Saturday, July 12, 2008

Week 6 – the end!

We have now completed our final week at Kharaneh IV for this year and I, for one, am now enjoying a relaxing week in Madaba. I am lounging pool-side as I write this...

Week six was pretty uneventful, but extremely busy. In the Middle EP area, we came down on a notably compact locus that still contained quite a lot of lithics and faunal, but all much smaller and less dense than the layer above. We are approximately 30 cm below the surface, which is roughly the level at which Muheisen reported a living surface and several postholes... We decided that time did not permit full excavation of this locus this year, so we exposed it, mapped it, and collected the surface material that we felt would not survive being backfilled until next year. Then, we buried it. Jay came out for the last few days, so we put him to work doing this (and backfilling, of course). We have a great deal of charcoal from this locus and the one above, so we are hopeful in getting good dates for these deposits. The microliths are all wacky trapeze/rectangles, some with interesting little points or hooks on one end. The bone is, not surprisingly, mostly gazelle. And, we continue to find lots of shell beads.

In the Early EP area, the new excavation squares produced a very large pit, similar in description to the one excavated from this area by Muheisen. Those in the deep trench continued to dig sterile for almost a metre (after we couldn’t move in the trench, we used the auger), and it was very dense, orange clay all the way! Sorry Matt, no clear greenish-grey lake silts below the site this year, but it is still about a metre above the modern wadi bed. However, our stratigraphic section from this trench is amazing – I’ve included a photo here – and we managed to pull out over 50 pieces of charcoal for dating.

Our last two days on site were occupied with drawing our sections and taking final photos, while we had a fence re-built around us. It is a temporary fence, until we bring a digger to site next year for our geomorph work and use it to dig proper foundations for permanent fence posts. But, hopefully it will do the trick until then. Then, the final day was backfilling – oh what fun! I hired a dump truck to bring us 12 m3 of sand to use for backfill (so it would be very different from any deposits on-site or nearby), and we filled lots of sand bags to keep everything anchored down. We also covered over just the very surface of our trenches with material from the sieve, so you would almost never know we were there...well, sort of (see pics).

Our end-of-dig party (the first one) was that night in Azraq, where we were joined by the crew of Carlos Cordova, Michael Bisson, and April Nowell. Our excellent cook Ismael made pizza and much celebrating was done as both projects had just wrapped up. The next two days were crazy hectic with packing up the material and the house. But, it all paid off when we got to Amman on the 6th and enjoyed a few hours at the hammam (having my ‘tan’ scrubbed away), and then an excellent dinner at the Vinagrette Cafe (our second end-of-dig party). For those who know my love of this place, I ate so much sushi I thought I would explode! The crew has all headed their separate ways now, and I am in Madaba catching up on a little R&R and hanging with my TO friends digging at Tell Madaba and Wadi Thamad. I think I will head now to the Ayola for a cheese sandwich and mixed fruit juice...

So, this will be my last up-date on this blog for a few weeks, until I return from the field in mid-Sept and start dealing with all the material we dug up. But, I will be sure to continue to post the progress of this material throughout the year, so please check in every so often.

Thanks to all of the crew for a productive and fun first season!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Begining of Week 6 - already!

Just a very quick message while I am breezing through the internet cafe on my way to get more red plastic crates...We have just started our last week of excavations and are beginning to tidy things up. Two big things make the news for us: 1) last Friday it was 48 degrees celcius in Azraq!, and 2) yesterday we hit sterile deposits in our deep trench! Yippy. Matt - the deposits are clay, clay and more clay. We have just borrowed the CBRL auger and will see what else we can find you. Otherwise, the Early EP area has produced a very nice pit and a continuation of the series of stratified layers I mentioned earlier. We have only 2 more digging days, then sections, then backfilling! Wow, it has gone fast and we now have a lot of flints to deal with...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Weeks 3, 4 and 5...still digging...

We have finally found an internet cafe in south Azraq that is sometimes relatively quick, so I have attempted here to type out an up-date ahead of time and upload it at the internet cafe...Hope this all comes through to you! (I did already get booted off twice...) We are still digging away out in the desert and things are going very well. We spent most of weeks 3 and 4 moving dirt to get down to good deposits – this is much more time-consuming than it sounds given the incredible density of material from the site.

