Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Week 7 - Over and OUT!

This week we had Toby back with us in Area B – yeah! We are spending this week working on those two dark layers I mentioned last week, and excavating the last little bit of a pit where we found human bone in 2009 on the last day. Saturday and Sunday we worked on trying to sort out some of the fill deposits sitting directly on top of the dark layer to the north. Toby found a very lovely basalt handstone while excavating in Steve’s square while he was back on flotation rotation.

At the moment we are focussing on getting the boundaries of the feature exposed, photographing and mapping. Then, we will dig it in small 25x25 cm areas.

Area A is continuing to excavate a series of compact surfaces with large articulated bone sitting on them. We have halted work in the deep trench because it was getting unsafe for Jen and Danielle to keep working there. It is a little sad because we still have NOT reached sterile. So we may need to open it again in the future. But, for now, we are drawing the sections and stopping. Kevin may have also reached sterile deposits at 1.3m. We’ll dig it a bit tomorrow to make sure.

Sunday Jay arrived – woohoo! And, bearing lots of chocolate… He’ll be with us until the end, although he will manage to miss backfill day, which is usually his speciality. We also had Annlee, Chris and Jon visit us on-site and come back to Azraq for lunch. Iron Age and Roman archaeologists rarely make the trek out to our mound of lithics and bone, so yeah to them for coming out and at least faking interest in the Epipalaeolithic. World cup fever is in full swing and we are now regularly altering lab times so that games can be watched. As I write this Germany and England are playing and the lab is quite empty as everyone is at the game…

We had two other groups visiting us this week too. Nigel, Ofer and Nahal swung by on a serious driving tour of the sites – they stayed a night in Azraq and came to visit us on-site on Saturday for the grand tour. Actually, the timing was perfect as we had lots of good stuff open and ready for viewing. It was quite fantastic to hear their thoughts on some of our deposits. A few days later we had Aaron, Liv, Trina and their crew from up north come for a tour – and once again we had some exciting things open to show them.

This week we closed the deep trench in Area A and spent the last few days drawing its profiles and sampling for bulk soil and OSL samples. We also closed Kevin’s trench in Area E after he had dug sterile deposits for a while and then was almost 2 m deep. We did discover that there are excellent occupational deposits sitting right on the sterile sandy clay – indeed several post-holes were dug into sterile deposits. So, an area we thought we be a quick-and-dirty test of how fast we could hit sterile has turned out to be much more interesting and an area we will definitely open up further in future. But, for now, sections here were drawn, OSL samples taken, and then it was backfilled. The other areas all proceeded quite well over the last week of excavation – with Area A focussed on removing several compact deposits containing large amounts of semi-articulated bone in the southwest portion of the excavation trench, Area B focussed on cleaning up and documenting one of the dark layers, which we believe to be the traces of a hut feature (actually, we think both are, but we were only able to document one of them this season), and in Karl’s area (Area F), we excavated quite a few interesting features that are very similar to those in Area B, while still not hitting sterile deposits.

The finds in this area are quite interesting and look very much like what we are finding in Area B, so this is definitely an area in which we are not finished, and indeed, would like to expand further next excavation season too. Area B did take quite a bit of effort this week, as we uncovered what we believe is a semi-subterranean hut feature. In fact, Toby and others did several double-shifts of digging this week. The features seems to have several fills and the features and its fills are identical in another adjacent area where we suspect is a second of these hut features, although we will need to dig it next time to be sure. Within these fill deposits we found several very interesting caches of red ochre and pierced marine shell – each cache holding at least 200 shells! It is very cool, but very complicated and thus slow-going. We did what we could this year, but so as not to rush it, we will have to continue next year.

