Frequently Asked Questions
Since FTP isn’t a standard archaeology project, much less a typical community archaeology project, many people ask us questions about the how’s, why’s, what’s, who’s, and where’s of our research. Here is a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to give folks a basic idea of what we do while following the pots. Simply scroll down and read through the most commonly posed queries:
What is the Follow the Pots Project?
At its most basic level, Follow the Pots is a research project to investigate how and why people excavate, loot, sell, and collect pottery vessels from the 5,000 year old cemeteries sites of Bab adh-Dhra`, en-Naqa, and Fifa, located in southern Jordan. We are attempting to follow these pots from their graves to museums, educational institutions, shops, and peoples’ homes wherever we can find them. In following the pots we hope to learn more about what people think about archaeology generally, and how people value the archaeology of prehistoric Jordan more specifically.
Where in the world is the pots research area?
The Early Bronze Age [EBA, see below for a FAQ on the EBA] pots we follow originally come from the archaeological sites of Fifa, Bab adh-Dhra`, and en-Naqa (also called es-Safi, the name of the modern Jordanian town) in the southern Ghor. The Ghor is the Jordanian name for the Jordan Valley, and extends from the southern end of the Sea of Galilee in the north to the northern end of the Wadi Arabah in the south, encompassing the Dead Sea Basin.
Figure 1: Map of the Ghor es-Safi region, Jordan
In this region, the largest communities are Mazraa (located about a kilometer west of EBA Bab adh-Dhra`), es-Safi (located adjacent to the EBA cemetery at en-Naqa) and Fifa (located next to the EBA cemetery at Fifa). Most of the locals we talk with live in one of these three towns, and many archaeologists have also lived in these towns sporadically while conducting research over the last several decades
Figure 2: Road sign at the site of Fifa, Dead Sea, Jordan
Most people who live in the southern Ghor make their living through agriculture or by working for the Arab Potash Company. There are also people who follow transhumant lifestyles, moving their herds (primarily of goats and sheep, but also of camels) and themselves according to the seasons from the below-sea level lands of the southern Ghor to the west onto the Kerak Plateau (at about 1000 meters above sea level).
Figure 3: Tomato fields, view from the site of Fifa
Aside from the towns or villages of es-Safi, Mazraa, and Fifa, there are several well-known archaeological sites in the region, including the sugar mill (Tawahin es-Sukhar) adjacent to the ancient cemetery at en-Naqa, and Deir `Ain Abata (also known as Lot’s Cave). The Museum at the Lowest Place on Earth is situated on the lower slopes of the hill on which Deir `Ain Abata is located.
Figure 4: Sign at the entrance to the town of Ghor es-Safi
Why do we follow the pots?
We are truly fascinated by what people think about archaeology and the associated material remains. Our research is guided by questions surrounding how people (local and foreign) connect with the landscape, the practice of archaeology, and the artifacts associated with ancient peoples. We are interested in how people relate to the past – if they think about ancient ancestors, archaeological landscapes, and artifacts. We use these pots, which are highly desirable collectibles, to track the interactions of archaeologists, collectors, government officials, looters, and museum professionals, with the archaeology of the southern Dead Sea Plain. We hope that by investigating the various lives of these pots we will be able to answer questions regarding archaeology, ancestors, landscapes, cultural heritage, and the present.
Which pots are we following?
We study the ceramic pots from the cemeteries of Fifa, en-Naqa, and Bab adh-Dhra`, located near the modern towns of Fifa, es-Safi, and Mazraa near the Jordanian shoreline of the Dead Sea. We examine how people use, sell, collect, or discard these archaeological artifacts as a way to investigate people today’s ideas about the value of archaeological heritage as a resource in their daily lives. These pots were made and placed in graves of people who lived in the area 5,000 years ago. Approximately 60 years ago, people began looting the tombs in these cemeteries to collect and sell these pots in Amman and other markets. Archaeologists in the mid-twentieth century were drawn down to the Dead Sea region after seeing so many vessels for sale legally in Amman (prior to the 1976 Jordanian antiquities law [http://www.doa.jo/doa1.htm]) and Jerusalem, setting the stage for approximately 50 years of intensive archaeological research in the southern Ghor on Early Bronze Age and other historic and prehistoric cultures.
What laws are in place to protect the pots?
