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Understanding and Preserving Early Islamic Jericho: Towards a Management Plan for the Site of Khirbet el-Mafjar (Palestine)

Final Report Summary - JERICHO (Understanding and Preserving Early Islamic Jericho: Towards a Management Plan for the Site of Khirbet el-Mafjar (Palestine).)

Summary report JERICHO
The main objective of this project was to conduct interdisciplinary research on the early Islamic complex of Khirbet el-Mafjar (Jericho) on the West Bank, assessing its present condition and reviewing previous research, in order to draft a Management Plan, which will guarantee its preservation and public enjoyment.
Although this project has focused on the architecture and the urban, territorial & landscape planning, the aim has been to integrate all the available information in order to present a holistic and interdisciplinary analysis and interpretation of the site.

Through the analysis of the information gained from excavation and documentation campaigns, including remote sensing survey and drone flights for aerial photogrammetry, in collaboration with the Palestinian Department of Antiquities (Dr. Taha) and the Oriental Institute of Chicago (Dr. Whitcomb), the following major scientific results have been reached:
Of primary interest is the discovery by Dr. Arce of the first Umayyad Congregational Mosque within the Palace building (Qasr), and the related conclusions on the phasing of the building, and the whole Umayyad complex.This outstanding discovery has changed completely the understanding of the phasing of the building of the palace itself, as well as of the whole complex. It not only triggered the hypothesis of a different sequence of construction of the building of the qasr, but also a different hypothesis of which building had been built firstly at the complex (which was assumed up to now to be the so-called "Audience Hall"). The resulting plan of the original qasr, and especially the evidence that the original congregational mosque was built inside it and later moved outside, confirms Dr. Arce's hypothesis that this original qasr would have been the first structure to be built in the Umayyad complex, contrarily to Hamilton conclusions. The qasr would have gathered in its premises all the main functions and components of an Umayyad compound, including the mosque and the bath-house.
The analysis of the other main building of the Umayyad complex (the Audience Hall with the adjoining bath-house) and the review of the assumed history and phasing of this structure within the complex, has also offered remarkable results. It has been proved that the Audience hall was built before the hammam itself and that for a certain period of time it stood beside the pre-existing palace (qasr).
Stratigraphic analysis was carried out, not only on the areas recently excavated (at the northern area of the complex, with consistent post-Umayyad occupation), but also on the Umayyad buildings exposed in the 30's-40's. This re-assessment, done in the context of its natural environment has revealed a more complex sequence of building activities during the very first stages of the history of this site, which has lead dr. Arce to a new phasing of the built structures during the Umayyad period itself.
The excavations in the so-called "northern area" conducted by the O.I. have revealed an occupation of the site during the post-Umayyad period (Abbasid period and beyond), which show a continuity of occupation that is very relevant from a historic point of view. The excavations also revealed the existence of structures from the Umayyad period: a wine press and a series of storage and dwelling buildings.The analysis of these recently discovered Umayyad structures have provided relevant information on the nature, use and significance of the site.The analysis of the remains by Dr. Arce has allowed the reconstruction of this structure devoted to the agricultural exploitation of the nearby "hayr" or 'walled garden', which was the economic core that supported and offered economic sustainability to the complex. This can be elicited since the site remained occupied after the end of the Umayyad rule, due to the feasibility of the agricultural activities developed here. These late structures demonstrate how the northern area of the complex became a small hamlet taking advantage of the remaining infrastructures and the agricultural lands available.
The intriguing results of the Remote-sensing survey have posed new questions regarding the existence of pre-Umayyad structures underneath the Umayyad complex. The orientation of the walls and the size of the structures would indicate that they might correspond to a Late Antique Roman Fort. This hypothesis suggested by Dr. Arce would reinforce the model of transformation and change of use put forward also by him, and published recently. This hypothesis must be verified by means of soundings that we hope we will be able to do at a later point. The confirmation of this hypothesis would be of great relevance, not only for the site of Khirbet al-Mafjar, but for the Oasis of Jericho.

The archaeological and documentary work done so far provides the basis for further analysis at the site on details that are beyond the scope of the present project. This includes soundings to test the hypothesis of pre-Umayyad structures such as a Late Antique Roman fort on the site as well as further analysis on the vaulting and the scenographic setting of the entrance of the audience hall. Also, the analysis of pottery retrieved during the past and ongoing excavations will continue and provide further information for the review of the phasing of construction of the complex of Khirbet al-Mafjar.

One of the major outcomes of this project with a specific societal impact is the first draft of a Management Plan in order to promote the socio-economic development of the local community through responsible development of Cultural Tourism. The management plan is also of particular importance in the preservation of the site and the identification of the cultural and historical values, which it embodies. This cultural Heritage constitutes a depository of identity values for the Palestinian people, as an essential instrument to articulate their historical and cultural narratives.
The preservation and conservation activities implemented included a survey and detailed mapping and recording of the existing architecture as well as registration and documentation of architectural fragments and linings, including carved stucco fragments kept at the site and at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem (managed by the Israeli Antiquities Authority, which has granted access to these remains). The recording includes a plan for the presentation in the visitor centre at the site through ortho-photography, photogrammetry and 3D virtual reconstruction. Moreover, the cleaning and restoration of the original hydraulic system carried out will prevent further damage to the building and the mosaics due to evaporation of water trapped in the earth fillings of the pipes and channels. This also provides an essential (and efficient) way of evacuation of rainfall water that is one of the major threats to the sandstone buildings and to the valuable mosaics it hosts.
To reach the objectives concerning the public dissemination and presentation of the site and the project results, the first steps towards a computer-generated 3-D model of the buildings have been made. Also, a plan and design of a shelter for the audience hall has been developed, which will help to adequately protect and present the unique mosaic carpets in the building, but also to provide a raised "belvedere", which will allow the visitors enjoying and realizing the context and location of Khirbet al-Mafjar in its natural surroundings and cultural landscape.

The project has not only provided new insights into the history of Khirbet al-Mafjar, but has also assisted the Palestinian Department of Antiquities in the development of the local tourist industry for the benefit of the still young Palestinian state, and especially providing identity values for the Palestinian people to articulate their historical and cultural narratives. Internationally, the target groups include architects, archaeologists, Cultural heritage professionals etc. who will benefit from and get inspiration through the cutting edge analytical and scientific methods.

For more information, please contact Dr. Ignacio Arce on
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