Finnish Jabal Haroun Project 2001

Press release submitted to the Department of Antiquities (September 28, 2001)

THE FINNISH JABAL HAROUN PROJECT 2001

The Finnish Jabal Haroun Project (FJHP) has carried out its fourth fieldwork season between September 1 and September 28. The project is directed by Prof. Jaakko Frösen, University of Helsinki, and sponsored by the University of Helsinki and the Academy of Finland. The team included archaeologists, cartographers, conservators and students from Finland, Sweden, Italy and USA - 16 persons in total. The excavation site is located on a high plateau below the summit of the Mountain of Aaron (Jabal Haroun) near Petra in southern Jordan. According to the Jewish, Christian and Islamic tradition, the mountain is believed to be the burial place of Aaron, Moses' brother. The 2001 season was entirely devoted to the excavations of the structures located on the western side of the large Byzantine (5th-7th century A.D.) monastic/pilgrimage center dedicated to St. Aaron, which is the focus of the FJHP investigations.

The excavation work was conducted in two trenches (O and P). Trench O is located at the highest point of the western ridge on the site. It is adjacent to the monumental structure filled up with stones, which was excavated in 2000 in Trench K. The structure uncovered in Trench O is a well-built room with 3 arches, which features several phases of occupation. Two major destruction episodes have been detected, with the main architectural parts reconstructed each time and with new additions in each phase, including two levels of plastered floor. Contrary to the previously held opinion, it is now apparent that while the room in Trench O and the adjacent structure should be dated to the Nabataean period, the intentional filling up of that in Trench K must have happened during the later phases of occupation at the site, probably during the Byzantine period. Although it is still possible that both structures, judging from their architecture and masonry, could have had a sacral function this hypothesis will require more support through the future excavations. It is apparent, however, that the structure in Trench O had a long history of occupation which should date from the Nabataean through the Late Byzantine period, if not later. Well-stratified ceramic deposits which will be analyzed in the near future should provide specific dating of the phases of occupation there.

Trench P, located in the SW part of the complex, has yielded the remains of a room which had three major phases of occupation, seemingly covering the Byzantine period and, possibly, the early decades of the Early Islamic period. During Phase II, the room was spanned by two NW-SE arches. The central part of the room was occupied by a round, low platform built of irregular but flat stones, of which one quarter was exposed. The function of this platform appears to have been as a space where grain was ground for flour. This is inferred from the presence of an upper part of the basalt rotating grain mill (Pompeiian type), which was found laying besides the remains of the pilaster for the southern arch. At the beginning of Phase III, a large, rectangular, stone piled-up structure ("platform") was built against the southern face of the northern wall and on top of the round platform. The function of this installation is unknown; it might have been a large defensive or supportive buttress, or a platform of special purpose.

Directly south of southern wall of the room, a narrow space was excavated which yielded well-stratified remains of an extensive midden. It contained large quantities of fish scales and bones (primarily, Scaridae - parrot fish) in discrete strata, often in the matrix of very ashy soil, and associated with sherds of cooking pots. It is probable that the depositing of the debris already began in Phase II but certainly continued in the following phase and possibly even beyond the latest occupation inside the room. The overwhelming predominance of fish bones and scales found in the midden in Trench P is to be expected in the monastic/pilgrimage context but the future analysis will be able to detect the specific patterns and variations in dietary practices at the site. Furthermore, it is already apparent that the material from the midden relates to the food preparation activities which then should have been carried out nearby, and not from the actual consumption which must have taken place somewhere else at the site. Also, the discovery of the rotary grain mill part is significant. It indicates that the flour was produced at the site, thus that the monastery had its own food production and subsistence strategy, and was not only dependent on the gifts and donations from the pilgrims and the population living nearby. This all again supports the previously held idea that the St. Aaron monastery was of a coenobium-type.

In addition to the excavation activities, the cartographic work was continued to produce a three-dimensional computerized model of the entire Jabal Haroun mountain and its environs including the gathering of topographical and locational information, digital photography, and photogrammetry, and actual computer-generated modelling of the excavation site. Also, the cartographers were daily involved in assisting the excavation team in recording all structures, strata, features, and main artifacts which emerged or were noted during the excavation and survey. Major consolidation and conservation work was performed in Trench O where all three arches required the immediate intervention of the conservators. Also, exceedingly poorly preserved walls in the southern and northern pastophoria of the church, excavated in the previous years, were partially dismantled and expertly reconstituted. Additionally, work continued on the consolidation of wall and bench plaster in other areas of the site.

Although shorter in time than previously, the FJHP 2001 fieldwork season has provided substantial amount of information concerning the site and its environs, which will be properly studied and assessed in the nearest future. The Project wishes to express thanks to the Director-General of Antiquities of Jordan and the Department of Antiquities office in Petra hoping for their continuing support for the planned 2002 fieldwork season.