Research Unit Islamic Archaeology
Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
Institut für Orient- und Asienwissenschaften
Abt. Islamwissenschaft und Nahostsprachen
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Blogs from the Field

Tall Hisban, Jordan - Excavation Season 2021

Prof. Bethany Walker's interview with the Jordan times, prof Walker talked about the fieldwork in Tall Hisban in October 2021


Tall Hisban, Jordan - Excavation Season 2018

Week One

(24-29 June 2018)

It is a reunion! - This is the third Mamluk Archaeology Field School sponsored by the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg. We have thirteen participants this year: graduate students, post-docs, and professors of Mamluk Studies in its textual and material culture form. The Kolleg has been part of this project since 2013. A site where the standing architecture largely dates to the 14th century CE, and its architectural, artifact, and palaeobotanical preservation is outstanding, Tall Hisban has come to be known as a laboratory for studying rural societies on the frontier of the Mamluk state. For this reason, many Mamluk scholars will be visiting the site this season, and we will recount their visits in the blogs that follow. This season is also providing technical training and data for one Habilitationsschrift project, two doctoral dissertations, three MA theses, and one BA thesis by scholars at the ASK and students of the Islamic Archaeology Research Unit at the University of Bonn.
2018 is a special season, as it marks 50 years of American excavations at the site of Tall Hisban, in central Jordan. For this reason, this is a reunion year, with many veterans of the project (going back to 1968), former students, and old friends participating in excavation and visiting the site again. With some seventy team members, this season is one of the largest launched by the project since 1998, when Phase II excavations began with their focus on the Islamic periods. It is also one of the most international teams in the history of fieldwork at the site.
 Esther Schirrmacher_Maria Gawjeska_Daisy Livingston in the South House
Three of the four fields of excavation this season focus on the farmhouses revitalized and developed into “clusters” of houses and storerooms during the 14th and 15th centuries. The “household” theme of fieldwork in 2018 has been designed to address several questions related to changes in social structure over time and the lifestyles of rural households in the Mamluk period. We specifically want to be able to date the original construction of these farmhouses (which go back to at least the Abbasid period, as we discovered in 2016), document how they changed structurally and functionally over time, identify “activity areas” (and reconstruct labor structures and patterns of socialization), and describe in some detail the contours of daily life. In support of this, we have further developed our digital recording methods (using the I-pad templates designed by Prof. Bob Bates at Andrews University), redesigned our methods of microstratigraphical recording and sampling and quantification of all pottery, expanded our use of photogrammetry and architectural modelling (through the expertise of Dr. Nicolò Pini, ASK), and are doing spatial analysis through GIS.
Map of Excavation_Jordan 2018
map of excavation fields
Highlights of the week – The complexities of our farmhouses, and the challenges to their interpretation, became readily apparent during the first few days of fieldwork. A wall we identified as belonging to a courtyard in 2016 (O12 – part of the southwest slope farmhouse cluster) now appears to be another domestic structure, with heavily plastered floors and walls and producing nearly complete glass vessels. In the adjacent North House (O9) a large complete, “elephant-eared” cook pot (stew pot) of the Mamluk period was discovered, buried deep into several layers of plastered floors, and plastered over. (Its contents will be excavated and sampled for botanical and residue analyses this week.) We have identified and begun to excavate the foundation trench of one wall in the Byzantine-Mamluk house in Field B (bottom of south slope), which produced jars burials and pits in previous seasons. And in M9, a wall constructed with monumental stones and part of what appears to be a massive, and possibly ancient, downslope enclosure wall, was identified as part of reused architectural elements in one of the Mamluk-era vaulted chambers on the north slope of the tell.
Elephant Eared Mamluk cook pot
Alan Farahani uncovering the Mamluk cook pot
elephant-eared cook pot 2
elephant-eared cook pot buried in plaster floor of North House
Technical training and evening lecture – This week our students received training in surveying, botanical sampling, and photogrammetry by Prof. Bob Bates (Andrews University), Prof. Alan Farahani (University of Nevada), and Dr. Nicolò Pini (ASK), respectively. Participating were also trainees from the village of Hisban, sponsored by SELA ( Evenings of lectures were given by Prof. Sten LaBianca (Andrews University) on the history of the project and zooarchaeology, Prof. Alan Farahani (University of Nevada) on paleoethnobotany, and by myself (Bethany Walker – ASK/University of Bonn) on our scientific goals for this season. In addition, I led two hours of ceramics training each afternoon during daily pottery readings, as is the project custom.
Anastasia Thamnopoulou and Kaori Otsuya in the North House 
elevations dumpy level_field B
getting elevations with the dumpy level in Field B
Our visitors this week – Archaeologists regularly visit the excavations of their colleagues at other sites. It is a sign of collegiality and good field practice, as one gets to see “sister” sites and is exposed to other methods and new ideas. This week we had visitors from the University of Leiden’s team working at Jebel Qurma, Prof. Megan Perry (East Carolina University– physical anthropologist), Prof. Emeritus Larry Geraty (director of the original Heshbon Expedition in the 1970s), and officers of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities. Tourists also spent time in the Mamluk Citadel.
On a final note, this week the Madaba region experienced very high temperatures (up to mid-30s C / mid-90s F). Don’t you wish you were here?!
Report submitted 30 June 2018,
Bethany J. Walker, Director of Excavations/Co-Director ASK





