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Newswise — For 10 years, University of Arkansas students and professors have been digging up pieces of the past and changing the way archeologists view life in the Middle East during the first millennium. Now the U of A and Yarmouk University in Jordan have published the results of their initial years of excavation and study.
"Sa'ad: A Late Roman/Byzantine Site in North Jordan" was recently published by the Deanship of Research and Graduate Studies at Yarmouk University. It is the first of a series of monographs to be produced as part of the agreement between the U of A and Yarmouk.
The goal of the field school's research project is to reconstruct the quality of life of the rural people from the Byzantine era, from about the time of Christ to A.D. 800. The evidence shows that these people had better health and more wealth than typically believed to be characteristic of rural Byzantine life, said professor Jerome Rose, who co-directs the field school at Sa'ad alongside professor Mahmoud el-Najjar of Yarmouk.
"The conception is that everything was awful, and the people were poorly fed," Rose said.
In fact, the people's diets haven't changed much in about the last 1,000 years, and their bones don't indicate widespread disease or malnutrition. Studies of the people's jewelry and tomb architecture helped the teams determine that these ancient Jordanians, while not rich by today's standards, had money to buy the things they wanted, and had the ability to build wealth.
The field school is one of few expeditions studying the smaller rural villages of Jordan's Byzantine era. Most expeditions focus on the large cities and big towns, so much of the research being done at Sa'ad is providing new information about the era.
Also unique is the presence of an on-site osteologist, a person who excavates and studies bones. Sa'ad is likely the only expedition site in Jordan with osteologists as directors, according to Rose.
The field school is, in effect, a study-abroad course, where the students can interact socially with the Jordanian students and local community. The Americans stay in apartments on the Yarmouk campus and have evenings free to explore the area on their own.
The students use their field research to write their honors or masters' theses. These have been incorporated into the published monograph. The monograph is seven chapters long, including an introduction and conclusion by Rose and adjunct assistant professor Dolores Burke, who also edited the publication. Four of the chapters incorporate research papers by U.S. students. Two others include research papers by Yarmouk students.
In 1995, the Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology at Yarmouk University and the department of anthropology and Fulbright College at the U of A, with the support and assistance of the King Fahd Middle East Studies Program at the U of A, conducted the first collaborative bioarchaeology and mortuary archaeology field school at the site of Sa'ad in Jordan.
"We started out with what we thought was a small area, and it turned out much larger than we thought," Rose said. "With the archaeology we found and the material parts — the churches, buildings and artifacts — plus the biological parts in the bones and skeletons, we really had a holistic piece of that era to look at."
The following year the institutions established a five-year agreement through 2000, when the agreement was renewed for five years. The eight-week bioarchaeology field school is conducted in the summer for up to 30 students from both universities.