WSC professor and archaeologist publishes book from Jordan excavation


Years after conducting her research, a book coauthored by Wayne State College sociology and anthropology professor Dr. Susan Ellis, “Excavations at Tall Jawa, Jordan, Volume 5,” has finally been published.

The book contains excavation reports from Tall Jawa, focusing on several special studies conducted in the area. Ellis’ contribution to this volume was an ethnoarchaeological study of Ottoman houses in the village of Jawa. Other authors of the book include Drs. Michele Daviau, James Battenfield, and Peter Popkin.

Ellis explained her work at the excavation site.

“In 1995, I was an area director at Tall Jawa and given the additional opportunity to document crumbling Ottoman period structures in the village of Jawa,” she said. “I measured, photographed, drew illustrations, and interviewed people from the village in order to record these houses.”

The work was part of the Madaba Plains Project survey, which fortunately was conducted before the structures were destroyed for use of the “good land.”

“It was evident that these structures were doomed for destruction,” Ellis said. “Villagers stated that they needed the land for building new houses for their sons, and could see no reason to waste good land with old buildings.”

“Several years after I finished my research, the Ottoman Period houses were demolished to make room for new roads and buildings,” she added.

Dr. Daviau of Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, was site director for the excavations conducted in 1992, 1994, and 1995. The Iron Age settlements discovered dated from 1100 to 600 B.C.

The Ottoman Period in Jordan dates to 1516-1918 C.E., Ellis said. These houses were important because they illustrated not only building techniques but family and village structures. In a land where a man might have multiple wives, the houses showed how people adapted to these family affiliations: One man might divide his house into two or three sections (one for each wife) while another man might build additional rooms onto a house. The secondary rooms might also be additions for sons as they married.

“Through studying these traditional building techniques, archaeologists can also extrapolate these methods back in time,” Ellis said. “For example, roof construction consisting of tree branches, reeds, mud brick, and plaster seen at Ottoman Jawa are found as far back as the Bronze Age in Jordan (around 3200 B.C.).”

Ellis has been an active excavator since 1983, including projects in Syria, Egypt, and Jordan. Her sites have included Tall Qarqur, Abila of the Decapolis, Tall Jawa, and Khirbet Iskander (an Early Bronze walled city).

“I have had the opportunity of living in Egypt and Jordan multiple times, and taking students to Israel and Turkey several times,’’ Ellis said. “I love the people, the culture, and the archaeological sites of the area and think of the Middle East as my second home.”