Posts Tagged ‘archaeology’

Archaeology Dig- a Day in the Life

July 18, 2013

Ok, so we have not posted as much as we would like over the course of this dig, and this post will help explain why.   This was also requested in a comment a few weeks ago (!).

4:30 a.m.- Wake up call

Yep, 4:30. Or 4:00, depending on how much you love sleep and how badly you want to be on time for the bus.

4:45 a.m.- First Breakfast

First breakfast is more like a morning snack.  This is what will give you the energy to get on the bus, arrive at the site, and begin making your way to the grid.  This will also carry you through the first 3.5 hours of digging.  Not sure how it is with other digs, but here in our hotel, this breakfast consists of bread and butter, honey or marmalade to spread on the bread, cookies or crackers, coffee, and tea.  We usually have to supplement with fruit and other healthy snacks. This is also when staff members will get their top plans reflecting the previous day’s work.

4:55 a.m. – Bus to site

The 5 am Bus

The 5 am Bus

For our dig, the hotel is only about 1.5-2 miles from the actual dig site, so the ride is just a few minutes. Other folks have longer commutes.

Yes ladies, this is all of 30 minutes from the time you wake up until the time you have traveled to your site….not much time for hair 🙂

5:30 a.m. – Begin digging

While not an official scheduled time, by the time we have entered the “pottery compound” (explained later), retrieved all items needed to dig for the day, made the trek to our grid and set up shop, it’s about 5:30 and the digging commences.

So whether you are tracing floors, using a pick-axe to remove fill, conducting a two-handed trial scrape to expose mortar lines, or using a wheelbarrow to take dirt out of the grid, these first few hours are usually filled with lots of good ol’ fashion manual labor.

Trent cleaning. As usual.

Trent brushing after tracing a shell floor.

9:00 a.m. – Second Breakfast

No sound as sweet as the breakfast call...

No sound as sweet as the breakfast call…

Given the name of this time period, we feel a little like hobbits (pun intended).  Anyway, since the 4:45 breakfast is not super substantial and you have worked 3 hard hours of manual labor (and it’s another four hours until lunch), you need breakfast again.  With this breakfast, you have your breads and spreads again, but throw in a few more items like cereals, yogurt, and a little protein (tuna and eggs–it’s not kosher to mix your meat and dairy).  Interestingly enough, tuna sandwiches on hoagie style rolls are a typical breakfast item here.  It may sound a little odd, but it’s really not that bad.

9:30 – Back to digging

Just before breakfast, did you hit with a patich and uncover the edge of a piece of pottery?  Did your soil color change with the scrape of your trowel to reveal a mortar joint that may be a newly discovered mud brick wall?  Did you strike down with your pick-axe and rattle your teeth on a large stone below the surface?  For any of these new discoveries, which could potentially unlock new secrets of the Byzantines, Persians, or the Philistines, you now have 3.5 more hours to unearth the big discovery.

11:00 a.m. – Fruit Break

TIme for a break, the breeze is nice!

TIme for a break, the breeze is nice!

With all of the heat and sun, you need a break once again.  So drink plenty of water and have an apple or pear.  Conveniently in Trent’s case, fruit break also come with a view of the Mediterranean.

1:00 p.m. Bus back to the hotel, and lunch!

Time for a shower and lunch.

Time for a shower and lunch.

After you have finished uncovering that newly discovered Philistine house, you are now hungry.  You also stink, so shower first and then lunch.

1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. – Siesta!

While 1-4 is “free” time, when you include lunch and other activities that are always popping up (like running to the Russian market for bandaids, catching up on journals, and school meetings), this three-hour period goes quickly every day.

4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. Pottery compound

Pottery!!

Pottery washing: Red buckets contain pottery from the grid and the black bucket is the clean washing water. The washed pottery is placed in cardboard fruit crates to dry.

Ever wonder what they do with all of the pottery found on an archaeological dig?  Yes, every piece is washed, classified, and stored away.  Ok, so maybe not truly every piece, but most found pieces are processed in some way.  This washing and sorting process is actually quite fun as you learn about pottery and how to identify different styles of it.

6:15 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Lecture

As this dig includes several summer school programs, there are usually lectures just before dinner.  From a general introduction of our site, to information about other sites in the area, archaeology methods and techniques, the lectures are always packed with good information.

7:00 p.m. – 8 p.m. Dinner

Long day, need food.

8 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. Catch up

Work on journals again, email family, perform any other administrative tasks, and hopefully try to go to bed as soon as possible. If you’re on staff, this this is time for writing up your notes, checking your top plans, and thinking about tomorrow’s work. You may have a late night.

That’s a day in the life of a dig participant.  It’s a full day from 4:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. of the workweek.

Throw in a weekend excursion or two, and that is the reason for so few blog posts during this dig!

You can read about one of those excursions on Luke Chandler’s blog.  We had a great time with him, almost two weekends ago now.  Check out his post here.

Archaeology 101

July 4, 2013

When we decided awhile back to go into the field of archaeology, we were on the receiving end of many questions. Number 1 was, “You’re going WHERE for six months?!” But there were other, more pertinant questions, such as “What exactly is archaeology?” and “What do you do at a dig?”

Archaeology is the study of the material remains of humanity (as opposed to paleontology). This is the study of artifacts. For a Biblical scholar, archaeology reveals the culture and practices behind the Bible narrative. Before your eyes, the Philistines transform from the wicked, Samson-hating enemies of Israel to a sophisticated and powerful people–who were also Israel’s enemies.

