At the crossroads of civilizations, as the country is often regarded, Jordan has attracted human settlement and interest since time immemorial. Layer after layer, communities put down roots in its receiving soil, giving generations to come rich historical evidence that they’ve been trying to uncover, patiently peeling away at the mystery that slowly unveils itself.
So we come to know that Ammonites, Edomites, Nabataeans, Greeks, Romans, Christians and Muslims alike, lived, coveted, passed by this territory, leaving their imprint and vestiges of their civilizations.
Trying to tell the story of "why we, Europeans, are in Jordan", of the European-Jordanian cooperation in the field of archaeology in the Kingdom, Gajus Scheltema, ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, representing the EU presidency in Jordan, and The Khalid Shoman Foundation - Darat Al Funun opened the exhibition "Meeting with the past: treasures for the future", a novel way of presenting the work involved in archaeology and its outcome.
A live, dynamic presentation, on display are not only precious finds dug out in different parts of the country and lent for presentation by the Department of Antiquities, but also posters detailing the work involved, the historical/civilisational context and its authors, photographs, film screening, Power Point presentations of items at the exhibition and beyond, tools used for digging and painstakingly restored archaeological finds that can only give a hint at the mammoth task entailed.
Preparation for this rare exhibition that illustrates 50 years of hard discovery work took a year and a half, said Scheltema, who stressed that "it's not about objects; objects illustrate the story we have to tell, the story of European archaeologists in Jordan, how Jordanians met Europeans in the field".
The exhibition wouldn't have been made possible if it weren't for its many contributors, organizers said: 71 European institutions, Dr Fawaz Khreisheh from the Department of Antiquities that helped bring the finds to light, and Darat Al Funun, itself an interesting archaeological site.
Organized in five themes - survey; excavation; new technology, conservation; preservation, training and forthcoming projects; Petra region - the exhibition offers a wealth of information and is graced by exquisite finds, some impeccably preserved. It talks about ancient civilizations and traditions, about efforts to bring them to light and conserve them for future generations.
Whether an "aerial survey undertaken since 1997", "the Shawbak hinterland survey", a Neolithic regional study project in the "greater Petra area" or "farming the desert: irrigation and elite settlement in early Islamic Ma'an", historical ages are reviewed, their impact on the civilization of the day explained and the educational value is indisputable.
Dolmens, for example, are testimony to "the pastoral funerary practices in the south Levant in the 4th and 3rd millennium BC".
The Petra space has breathtaking exhibits on display. From flint arrows, beads made of shell, stone and copper ore, dating back 10,000 years, Ammonite terracotta figurines and an inscribed clay tablet "found in the vicinity of the Late Bronze Age temple (ca. 1200 BC)", incense burners, seals, cooking pots, to last year's finds under the Treasury: a lion head and the muzzle of a horse, the pieces are as interesting as their history.
A square marble stone almost childishly stylized is that of the "Eye Idol" Nabataean goddess Al Uzza; later the goddess gets more shapely, probably due to the technical advancement of the artists. Nabataean pottery, delicate and of a beautiful brick colour attests to an incense-burning tradition and the ritual of breaking the earthenware. Innovative and arresting in this display room are two video films, one done by France 3, Modom Productions and UNESCO, "Petra, the red silence", one by "young Wadi Musa artist", Sabri Fudul. His film, a demonstration of the power of water, so vital yet so destructive, should also serve as a lesson: we need to conserve what's left of Petra, heritage of the entire humanity whose custodians we are blessed to be. Fudul's film is accompanied by the photographs of another Wadi Musa talent, Qais Tweisi. Already this juxtaposition speaks of collaboration, of meeting on common ground and interest.
Across the room from the tumultuous flow of water in the film is a still photograph of Petra taken by Suha Shoman, inviting to meditation, giving a moment of respite from the massive bombardment with information in the room.
In a next room Early Bronze Age pottery, jewellery and seals accompany a magnificently restored carved stucco capital from the Congregational Mosque on Amman's Citadel. And in yet another display space, the use of new techniques, which include computer-generated restoration, is explained on one poster:
"In order to maximize the information recovered from excavations and archaeological material, archaeologists constantly try to develop and improve their methods. These include using the latest techniques of analyzing satellite images, improving our ability to see below the surface, with geophysics, examining objects at high magnifications, looking at microscope slides of the soils fro a site, developing detailed reconstructions of past environments, experimenting with building techniques and the process of destruction, and understanding past technologies."
This probably best explains the huge amount of effort and work involved in the work responsible for bringing to light the civilizations of our ancestors, a small part of which the viewers are privileged to view in this exhibition.
A great undertaking, a great meeting field for different peoples and for archaeologists who best bridge times and civilizations. The exhibition, which opened on May 17 under the patronage of Their Majesties King Abdullah and Queen Rania, will be on until July 17. It will be accompanied during this period by lectures, workshops, movie screenings and site visits, targeting, besides the general public students and thus adding "and educational element" to an already "enlivened exhibition".
Ica Wahbeh, Jordan Times