Knox Professors and Students Excavating Jordanian Site

Danielle Steen Fatkin, Katherine Adelsberger, four students examine ancient economic and ecological events

June 30, 2009

Two Knox College faculty will explore how an ancient Middle Eastern settlement solved economic and ecological challenges, and -- along with four Knox students -- spend this summer excavating a site in Jordan and sharing their findings in a blog.

Danielle Steen Fatkin, visiting assistant professor of history, and Katherine Adelsberger, assistant professor of environmental studies, have been awarded a $12,000 grant by the Associated Colleges of the Midwest to study an archeological site in Jordan for two months this summer.

The grant, awarded under the ACM's Faculty Career Enhancement, or FaCE, program, will provide for Fatkin, Adelsberger and four Knox students to work for ten weeks at Tall Dhiban, located near the modern town of Dhiban, south of Amman, Jordan.

The project is a "paleolandscape assessment" that will look at both historical and environmental questions.

"I am looking at how the settlement has changed over the past 5,000 years," explains Fatkin, who has helped with the archeological excavation at Tall Dhiban since 2004. "Tall" is an Arabic word that means "hill," which refers to the ancient practice of building on top of existing ruins. "There are a few historical periods that we think should show evidence of settlement, but don't," Fatkin said. "We want to complete our picture of who was living there."

Adelsberger, who has worked in desert geoarcheology in Egypt and Dubai, says that she will focus on water and food resources. "Dhiban is a dry place that was occupied for a long period of time. We want to understand how they managed their water. There are terraces, but how do we prove that people were farming? We are looking for physical and chemical evidence of agriculture."

Two Knox students and two recent Knox graduates will participate in the project with Fatkin and Adelsberger, along with researchers from the University of California - Berkeley, and the University of Liverpool. They are Anne Ford of Scituate, Massachusetts, who graduated from Knox in June with a major in theatre and a minor in ancient Greek and Roman culture; Abigail Harms, a junior from Topeka, Kansas; Courtney Tichler, a sophomore from Fulton, Illinois; and Sara Patterson of Geneseo, Illinois, who graduated in June with majors in chemistry and history.

"The students are vital to the project," Fatkin said. "Archeology is a labor-intensive process, with excavation, collecting and cataloging of materials." Adelsberger says that her fieldwork also involves lots of digging: "We will be digging pits for soil sampling and gathering GPS (global positioning system) data."

The students will gain experience in both approaches, Fatkin said. "They will learn techniques of excavation and how to do a site survey, and with Katherine they will learn how to do geological work."

Patterson will also work with a museum in Madaba, a nearby provincial capital. "One of the displays in the museum is about Dhiban, and they would like us to update it to reflect the findings of our project since 2004," Fatkin said. The Knox students and faculty also will visit other archeological sites in Jordan.

The project has its own web page where participants will post updates, available online at

Founded in 1837, Knox is a national liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, with students from 47 states and 48 countries. Knox's "Old Main" is a National Historic Landmark and the only building remaining from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Danielle Fatkin, Katherine Adelsberger
Danielle Fatkin, Katherine Adelsberger