped gardens have been found stolen columns, statues, and the like. Fortunately for everyone, a large percentage of the finds have been preserved in the archaeology museum in Amman, though due to lack of space, much of the antiquities of Jordan is in storage.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

On Tell Abil

     It doesn't take as long to get the hang of digging as I had originally thought it might. And digging was not as miserable a job as I had originally feared either! Also, I soon learned how lucky those of us who worked up on top of the tell were, being up high enough that we actually got a nice breeze all morning long, while the people down below us working in the other areas weren't so fortunate. The few times that I had occasion to meander down into the valley to any of the other areas to see something, it felt as stifling hot as I imagined Hades might feel if I were to ever end up being sent down there (that is, if I weren't there already)! Over that summer I often liked to reflect on an idea that some people from hot climate areas have had of Hell, that it was a place so cold that you could never get warm! And while I could understand this, sometimes while I was digging I liked picturing myself sitting inside a huge walk-in refrigerator, or in an igloo, or anywhere it might be really cold! Rather than being hellacious, it seemed rather inviting!
     In any case, the one thing we couldn't deceive ourselves about was that we were all of us, regardless of how comfortable we might or might not have felt, still sweating out all our body fluids. J would get so irritated at any of the American workers who insisted that they never felt "all that thirsty." Dehydration is serious business, and J often had to remind us to stop what we were doing and drink some water. As he kept jokingly saying to each of us individually, "You're not a camel!" One result of dehydration, besides getting deathly sick to your stomach, is getting diarrhea, which further dehydrates a person, making them even sicker, a condition that would eventually keep some people bedridden back at camp. This, along with all the general "foreign" bacteria floating around which would find its way into our systems, also caused some people's bowls to react more violently than others'. So you might imagine what that often meant, off and on, during any given part of a day, but especially during the eight hours we were out in the field. Obviously, this had been an ongoing issue for every season of excavation at Abila, and while attempts had been made to construct an outdoor toilet (J had also told me a very funny story about the absolute failure of trying to build one using a variety of materials on hand that would not only stand up against the wind and the constant use, but would assure its user of complete privacy, and how they named it the "Harold" after their esteemed director, instead of the "John"), but nothing had ever worked. And so . . . what each of us one-by-one eventually discovered is that if and when we were absolutely going to have to relieve ourselves, we were going to have to go over the hill on the back side of the tell where no one was digging, squat down behind some of the taller briar bushes, and do it there. As for us girls, while we were appalled by the notion of having to make a public announcement whenever we had to go, we did always ask another female to go with us, more to keep watch than anything, but also to be able to report back if the other girl needed some form of help. Now, as I mentioned earlier, we all were instructed to carry toilet paper with us out to the field, and here's the reason why: to put it quite bluntly, out on that hillside there was nothing, either in vegetable or mineral form, that was going to do the job when it came time to wipe our bottoms! All joking aside, and being from West Virginia I've heard it all, how we use corn cobs, or Sears catalog pages, or whatever, and even though I had used an outhouse at my grandma's when we'd go down to the end of her holler to play by our great uncle's house (who didn't have indoor plumbing for a really long time) and have to use his, and while I've used port-a-potties at different outdoor events, this was something else altogether! Squatting to poop while someone you barely know stands with her back to you, only feet away?! Throwing used toilet paper down on the ground and watching it blow away or else get caught somewhere on some briars (and seeing that some girl on this dig had brought pink!)? Of course, this made those toilets back at camp seem plush. So see? Just when you think things can't get any worse, they really can! I remember one time looking over at the other hillside, seeing a shepherd herding his flock of sheep and goats, and realizing that it could take a long time before he would be ready to move on; and I really had to go! My worst fear was that even if he didn't have 20/20 eyesight, he might own a pair of binoculars! You never could be sure what those Bedouin might have. After all, they weren’t riding around on camels in Jordan anymore, they were driving small Toyota trucks!
