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Ancient ConstructionTECHniques between East and West. Building traditions, technological innovations and workmanship circulation: from Roman Arabia to Medieval Europe.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ACTECH (Ancient ConstructionTECHniques between East and West. Building traditions, technological innovations and workmanship circulation: from Roman Arabia to Medieval Europe.)

Reporting period: 2017-03-01 to 2019-02-28

Building techniques are an expression of mankind’s knowledge and capacities under the influence of the cultural, economic, and environmental context of the territory inhabited in a given historical period.
The study of building techniques therefore means the possibility of acquiring raw data about ancient societies, especially where written sources are scarce or even completely absent. As an expression of human activity they can evolve, change and be transmitted via direct contact and exchange between different cultures.
Starting from this premise the ACTECH Project has explored the evolution and the distribution of specific building techniques (walls and arches) in the Near East. The main objective of the research is to attempt to fill a void in the history of architecture, contributing to the debate on the transmission of building knowledge between antiquity and the early Middle Ages (II – X) in the Mediterranean and trying to understand how and to what extent eastern building techniques contributed to the development of their western equivalents.
In order to reach this objective the ACTECH Project has analysed building processes starting from a specific geographic context: northern Jordan, where the ancient architecture, especially of the Byzantine and Islamic periods, is so well-preserved that a detailed study of the materials and the methods of traditional construction can be undertaken, with special attention given to rural architecture. The research subsequently expanded to other Mediterranean contexts in order to reflect more broadly on the issues under consideration.
The project had the following Research Objectives (RO):
RO1. To identify the main traditional building techniques in northern Jordan with particular reference to techniques for the construction of walls and arches;
RO2. To identify and isolate the elements of continuity and discontinuity in the building techniques and supplement these data with other available sources in order to understand the probable contribution of new features/differences from distinct cultural and technological contexts. Therefore to organize chronologically the different types of techniques identified in a table of chronotypes;
RO3. To extend the analysis of building knowledge to other geographic and cultural contexts, in particular the Iberian Peninsula;
RO4. To test and implement a protocol for the recording of material remains as well as for the management and organization of the data for future projects of restoration and enhancement of the built heritage;
RO5. To communicate this knowledge of the Near Eastern built heritage to a wider audience beyond experts in the field.
The ACTECH Project has approached architecture from an archaeological perspective, that is by applying the principles of horizontal stratigraphy to vertical structures, and has integrated data from diverse sources such as stratigraphic excavation, laboratory analysis of building materials (archaeometry) and historical imagery (terrestrial and aerial). The fieldwork was performed mainly in northern Jordan using the village of Umm as-Surab as a case study. The identified building techniques were compared to other examples via targeted surveys in different sites of the region. The data gathered in the field were elaborated and discussed in two Secondments held at European research institutions: the School of Arab Studies-CSIC in Granada and the MAP-GAMSAU CNRS laboratory in Marseille.
One of the project’s main results was the creation of a chrono-typological table on a regional scale, that is a model in which the building techniques are organized in chronological sequence according to the identification of specific technical and formal characteristics. This “tool” has facilitated reflection in greater detail on the technological and typological changes in architecture between the Roman period and the first centuries of Islam.
The project’s results and activities were abundantly sponsored via a purposely-created carnet de recherche; the project’s Twitter and Instagram pages facilitated dissemination of the research to a broader public. The project was presented at international meetings, and the Principal Investigator gave lessons based on it to university and secondary-school audiences and participated in seminars and masterclasses. A network of scientific collaborations with local institutions was established in Jordan, in particular with the Department of Antiquities of Jordan and Yarmouk University. Thanks to the collaboration with EUNIC Jordan, the purely scientific aspects of the research were supplemented with an enhancement project for the archaeological site of Umm as-Surab which included the creation of a didactic route in Arabic and English and the organization of an open day designed to make the local population, especially the youngest, more aware of their own cultural heritage.
At the scientific level, one of the most important outcomes of the project was the organization of an international workshop in Paris, where the results of several research projects on ancient Mediterranean architecture were presented and discussed.
The results of the ACTECH Project provide a new baseline of study for future research on Near Eastern architecture, but also more generally on building techniques and the transmission of knowledge, creating the possibility for contacts with other disciplines such as engineering, history of science, materials science and ethnology. (i) Contrary to the traditional model of architectural analysis, which compares structures according to style and form, the project’s research methodology created a dialogue between stratigraphy and technology in order to propose new interpretations. (ii) The literature has rarely considered analysis of building techniques in the Near East, especially those considered “minor,” from the perspective of the archaeology of architecture: in this sense the project’s results fill a gap and provide raw data on the wall-building techniques and the construction of specific building systems such as arches and their particular characteristics during different historical periods. (iii) The research has highlighted the role of the parabolic arch as a building system present and widespread in rural northern Jordan and not only in sporadic examples of prestige architecture or fortifications. The limited knowledge of this system in the existing literature has opened new paths for research on contacts with the Mesopotamian building tradition, from which this structural element probably derived and which represents an indispensable interpretive tool for subsequent analysis of the transmission of building methods drawing from a still relatively unexplored cultural basin. (iv) The ACTECH Project has exploited the potential of discipline-specific techniques of analysis and investigation in a particular context (local scale), producing data capable of contributing to reflections which operate on a broader level (global scale) and are necessarily interdisciplinary.
At the socio-economic level, on the one hand the ACTECH Project has developed best practices for the documentation and protection of built heritage, and on the other hand it has laid the foundation for stimulating development in specific local contexts such as a village in northern Jordan.
Fieldwork 2018: plan showing the arches mapped in Umm as-Surab
Fieldwork 2017: mortar samples from the SS. Sergius and Bacchus church
Secondment activity at CNRS MAP GAMSAU: mapping stratigraphy by the AIOLI web platform
Lab Activity: photogrammetry TU29
Fieldwork 2017: ortophotos of pointed and parabolica arches
Fieldwork 2017: ortophotos of round arches
Lab Activity: analysis of the arch in SS. Sergius and Bacchus church, Umm as-Surab
Dissemination activity in the village of Umm as-Surab_2018