Wednesday, September 05, 2012

A Roman Fort Amidst the Dunes: The ‘Ayn Gharandal Archaeological Project

Located in southern Jordan, the archaeological site of 'Ayn Gharandal lies covered by the desolate sands of the Wadi Araba. Even though the site is located near an ancient spring, Lawrence (of Arabia) described the Araba Valley as follows: "Every few hours' journey a greener patch marks a stagnant hole of water, which is always nasty to drink, in part from its own sedgy taste, and in part from the mixed flavors added to it by… camels (Woolley and Lawrence 1915: 13)." Noting that the Wadi Araba contained minimal archaeological remains, Lawrence ended his survey of the valley at 'Ayn Gharandal and headed toward Petra.

With recommendations like these, one might wonder why anyone would spend time and resources in such an unpromising desert wasteland. As expected, the answers vary depending on who you ask. Although Lawrence did not recognize much archaeological value in the Wadi Araba, later scholars have identified many important sites dotting the ancient trade route, ranging from the Paleolithic through the modern periods. The route was especially important in the Late Roman period, as recent excavations have shown. In fact, for archaeologists interested in the Late Roman through Byzantine Periods, 'Ayn Gharandal is a goldmine of opportunity.