Weekend 1

Umm al-Rasas, Dhiban Machareus Fortress and Khirbet Atruz
Even though we arrived in the middle of the night, we didn’t want to miss the tour on the first weekend: we visited different sites around Madaba – where our hotel is located. The Machareus Fortress and Umm ar-Rassas are particularly worth seeing – the landscapes and mosaics from ancient times are very special. Our guide removed sand from one of the floors and a stunning lion mosaic appeared!
Khirbet-Atruz 2018
 Khirbet Atruz
The first weekend was also when we got to know each other. After returning to the hotel we started sharing our stories. One of the best things about the project at Tal Hisban is the diversity of the group. More than fifteen nationalities are represented and we have experts in not only archaeology but also history, anthropology, architecture, and paleoethnobotany amongst others.
group 2018


Weekend 2

Dead Sea, Jordan River, Baptism Site, Bethany beyond Jordan and Amman
It is 7 o’clock in the morning. After a long but successful week everybody is excited to see more of this unique country (and to sleep a little bit longer). We explored the Jordan River and the Baptism site of Jesus. Afterwards, we arrived at the Dead Sea and spent a couple of hours there. It is so much fun to float on top of the salty water and to spot Jericho and Qumran on the other side of the Dead Sea!
dead sea_2018
Dead Sea 
Besides the Dead Sea, Amman was probably the highlight of our trip: we walked down Rainbow Street, explored the suq, and met friendly locals who invited us to tea and gave us camel keyrings. We bought local clothes, met old friends, and found our way through the city. The Citadel and the Roman theatre are very impressive and we were excited by the layers of history that we could see. We definitely want to return to Amman soon!
Citadel 2018


Report submitted 30 June 2018,
Esther Schirrmacher




Week Two

(30 June-5 July 2018)


They are more than just houses - This season is definitely an architectural one. After completing the physically challenging work of removing collapsed barrel vaults and walls (fallen during earthquakes), we are now entering rooms that have not been visible for some five centuries. New structures are emerging from the dust, and we are encountering a bewildering complexity of plastered walls (some as high as ten courses), plastered and earth floors, pits, and trenches.
  long pole of Nicolo on summit
long pole of Nicolo on summit
Our team this year is one of the best trained and accomplished we have ever had. With so many veterans of the project with us this season, we are well prepared to address the stratigraphic challenges presented by the site. We are also learning much more about local building techniques and organization of work, as well as that of other industries (such as ceramic production), in this late medieval rural community.
Hend el Sayyed with the hand pick.JPG
Hend el Sayyed with the hand pick
Highlights of the week – The cluster of as many as four farmhouses in Field O is revealing a very complicated history of family growth, spatial reorganization, and architectural modification over a two-century period. Courtyard space at one point became living space, and living space may have been converted to stabling. There are cooking facilities everywhere. The ruins of ancient buildings were incorporated into new ones in the 13th and 14th centuries. A clear 13th-century ceramic horizon is now emerging, and ceramic imports from the Byzantine Empire (in its latest years), Cairo, and places throughout the eastern Mediterranean have been found in several of the structures. The recovery of a so-called “grenade” (a glazed, medieval firing device) and an Ottoman musket ball were reminders of past conflicts and communal recovery.
Uni Bonn team in Field O_view to Jordan River
Uni Bonn team in Field O - view to Jordan River
We are getting a better understanding of the “pantry” that produced the jar burials in previous seasons in Field B. More of the larger Mamluk-era structure to which it once belonged is being uncovered, with walls several courses high.
The wall constructed of monumental boulders in Field M (on the north slope of the tell) has been excavated to the depth of several courses. Likely a wall of some antiquity, it was patched and repaired in the later medieval centuries. The function of the vaulted structure to which it belonged in the 14th century is still unknown.
grain fields and olive groves of Hisban sheep grazing at entrance to site
grain fields and olive groves of Hisban; sheep grazing at entrance to site 
Tall Hisban, of course, has an occupational history that is much older than the Mamluk era. Excavation high above the Iron Age reservoir in Field R (on the south slope of the tell) is revealing thick layers of plaster that seem to have been laid sometime in the later Byzantine period, covering the old Roman plaza.
Evening lectures and special events – Our Tuesday/Thursday evening lecture schedule continued this week. Tuesday I spoke on the Mamluks at Hisban (and Hisbani society in the Mamluk period). It was great fun to have Yossi Rapoport join me for a brief round-table discussion and Q&A with the team afterwards, to compare peasant societies in Egypt and Syria in the Mamluk era. On Thursday we gathered at the Princess Basma Women’s Center in the village of Hisban for a series of speeches and mini-lectures in Arabic (and English with Arabic translation) by project staff and community leaders.
Prof. Walker and the field notebook 
Prof. Walker and the field notebook
Our visitors this week – Yossi Rapoport visited us for much of the week, getting to know the site, and becoming acquainted with how archaeologists collect data and how they interpret it. The cross-over work by historians in archaeology (and vice-versa) is gaining momentum, and Yossi’s research on rural society in Mamluk Egypt is a perfect example of this. After long days visiting the tell and talking with project members, he gracefully met with our students back at camp to advise on their research. Megan Perry, a physical anthropologist from the U.S., also came to the site one day, as did our colleague Hussein al-Sababha, who will be defending his PhD thesis at Uni-Bonn later this month.
On a final note – This week the rest of our Uni-Bonn project members joined us in the field: Abdelkader al-Ghouz (Scientific Coordinator at the Kolleg) and Sherihan Inalo and Salama Kassem (my MA students in Islamic archaeology and affiliates of the Kolleg). It is good to finally have everyone here in Jordan!
Salama Kassem excavating her tabun
Salama Kassem excavating her tabun
Report submitted 6 July 2018,


