Trade Along the Wadi Araba by Tiffany Key (ASOR 2014 Presentation)

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This paper was presented by Tiffany Key at the 2014 American Schools of Oriental Research Annual Meeting in New Orleans. 

Throughout the course of this paper I want to highlight the significance of the archaeological site ‘Ayn Gharandal through an analysis of the ceramic finds. This analysis will identify prominent ceramic fabrics, provide an overview of current research on a typological identification system, and highlight the stratigraphic deposition of the ceramic material helping to clarify the occupation of the fort.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 11.56.07 PM ‘Ayn Gharandal lies along the modern day border of Jordan and Israel, approximately 100km north of Aqaba and 40km southwest of Petra. It is situated on the eastern edge of the Wadi Araba, an area characterized by harsh desert conditions, with hot dry summers and cool dry winters. The site, lying west of the via nova Traiana, was likely involved in policing and facilitating traffic moving between Aila and significant northern sites such as Petra and Gaza.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 11.57.13 PMBeginning in the early 20th century many explorers and archaeologists visited the ruins at ‘Ayn Gharandal. Alois Musil was the first Western explorer to record the remains of the site which he identified as a square fortification with corner towers and an eastern facing gate. (Slide) Recently, work conducted by the ‘Ayn Gharandal Archaeological Project has confirmed the basic accuracy of Musil’s description, uncovering the remains of a fourth century castellum and bathhouse through excavations. Until recently it had only been postulated that ‘Ayn Gharandal was the ancient site of Arieldela mentioned in the Notitia Dignatatum. (Slide) This hypothesis was confirmed when excavations during the 2013 season uncovered an inscription identifying both the ancient name of the site as well as the garrison stationed there.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 11.57.45 PMThe ‘Ayn Gharandal Archaeological Project (AGAP) began in 2009 as the ‘Ayn Gharandal Survey and Preservation Project; with this initial season being devoted to recording the architectural remains and performing a detailed surface survey collection. Following this, AGAP conducted extensive excavations on the site from 2010 to 2014 and have partially uncovered a Roman castellum, bathhouse, and a military watch-post. Ceramic material was ubiquitous throughout the excavations, and with the exception of the monumental inscription provided the best dating method for the site. Since the project began in 2009, over 16,000 pottery sherds have been studied. Of this less than 20% (around 2-3,000 sherds) are registered as diagnostic–classified as either a rim, handle, or base–or they represent rare imports into the site and are identified based on ceramic ware or painted designs. Unfortunately the other 80% of the pottery we’ve uncovered comes in the form of small uncharacteristic body sherds, largely undistinguishable either by date or a place of origin.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.03.47 AMScreen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.04.52 AMFor ‘Ayn Gharandal the ceramic material has been used to both identify potential trade connections in the region through major production centers, as well as to identify major phases of occupation in the excavated areas. To date, there is no evidence indicating Gharandal produced its own ceramic material, therefore, everything must be brought or imported into the site. Preliminary analysis has identified ceramics from Gaza and Egypt, however, the majority of the finds originate from local production centers in the Aila (modern day Aqaba), Petra, and Kerak Plateau regions.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.06.16 AMAt ‘Ayn Gharandal the classification for the ceramics has broadly been divided into three main categories: coarse wares, fine wares, and amphorae. Coarse wares are defined by the project as sherds which are functional in their usage, poorly made and/or fired, and generally have several mineral or organic inclusions. Fine wares are defined as imported luxury goods, normally from outside the provincial domain. At AGAP, an exception to this is the pottery in the Nabataean fine ware tradition which is also labeled as fine ware. The final category, transport vessels, or amphorae, is a conglomeration of all amphorae present at the site.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.02.00 AMThe total coarse ware material comprises approximately 77% of the ceramic material, the majority of this originating from the areas of Aila and Petra. Aila and Petra were identified as large ceramic production centers near ‘Ayn Gharandal from the first to the fourth/fifth centuries CE. All ceramic finds from AGAP were identified based on macroscopic identifications of inclusions within the fabric composition. The fabric of the Aila material has been identified as highly sandy with a high concentration of biotite mica in the matrix. Also characteristic of the pottery is the occasional presence of organic temper, quartz, and red and black diabase. The Petra coarse wares lack the abundant biotite inclusions of the Aila fabrics, are darker in color, and are hard-fired, enhancing the diversity of the material. Together the pottery from Aila and Petra comprises 63% of the total coarse wares from AGAP.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.07.30 AMOur collection of fine wares at the site, which includes Nabataean fine wares, and imported African Red Slip (ARS) and Eastern Sigillata A (ESA) is fairly limited. The fine wares total about 11% of the total registered diagnostic materials and most originate from the Petra region. ESA forms are typically associated with the mid-second century BCE to the second century CE, which is prior to the installation of the fort at ‘Ayn Gharandal. Though several rims and bases have been recovered, none are sufficient for classification and are believed to be residual finds. ARS fragments are visible in the AGAP corpus as early as the third century and remain into the late fourth century. Three out of the eight recovered ARS sherds have been identified and subsequently dated. The earliest is a very shallow, thin walled bowl, the later variety of the ARS Form 50A dating from 300-360. The Form 57, the next chronological marker, is dated from ca. 325-400 and is a thicker bowl with a grooved and flanged rim. (Slide) Finally, the latest identifiable ARS sherd is another bowl, similar in form, though unique with a large stamped design on the interior of the base; this is a Form 59, dating from around 320 to 380/420 CE. Both the ESA and the ARS make up the two chief extra-provincial imports to ‘Ayn Gharandal.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.08.41 AMWhen examining the fine ware material from AGAP, a correlation can be seen between the dated fine wares and the site’s primary period of occupation. The lack of early NPFW and ESA material from the first and second centuries suggests minimal occupation in the excavated and surveyed areas during this time.*

