Tuesday, June 30, 2009

2009 season, day 18.

Well, via the expedient of borrowing a camera, I now, once again, am capable of taking pictures. Unfortunately, despite it being a very good camera, I still don't seem to be capable of taking very good pictures. But this one, I hope, is at least illustrative.

As you might be able to see, we've taken down much of the northern half of the area in which I've been digging. Most of what you can see is a pile of plaster and rubble. It looks a bit like it might be a collapsed wall, or even fall from a ceiling, but it's hard to tell. Beyond that, there's a layer of reddish brown material, which seems to continue to go down. If all goes well tomorrow, we'll push into the stone feature, and get a good sense of what its foundation looks like. Then, we might take some pictures, and take the whole thing out. There also might be a pit that goes deeper than the feature that we have; that'll be a lot easier to see once we go further down as well.

And, perhaps sometime in the next few days, I'm thinking of taking the northern half of Garstang's wall down as far as it goes. That'll give us a cross section of what's coming, which is a useful thing to have. I would like to drop the area another foot or so before doing that, so we'll see what happens, and when it's likely to happen.

Monday, June 29, 2009

2009 season, days 16 and 17

Despite a couple of attempts to find a work around, I don't have a camera for the moment, so I can't actually show you what's been happening.

That's somewhat less problematic for day 16 than you might think; I unfortunately managed to get backed up on putting the notes I had into the system, so I had to take a day off digging to do that. You can imagine how hard it was to sit in an air conditioned room typing, rather than carry buckets of dirt around in the heat.

(Actually, I really would rather have been on the site. But notes need to be organized in a format that other people can understand, so needs must.)

Today also didn't go as well as might have been hoped. One of the new volunteers slipped on entering the square this morning, and seems to have done some damage to her ankle. I feel terrible about this; it's one of those things that you wish you could undo as soon as you see it happen.

There was a fair amount of dirt moved, after that -- there's a layer of orange-brown material that stretches over most of the area north of the stone feature, and we took out a lot of that, and we took out the last of the stones that seem to have fallen from that feature. That was one of the two major goals I had for the day, so that, at least, was accomplished, but the other goal was to clarify the relationship between the orange-brown fill and a layer of pottery rich fill, and that proved bafflingly hard to do; we'll probably take another stab at it tomorrow, assuming that all goes well.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

2009 season, day 15

There was less digging done today than usual, as one of the volunteers I have working in my square was feeling a bit under the weather, and wasn't able to make it out to the site.

But we did get stuff done; those four stones from yesterday don't look like they're part of a larger structure, anymore, and we're pretty sure that we've found the bottom of that stone structure we've been digging the last few days, though that will have to be confirmed.

Unfortunately, I'm probably not going to have pictures of that tomorrow, as my camera seems to have given up the ghost. I'll probably come up with some sort of work around for next week, but for now, I can't take pictures.

I did manage one last snapshot today, of the guy who was able to make it out to the tel today -- T.J. Thames. To continue my litany of woe, T.J. is one of those people who were here for the first half of the season, so he'll be heading back to America on Saturday. Best of luck, T.J., and we'll miss you.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

2009 season, day 14

We were back in our square today, and we made more progress on defining that stone feature. The trailing line of stones that you'd expect to see on the left of my square has been taken out; it does seem to me that it was some of the missing stones from what we're excavating, but it'll take more digging to know if that's true -- if the feature itself is a lot deeper, I may have to come up with a different theory.

However, while those stones are gone, more are cropping up. There's a group of four stones to the right of the feature that are particularly interesting. It's possible that they're just later fill, or rocks which have happened to fall when there was a surface somewhere around there. But there are four of them, and they look sort of like their in a square. That's a lot of rocks, and a shape that can mean all sorts of thing.

My suspicion is that we'll learn more about them tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

2009 season, day 13

No picture today, as I wasn't out in the field. Everyone in our unit was still working on getting through the material disrupted by the JCB, and today was my day in the pottery compound. And we've caught up on pottery, which comes as a surprise -- there are four crates left to wash, but there's nothing that's been washed and which is sitting and waiting for reading.