Bethany J. Walker, Director of Excavations/Co-Director ASK




Weekend 3

Northern Jordan: Baqah Valley, Zarqa River, Jerash, Ajlun, Gedara, Pella and Jordan River
On our third weekend, we travelled to the northern part of Jordan and the Islamic desert castles. Besides Petra, Jerash was my personal highlight and because of that I was very excited to see the Roman site again.
The good thing about travelling through Jordan in July is that most tourists are trying to avoid the heat and therefore, places like Jerash and Petra are rather empty. Another highlight of our tour was Gedara (Umm Qays), a site where you can see the mountains in Syria as well as the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee!
Islamic Desert Castles: Mashatta, Kharana and Qusair Amra
On Saturday morning our group left the hotel, heading for the Islamic desert castles Mashatta, Kharana and Qusair Amra.
If you are part of a group or if you rent a car, it is very easy to see all three castles in a day.Mashatta and Kharana have very striking architecture especially because of their location in the middle of the desert. Qusair Amra on the other hand is famous for its 7th century frescoes, with paintings of hunting scenes, musicians, and bathing figures.  



Report submitted 9 July,
Esther Schirrmacher




Week Three

(8–12 July 2018)

How hard it is to close a season - The end of an excavation season rarely brings any kind of closure, as it usually raises many more questions than it answers. According to an archaeologist’s form of “Murphy’s Law”, it is inevitable that the best finds will be uncovered on the last day of excavation, or some stratigraphic complexity will emerge that will force you to rethink interpretations of room space or architectural phasing. The 2018 season was no different. The Mamluk-era village of Hisban was more diverse and complicated than we had realized. These farmhouses had indoor plumbing, clay preparation might have been a household industry, and the North House was under fire … by someone.
 Sherihan Inalo and her spolia
Sherihan Inalo and her spolia 
Highlights of the week – In the Field O farmhouses: a cannon ball in the doorway of the North House and arrows inside the house, musket balls in the adjacent building, covered drains under the floors of two houses, plastered basins with drains, evidence of industrial activity, local imitations of proto-majolica wares, fine glassware, and a “whole lotta’ cooking goin’ on”! The Field M vaulted structure sits above a large cistern, and a large Mamluk-era midden (trash dump) is located at the entrance. Beautiful Byzantine stratigraphy in Field B, with walls rebuilt in the Mamluk period for a structure of still unknown function. In spite of enormous efforts, the foundation trench was not reached in the South House, which seems to have an older history of construction than that of the adjacent structures.
Duelling Poles 3
 dueling poles
For details, look for our forthcoming preliminary report in the Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan or come to our group lecture at the Kolleg in two weeks! (Bob Bates of Andrews University and I will also present the results at the Annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research in November in Denver.)
Evening lectures and special events – Warren Schultz joined us this week, as he did in 2016, to participate in the excavation and to “read” what coins we recovered this season. He gave the Tuesday evening lecture on Islamic numismatics and lessons learned about the economy of Mamluk Jordan from the (archaeological) numismatic record.
Warren Schultz moving rock
Warren Schultz moving rock
Wednesday (July 11) we celebrated in fine style 50 years of American (and now joint American-German) excavations at Tall Hisban. The morning was devoted to an academic conference, at which Sten LaBianca and I presented, and where some 100 people from the Jordanian and international archaeological communities and local universities were in attendance. Many veterans of the original Heshbon Expedition of the 1960s and 1970s were there!
Field M team at the 50th event
Field M team at the 50th event (Charles Rhodes, Aren LaBianca, Kjelshus Collins, and Ryan Thomas) 
sunrise and Jerusalem in the distance
sunrise and Jerusalem in the distance
The evening celebration was held in the village under an enormous tent, with an A-list of speakers and a bazaar with local handicrafts. H.E. Prince Raad, who participated in the Heshbon Expedition years ago, opened the program with a speech. The Norwegian Ambassador attended and toured the site, and a German press corps was sent to cover the event.
Prince Raad’s speech
Prince Raad's speech
On Thursday a group of us met with the President of German-Jordanian University in Madaba, Dr. Manar Fayyad, who is a graduate of the University of Bonn. (The German Ambassador in Amman is, as well, we should note.) Uni-Bonn has close ties to Jordan.
Our visitors this week – In addition to Warren Schultz, Amenah Abdulkarim – a recent doctoral student of Yossi Rapoport and now Assistant Professor of History at Kuwait University – joined us for a couple of days, on her return from the School of Mamluk Studies Conference in Ghent. We were very happy to have both of them with us this week.
