Milestones: Bert de Vries (1939-2021)

He served as director of both Umm al Jimal and the American Center of Research in Jordan

Bert de VriesOn March 28, Bert de Vries, long time director of the Umm al Jimal excavations in Jordan and former director of the American Center of Research (ACOR) in Amman, died at age 82 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he and his wife, Sally, lived for many decades.

He was born in Zierikzee, Zeeland, in the Netherlands. After World War II, his family emigrated to Ontario, Canada, in 1952. He studied physics and engineering at Calvin College (now University) and received a second B.A. in divinity from Calvin Seminary. For his Ph.D., he studied at Brandeis University. He began teaching history and archaeology at Calvin in 1967, and his academic career was centered there even after his formal retirement in 2013. He received Calvin’s Presidential Award for Exemplary Teaching in 1998, aptly given, as his passion for teaching and mentoring was manifest throughout his life.

In 1968, he went to Jordan for the first time to be the architect at Tell Hesban. On that trip, he also visited the black basalt ruins of Umm al Jimal in northeastern Jordan, which were to be the focus of his professional life for the next 50 years. From 1972 to 1974, the de Vries family (Bert, Sally, and their four children) lived in Amman when Bert was the Albright Fellow at ACOR. In 1972–1973, he conducted a comprehensive survey of Umm al Jimal and in 1974, along with Jim Sauer of ACOR, made the first soundings at the site. Bert and Sally also lived in Amman from 1988 to 1991 when he was the ACOR Director. He joined the ACOR Board in 1995, and he and Sally established an ACOR fellowship in 2004 to support students coming to Jordan to participate in excavations or to undertake a research project.

From the 1970s to 1990s, the Umm al Jimal project revealed the history of the site from Nabatean to modern times. Beginning in 2007, the project shifted away from excavation to concentrate on site conservation, presentation, and especially community engagement. Legions of Calvin students have participated over the years, and the local community of Umm al Jimal has been integral to the study and preservation of the site. The evolution of the work can be traced through the Umm el Jimal Archaeological Project website.

Bert is survived by his wife and four children and their spouses and children who, along with Bert’s many brothers and relatives, are part of a close-knit family. There was a memorial service on April 2 at the Calvin Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids—attended in person by a small group of close family and friends but also virtually by many from around the world, including the community from Umm al Jimal. On the ACOR website (, under a tribute to Bert and his legacy, there are links to the service, public lectures, and a recent, insightful interview related to Bert’s photo archive from his years as ACOR Director. All who knew Bert speak of his sense of integrity, humanity, and justice, as well as his remarkable, seemingly indefatigable energy.

In 2019, Bert received the King Abdullah Medal of Excellence, an honor conferred on him by H.R.H. Prince Raad bin Zeid, a friend since Bert’s Hesban days. It was a fitting tribute for one who had dedicated so much of his life to Jordan and its heritage.

Related Posts

Machaerus Rendering
Jun 18
Machaerus: Beyond the Beheading of John the Baptist

By: Biblical Archaeology Society Staff

Cuneiform tablets from the site of Nuzi in northern Iraq. Zunkir, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Jun 17
The Nuzi Tablets

By: Philippe Bohström

Jun 16
High Places, Altars and the Bamah

By: Ellen White

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend