Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Updates Elsewhere

Yes, I totally failed to update on Shabbat as has been my habit the last few weeks. BUT, for those of you wanting updates from the field, I've written two, count 'em, two updates for the Kelsey Museum blog since my last update here. Die hards, please direct your attention here.

Aside from that, I have not updated because it has been crazy mccrazy time here. After break, it's a flat out sprint for three weeks in the field, and then the paperwork and packing up begins. This season is extra intense because it will be the last excavation summer, before the administrative building we're all working so hard on has to be published. So all the outstanding questions like, how did people get into the building (because we have yet to find an entrance) and what did the Persians walk on (because we have yet to find a floor dating to the Persian period), must now be answered or forever keep their secrets hidden away and subject to speculation.

This strain, coupled with Week 5 (now 6) blahs, is catching up a bit to the team. We've had three emergency room trips in as many days, and the bickering has entered full force. We all try to remember that everyone else is tired, and sometimes we may come off a bit short, or terse, or rude, or selfish, when we don't really mean it. Then a tired person's passing statement gets misinterpreted by a stressed out person, and the cow dung hits the fence, if you know what I mean.

Yes, folks, this is the glamorous world of archaeology.

Friday, June 19, 2009

"This is my village, this is my country"

We're one day into a three day mid-season break. I elected not to travel in order to get work done; the first day and a half have resulted in an epic failure to do just that. Yesterday, most of the "kids" (younger/less experienced team members who have never been to Israel) left for Jerusalem around 12:30. Trouble was, the day's work was not over, so other more senior members of staff and I spent the next few hours sorting, reading, and bagging my pottery and helping another trench supervisor complete his locusing (in about 3 weeks, I will tell you all about locusing. Consider yourself tantalized.) I was a bit grumpy that just because I wasn't going anywhere, I lost time from my break, but then the directors treated us all to a wonderful dinner at a steakhouse that I don't remember the name of and can't find on the internet right now. I had filet mignon medallions and portabella mushrooms in a sauce of ginger, garlic, and honey, with pecan pie and ice cream for dessert. The signs on their doors said "Shalom y'all." Wish I'd had the nerve to take a picture.

Today, we had been invited to Buq'ata, the village in the Golan Heights where our Druzim workers live, we thought for dinner but it turned into a 6 hour, full afternoon outing. We had a wonderful time, and it was fantastic to go somewhere and see something a bit different.

When the six of us got there, we first were led into a small anteroom with long cushions on the ground around the room. We chatted with various people aged one through 70 (almost all men) who came to say hi or sit with us for awhile. Most of them were people we work with on site and their relatives. Our host was Hamid, who speaks passable English, and translated for us when he was not drifting in and out himself. We were served small cups of strong, seasoned coffee and giant plates of fruit. After a couple hours, we adjourned to a larger living room with similar ground cushions and a huge spread of stuffed grape leaves, chicken, tabboleh, cheese, stuffed eggplant, hummus, and another salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, and fried flat bread, plus pita and huge folded pieces of flatbread which we used to pick up assorted bits of food. The food was wonderful, perhaps a bit heavy on vinegar and oil, a factor compounded by the single mug of water shared among the eight or nine of us dining. Then followed a small dessert of slices of honeyed cake and a rolled chocolate cake, with strawberry, mango, and grapefruit sodas.

From there, we went to Hussein's house. (Hussein is sort of the foreman/Godfather of the whole operation.) His house was huge, beautiful, and full of assorted archaeological relics like an olive press and column capitals, plus an old fashioned sewing machine and a saddle. There, we had more soda (Fanta and Coke), sweet fried honey balls and cakes, and coffee.

After that, Hamid and Hussein took us for a drive through the countryside surrounding Buq'ata, including orchards, other villages, a beautiful lake, the forest where all the men go to eat and drink on the weekend, and a view of Syria. Here's Hussein pointing out Syria to us: he's wanted there (we're pretty sure for spying for Israel in the 60s) so he proclaims Syria "no good." By the time of the car trip, we were all entering severe food comas, despite the coffee, when Hamid broke out a 6 pack of Carlsberg in the car and started opening bottles. Drinking beer! In a car!!! What a novel experience!The afternoon was much more enjoyable than I had thought it might be. I have some lovely memories, a full belly, and a deeper understanding and awareness of these people with whom I have worked side by side for two summers now but because we lack a common language, it's so hard to really learn about their lives. They were wonderful hosts who shared their homes, food, and life with six American graduate students in need of a little escape.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Floor CB17052

I (mentally) composed this post on Thursday, but haven't had the chance to actually write it down until now. So we'll all just pretend it's still Thursday for the sake of reading this, mk?

Today in my square was a very typical archaeological day in the sense that days like this are at the heart of fieldwork and research, but very atypical in that days of its ilk are rather few and far between. My assistant, my two Druzim workers and I had basically spent the last 4-5 days preparing for Thursday's operation, which was the removal of a hard plaster floor.