I did head out briefly, to see what had been done, and to have a brief staff meeting about what's been done thus far, and what we want to do over the next week or so. And, in my case, that changed my approach a bit. Rather than going deeper in the robber trench, we're going to be heading out to the north of the square, and hopefully bring it down to the same level as the square which was opened last year. If I was digging my square in perfect isolation, starting with the robber trench would make more sense. But there are some features which extend in from the square to the east that are going to be investigated over the next week or two, so it would be nice for them to know what their edges look like.

How fast that happens will depend on what we find. But, as always, I'm hoping it's going to go down rapidly.

Monday, June 22, 2009

2009 season, day 12

Well, as expected, we did a great deal of work cleaning up after the JCB today. As a result, I'm feeling a bit queasy, but I assume that'll pass.

And, though I tried a couple of times, I really didn't get any pictures of the work that was being done. Which was a genuine achievement -- there was an awful lot of material dislodged by the excavator, and most of it is gone, up what is now a very steep slope.

But I did manage to get a shot that conveys an impression of what we did yesterday, if not the whole of it.

In the picture to the left, we're looking mostly eastward, towards the large apsidal wall; you can sort of see another stone coming through -- we exposed perhaps an inch or so of it. And, interestingly, now that we're going down, it seems that the rubbly fill is now limited to the robber trench of the wall; the material to the south is much more ashy and clayey, though I have not been able to find anything as regular as a pit there.

Tomorrow, I hope to dig more in that trench; it does seem to be later material than anything else we have in the square, so logic dictates that we dig it first, and that'll give us a cross-section of the material to the south, which should inform how we excavated that, as well.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

2009 season, day 11.

The JCB came back today, and as it was working near where our sunshades are normally tethered, we didn't have any shade today.

Nonetheless, we got a lot done -- we took a bit more out near that stone installation, and I think it's become clear that it more or less follows the line I expected it to follow, and we went further down in the robber trench of the big wall.

However, I'll admit that not much of that is visible in this picture; unfortunately, it's the best of a bad lot. But I should be able to get more tomorrow, as we're not planning on doing any additional digging in our square tomorrow. Instead, everyone is going to be in the northern part of the area, cleaning up the rubble that the JCB has knocked loose. So, in addition to reporting on that, I might get somewhat more intelligible views of what we did today.

Friday, June 19, 2009

2009 season, week 2 in review.

This morning was a working day, but not one spent in the field -- instead, we spent the day in the pottery compound, organizing some of the material gathered in earlier season, for a new study project. So not too much to report on that front.

But another week is gone, so here's another wobbly bit of video for you. This is actually my third attempt at shooting this; I'll leave the quality of the previous tries to your imagination.

So, as far as a review goes, we basically finished everything that I had set out to finish this week. If we hadn't found that stone feature, we would have gone deeper, but it would be foolish to be upset at archaeology interfering with my ability to move dirt -- if that was the priority, we could have used a bulldozer.

Next week, hopefully, we'll dig a bit more in that robber trench, starting with the ash pit, knock a few more courses off of Garstang's wall, and head on down into a pottery rich fill that we've seen all across the site.

As with last week, I've got a few pictures from the other squares open in our area:
We'll start with the square next to mine. I don't seem to have a good picture of it, but they seem to be coming down on that same big wall that I'm coming down on. I think that over the next two weeks, the relationship between that wall and the other features we see in the square is going to become clearer -- there's certainly a lot going on, in different periods, and it does seem like exposing the architecture in that area is going to help clarify when different features were built, and what their relationship to each other is.

in the northern square, the big plaster lined pit from last week has been taken out, through the vigorous application of pickaxes. It seems to go a bit deeper than we had expected, so we're left with a little rectangle of plaster where it stood.

