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UT Research Team Unearths Clues About Lives of Roman Soldiers

Ayn Gharandal Archaeological Project

In what’s being described as the type of find archeologists “dream of making”, a team of researchers and students from the University of Tennessee say they’ve discovered valuable clues to the lives of ancient Roman soldiers who once lived in the middle of the South Jordanian desert.

Since 2009, the husband-and-wife research team of Robert and Erin Darby have been directing an archeological excavation at Ayn Gharandal, the site of an ancient Roman fort.  Fighting searing temperatures, layer upon layer of sand and destruction left behind by looters, the team was able to piece together clues about the daily lives of the Roman soldiers who lived there.

Even so, much about the soldiers' identity remained a mystery.  In June, the team experienced a bit of archeological luck. 

The researchers were able to unearth a collapsed gate which contained several inscriptions.  The inscriptions suggest the fort was dedicated to Roman emperors Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius and Constantius, all of whom ruled between 293 and 305 A.D.  

The gate also contained an inscription that identifies the specific military unit assigned to the fort as the Cohors II Galatarum.  By cross-checking the unit’s name with Roman military records, the Robert Darby was able to conclude the soldiers living at the fort were part of a unit that had once been deployed to Israel to put down a Jewish insurrection.   

“Findings like this don’t happen often,” says Erin Darby.  Darby is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at UT and her husband Robert is a lecturer in Art History at UT’s School of Art. 

The Darbys’ findings were featured this week in the on-line journal Ancient Near East Today.  They plan to take another research team back to the site in the summer of 2015.