Abila Dig Team

Life in the Middle East

The following information is provided for volunteers, especially first-time travelers. This information is based on past experiences. It is not an exhaustive list, but we have tried to cover all of the generally important issues. If you have any further questions, please contact Dr. David Vila, the dig director, at dvila@jbu.edu

The Abila Archaeological Project runs an archaeological excavation focused on educating students. We especially encourage first-time volunteers to join us. 

Dig Duration and Accommodations

The Abila excavation season usually lasts for six (6) weeks. Because the Muslim month of Ramadan currently falls during the summer, we have adjusted our excavation season accordingly. For the length of stay, the expenses are quite reasonable. Should you decide you do not want to stay for the entire excavation season, you can arrange this with Dr. Vila before the start of the season. Our "base camp" is the Hartha Girls Secondary School, which is vacant during the summer. The building has four stories and a wonderful roof from which to watch the sun set. Classrooms are converted into living spaces and work rooms for processing artifacts. Rooms have tiled floors, and most have screened windows and paddle fans. Generally, there are three to four people in a large classroom. The bathroom situation is typical for the region, and Turkish toilets are the norm in Jordan (google if you are curious). The "base camp" is situated within a walled compound with a front gate that is generally locked. Although we have never had any safety or security problems, the Jordanian government provides 24/7 security for us.  

Daily Schedule

 4:00 – First Call for Breakfast
 4:45 – Leave for the Site
 5:00 – Begin Excavating
 9:00 – Second Breakfast
 1:00 – Return to Camp
 3:00 – Pottery Reading & Registry
 5:00 – Dinner
 9:00 – Sleep


Weekends are usually free (Saturday and Sunday). However, there may be a few Saturdays that we are in the field working. Staff members can travel on trips in Jordan arranged by the Educational Director, sight-see or spend their weekends at leisure at our base camp. The expenses for all such weekends spent away from the Harta headquarters must be borne by the individual Staff member. It is recommended that staff do not travel outside of Jordan until the close of the Abila excavation. National borders in the region can close without notice and volunteers need to be present when we are in the field excavating.


Part of the enjoyment of international travel is trying new and exotic foods. Toward that end, the excavation hires local Jordanian cooks who prepare all our meals and do all clean-up and dishwashing. Meals generally consist of fish, chicken, rice, hummus (crushed chickpeas, cumin, parsley, and olive oil), khubiz (a pita-like bread), mahshi (baked stuffed eggplant), soups, watermelon, and vegetables. Our cooks also frequently make such local staples as falafel, mansaf (a big serving of rice, mixed with pine nuts, almonds and spices, topped with either chicken or lamb, covered with a yogurt sauce), baba ganouzh (eggplant dip), shwarma (similar to a gyro sandwich), and a number of other local favorites. Vegetarians will have no problems finding plenty of options at camp for eating. Things are a little more difficult for Vegans, but if volunteers let us know ahead of time, we can work to make options available that will meet most dietary requirements. Water coolers with purified water are stationed around the camp. Most of the local tap water comes from Ayn Queilbah which has been providing water to the region (and to Abila) for nearly 5000 years! And though some brave souls do drink the local water, we encourage volunteers to drink the purified water. Being sick while away from home is never fun.

Sleeping Arrangements

Room assignments are up to you. You will be provided with a foam mattress and pillow for bedding. You supply your own sheets. You may bring your own pillow if you wish. Arrangements will be made for married couples to be together. 

Safe Travel

A safe and enjoyable stay for our staff is a high priority for our excavation. Although there is a local guard at camp all the time and all rooms have locks, volunteers are encouraged to keep all valuables in locked suitcases when we are in the field excavating. During our Field School, which takes place during the first week in the country, we will discuss issues of safety, social etiquette and proper conduct. Women should never travel alone. It is good to travel in numbers, but it is especially good to travel with male escorts. Familiarize yourself with and be respectful of the country's customs. You will have the opportunity to travel on weekends, whether it is on your own or with the group. Jordanians are very friendly people. The bedouin of Jordan are known by an old adage: "Nature's Gentlemen." Here are some important links:


Temperatures in the Middle East can reach quite high. Fortunately, it is a dry heat, unless in the vicinity of the Dead Sea or Gulf of Aqaba. There is usually a nice Mediterranean breeze to cool your brow. You should always wear a hat and a light, long sleeve shirt, especially if you are sun-sensitive. IMPORTANT: always drink plenty of water. You dehydrate much faster in the arid climate of the Middle East. Drinking plenty of water keeps you healthy. Many people bring tang or some other drink mix (Gatorade is popular for electrolytes) to put into their water containers to add flavor. Also, be sure to bring sunglasses!