This is a great, but a somewhat tricky question. In 1976 Jordan updated their antiquities law and in doing so they banned the legal trade in antiquities. Prior to 1976 the Jordanian Department of Antiquities licensed shop owners to sell antiquities, but in response to ongoing looting of archaeological sites and thefts from museums the Jordanian government decided to outlaw the trade [http://www.doa.jo/doa1.htm]. In 1974 Jordan ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. In ratifying this Convention, Jordan agrees to abide by the principles outlined in the document and to aid other countries in preventing the illegal movement of archaeological objects. At the same time other member states agree to protect against the illegal importation of Jordanian material across their borders. Unfortunately Israel is not a state party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention and they still have a legal market for antiquities (see Israel Antiquities Law of 1978), so looted pots from Jordan are often legally available for sale in Israel. One of the research goals of the Follow the Pots project is to try and figure out how these pots are crossing from Jordan into Israel.
When and What is the Early Bronze Age?
The Early Bronze Age (EBA) is the term we use to describe the societies that lived in this region approximately 5,600-4,000 years ago (or 3,600-2000 BCE). For the very first time during this time period, people built the earliest towns and cities with large fortification walls surrounding them. Thus, we link the EBA with the emergence of urbanism, or the invention of city-life.
A great deal can (and did) change over 1,600 years with the rise and collapse of the first urban centers, and therefore the EBA is divided roughly into four sections based on the types of pottery and other goods that people made and used:
EBA I (including IA and IB): 3600 – 3100 BCE
EBA II: 3100 – 2800 BCE
EBA III: 2800 – 2350 BCE
EB IV (also called the Intermediate Bronze Age): 2350 – 2000 BCE
Fifa is a cemetery from the EB IA (the first half of the EB I period), en-Naqa a cemetery from the EB IA and early EB II periods. Bab adh-Dhra` has both a town site (from early EB II to EB IV) and a cemetery (from EB IA to EB IV).
Whose pots are we following?
The people who originally made and used these pots as grave goods lived about 5,000 years ago (around 3,000 BCE) near the southern part of the Dead Sea. Actually, archaeologists don’t know with certainty where these people lived: these cemeteries are not located near any settlements in the Dead Sea Basin. What this means is that we think that people living in the area (in towns, villages, farmsteads, and encampments) traveled to Fifa, Bab adh-Dhra`, and en-Naqa to bury their dead, but we can’t prove this interpretation yet.
So whose pots are these today? This question of ownership today is the most important underlying idea guiding our research. Who actually owns these pots? Who should be able to use them and how should they use them? Who decides how these pots get used, and why do some people have more power and voice in deciding what happens to these pots? There are several ways to answer these questions, depending on who is speaking to us. The fact that different people have different answers to these questions draws us further down the pathways of following these pots. Under Jordanian law, ultimately, these pots belong to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
What kind of tombs do you find at Fifa, en-Naqa, and Bab adh-Dhra`?
During the EBA people traveled to the site to bury their dead in secondary mortuary ceremonies. What this means is that people collected the bones of their dead, which had been buried elsewhere years earlier, traveled with these bones and grave goods to rebury the skeletal remains and the grave gifts in the cemeteries. The EBA IA people used cist tombs at Fifa and at en-Naqa, and they used shaft tombs (and later charnel houses) at Bab adh-Dhra`.
The cist tombs at Fifa were built by digging a pit, lining walls (and sometimes the floor) of the pit with stones, placing the dead persons’ remains in the chamber, placing a variety of grave goods with the deceased, and then sealing the chamber with large flat stone slabs.
Figure 5: Cist tomb at Fifa, 1990 season (Above Left)
Figure 6: Reconstruction of cist tomb at Fifa,drawing by Eric Carlson (Above Right)
Shaft tombs have a central circular shaft, dug 2-4 meters into the earth, and chambers excavated off the bottom of the shaft. Each shaft tomb at Bab adh-Dhra` had anywhere from one to five chambers for each shaft.
Figure 7: Photograph of shaft tomb No. 78W at Bab adh-Dhra’, 1977
Figure 8: Reconstruction of shaft tomb at Bab adh-Dhra’, drawing by Eric Carlson
What are primary and secondary mortuary practices?