     But what I’m saying is, out there, and on this whole trip basically, I had to learn to let go of my vanity, my pride, and everything else, eventually. And I learned a lot about myself in the process. It's amazing what you learn you're capable of doing, and how much you can adapt to new and challenging situations. I had never in my life been an outdoorsy kind of girl, but I was sort of proud of myself every time I made it through another "unusual" experience. My life as I had known it to be up to this point was going to change, and I think I was being changed in the process. Much like the process of going through a refiner's fire! God will not let us keep our original natures, especially if we ask Him to help us grow spiritually. But we'll only go through what we can handle a little at a time, and He'll provide so much fun and excitement along the way that you'll insist it was worth all the discomfort and pain! So while I would have to learn to squat out here on this hillside in Jordan (among a whole host of other embarrassing things I would find myself mixed up in), what I didn’t know was that very soon, actually later in the fall, I would reap an unexpected reward most unusual for a girl who grew up in a small town in West Virginia!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dig Assignments

     The bus trip out to the site took about 15 minutes, but not a minute of it was to be wasted! The director absolutely did not want anyone being late, not on that first day, or any other day. Because every director wants to get in a full eight hours of work each day, every dig in the Middle East (to the best of my knowledge) gets started by 5:00 a.m. This is due to the fact that the temperature will climb so high as the day progresses, that working out in the scorching hot sun will become unbearable, if not downright dangerous. At Abila, we quit work at 1:00, and believe me, by then you're drenching wet with sweat, covered in dirt, and completely exhausted! But this I had yet to experience first hand, as I was for all intents and purposes still an archaeology virgin (my term!). Dr. Mare had made all the work assignments for everyone, from who would be working in the registry in camp, to who would be digging in the field, and had originally assigned me to work for another area supervisor out in the field quite a distance from Area A where J worked; but being a new bride and all, I really wanted to work more closely with my husband, and so after giving J a pleading look that said, "Are you really going to let this happen, and basically just desert me out here with some stranger,"  he spoke with the other supervisor and they made a switch, which made me feel very happy that I would still get to see J for most of the day, every day! And J wanted me to be happy. He was already worried about all the outbursts of tears he had witnessed thus far in so short a period of time.
     While I'm pretty sure that eventually I would have shed some tears over my dig assignment, right now I was satisfied, and all I had to worry about was learning how to dig a proper square. Unfortunately I am not, nor have I ever been a digger of any kind. This particular skill does not appear on my resume. I played in a sandbox when I was young, but I didn't really dig. I was too afraid of getting worms under my fingernails (which I could accidentally ingest, and which could then screw up my entire digestive system until at which time I might eventually poop them out --something my mother obviously must have warned me about, no doubt). I am not a gardener of flowers or of vegetables, and I swear that even having to dig in my purse for an object that has found its way to the bottom upsets me beyond belief! But J assured me that I would have plenty of help, and so not to worry as I would get the hang of it. In defense of real archaeology, I want to go on record as saying that several wonderful archaeological field manuals have been written on the subject of digging in the Middle East. J even assigns to his own students either Bill Dever's, A Manual of Field Excavation, or Martha Joukowski's,  A Complete Manual of Field Archaeology whenever he teaches a course in introductory archaeology, and both of those books, along with Larry Herr and Randall Yonker's book, Excavation Manual: Madaba Plains Project are recommended reading before going on the Abila dig. However, to be clear, I did, after all, study English, not archaeology, and so like I said earlier, I prepped by reading Agatha Christie, though in my defense, I read up on her life during the time she was married to her archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan (which I found very inspiring!), and not her fiction (give me a break). Anyway, J gave us all a demonstration on how one should properly go about the business of digging a square, removing tiny little scoops of dirt, as we carefully picked our way down through the stratigraphic layers, all the while maintaining a straight line. (This is my version, not the official version!) The straight line would be maintained by using the plumb bob. But I do jump ahead of myself here, because really, first we had to clear all the sheep dung out of the previous seasons' squares (they obviously had made for excellent pens), burning that, along with all the briars that had grown up all over the area since the last season as well. Finally, we