Amenah Abdulkarim visits us 
Amenah Abdulkarim visits us (Abby Senn (MSU), Prof. Walker, Amenah Abdulkarim, Anastasia Thamnopoulou, Hend El Sayed and Kaori Otsuya) 
The 50th celebrations also brought many visitors to the site this week, including veterans of the Heshbon Expedition, staff and fellows of ACOR (the American Center of Oriental Research), and members of excavation projects working on the Madaba Plains.
Reminiscing about Hisban, a personal note – On closing this final blog of the 2018 season, I quietly celebrate my own archaeological milestone: 20 years working at Tall Hisban. I came to the project in 1998 as a newly minted PhD from the University of Toronto. Through various ASOR connections, I was invited to join the excavation as the project ceramicist, shifting my research from Egypt to Jordan. That year we uncovered the storeroom of the Mamluk garrison, which would become a turning point in the history of the American excavations there. From then on the Mamluk period would be a focus of scholarly investigation, and today Tall Hisban is a point of reference for Mamlukists interested in rural society. This very special site has been a constant companion throughout my career. Through the field school I have maintained contact with students I taught over the last 20 years, many of whom joined us in the field for this anniversary season.
Prof. Walker’s students_past and present 
Prof. Walker's students - past and present (Ryan (MSU), Charles (MSU), Kjelshus (OSU), Nicolo (Uni-Bonn), Raffaele (Uni-Bonn), Daisy (ASK), Maria (Uni-Bonn, webinar), Abby (MSU), Sherihan (Uni-Bonn), Esther (Uni-Bonn), Harbiye (Uni-Bonn), Kaori (ASK), Salama (Uni-Bonn), Hend (Uni-Bonn), Anastasia (Uni-Bonn), Tarina Greer (MSU)
For me, outside of the exciting new data from the farmhouses, this season will be particularly memorable for two reasons. The first was a surprise fête the Kolleg team gave me the final day of the excavation, replete with fireworks atop cakes and gifts of beautiful locally handicrafts: an act of kindness from the best students and colleagues one could hope for. The second was the end-of-season photo with my students, past and present, who hail from Uni-Bonn, Missouri State, and Oklahoma State. I will always cherish that photo. These are all reminders of why I went into education and why I became an archaeologist. Ours are lives intertwined at a little castle site in Jordan.
The ASK team at Tall Hisban
The members of the ASK team (Nicolo Pini, Raffaele Ranieri, Daisy Livingston, Warren Schultz (visitor), Sherihan Inalo, Esther Schirrmacher, Harbiye Erdogan, Kaorio Otsuya, Hend El Sayyed, Anastasia Thamnopoulou, Bethany Walker, and Salama Kassem). Missing is Britta Wagner (who was there for first two weeks) 
Report submitted 6 July 2018,


Bethany J. Walker, Director of Excavations/Co-Director ASK




Weekend 4

Shobak, Petra and Karak
After three amazing weeks in Jordan, it was time to say goodbye to our site, Tell Hisban. It was not quite time to say goodbye to Jordan though! My favorite weekend lay in front of us: visiting Jordan’s ‘Rose City’ – Petra. We left the hotel in Madaba on Friday, stopping on the way at Shobak castle where we enjoyed local food cooked for us by a Jordanian family. As we arrived in Petra, we left the bus to experience Little Petra for a couple of hours – a true insiders’ tip! Little Petra, only 20 minutes away from ‘Big Petra’ is free to visit and the landscape there is simply breathtaking.
group lunch  donkey
group lunch, donkey 
little Petra
Little Petra
The next day, Saturday, we left our hotel in the early morning and started our hike in Petra, the ancient Nabatean city. We hiked for 10 hours, through huge mountains, narrow wadis and past famous sites like the Monastery and the Treasury.
Petra is a place I would always return to again. Even though it is very hot there in the summer, we enjoyed our stay so much that we were all sad to leave to go back to the hotel for dinner. On our way back to Madaba the next day we visited Karak castle where we took some time to reflect on our memories of the past few amazing weeks in Jordan…


Report submitted 18 July, 2018
Esther Schirrmacher






Tall Hisban, Jordan - Excavation Season 2016


Week One

(15-21 May 2016)


The Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg launched its third Mamluk archaeological field school this week, in partnership with Andrews and Missouri State Universities in the U.S. The three-week field school is designed as an ASK summer school to train Mamluk scholars in material culture methods, to further the research of current ASK fellows, and to promote the study of the Mamluk period among archaeologists. It takes place at Tall Hisban in central Jordan, the flagship Mamluk-era site in the country. With a well-preserved Citadel of the 14th century and the contemporary village, the site is uniquely suited for the study of the Mamluks’ exercise of power on the frontier and of the contours of rural life, which are otherwise poorly documented in period texts.

