What have we learnt this season? Completing the field reconnaisance of the railway from Ma’an to Aqabat Hijaz, and carrying out detailed investigation of selected sites on this stretch of the line, we have discovered much more about how the Ottomans operated in the region. One of two contrasting juxstaposed interpretations is that they attempted to dominate the landscape and prevent guerrilla attacks.
Between stations were a series of intermediate military posts. These posts were intervisible, capable of mutual support and ensured that the entire length of the line was kept under observation. From them, undoubtedly, regular patrols were sent out to check for mines and to discourage guerrilla interventions by their visible presence in the field.
This may have represented a relatively static counter insurgency strategy, but it must be regarded as an intelligent enough attempt to keep the railway line open with the limited resources available.
An alternative interpretation of the various discoveries we have made is that they represent camps for construction labourers in the period preceding WW1. The distribution and location of many of the tented encampments suggests that whilst moving down the line to build it, the camps were still in need of defending. However the defensive locations were a lot weaker than ensuing military occupation of larger sites have revealed, as the ‘enemy’ in the case of line construction workers would have been the local Bedouin tribes rather than an Ottoman force.
This does not of course preclude a degree of military occupation across all sites as and when needed during the war.
As the GARP project progresses and more seasons are undertaken the data provided will enable us to refine the model of occupation of this landscape.
Investigations at Wuheida have revealed different aspects of the war. This site, located close to Ma’an on the road to Aqaba, displays the intensity of the fighting in this sector as the Anglo-Arab forces fought their way northwards from the Red Sea in the second half of 1917. The Ottoman position consisted of three strong hilltop redoubts on the main eastern hill and outworks on the Northern and western hills covering the approaches to that main position. We are not clear as to the strength of the holding force at the time of initial attack. Nonetheless the position was taken and the advancing Arab forces are also then represented on this site by significant numbers both on the hill tops and sides and in the wadi.
The archaeological imprint of the Arab army could not be more different from that of the Ottoman army, consisting of complexes of irregular stone alignments representing, we think, enclosures and tents, each probably reflecting the campsite of a different Arab tribe. A scatter of bullets, cartridges and cartridge clips throughout the site confirmed the Arabs were using munitions supplied by the British.
As usual, we have found new sites faster than we can investigate the old. There is recording still to be undertaken at Wuheida, but we also hope to look at sites deeper into the desert on the line of the Hijaz railway to the East. GARP’s picture of the war between Arab and Ottoman in the deserts of Southern Jordan between June 1917 and September 1918 is yet far from complete.
Next year's Prospectus out soon… Season dates 23rd October - 6th November... Keep checking back for more information and updates…
Thanks to all who have contributed to the blog this season.