Starstruck at the SAAs

There were a lot of reasons to be excited about this year SAA conference, and I’ll get to more of them eventually. For now, this experience will have to suffice:

While at a Nat Geo reception, my friend pointed out Randall McGuire standing across the room. I had recently read his book review of Flannery and Marcus’ new tome on social inequality. As a marxist archaeologist, Randy didn’t exactly agree with all of their positions. Not only did he point out many of the inherent flaws of their approach, he was pretty funny in the process. In what could have been a harshly critical review, McGuire wrote tongue-and-cheek. I could almost hear him chuckling as I read.

Two issues in particular stood out. First, they assume that social inequality did not exist or existed in some fundamentally different way prior to early complex societies. Though the authors acknowledge inequality in age and gender in hunter-gatherer societies in the earlier chapters, they do little more to address this obvious criticism. Second, like many archaeologists, Flannery and Marcus use modern ethnographic examples. But their presentation of the “timeless ethnographic present” has obvious flaws; namely, that it doesn’t exist.

At any rate, when Randy walked by I had to introduce myself. I told him that I really enjoyed his review, and that I had sent it around to some of my friends on facebook. He was pleased to hear that it had gone viral (sort of). After a couple of minutes it was over. I should have taken a picture…


Fatimid Rural Settlement Patterns at the SAAs

It’s been a looooong time since I’ve posted, but here’s one for the new year. My friend, Ian Jones and I are presenting a paper at the SAA conference in Honolulu this April, on Fatimid and Crusader (11th-12th centuries CE) rural settlement patterns in southern Jordan. I’m really looking forward to analyzing the pottery from the 2009 survey of Wadi Feidh we conducted. The assemblage is a mish-mash of assorted coarse handmade wares, typically of very poor quality. It’s a true labor of love!

Abstract: “New evidence for Fatimid period rural settlement in southern Jordan” 

Historical accounts of the Fatimid and Crusader periods describe continued settlement and lively commercial activity in southern Jordan. Despite this, archaeological projects have been relatively unsuccessful in identifying sites from the corresponding Middle Islamic I period (11th-12th c. CE). To address this lacuna, our paper will present evidence for rural settlement during the 11th and early 12th centuries CE based on survey results from the Wadi al-Feidh, within the Petra region of southern Jordan. We suggest that the perceived lull in settlement can be explained by five main factors: the difficulty identifying pottery from this period; a corresponding tendency to lump all handmade pottery into the later Ayyubid/Mamluk period (late 12th-16th c. CE); survey bias; hyper-regionalization in ceramic types and settlement patterns; and a lack of excavated sites for this period. We argue that the settlement pattern during the Middle Islamic I in Wadi al-Feidh represents a continuation of occupation and olive cultivation that began during classical times. These results fill a long-standing gap in our knowledge of Islamic archaeology in the southern Levant.

ASOR Abstract Submitted!

It’s been a few years since I presented at a conference. Yesterday I submitted an abstract for this year’s ASOR conference in Chicago, IL. If accepted, this will be the first time I present results from my own fieldwork. The paper will discuss the results of two months of surveying I did in the Wadi al-Feid, southern Jordan.  Here’s the abstract I submitted; and here’s hoping it’s accepted!

“Intensive survey of the Wadi al-Feid, Jordan and the archaeology of small-scale farming and pastoral nomadism,” by Kyle A. Knabb, Thomas E. Levy and Mohammad Najjar

Wadi al-Feid borders the southern region of Jordan’s Faynan district. Situated between two important ‘core’ settlement areas, Faynan and Petra, the survey results provide unique insight into settlement patterns on the periphery. Though the area had been investigated briefly by archaeologists, our 2009 survey was the first systematic archaeological survey of the wadi.

Our study of the Wadi al-Feid has shown two major trends: 1) this marginal area was used extensively as a route between the Arabah valley and the eastern Mountains, and 2) this region was occupied by mobile groups and small-scale farmers. The results indicate settlement began in the late Iron Age, oscillating in density and size through the present. Wadi al-Feid is one of a few wadis in the region with a perennial spring; a critical resource in dryland environments. It was also one of the routes between the highland Plateau and the Wadi Arabah, known by the Bedouin today as Naqb Shdayid. In an area with such rugged terrain, people had to invest significant resources to build, maintain, and protect their settlements, agricultural fields, and trade routes.

By using an intensive survey methodology our project recorded 123 sites in an area of ca. 10 km2. Clear evidence of small-scale farming was observed for the Nabatean/Roman period through the Islamic periods. Furthermore, our results demonstrate that the remains of nomadic sites and landscape features survive and can be recovered. Doing so requires a systematic and intensive survey methodology that is not commonly employed in Near Eastern archaeology.