Press Release submitted to the Department of Antiquities (September 5, 2002)

The Finnish Jabal Haroun Project (FJHP) has carried out its fifth fieldwork season between August 3 and September 5, 2002. 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 the USA - 29 persons in total. The focus of investigations of the FJHP is the Byzantine (5th-7th century A.D.) monastic/pilgrimage center, most probably dedicated to St. Aaron. The 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 2002 activities included the excavations, conservation, and the survey. The excavation work was conducted in four trenches (N, R, S, and T). Trench N yielded well-preserved remains of a large room located in the northern part of the complex (pilgrims' hostel?), as well-stratified occupational deposits. The excavations in Trench R located in the SW corner of the complex, continued the removal of a fish bone and scale midden a part of which was exposed in 2001. Initially, this area contained a water channel and a large masonry basin (olive/grape treading floor?). Later, these installations went out of use, and the entire area became a general disposal place for debris and demolition material. The fish midden was seemingly created during the latest phase of dumping. Trench S located on the western ridge of the site, contained a room being a structural continuation of a large Nabataean-Roman building excavated in 2000-2001, although of somewhat inferior construction, and separated from it by a stairway. This room had three NE-SW arches spanning the interior, and three benches along the walls. During the later phases of occupation the interior contained series of large fireplaces, probably for cooking. Trench T located in the central-southern part of the basilican church, covered the southern aisle, and a part of the nave, from the bema on the east down to the wall on the west which divided the original church into two parts. The remains found in this area represent several phases in the history of the church, marked by major modifications of the interior. Original column supports were first replaced by free-standing pillars and then by N-S arches. The latest occupation in all trenches was marked by massive stone tumbles of the surrounding walls.

Major consolidation and conservation work was performed in Trench S where all three arch springers and pilasters required immediate intervention of the conservators. Furthermore, the exceedingly poorly preserved eastern wall of the church, which basically totally collapsed behind the apse was expertly reconstituted. The same was done with the northern wall in the room excavated in Trench N. Additionally, work continued on the consolidation of wall and bench plaster in other areas of the site.

The survey of the 2002 Finnish Jabal Haroun Project season continued on the southern and southeastern side of the mountain, divided into five areas: G, N, F, P and O. The survey documented barrages and terrace walls in the area by using digital photographs already interpreted in the field. In Area G, one Middle Palaeolithic site, the material of which was found. In Area N (the top of Jabal Farasha), building remains, probably of Nabataean-Roman period, were documented. In Area P, a small hamlet-like settlement, about 55 m in length and about 30 m in width, was found. Soundings revealed carefully built corners, and a water channel there. The ceramics were mainly of the Nabataean-Roman date. Nearby, another small building was found, probably of the same date. One small Epipalaeolithic lithics scatter site was found on the bedrock, close to the hamlet.

The FJHP 2002 fieldwork season has provided a substantial amount of information concerning the site and its environs. It is already apparent that the basic phasing of the history of the church is again confirmed through the results of the excavations in Trench T. The results of the complete excavation of the fish remains midden, and the general disposal place preceding the midden in time are particularly interesting. It appears that this area of the monastery had some industrial or economic use before it was abandoned. The largest deposits of the general disposal place could represent the debris and demolition material related to the destruction of the church at the end of Phase 1. It is hoped that well-stratified ceramic deposits will not only provide some chronological clues as for dating of the church phases but will also allow for further refinement of the ceramic chronology for the Byzantine-Early Islamic Petra and southern Jordan. It is apparent that the fish (Scaridae and other species) were consumed throughout the history of the monastery. However, the midden of the fish bones and scales seems to belong to the later periods in the history of the site, probably continuing in use when the monastery/pilgrimage center were much reduced in size or even abandoned. This should indicate that the pilgrimate traffic would have continued nevertheless, and together with it the tradition of consuming particular fish types at the sacred site. Finally, it is possible that the 2002 season provided the structural evidence for the very late periods in the history of the site. The stone scarp or slope (glacis) exposed on the western side of the western ridge bears close resemblance to the medieval military architecture displayed in the structures built during the Crusader and the Ayyubid Mameluk period (e.g., in Shobak, Karak or Ajlun). Possibly during the Crusader period, the parts of the monastery/pilgrimage center which still were in use were provided with an additional fortification.

The Project wishes to express thanks to the Director-General of Antiquities of Jordan and the Department of Antiquities office in Petra for the cooperation and support.

Prof. Jaakko Frösén, FJHP Director

Dr. Zbigniew T. Fiema, FJHP Chief Archaeologist