Note: Michael Jennings is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago. He is responsible for the recording at the Jericho Mafjar Project. This past Fall, he spoke with some of the PARP:PS participants including myself about adopting the iPads for his project. I asked him to write an entry for this blog noting, in particular, what he is doing differently than we do at PARP. He can be reached at mdj@uchicago.edu.

What does one do with an entire area of an archaeological site for which all records of excavation (including plans, notes, and finds) have been lost? Addressing this question was one of the main objectives of the 2011 Jericho Mafjar Project (JMP), a joint archaeological investigation of the Palestinian Department of Antiquities and the University of Chicago at the iconic site of Khirbat al-Mafjar in modern Jericho. The site, as we know it today, consists of two main areas: a southern sector that includes a palace, pavilion, and magnificent bath, and a northern area. The northern area, excavated by a Jordanian team in the 1960s, is the area for which all records are missing.

The Jordanians excavated an area of approximately 70 by 60 meters. The first thing you notice when you get out there is how confusing the ruins are. As one professor who visited the site told me, “I’ve been coming to this place for 25 years and still have no idea what’s going on.” The building complex has undergone seemingly endless changes: subdivisions, alterations in use, changes in orientation, etc. So we knew that we needed to make a new plan and begin to phase that plan.

In essence, we were starting from scratch; thus, we decided to examine each wall/architectural feature one at a time. We made a simple Filemaker database with basic information like width, number of courses available, and whether or not the wall contained spolia from the palace. We created a field called ‘code’ for codes we devised in order to group together walls we thought were similar. We also had fields for photos or sketches imported from iDraw. Most importantly, we recorded each wall’s relationship to the walls around it.  We loaded this database into the iPad with FMGo and took to the field.

Overall, we filled in over 200 records. I cannot imagine how much time this would have taken without the iPad, particularly in terms of keeping the relationships updated. We did not need to lug around a binder with all the wall sheets and flip through and change each sheet every time a new relationship was observed. Further, because we were trying out this system for the first time, it was important to be able to add fields (for example, a yes/no radio button indicating the presence of re-used blocks as part of a wall’s construction was added later as we began to notice its frequency) and adapt them throughout the project. Furthermore, by transferring the database directly onto my laptop, I am now ready to link it to ArcGIS so that all this data are connected to the plan, allowing anyone to see the information we entered for a wall by selecting it, thus making our thinking and methodology more transparent to future re-interpreters (or to ourselves in 6 months when we begin think about where to excavate in the future).

I think what we enjoyed so much about this project was the combination of new tools and old-school archaeology. The iPad did not do the work for us; the trowel was still our most important tool for figuring out how the elements related to one another. However, having the database in the field gave us a framework for organizing our observations.

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