Area 1: The White Monastery Project
From 2005 to 2007, nine units of excavation were opened up in area 1, with Darlene Brooks Hedstrom serving as the supervising archaeologist. These units have been A–C, H–L, and O. In 2005, Brooks Hedstrom began her excavations with units A, B, and C. These locations were selected on the basis of subsurface survey results, which indicated the possible presence of walls and/or other architectural structures. The excavations confirmed the presence of walls in each unit.
Beginning in 2006, surveys and excavations were also conducted at a triconch funerary chapel (unit N) bordering the western edge of the archaeological zone. This funerary chapel was discovered by the SCA in 2002 and excavated in subsequent years. Since 2006, YMAP has collaborated with the SCA on documenting architecture and painted wall plaster, as well as opening up new excavation units.
In unit A, excavators found the remains of a fired brick foundation wall covered in plaster and the corner of a limestone paved floor. In units B and C were found sections of a later mud brick wall, in poor condition, with a slightly higher foundation level than the wall in unit A (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Remains of units A–C after the first season of excavation, with walls indicated in brown, burnt brick levels in gold, and limestone paving in white.
In interpreting this relatively meager preliminary data, Brooks Hedstrom hypothesized three stages of use/disuse for these structures: (1) a building phase related to the plastered fired brick wall and limestone pavers in unit A, (2) a phase of destruction by fire indicated by the presence of a burn layer in units A and B, and (3) a third phase during which the mud brick wall in units B and C was constructed.
The piecemeal nature of these findings led Brooks Hedstrom to expand the scope of the area 1 excavations the next season. In December of 2006, she opened up five more units to the south and east of unit A, and labeled them H through L (Figure 2).
Figure 2 (left): General view of units H–L.
Her results showed continuity with the architecture uncovered in that adjacent unit. It was conclusively determined that the building found in unit A (the corner with a limestone floor and plastered wall bases) extended into units H, I, and J. At a later stage, a more crudely constructed mud-brick structure was built across several of the units (H, J, K, and L). The presence of animal fecal matter suggests that the rooms of this structure were used as pens for animals. The use of this later building probably ended with destruction by fire, confirmed by signs of burning where the high temperatures vitrified the mud bricks.
Unfortunately, the archaeologists’ ability to date and contextualize these remains stratigraphically was again hindered by later contamination: indeed, there were clear signs that the site was reused as a rubbish dump in modern times.
In addition to these new excavations, the team also devoted time toward documenting a unit in area 1 already excavated by the SCA, labeled unit O on the plan (Figure 3, right: Survey plan showing unit O, in relation to units A–C and H–L ).
This unit contains a mud-brick hall with seven rooms (Building K), along with a kiln, two tombs, and several rectangular water basins with a system of ceramic piping. Primary attention was given to cleaning, photographing, and surveying the core of Building K, which went through later stages of renovation with the addition of rooms to the west, south, and east. Ceramic evidence collected from the building dated almost exclusively from the late Roman and early Islamic periods (5–8th centuries). The absence of later types of pottery may be a result of their removal by the SCA during their excavations of the structure; however, it is also possible that the habitation of the building ended in the early Islamic period and that such later types were never present.
Unit N (Triconch Funerary Chapel)