Preservation and Community Engagement at Umm el-Jimal in 2014

By Bert de Vries.

A Retrospective of the presentation made in Session 1D at ASOR’s 2014 Annual Meetings in San Diego.

In 2007 the Umm el-Jimal Project (UJP) made a thematic shift away from stress on academic archaeological research to site management with twin foci, preservation and community engagement. Site preservation on the ground was complemented with the virtual kind, digital documentation and archiving of information on the internet. The new visibility of Umm el-Jimal in virtual reality opened new opportunities and directions in site preservation, especially the engagement of the modern community in that process. For we became convinced that all the preservation one could manage to do would be dead-ended as long as the modern community remained disengaged. Thus we engaged the community in two ways: 1) We documented it as the “living” outcome of the archaeological heritage and 2) we involved it in site management and preservation. For a fuller version of this argument see NEA 76, No. 3 (Sept. 2013): 132-140. The following photo essay on the UJP activities in 2014 gives a good cross-section of the work as it has grown in this new direction and also updates our 2012 ASOR blog-post.

a worker stands triumphant in an archaeological dig site
Photo by Bert de Vries

Preservation and Site Management Training. Site preservation was at the heart of the UJP projects of 2014, following the strategy of the UJ Site Management Plan. Awda Masa’eid, local stone mason and restoration specialist, celebrates the successful repositioning of ceiling corbels on Room 6, House XVIII. In the spirit of community engagement, the ‘workers’ of seasons past are now future ‘site managers.’

Diagram of house floor plan
Photo by Muaffaq Hazza

Presentation. House XVII-XVIII, originally two Byzantine houses, were merged into a larger single-purpose Umayyad complex, whose presentation included the placement of six interpretive signs (designed by Open Hand Studios), part of a site-wide interpretive trail being completed in 2015-6.

Umm el Jimal workers greet the ambassador and other visitors at the site
Photo by Jeff DeKock

Celebration. June 6, 2015 U. S. Ambassador Alice Wells came to celebrate the wrap-up of the House XVII-XVII Preservation, enabled by grants from the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation. Here Muaffaq Hazza explains a feature of the upper levels of House XVIII. See “AFCP Grant Wrap Event” on the UJP blog for more.

Two women working on an excavation.
Photo by Bert de Vries.

Gender balancing. 2014 saw the launch of the Women’s Empowerment Project, conceived by UNESCO, funded by UN Women, and carried out in partnership with UJP. Here two UJ women, Ahlam Kurdi and Silwa Masa’eid excavate in the House XVIII courtyard, June 2014.

Group photo of students and workers at the archaeological site.
Photo by Jeff DeKock in the House XVIII Courtyard.

Calvin College Field School. The excavation shown in the previous photo was part of the 2014 Field School required in the Calvin Archaeology Minor. Nine of the above were Calvin undergraduates fulfilling this requirement. The team photograph also includes seven Calvin alumni, and fifteen Jordanians.

Group of women at a heritage exhibit.
Photo by Bert de Vries.

Heritage Training. In the fall of 2014 Sally de Vries taught the Heritage of Northern Jordan to a class of 23 Umm el-Jimal women. Here she shows them the Cultural Heritage of Jordan on a visit to Tiraz, Widad Kawar’s museum of Arab costumes in Amman.

Group of women at archaeological site.
Photo by Jeff DeKock.

Archaeology training. Also in the fall 2014 Bert de Vries taught the women Archaeology, including the stratigraphy of Jordan, and the archaeology of Umm el-Jimal, Jerash and Amman. Here he explains the inscriptions on the UJ Barracks Tower.

Handcrafted basalt heart-shaped jewelry.
Photo by Bert de Vries.

Craft training. UNESCO “Empowerment” included craft training in embroidery and basalt carving, in a program overseen by al Hima, a Jordanian NGO created by Hazem Malhas for heritage and archaeology based community development. Basalt small object carving ‘graduated’ to marketable items in 2015.

Filmmaker Jeff DeKock hands videos to women who starred in it.
Photo by Sally de Vries.

Satisfaction. UNESCO commissioned Open Hand Studios (OHS) to produce a short film on the 2014 Empowerment of Women’s Project. Jeff DeKock, the producer, distributes copies of the film to its stars, June 16, 2015. Women’s Empowerment Project video on the UJP blog.

Smiling child.
Photo by Bert de Vries.

“Teach the Children Well.” This girl was one of 80 children at a drawing contest in the ruins, 18 October 2014, a celebration which drew 130 community members. UJP’s outreach to the children includes an Education Manual for school curriculum.

Ancient water reservoir restored
Photo by Bert de Vries.

Water Reclamation. The UJP-OHS Water Restoration project was launched in 2014 with the mapping of the ancient water collection and storage system by a Yarmouk University team (Abdullah Shorman and Muwafaq Bataineh). Here Muaffaq Hazza ponders the overfull Reservoir No. R1, winter 2013.

Logos of many organizations involved in the project.
Logos of the many organizations involved.

Cooperation and Coordination. This collage of ‘brands’ represents the many orgs necessary to make the multi-faceted preservation-and-community program come to reality. Not mentioned are the UJ Women’s Cooperative and the UJ Municipality’s Mayor Hasan Fahed, UJP’s most eager booster.

A girl and her mother fly a kite with ruins in the background.
Photo by Bert de Vries.

Enjoyment. The end of the story is joy and enjoyment, here ‘lived’ by Fatima Hazza’s and daughter Ayya’s kiting in the ruins on a breezy day ‘once upon a time’ not long ago.

Logo depicting window archway
UJP logo design, Open Hand Studios.

Social Media. The Umm el-Jimal Website was created by Open Hand Studios in 2012. During 2014 we worked on expanding our media presence Blog, Facebook and Flickr – launched by OHS and in June of 2015. We welcome you to use them for regular visits to UJ and interactions with us:

A version of this post also appeared on the ASOR (American Schools of Oriental Research) blog in August 2015.

Bert de Vries (Director, Umm el-Jimal Project) is professor emeritus of the History Department, but he continues to administer and teach the Archaeology Minor Programat Calvin. Ironically, as his teaching duties faded the Umm el-Jimal Project, which he directs, has flourished. 

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