Chronicling Umm el-Jimal

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Now it’s an old stone ruin, but it was once the largest and most elaborate of the 150 stone homes built in the Byzantine era in Umm el-Jimal. Calvin College history professor Bert de Vries will travel to Jordan in January to review the site, known officially as House XVIII.

“This is original vernacular architecture that survived in these cultures,” de Vries said. “It’s part of the architectural heritage of the land.”

Funded by an Ambassador Fund for Cultural Preservation grant from the U.S. State Department, de Vries will work to preserve and present House XVIII. The founder of Calvin’s archaeology minor has been investigating Umm el-Jimal for more than 40 years.

“House XVIII is a representative example of the other 150 houses and how the people lived back then,” he said.

De Vries wants to establish the house as a viable archaeological site by making it both safe and attractive for the general public.

In January, de Vries and students who sign on for his interim class “Field Work in Archaeology” will tackle the initial planning phase. Working from a rented headquarters, the class will document the building and provide a detailed work plan for its physical preservation.

During phase two, staff from the Jordan Department of Antiquities (which is providing matching funds) and elsewhere will stabilize walls and clear space for walking around the house.

In the project’s final stage, de Vries and his team will publish their documentation and a visitor’s guide to House XVIII.

Open Hand Studios, which specializes in cultural heritage preservation, will create virtual imaging of House XVIII. Founded by Calvin alums Paul Christians (’03) and Jeff DeKock (’01), who took de Vries’ archaeology class, the organization is also helping de Vries create a virtual museum.

Assisted by a previous grant, de Vries will also collect oral histories from the region.

About the Author

Myrna Anderson is a senior writer in Calvin College’s communications and marketing department.