Just to give you some idea, we are screening through a double mesh system of 4 mm and 2 mm, and it takes over 1 hour to pick out all the flint and bone and shell just from the 4 mm mesh (never mind the 2 mm), so we are having to bag up all the material in both screens and sort it later in the lab out of the hot sun! And, in a 1x1m square area, digging only 5 cm in depth we are bringing back to the lab ~10 bags of 4 mm material and 4-5 bags of 2 mm material! And, some of the deposits are so carbonate concreted that we are having to use the big pick to dig them...Never thought I would need a big pick at this site, but the deposits in one of the trenches are as hard as rock. But, all that is gone and we have been digging good deposits in both trenches. Last week I posted some pictures of the crew members excavating, as well as a group photo of the 2008 Kharaneh crew.

Back row left to right: Jennifer Jones (UCL), Hussein Medinah (Beir Zeit), Danielle Macdonald (Toronto), Sam Allcock (UCL), Alison Damick (UCL), Tove Smith (Penn), Ibrahim Meslam (U Jordan), Andrew Graham (Toronto); Middle row left to right: Tha’ir (Azraq), Mohammad (Azraq), Basam (Azraq), Lisa Maher (Cambridge); Front row left to right: Tobias Richter (UCL), Amr (Azraq), and Ismael Karaeem (Amman). Missing are Louise Martin (UCL), Sue Colledge (UCL), Kelly Reed (UCL), Matt Jones (Nottingham). A great crew – we have had a lot of fun!

Perhaps to back up a bit, I should mention that we have opened up two main excavation areas: one in the primarily Early EP deposits at the highest part of the site and another to the southwest in the primarily Middle EP deposits. Muheisen excavated sondages in both these areas and we have selected them in order to re-open his excavation areas and more fully document the stratigraphy of the site and expose a larger horizontal area where he documented features such as living floors and postholes. And, indeed, it seems these are the deposits we are now coming down onto; but more on that in a moment. In the Early EP area, we have re-exposed Muheisen’s sondage, or at least as much of it as is still possible to identify (luckily, some of it was marked by glass bottles, styrofoam, and plastic). Here we have also excavated our own probe to expose a full stratigraphic section of these deposits, and are now just a few centimetres above where Muheisen reported hitting sterile deposits. In this area, we were able to further refine his stratigraphy as we discovered deposits about 1 m below the surface which consist of finely laminated ash- and charcoal-rich clayey deposits, that likely represent several stratified occupational horizons. These deposits are so rich in charcoal that we were able to collect charcoal from each individual horizon, and should we be able to get dates from these, we will have a very nice sequence in this trench. We have also identified a very compact yellowish clay horizon, also containing a great deal of charcoal that Muheisen documented as a floor. However, we will have to await more complete horizontal exposure of this next year to confirm it. In the Middle EP area, we have also re-opened Muheisen’s trench here (he excavated a 3x4 m area down 40 cm in depth) and expanded horizontally from this. Almost immediately (~10-15 cm below surface) we hit clean EP deposits containing large pieces of articulated bone, including cow-sized vertebrae and ribs and complete gazelle feet. And, of course more flint than we know what to do with – seriously! We excavated two layers of silt like this, and have now come down in the south portion of the area (adjacent to Muheisen’s trench) onto a more compact ‘surface’ (our working hypothesis) containing, again, lots of charcoal, articulated bone (but smaller), three mandibles (gazelle-sized), a notable shift from all types of flints to microliths (particularly the wacky trapeze/rectangles), brown stains, and bits of red ochre.

So, lots of excitement in the EP! We are now finishing off our 5th week of excavations and beginning to plan what we can reasonably get done next week, as well as planning our strategy for next year. We are now sitting in the lab looking at all the artefact we have collected and I think that next year we will have to bring a double team – one team that digs, while the other does nothing but lab work! On a related note, yesterday Alison and I went to Arab Box (the store in Sahab that sells red crates we use for holding finds) and bought 80 crates for finds. On the way back in the pick-up truck the rope burst and red crates spilled all over the highway. We were quite the sight running all over picking them up, and it generated quite a lot of honks from the truckers! It was quite entertaining (in retrospect, of course). Ok, now it is lab time and I have to go deal with more flints...stay tuned for an up-date of our last week of excavations next week.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Weeks 3 & 4

I am finally back in the land of internet access, well, at least for the next few minutes. I thought I would take this chance to upload a few pictures, but the text to go along with them will have to follow in the next few days...
Things are going very well and we are looking forward to the next two weeks (the last two, if you can believe it) digging in good deposits (well, mostly everywhere). We have dug one deep trench, and are starting another this week and will end this season with both some nice horiztonal exposures, as well as a good sense of the stratigraphy of the site in the two areas where Muheisen worked in the 1980's. Finds are pretty consistent - more flint than we know what to do with (all those who told us so now have bragging rights!), and we are continuing to get lots of faunal material (Louise, we are keeping Jen very busy), and shell beads like crazy. Here are some excavation shots of the crew working very hard in the hot sun, and sometimes in the crazy wind! (Ok, the picture of Danielle with beer is not actually on-site...)
Please be patient and stay tuned for further details...