were all ready to be assigned our spots where J wanted either new squares put in, or old squares dug deeper or dug wider. I was put over in what we affectionately termed the Kathleen Kenyon hole. (Kathleen Kenyon is perhaps the most famous female archaeologist, having once dug in Jericho and in Jerusalem, among other places. During the 1930s, in Samaria, which was the British mandated territory of Palestine, she actually dug a trench across the summit of a mound and down the northern and southern slopes, exposing the Iron II, 900-721 BC, to the Roman period stratigraphic sequence of the site.) Not to out do her by any means, but I would be digging earlier than the Iron age, as I would eventually dig down as far as the Late Bronze Age (1550-1200 BC), but like her, I would be digging down the slope of a hill. Help! Where was my help? Ah, local guys. Men from the local villages would be helping me do all this digging. They would carry out and empty the goofas (rubber baskets made out of old tires, made especially for archaeologists), and they would dig wherever I told them to dig. Man. We were all in trouble. Oh, but J would be standing over me, watching, dispensing advice, that is when he was not overseeing someone else's digging in another square. While I dug, he supervised. I kept reminding myself that he had earned that position, and good for him! Me? I didn't have any real purpose for being here, other than the fact that all I had ever really wanted was to travel, and I had said that I would do anything to get to. I guess this was my anything!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Early Rising

     We really didn't need to set an alarm clock (except in order to avoid what happened next). At exactly 4:00 a.m. I was suddenly awakened by a loud clanging of a bell and Dr. Mare yelling at the top of his lungs, "Rise and shine everybody! Rise and shine! The bus will be leaving in a half an hour! Everybody, get up!" This, accompanied by continuous clanging of a bell would continue for five minutes as he counted down the remaining time we had left! Then he would jump back in his jeep and depart, leaving all of us in the girl's camp groggy and grouchy! OMG! This was how I was going to wake up five days a week for the next eight weeks! This used to be exactly how my mother would wake us kids up on school days when we were growing up. She'd come into our rooms, flip the light on, and say, "Rise and shine!"  Then we'd have a half hour to get dressed, make our beds, eat breakfast, and get out the door. I never dreamed that anything could ever be worse than that bright overhead light shining in my eyes before I had a chance to wake up. But this! This was definitely worse! There was no bright light; it was still dark, but a clanging bell!? He had to be kidding! (J had told me that people on the dig were always plotting how they might "accidentally" bump off Dr. Mare, something I was already beginning to understand, and it was only the first day!) While I absolutely hate getting up so early in the morning, I am a rather disciplined person, and so will do what I have to do, and now, that meant not being late. Mornings were chilly, even in mid-June, in this dry arid desert region, and so as soon as you got out of bed, you wanted to put on the clothes you had laid out the night before (your pants, a short sleeved t-shirt, a light, long sleeved outer shirt, heavy socks, and your boots), and then quickly make a run for the bathroom! All you're really going to do hygienically this early is brush your teeth, and that you do in your room with water from a bottle containing your own personal supply. You just wet your toothbrush and paste, brush your teeth, rinse, and then spit right outside your door! How convenient is that? And hair? If it's long, you pull it back, or you put it up. I had cut mine short for this trip, and so I didn't do much of anything. That pretty much describes the morning routine, not only for that day, but for all the days. Nothing in regards to that ever changed, except for who might deicide she absolutley could not go out to the field that day due to some form of sickness (whether it be emotional, mental, physical, or feminine). And this would definitely begin to happen with much more frequency as the weeks progressed (which would eventually make everybody else really mad!). Also, before we left the camp we had to grab up all the gear we would need to take with us out to the dig site, which would always include several quarts of drinking water (so as to stave off dehydration), sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat, work gloves, your camera, any extra snack food you might want, a roll of toilet paper, and, oh yeah, of course, your own pick and trowel, personal plumb bob, and tape measure, as well as any other sundry items for which the need might change from day to day. This, you would stuff into your back pack, don your jacket (if you were smart enough to bring one because you actually believed the information given you about the flux in desert temps!), and then ever so soon, like clockwork, at exactly 4:30 you'd board the bus that would come around to take everybody back down the road to the main camp for first breakfast, which would already be in progress. Once there we'd have about ten minutes to get any water we'd need (if we hadn't adequately filled up the night before), scarf down some runny goat's milk yogurt (which to me always looked exactly like baby's throw up, having that same color and consistency, and sickening sweet smell. I was never ever able to eat it, though plenty of people loved it, declaring its health value as being unparallel to anything else), eat a cold boiled egg (or several, as these were plentiful!), and then return to the buses, find your favorite seat (by the window was always popular so as to better be able to catch a few more winks on the way out to the field!), store your gear, and not be responsible for keeping the 4:45 a.m. departure from leaving on time!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Missing My Daughter