Mortuary practices are simply the steps that people follow when someone dies. The main difference between primary and secondary mortuary practices is the timing: primary rites occur in the few days after a person dies and people are preparing the body to be buried, while secondary mortuary practices occur long after a person has died. For mortuary practices to be considered secondary, some amount of time (weeks, months, or years) must pass before people visit, change, reopen, reorganize, or add to the grave.
Today in most places in the world, primary rites include preparing a body for funeral rites: washing, embalming, cremating, wrapping, and burying. During the days immediately following a death, any actions that involve the corpse and the mourners, such as wakes, prayers, visitations, grieving processions, or feasts by the body, are all considered primary mortuary rites.
Secondary mortuary rites occur long after the individual has died, taking place months or even years after the death. These include memorial feasts, replacing grave markers with newer versions, movement of a skeleton from its primary grave site to a charnel house, or simply visiting the grave of the deceased. In many places secondary mortuary practices can involve many more people than the primary rites, since secondary ceremonies can be scheduled well ahead of time, allowing people to plan for a journey to participate.
In the case of Fifa, Bab adh-Dhra`, and en-Naqa, the EBA graves are overwhelmingly the result of secondary mortuary practices. When a person died in this region 5,000 years ago, they were most likely buried to allow their bones to deflesh (we actually don’t know where these primary graves were located, since we don’t know where these people were living, another mystery to be uncovered through future research). After waiting several years, people would dig up the bones of their dead to collect them for the journey to one of these cemeteries. Once at the cemetery, the EBA people would either build a tomb or open a previously used one, and place the bones of their dead carefully in the tomb with grave goods that were deemed necessary and/or appropriate. They would conduct whatever funerary rites were necessary, seal up the tomb, and then travel back to their homes and carry on with life.
Who buried their dead at Fifa, Bab adh-Dhra` and en-Naqa 5,000 years ago?
We don’t know who buried their dead here, since there are no settlements nearby to the cemeteries. The nearest villages and towns were located about 30 km to the east and west, as the crow flies. Answering this question remains one of the most important future research projects that we may develop, depending on time and staffing. One of the best ways that we might be able to track the origins of these people would be to analyze the chemical composition of the clays in the pots and compare that to the clay sources still located throughout the region. If we can determine where the clay came from that people used to make these pots, we would be much closer to determining where they lived.
Why focus on Fifa?
There are several reasons why we have focused on Fifa for the archaeological portion of Follow the Pots:
- Of the three EB IA cemeteries in the southern Ghor of Jordan, Fifa has been the cemetery left undisturbed for the longest. The earliest looting of EB tombs in the region started at Bab adh-Dhra` in the mid-20th century, followed by en-Naqa, where looters began intensively working in the 1980s and 1990s. We know from working in the region for the last several decades that looters did not turn their attention to Fifa until 1990, after archaeologists conducted test excavations at the site. Once the site was identified and tested by archaeologists, locals knew that Fifa was another source for these grave goods.
- Fifa also is a relatively small (about 6.4 hectares, or 15.8 acres) cemetery, and contains graves from only the EB IA period and no associated settlement (yet identified). Both Bab adh-Dhra` and en-Naqa cemeteries are much larger, and contain graves from more than the EB IA. For instance, the cemetery at Bab adh-Dhra` extends to the west where it blends into a later Byzantine and Roman cemetery (Qazone), making it difficult to determine the specificity of intentions of the looting: did looters set out to collect EBA pots, or Byzantine materials? Or were they looking for any kind of grave good they could find? By limiting our archaeological focus to Fifa, where many of the looters are actively working, we can talk to people specifically about why they take certain objects from the EBA tombs and not others.
- Finally, as part of the larger research task of publishing the results of excavations at many of these sites, we needed to survey the site to produce a proper topographic map of the site of Fifa, noting all of the archaeological remains that we can see today on the surface. By archaeological remains, we mean all of the walls, tombs, trenches, and even modern disturbances to the site. Modern disturbances at Fifa include military slit and tank trenches from the 1960s and 1970s military encampments, as well as looters’ trenches and bulldozer cuts from building on or near the site.
Figure 9: Unlooted landscape at Fifa, December 1989 (Above Left)
Figure 10: Looted landscape at Fifa, 1998 – image courtesy of Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East (Above Right)
Figure 11: Sean Bergin in the looted landscape at Fifa, 2002 (Above Left)
Figure 12: Looted landscape at Fifa, 2011 (Above Right)
Figure 13: Plan of Fifa, 2011
What is Fifa?