Anyways, digging, drawing, and sampling was all done on schedule, leaving us two days for backfilling – which was really quite painless this year! Weather was good, sand and backfill was pretty close to the trenches, and we had lots of help – so all went smoothly! Back at the house, we spent the week trying to wrap up as much analyses as we could, plough through flotation samples (although we have a small backlog), and start packing up. We did have some windy days again – including one day where our shade tent came down again and Bryn got a good knock to the head while trying to rescue it (see pic). Luckily he was alright and they only shaved a very small patch of hair for the stitches, plus he’ll have a good story to tell. We also had a few other ‘injuries’ at the end – well, some tummy friends for Susannah, sprained ankle for Jen, and bad knee for Rebecca – but despite all these, everyone still hobbled along with smiles on their faces…

While doing all of this, we also had the 1st Annual ‘Mandatory’ Azraq Talent Show, organised, advertised and hosted by Bryn (thanks – awesome job!). It was excellent and everyone contributed something, including the competent although chaotic judging by Anna and Clareana. We had a musical number with various Jordanian (and made-up???) instruments, a hearth-wrenching rendition of Celine Dion’s ‘My Hearth Will Go On’, a juggling act, hand-outs of ever-present flint, a tribute to Stompin’ Tom, and the winning act – a Kharaneh IV rap! The evening was a huge success and there was even a trophy (see the pic). Hope these videos come through…

We also had a BBQ with our workers and neighbours on Sunday night, where Ismael, as usual, created a virtual feast. We even had the giant speakers pumping music, like at weddings. I think, for once, we actually kept the neighbourhood awake instead of the other way around (although most neighbours were at the BBQ, so not sure if that counts).

The rest of our days went by in a flash – packing, packing and more packing. Bryn and Anna had to leave us a bit early, which was sad because they were the first to leave. Things were pretty hectic, and there were points when I though the packing and moving would never end, but somehow everyone pulled together and we even got things ready to head back to Amman on the 6th slightly ahead of schedule! We all stayed together in some apartments in Amman, with one last hurray end-of-season dinner in Amman at the Blue Fig (although sadly, missing Christophe and Ismael). We had so many people coming and going over the last few days that we never did get a good group photo, so I will have to photoshop something together and send it round later…Then, the next day most people headed their own way – some back home, some travelling in Jordan, and some travelling in the region. Myself, Kevin, Danielle and Jay headed up north to Irbid for a day to visit the Yarmouk museum and scan the human bones from Kharaneh on display there, then to Madaba for lots of R & R! Both Danielle and then Jay left from Madaba, as did Kevin and I a few days later (and after a side-trip down south, including to Aqaba where Kevin discovered he loves snorkelling! As for me, I prefer just eating really good seafood…).

So, farewell to Azraq and Jordan for another year and back to the real world now…Thanks again to the crew for making this such an amazing season!

Week 6 - Better Late than Never

(editors note: - apologies for the delay in posting - got lost in the mix of SPAM and other assorted meats.....)

This week went by extremely quickly – we had a full week on-site, but it flew by. On our last days of the week (Tues-Thurs), the wind was really bad and we had to quit work early all three days because the wind and sand drove us away! It was almost filling our trenches faster than we could dig! In fact, we had to spend a great deal of time the next Sat after our day off digging ourselves out of the sand. I was in Amman on the Wednesday afternoon when the wind was the worst and Kevin and I drove through a small sandstorm on the road from Azraq to Amman.

I called Danielle to ask her to batten down the hatches in Azraq and make sure all our equipment and samples were packed up from the wind – Bryn seems to have taken this request to heart and did some patrolling around the ‘compound’.

But, to get to the work, in Area B we worked on continuing to uncover two main features: a) the dark layer we discovered in 2008-2009 that we suspect is a hut structure or massive hearth (pic of Area B) and b) another feature that is looking more and more like (a) and of which the horn core cache appears to be a part of. During this process Hilary and I stepped back a trench to more fully expose the dark layer which went into the south baulk further than we expected. We dug out more the bone bed and got down to the dark feature quickly. While then cleaning off the layers on top of this dark-coloured feature Hilary uncovered a small cache of pierced marine shell (pic) and large amount of red ochre (pic). At the same time, Bryn, Maria and Steve worked on the other potential feature further south (area B possible hearth?).

