History:

Modern day Bayt Ras stands on the ruins of ancient Capitolias, one of the ten cities of the Decapolis League, founded by Pliny the Elder during the Hellenistic age. A Roman era tomb was discovered at the site, which dates from the 1s t to 3rd century AD and contains 52 unique inscriptions in Greek and Aramaic as well as dozens of frescoes that represent details of daily life that were otherwise not mentioned in other historical records.

The tomb itself consists of a large room carved into the limestone bedrock, with the ceiling reaching 2.5 meters at its highest point, and a second, smaller room connected via a small opening in the north wall. While the larger rectangular room is covered with paintings and inscriptions, the smaller one is square and covered in plain plaster.

The tomb was discovered by accident in November 2016 while workers were attempting to expand a sanitation network near the local elementary school. It became immediately clear to the workers that they had stumbled on something spectacular as they saw the tomb walls were filled with elaborate paintings and inscriptions, which have been shown to be of great historical and cultural value. This truly unique find required extensive documentation, conservation, and scientific study.

The site posed a major challenge, both technically and in terms of jurisdiction. However, through the support of local community members and an international coalition headed by SCHEP, the tomb has been preserved and protected. SCHEP partnered with the Department of Antiquities alongside Higher Institute for Conservation and Restoration in Rome (ISCR), the French National Scientific Research Center (CNRS), and the Italian National Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA) to begin fieldwork in April 2017.

Site Development :

The first step was a series of architectural, archaeological, and epigraphic surveys in the tomb carried out by the French members of the consortium, with support from the Department of Antiquities and SCHEP. This included hand drawings, photos, and photogrammetric, geophysical, and geotechnical surveys. The results were a set of topographic maps, laser scans, and models of the tomb that have allowed many students, experts, and enthusiasts to learn more about Bayt Ras even if they cannot enter the tomb itself. This includes details on the structural analysis, and inscriptions in multiple languages.

Another key area of preservation is of the frescoes themselves. They remain fragile and are at risk of flaking or other types of damage. Therefore, the ultimate aim of the first round of interventions was a ‘first aid’ mission led by the Italian collage within the consortium, with limited cleaning and more substantial interventions. The materials used were carefully selected according to the conditions inside the tomb to mitigate any potential damage.

Security is vital to the long-term survival of any site, but particularly for a previously undiscovered site like this tomb in Bayt Ras. Jordan suffers from a degree of misinformation among the general public about the content of archaeological sites, which can lead to extensive looting. This Bayt Ras project has been working to combat this endemic problem through a public education program as well as enhancement of physical security, including securing the area with fencing and assigning guards at the entrance.

SCHEP Support:

Capacity Building

Despite the highly technical and advanced nature of the interventions, SCHEP worked as always to include members of the local community in every step of the process. This included training in ‘first aid’ intervention, documentation, excavation, publications, and virtual reality to graduate students and trainees of PDTRA and DOA.
Project co-Director Claude Vibert-Guigue conducted additional field and lab documentation with new, cutting edge techniques for DOA, PAP, and other students.

Bayt Ras also hosted a seminar on guidelines for the conservation of wall paintings and archaeological structures that provided essential knowledge in this site-specific topic. Participants, who were university students and employees from the DOA and PDTRA, walked away with new knowledge of deterioration and conservation of wall paintings, and one of technology in site documentation.

Tourism and Economic Development

SCHEP’s focus at Bayt Ras is on the excavation, conservation, and protection of this site, which is not primed for tourism development due to the delicate nature of the site itself and the difficulty of accessing it. No tourism promotion has been conducted at this site; however, a virtual reality experience was created which will allow individuals to simulate the experience of entering and exploring the tomb without actually visiting the site and potentially causing damage to it.

Awareness 

When the Bayt Ras tomb was first discovered, it became a testing ground for best practices in raising awareness amongst the local community. It was a rare occasion for SCHEP to be able to present a factual narrative from the beginning, as opposed to working to counter problematic myths and misinformation. To this end, SCHEP along with the international consortium, staged a number of community events to introduce the project and site to the community in order to operate with transparency from the start. This included working with the local school, journalists, community leaders, and other stakeholders to encourage buy in and raise awareness.