     When we got back to our rooms, we sat outside for a little while, gazing up at the stars. I thought about my daughter back home, and how my marriage to J had changed both our lives. Now here I was without her for two whole months on the other side of the world. I cried as I looked up at the moon and counted backwards the time difference of seven hours between us, wondering what she was doing on this particular afternoon, and whether she was missing me as much as I was missing her. I truly hoped she wasn't. She was a very happy, loving little girl who off and on desperately wished for a father, keeping on her night stand the only two pictures that I had ever taken of her "real" dad holding her. She especially liked the one where he was laughing. Sometimes she believed that she loved him more than anything, while other times she hated him for not being there to see her, and tuck her into bed and kiss her goodnight. All I could say to her was that I was so sorry, that it was my fault, and that I loved her more than anything.

     I had met her father when I worked as a teller at the Bank of America on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA. (The Queen Mary had been built in Scotland in 1937, and had luxuriously carried the rich and famous across the Atlantic, before it carried troops during WWII, and then afterwards ferried war brides and children back across the Atlantic. After 516 trips, she finally came to rest in 1967 in the Long Beach harbor.) Much of my job had been to exchange foreign currency and traveler's checks for the thousands of tourists we got from countries all over the world who had come to California to visit the Queen Mary and the Spruce Goose, as well as other popular places in Southern California like Hollywood and Disneyland. This did much to inspire in me a further determination to one day travel the world myself. But for now, besides exchanging currency, I was cashing payroll checks for all the employees who worked on the ship, many of whom were foreigners. Angel was from a small town outside of Mexico City, and had come to the states to get work and to live. As a legal alien, he had gotten a job as a hotel employee on the Queen Mary, then worked as a bus boy in one of the restaurants, all the while teaching himself English before being able to work his way up into the wait staff, and then into management. Because every employee on that ship pretty much knew every other employee, as we all ran into one another at some time, or eventually served each other in some capacity, so it was that I had met Angel three years earlier. We had been dating steadily all that time when I accidentally got pregnant. Although I was once again terrified of having a baby on my own, I had loved him, I was a little older, and I was determined to have this child. Understanding that we would never be able to get married due to pre-existing circumstances, I decided to move back home to West Virginia when Christie was four months old. Now, as I sat here in Jordan, all that seemed like a lifetime ago, and I thought about how Christie (who was eleven) and J were not getting along so well. Being a father did not come naturally or easily for him, and so tension and jealousy were more often than not creating the atmosphere that existed in our house. I knew that while she might be mad at me for leaving her (though I did not really feel that she was), she would at least get a reprieve from the power struggle that was defining her life at home.
     Tonight though, J and I were sitting here, far away from a world that seemed to barely exist from this long distance. Here, J was happy and in his element. I recalled how he had rescued me from going crazy over  graduate classes, and then from a cold house during that first winter after we had met. Later he rescued me from bill collectors and a surmounting load of debt. He seemed to be at home in messes and tough situations, as his whole life, he often though somewhat reluctantly shared stories about, had been one of survival. And being on this dig, for me, was definitely something I would require his help to survive! After about an hour of sitting mostly in silence (we were both unbelievably tired), we finally wound down enough to be able to sleep. Besides, our alarm was set to go off at 4:00 a.m., and that would be here before we knew it. After we each had made a quick trip out to the toilets, using a flashlight to light the way along the dark path (there were no street lights, only the stars), we then lay down together on our mattresses and very quietly made love. J fell right to sleep, but I lay awake a while longer, remembering one more thing. It was a vision that I had back in 1990.