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.09.21 AMThe arrival of the cohors II Galatarum in the late third or early fourth century corresponds with the slight increase in the later fine wares, such as NPFW Dekorphase 4 and ARS.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.10.37 AMScreen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.11.36 AMThe final major ceramic category from Gharandal was the imported amphorae. Of the total registered ceramic material, amphorae also equate to approximately 11% of the corpus. Amphorae were transport vessels, which often carried staple goods-such as oil, grain, and wine-across the empire. As with everything else, amphorae at Gharandal largely manifest in the form of small body fragments with minimal diagnostic sherds left to aid with identification. Despite this dilemma, almost 75% of the amphorae have been identified by either a major production center, such as Egypt or Gaza, (Slide) or by a specific vessel form. The remaining 25% were not recognized by either fabric composition or diagnostic features and were thus classified as “Unidentified (UD) Imports.”

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.13.26 AMA comprehensive analysis of the ceramic fabrics, as just discussed, is necessary to contextualize the various types of vessel forms. In most cases, the fabric of a vessel is a reflection of its specific form; for instance cooking vessels are not commonly associated with fine ware fabrics. To contextualize the material from ‘Ayn Gharandal a ceramic typology has been created, which is largely representative of the coarse ware material, though many fine ware forms mirror their coarse ware counterparts. The typology is meant not only to highlight the characteristics which distinguish a bowl from a cup or jar, but to identify trends in form and design. The typology created for AGAP is a reflection of the most prominent vessel types found throughout excavations and is divided by usage categories (such as bowls, jars, etc). It is important to note that this preliminary typological account is not organized chronologically but by both function and form.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.14.28 AMIn the AGAP typology there are two major functional divisions for the coarse ware ceramics: cooking wares and table wares. (Slide) Within this classification system the cooking wares are further separated into vessel forms such as cooking pots, casseroles, and cooking lids while the table wares can be divided into bowls, jars, jugs, and cups. Each vessel category has a distinctive basic shape with slight variations in form.

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Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.15.48 AMCooking pots are closed vessels identified by their short necks and globular bodies. These vessels are two handled, frequently with ribbing on the body of the vessel.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.16.33 AMCasseroles are shallow, open vessels, with 2-4 handles. While rim profiles vary, casseroles generally have an inward beveled rim with a vertical sidewall. Due to the limited number of casseroles at AGAP this form is classified only by handle variations. The final cooking ware classification is cooking lids, which are shallow vessels with a single handle and were designed to fit over another cooking vessel. Like casseroles they typically have an inward beveled rim, but have a more angular sidewall. By comparison, cooking lids are also rare at AGAP and usually only a small part of the rim is preserved for identification.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.17.40 AMTypological distinctions for cooking wares are based solely on rim and handle profiles as the general basic shape remains constant. Rim distinctions range from triangular rims characteristic of the first and second centuries CE to hooked or rounded rims of the fourth century.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.18.38 AMIdentifying typological distinctions in table wares is more complex due to the variation in size, depth, and decorations on the vessels. For instance, each image on the above picture corresponds to a unique typological category. Under table wares, bowls may be described as open formed vessels with a variety of profiles and date ranges.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.19.27 AMThe above images correspond to a few identified bowl types at AGAP. Currently nine morphologically significant bowl types have been created from the AGAP material. Due to the wide variation in bowl profiles, 47% of bowls have not been relegated to a specific type.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.20.25 AMScreen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.20.37 AMJars are defined as medium sized closed vessels which typically have either two or four-handles attached on the rim, neck or shoulder. Out of the 298 jars identified from the project, 44 have been divided into five typological categories. These jars are distinguished based on their rim profiles and size. Many of these jars would have been fairly large in size and tend to date to the third and fourth centuries CE. Jugs and juglets are morphologically similar to jars but are smaller, typically only with one handle. The jugs are divided into four typological categories, known as a pilgrim flask, a spouted jug, and tall, thin, cylindrical shaped jugs. Cups are small closed drinking vessels. Most preserved examples are without handles and are globular in form.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.21.44 AMCups are a rare find at AGAP having only recovered 44 sherds; however, approximately half have been typed as a either a miniature, finer version of the cooking pot or a tall, globular cup.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.22.00 AMA significant discovery at ‘Ayn Gharandal has been loosely typed as Byzantine Painted coarse ware. Byzantine painted coarse wares represent a typological style present, thus far, only in the fourth century. These vessels are a unique form of table wares which have been identified in Aqaba and at AGAP. They appear in a wide variety of forms, paint colors, and painted decorations though they are only in the characteristic Aila/Aqaba fabric. At AGAP this painted ware is extremely rare. Only two sherds have been uncovered and very little of each are preserved.