Fifa (also spelled Feifa) is an archaeological site located near the southeastern shore of the Dead Sea in Jordan, south of the modern town of es-Safi. Archaeologists have identified four different times when people used the site (from oldest to most recent):
- the Pottery Neolithic (approximately 8,000 years ago), when people probably lived at the site on a small farmstead;
- the Early Bronze Age IA (about 5,000 years ago), when people buried their dead in a large cemetery;
- the Iron Age (about 3,000 years ago) when people built a fortified village on the highest part of the site, over the cemetery; and
- the modern day, when people loot the 5,000 year old cemetery to gather pots and sell them.
At the base of the promontory on which the ancient site of Fifa is located, sits a modern cemetery, which is consistently used to bury the recent dead.
Follow the Pots focuses on the Early Bronze Age period, when people buried their dead in the cemetery at Fifa, and the modern period, when people loot the EBA graves for pots for sale on the antiquities market.
What do we mean by multiple lives of pots?
These pots may have begun their lives as grave goods, placed with the long dead in cist or shaft tombs. For this reason, we think of their first lives as devoted to accompanying the dead.
When archaeologists or looters remove pots, stone maceheads, shell bangles, or other materials from these tombs, they propel these objects onto a new pathway, into a new life. If the objects are broken, or are undesirable to collectors, they remain strewn across the site in spoil heaps until the weather or other forces break them down slowly. Looters generally avoid keeping shells, shell bracelets, beads, and human skeletal remains, and so their second life is one of slow submission to the elements.
Looters do take away whole pots, stone maceheads, and stone vessels to be delivered to middlemen, who often send them to free ports to be laundered (with the forgery of provenience papers). Once laundered, they are distributed throughout legal and illegal channels to be sold to collectors through Internet and Brick-and-Mortar stores. In some cases, we have found that stone bowls often were given as gifts to people in Jordan, and thus some of these items will never enter the market at all and therefore have never been issued false provenience papers. Ultimately they come into the hands of collectors, and the new life of these objects may involve display in homes, educational institutions, museums, and offices. Often the pots are associated with stories of how and why people acquired them, or how people value them (as a memento of a journey, as a “touchstone” with religious beliefs, as gifts from others, as inheritances from family members, or as pieces of art).
Figure 14: Early Bronze Age pots for sale in an Antiquities Shop in Jerusalem, 2012
Like looters, archaeologists also remove these materials from the tombs. However, we remove everything, broken or whole, take notes on the location of these objects, and dedicate a great deal of time documenting through photography, note-taking, and drawing the context in which we find these objects. Legally we hold permits from the Jordanian government to excavate, and we are obligated to store, or curate, these materials for future scientists. In some cases, we may also be obligated to develop museum displays to exhibit these pots to the public for educational purposes. These grave goods start their second lives as objects in museum display cases, storage cabinets, and as objects of scientific inquiry. In the case of the EBA materials from Fifa, Bab adh-Dhra` and en-Naqa, archaeologists use these objects to tell stories about the beginning of urban society, life in early cities, the emergence of social hierarchies, and how people bury their dead in secondary mortuary rituals. Through time, materials on the looting and archaeological pathways may be re-born yet again, as they are sold or moved, and used and valued differently and in new places.
Figure 15: Bab adh-Dhra’ pots on display at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, 2012
Who follows the pots?
We are both professors teaching in American universities in Anthropology departments. Dr. Morag Kersel (an Assistant Professor at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois) is a Canadian and American citizen who earned her Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in the UK. Dr. Meredith S. Chesson (an Associate Professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana 100 miles from Chicago) is an American who earned her Ph.D. at Harvard University in the US. Both Meredith and Morag are field archaeologists who have worked in Jordan and Israel for many years on many different archaeology projects, as well as on projects in Italy, Canada, the United States, Cyprus, and Greece. For more information about Morag and Meredith, please visit their university homepages (http://www.nd.edu/~mchesson/ and http://las.depaul.edu/ant/People/Faculty/MoragKerselPhD.asp).
How do we follow the pots?
We use different research tools to follow the pots: aerial photography, surveying, archaeology, ethnography, archival research, and oral histories. The pots are easily recognizable to archaeologists familiar with Early Bronze Age pottery. Their shapes, sizes, decorations, and fabrics (the mix of clay with small bits used to make the pots) are all fairly distinctive, so it’s easy to spot these pots (or their fake counterparts) in stores, museums, and in online auction sites.