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Week 2.5 - windy days...

Week 2.5 Up-date We are now into our third week of excavations and I just wanted to post some pictures of objects and features we have found so far. Adjacent to Muheisen’s 1981 excavations in the Early Epipalaeolithic deposits, we are now excavating several pits (image from Area BE75) and charcoal-rich, ashy layers. In our new excavation squares adjacent to Muheisen’s 1985 excavations in the Middle Epipalaeolithic deposits, we are just above a floor deposit reported by Muheisen (and luckily some of it remains in his old sections) and have come down on a layer rich in lithics and well-preserved faunal remains, including several articulated vertebrae (image from Area AQ42). We did have one absolutely crazy windy day, where more dirt flew out over the sieve, rather than going through it, and the lithics were literally blown out of our hands (oops, so not really 100% collection that day). We had to quit early that day, but the weather seems to have settled into the normal hot desert, with a gentle, hot breeze! The nice thing about the wind is that we have been able to get a few good kite photos of the site, including the one taken by Andrew here. In both our new excavations and in Muheisen’s old trenches (which we removed the backfill from), we have recovered a large number of shell beads and several pieces of worked bone, some of which are shown here. The worked bone is particularly exciting and mainly consists of long bone fragments with parallel incised lines running perpendicular to the long axis of the bone. In some cases, the incisions form a repeated pattern with several lines separated by spaces. We have also recovered one bone awl/point and a very delicate bone ‘needle’. Not too much else to report yet, but more to follow by the end of the week...Also, I just wanted to mention that, due to time factors and internet connection speed, I have stuck mainly to dig-related posts, while Andrew's blog (Archaeology in Jordan, follow link on this page), deals more with non-dig adventures... please check it out too!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Week 2: The Slow March Forward

Week 2: The Slow March Forward...
Well, it is that time of week again, time for another posting. It is Friday morning and I am writing this by the poolside at the Miriam Hotel in Madaba, after just having a little swim. Ahhh, the good life in Jordan! Today is the first day off that I have been able to sleep in, relax, and I think I will do a little shopping in Madaba and at the Madaba Handicraft Centre (for those of you who know my weakness for jewellery or have been there with me, you understand my excitement!). Just as an aside, as you can tell, this blog is becoming more of a train of thought, than any official report on our excavations! Today has been wonderful and relaxing – yeah for the Miriam! Last night we all headed into Amman early and went to see the Indiana Jones movie at City Mall – which was quite enjoyable, if a little unexpected in plot. But, certainly lots of good one-liners, which we have already appropriated for the dig!
Unfortunately, we had to say goodbye to Sue, Louise, Joe, Matt and Kelly at the end of the first week, but then by the end of the week, we gained Jennifer Jones and Hussein Medinah. So, now, we are getting into the work groove – up at 4:10 am, leaving for site at 5 am (1/2 hour drive each way), a ½ hour for 2nd breakfast at 9 am, then stop digging at 11:15 am, packing it in and heading back to sort through the 2 mm sieve collection and work on the lithics and faunal material – very time-consuming! Then, we have lunch at 2 pm, a little break and nap, and some more lab work in the late afternoon, then dinner and sleep (mmm, precious sleep).
We had a very good week in-site this week and got a lot accomplished. It doesn’t sound like it when I write it here because we did the same thing is many little 1x1m areas, but we did get quite a bit accomplished. After the first day (Sat) Andrew and I had finished the setting the site datum and grid and laid out all the new excavation areas, which are basically along the north and east margins of Muheisen’s two largest excavation trenches (one in the Middle EP deposits, and one in the Early EP deposits). And, we began excavating these. The surface deposits took forever, as there was easily more bone and chipped stone than actual dirt. The locus immediately below is quite similar and this is what we are just finished up working on now. Actually, one area (the Middle EP area) is now coming down onto nice EP deposits, with large pieces of flat-lying bone and tools, and burnt patches. We can see from the sections in Muheisen’s old trench here and from the publications on his excavations in this area that we are about 15 cm above a floor, with hearth deposits and postholes, excavated by Muheisen in 1985 whose horizontal extent we want to trace this season. The other area (with the Early EP deposits) has a very hard carbonate-concreted surface that actually required the faz kabir to remove! I never thought I would take a big pick to the site, but unfortunately it was the only way to remove the deposits that had become solid rock! However, it is only about 10-20 cm thick and underneath they are coming down on nice, softer, deposits. We can see here again in Muheisen’s sections from his previous excavations in 1981 and his sections and descriptions from this area, that this concreted deposit extends over quite a large area in this, the highest part, of the site and likely results from long-term carbonate development during wet periods (i.e., rainwater cementing the deposits).
We have continued to find obscene amounts of flint and bone, and really quite a lot of perforated shell, from either the Mediterranean or Red Seas, and a few more pieces of worked bone. But, thank god, the densities do actually drop with depth!
We also had some good windy days and Andrew was able to get the kite camera up and take some good overhead shots of the excavations. He already has some posted on his blog (see link from here), and I will post some more here next week.
Well, not too much else to report and now I am going to enjoy the rest of my day off! So, to the pool...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Week 1 Working at Kharaneh

Week 1: Working Hard at Kharaneh!
Welcome to the first blog posting for EFAP 2008 – Excavations at the Epipalaeolithic site of Kharaneh IV! We have just finished out first week of excavations in the eastern desert of Jordan (yeah!) and had a very successful few days, with some additional ‘adventures’, so to speak...
Everyone arrived safe and sound and ready to dig. We have settled into our huge and wonderful dig house in the oasis town of Azraq. We are living in a large building subdivided into four flats (one for eating/hanging out, one for lab work, one for a girls bedrooms, and one for a guys bedrooms) located in the western side, on a small hill, in north Azraq. We have a great view of the town and the nearby Azraq Castle, constructed entirely of black basalt stone, and a great view further west out into the desert. It has turned out to be a really great dig house, with lots of space. Having a separate flat for lab work really cuts down on the general house messiness.
We began the first week with a house full: myself, Matthew Jones, Andrew Graham, Danielle Macdonald, Alison Damick, Tovë Smith, Kelly Reed, Samantha Allcock, Louise and Joe Martin, Sue Colledge, Ibrahim Meselam, and Ismael Karaen, our cook (for those of from Wadi Ziqlab, yes, we do indeed have a cook! And he is excellent!). About half of us got to the dig house a few days prior to the start of excavations and were busy getting things organised. We rented mattresses, some dig supplies, sieves, fridge, stove, etc from the CBRL and hired a Diyana truck (a large box truck) to drive them to Azraq. That was an adventure in and of itself, but everything made it safe and sound. We have also been buying Azraq out of crazy plastic products – mostly patio furniture (this is our typical dig furniture, as it is inexpensive, light and easy to store and move), buckets (for moving dirt on-site), basins (for clothes and artefact washing), colanders (again for artefact washing), and shelving. I don’t think Azraq stores have ever sold so much plastic in one week before! Anyhow, the dig house is all decked out now, and looking good and quite comfortable, if I do say so myself. Joe, Louise’s son, is five years old and has been having great fun keeping us all amused during this first week, and keeping everything very light-hearted. In fact, he has proven to be quite a good little digger – I tried to offer him a job for the rest of the season saying I would py him in Fanta drinks (his favourite), but he was having none of it. Here are some pictures of Joe digging away on-site, and then crashing in the car ride home after a long day of digging and Fanta drinking...
I am attempting (with Andrew’s help) to maintain this blog for the excavations, and intend to update the site weekly. However, internet access in Azraq is sssooooooo slow, and I have yet to even get a computer there, so likely I will only be updating it on Fridays. This will likely replace my group emails, as I intend to keep it very informal and post what I would normally write in the group email anyways. Ok, now back to the work...
Our first day on site was Monday, May 26, and it was a bit of an adventure. We went to site bright and early for a little tour of the site and the immediately surrounding landscape. I also did some additional strategizing for my game plan for the next 6 weeks. After spending a few hours on site, having a look around, and then beginning to set our site benchmarks, datum, and grid, we decided to call it a day and make a wild and crazy attempt to go across the desert from Kharaneh to Wadi Jilat. In Wadi Jilat is another very large Epipalaeolithic site, like Kharaneh, located only 24 km to the south of us. Although many have made this trip before, it was not meant to be for us that day! It takes about an hour to drive to in the rough and rocky terrain (driving over a sharp limestone and flint pavement). Two of our specialists, Louise and Sue, dug there in the late 80's, so we were hoping for a grand tour from them (and re-visit for them). However, on this sharp flinty pavement in the middle of nowhere, one of the vehicles got a flat tire... Myself, Andree, Danielle, Alison, and Tovë had stayed behind a little longer on-site setting our site benchmark. We had just set out in the pick-up truck to meet the other vehicle en-route, when Matt called to tell us they had taken a little detour and got stuck with a flat tire. So, we modified our course to help change the tire. We were driving cross-country up and down lots of wadis and ridges to get to them, many ridge with great views from the top (see the photo of Danielle, Andrew, Tovë, and Alison)! But, choosing the right ‘road’ to come up and down was a little harry sometimes (most of the ‘roads’ are dirt tracks made by trucks driving in and out of rock quarries, and I’m pretty sure they did not always pick the best place to drive). However, with my fancy new GPS and Andrew’s superior driving skills (and the fact that we drove up the highest ridge we could find to look around for the truck), we had no problems getting to them. After Andrew and Matt changed the tire (being the only ‘men’ on the crew, they jumped all over the task...some pics included here), we had lunch out in the desert and decided, rather than continuing with only one spare left over seriously pointy ground, we would turn back and try another day...good thing too because we already had another flat tire on the way back to Kharaneh as the spare was already punctured and slowly leaked as we drove back. It was completely flat by the time we got to Qasr Kharaneh (a large caravanserai just a few hundred metres from our site) and the paved road. Weirdly, this was our third flat tire in two days!!! We had already had a first flat tire the day before when Andrew and Danielle drove out to join us from Amman - and used one of our spare tires for that. Now, we had two flats (well, one flat, and one already punctured spare). Matt and Andrew, manly-men that they proved themselves to be, are now quite efficient at changing flats. In fact, we are thinking of hiring them out for the Nascar circuit. For this last tire change though, since we had run out of spares and were still in the middle of nowhere (Qasr Kharaneh is by the side of the desert road to Azraq and a half hour from the nearest petrol station, mechanic, or tire repair shop), we had to drive into Azraq, have the tires repaired (no new ones were to be had for our truck), then drive back out again, change the flat, then drive both trucks to Azraq - a long first day! We all drank beer afterwards!
The next day we began by removing backfill, and windblown and slumped sediment from two old excavation trenches, and wow, the sediments were full of cool things! We spent two and a half days sorting out the boundaries of the old trenches and planning where to dig next - but during this time we decided to sieve it all to start a reference collection of surface material and material from the backdirt and slumped areas (all material with insecure contexts). Already in 3 days we found hundreds of flint tools, lots of butchered and burnt animal bone, along with denticulated mother-of-pearl shell, other Mediterranean shell beads (mostly dentalium), and several very nice pieces of worked bone. They generally are long bone fragments with parallel lines incised into them perpendicular to the long axis of the bone. Two pieces have an interesting pattern to the lines: four incised lines, space, four incised lines, space, four incised lines, space, then six incised lines (then the fragments are broken). Might not sound all that exciting here, but trust me - it is awesome! Stay tuned for pictures of these... Hopefully, these are a sign of lots more good things to come!
Ok, this is a little short today (our first day off), but we are in Amman with lots of shopping and running around to do...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Welcome to the 2008 BLOG for EFAP at the site of Kharaneh IV. Our field season runs from May 24th to July 3rd. We will endeavour to maintain this blog on a regular basis providing updates from the field. For more information regarding this project, please visit the main EFAP webpage.