By acknowledging the stylistic and chronological differences in the ceramic material it is easier to pinpoint minute changes in the stratigraphic layers of an excavation area. This typological account was applied to each of the excavation squares at AGAP to help discern the site’s occupational history.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.22.54 AMFor now I am going to focus primarily on the excavations of the fort, although significant work has been completed in the bathhouse and along the Eastern Ridge. Since 2010, AGAP excavations have centered around four different areas within the fort: the eastern gate, a section of the northern curtain wall, the area of the principia in the western curtain wall, and the southwestern edge of the fort near the corner tower. Each of these areas has uncovered significant ceramic finds which I wish to highlight momentarily. First I want to note a few discoveries of statistical note.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.24.00 AMAlong the southern curtain wall Square C:1/7 was opened in both the 2009 and 2010 seasons. This was the smallest area excavated in the fort and as a result recovered the least amount of ceramic material; however, there were notable variations in vessel forms and a significant number of fine ware imports.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.25.04 AMAmphorae were present in abundant quantities in C:1/7; they constitute 25% of the ceramic finds from the square, significantly more than other areas of excavation.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.25.51 AMGazan amphorae dominate in this area, accounting for approximately 75% of typed amphorae, though it is likely many represent a single vessel.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.26.23 AMAlong the western curtain wall a large area, representing the principia of the fort, has been excavated since 2009. The room was completely uncovered in 2014 revealing a wide variety of ceramic material.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.27.00 AMThe above chart illustrates a collection of 80 amphorae from the principia alone. In this one area more than 9 different amphorae forms, which are vessels differing in shape, design, and point of origin have been identified and this distribution is similar in other areas of the fort. This diversity is demonstrably illustrative of an intense network of both intra and extra provincial trade networks which are connected to the site, likely through its connections with the major cities of Aila and Petra.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.27.30 AMExcavations along the northern curtain wall have thus far revealed three adjacent rooms of similar dimensions. By the end of the excavations in 2013, it was noted that the three rooms shared similarities in the ceramic material for each stratigraphic deposition.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.27.59 AMScreen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.28.33 AMIn 2011, a small assemblage of complete vessels was excavated from above the floor surface in the central room dating around the mid-fourth century. Comparatively, in 2013, excavations uncovered two other vessels, resulting in this complete assemblage from the central room. Following this initial period of occupation, the stratigraphy suggests a period of abandonment at the fort. This abandonment phase shows evidence of squatter occupation in the form of minor ash lenses spread throughout the associated loci. The diagnostic material from these loci was comparable to the primary occupation though is assumed to be of a later period due to the accumulation of significant amounts of wind-blown sand.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.29.48 AMIn 2013, two squares were opened along the eastern curtain wall, exposing the gate entrance to the fort. Excavations in this area were divided into two distinct sections: the area to the east of the curtain wall (or outside the fort) and the area within the gate. Primary occupational levels were not reached in either of these areas, which restricted the analysis of the ceramic material. However, excavations outside the gate uncovered a thick deposit of organic material which was rich in ceramic evidence.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.30.24 AMThis area, interestingly, held an assemblage of two cooking pots and a complete jug, dating to the fourth century. Associated with this deposit but located within the gate above the remodeled threshold, was another assemblage of mixed cooking and table wares.

So, the next question is, where do we take this information? How can we make this useful for other projects and help us in later excavation seasons. In addition to simply identifying diagnostic sherds, it’s been the goal of the project to typologically classify this material based upon morphological or stylistic differences. From there we utilize our knowledge from other archaeological excavations, stratigraphic depositions, published resources, and those who have mentored us through the years to help us identify their chronological date range. Unlike certain fine ware material and imports which for various reasons may be closely dated, for coarse ware materials an “absolute date range” almost does not exist. It is difficult to pinpoint places of origin for many forms not to mention vessel designs are kept in circulation for decades and likely reused through generations.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.31.00 AMIt is the hope that the knowledge gained regarding the ceramic material collected from ‘Ayn Gharandal can be applied to related sites in the region. The variety of external sources whose material has supplied the fort opens room for a discussion on trade and supply relationships along this southeastern frontier. It is only through further excavation and collaboration that we can better understand the purpose and function of sites such as Gharandal within the region.


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