In addition to going down in the open areas of the square, they also dug a remarkably deep probe, to see if they could find a floor related to the basilica, or possibly one of the walls. They didn't find either of those, but a close look at the sides of the probe should give useful information about the levels that they'll be going through, as they dig down.

And that's all for week 2. Or at least, that's all I can think of for now.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

2009 season, day 10

A bit of a slow day today, as we had to spend a bit longer cleaning than we usually do -- it's best practice to leave a square looking tidy before the weekend, as that's usually when other archaeologists have a chance to stop by. Leaving things leveled flat and swept will make it easier for them to see what you've been digging, and will leave them with a positive impression of your field technique.

What this blog says about my personal field technique, I'll leave unexamined for the moment.

But, despite the slightly shortened day, we more or less finished what I had hoped to finish for the week, getting the square more or less flat, with the exception of the plaster feature and that stone structure. I don't expect either of them to last more than a few more days, but for now, they're telling an interesting story.

What I expected to find was more stones, and something closer to a complete oval shape as we went further down. We seem to have gotten one, but not the other -- rather than closing in, we've got a line of stones trailing outward. For the moment, at least, I think those stones aren't part of the feature, where they are lying -- possibly they're debris that were knocked loose from the feature, or they might be an unrelated thing.

We'll know more when we dig, but for now, who are you going to trust -- me, or some stones? Bear in mind that I have a degree in archaeology, and I'm pretty sure those rocks don't.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

2009 season, day 9

An eventful day, today. We've moved a certain amount of dirt, and as is so often the case, doing that made what we were finding a lot clearer. For one thing, the semi-circular feature that I thought was come up did come up, but it's a lot smaller than I had thought it was yesterday.

And, more interestingly, it doesn't seem to be a pit. This is more evident in the second picture than in the first, and it would be even more visible if I took another video, but what seems to be happening is that the feature gets wider as it goes down.

While it might be possible to dig a pit like that -- something that gets wider as it goes further down, it would be very hard to do that, as dirt tends to fall down when there isn't anything under it. So, it seems more likely that this was a structure that was built in open air, more or less.

What exactly the structure is isn't clear. There's a bit of soil along the inside of that crescent of rocks that we have which looks ashy, and shot through with small bits of charcoal. Expert opinion is that if it was a kiln, there'd have been more evidence of burning, but it might have been an oven, or something along those lines.

One point that's interesting to me is that there seems to be a notch cut into that large plaster feature, matching the angle of that stone structure. That helps establish a relative chronology for these things -- the stone structure had to have been built after the plaster feature. If it was there first, there would have been stones there, rather than a notch in the plaster, or the plaster would have cut through it. And, given that the walls of the stone structure slope outward, we can assume that the dirt around it had to have been deposited after the structure was built. Which means that if we were to find a coin in the plaster feature, say, that would give us a date earlier than the stone structure, or the dirt around it.

In either case, we're hoping to find more of the structure as we go lower down, and we'll take some soil samples for flotation analysis, which will use water to sift the sand, and hopefully find tiny artifacts and remains that simpler forms of sifting miss.

Speaking of things recovered by sifting, we've had some neat finds today as well.

You'll either have to take my word for it or click through, but that little stone cube is a six sided die.

I'm not a dice expert, so I can't tell you if it's Roman, or Byzantine, or Crusader, but I can tell you that the spots are arranged in the same way they are in modern dice, and that the 1 and 6 are opposite each other, as are the 2 and 5, and the 3 and 4, which is the way most modern dice are arranged.

Whenever that die dates from, judging from the finds around it, it can't be later than the Crusader period, so it's been hundreds of years since the last time that die was thrown. Then we dug it up, and it seems I rolled a four before taking that picture.

For those who are curious, the tag there is the sort of thing that we make whenever we find small finds of that sort. There's a bar code, which will let people find it with the stroke of a light pen in the upper left corner. Then there are the numbers 35/09, our Antiquities Authority license number, and the year.

