Jordan, La Sierra partnership to place ancient sites on tourism map

Dr. Ziad Al Sa'ad, Jordan's director general of the Department of Antiquities
Dr. Ziad Al Sa'ad, Jordan's director general of the Department of Antiquities

December 3, 2010
By Darla Martin Tucker

La Sierra University archaeologists Doug Clark and Larry Geraty have been digging in the red soil of Jordan for decades, extracting vestiges of life from thousands of years ago. Together with Jordanian archaeologists and teams of students and faculty from La Sierra and other universities, the duo has uncovered biblical-era villages, homes, skeletal remains, royal seals, tools of ancient life and other important relics.

Their excavations at Tall al-Umayri, along the Queen Alia Airport Highway near Amman, are the most advanced of the digs underway in the area. And now, through a partnership with Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, the La Sierra archeologists are preparing for Tall al-Umayri’s next phase—the partial reconstruction of the extensive site and placement of it on Jordan’s tourism map.

“This is a very large site preserving the early Iron Age,” said Dr. Ziad Al-Sa’ad, director general of Jordan’s Department of Antiquities during a visit to La Sierra University for the School of Religion’s Archaeology Discovery Weekend.

Excavations at Tall al-Umayri, begun in 1984, have unearthed ancient rural villages, burial grounds and a city. Umayri is one of three major excavations in an area known as the Madaba Plains, east of the Dead Sea in Jordan, a region once home to the biblical Amorites, Ammonites and Moabites. Andrews University and La Sierra University oversee the larger Madaba Plains Project which is carried out in partnership with Jordan’s Department of Antiquities and Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. The top of the Umayri tell totals nearly 2.5 acres while the slope and area around totals 25 acres. Updates and history of the work at Umayri are documented at Clark serves as the Tall al-Umayri site director, a position Geraty previously filled when excavations began there. Hisban and Jalul comprise the project’s other excavation areas.

La Sierra’s second annual Archaeology Discovery Weekend took place Nov. 13-14 and featured keynote presentations by archaeologists on the ancient Iraqi city of Nineveh, brief lectures about recent excavations in Jordan and hands-on workshops. Click here for a slideshow of the weekend’s activities:

Al-Sa’ad delivered a banquet presentation on Nov. 13 for about 60 people highlighting Jordan’s expansive archaeological and cultural history. Jordan’s location linking Africa, Asia and Europe has resulted in many efforts to control the region over thousands of years, with thousands of archaeological sites and tons of archaeological materials left in the wake of conflict. “It’s an opportunity and sometimes, a very big challenge,” the antiquities director said.

The ancient peoples of Jordan displayed great ingenuity with the development of early copper smelting, copper and tin factories using complicated chemical processes and water management systems, Al-Sa’ad said. “There’s strong evidence the industrial revolution started in Jordan,” he quipped. He discussed the various ages of Jordan, its societies, cultures, conflicts and events. He noted its key sites including the massive Nabataean tomb and city of Petra hewn out of rose-red rock and considered a wonder of the world. “You can’t imagine the efforts to preserve this,” said the director general.

He also addressed Jordan’s religious significance to the Christian community with such important sites as the Jordan River where John the Baptist baptized Jesus, and Mt. Nebo, burial place of Moses. “It was in Jordan that Christianity was born,” said Al-Sa’ad.

Following his talk, he noted La Sierra’s efforts to preserve and impart his country’s history. “It’s very important to make people aware of the value” of ancient artifacts, the director general said. “I’m very pleased with how [La Sierra] has used Jordan artifacts to convey history about Jordan.”

The slate of weekend events was organized under the theme “Nineveh: The Glory of Iraq’s Past” and attracted about 250 people.

Archaeologists Diana Pickworth and Constance Clark Gane, respectively from the University of California, Berkeley and Andrews University delivered presentations on Nineveh. The pair has focused a good deal of their work on Nineveh and gave accounts of their excavations, bringing to life the 4,000-year-old city.

In a lineup of smaller lectures, La Sierra and Andrews University archaeologists provided up-to-date news reports on recent digs at on-going excavations in Jordan. Clark Gane discussed activities at Jalul and Andrews University archaeologist Øystein LaBiana discussed work at Hisban. La Sierra’s Clark and archaeology professor Kent Bramlett gave a report on this summer’s excavations at Tall al-Umayri. La Sierra’s counseling and school psychology department chair and professor Chang-Ho Ji, who is also an archaeologist, highlighted his discovery of a 3,000-year-old Iron Age temple at Ataruz. The find recently received international media coverage by MSNBC, Fox News, The Jordan Times, and other outlets.

Hands-on workshops, enjoyed by attendees young and young at heart, showed how to make ancient cloth and tools, date pottery and reconstruct ancient ceramic jar shards excavated in Jordan.  

Participants also had the opportunity to take a figurative step into the Middle East by sampling sweets and tea in a black, goat-hair Bedouin hospitality tent imported from Jordan last summer.

Last year’s inaugural event focused on the mesmerizing discoveries of Petra. Next year’s Archaeology Discovery Weekend will feature archaeology in Egypt. For Clark and Geraty, the annual weekend of events are an opportunity to impart the life-enriching experiences and knowledge gleaned from the world of Near Eastern archaeology.

“The archaeology program at La Sierra has been growing in its collections, programs and excavations for several years,” Clark said. “We are excited about the program and sense an obligation, as an educational institution, to share with the community what we are privileged to care for. One of the best ways to learn about the ancient world of the Middle East, if people are unable to travel there, is to see exhibits, participate in hands-on workshops with ancient implements, and hear lectures from well known and widely respected experts from around the world.”

“La Sierra University has been richly blessed with archaeological resources, not only with knowledgeable personnel, but also with nationally renowned artifacts from every day life in Bible times,” said Geraty, who also serves as La Sierra’s president emeritus. “So it is incumbent on us to share with our community and friends. The annual Archaeology Weekend every November is one of the ways we do that.”

La Sierra archaeologists are in need of volunteers to help restore ancient artifacts and catalogue them. If interested, please contact the School of Religion office at 951 785-2041 or email


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