Saturday, May 30, 2009

Kharaneh IV 2009 - Week Two

Another week in Azraq and Kharaneh. The first three days of this week went by very quickly, and without too much excitement. In Area A, we got down to the compact surface in most areas, but along the western edge of the Area we discovered several dark brown, organic-rich and grey, ashy stained areas, which had to be mapped in and sampled. Since these features also extended into the adjacent unexcavated squares, we also had to open up some new 1x1 m areas to get the full extent of these features. So, most of the week was involved in opening these new areas and getting everything down to the level of the lowest squares.

In Area B, Steve has been trying to sort out two particular squares which are really very confusing and have quite a few modern and ancient pit features that are driving him absolutely crazy (although fast-forward to the end of week 3, and he has it all sorted out now). The rest of the crew here have been trying to get through the first of the undisturbed levels. Already by the end of the week there are some interesting heavily mottled areas. The deposits here continue to be incredibly dense in lithics and fauna well below the surface.

Kevin came to visit and work on the site for a few days this week. I was really happy that he came out to see the site and work on it, but he kept writing in his field notes ‘No pottery found today’. This was not really the most helpful comment, since the site is occupied long before pottery was around! On Monday after work Toby, Danielle and myself headed into Amman for the Dept of Antiquities Prehistory Meeting from May 26-28. Toby and I presented on the 26th about Kharaneh and Ayn Qasiyah – actually that day was a bit of an Azraq Basin marathon – and Kevin presented on Ziqlab on the 27th. So, while we were in Amman on the 26th the crew was working on-site leaderless (and it went quite well, so perhaps Toby and I can sleep in a few other mornings…). On Tues, Toby and Danielle went back to site from Amman to give them a hand and bring Steve and Alison with all our vehicles into Amman, while I chaired a session at the conference. That night we went to 80’s retro night at a club in Amman – a night of dancing to 80’s music was just what we needed (that night – not the morning after)! The last day of the conference was a short day with a meeting about policy and practice for prehistoric projects in Jordan, followed by a really nice dinner courtesy of the Dept of Antiquities. The crew back in Azraq had a lab day of sorting through sieved material from the site for lithics and bone (all done with lost of music and singing and coffee and tea).

On the Friday and Saturday, Toby and I organised an informal ‘Azraq Workshop’, which was us getting together people who have and are now working on archaeological and palaeoenvironmental research in the Azraq Basin for a tour of archaeological sites and a round-table discussion of current and future, collaborative research plans. We felt that it was a very successful two days – the first day was a large crew of people on a fantastic tour of the Wadi Jilat sites with Andy Garrard and then a quick stop at Kharaneh to check out our progress before heading to Azraq.

We were a convoy of 5 four-wheel drive trucks ploughing through the desert with a purpose (= getting to Jilat; those of you who were present for our attempt last summer will remember that it is no small feat). About 6 people from this trip stayed at our dig house for the night to enjoy a BBQ and the metropolis of Azraq. The second morning, we toured the Azraq Druze Marsh sites of April and Carlos, then to the wetlands sites of Ayn Qasiyah and Ayn Soda. In the afternoon we had a round-table at the really swish Ecolodge to talk about public outreach, future collaborative research plans, and establishing a research community to keep in touch about our research and results. All in all it was a very enthusiastic bunch from two research projects, the Dept of Antiquities, and the RSCN (myself, Toby, Danielle, Phil, Leslie, Berndt, Carlos, April, Michael, Chris, Ahmad, Ahmad, Omar, Melanie, and Jessica) and we put together some really great ideas for increasing public interest and awareness of the prehistory of the Azraq area, and ways to present the sites to the local, national, and international public within the themes of preservation and conservation – two key themes for the Azraq area. That night some from the meeting stayed at our place and we did some flint knapping under the expert direction of Leslie. All in all, a great workshop!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Kharaneh IV 2009 - Week One

Hello everyone. Welcome to the 2009 fieldseason blog for Kharaneh IV. I’m sorry that the first instalment is so late into the season – it has been a whirlwind few weeks. Danielle and I arrived early on May 9 to get everything set up with the Department of Antiquties, our Rep, and to find a house in Azraq. With the help of our wonderful cook (and do-everything-else-around-the-house-guys) Ismael, we made the adventurous trip to Azraq by bus…We thought this would be a horrible long and arduous trip – who really wants to take public transport, without A/C, into the desert – but it turned out to be fairly speedy and efficient. This year we are a much larger crew, about double that of last year at 23 people, so we had to be quite selective about houses, or rather, we had to find a really, really big house! We ended up with two houses just down the road from each other and they have turned out to be quite perfect for us. The big chunk of the crew arrived on May 15, which was Toby with a bunch of students and equipment in tow from UCL, and a few arrived that day on their own. So we were myself, Danielle, Toby, Jen E, Pat, Caroline, Susannah, Matt G, Chris, Sam, Rowena, Steve, Hussein, Alison, and Bryan. So, by May 16, when we loaded up a giant truck, cleaning the CBRL out of equipment, we were a convoy of a huge truck piled high with our stuff, and three hired 4x4 trucks heading off to an oasis in the desert! We did stop for two of the most important things to have in Azraq along the way – fuel and beer…