The Epipalaeolithic Foragers in Azraq Project focusses on developing a detailed understanding of hunter-gatherer behaviour in the Azraq Basin, and placing this within the broader context of cultural transformation in southwest Asia at the end of the Pleistocene. We are investigating interrelated patterns of social behaviour, including mobility, inter-regional exchange, social organization, and palaeoecology, in order to understand how landscapes were socially constructed and 'lived-in' by human populations through a study of human burial practices, on-site activities, and use of the local landscape.

The research addresses aspects of both the spatial dichotomy established by the core-periphery models of cultural change at the origins of agriculture, as well as the exclusive focus on the late Epipalaeolithic. Models of the origins of agricutlure based upon these ideas adhere to a stringent version of social evolution, which biases our understanding of culture change to a unilineal development from simple to complex. In this context, this project re-evaluates the existing models that explain complexity and social transformations during the final Pleistocene, and considers human action as both socially-constituted and influencing environmental change. While environmental conditions clearly played a role in the articulation and manifestation of cultural processes, we explore behaviour in the Epipalaeolithic as a process of niche construction and emphasize the dynamics of the relationship between environment and human activity. The project builds upon recent evidence based upon the work of our team members, that late Epipalaeolithic markers of social complexity, such as sedentism, cemeteries, and artistic expression, have an earlier origin, and tests whether these aspects of social and behavioural complexity are present at early archaeological sites in the Azraq Basin .