Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kharaneh IV 2009 - Week Five - Update

Welcome to another week digging in the desert. Although not the most eventful week we have had so far, it was still a very productive one. We have just got back from our mid-dig break (I know it seems late, as we are in week 5, but we still have 2.5 weeks to go). For the mid-dig break most people had a very relaxing three days of hiking up and down mountains in Petra and eating copious amounts of Movenpick ice cream. Those who headed to the Dead Sea or to Amman had some real R&R, and those who made the trek to Jerusalem had a great time sight-seeing. I headed up north to Ziqlab to see Kevin and hang out with Seiji before he headed back to Japan and see the rest of the crew in Dayr Abu Sa’id. Now everyone is well-rested and itching to sink their trowels into the ground (or hands into the flotation tank).

Area A is actually moving pretty slowly at the moment because of the excitement of several hearths and hearth-related features (including several likely post-holes from stakes or something similar around the fireplaces). Danielle (aka Mr. T) and the A Team have been carefully and laboriously digging out these very fragile features, which are full of burnt bone and flint and charcoal (see pic for Areas AP36, AP37). It is that time of the season and the wind has really picked up on-site lately, making photography quite challenging with our shade tent which really just acts as a kite – someone got caught in its crosswind – can you guess who? Actually, I am not kidding about the wind and excavating these deposits in it is really a battle. Yeah, A Team!

In Area B, Papa Bear’s cubs kept busy trying to sort out what’s going on in that area. The deep trench (R/S2/60) is full of new features every time you use the leaf trowel. This week was a burnt grey, charcoal-rich area, and a very dense bone layer. In the upper parts of Area B, Steve wrangled with several loci to sort out layers with really dense bone from layers with really, really dense bone. Toby had to leave for a few days for his brother’s wedding in California, or at least he told us he had a really good reason to leave the dusty, windy desert for California. Steve and I are looking forward to the day he gets back so he can sort this area out!

We finished in Area C, which I first mentioned last week, by bottoming out in sterile white clays that underlie water-lain clays deposits and are likely deposits from a dried up lake (but, I will leave the final interpretation of that to Matt J). The deposits here were much shallower than in other parts of the site and seem to be predominately Middle Epipalaeolithic, so our search for stratified deposits of Middle and Early EP continues. In hopes of catching this stratigraphy and linking up our on-site deposits with the sections done by Matt J around the site and the adjacent wadi deposits the crack digging team of Matt G (see pic), Jen E and myself dug like crazy in a ‘Geo-Trench’ (well, ok, we had one day of help from a couple of workmen, but we did the rest ourselves). Here we placed a 9x1 m trench running N-S from the wadi up into locate the very edge of the site on its southern margins. The first 5 m hit only wadi deposits right away; however, the next few metres hit the edge of the site, as hoped. We are still processing the material, but it looks as though we have both Middle and Early EP – yeah!

And the other excitement on-site this week is the construction of a low mudbrick wall around the site. We have tried a fence around the site to prevent people from driving their vehicles right over the site, but that keeps getting pulled down. People have even been as bold and careless as to drive up onto the site after we leave to check out our excavations. So, now more drastic measures are needed. Or, at least it will be much more of a deterrent (they will have to get out of their cars to see our excavations, or not care very much about their cars). It is quite an operation, as we (by we, I mean professional mudbrick builders) are building the mudbricks from scratch on-site, even digging up the clay from the adjacent wadi. More on this as it develops.

Back in the lab things are also going swimmingly. Flotation is going ahead at full speed and although we have a small backlog, Team Flotation is really working fantastically! When not floating, they are enjoying the mud of their creation. We are thinking of packaging it as Azraq Spa mud – Matt swears by it. Caroline is creating fantastic illustrations (and eating copious amounts of biscuits), while everyone else is busy sorting 4 mm fraction (and practicing karaoke to MeatLoaf, not mentioning any names here Jen J) or working on the never-ending notebook work.