Our 12-member team joined our American colleagues (17 in number) at “camp” at a hotel in Madaba last Friday. Excavation began last Sunday, during the onslaught of an unseasonable heatwave, which lasted for two days. The heat didn’t hamper our enthusiasm, and the 2016 season got off to a great start this week.

Excavation this year continues work of the last two seasons in portions of the Mamluk-era village located on the slopes of the tell and in the shadows of the Citadel. Several farmhouses of the Mamluk and Ottoman periods are under investigation. They are well-preserved, one-room structures with shared courtyards and cisterns, and heavily plastered floors and walls (some even painted!). Our goals for this season are to reach foundation trenches and be able to date the original construction of these buildings (which largely reuse earlier buildings), map the physical layout of the village and identify neighborhoods and the pathways connecting them, and to document the spatial patterning of artifacts in each farmhouse in order to better understand the structure of the medieval Islamic household and the activities of daily life. Our integrated environmental research continues, as well, and our archaeobotanist, Annette Hansen, who helped us teach our Spring School on environmental methods, has joined us again this season. The mapping of the village this year is aided by multiple methods of low altitude photography, including boom shots, panorama photography, and 3-D modelling, combined with previous drone photography and GIS. We are also attempting to correlate the complex subterranean structures with the standing buildings on the same maps. This year we launch the newly developed, full-scale Filemaker template for our field recording on IPads, which was demoed last season.

Noteworthy finds of this week were the discovery of a subterranean vaulted passageway on the northern slope, apparently leading into the Citadel; some very fine fragments of luster-painted and enameled glass from one of the farmhouses (and NOT the Citadel); more ceramic evidence of the elusive 16th century; and imported pottery of the Ayyubid and early Mamluk eras, a period that is not well known or documented archaeologically in the region.

Last weekend’s excursion included walking, hiking, and bus tours of Byzantine sites and other sites on the Madaba Plains (the town of Madaba, Mt. Nebo, Umm al-Rasas, Dhiban, Machaerus fortress, and Khirbat Ataruz). This weekend we visit the Decapolis cities and other sites in northern Jordan (the city and Citadel of Amman, the Baq’ah Valley, ʿAjlun Castle, Gadara/Umm Qeis, Pella, Tell Deir ʿAllah, and the Jordan Valley.

Our academic schedule this week consisted of a joint evening lecture by myself and Sten LaBianca on the scientific goals of the season and our ongoing community outreach and heritage management efforts, as well as a workshop on technical drawing of objects. Two hours each afternoon are spent working with pottery, with my giving impromptu lessons on Mamluk ceramics at the pottery reading table. 

We were visited in the field by three tour groups (one from Canada), numerous governmental officials, and colleagues from the Department of Antiquities, who have been extremely supportive of our research focus on the Mamluk period.

Submitted by Bethany Walker, Director of Excavations

22 May 2016


 Aufstellung der Siebe vor Arbeitsbeginn

 Aufstellung der Siebe vor Arbeitsbeginn


Besichtigung von Umm Ar-Rasas

 Besichtigung von Umm Ar-Rasas


Blick von Tall Hisban zu den Lichtern von Jerusalem

Blick von Tall Hisban zu den Lichtern von Jerusalem


Entnahme von Bodenproben zur archaeobotanischen Analyse

Entnahme von Bodenproben zur archaeobotanischen Analyse


Inspektion von Tall Hisban in der Morgendaemmerung

Inspektion von Tall Hisban in der Morgendämmerung


Kamera in luftiger Hoehe fuer Uebersichtsbilder

Kamera in luftiger Höhe für Übersichtsbilder


Photomast fuer Uebersichtsbilder

Photomast für Übersichtsbilder


Prof. Bethany Walker mit den Teilnehmern auf der Spitze von Tall Hisban

Prof. Bethany Walker mit den Teilnehmern auf der Spitze von Tall Hisban


Prof. Bethany Walker zeigt den Teilnehmern Tall Hisban

Prof. Bethany Walker zeigt den Teilnehmern Tall Hisban


Sonnenuntergang am Mount Nebo

Sonnenuntergang am Mount Nebo


Vollmond ueber Tall Hisban

Vollmond ueber Tall Hisban


Week Two (22-28 May 2016)


Life is unpredictable. In twenty years of working in Jordan, only once have I seen rain during our late spring/early summer field seasons, and never anything like this. Monday and Tuesday were unseasonable cold, and Tuesday we were actually “rained out”, forcing us to close an hour and a half early and return to camp. The dark skies made for some incredible photography opportunities, though, which are featured here.


