The first day of this season’s digging began with the team travelling in our trusty minibus and two 4x4’s down the main highway towards Saudi from Wadi Musa. After a quick stop at Ma’an to buy a new kettle for the essential chai we sped on towards Tel el Shahm.
Tel el Shahm station is one of the southern most stops on the Hijaz railway, and it and it’s environs are known to be the site of a insurgent’s battle with the static Ottoman forces. The station itself is fortified with block houses and trenches, but we have decided to explore a position about a mile to the north consisting of a spectacular hilltop defended position with a well defined encampment, rather than the station itself.
The relationship between station and fort is similar to that at Batn Al Ghul where the station was fortified but low lying and there was a large fortification on high ground about a mile away.
We started exploring the Ottoman hilltop fort and military camp at Tel el Shahm with the aim of establishing whether or not the pattern of defence works is the same here as further north at the sites we have worked at previously. Too early for anything definitive to report, save that this is a large site with many features and we will be occupied here for several days to come.
The breeze on the lower slopes of the site today was deceptive, and temperatures well in excess of 30 C made the work very tiring. One logistical breakthrough however helped with this – after 5 seasons we have finally managed to organise some shade to pause under and provide respite from the incredible desert heat.
One of the investigative teams walked from Tel el Shahm west crossing the new tarmac highway to investigate several features identified by Lieutenant V.D. Siddons of X flight who had made several sketch maps via aerial reconnaissance in April1918. The main feature we were looking for was a sunken gun position between two hills. They were unable to identify this feature but did encounter one possible Ottoman tent ring and a nearby possible mule tethering area.
They then headed east, to the remaining stretch of original Hijaz railway embankment, following that back to Tel el Shahm. Nothing of any note was observed on that particular stretch.
Back to the same area tomorrow for more exploration of this fascinating desert complex.