Protecting the antiquities of the Southern Ghawr(s) has been a difficult task for the Jordanian Department of Antiquities. The problem is complicated by poor economic conditions of the local people and the development of lands containing underground unknown ancient sites.
Archaeological surveys have helped discoverProt such sites, though they are not always visible on the earth’s surface. Co-operation of local people has led to identify and rescue antiquities. Some of these are on display in this museum.
The best way to protect antiquities is for local people to understand that they share in this heritage and that they can make a live hood by preserving them.
Conservation of Mosaic Pavements
Mosaics are an integral part of architecture, which convey cultural, historical and artistic values. Contemporary conservation theory and practice emphasizes the preservation of mosaics in situ (in their original archaeological context)
However, mosaics may need to be lifted if their original context is seriously endangered or has been lost. The mosaic that is presented in this exhibition was found ex situ in the collapsed deposit of a room presumed to be the Diaconicon of the church.
About one-thousand fragments which preserve their original bedding mortar were recovered and are currently being conserved in this museum. All the fragments, including single tesserae (mosaic cubes) and mortar remains, which preserve impressions of detached tesserae, are being joined together in order to reconstruct the mosaic pavement.
Mosaic – Making
Mosaics are founded on successive layers of cobble stones and lime mortar. These are integral parts of mosaic pavements and provide information of materials used, their technology and construction methodology. If mosaics need to be removed, careful excavation and detailed documentation of their bedding mortars should be undertaken.
The Nave mosaic in the Church of St Lot was lifted because its foundation was seriously deteriorating. During the process, the footprints of the people who laid the mortar were discovered in the bedding layers (some in this exhibition). The upper layer of the mosaic pavement (tesselatum) was re-laid after the Nave foundations were restored.
Mosaic paving originated in 4th century BC Hellenistic Greece and was introduced to the East after Alexander the Great’s conquests. Initially the technique used river pebbles but by the Roman and Byzantine periods, tesserae, or cut stone cubes, were made. In order to properly conserve mosaics, their construction methods need to be understood.
During the course of excavation at Dayr ‘Ayn ‘ Abata extensive conservation was carried-out on the mosaic pavements in the Church of Lot. They included documentation, in situ stabilization, consolidation, removal and reinstallation. Finally two mosaics were prepared for display in this museum.
Hellenism and Islam
Hellenistic cities were intensely and continuously occupied, therefore most of their original 4th-2nd century BC archaeological evidence has been destroyed. But finds from the succeeding Roman, Byzantine and Islamic periods attest to an enduring Greek influence.
This is evident as late as the 7th -8th centuries AD where the Greek language was still being used in official documents, tombstones and graffiti. Early Islamic coinage mirrored earlier prototypes depicting human portraits. In 9th century AD Baghdad at the Bayt al-Hikma (‘House of Wisdom’) ancient Greek scientific and literary works were translated into Arabic. This preserved them through the medieval period when they were translated into Latin and introduced into Western Europe.
The Hellenic Legacy
Alexander the Great defeated the Persians in 333 BC and ushered in the Hellenistic period which influenced Near Eastern societies for over a thousand years. These people were influenced by Hellenic culture (Hellas means Greece) by adopting the Greek way-of-life in new-found cities. This is evident by many remains of Classical temples, theatres and hippodromes, but also with the daily use of the Greek language, novel pottery, coins and mosaics. Greeks married local people and never returned to Greece. The Decapolis, a league of ten cities, was formed in Jordan.
The Nabataeans, who prospered with the western trade of frankincense and spices, eventually were also influenced by Hellenic culture.
The Khribat Qayzun Cemetery
In 1996 a unique archaeological discovery was accidentally made at Khirbat Qayzun. Rare evidence of Nabataean people was found in a cemetery of over 5000 individual burials. The graves in the southern sector were deep shaft tombs, under-cut to the east, similar to those found at Khirbat Qumran, as-Sikkin and other cemeteries on the Dead Sea shores dating to the 1st-2nd centuries AD on the basis of pottery, clothing and other finds. The graves in the northern part were mostly shallow cist tombs with virtually no grave goods except for a few early Christian tombstones dates to around the 4th century AD.
Nabataeans on the Dead Sea Shores
From the 1st century BC to the 2nd century AD, the Nabataean people extended their domain from their capital at Petra to the shores of the Dead Sea via a network of roads protected by forts. There, they cultivated palms for dates and balsam plants for perfume oil, and collected valuable salt and bitumen.
Furthermore, they controlled the precious frankincense trade through the region. Historic texts such as Josephus and Pliny the elder and the ‘Babatha archives’ mention these activities of the Nabataeans.
A Monk’s Life
During the early Byzantine period daily life in a Christian monastery was organized along strict rules. People in these monasteries were called monks, the Greek word for someone living alone. They prayed, worked and ate by themselves, in small cells or caves around the monastery. Monks normally survived on bread, fish, fruit and vegetables. On feast days they met for communal prayers in the church and might eat meat all together in the refectory. Usually monks would work in vegetable gardens, make woven baskets and offer water to pilgrims and travelers.
Recent archaeological work at Dayr ‘Ayn ‘Abata has provided new evidence for all these.
People on the Move
Around 3500 years ago in the Middle Bronze Age, the only known settlement in the Southern Ghawr(s) is Dhahrat adh-Dhra’. On the hillsides of the region there are many large cairns ( piles of stones) containing family tombs dating to this period. At Dayr ‘Ayn ‘Abata over 20 have been discovered and excavated. Some of these finds are on exhibit here. Similar cairn tombs have been found near Safi and at Khanayzira.
A couple of large agricultural settlements were founded around 3000 years ago during the Iron Age period. Finds from Tulaylat Qasr Musa al-Hamad and Khanayzira include typical ‘Moabite pottery and many quern stones indicating large-scale wheat production. There are no large fortification walls such as those in the previous Early Bronze Age cities, so one might conclude it was a relatively peaceful period.