Société d'archéologie de l'uOttawa – uOttawa Archaeology Society

Past Excavations

Golemo Gradiste in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

My name is Sabrina Higgins and I am the co-founder and past president of the University of Ottawa Archaeological Society (2010-2012). I am a PhD student and professional archaeologist who has worked on a variety of projects, including a Minoan harbour town in Crete, a Mycenaean cemetery in Greece, a Roman fortress and a 5th century church in Bulgaria. For the past two years I have been workng as a supervisor at the site of Golemo Gradiste in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. This is a tiny project that has two directors and employs only two supervisors and one student. The rest of the team is composed of hired workmen from the nearby village. This site in northeastern Macedonia dates to the 5th-7th century CE and is made up of two distinct areas. The acropolis and the lower terrace. Excavations have been ongoing since 2000, and we have been working on the lower terrace since 2009. Our latest excavations have yielded a large episcopal basilica (the seat of a Bishop). This basilica is 33m long and 15m wide and has several annex rooms attached to the basilica itself, including (perhaps) a side chapel attached to the south wall of the basilica. My team works in the area north of the basilica, where we are in the process of uncovering an annex room that opens up from another annex room attached to the narthex. We think that my annex room actually contains the baptistry for the site. A theory that we will test this year when I return, as we are set to open up a larger area around my trench from last year. 



Khirbat al-Mudayana, Jordan (30km outside of the town of Madaba)
·         Excavating the Iron Age town and Nabataean buildings at Khirbat al-Mudayana;
·         Regional survey of the Wadi ath-Thamad area;
·         Documentation of ancient cemeteries.
The Wadi ath-Thamad project is sponsored by Wilfrid Laurier University.
In 2008, having no previous archaeological fieldwork experience, I decided to jump in head first. A classmate and I decided on Jordan from the choices provided to us in class because we wanted to experience something different. While many of our other classmates were headed to Europe, we settled on the Middle East.
During the 2008 season, I was a volunteer in Field E under the supervision of Dr. Annlee Dolan (professor of Anthropology at San Joaquin Delta College). My square supervisor was a student from the host university with one previous season’s experience as well as lab experience. Though many of the students were first time volunteers with the Project, my uOttawa classmate and I were the only ones from an outside university who were not in a formal archaeology program. I knew very little about everything around me. In regards to archaeology, I had only taken CLA2110 and watched the Indiana Jones trilogy. About the Moabite Kingdom and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, I knew only what I found on Wikipedia. I knew quite a bit about Islam but still had a lot to learn. Finally in regards to the Arabic language, I knew only a few choice words (polite and not so) from having grown up in a primarily Arabic and French neighbourhood and having many Arabic-speaking friends. I spent those six weeks absorbing everything I could and used up all my free time travelling and exploring nearby sites.
Prior to the 2010 season, I weighed my options and decided to return to Khirbat al-Mudayana. When I left in 2008, I felt invested in my square, my field, our site and the city of Madaba in which we lived. I was especially mesmerized by the country with its monarchy, culture, history and language. Over the past two years, I did my best to learn as much as I could about Khirbat al-Mudayana, the Moabite Kingdom and even the Arabic language. Far more prepared, I returned in 2010 as a square supervisor.
The days were long, the work was hard and the heat was exhausting, but my second season with the Wadi ath-Thamad Project only strengthened my love for archaeology, history and ancient cultures. I have a lot more to learn, but I know that this is what I want to do.
The Wadi ath-Thamad Project consists of roughly 180km2 of desert outside the modern city of Madaba in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. A small team of surveyors work at the various sites within the Project’s reach while a larger team excavates at the site of Khirbat al-Mudayana, located approximately 30km south of Madaba. The site of Khirbat al-Mudayana is at the top of a desert mound about 30m from the foothill that must be climbed by foot every morning as it is far too steep for a vehicle. Khirbat al-Mudayana is often mistakenly referred to as a tell. Although there is evidence of other activity, such as Roman and Umay, on the site, as of yet, there is no evidence of another village having been built above the Iron Age II village.
I spent my two seasons with the project working in Fields E and G which is where the domestic buildings are located. These two seasons yielded many interesting finds and has added to our understanding of the building, but there is still much more to be found there.
There are many benefits to this excavation. If you are interested in Near Eastern, Biblical or Iron Age archaeology, this is the excavation for you. The cost is very reasonable considering that you receive four meals a day during the week and three meals a day on weekends. The project also organizes educational trips on Saturdays to other sites in the area, such as the desert castles and forts, Wadi-Mujib, Mount Nebo, Jerash, Amman, etc. These are included in your participation fees. There is also enough downtime to plan your own side trips (at your own expense) to the Dead Sea, the Red Sea, the Jordan River, Pella and Gadara, Wadi Rum desert, etc. The project organizes the trip to Petra and Karak, but the cost is extra. I was the student who organized these trips in 2008 and 2010 and I was successful in scoring some great deals for the group.
You may be intimidated by the idea of digging in the desert, but the great thing is that there is little to no humidity! It is just as hot as Greece, Turkey and Italy, but without the humidity. It is hotter than England, France and Eastern Europe, but without the rain. Due to the lack of humidity and rain your body has the chance to cool down; sweat has the opportunity to do what it is supposed to do. And you do not have that sticky icky wet feeling that never seems to go away and the air is not thick and heavy.
One thing to remember if you are planning to join this dig: though it is one of the most progressive and tolerant Middle Eastern countries and has Christian and Jewish communities, it is still a Muslim country, a conservative country. We are not considered tourist while we live in Madaba, and our actions will reflect on the team year after year, so it is important to be respectful of the customs and practices of Jordan and to be conservative in the way we dress and act in public.

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