We had to do several small little operations for what basically boil down to two reasons: first, basic archaeological principle in removal of soil is last in, first out. Because we date the deposition of the soil by the types of things we find in it - mainly pottery - we take out the latest soil first in hopes of also taking out all its later material. If we leave any behind, we risk mixing that single sherd in with earlier soils, thereby throwing off the dating and phasing of the entire operation. (This actually happened to me this week, in a less important area. We had a piece of modern (as in less than a thousand years old) pottery in where it shouldn't have been. Bad supervisor Kate. I was annoyed.) Anyway, so before taking out the plaster floor, we had to be absolutely sure that any excess soil and stray pieces of pottery were totally vamoosed from the area around the floor, lest they somehow dislodge and make my life hell. This is harder than it sounds, as soil, roots and so on tend to cling stubbornly to the walls around the floor and to the sides of rocks, and to be disguised in robbing trenches from when locals came to take the nice cut blocks from the abandoned building for their own new construction, leaving behind little tiny bits of their stupid early Roman pottery which we now inconveniently find in the middle of the 2nd century BCE building.

The second reason of piddly slow preparation is to ensure we had the best possible photographic view and documentation of the floor before we took it out forever. My undergrad archaeology professor must have reminded us every week that archaeology is the only scientific research in which you destroy your evidence and, contrary to the hard sciences, the research can never be duplicated in double blind studies or other lab conditions. Our job then becomes to do as much documentation as we possibly can, so that if we fail in our interpretations (or even if we don't), others might be able to come along later and use our notes to reinterpret and understand. For the sake of removing the floor, that meant cleaning previously excavated, overgrown areas to show their relationship to our floor, excavating some rocky debris that interrupted the field of view, and carefully and cleanly cleaning out areas where the floor had eroded or otherwise disappeared in order to show where the floor was and where it wasn't.

Bored yet? So were we. But Thursday, the day finally came!! We began by removing the very thin upper laminate of plaster, and immediately had a big surprise. Although the floor itself had been clean, smooth, white plaster, the underside of the surface itself was chock full of teeny tiny shells! At least two or three other floors like this have been previously excavated, but none shared this characteristic, suggesting that something a bit different was going on with this floor. I suspect that the limestone used to make the plaster for this floor just happened to be very fossiliferous, but our faunal expert wasn't sure if the shells were fossilized or not and mused that in Egypt, shell had been occassionally put into floors and buildings as a rodent deterant, because the rats apparantly we put off by having to chew through sharp shells. Either way, the shelly floor was cool.

Underneath the hard, smooth upper surface was a flakey, crumbly plaster subsurface. Embedded in it were fragments of a little cookpot. Which is odd, if you think about it, but certainly handy for archaeologists. I mean, what happened, did it just happen to break and the contracter thought "might as well throw this in the mortar mix"? Maybe the workman were on lunch break and accidentally broke their picnic equipment that the wife sent along, and didn't feel like explaining so hid the evidence? Maybe they used the pot to mix the plaster, and just threw the whole thing in for good measure. Other ideas?

Benath that was a cobble subfloor, with 10-20 cm stones laid out and somewhat mortared in. After we had taken that out, we began to take out the thick layer of somewhat moist soil beneath (at least 40cm deep, we haven't reached the bottom yet), which yielded a crap ton of large pieces of pottery which we hope will give us a good idea of the date after which the floor must have been laid. Pottery reading tomorrow! I can't wait!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Down and Dirty

Before I sign into Blogger, all of my blogger.com sites have the menu bar in Hebrew. This presented a bit of a problem as I kept choosing options on the righthand side in order to sign in, before I realized the "Sign In" link was going to be on the left in accordance with the way the Hebrew language works.

If I wrote Hebrew instead of English, I bet I wouldn't get the giant pencil smudges and have to do the wrist crook around binder spirals to write on the front of pages...

Anyway. It's Shabbat again, so I have the luxury of a bit more time for writing and reflection. The first three days of the week were rough - we worked in the field from 5am to noon, then washed and read pottery until 5 or 6 in the evening. Tuesday was particularly bad for me, since my assistant and I had to sort about 50kg worth of pottery sherds and I was literally on my feet for 13 hours, minus the half hour from 2:00-2:30 when I ate lunch. Finally sitting down and relaxing in a chair at the end of that day was the best feeling. Wednesday, our director had to go down to Jerusalem, so we couldn't excavate by law, and instead worked on clearing and cleaning the site out in anticipation of aerial photos at the end of the season. While we will certainly thank ourselves later, when it's July and 95 degrees and there are a thousand other things to be done and clearing is the last thing anyone wants to do, it was still an exhausting, hot, boring day. I entertained myself with fantasies about Mike Rowe coming to do archaeology as a "Dirty Job."

Exciting week in my trench, though. We found a few floors and a drain that appears to run under one of the walls and floors. I'm excited to take up some of these surfaces next week and try to get good, datable material from underneath in order to determine the date after which these floors must have been constructed.

Tonight, I'm going over to visit the Omrit-ians. I can't wait to see them and hear about all the goings on at the site this season and generally catch up.