Header: Discovering the statues

At the site

 

Occupied between 7200 and 5000 B.C., 'Ain Ghazal was a large village of farmers, herders, and hunters. Archaeologists began to excavate the site in 1982, after bulldozers digging in modern highway construction exposed an ancient site that needed scientific excavation. Archaeologists discovered evidence of multiroomed houses made of stone with timber roof beams, plastered walls, floors, and courtyards. They also excavated cooking hearths with food remains, stone tools, stone and clay figurines, and graves. In 1984 archaeologists examined the side of a bulldozer cut made some years earlier during highway construction. They found the edge of a large pit about 2.5 meters under the surface, in which fragments of plaster statues were visible.

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 1. World map (40k jpg)
 2. Regional map (40k jpg)
 3. Site plan showing excavations (32k jpg)
4. Site plan showing location of bulldozer cut (32k jpg)
5. 'Ain Ghazal road construction and archaeological excavation site(104k jpg)
6. Side view of bulldozer cut showing location of plaster statue fragments. (96k)
7. Detail of image 6 (96k jpg)

Reaching the statues

Archaeologists reached the level of the statue pit by digging down from the top of the site along the side exposed by the bulldozer.

 (54k jpg)

In this photograph, archaeologists Marci Donaldson and St. John Simpson dig through the layers of earth and human occupation to reach the level of the pit containing statue fragments.
 

Conservators decided that it was best to lift the statues out all together, leaving them embedded in the earth that had surrounded them until their modern discovery. The statues could then be excavated and preserved in a well-equipped scientific laboratory, without the time pressures imposed by a seasonal excavation.

Removing the statue pit

How were the statues brought to the United States?


Archaeologists first removed the earth around the statues, isolating the statue pit as a block.

Illustration: block

(32k jpg)

The block was then wrapped in layers of aluminum foil and sealed with masking tape.

Illustration: block being wrapped in aluminum foil

 (21k jpg) or

 animation (192k, Quicktime)

A wooden crate was placed around the block ...

Illustration: crate being placed around block

 (15k jpg)

Illustration: crate in position around block

 animation (176k Quicktime)

(12k jpg) or

... and polyurethane foam was poured in to fill the spaces between the crate and the foil and to cushion the statues during shipping.

Illustration: pouring of polyurethane foam

 (15k jpg) or

 animation (200k Quicktime)

As the pedestal of earth was cut away, a lid was inserted to cover the bottom of the crate.

Illustration: inserting lid under crate

 (9k jpg) or

 animation (88K Quicktime)

The crate was then lifted and inverted to remove the dirt pedestal.
 The crate was shipped by air to New York, then by truck to the Smithsonian Institution's Conservation Analytical Laboratory near Washington, D.C., where conservators had agreed to undertake the task of uncovering and preserving the statues.
 Excavations are still in progress at the site of 'Ain Ghazal, where archaeologists, conservators, and art historians continue to study clues that may help them understand the meaning and history of these remarkable ancient plaster statues.

Photograph of archaeologists working at site

(144k jpg)

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All presented material is copyright © 1996 Smithsonian Institution, except where noted.
 Last updated: July 28, 1996


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