Shattering illusions in the Jordan desert

Shattering illusions in the Jordan desert

On September 11, seven students embarked for Jordan to participate in the 2022 Udhruh excavation project in the Jordan desert, led by dr.ir. Mark Driessen. The ensuing fieldwork experience shattered his illusions.


If dr Driessen thought it would be difficult to arrive on time at the site so early in the morning, the students shattered that illusion. With the precision of a Swiss clock, the students waited for their staff every morning at 6:30 sharp, ready for a twenty-minute drive to Udhruh, located only 16km east of the world-famous site of Petra.

This year, the fieldwork campaign, called Power in the Sands: A Monumental Desert Gateway to the Roman World at Udhruh (Jordan), focussed on the east gate, or ‘exterior’ gate, of the Roman fortress. At this eastern gate of the Roman castra, three trenches were dug.

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Photo: Tatiana Crombeen

An atmosphere never in ruins

If dr Driessen thought that the hard labour of excavating those trenches in the heat of the sun would ruin the atmosphere, the students – once again – shattered that illusion. Thanks to several members of the team – experts in getting the mood going – the elated spirit of the excavation project never faded. Even when dr Louwen ordered the backfilling of one of the trenches located in front of the eastern gate – a task done at the very end of the campaign to prevent further physical deterioration of the site, but also a safety measure – the atmosphere could not be ruined and proofed to be rock solid.

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(A part of) the team, here sitting at Mount Hor-Jabal Haroun, (photo: Wouter Hinrichs).

Unexpected finds

If dr Driessen thought that the Roman castra already revealed all its secrets, this year’s campaign certainly shattered that illusion. On September 29, two fetal skeletons were discovered in trench 2, just outside the eastern gate and approximately on the same level as the flagstones located in trench 1 on the other side of the wall. Both skeletons were preserved in excellent condition, but further research is needed to assess the nature of their deposition at particularly that location.

Infectious laughter

If the students thought that lecturers are always shrouded in academic seriousness, the staff shattered that illusion. Dr Abudanah already demonstrated the keen urge for telling jokes, stories and word games, but the acme of funny behaviour from the executive side can without a doubt be ascribed to dr Louwen. As a result, the team burst into laughter frequently, further instigated by a team member with a very infectious laugh.

The Udhruh Archaeological Project 2022 was not only hard labour in the desert, it was perfectly balanced with laughter, jokes, stories on intangible heritage, tourist visits and excellent food. Bas, Jackie, Manisha, Marit, Natalie, Tatiana, and Wouter would like to thank dr. Driessen and all the staff members for this unforgettable experience as well as the Jordanian staff members for their hospitality.

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A glimpse of the hard labour at the Udhruh Roman castra, (Photo: Tatiana Crombeen).


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