Work Assignments

You will be assigned to an excavation Area by the Director. However, if you have a particular interest or if you want to work with a friend or spouse, this can be arranged with the Director or between Area Supervisors. Please arrange this with them before departing from the States.

Recommended Readings

An Abila Field Manual will be sent to you to familiarize you with procedures currently used by our Staff. All Staff members are required to read and study these instructions. Explore other excellent books and manuals.

The Registry

The registry is the "archaeological operating room." This is where we conduct reconstructive surgery on fragmented pottery, catalog, weigh, measure, draw and photograph artifacts, geological materials, biological samples, and more. The registry consists of:

  • A Library collection including Field Notebooks, various NEAS issues and numerous photocopies of articles of interest. You can check material out by signing a sheet near the library books.
  • Area of ceramic reconstruction. All square supervisors are urged to be responsible to reassemble any vessel uncovered. There is an area designated just for pottery assembling with glue, string and lots of space.
  • Field supplies such as bags, string, tags, locus sheets, pencil leads, graph paper, and more. These supplies will be monitored so that we do not waste the materials. If you need something, ask your Area Supervisor.
  • First Aid Supplies (limited, but available).
  • Major processing area for all objects, sherds, and other registered materials.
  • Architect area.

Dig Expenses

Keep in mind that prices are always in constant flux. The Dig Fee is currently $1600.00. This fee covers your hotel (in a shared room) upon arrival, all group transportation in Jordan, room and board at our Hartha base camp, and a few other expenses. More specific details will be given once we have a prospective volunteer's completed application. Airfare to Jordan will depend on several factors. If you travel with the excavation staff, we generally fly American Airlines. Flights are available out of many locations and we generally meet up as a group in London. From there we fly as a group to Amman. Volunteers are free to make whatever travel arrangements they like or to have the Dig Director make those arrangements.  Travel expenses for volunteer staff to and from Jordan are the responsibility of the volunteer. Tickets from locations in the US to Jordan vary widely - from $1200 to $1900. Additional expenses will only include your passport (if you do not have one) and incidental travel expenses (weekend travel on your own), eating out, souvenirs, etc. Also, a Jordanian visa may be purchased in advance or at the airport and is currently around $60.00. If you are from a country other than the US, please check on the visa requirements that Jordan may have for your situation. Having access to funds while in Jordan is not difficult.  Some (generally higher end) establishments accept credit cards, but generally only Visa and MasterCard. Many places in Jordan do not accept credit cards. ATMs are very common throughout Jordan and most banks in Jordan are in networks that allow staff members to access their foreign accounts easily. Check with your bank before you depart for Jordan to make sure that your ATM card will work there. We do not recommend taking traveler's checks.  

Educational Benefits

  • Students can earn academic credit through their own institution or through John Brown University. Contact the Dig Director well in advance to make arrangements for getting credit through John Brown University.  
  • An essential reading list of archaeological and technical articles and field reports is provided for all participants to help them prepare for the excavation season.
  • Intensive "IN CAMP" and "IN FIELD" training is given on the essentials of archaeological excavation and practice for the purpose of helping one apply proper methods and techniques.
  • Valuable experience is given to each student in the camp laboratory and registry where they learn pottery labeling, drawing, and pottery identification. This is a wonderful time to become familiarized with ceramic typology.
  • Scholarly lectures in camp are generally provided twice a week on archaeological and multi-disciplinary subjects, such as the history of Jordan, epigraphy, osteology, geology, and much more.
  • Educational weekend trips will take you to important archaeological sites in Jordan. These are provided at a minimum, shared cost. Following the dig, participants can visit (at their own cost) sites in Israel, Egypt, Greece, Europe, etc.