Figure 16: Early Bronze Age pots for sale on EBay, 2012
Figure 17: Early Bronze Age pot for sale and antiquities shop license, Jerusalem
Figure 18: Early Bronze Age pots from Bab adh-Dhra’, Carnegie Museum of Natural History storage facilities, 2012
اAt the moment much of the archaeology portion of our research occurs in our university offices: we are comparing the excavation notes and photographs from Fifa excavations in 1989-1990 to the results from our 2011 survey at Fifa, in which we used surveying equipment to map the cemetery of Fifa and recorded information about robbed tombs and grave materials left scattered on the surface of the site. By comparing what archaeologists discovered during systematic excavations of unlooted tombs with what we found scattered on the site surface in 2011, we hope to understand what looters take from the site (what they can sell or give away) and what they leave (what holds no value for them at all). Meredith leads this aspect of the project, since she is working with the original field notebooks to write up and publish the final report from these earlier excavations
Morag leads the active fieldwork portion of FTP, conducting the ethnographic and oral history research programs and the archaeological survey of the site. Many people are familiar with gathering oral histories: Morag interviews people who worked with these pots, or knew people who worked with the pots, in the past in any way, including looters, collectors, middlemen, antiquities dealers, foreign and national archaeologists, local inhabitants, and government and museum officials. We learn a tremendous amount about how people used these pots in many ways in the past. Ethnography is the study of living peoples today, and is known by several other names: ethnology, social anthropology, and cultural anthropology (depending on where one learns to be an anthropologist, the name changes). Conducting ethnographic research involves interviewing people who interact with these pots today (including looters and their family members, middlemen, archaeologists, museum workers, government officials, collectors, and dealers) as well seeking out the pots in antiquities shops, online auction houses (like EBay, Christies, or other online dealers, museums, and archaeological storehouses.) Sometimes it is very easy to get people to talk about their relationship to these pots; other times it is very difficult.
Why may some people be willing or unwilling to talk with us?
Because looting of archaeological sites, selling antiquities, or buying antiquities is illegal in most countries, many of the people who interact with these pots may be involved in criminal activity, regardless of intentions and knowledge or ignorance of international standards established by UNESCO in 1970 (see (http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/movable-heritage-and-museums/illicit-traffic-of-cultural-property/) for more information on this convention).
Some people are willing to talk with us, regardless of associated illegal elements, because we follow an ethical set of guidelines for anthropologists who work with living peoples. This ethical standard was developed in the US in 1974, and is known as the Belmont Principles (see the Health and Human Services website http://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/humansubjects/guidance/belmont.html for more information). The Belmont Standards have three basic ideas that anthropologists must fulfill to work with people today: Beneficence, Justice, and Autonomy. Here’s what it boils down to:
We are obligated to insure that we do no harm by implicating a person who talks with us about illegal activities, and to insure anonymity. We record no names and/or identifying information, and we do not require anyone to sign consent forms and keep all interviewing data in a secure place;
- We clear all the transcripts of interviews with people by providing them written transcripts of interviews, so they may redact portions or all of the information covered in the interview;
- Any person who talks with us may withdraw from the study at any point, and they take their information (given to us in interviews) with them—we will not use what we have learned in any presentations, publications, or overall analysis;
- We expressly do not use a “good guys-bad guys” approach to our work—we’re not interested in judging people or identifying criminals. In fact, we think about looters and archaeologists as very similar, in that we all dig up artifacts and use them in particular ways outside of their original context; and
- Ultimately, we want to be able to serve the local communities in the Southern Ghor, and to discover any ways that their local archaeological heritage can make meaningful contributions to their lives, such as in helping them to weather the economic crises they face in Jordan today.
Where do we find the pots?
We find pots in many places, some expected and some surprising, depending on the legal or illegal nature of their pathways from grave to current location. In Jordan it was legal to sell and purchase these pots before 1976, and therefore thousands of pots were purchased by tourists, museums, and collectors. Institutions, like museums, universities, and research organizations, often kept records of these purchases and we can track the pots through these records. For example, we have traced Bab adh-Dhra` pots purchased legally to the Vatican, the British Museum, the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas, and to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. In other cases, institutions who helped to fund the digs in the 1960s and 1970s often received pots for their collections, and the main institutions (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and the Smithsonian Institution) that sponsored the Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain [EDSP] (http://www.expeditiondeadseaplain.org/) hold large collections of these pots and other tomb materials still being studied or curated on permanent loan from Jordan. Many, many of these pots still reside in museum and archaeological storerooms in Jordan and part of this project is also to document the whereabouts of tomb groups in Jordan.
Figure 19: Morag Kersel checks out the Early Bronze Age pots from Bab adh-Dhra’, Carnegie Museum of Natural History storage facilities, 2012
Beyond these legal pathways, many of these pots find their way to legally licensed antiquities shops in Israel, mostly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. While it is nearly impossible to prove or track how the pots came to these shops today, it is very likely that there were looted illegally in the recent past, laundered with new manufactured papers of provenience (archaeological findspot – see FAQ on definitions of provenance and provenience), and then sold to shops for legal sale to tourists and other collectors. Looters have supplied the antiquities market in Jordan and other countries for decades. We find Early Bronze Age pots from the Dead Sea Plain listed for sale on internet auction houses, in licensed antiquities shops in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and in private homes of people who traveled as tourists to Jordan or Israel. Often the keywords used in online sales reference the Holy Land, or the Patriarchs/Matriarchs, Abraham, Sarah, or Ancient Palestine, in order to attract customers who are keen to purchase a small piece of religious memorabilia from the region of the world so important to the development of Judaism and Christianity. Tourists visiting the Holy Land often may also be attracted to signs in licensed Israeli shops advertising pots from 4,500-5,000 years ago, due to the traditional connection between the southern Dead Sea region and the Biblical sites of Sodom and Gomorrah. We look for these clues to track down examples of these pots on the antiquities markets worldwide.
Figure 20: Antiquities Shop sign, Old City Jerusalem
How do the Biblical towns of Sodom and Gomorrah enter into this story?
The ruins of the fortified town of Bab adh-Dhra`, as well as those of the Numayra (13 km to the south), have traditionally been associated with the Biblical stories of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Biblical story of these two cities focuses on their destruction by God’s wrath as part of the greater story of Lot and his daughters (Genesis 19). While there is no archaeological evidence at these sites to confirm these stories, many visitors to the region today visit Bab ahd-Dhra`, drawn to the southern Ghor by the Biblical stories. Therefore the pots from the cemetery at Bab adh-Dhra`, as well as from the neighboring cemeteries of en-Naqa and Fifa, can carry with them this association.
How can you follow the pots?
We’re keenly interested in talking with people who have bought these pots to learn more about why they bought them, how they enjoy or use them today, and what possessing these pots mean to them. If you’ve seen any of these pots in stores or museums, or have purchased them as souvenirs, we’d be thrilled to chat with you about how these pots fit into your life. You can contact us at our university offices or by email (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Why do people loot Fifa for these pots?
Looters rob archaeological sites for a variety of reasons, and often we can’t identify only one motivation. Morag’s research has documented that in the areas surrounding Fifa, en-Naqa, and Bab adh-Dhra` there is a very long history of looting tombs, from at least the 1950s onward and likely from before that time. Generations of kids have watched, or have helped, their family members and neighbors loot sites, and there is definitely an economic reward for selling looted pots and other items to middlemen. In times when the country of Jordan faces tremendous challenges of poverty, conflict, and rapid population growth (especially from refugees from war in neighboring regions), the people of the southern Ghor often suffer from food shortages and unemployment. Selling a pot or three can help a family feed their children, and perhaps give some sense of control over a frustrating situation which produces feelings of helplessness and even despair: even if one can’t find work as a day laborer in the fields, one can still bring in some money by robbing tombs to find whole pots.
Do looters take other things from the tombs?
Yes, they certainly do. While not as common as the pots, looters also find and take the stone maceheads and stone vessels sometimes placed in the tombs as grave goods. They don’t seem to care much for the shell bangles that people would have worn on their arms, and other small items (like beads, metal pins or needles) also go uncollected. From our survey of the surface of Fifa we found beads, chipped stone tools, small metal objects, and broken pottery and stone objects that were left on the ground. Collectors (and therefore the middlemen and looters) focus on whole, unbroken objects like pots and stone bowls.
