Sunday, May 30, 2010

Week 2 - School's Out!

Its week two and we are digging maniacs! Both the West Side and East Side had a really productive first day mapping and excavating features. It was also our first School Day of the year organised and expertly pulled off by Alison Damick and Ahmad Lash. We had ten 13-year-old boys from a school in south Azraq come to the site for the day to learn about prehistoric archaeology and to have a day-in-the-life of an archaeologist. The kids began with a tour of the site and of prehistoric archaeology in the region. Then they split into two groups: one group learned how to navigate and survey with a GPS (with prizes at the finish) while the other excavated some surface deposits on-site. They learned how to record the sediment, excavate, and sieve the material – including finding lots and lots of lithics and animal bone and sea shells. Then, the students had lunch and received certificates for their hard work as archaeologists at Kharaneh. A very successful day.

Sunday was a little breezy, to say the least, and we couldn’t actually work on-site so we had a catch-up day in the lab – got a lot of flotation done and 4 mm fraction sorted! It was one the those memorable Kharaneh days and we had to post a guard at the total station to make sure that it didn’t topple over in the wind, and when flotation is made easier because most of the sediment blew away before you could get it into the bucket. So, we made a half-hearted attempt to get some mapping done, but after two hours, and not being able to recognize anyone because they were bundled in scarves and hats, we called it an early day on-site and went back to the lab.

The next day the wind died down and all was back to normal. In fact, the weather was amazing – nice and sunny, but with a refreshing cool breeze! In Area A, the work concentrated on several post-hole like features – nine of them were excavated that day. In Area B we focussed on sorting out the large number of loci that keep appearing in this stratigraphically-complex area. We essentially have several superimposed ash and refuse dumps, hearth cleanings, and pit features within a soft silty layer. It is taking some time to sort out, but we are getting there. Today we also had some visitors to the site – Deb Foran, Mashour and Deb’s parents who are visiting from Canada! They came to see the site and then joined us for lunch back in Azraq.

The rest of the week went along without a hitch, or mostly so. We had visitors again the next day – David Kennedy and crew, who were passing through Azraq and also came for dinner and Amstel the next night at the dig house. The A-Team continued excavating two superimposed hearths and related post-holes (this includes Danielle, Rebecca, Hazar, Clareana, Naomi, and Susannah). On the west side, myself, Steve, Bryn, Maria, Hilary, Jen Jones and Alison are sorting out the series of ash deposits and pit fills, hoping to get down to some surfaces and a pit fill we excavated at the end of last season. Elizabeth and Anna (and daily helpers from the crew) are our crack lab team – processing more faunal material and flotation samples daily than imaginable! Louise Martin arrived this week to help Anna further develop a system for sorting and analysing the faunal samples and we are scrambling to continually find more samples for them to get through! We are loving having Louise here as she is filling us in with stories of working in Azraq when there was water and stories!

The last two days were crazy hot on-site, especially after a first week where we had to wear fleeces on-site until about 10 am! It was 37 on Wed and 39 on Thurs – the heat took down a few people, as it usually does, who are now resting and recovered. Thurs was actually quite odd weather, as is today (Friday). The day was extraordinarily hot for this time of year, and by the time we left site it was getting overcast. On the drive from Azraq to Amman we actually drove through a rain storm in the desert! Really! It poured rain for about 2 minutes and we actually had to use the windshield wipers, then it was gone. After it passed everywhere was unusually dusty and hazy – so much so that you cannot see across town. Today is the same hazy and dusty weather. Hopefully it will clear by tomorrow when we are back on-site.

This day off was very easy-going – some R & R in Madaba. We drove in directly from Azraq (with only a small shopping trip in Amman on the way) to the Mariam, went to Haret Djoudna for dinner (lots of mushrooms with rosemary and labaneh with thyme), then back to the hotel to watch MBCAction and hang by the pool. There was more of that the next day, along with cheese sandwiches and mixed fruit juice at the Ayola and shopping – pictures to follow!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Week 1 - Over and Out!