Thursday half of us went to Amman for some rest (and trips to the bank), shopping and watching about two hours of explosions in Terminator. The other half stayed in Azraq for the annual All-Night Azraq Pirate Disco Party, aaaarrrrrr (pictures to follow next week), followed the next day by a picnic in the wetlands reserve.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Kharaneh IV 2009 - Week Five - Images Only

Greetings all. Text for the week five update is on its way - as you can guess, things get pretty busy during the end of a field season. So, while you are waiting for the descriptions - enjoy the pics.

Monday, June 15, 2009

New Hat

We had a request from a team member to post a picture of him wearing a new hat that was purchased for him to wear in the desert! So - you know who you are...here you go!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

School Day in Kharaneh

On Wednesday June 10 we had a very eventful day on site. We hosted an archaeological field day for a local school in North Azraq, which meant that we had thirty-five 6 and 7-year-olds on site for the morning to tell them all about prehistory, the site, our work there, and to do a little excavating. Alison Damick and our Rep, Ahmad Lash, did some fantastic organising and we had a very successful day.

The kids came out onto the site, had a little introduction to the work, took a tour of the site, practiced being archaeologists and excavating in a small grid we set up just off-site and salted with some flints and bone, and drew some pictures of the work here (I’ll scan them and post them soon). The kids were so bright and enthusiastic about our work and it was really fun to have them there for the day. They also enjoyed a picnic lunch there (for those who have been or seem pics, we did set up a big tent for them), and we gave them each certificates for participating in the North Azraq School Archaeological Field Day. It was really good fun and something we will continue to do!

To all of you "pros" out there - please ignore the prehistorical inaccuracies of the "attire" being worn here. (note - no Gazelles were harmed in the production of this photo!)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Kharaneh IV 2009 - Week Four

Well, Week 4 has already started very well! Today we are back at site after a bit of a chaotic weekend – half the crew went to Umm Qais and Umm al-Jimal for a lovely day of touring Roman sites. The rest of us went to Madaba, which was largely relaxing, except for poor Chris, who suffered from some tummy bug and had to make a trip to the hospital overnight. All is well now and he is well again, but we will have to test all his food for him first, just in case!

Anyways, we had a very good first day on site and in the lab. In Area A we came down on the surface in a few new squares and have now achieved some very nice horizontal exposure of the surface. However, Area B had the big excitement of the day (ok, excitement if you are really into prehistoric archaeology, otherwise, maybe not so much). On Thursday, we uncovered, documented, and excavated an Early EP hearth – which was exciting in and of itself (they are still quite rare to find). Today, while cleaning up around the hearth and attempting to continue excavating these squares, we discovered another possible hearth underneath and, in fact, are now beginning to be able to sort out a number of grey, dark brown, and black stains in this area that seem to be a series of overlapping hearths, each new one placed slightly offset from the one before so that over time the hearths appear to migrate to the southeast.

In the lower of the exposed hearths currently being excavated we discovered two very large chunks of charred material which turned out to be completely burned, but still articulated, gazelle horn cores sticking straight up from the fire! As we discovered last year, things are really happening in Area B, but it will also take us quite a long time and painstaking excavation to sort out.

In the lab Sam, who is working on the shell from Kharaneh for her Masters dissertation, discovered that a) the 2 mm fraction from flotation is full of dentalium shell beads and b) the 1 mm fraction from flotation in certain contexts of Area B is full of fish bones. These are very small bones from very small fish (likely the Kill fish – the only endemic fish to Azraq) that were either brought to the site from Azraq or from a nearby lake. More on this as it develops…

Excavation of the first hearth in Area B has been taking some time this week – the preservation is amazing and the hearth material is really full of charcoal and other burnt material. In order to fully expose and remove the hearth sediments with minimal disturbance (it gets quite windy on site and the hearth sediments are quite amenable to blowing away), we had a crack team of Toby, Danielle, Jen E and myself stay out one afternoon to deal with it. It was a long and hot afternoon, but extremely rewarding. Aside from the hearth excavation, adjacent to it we excavated the complete and fully articulated four paws of a small canid (just paws, nothing else?). The preservation was absolutely amazing – many of the foot bones for each foot remained attached when excavated! In addition, later this week in Area B, Toby and Alison were working on our deep trench continuing from last year and discovered several nice bone tools and another well-preserved hearth.