Underneath that, you get 47 and 53, which is my area number and my square number, "unit 15", which is the area of my square in which we found it, 6/17 which is today's date, in the manner in which Americans write dates, ASR/RBN, which are my initials and the area supervisor's initials, 4054, which is the number of the pottery bucket which was open for unit 15 when that die was found, and MC59777, which is the number that'll identify that particular small find.

It's a moderately complicated system, but it lets us know where and when that die was found, with a certain measure of precision, and makes it easier to refer to that find, if we were to find another die, or a medieval Settlers of Catan boxed set, or suchlike, or if we wanted to compare it in size and weight to other medieval dice, and so on.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

2009 season, day 8

Today we moved less dirt than we have in previous days, but this is the difference between digging stratified archaeology, and digging homogeneous fills. Today we started on that triangle of dirt that isn't related to the Byzantine wall, and which isn't related to the 1920s wall, and as we had hoped, there seems to be stuff in it that's worth a closer look.

And, as on previous occasions, I'll recourse to drawing lines on a picture to show what we've been up to.

The area circled in red and labeled 1 is the line of plastered stones that we've been aware of since we got through the topsoil. It's looking slightly better defined now, because we've taken out some tree roots that were in the way, but it's basically the same as it's ever been.

The bit circled in green, and labeled 2 is a tiny fragment of a floor, that had been around in the previous seasons, and which might continue underneath the bits we haven't excavated. But we did get a bit more of it, after taking out a rather strange pair of well plastered, rectangular stones that seemed to just sort of be standing by themselves, with no relationship to any other floor or surface.

The bit labeled 3 is what's giving us the most cause for puzzled consideration. It seems to be bounded by a semi-circle of stones, which I've circled in yellow, but which remain hard to see in the picture, and judging by the bit of the crusader pit that we've dug, those stones do seem to go further down.

So, based on that, it looks like it should be a stone lined pit. The reason why I'm not jumping to that conclusion is that the material in the area marked 3 is not very different than the material to the north of it. And, generally speaking, when you get pits, you get something filling them.

So, we'll see what happens tomorrow -- My assumption is that this feature is going to be resolved, one way or another. Or at least we'll be able to make a guess, and work on that basis.

Also appearing in the picture, but not labeled, are supervisory staff, volunteers, hired workers, Garstang's wall, several other squares, a wheelbarrow, and a stick with a bucket on the end. See if you can identify which is which!

Monday, June 15, 2009

2009 season, day 7

Week 2 is great, because the preliminary stuff is out of the way, and the shape of what's coming is not yet clear.

Today we followed a trench of loose material next to the 20th century wall. The working theory is that this was something that was dug and filled by Garstang's workers, but that's not necessarily the case. You might notice that the triangular area we haven't dug sort of slopes downward into the trench with that bucket and stick in it.

This isn't poor field technique on my part! It seems that the trench that we're digging slopes inward, and we've been following the difference in the materials. Which is, more or less, the way features like that are supposed to be excavated.

Tomorrow, the plan is to finish up that trench -- there's a bit more dirt to take out, and then I'd like to flatten that area out so that everything we've dug will be approximately the same level, and then we crack that wedge of material that we've been avoiding.

And so on, all the way down. More or less -- it seems likely that we'll eventually find floors and walls and so on, which will make digging less orderly, but until then, the lines we've been following seem likely to be the lines that we're going to continue following.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

2009 season, day 6

The first day of week 2, and it's off to a great start, at least in my square. There's not much point showing the square in more detail, as we've flattened the entire area that we've been digging.

I'm not yet entirely certain if I'm going to dig there tomorrow, or open up the narrower end of my triangle, but whenever we do open that side up again, we'll probably divide it up into at least two, maybe more chunks -- there's an ash pit, that we can now see clearly, and a fill with a good deal more rubble, which pottery seems to be indicating is from the Crusader period.

There was an unfortunate incident today -- one of the volunteers in a different area did himself a minor injury with a pick, and had to get a few stitches put in. My understanding is that it wasn't terribly serious, but it does make it clear that we have to watch out for mistakes of that sort, particularly over the next couple of weeks; it's when you start getting comfortable that these sort of things can happen. So, on the off chance that there are volunteers reading this, try to keep control of your tools, and drink water.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

2009 season, week 1 in review.

