Bab Edh Dhra

This site is dedicated to Mike Finnegan, who took me under his wing and made my life an adventure.

Mike today:

This site is about the people of the 1979 field expedition at Bab edh-Dhra'. You won't find any archaeological content here. For the archaeology, I refer you to published works by R. Thomas Schaub and Walter E. Rast.

Bab edh-Dhra': Excavations at the Town Site (1975-1981), 2 part set Part 1: Text, Part 2: Plates

will soon be available; visit for details.

I welcome anecdotes, photos, and participation from crew members, who can e-mail me at

And a special thanks to my husband, Dan, for converting my slides into jpegs and teaching me how to create the site; and to Mark McConaughy, who re-ignited the Bab edh-Dhra' flame and motivated me to finish this site.


The adventure began with a phone call from Mike offering me a place on the crew of the 1979 expedition. I was at that time living in Tucson and was leaving next week for a train trip to Guatemala. Do I go to Jordan or Guatemala? I had one day to decide. So in one day I found someone to sublet my apartment, take care of my cats, and purchase tickets to Jordan. The road taken. I contacted a friend in Jordan, Ibrahim Karraien, whose dissertation I had typed while living in Kansas. He also happened to have been born and raised in Kerak. Five days later I was landing on the tarmac in Amman, amid applause by all of the airline passengers - not applause for me but for the fact we had landed safely. Out the plane window were men in dishdashes and kaffeiyahs, guiding the plane and unloading luggage. Truly another world. Ibrahim drove me to Karak, the crusader castle fifty miles south of Amman that was to be our home for the next 45 days. The following aerial photograph was taken from, where you can find additional interesting photographs of the castle.


The town of Karak is an extension of the castle, which is protected by the Jordanian Department of Antiquity. The town itself is bustling and filled with friendly people and great bargains, especially if you can find the guy who has the key to the loft that holds all of the Bedouin rugs and camel bags.

Karak also sports the only German garbage truck I ever encountered in the region.

One arrives at the gates of the castle and then decends an ominous flight of stairs, which are even more ominous at 3:30 in the morning when you are climbing up to head to the site, which is located far below the hill on which the castle is perched, in the Plains of Moab.


Our homes for the next month and a half were tents spread throughout the courtyard of the Castle. Some folks slept in the great hall, which also served as the dining area. The great hall was cold and damp, whereas the courtyard was hot and dry. We were up by 2:30 a.m. so that we could breakfast and leave for the site by 3:30 a.m. The plan was to get to the site by dawn and quit at noon, when the temperatures had soared to 53 degrees centigrade.

The turkish toilet was quite a rude awakening to those of us who had never ventured to this part of the world before.

The courtyard was the center of activity, from pottery reading and bone sorting, to the Fourth of July celebration, and just kicking back. In comparison to the Plains of Moab, it was cool and comfortable overall.

I'm sorry. I'm old. I can't remember everyone's name - so please help me out here. First tent (?). Second tent: Me, Lisa, Remy Constable, and (I"m sorry).


Then that's me with the castle guard.


Chris wowing us; Father John at a gathering


Pottery sorting: Mark McConaughy in the foreground with colorful shirt (see more of Mark at; Mike standing at left, Nancy Lapp to Mike's left, and Lisa looking wistfully towards the cool nave.



Father John


Our Arab crew:

Abu Said pointing the way. Those of us who had the pleasure of riding to the site with Abu Said will remember fondly his allergy to being tickled (we tormented him endlessly) and the fact that he wore three layers of shirts under a wool sweater in blistering heat - and was the coolest of us all. Abu Said lived off-season in a refugee camp, loved cats (kept many in his little house) and, come to find out, had a fondness for gin. He had very bad cataracts, and in the ensuing years had to quit excavating. He passed away many years later. He was in his seventies when he passed over. He was a dear, dear man.


Abu Aref was our cook and a dear man who nursed me back to health the following year when I was working up at Pella and close to death - well, I had a bad cold. Though we probably all did not appreciate the magnitude of his job in keeping us fed, especially when it came to chowing down gruel at 3:00 a.m., we all missed him when a substitute cook came in one weekend and fed us deep-fat fried eggs, probably the most nauseating meal I have ever eaten.


On the left is Mohammed Jamra; Center: Sami (Dept. of Antiquities), Mohammed Jamra, Mohammed Quesasbe (who was murdered by the Muslim Brothers in 1980), and Mohammed Maraqten, who is now a Professor at Marburg University in Germany and is a noted epigraphist. He is married to a wonderful woman named Ellen and they have two children. And on the right, who could forget Sheik Sadik, who used to regale us at every meal with Koranic lectures.


July 4th

July 4th is also Independence Day in Jordan. We celebrated with a large party in the courtyard. If you had the good fortune to be in Amman during this holiday, you were treated to fireworks being launched from the seven hills, with a final volley from the Citadel. A truly spectacular sight.


Eventually, it was time to go to work.

Those of us who were lucky enough to ride with Mike in the land rover were also lucky enough to get short, hot showers at the end of the day, because he could outdistance the other vehicles on the way home to the Castle. Showers were rigged in some alcoves in the castle wall, with solar heated water tanks on the roofs. Never quite enough to go around. Showers were also tricky because the village boys would sit on the castle wall overlooking the shower area in hopes of glimpsing unsuspecting females. We were not unsuspecting for long.

A little owl, no bigger than a robin, lived in the shower are and would hoot at us through the night. His hoots were more like radar blips. One night he paid us women a visit and flew into our tent. The only other wildlife I remember seeing was a hedgehog.


The Charnel House

I was put to work on the Charnel House, which had been noticed because of loot holes. It was in a known cemetery that consisted of small charnel houses and shaft tombs. This House ended up being anything but small. In fact, if memory serves me, it was the largest that had been found to that date. I remember Tom and Walt being higly skeptical that it was one charnel house, until I showed them the mortar lines and the easily identifiable mudbricks that defined the outer wall and made all of our hearts race.

Yeh Yeh Darwish on the left; Lisa and Sami on the right.

Nancy Lapp in foreground on left; Lisa on right.


Work became feverish (as if it could get any hotter there!) as gold jewelry was discovered and our deadline for retrieving the Charnel House contents drew near.

Lisa was spectacular. Not only was she responsible for our hairdos and hairdon'ts (I think of her every time I apply cream rinse), but she made a fantastic save one day at the site. We had found the very first whole charred cranium and worked delicately to loose it from the soil. We wound it carefully in a towel and Lisa gently cradled it in her arms. As she climbed out of the Charnel House, her foot caught on the top brick and she went flying. Like a good quarterback, she tucked that cranium in her arms and did a somersault into the tent nearby. Her quick reactions saved the cranium and makes for a fond memory of a wonderful lady.

Mike seems to be enjoying himself. Lisa and Rivka posing.


Sami looks official.

There's Abu Said pointing again. I don't remember him being so bossy.



Everyone has to make a trip to the Dead Sea, and since we were perched close to its tar-lined shores, we took advantage of a respite from the heat.

Here's Remy showing how you can float, but not swim.

But for a real cool treat, you head to Wadi Saafi, a wonderful hidden oasis.

There's HELEN!!!!


That's it for my slide show. I went home to Tucson, my two cats had moved out and found new human companions. So I packed up my trunk and headed back to Jordan, where I worked on a number of sites, lived for a while in a village on the West Bank, and when all of my field tee-shirts were stolen from the clothesline at ACOR, decided it was time to head home. I reached home the day John Lennon was murdered. I am so thankful I had the opportunity to work at Bab edh-Dhra' with such professional people and great crew. It was truly an experience that changed my life. I hope this site re-awakens similar fond memories for those of you who shared the experience.

And last, but not least (don't all slide shows have to end with a sunset?)...


Site designed and maintained by Marilyn Saul. Last Modified May 1, 2003 .