Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Day 2 – Forts, camps, viaducts and rock art

First thing this morning after arriving at Tel el Shahm we headed towards the nearby lower portions of the rocky outcrop adjacent to the larger hill where the hilltop fortifications lie.  Zeyad, one of our local academic historians, showed us some amazing rock art, dating from between the 4th century BC and the first century AD. He had discovered this only the day before, and it is previously unrecorded. Later he and Roger spent some time scrambling over the entire north face of these rocks at various levels, sliding and barely staying upright, to find over 40 examples of these incredible pieces of ancient art. And in the middle on the top of the rocky platform there remains an ancient carved gaming table, truly amazing to find in this otherwise conflict landscape.

A four person survey team today walked northwards from Tel el Shahm fort towards back towards Wadi Rutm.  Our aim was to find out whether there were intermediate military posts between the two stations. There were. We found a fort beside each of two viaducts, one of 20 arches, the other of 14. These clearly were vulnerable targets. The first fort, by the 20 span viaduct comprised a rectangular breastwork and rampart located on a slight rise that was intervisible with both Tel el Shahm and Wadi Rutm fort. The second by the 14 span viaduct was also located on a rise and comprised a small square enclosure, a small circular enclosure and a length of about 100 metres of trench between the two. This too was intervisible with both Tel el Shahm and Wadi Rutm forts.

The survey has therefore confirmed that the Ottoman counter insurgency strategy involved a line of intervisible defended points that also between them ensured that the entire railway line was under observation.

Work at the sit at Tel el Shahm throughout the day, in over 90 degrees of heat with little or no breeze to keep the flies away or mitigate its effect. On the top of the rocky outcrop where the remains of the standing buildings are being investigated (the place we now refer to as ‘upstairs’) recording continued apace. Just getting to this part of the site has proved challenging. With the steep, sandy, stony ascent the team arrive breathless at the top, but unbowed. The very nature of the terrain means that every foot placement made is precarious, and the normal recording methodology is made much more difficult for this.

In contrast, the lower portion of the site, (which we now call “downstairs”) also was a day dominated by the recording and closing of excavated features, these being two tent rings. . Down here on the flat portion of the study area the intense heat equally affected the work. Much water was needed and used throughout the day and the short break times underneath the canopy were a huge relief. It is predicted to be even hotter over the next few days.

One great find of the day was a small Ottoman button which probably came from a shirt epaulette, and was made by Nina our latest Jordanian recruit, who found it eyes only while sitting in a tent ring. So far the finds count at Tel el Shahm has been very low, significantly lower than previous years at similar sites and mush lower than anticipated here. However we have found some other Ottoman army uniform buttons, and in an unusually shaped and positioned feature to one side of the main lower camp with direct line of site to the station on the Hijaz line an Ottoman coin was unearthed, confirming together with the button the presence of the counter insurgency foces.

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