How the Project began

During the early 1990's the American Center for Oriental Research (ACOR) conducted excavations in a basilica church found at the center of Petra. The church dated from the 6th century and was decorated with beautiful floor mosaics with human and animal figures. This was surprising since previously it had bee assumed that the life at the city had declined after the devastating earthquake of the year 363 A.D. and was totally abandoned by another quake in 551A.D.

Another surprise was to find a charred papyrus archive in a room next to the basilica hall. A Finnish conservation team was invited ensure the salvation of the scrolls to a readable form. Records dating from 513 to 592 A.D. revealed a city full of life. The above mentioned earthquakes were not to blame for the fate of Petra.

The documents told also about the environment of the urban center, the agriculture and public buildings. In a will, Obodianos, fallen ill, promises to leave half of his property to the monastery of High Priest, the other half the a hospital in Petra.

This detail in the will confirmed an old belief. There used to be a monastery related to the tomb church of Aaron, at least in the 6th century. On the mountain plateau of Jabal Haroun, at the altitude of 1250 meters, there is an unexcavated ruin covering 3000 sq meters, obviously a monastery. After the conservation and documentation of the charred papyri and with the permission from the Jordanian authorities, it is time to take a closer look at the interesting building complex.


Goals of the Project

The purpose of the five-year Finnish project is to take care of the archaeological excavations, conservation work and publication of the results at the monastery area and its close environment. Located on solitary mountain peak, the area of the monument of Aaron is considered holy and outside the boundaries of the project. The Christian monastery operated throughout the Islamic period always until the age of Crusades. The tomb church is mentioned for the last time in the written sources in 1217 A.D. In the mid-14th century, an Islamic mausoleum was built on the site of Aaron's tomb which still is one of the most important sites of pilgrimage in the Holy Land for the Muslims, Christians and Jews'.

The floor level and wall structures are covered with a three-meter layer of debris and will be conserved along with the excavation process. Signs and a brief booklet will be prepared for the visitors. Other structures, caves and the surrounding agricultural area will be also surveyed in order to understand the environment of the monastery better. The survey and excavation data will be transferred into the 3-D space for visualization of the area, its layers and the progress of the project. These results we will present at these pages in the future.

The people

There is an important, educational aspect in the project, during which Finnish archaeologists, photographers and excavation architects are trained to operate in the Middle Eastern environment, conserve large structures and identify local artefacts. There are also high hopes for finding written sources from the site.

Trained by the best foreign experts from Europe, United States and the Middle East, the Finns will increasingly be more in charge of the project. There were more volunteers to participate the project than we could take this time. Most of the labour is done, however, by the local workmen for whom the archaeological projects and tourism are an important source of income. The seasons will take three months each year - the time in between is used to examine the results and prepare the publications..

Challenges

Because of the nature of the site we paying a special attention to the logistics. The team members live in the bedouin tents on the mountain plateau. We have to re-think the concepts of time and distance since, for example the trek to the closest stretch of road takes three hours, even the water has to be carried to the camp on donkeys.

Communications and energy

The monastery of St. Aaron was located within the eyesight from Petra. This type of visual link was a safeguard specially in border regions and desert conditions. Fire and smoke in the distance gave an early warning and people took refuge from buildings that were small fortresses as well. The team members will use cellular phones and e-mail to be in touch with Petra, Amman and Helsinki. The electricity is produced by solar cells - it for certain that we will have plenty of sunshine.


Results

The yearly reports of the project will be published in Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan.
(See FJHP bibliography)

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