Wadi Ramm Survey Archive Finds New Home at ACOR

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The ‘Aqaba-Ma‘an Archaeological and Epigraphic Survey (AMAES), directed by the late Professor Bill Jobling (center) of the University of Sydney, recorded thousands of ancient inscriptions and rock drawings in Jordan’s Wadi Ramm desert. Photo by Richard Morgan.

In September 2016, ACOR happily received the project archive of the ‘Aqaba-Ma‘an Archaeological and Epigraphic Survey (AMAES), directed by the late William (Bill) Jobling of the University of Sydney from 1980 to 1990. The pathbreaking survey, which documented Wadi Ramm’s exceptional landscapes and archaeological remains with thousands of color and black and white photographs, was the first research project to comprehensively explore this vast desert region in Jordan’s far south. The important collection was gifted to ACOR by Jobling’s daughters, Rebecca and Kate, who often visited Jordan as children with their father.

During the course of its nine field seasons, the AMAES documented with photographs, maps, and drawings a desert landscape that was rich with undiscovered archaeological treasures. In addition to identifying small but remarkable desert settlements, including prehistoric stone enclosures, rock shelters, and an early Islamic village and open-air mosque, the survey recorded the archaeology of extensive wadi (valley) systems that were intensively used and settled in the past. Amid these wadis, Jobling’s team discovered numerous springs, pools, wells, cisterns, and dams that made life in the desert possible, but perhaps more importantly, thousands of boulders and rock faces carved with rock drawings and inscriptions that were a visual and textual testament to the human experience of this bleak desert environment.

An exceptional rock drawing of an ancient ibex hunt recorded by the AMAES. One of the Thamudic inscriptions signing the drawing gives the name of the artist: Gurat son of Zaidmanat. Photo by Michael Bannigan. Published in Archiv für Orientforschung 33 (1985–86): 241.

Jobling, who was the ACOR Annual Professor in 1989, passed away in December 1994 at age 53, just as he was beginning the work of publishing and making available the important results of the AMAES. As the years passed, his widow, the late Lee Jobling, transferred the survey’s impressive archive of photographs, notes, and maps to Richard Morgan, who had joined the survey for several seasons as photographer and field assistant. Housed at the Morgan family estate in the town of Bathurst, outside of Sydney, the archive was made available to researchers interested in continuing Jobling’s important work. In 2005, when I was a young Ph.D. student, I made my first visit to Bathurst to learn more about the survey. Over the next five years, I used the archive to develop a geographic and contextual study of the inscriptions and rock drawings found within Wadi Hafir, one of the richest epigraphic and rock art sites identified by Jobling.

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This year, I began working with Richard Morgan and Rebecca and Kate Jobling to transfer the AMAES archive to the ACOR facility in Amman where it could be properly cataloged, digitized, and ultimately made available to the broader scholarly community interested in Wadi Ramm. In September, nearly 20 boxes of the survey’s photographs and records were shipped to ACOR, where they are now being stored and processed for eventual scanning. During 2017, thanks to a supporting grant from the Near Eastern Archaeology Foundation, given in honor of long-time University of Sydney administrator and AMAES photographer and field assistant Michael Bannigan, ACOR’s archival technicians under my direction are creating high-resolution scans of nearly half of the survey’s 5,000 color slides, an important first step in preserving the collection for posterity.

ACOR Archival Technician Yousef Abu Ali scans high-resolution digital images of color slides photographed by the AMAES more than three decades ago. Photo by Glenn J. Corbett.

As the digitization project grows and secures additional funding, the survey’s invaluable photographic data will be linked with scans of Jobling’s field notes and on-site readings, maps showing the locations where inscriptions were found, and even the tracings that were occasionally made of the inscribed stone surfaces. Using the latest digital technologies, it is hoped that the results of Jobling’s important survey can ultimately be made available through a robust and user-friendly online database that will reveal the wealth of Wadi Ramm’s little known archaeology to the world.

Written by Glenn J. Corbett

Glenn J. Corbett is ACOR Associate Director and directs both the Temple of the Winged Lions Cultural Resource Management (TWLCRM) Initiative in Petra and the Wadi Hafir Petrolgyph Survey in Wadi Ramm. He received his Ph.D. in Near Eastern archaeology from the University of Chicago, where his research focused on the epigraphic and archaeological remains of pre-Islamic Arabia. With ACOR Librarian Carmen Ayoubi, he serves as project leader for the ACOR Library Photographic Archive project.

 This article first appeared in the Winter 2016 ACOR Newsletter (vol 28.2) under the title, “Wadi Ramm Survey Archived Gifted to ACOR.”