Figure 21: Broken pot at Fifa (Above Left)
Figure 22: Carnelian bead, surface find at Fifa (Above Middle)
Figure 23: Lambis shell bracelet, surface find at Fifa (Above Right)
Figure 24: Tabular scraper, surface find at Fifa (Above Left)
Figure 25: Limestone macehead, surface find at Fifa (Above Middle)
Figure 26: Copper bracelet fragments, surface finds at Fifa (Above Right)
Figure 27: Human remains scattered on the surface as a result of looting
Who purchases these pots?
Since people have purchased pots from Fifa, en-Naqa, and Bab adh-Dhra` for at least 60 years, it’s not easy to narrow down the list of types of buyers. We do know that many of these pots have been, and continue to be sold, in licensed antiquities shops in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and many religious and secular tourists visiting the region purchase these pots as mementoes of their journey. Beyond those tourists who buy a pot to take home as a souvenir or religious touchstone, there are collectors who seek out these materials for their own collections or as investments, to be sold later.
Generally, it is all but impossible to follow the pots purchased by tourists visiting the region, since they leave singly or in small quantities and are carried to private homes globally. Meredith has by chance seen one of the pots in a bed and breakfast in California visited by her parents one year, but there is generally no way beyond luck to encounter these pots. In the coming months this aspect of following the pots will be the focus of research by Morag. She will spend most of 2013-2014 in Jerusalem and Amman interviewing collectors about why they want to own Early Bronze Age pots.
When collectors or antiquities dealers purchase large numbers of pots, the tomb groups sometimes come to light. For instance, one year a large department store in London displayed a large group of these pots as part of their holiday season sales. An archaeologist came into the store by chance and saw the pots for sale in a large display table, and reported the situation to the store managers.
Museums and other research institutions can purchase these pots from antiquities dealers, and we can trace these purchases with the museum acquisition records. Often these pots have been laundered and given false papers of provenience. What this means is that middlemen, who purchased the pots from the looters, falsify papers that state that the pots were collected before the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the 1976 Jordanian Law and thus appear to have been acquired legally.
What is provenience and what is provenance?
Provenience is the archaeological find spot of an object – the actual place that an item was found archaeologically. Provenance is the full ownership history of an object, which includes the provenience of an object.
The two terms are used differently in different parts of the world and in different academic disciplines. Art historians tend to use the word provenance, while archaeologists use the word provenience. Art historians and museums tend to stress the importance of provenance, based on a long history of collecting art objects and tracing the life history of a piece of art from artist to collector through time. For an archaeologist, they also link provenience, the physical location in space and time, to the concept of context. Context involves the physical, geographical and social environment in which people used or made any object. For most archaeologists, we stress the importance of context for understanding how an object was used and what ideas, values, and meanings people placed on any object. When objects are looted, like the pots from the graves in the Dead Sea area, they are removed from their original context and therefore we lose information about people and their lives and deaths in the past.
How do people place a value on these pots?
Many archaeologists, conservators, and museum professionals feel very uncomfortable answering this question, since it requires us to assign monetary values to these pots: many generally consider all artifacts, sites, and ancient landscapes to be priceless. However, we can track the value of these pots by talking with dealers, collections, and by checking on-line sites and auction catalogues where these pots are sold. Currently, the pots sell for anywhere between $150-300 USD depending on their decoration, size, condition, and provenance.
What is a stakeholder?
A stakeholder is an individual or group with an interest in a group’s or an organization’s success. Stakeholders can and do influence programs, products, and services. Stakeholders related to Follow the Pots are those individuals and/or institutions who have an interest in the movement of Early Bronze Age pots from the Dead Sea Plain in Jordan. This includes, but is not limited to: dealers, archaeologists, collectors, looters, local Jordanians, tourists, government employees, museum professionals, heritage practitioners, and lawyers.
What is UNESCO?
UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, is a specialized agency of the United Nations system. The organization was created more than a half century ago, with the mission to build the defenses of peace in the minds of men. For the purposes of Follow the Pots the UNESCO Conventions of 1970 and 1972 are most relevant.
Are there community archaeology projects in Jordan?
Yes, there certainly are. Here is a short, and certainly incomplete, list of websites from Community Archaeology Projects in Jordan.
Azraq Oasis project http://asorblog.org/?p=3367
Dhiban Excavation and Development Project http://nes.berkeley.edu/Web_Porter/Dhiban/Welcome.html