ACM Pedagogic Resources > ACM/FaCE > Projects > Dhiban Excavation and Development Project > Overview

Project Overview

Note: This overview is abridged from the project proposal prepared and submitted to the FaCE Project in spring 2009 by Katherine Adelsberger and Danielle Steen Fatkin for funding for the summer 2009 DEDP field season.

Background: Interpretive Process and Community Engagement in Archaeology

The Dhiban Excavation and Development Project (DEDP) has been active in Jordan since 2002, promoting best practices in archaeological excavation by integrating field research, student training, and community outreach (public archaeology) through community-based interpretation. Researchers and students live in the modern community of Dhiban and work with the people who live there to interpret the site, to develop heritage management strategies, and to address local concerns regarding regional tourism related to the archaeological site. Part of the integrative strategy of the DEDP is the training of students from home institutions (including, beginning in 2009, Knox College) alongside Jordanian students and local workmen.

Goals and Scope

The long-term goal of the DEDP seeks the excavation of legally- and professionally-defined heritage materials, the conservation and display of those materials, and the development of community interests in conjunction with these activities in Dhiban, Jordan. The project for which FaCE funding has been received focuses on the initial stages of expanding this specific set of project goals.

Currently missing from the specific best practice archaeology at Dhiban is a "paleolandscape assessment," involving focused research toward the reconstruction of the long-term history of the site in its environmental and social context, and the training of students and local communities in these methods. Without a detailed understanding of environmental change, the motivations for social shifts will not be fully explored, and a field school that does not focus on geoarchaeological methods does a significant disservice to its students. The best practices in archaeology, as pioneered by other projects, should be expanded to include detailed environmental histories in addition to the incorporation of local communities and the development of excellent excavation techniques.

The first step toward this larger goal will be the completion of an off-site survey lead by Dr. Adelsberger to identify potential paleoenvironmental proxies, or deposits that would indicate changes in the local environment during the geologic past.

A complementary on-site survey will be a second step in this process, lead by Dr. Fatkin. On-site survey would aim to establish where people lived and worked on the site at various points during the site's history on a much more detailed scale than has previously been attempted.

Data concerning paleoenvironmental change as well as the detailed history of occupation will be presented to the local public at a regional archaeological museum. Sara Patterson, a well-qualified Knox undergraduate, will be the curator, undertaking this small but important part of the project. The incorporation of undergraduate work in the essential goals of this project make this a collaborative endeavor between faculty and undergraduates as well as an innovative combination of data gathering and presentation on a local scale not often found in archaeological projects in Jordan.

The Dhiban Excavation and Development Project as a Model

There is currently a growing consensus in the international, professional community of Near Eastern archaeologists that there are few archaeological projects anywhere in the Near East focusing on "best practices" of archaeology. These practices would ideally include not just exceptional field research, but also the training of students and the development of community interests. The DEDP therefore provides a timely model, not just for the ACM schools, but for archaeological projects around the world, of how to integrate academic research goals, student training, and community interests in a cutting-edge field project that incorporates both human history and environmental change.

By its nature, archaeological inquiry is a collaborative process. The DEDP provides for collaboration between History and Environmental Studies at Knox as well as collaboration between Knox College and universities outside the ACM. This is necessary in order to provide expertise and training in all involved sub-fields: geology, history (of many periods), excavation methods, remote sensing, botany, chemistry, epigraphy (of several languages), museum studies, and ethnography. The makeup of the project staff and the role of undergraduates in the proposed project reflect the collaborative nature of the DEDP.

The key elements of collaboration in this proposal include tying the environmental and hydrological reconstruction work of Dr. Adelsberger to the long-term habitation reconstruction work of Dr. Fatkin and providing for local interpretation of both through the work of museum curation by Knox student Sara Patterson.

In addition to two faculty members and our museum curator, three Knox undergraduates will participate in the DEDP field school in 2009. Each is interested in pursuing a career in field archaeology. The training they receive in Dhiban will prepare them for further work as professional archaeologists either in the United States or the Mediterranean.

Looking to the Future

Pending successful completion of the 2009 field season, there are two specific ACM-related goals for the continuation of the DEDP. The first includes opening the field school portion of the project to students from any ACM institution. Students would be admitted based upon an application process that would evaluate their anthropological and geological backgrounds as well as their readiness to live abroad for several weeks at a time.

The size of this expanded field school opportunity, as well as the speed with which it can be implemented at an ACM-scale, will depend upon the development of the geoarchaeological methods and survey that this grant will facilitate during the summer of 2009. The survey of this coming summer will also allow us to identify probable honors and senior research projects that will be undertaken by students from Knox College during future field seasons. Students may eventually participate as field students or, later on, as research and teaching assistants developing a much higher level of personal collaboration, project development and leadership.

In addition to an expanded field school, we hope that the development of a well-rounded archaeological project at Dhiban will provide a model for integrated studies in other areas of the world. Once these methods have been implemented at Dhiban and have generated some preliminary interpretations and data, we plan to organize a workshop for interested ACM faculty and students on the integration of local interpretation, landscape studies and more traditional archaeology.

Archaeology is an under-represented discipline in the ACM, and facilitating collaboration between faculty and students at multiple ACM campuses is the most logical next step once the innovative research model currently being developed has been implemented as part of the DEDP. Although this is a goal that will likely take place farther in the future, we hope to eventually discuss the applicability of such integrated research in a variety of archaeological settings and projects, such as those being conducted by faculty at Beloit, Grinnell, and other ACM schools.

The longer-term goals and collaborations within the ACM will benefit both undergraduate students and faculty at a number of campuses. However, the development of the idealized "best practices" in archaeology first need to be developed and implemented by the DEDP before we can use Jordan as a case study in integrated research methods. The 2009 field season will provide the preliminary data and methodological testing necessary for the expansion of this project into a fully landscape-oriented cultural study. We hope to be able to open the field school to ACM students as a whole within 1-2 years, and implement workshops on a longer timescale as well.

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