Faynan Museum opening, 4 March 2018

Faynan Museum, 4 March 2018. Waiting for the distinguished guests to arrive. Photo by Carol Palmer.

On 4 March 2018, Faynan Museum was opened for its first visitors by Her Excellency Ms Lina Annab, Jordan’s Minister of Tourism and Antiquities. The soft opening was a culmination of almost 30 years of CBRL involvement in archaeological research in the Faynan region and the efforts of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan. 

HE Ms Lina Annab and Prof. Steven Mithen cutting the ribbon to open the Faynan Museum and exhibition. Photo courtesy of the Department of Antiquities.

The Faynan Museum’s new central exhibit was the result of more than a year’s hard work of the ‘Discovering Faynan Heritage’ project, a follow-on project developed from the excavations at the spectacular early Neolithic site of Wadi Faynan 16, led by Prof. Steven Mithen from the University of Reading, Prof. Bill Finlayson, CBRL’s long-serving director, and Dr Mohammed Najjar, former director of excavations at Jordan’s Department of Antiquities.   

Distinguished guests at the Faynan Museum opening, 4 March 2018. Photo courtesy of Bushra Nabas.

The relative remoteness of Faynan belies its archaeological and historical richness. Some of Faynan’s most significant archaeological remains relate to the transition to settled life and farming in the Neolithic; copper mining and the origins of metallurgy; and the Roman copper manufacturing industrial complex (and associated pollution).  

Dr Mohammed Najjar and Prof. Steven Mithen addressing guests. Photo courtesy of the Department of Antiquities.

Faynan was possibly the site of ‘Punon’, cited in the Old Testament, the region is later equated with the Roman settlement of ‘Phaino’, mentioned by Eusebius. The remains of Byzantine churches, found amongst the large pile of rubble that is Khirbet Faynan (Faynan ‘ruins’), suggest that Faynan was the centre of a Byzantine bishopric in the 5th and 6th centuries. 

A Bedouin visitor at the exhibition. Photo courtesy of Barbara A. Porter.

All this heritage sits within a spectacular and dramatic landscape that includes the Wadi Araba, part of the African Great Rift Valley, the Shera (sometimes referred to as ‘Edomite’) mountains and the fringes of the upland Jordanian plateau.  A large part sits within the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature’s (RSCN) and the Dana Biosphere Reserve. CBRL’s close connection with the area dates to the early 1990s and the establishment of the Dana Biosphere Reserve. 

The Faynan Museum opening activities included displays of dancing by local school children. Photo courtesy of Barbara A. Porter.

In the run-up to the big day, CBRL in Amman had been tasked with overseeing the guest list – a delicate matter in terms of community relations. We were hoping for an excellent turn-out as the confirmed numbers rose steadily from 80 to 90 and then to 120 ahead of the date. We were delighted when we counted 200 people on the day, but it wasn’t without a fair amount of nervous head-counting and telephone calls to the kitchen at the Feynan Ecolodge to ensure that everyone would be catered for. Never mind the exhibit, not enough food would have been a disaster! 

After the opening ceremony, guests were invited to Feynan Ecolodge for lunch. Photo by Carol Palmer.

The event consisted of speeches in front of an audience of about 200 local notables, school troop dance performances, ribbon cutting, and visit to the newly installed central hall exhibit, then an impromptu 4-wheel drive vehicle and pickup cavalcade to the award-winning Feynan Ecolodge for a film-showing, lunch, and Faynan Heritage booklet distribution. It was a wonderfully festive occasion. 

The three-dimensional model of the Faynan landscape was the centre of attention. Photo courtesy of the Department of Antiquities.

Seeing all the Bedouin enthusiastically crowd around the 3-D model at the opening ceremony and pointing out areas known to them and reading the panels on the walls was a real highlight of the morning’s events. 

So, off to a great start! We look forward to the next phase in Faynan’s growth and through the new museum, to an increased awareness of its amazing heritage. 

Guests arriving at Feynan Ecolodge. Photo by Carol Palmer.

The soft opening event on the 4th of March was made possible through a close collaboration between the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the Department of Antiquities, Reading University, CBRL’s British Institute in Amman, Safi Museum (‘The Museum at the Lowest Place on Earth’), Feynan Ecolodge, and key representatives from the local community. The event was additionally supported by local schools.  

See the Faynan Heritage website for more and future updates.

Carol Palmer is CBRL’s director of the British Institute in Amman, a post she has held since September 2009. She has known Wadi Faynan well since 1998 when she held a CBRL Post-doctoral Fellowship at the University of Leicester and was a team member of Prof Graeme Barker, Prof David Mattingly and David Gilbertson’s Wadi Faynan Landscape Survey where she made a study of the recent Bedouin heritage and history of Faynan.