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Legacy of the Crusades Volume 55 Number 5, September/October 2002
by Sandra Scham

The ruins of castles on hillsides throughout the Middle East are mute reminders of a bloody chapter in medieval history.

Pharaoh's Island, off the Sinai Peninsula, was built by crusader king Baldwin I in the twelfth century and later captured by the legendary Muslim leader Saladin. (Mark Rose)

Crusader sites, like the crusader tradition, inspire a variety of emotions and thoughts. The castles are what most people think of when they envision the crusader period (1097-1291), and many Arabs, says West Bank archaeologist Adel Yahyeh, take a measure of pride in them, since it was the Arabs who liberated the castles from their Christian enemy. But there are other effects of the period to be considered, as well.

"You go to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan today...you can see that many of the crusaders stayed and married, and that today we are a mixture of people," says Aziz Azayzeh, a guide at the crusader castle of Kerak in Jordan. This casual statement actually reflects the focus of a great deal of new archaeological activity relating to crusader sites in the region. Although it was long believed that European culture did not penetrate rural areas in the Levant, excavations of villages and farmsteads with crusader architecture, sugar refining equipment (a fairly new industry in the medieval period), and a general increase in pig bones at rural sites now indicate otherwise.

Sandra Scham, a contributing editor for ARCHAEOLOGY, is an archaeologist who has been living and working in Israel since 1996. A former curator of the Pontifical Biblical Institute Museum in Jerusalem, she is currently affiliated with the department of anthropology at the University of Maryland at College Park.

© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America