Welcome back to the 2010 excavations at Kharaneh IV! It is now the end of our first week of excavations and things are moving along very well. Most of the crew arrived on the 12th and 13th of May and stayed a night or two in Amman at the British Institute (see the city view of Amman from the British Institute on a dusty day). On the 14th we loaded up a very large truck with excavation and house equipment from Amman and drove out to the ‘metropolis’ of Azraq to get the dig house set up. It was a bit of a long and hot day, but we got pretty much everything done and organised to start on-site the next day. We had our first falafel sandwiches of the season in the only restaurant in Azraq without a history of making crew members sick. We got ourselves settled into Azraq and bought the town out of plastic supplies...

The 15th was our first day of work at Kharaneh. We had a nice and leisurely start to the morning, leaving the house at 6:30am. We got to site after a half hour drive in the desert and I gave a tour of the site to the new guys. After everyone got used to crunching around on the flint pavement covering the site and saw our previous excavations, we decided to get straight to work.

We began by removing the backfill from Danielle’s area – Area A (Middle Epipalaeolithic) – which was a nice and easy task and one that we had pretty much completed by noon. We removed the backfill from the northernmost and westernmost squares where we concentrated excavations in 2009. It is here that we are going to continue our work this year to try and further expose some living surfaces, hearths, and post-hole features, representing several overlapping occupations. We had only excavated to a depth of about 50-60cm in 2009, and want to open a larger area around this to the same level before going further. The other pictures from site are some general shots of lunch-time by the trucks and of the desert to the south from the site. On the way home from site the crew stopped at Qasr Kharaneh, which is actually a caravanserai, and Qasr Amra, a hunting lodge/bath house with beautifully preserved frescoes (see last post).

Back at the house during lab time we organised the chaos that was the field lab, made sure all equipment was operational, and set up the flotation system. Elizabeth is back as the ‘Queen of Flotation’ this summer and she has got all coordinated for a season of speedy flotation. In fact, after getting the system all ready to go she started processing the few leftover samples from last year during this first week and we are pretty much all caught up. Every day we have people in the field lab while the remainder of the crew are excavating on-site so that flotation can keep pace (roughly) with excavation.

On the second day we had a few people helping Elizabeth with flotation back at the house while the remainder of us went out to site to continue removing backfill from the other excavation trench – Area B (Early Epipalaeolithic). Again, we really moved dirt and got the entire area we wanted re-opened, including the deep trench where we will continue digging slowly through the very complicated and fine-grained stratigraphy. After moving lots and lots of sand in the hot sun – we had the full force of the desert heat on un-backfill days – we stopped a little early to come home and shower and rest. This area is a little more tricky because of the deep trench, and so we spent the next day in two teams. Danielle, Bryn and myself re-established the site datums and grid (the re-bars had been pulled out and taken), and laid out the new excavation squares in Area A and B.

In Area A we are concentrating right now on the western edge of our 2009 squares – opening up another adjoining 9 m to fully expose a hearth feature associated with two compact surfaces and several post-holes. In area B we opened up 10 m in the southernmost portion of the trench to fully expose a pit we found in the last day of excavations last year to see if it contains any more human remains (last year we found one isolated human tibia). Luckily, we found our off-site datum upon which we established the entire site grid and no one had touched it at all. So, we easily used it to re-establish our on-site datums (whose old re-bar holes we found immediately). While we did this the rest of the crew shored up all the sections in the deep trench in Area B with an expertly built sand-bag wall. Then, we started digging – removing the surface disturbed deposits.

The rest of the week was spent removing all the disturbed deposits (to about 10-15 cm depth), and then digging for real! We started flotation as soon as the disturbed material was gone, and so by the second day of digging everyone was digging good deposits. Area B – the East Side – is moving along very well – already we have uncovered several discrete loci representing hearth cleanings, ash dumps and other refuse-like material. In Area A the A-team is already exposing post-holes and associated refuse-like deposits.

So amazing progress in the first week! And, because we all earned it, we went to Amman for the weekend (Thurs night until Friday evening) and stayed in an apartment there. After dinner at the Blue Fig CafĂ© we all went out dancing at a club called ‘The Cube’ – closing it down at about 4:30am. A dancing good time was had by all!

Friday, May 21, 2010

2010 Season Has begun

Greetings all. Well - the 2010 field season at Kharaneh has begun and we'll be following up with more information in a few days. In the meantime, enjoy a couple of pics showing the beauty and wonder of the Jordanian world - both ancient and modern. The team has apparently uncovered some very interesting features within the first few days of digging and it promises to be a very productive season - fingers are crossed!