In Area A, more gazelle horn cores, but here unburnt and isolated, came up within the compact surfaces. In the deep trench, Danielle and Jen are getting quite deep through the lake/marsh deposits – by the end of the week they were at the same level as the adjacent wadi deposits (about 2 m from the surface on-site, see pic Jen in trench). It is still not sterile – argh! Actually, the most exciting find of the week came out of this trench. Artifact densities actually began picking up with depth and alongside a dense collection of gazelle horn cores and lithics they pulled out a proximal humerus of a hippo – yes, a hippo! Hippo-hunters of the Epipalaeolithic – very cool.

Kevin and Karl are still working on their trenches. Kevin is now well below 60 cm and definitely not in sterile deposits. He hit a few hearth features and as dumps and just finished excavating part of an occupational surface. Karl is also digging hearth features to the north and east of Area B in a completely untested part of the site.

Things are also moving along nicely in the lab. Elizabeth continues to reign over the flotation (just barely some days as the buckets do pile up), but the flot teams are now in heated competition for the most number of litres to float in one day – the record is currently held by Rebecca and Karl at 347 litres. We are doing fairly well keeping up with the 4 mm sorting from Area A and certainly providing enough material fro Anna who is an extraordinarily dedicated lady and had probably now looked at more gazelle bones than she ever dreamed she would…And this is the only the beginning of the dissertation! Christophe has been a master of Illustrator, producing excellent geological and topo maps of the Kharaneh area and nearby flint outcrops. In the few weeks that he has been here he has managed to track pretty much all of the flint types we see on site, and the ochre sources as well.

On Thursday we stopped work early and those of us keen on Middle Palaeolithic sites went on a field trip up to Deir Alla to visit Aaron Stutz and his crew excavating a cave in Wadi Rajeb (and to steal Toby away and bring him to Azraq!). It was a bit of a drive, and the crew stopped in Amman to pick me up (I was already there), then we headed into the Jordan Valley. We got a wonderful tour of the cave and a peak at their lithics and fauna. They have just begun and still have lots of digging to do, but definitely have some interesting finds from the cave. Then, Jen, Hilary, Elizabeth, Danielle, Kevin, Toby and myself headed to Madaba. Danielle, Kevin Toby and I stayed with Deb and her staff at the Tell Madaba dig house (thanks Deb!) and had a night on the town at Haret Djoudna and on Deb’s roof, then had a really lazy next day – a well-earned break. The other girls went to Mystic Pizza and did quite a bit of shopping. Before heading back to Azraq we stopped in Amman and visited with Mo and Yo, Jason, Phil and Leslie at ACOR to catch up over some Amstel. The rest of the crew stayed in Azraq and hung out. Rebecca and Susannah did a massive amount of very tasty baking that was much appreciated by the rest of us!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Kharaneh in the news....

Hey check it out...we are in the news. A recent article about the work we are doing in the Azraq region is available online. You can read it here:


Monday, July 5, 2010

Football in Azraq....You Bet!

I’ve put some general excavation photos here, including Kevin and Danielle looking very professional, and one of the many multi-person attempts to provide shade over the excavation squares for photographs on a windy day.

This week moved along pretty well, with a few exciting finds, but mostly moving dirt to get down to targeted deposits. In Area B we are working steadily in the north part of the trench to try and expose a thick dark layer identified in 2008 section as a possible hut floor or massive hearth. So, we are pealing away the very artifactually-dense layers above to try and get down on top of it in week 6 and 7. Some of these layers include our infamous ‘bone beds’, with more animal bone than dirt. In the south part of this trench we are also excavating several hearth and larger features, including what appear to be caches of burnt gazelle and ibex (?) horn cores (see pic of horn core collection).

