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The Bir Madhkur Project

September 8, 2010

Post 3 of 3 on Jordan Travels

Camel crossing the desert                                                                                                           copyright Lisa Helfert 2010

After spending three weeks in Southern Jordan I felt melancholy about my imminent departure, despite the drink in my hand and the picturesque cosmopolitan view of downtown Amman.   When I told fellow travelers that I had worked on the Bir Madhkur Project they would politely struggle to connect and instead offer sympathy and ask, “Why would want to you go there?  Or  “It is really hot down there” Or  “There is nothing to do there”.   The truth is within 60 miles of Bir Madhkur there is not a single restaurant, bar or fun gathering place of any kind unless you count the gas station that sells tea, potato chips and soda.   And yes, the site is really hot, usually 120 degrees by one in the afternoon.   So why was I missing that experience?  My weak response at the time was “we have beautiful sunsets.”

So really, why would a group of people go out into the middle of hot nowhere to dig in the dirt?   It is hard to answer without sounding like a silly romantic and I can’t speak for the group.   But I love history and I have enough curiosity mixed with a sense of adventure and faith that the project will discover some bit of old truth that is brand new to the modern world.

Bir Madhkur offers much history yet to be uncovered.   Bir Madhkur was a bustling stop along the ancient incense route between Petra and Gaza built by the elusive Nabataeans, occupied by the engineering Romans and eventually abandoned by the succeeding Arabs when they turned their focus toward Mecca and Medina somewhere in 800 AD.   Only one 20th century archeologist took a one-day survey of Bir Madhkur until Andrew Smith began his work in the late 1990’s.  Before that the area between the ancient city and Israel was off-limits as a military zone.

Bir Madhkur acted like a modern-day suburb to the famous Nabataean city of Petra.   Situated on frontier where east met the west in the ancient world there is evidence of caravan stations, Roman forts, agriculture fields, and farmhouses dotting the sparse desert landscape.  One cannot help but ask how did the people from the past build these structures and how did they survive?

To learn more  go to The Bir Madhkur Project website or attend Dr Andrew Smith’s public lecture at the Smithsonian on September 22nd.

To see a slide show of images taken this summer either press on the photo or this link

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