It was an eventful and productive week, weather aside. Excavations in our medieval farmhouses on the west slope produced evidence of a rather affluent village community, as well as a complicated history of demolition, in some cases, and reuse and refurbishing, in others, of Early Islamic structures in the Mamluk period. One farmhouse yielded rich information about daily life, including diet (an entire assemblage of vessels used for cooking and storage of food) and entertainment (the playing of chess, possible smoking device), all recovered from household garbage. It also, quite surprisingly, yielded a very fine flagstone floor, with parallels in Mamluk Cairo, and more beautiful imported lustered and enameled vessels from one room (beakers, perfume bottles), bearing witness to a relatively high standard of living and economic connections with larger urban markets. A large number of potential storage rooms were identified throughout the site, which will be the focus of investigations this coming week.


Archaeologists love floors and trash pits. Palaeobotanists are particularly fond of them, as they are rich contexts for the retrieval of seeds, pollen, phytoliths, and seeds for the study of diet, climate, and agriculture. This week our archaeobotanist was heavily occupied with sampling from these contexts – which have been numerous this season - and processing of the soils back at camp. We eagerly await the post-season results of her analysis and of our other environmental scientists.


Our team members from the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg participated in the large, tri-annual International Conference on the History and Archaeology of Jordan, held in Amman this week ( Gül Şen gave a paper on one of her post-doc projects on Ottoman Jordan (with a focus on Hisban), Reem al-Shqour’s paper focused on her research on Mamluk khans in Jordan and their economic role, and I spoke on the emerging picture of rural society in Mamluk Jordan (putting Hisban into a regional context). Zakariya Na’imat, a doctoral student at the University of Bonn and friend of the Kolleg, also gave a paper on his PhD project on the economy of Early Islamic Syria as reflected in the so-called “desert castles” (and the site of Shuqayra al-Gharbiyya). Uni-Bonn and the Kolleg were featured quite prominently at this conference.


This weekend took participants of the field school to the Dead Sea and the Early Islamic “desert castles” of Mshatta (the façade of which is at the Islamic Museum in Berlin), Qusayr Amra (a UNESCO World Heritage site), and Kharana, as well as the Ayyubid-era basalt fort at Azraq.


As for this week’s academic program, we had hands-on workshops on zooarchaeology and archaeobotany by Sten LaBianca and Annette Hansen, respectively, and I lectured on Mamluk culture, comparing the frontier material culture of Tall Hisban with the urban culture of the sultanate’s capital in Cairo in the 14th century.


We had many visitors to the site this week, largely the result of the influx into the country of scholars and our colleagues for the ICHAJ conference, including members of the Norwegian Embassy, the University of Florence team excavating at Shobak Castle, and my doctoral students from Uni-Bonn Zakariya Na’imat and Hussein al-Sababha.


This week was also a special one for Jordan, with the 70th anniversary of Independence Day, which we celebrated by raising Jordanian flags throughout our site and the sharing of sweets. This coming week is the important 100-year celebration of the launch of the Arab Revolt, which features so prominently in the country’s history.


We have only one more week remaining in this year’s excavation season. It will be intense, and we are excited to see the results!


Submitted by Bethany Walker, Director of Excavations

29 May 2016


Excavation team of Mamluk Houses 

Excavation team of Mamluk Houses





Jordan Independence Day at Tall Hisban 1

Jordan Independence Day at Tall Hisban 1


Jordan Independence Day at Tall Hisban 2

Jordan Independence Day at Tall Hisban 2


Lunch at Harana

Lunch at Harana


On the way to the Dead Sea

On the way to the Dead Sea


Second Breakfast at the site

Second Breakfast at the site


Sunrise at Tall Hisban 1

Sunrise at Tall Hisban 1


Sunrise at Tall Hisban 1

Sunrise at Tall Hisban 2


Visiting Mushata 1

Visiting Mushata 1


Visiting Mushata 2

Visiting Mushata 2


Visiting Mushata 3

Visiting Mushata 3



Tall Hisban Excavations, 2014 Season

Reports from the Field – Week One


  AF7.jpg      AF18.jpg   AF15.jpg     

Following in the tradition begun years ago to post weekly “Reports from the Field”, we share with you updates on how work is progressing, how our students and staff are doing, and on what special projects they have been involved. This is the second season of Phase III excavations at Tall Hisban, begun by Andrews University in 1968. Excavations long focused on the summit of the tell, where a Mamluk-era Citadel was built on the ruins of a Byzantine basilica and a Roman temple. In 2013 we shifted our operations to the slopes of the tell and the flatlands below, where the lay of the land suggested the presence of a densely occupied settlement. This year we continue where the 2013 left off, exploring further the complex network of farmhouses, water and storage facilities, and stables that made up the village (or small town) of Hisban in the 13th and 14th centuries. We are particularly interested today in rural life on the Mamluk frontier – that is the physical and functional structure of village life, agriculture and water use, family structure and life - and the relationship between local societies and the Mamluk state.