In Area A, Danielle and her crew have been continuing to expose and map a compact surface, a feat complicated by the continued appearance of enigmatic brown circular stains in the sediment that contain high densities of burnt flint and bone in their fill. We are just now exposing, mapping, and excavating them and hope to be able to solve their mystery soon.

In Area C (actually, I’m not sure if I have mentioned Area C before, but it is a new exploratory square in between Areas A and B where we are trying to connect up the stratigraphy between the two main areas), we have spent most of this week excavating virtually sterile deposits (well, sterile for Kharaneh)! We have hit a couple of distinct clay layers that contain almost no bone or lithics, and the bone that is present is mostly turtle carapace. It is possible that we have hit lake deposits, but only time and lab work (and Matt) will tell…

This week we were also very happy to have Leslie and Phil visit us again, even if only briefly, to take a little tour of some local sites. And, on Tuesday night we had a little party at the dig house with our neighbours – the team of April Nowell, Carlos Cordova, and Michael Bisson, who were just finishing up their work on some Middle Palaeolithic sites in the North Azraq Druze Marsh. Ismael worked his wonders with the BBQ and baked us a cake to help celebrate their end-of-season (we still have two weeks to go, but are always looking for a reason to celebrate!).

Well, now it is the mid-dig break (a little late, I know). About a third of our crew have headed down to Petra for the break, a few have headed over to Jerusalem, and I am headed up north to Ziqlab to catch up with everyone there. Now, we are off to relax for a few days…

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Kharaneh IV 2009 - Week Three

Well actually, the beginning of week 3 was the last day of our Azraq Workshop, during which the crew had a lab day again. Sunday was our first day back at site with a full crew (including us) and it was back to digging as usual. Actually, a full crew is about 12 people. We are divided into a field crew and a lab crew daily, partly because there is only so many people we can accommodate in the field to excavate at one time with so many contiguous units open at one time, and partly because we need people back at the field lab every day working on the material we collected the day before. So, now that we are digging good deposits everywhere, we are doing virtually 100% flotation (washing the excavated material through very fine meshes to collect the fine (and floating) bits of plant material that will help us reconstruct the ancient vegetation at the site and what foods the people living there may have eaten or used). We are getting a lot of charcoal from the site, which when identified will tell us about what types of trees were growing nearby and being used by people for fuel.

The excavations are also now going really well. In Area A, we have exposed the compact surface is all but a few excavation squares. In these other squares, quite interesting things are coming up so that it is taking longer than planned to get them down to the compact surface. The first of these interesting things is and area that Pat and Abby have been excavating that contains a large circular concentration of ashy silts with large chunks of charcoal. The other is an area that Chris has been excavating that contains several post-holes. These likely indicate the remains of either a structure or some related installation, such as a stand over a hearth for cooking. In any case, post-holes are extremely rare in the Epipalaeolithic period and we are quite happy to be able to confirm that those reported by Muheisen while excavating there in the 1980’s do continue at the same elevation and alignment from his old trench. As a side note, we just want to point out that Chris has been wearing his hat while excavating and he had not been sunburned once!

In Area B things are, of course, much more complicated. Steve has finally sorted out and excavated several weird pit features and disturbed areas to the north.

While in the south, Rowena, Jen E and Caroline have come down on a very nice occupation surface in one part of the trench and, by yesterday, a very nice hearth to the south.

It is now Friday and I am by the side of the pool as a write this, enjoying the high life in Madaba. Kevin, Isaac and Seiji and have come down from Ziqlab too. Now, back to relaxing…enjoy the pics!

Here are some pics taken from Azraq Workshop mentioned in the last post. The first six pictures where taken by Barbara Porter (ACOR).