In general, the first week of an archaeological excavation is a slow one. It always takes a day or two to clean up the effects of the off-season, or to clear the surface that's going to be excavated, and it takes a while for people who've never been on a dig to get used to their tools, and waking up at four in the morning, and so on.

And yet, I think we did about as much work as could be expected in a week. I think that we know where the good archaeological contexts are, and where they aren't, and we'll be able to be digging good material starting Monday, if we aren't already in a Crusader period robber trench. So, as far as the digging goes, I'm going to call this week an unmitigated success.

On other fronts, things were a bit more . . . well, mitigated. I've got a somewhat better handle on the computer system than I did at the start, which is good, as I'm going to have to start collecting and sorting more data, as we work through the better archaeological contexts. And, hopefully, managing that stuff is going to take up less of my time. But, as far as the last week goes, I'm going to have to chalk a certain amount of it up to a "learning experience", and spend the next few hours fixing mistakes I made, and getting in information that I've left out.

As far as blogging goes, there are a few things that I wanted to try, the first of which you can see below. I apologize in advance for the sort of Blair Witch cinematography (do the kids remember the Blair Witch Project? Should I call it Cloverfield cinematography if I want to be understood by the youth of today? In either case, what I mean is that it's not very good.)

Whatever you want to call it, it's a brief tour of the square, narrated by yours truly:
Another thing that I wanted to do was to keep an eye on what was going on in the other squares; while I'm not planning on trekking out to the other areas, as they're scattered across the tel, I'm hoping to get a picture or two, and a general sense of what's going on in the squares nearby.

So, here's what I've got for the first week:

The square directly to the east of me was the only square open last season, and this week, they've been digging in the western half of their square. Thus far, they've come across a number of different layers of material, but they haven't found any structures or floors, so they're working on figuring out when various layers of material were deposited, and their relationships with each other; a complicated sort of job.

(The picture was taken on day 3; sadly, it seems that's the best picture that I've got of their square.)

There's one other square open in our area, directly to the north of this one, and to the northeast of mine.

For the moment, this square is defined by the trench that Garstang dug, and which the JCB redug. (It does seem that the JCB may have cut a bit more than Garstang, but such is the way of excavating equipment.) One of the structures they've turned up, on the southern side of that trench, is this large, plaster lined pit. It seems to have been poured, rather than free-standing, because the plaster walls are not strong enough to have stood on their own -- someone dug a pit, and then poured plaster in to line it. It may have been used as a lime kiln, which may have been where some of the statuary of the basilica were turned to lime, or it might have been something else.

On the other side of that trench, there had been a floor. That floor was taken out yesterday, and it's not yet clear when that floor is from; hopefully, they'll find good dating evidence in the fill directly below it.

This isn't all they've found -- there are other, subtler features that have turned up on the southern side of this square. But these are the large, dramatic features of which I have pictures.

And that more or less where we're up to, but there's one thing more that I wanted to talk about before closing up shop for the weekend.

You'll remember that sherd from earlier in the week. Yesterday, our pottery expert (who is also the area supervisor) looked at it, along with a great many other sherds, and gave her evaluation; it's a sherd from a glazed bowl, with incised decoration, and dating to the Mamluk period (1250-1517).

The next picture is a closeup; the bit of paper in the background is a top plan -- that's a sort of map, that shows where the dividing lines between the different units are, so we can know exactly where the pottery came from.

Once the pottery was read, that sherd was put aside, along with a lot of similar pieces, for further analysis -- there are some difficulties with the dating of Islamic period sherds, so the plan is to get several experts together, to look at what we come up with this season, and to try to pin down those dates.
And that's more or less it for week 1. I'm not entirely sure what next week is going to look like, but hopefully, I'll be able to do something like this the next time the volunteers are off on a trip somewhere.