We spent all of the day setting up the dig houses, with a lower house for eating, hanging out, a few bedrooms, and for the lab and the upper house (to borrow the Madaba terminology) all for crew bedrooms. May 16 was our first day on site – yippee. Wonderfully, things were almost exactly as we had left them. After a site tour and little wander around the area with the new people, we sent them on ahead to do some touristy things by visiting the castle (actually caravanserai) at Kharaneh and then the bathhouse of Amra. Myself, Toby, Danielle, Bryan, and Pat decided to lay out some new excavation squares. We found our on-site and off-site benchmarks with no problems at all – they had not moved a mm since we put them in – thank god! Andrew – you will be happy to hear that it took us all of about 10 minutes to have our grid from last year and we began laying out our new squares.

Given our goals for this season, which involve excavating an approx. 15,000-yr-old compact earthen surface (MEP) in one area, exposing the horizontal extent of a 20,000-yr-old organic-rich feature that may be the remains of a structure (EEP), and opening two completely new excavation areas (I’ll get back to that in a few weeks time), we have concentrated our efforts in two areas for the moment. We have placed new 1x1 m excavation squares in these two main areas, opening up large (for a Palaeolithic excavation) areas to trace the horizontal extent of these features. After a very successful first day on site, we relaxed at the dig house with some nice cold Amstel. The house is really in a nice location, and has a really big porch and front yard conducive to hanging out in the evenings. And, of course, it is perfectly located to enjoy all the sights and sounds of Azraq (trucks, mosque and roosters)!

The rest of week one went very smoothly and was really very productive. Day 2 on-site we had all hands on deck in removing the backfill from our old trenches (at the end of each season we fill in our excavation holes with sand to leave the site as we found it so the deposits we want to excavate next year are protected). This actually went very quickly (although it took all day, and I don’t think anyone would say it went quickly at the time). It was a very silty and everyone was absolutely covered in dust by the end of the day. Again, it was a good evening for Amstel. Everyone worked really hard, some people perhaps a little too hard, and we had our first casualty from the heat the next day…

The rest of the week involved getting through the surface disturbed deposits, which actually only took about 2 days in most areas, and then digging went more slowly as we worked to get down to our targets mentioned above. In Area A (the Middle EP area about 15,000 yrs old), Danielle’s crew have only about 40 cm to dig to expose this compact surface; however it is absolutely chalked full of lithics, charcoal, shell, and in particular, lots of large articulated bone (mostly gazelle and bovids). Plus, they kept finding cool features or artefacts in the baulk of one excavation square, meaning they would need to open up the adjacent one to fully excavate it. In Area B (the Early EP area about 20,000 yrs old), where Toby and I were working, things were more complicated as usual. The surface deposits here are carbonate concreted, meaning that a pick was actually necessary in parts. Underneath this, the deposits are quite mixed and disturbed in some areas, but not in others. Sorting this out the rest of this week and some of the next one. In fact, some of the deposits are clearly disturbed by modern activity, including one square where we discovered a de-activated mortar (and not the bedrock kind). But, all that is out of the way now…

And then, it was the first day off…Yeah! Most of the crew stayed in Azraq and hung around the dig house relaxing and checking email (that does actually take all day, given the connection there). Toby and a few brave souls made a trek even further into the desert to try and find the Natufian site of Shubayqa (and were successful). The rest us went, you guessed it, to Madaba.

We (myself, Danielle, Alison, Bryan, Rowena, Sam, and Susannah) did a little running around in Amman (met up with Kevin) and then drove to Madaba and headed to our favourite restaurant, Haret Djoudna, for a fantastic meal. The next day was all R&R by the poolside, the Ayola for lunch with Adel and Bilal, and some visiting. Of course, our trip back to Azraq was topped off by visit to Carrefour for supplies (coffee, cookies, and sorting trays).

Friday, May 8, 2009

The 2009 Field Season Cometh

It has been a long break, but soon things will be happening in Kharaneh - so please stay tuned. We will endeavour to provide you with frequent updates and pictures as bandwidth (and time) allows.