Umm el-Jimal is a fascinating archaeological site and modern community in northern Jordan, just 70 minutes northeast of the nation’s capital city, Amman. Almost 2,000 years ago nomadic peoples settled in the area, founding a small village on the edge of the desert that was watered with runoff from the nearby Jebel Hauran. After the Roman period the village developed into a thriving Byzantine and then Islamic town of up to 5,000 people, built from sturdy basalt stone. Today remains of over 150 buildings still stand amid a vibrant town of about 6,000. Sophisticated ancient water channels and reservoirs are scattered among the ruins, once serving thousands of people and animals. What if these reservoirs could bring life to the desert once again?
That’s why Open Hand Studios and the Umm el-Jimal Project, a research and cultural heritage program led by archaeologist Dr. Bert de Vries, are working with Umm el-Jimal’s residents, Jordan’s Department of Antiquities (DoA), and other partners to not only permanently conserve and share the site, but also restore its ancient water system. Here are some highlights:
Preservation: The project partners have developed a comprehensive site conservation plan to sustainably consolidate and repair the site’s major buildings and mosaics, which is underway.
Education: We’re developing a site museum and walking tour of Umm el-Jimal. In addition, Open Hand has received a 2010 Site Preservation Grant from the Archaeological Institute of America to match efforts on site by constructing an online virtual museum and educational curriculum for Jordanian students at the project’s permanent website, www.ummeljimal.org.
Community: The reconstructed reservoir system will collect and store much-needed water for the town’s 6000 residents, their farms, and animals. We’re also working with locals to create a cultural heritage center, which will create new community income from sustainable tourism.