     I had only been dating J for about three months. As I had gotten into the habit of doing, one afternoon, as I was practicing deep meditation, I saw myself standing in a raging fire. Flames were all around me, though they did not feel hot, nor were they hurting me in any way. After I had been standing there for an indeterminate amount of time, two spirits carried J into the flames. Holding him directly over my head, they released him down into my body, so that we stood there together as one, he inside of me. What was so amazing to me was that I could really feel this. My entire body, from head to toe, shuddered in ecstasy for the duration of this whole part of the vision! We stayed like that for how long, I didn't know (only seconds passed in real time), before those same spirits came back and somehow related to J that it was time for him to go. He told them that he was not ready and didn’t want to leave, and so they allowed him a little more time before they returned, lifted J back out of me, and took him away. Even then he did not want to leave, but I had somehow understood that it was time for us to part, and that everything would be okay as I remained standing alone in the flames. After that vision I knew in my heart that we would be married (it took 3 1/2 more years for this to happen), but that our time together would be short. Why short, I did not understand; however, I immediately related the flames to passion, a word derived from the Latin, passio, which means "to suffer." But since it seemed in the vision to be a fire that did not consume, then maybe it would be a fire that would refine, or purify, changing me into something different than what I was. In any case, nothing I had ever experienced seemed any more real to me than that vision had seemed, and I had been thinking about it ever since. Now 4 1/2 years later, I still thought about it, and what it meant, and why I had received such a vision in the first place. Thinking about this, my marriage, my daughter, and about being here, I eventually drifted off to sleep.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Touring Abila

     For the evening, we had scheduled a walking tour over the site, an area which included two hills, or tells, including Tell Abila, the area where J had been digging over several seasons. Areas A and AA contained the remains of two churches, and several other public buildings, and the remains of the city walls. We continued our walk down into a saddle area that housed the larger ancient city, all of this dating back about 5500 years, from around 4000 BC to AD 1500, including the Islamic, Byzantine, Roman, Greek, Iron, and Bronze ages.  In this area were the remains of several 7th and 8th century churches, paving stones of Roman roads, a cavea of what might have been a Roman theater, a possible Odeon, and several gates, and crossing the saddle were the remains of a bridge which led back up another hill. This entire area was bordered by olive orchards, the Wadi Qualibah, which was the spring and source of water for this once thriving ancient city, and tombs and tomb complexes. Walking back up the hill to area D, where columns with limestone capitals belonging to a 6th century Christian Basilica stood majestically reconstructed, we all took a break and sat down to receive a small devotion delivered by J. Out over in the fields we could see shepherds grazing their sheep. This seemed to set our minds on things more holy, things above us that were invisible, rather than things below that had once been hidden but which had now become visible. As I sat there listening to him, I reflected on the idea that what each of us is searching to find, whether it be lost cities, lost faith in God, or just lost parts of ourselves, lies below the surface of what we can actually see. Below what we allow others to see. The discipline of archaeology has been said to be one of destruction.  One must literally destroy each layer of dirt as it is uncovered in order to dig deeper into the past. As each chronological layer (or archaeological period) is uncovered, someone has to make the decision whether or not to continue digging deeper, or to let that history forever represent what story gets told. Someone has to decide whether or not it's worth going deeper. However, once the decision is made to continue digging, the previous season's excavations can never be repeated. What was uncovered will soon be gone. As I sat there listening to J and observing the stones and rubble and loose dirt that lay over the earth's surface all around me, and the restructuring that had taken place and was yet to take place, I began to catch a glimpse of how a person might learn to love all this. It made me think about our own stories, and what gets told and what stays covered under layers of dirt. It made me wonder about what I might uncover during this long, hot summer, and whether it would be worth what I was going to have to endure to dig it up. And how many seasons of my life would it take? In the closing of his devotion, J prayed, thanking God for this opportunity, and asking Him to bless this season's dig, and to watch over and protect everyone on it over the next eight weeks. I added to his my own prayer: Dear God, give me the courage to walk down whatever road you open up before me. As the sun was setting in the sky, we walked back to the buses, and drove back to camp.