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).

No comments: