Over the last twenty-five years I have had the great good fortune to take part in three volunteer seasons excavating in Pella, Jordan, with the University of Sydney. The excavations are conducted by the Near Eastern Archaeology Foundation (NEAF) and have provided volunteers from all walks of life with the opportunity to take part in the unique experience of working on an archaeological dig.
Pella is situated in the Jordan Valley and has been occupied from the Palaeolithic to the present day. The present excavations have been conducted since 1978 and volunteers have been taking part from 1993. The volunteer scheme has enabled NEAF to support the archaeological work in Pella and at the same time provide an enriching and exciting experience to upwards of five hundred volunteers over the past twenty plus years.
Two or three volunteers are allocated to a trench assisting an archaeologist with dig work as well as in-house vital tasks such as cleaning, logging and storing the found objects. On site, the work is amazingly varied, and found objects include pottery, metal, glass and bone. Every day brings different discoveries and I found that a great bond of friendship was forged with my trench supervisor, other members of the team and also the local Jordanian workforce who help with the heavy digging and lifting.
The day begins with a hot drink, bread and spreads before setting off to work in the trench. Breakfast is at 9.00am in the dig house for most of the crew. Those working on Tell Husn have the treat of eating a breakfast brought up to them, and can gaze out on the valley as they tuck in to a delicious meal. One of the surprises of Pella to most volunteers is the excellent meals provided by the wonderful local kitchen staff. Mealtimes are a highlight of the day and a great time to find out what everyone is up to in their individual trenches. The working day in the trench ends at about 2.00pm when lunch is served. The afternoon is free time, but there is always plenty to do, including helping with sorting out the pottery finds from your trench.
Pella is unexpectedly beautiful and the springtime wildflowers have to be seen to be believed. The permanent spring of water has enabled people to live in the vicinity for literally thousands of years. There are some wonderful ancient buildings still in evidence; Roman and Byzantine as well as Umayyad. Further down the hill lies the local township of Masharia which is great fun to visit and find some interesting souvenirs to take home. Visiting the very attractive Rest House up the hill above the site is also a nice afternoon outing, with wonderful views over the site and the Jordan Valley.
Another fabulous highlight is the Friday expedition when the volunteers are taken on an outing to explore other interesting sites in Jordan. The first trip is usually to the Saracen castle at Ajloun; a beautiful site on a pine-covered hill looking towards Mount Hermon in Syria. Another trip takes in the Graeco/Roman city of Jerash which contains the famous Cardo, two theatres, temples, a nymphaeum and even a hippodrome where horse races are still occasionally held. A mid-week excursion goes to the classical city of Um Qais/Gadara overlooking the Sea of Galilee and the famed Golan Heights. There is a beautifully restored theatre to explore and a very nice cafe where one can enjoy a coffee and a snack. A third outing takes in the fascinating town of Madaba where the famous mosaic of the Levant can be seen in an ancient church. The shops are crammed with wonderful souvenirs made of olive wood, carpets, ceramics, etc. All too entertaining! As can be imagined, many volunteers extend their stay in Jordan and spend a few days visiting the famous Petra, which is easy to reach by tourist bus. This is an opportunity too good to miss, and there is also the chance to travel further on to Wadi Rum and Aqaba on the Red Sea.
As I mentioned earlier, I have taken part in three volunteer seasons as well as visiting Jordan with my husband, Jim, on another occasion. Jordan is a wonderful country with so many historical places to visit. The Jordanian people are delightfully friendly and welcoming and I couldn’t recommend this opportunity to visit Jordan and take part in a fascinating experience more highly. The chance to volunteer is open to anyone who has a reasonable level of fitness. More information can be found elsewhere on the Near Eastern Archaeology Foundation’s website. The next season is scheduled for January-February 2023 and there are usually two three-week sessions held during the Jordanian winter/spring. The experience will give you a lifetime of memories.
To learn more about the Pella project, or to become a volunteer, please visit our Pella project page
If you would like to hear more about some of the amazing archaeological discoveries from Pella, please listen to our podcast. You can access all episodes here