The team this year consists of 65 students from four universities (Andrews University, Missouri State University, Queen’s College in London, and our own Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of the University of Bonn), as well as staff, specialists, and workmen from Europe, the United States, and the Middle East. After many years of developing a network of environmental specialists, we were able to put together a team that includes a phytolith scientist (Sofia Laparidou – University of Texas, Austin), archaeobotanist (Annette Hanson, Groningen University, Netherlands), and zooarchaeologist (Chiara Corbino, University of Florence). We are very happy that two leading American Mamluk historians have also joined us this season, to study our coins and water systems, respectively: Warren Schultz (De Paul University) and Stuart Borsch (Assumption College). In support of our efforts to fully document our subterranean water systems, two engineers from Beuth Technical University of Applied Science in Berlin – Thomas Mewes and Henning Nitschke – are with us to do laser mapping and 3-D renderings of some of our cave complexes and the reservoir. We are fortunate to have such capable team on-site this year.

We have very specific goals this season:

► Begin to map the village plan of Mamluk Hisban
► Fully document the history of occupation and architectural style of houses in Fields O and B (by reaching foundation levels)
►  Better understand the nature of storage facilities and possible stables, especially in Field M
► Stratigraphically separate Mamluk from Ottoman ceramics 
► Systematic study of the site’s ancient water systems and water regime of the Mamluk period
►  Study land use/agriculture of Mamluk period
► Investigate how the site functioned economically in the Mamluk period
►  Create a narrative of Mamluk Hisban for public consumption

Participants have been divided into smaller working groups for specialized work to help us meet these objectives: stratigraphic excavation, mapping and 3-D imagery, low-flying aerial photography, GIS, pedestrian water survey, environmental research, numismatics, and ethnography. The working groups are working in collaborative fashion with one another, in an experimental form of transdisciplinary research. We are further developing our digital field recording this year, and will incorporate all of the data from the different working groups into a multi-disciplinary Filemaker database in Bonn.

Our brief, three-week field season got off to a brilliant start with the excavation of a house pit of the 14th century in Field B, containing a deposit of both handmade and imported glazed jars. Found together in such a context permits us to date, perhaps for the first time in Jordan, a common kind of coarse ware with some chronological precision. We will report on this important development, and describe the imported vessels, in detail at a later point.

We also made progress on developing a typology of vernacular architecture, having reached Mamluk-era floor levels in all of our houses and storage facilities. Each have preserved a rich assemblage of ceramics, metal and stone tools, and glass wares that formed the accoutrements of a village household in this period. We are also retrieving the remains of the food people consumed and the animals they raised, in extensive kitchen and refuse deposits. At such a well preserved site as this, we have the opportunity to write a history of Mamluk rural history that has not been archaeologically possible until now.

Our evening lectures are an important component of the academic program of the field school. The lecture program this year will take on a different form than in the past, with joint presentations by specialists on how collaborative research is promoting Mamluk Studies at the site of Tall Hisban. On Sunday Sten LaBianca (Andrews University) and myself discussed the ever-evolving research profile of the excavations since 1968, the ways in which archaeology and heritage management and community development initiatives complement one another, the “practical” application of our archaeological research, and the specific research goals of this season and how all of the components of the project intersect to reach those goals. Warren Schultz, a well-known Mamluk economic historian who has led research on Mamluk numismatics – and a figure long acquainted with Jordan and archaeology here - gave a lively lecture Wednesday on methods of studying coins and the meaning of our coin record at Hisban. Such information will ultimately help us to better understand the nature of the economic networks in which the site participates, how did rural markets work, local standard of living, and to what degree the rural economy was actually monetarized.

On Thursday, a film crew from Yarmouk University spent much of the work day on site doing interviews and filming our work as part of an Arabic-language documentary on the meaning of archaeological sites to local communities, and the ways the narrative of place and people has changed at Tall Hisban, in over four decades of excavations. Plans are in place to submit the documentary to al-Jazira (Arabic language version) for international broadcasting.

Our tours this weekend – which, like the lectures, are an important part of the academic program – will take field school participants to sites in northern Jordan (Jerash, Um Qeis, Ajlun, and Pella), as well as in Amman (the Amman Citadel and the historic neighborhoods of downtown).

We are off to a good start this year!

Submitted by Bethany J. Walker,
Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg (Research Professor),
Director of Excavations

Photos by Daniel Redlinger

30 May 2014
Madaba, Jordan


Anna Abdul Aziz and Krystal Uzuegbu excavating the courtyard.JPG
Anna Abdul Aziz and Krystal Uzuegbu excavating the courtyard


Ayman and Bob and the jar.JPG
Ayman and Bob and the jar


discovery of the jarts in the Mamluk house pit.JPG
 Discovery of the jarts in the Mamluk house pit                

Henning Nitschke in the cave.JPG
Henning Nitschke in the cave


morning tea under the tent.JPG
morning tea under the tent


Rihab Ben Othman at the sift.JPG
Rihab Ben Othman at the sift


Sofia Laparidou enjoying second breakfast.JPG
Sofia Laparidou enjoying second breakfast.