Philistine Pottery

Examples of Philistine Pottery Sherds (Left to Right): Philistine Monochrome, Cypriot Milk Jar, Another Cypriot Milk Jar, Monochrome Bell Jar Rim and Handle

But how do we get to those awesome artifacts that prove the Philistines weren’t just a bunch of hair-chopping savages? First, one must find the right spot. In this case, we’re at Ashkelon, which has maintained its identity through the ages. Archaeologists will divide such a site into grids. Each grid is divided into squares, and these can be divided into units or fine grids for digging. Through the use of technology, such as ground penetrating radar (GPR), archaeologists can get a fairly good bead on where to start in terms of buried architecture. Then, the bulldozers and backhoes come in. Because that’s a lot easier than taking off the top layer ourselves.

Archaeology Tools

Tools of the Trade (Back): Turia, Pickaxe, Brush and Dustpan, (Front) Trowel, Patich, Pottery Bucket

This is where we get to the fun part. Everyone gets a pickaxe. Some people are really great with pickaxes, some people aren’t, some people are a danger to humanity. At some point during the melee, somone is going to hit some pottery, or a rock, or a brick. Eventually a wall or even a whole complex will begin to emerge. As the work becomes more delicate, so do the tools. Now, you may be down next to a wall, and your supervisor will hand you a patich. This is your little pick that you use to chip away smaller chunks of dirt, rock, and sand. After a bit, you may be right against your wall, or you even found a piece of pottery or bone. So, you take out your handy-dandy trowel–the one you bought off Amazon and schlepped over land and sea just for this moment. With this, you will scrape, carve, and pick at thinner layers, and close in on artifacts. However, if you layer is important, such as floor or fiber (called phytolith), you may use a sophisticated tool like the bamboo skewer to gently lift and flake away dirt. If it’s really close work, they’ll bring out the dental pick instead. And when working with such fragile layers and objects, you can’t simply swipe over it with a brush. You will use an air puffer to puff away those pesky dust particles around your glorious find.

Scraping a Section

Using a Trowel to Scrape Down a Section (To Reveal Layers, Such as Floors)Using a Trowel to Explore the Edges of a PitUsing a Trowel to Explore the Edges of a Pit

Inevitably, though, amongst all this pickaxing, patiching, and trowling, you’ll make a mess. Or your surfaces will get lumpy. Cleanup and leveling is easy with the turia to scrape dirt into buckets and even up your surface. You’ll also use your brush and dustpan to clean up your area. Any pottery goes into a bucket labeled for your particular spot, and bones go into a labeled bag. Really special stuff will be individually packaged and labeled for research.

Archaeology Workspace

A Clean Area Is a Happy Area–Tools at Ready and Dirt Buckets in Use

Once everything is labeled, dusted, and tidy, the last tool in an archaeologist’s repetoir is the hot shower. You’ve played with ancient humanity all day, and now it’s time to join your own modern culture again. Happy digging!

Project #1: Archaeological Dig at Ashkelon, Israel

June 14, 2013

Rebekah posted a few days ago about an upcoming adventure.  I look at this more as a project, actually.  We have three projects coming soon, of which this is the first.  We thought these projects might interest you, so here we are.

First off, our apologies for the misleading last post.  We truly intended to continue posting continuing content concerning history, culture, art, nature, and such.  We’ve been busy since the last trip and we just could not make the time for it (as we were busy with these projects, among other things of life).

So, what’s the project?  Let’s say you are greatly interested in ancient history and archaeology, particularly in the timeframe of Biblical settings. What is one of the best ways to learn about this history and archaeology?  Rebekah and I asked this question many months ago and the answer landed us (figuratively and literally) on the coast of modern day Israel, just a few days ago. 

This summer we are participating in an archaeological dig, the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon.  Ashkelon is an ancient city mentioned many times in the scriptures.  One of these first mentions is Judges 14:19, when Samson slew 30 men of Ashkelon for their garments.  Ashkelon is an ancient site that was inhabited from the Middle Bronze Age (~2000 B.C.) to the time of the Crusaders.  It has a history from many peoples and cultures who have touched and inhabited this city for many years.  The core inhabitants and conquering nations of Ashkelon include the Canaanites,  Philistines, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Muslims, and finally, the Crusaders.  This spans a time from the early 12th century B.C. to the 12th century A.D.

While most of the Biblical activity and mentions of Ashkelon are associated with the Canaanites and Philistines, the city is also a wealth of information for the other nations, as these well known nations had major influences on Ashkelon, just as they played a major role in Bible history.  Information gleaned from this site can help us understand the governments, people, and cultural context of these nations.  This helps us understand how and why they appear in the scriptures and the historical backdrop they help provide.

On archaeological digs, the areas you are excavating are divided into “grids.” Ashkelon is a large site, consisting of about 150 acres, divided into 100 grids.  Being so large, active excavation squares may be quite a distance apart.  Yesterday, Rebekah was working in grid 38, which has had some famous finds over the past few years.  She has spent the past few days excavating a Late Bronze Age courtyard, an Iron Age destruction layer, and a Middle Bronze age Philistine room.  So far, she has uncovered mono- and bichrome Philistine pottery (monochrome is the just-off-the-ship, Grandma’s best pottery; and bichrome is  a later painted form).  She and her digging partner have also found weights, beads, and various stone tools.

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I am working in Grid 51 (which some like to refer to as Area 51).  Yesterday, I was working on removing an “occupational layer floor.”  Some layers are that of destruction or abandonment, but an occupational floor is a room where people have once lived and worked.  A destruction or abandonment layer may exist on top of this, but during the occupied time, you can see what the inhabitants left behind on the floor, such as our Persian era floor (538-330 B.C.) that contained pottery and bone fragments.  Pottery is heavily used in dating layers, but it also can tell us how homes are furnished, how they cooked and stored food, and more.   Bone can also tell us many things, such as the peoples diet and sacrificial practices. 

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