INEA project fieldwork diary: Al Ma’tan 12/04/2014 – 25/04/2014

Having arrived at the historic housing complex of Al Ma’tan in southern Jordan we were amazed at the size of the abandoned village site, most of the team not having visited the site before investigations began. In order to understand the villages construction and use, it dawned on us very quickly that we could only aim to document a proportion of site and choose to work within three of the building complexes. A large and extensively occupied building labelled Building 1 became an important component of our village study. Building 1 provided intact and numerous features from which we could sample for phytoliths and geochemical residues, and could, through interviews provide a hundred year account of life in the building. – an important element of our study. This building complex was in fact the first founding structure of this village, originally occupied by five brothers and their families who migrated into this area at the start of the 20th century. More occupational details and feature types were investigated in Buildings 10 and 65. Compared to many of the other buildings at Ma’tan, Buildings 10 and 65 were architecturally intact and included a range of activity areas.

The investigation at Al Ma’tan began with a extensive site survey to record the extent of the abandoned village site. This included the digital documentation of the site through photography, manual site planning and Leica total station mapping.

Within each building, a range of feature types were identified for sampling, features included but were not restricted to: roofs, floors, hearths, mud constructed platforms, storage bins, plaster covered walls and animal penning areas. Soil samples from the selected features were taken after the removal of surface debris using a trowel, and larger tools in the case of roof collapse, to ensure that the samples were not contaminated and related to the use of the building, not post-use accumulation and abandonment. Samples were then bagged for export.

Portable x-ray fluorescence (pXRF) analysis was also conducted at the sampling locations using a Niton XL3t GOLDD+ analyser to record geochemical concentrations and elemental variations in the different activity areas. Certain features such as hearths provided the chance to explore in more detail their changing use over time and were thus selected for micromorphological investigation which will allow fine detail work on sediment layers to be conducted back in the U.K. A series of small scale excavations were also undertaken to reveal multiple occupation levels for sampling, in addition to exposed features. It transpired that this was a major exercise because years and years of animal dung deposits were very hard to excavate through and made for a challenging environment to work in!

During the fieldwork, filming of the Ma’tan site was also underway. A number of site shots, methodological practices and interviews (with locals and team members) were filmed with the aim of producing two fieldwork documentaries. The first film was for secondary school children to promote scientific methods and archaeological science, and the second one to present the traditional ways of life in southern Jordan and relationships with its beautiful but ancient landscape.

Ethnographic interviews and site visits were also conducted with locals who used to live at, or were related to someone who lived at, the abandoned village site. An integral component of this research is to provide analogies for the Neolithic sites which will be analysed. Ma’tan provides the perfect analogy for small scale, ephemeral and pastoralist constructed sites. Ethnographic research provides information on the way people interacted with their home setting, their social structure, history, community life and settlement development.

Of course it was not all goat dung and specialist investigation, we spent a lovely day visiting the local archaeological site of Petra and touring the wonderful prehistorical remains that southern Jordan has to offer.