These all came up at the same time in a dark brown horizon than we discovered later may actually be part of a larger hearth or hut structure. We do find quite a lot of gazelle horn cores (see other horn core pics), but they are usually isolated or in pairs and unburnt – so this huge collection of 14 gazelle and two ibex(?) is a first for us.

In Area A the A-Team is excavating a compact surface full of bone to get down to another compact surface below so that we can determine whether or not we now have northern boundaries for these loci. It seems that we do not yet have the northern edges and will need to expand further north in future years. For the rest of this season we will concentrate on the southern six squares to uncover some further probable hearth features that are just coming up adjacent to the compact surfaces.

Jen and Danielle are still working on the deep sounding to find sterile here and are digging endlessly through a grey clay that is becoming increasingly dense in artifacts – not sterile! In fact, the lithics are bigger and definitely early EP, meaning that we can confirm that we have Middle EP overlying Early EP in the western side of the site.

Kevin and Karl have joined us this week for the rest of the season and are working on some new soundings in the north part of the site where no one has really dug before. Muheisen excavated nearby down about 60 cm before calling his trench sterile, so we would like to see a) how deep until we hit sterile, and b) what kind of deposits are in this part of the site. They have already moved quite a bit of dirt (woohoo) and are both through disturbed deposits into probable Middle EP levels. Like everywhere else, there is tons of material. More on these are they are dug.

Also, just to keep you up-dated on our finds, we have recovered more incised bone. Our most notable piece is exactly the same as a piece we found in 2008 – a gazelle mandible with parallel incisions running perpendicular to the long axis of the mandible its entire length – top and bottom. We also have tons of pierced marine shell (probably another 1000 or so pieces this year), denticulated mother-of-pearl, several bone points and awls, basalt groundstone mortar and vessel fragments and handstones, and of course tons (literally) of lithics!

For this day off I went to Amman and did some work (sigh), while Danielle and Kevin went on an adventure to Wadi Shueib and Iraq al-Amir. Most others went to Amman for some hanging out and shopping, or stayed in Azraq for some real R & R, and probably to watch the World Cup games. Luckily the internet cafes in Azraq are showing the game so we are staying on top of the action.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Week 4 - Paris and more Paris.....

This was a bit of a short week, with only a few days on-site and then our mid-dig break. The mid-dig break is extra long this year because Danielle and I went to Paris – yes, legitimately…The Department of Antiquities had its 11th ICHAJ conference in Paris from June 7-12 and so we presented on our work and then enjoying the city. A mid-dig break in Paris, who could ask for more? Deb also was in Paris and Kevin met us there, to then come back to Kharaneh afterwards as our ceramic specialist (the easiest gig he will ever have since we have no pottery!).

Paris was an excellent time. Prince Hassan hosted a sunset dinner cruise on the Seine our first evening there (pic with Deb and Danielle and Kevin). Then, the next day were all the prehistory papers. And then we were all finished presenting (except Deb who was the next morning) and we enjoyed some more papers and the city. I’ve attached some pics here, including Kevin, Danielle, Toby and I outside the fantastic prehistory museum just outside Paris. We also made a trip to Versailles (Kevin and Danielle eating ice cream), the Louvre (hanging out by the fountain) and a million other places in the city. It was also sunny and beautiful for pretty much the entire trip. We ate all the cheese, croissants, and drank all the tasty French wine we possibly could in a week (and it still wasn’t enough).

The rest of the crew worked for one extra day (suckers…) during which Bryn in Area B found a small concentration of lithics and a bone point (pictured here in the square and up close) within the corner of an occupation surface. Area A spent the day moving dirt, trying to get some loci removed to uncover a compact living surface we first discovered in 2008 and excavated also in 2009. We also had another fairly breezy day, as you can see from Rebecca and Jen all bundled up. Then the crew dispersed throughout the country to Petra, Amman, the Dead Sea, Aqaba, and even some went up to Syria to hang out in Damascus for five days. All had a great time – nice and relaxing and ready to dig, dig, dig again.