Stuart Borsch calculating water-holding capacities.JPG
Stuart Borsch calculating water-holding capacities


sunrise at Tall Hisban.JPG
Sunrise at Tall Hisban


Thomas Mewes beginning survey.JPG
Thomas Mewes beginning survey


village of Hisban in early morning.JPG
Village of Hisban in early morning


Walker preparing for the film crew.JPG
Walker preparing for the film crew


               Reports from the Field – Week Two

morning tea under the tent.JPG village of Hisban in early morning.JPG

One of the joys of working at Tall Hisban is to be able to study simultaneously a Mamluk frontier garrison and the local community in which it is embedded. “Trash” and “domestic life” are the themes of this week, as we have been excavating, and comparing, the refuse patterns of the Citadel and the town/village of the 14th century. A trash pit associated with the Citadel, located just outside the Citadel wall on the north slope, produced garrison garbage (crossbow bolts and spear points, horse accoutrements, coins, much glass, and animal bones – the remains of dinners high in protein). In the settlement below the castle, residents of the farmhouses disposed of trash in the courtyard outside their houses, where we recovered traces of food production and consumption, evidence of animal husbandry, and a good assemblage of jewelry. We are also getting information on domestic life: the spatial division of houses, consumption of locally-produced and imported goods (some from as far away as Egypt and the Gulf), and the arrangement of houses and cisterns in possible family groups. There is growing evidence, as well, for local production of glazed pottery, which was an important industry and one usually associated with larger towns in the Mamluk period.

Our environmental specialists sampled intensively this week from all squares, for their larger study of crop rotation, changes in water use (cycles of irrigation and dry farming), food exchanges between the Citadel and village, and changing dietary patterns. Preliminary analysis of samples are being done in the field during excavation. Low-flying aerial photography this week by lightweight devices aimed at documenting the extent of the medieval settlement (visible through wall lines) and its associated fields (through ancient terrace walls).

We are frequently visited by dignitaries and colleagues during our excavation seasons. This week we welcomed the visit of officers of the Ministry of Agriculture, who have expressed interest in our research on historical water systems. We eagerly await next week the visit of participants of the Minerva Gentner Symposium “The Mamluk Sultanate from the Perspective of Regional and World History”, which is co-sponsored by the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg.

The evening lecture series continues. In the spirit of collaborative research, we had a joint presentation and mini-round table on environmental archaeology by three of our specialists – Dr. Chiara Corbino (animal bones, University of Florence), Annette Hanson (seeds, University of Gronigen), and Sofia Laparidou (phytoliths - University of Texas-Austin). This season our specialists are residing together in the dig house and working together in an intensive fashion. The result was a brilliantly cohesive presentation on climate, land use, and diet, with a focus on the Mamluk period. This Sunday we have another joint presentation, on the site’s water systems, by Prof. Stuart Borsch (Assumption College), Ivan LaBianca (our aerial photographer), and Henning Nitschke and Thomas Mewes (engineers producing 3-D mapping of the subterranean systems).

Last weekend’s tours were all-day affairs, which took field school participants all over northern Jordan. Last Friday’s itinerary included the Roman and Decapolis cities of Jerash and Umm Qeis, as well as Ajlun Castle and Pella in the Jordan River Valley. On Saturday, the group travelled within the Balqa of central Jordan, with a morning in Amman (Amman Citadel and the historic districts of the old city), and the afternoon at the “sister” tell sites of Hisban: Tall Umeiri and Tall Jalul. This weekend combines sea and desert. Today (Friday) is being spent at the Dead Sea and the Byzantine-era baptismal site of Bethany. Tomorrow (Saturday) we visit four of the Early Islamic “desert castles” – Kharana, Amra, Azraq, and Mshatta – two of which are undergoing extensive restorations. Lectures on the current restorations (and the important discoveries associated with them, including newly found inscriptions of the Mamluk period) will be given by members of the restoration teams at Amra and Azraq.

Submitted by Bethany J. Walker,
Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg (Research Professor),
Director of Excavations

Photos by Daniel Redlinger, Annemariee Schimmel Kolleg

6 June 2014
Madaba, Jordan


Amr and his reservoir team.JPG
Amr and his reservoir team


Anna Abdulaziz at pottery reading_sporting a jar handle.jpg
Anna Abdulaziz at pottery reading sporting a jar handle


Anna, Sofia, and Walker strategizing the courtyard.JPG
Anna, Sofia, and Walker strategizing the courtyard

ASK at Hisban 2014.JPG
ASK at Hisban 2014


Bob Bates final square photos.JPG
Bob Bates final square photos


Henning in the caves.JPG
Henning in the caves


Hisban full team 2014.JPG
Hisban full team 2014


Hisban hinterland.JPG
Hisban hinterland


Hisban summit.JPG
Hisban summit


Ivans aerial photography.JPG
Ivans aerial photography


Marly at the I-pads.JPG
Marly at the I-pads


Tarek Sabraa at second breakfast.JPG
Tarek Sabraa at second breakfast


Verena Ricken at pottery reading_elephant ear cookpot.jpg
Verena Ricken at pottery reading elephant ear cookpot