2009 season, day 5

As you might have expected, there was more digging today. There was also a bunch of other stuff, including a short staff meeting before pottery reading, and work I had to catch up with on the computer, so there isn't going to be as much blogging today as on other days. However, tomorrow I have a day off. Most of the volunteers will be taking a trip to Jerusalem, but as I live there, I figured I'd pass on the tour.

So, after waking at some luxuriantly decadent hour, maybe seven, I'll see how much I can do as far as wrapping up the first week of the dig; I've got ideas and pictures and so on, so we'll see what we can do. But, for now, what I dug today:

This is a slightly different angle than usual. The reason that I'm only showing the southern half of the square is because that's where the vast majority of today's digging happened. And, hopefully, it'll be a little simpler to see what we've done in this picture, than it would be in a somewhat wider angle shot.

As usual, if you want to see the lines I've drawn, clicking through the next image is probably the best way to go, though I suppose it's possible that it's all visible on monitors with better resolution than mine.

While there's still a certain amount of flattening as a result of the bright, direct sunlight, I think that the difference between where we're digging and the ground two meters lower is sufficiently clear that it doesn't need outlining. On the other hand, the Byzantine wall looks flatter than it is, so I've outlined that in red, and labeled it one. Hopefully, you can now see that we've come across another course of stones -- while some of that wall was robbed out, not all of it was.

The bit that I've labeled two, and circled in blue is a line of white plastered stones. There are two courses in some of that, though I don't think you can see it, and we haven't found the bottom of it yet. If there's more of it further down, it goes from a little strange to a lot strange, as the bit in the next square over doesn't go very deep at all.

The orange line shows approximately where the trench for Garstang's wall begins; it's harder to see in this bit than in the bit further north, but it's something that you can feel in the consistency of the soil. Along with the trench, there's also a bit of the wall visible in the bit I've labeled three. There was more before I hit it with a pickaxe for much of the day, and took the rocks away. Which demonstrated how aggressively out of shape I am. I imagine that five more weeks of digging will do something about that.

The bit circled in yellow and labeled four is a little row of little stones. I have no idea what its deal is. It's in the middle of a rough-edged bit of ashy fill, and doesn't seem to go much further down. Maybe more digging will show what that is, and maybe it won't; finding out what those are is going to be one of the goals for Sunday.

And then there's five, which is basically all the rest of what we've dug today. Pottery reading is showing a lot of Crusader period sherds, so it might be fill from the robber trench, and it might have been someone in the Crusader period who dug that trench, and took the Byzantine walls stones to build something. I'm hoping to find out exactly what's going on here, and maybe define different areas on Sunday, and then spend the rest of next week digging the more northerly half of the square.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

2009 season, day 4

I got to the excavation site a bit early today, which was nice; it was a terrifically misty morning, which is about as heavy as you can expect precipitation to be in the summer in Israel.

"How misty was it?" you might ask, assuming that you're old enough to remember Johnny Carson. And assuming that you thought I was looking for that particular response. Honestly, it's not a terribly likely chain of events.

However, if you did want to know just how misty it was, the next picture should give some information in that regard; that's what it looked like when I tried to take a picture with the flash on -- there was a lot of water in the air, indeed.

That was all gone within an hour of us starting to dig, but it wasn't entirely forgotten -- we set up our laptops underneath a tree, in order to have sufficient shade to see the screen. And because it's a bit more comfortable. It took longer than an hour for that tree to stop dripping on us.

Nobody was electrocuted, either, so it worked out well all around.

As far as the actual digging went, at least in my square, we mostly managed to finish what I had hoped we would finish; it was a bit of a short day, though, as we got a sun shade, which took a while to set up. So the changes to the square today weren't that dramatic.

Obviously, there were changes, as you might be able to see in the next picture. Or, perhaps you can't. For one thing, one of the major projects of the day was digging a pit from the crusader period, and I seem to have neglected to take a picture of that -- there's a little bit of it on the side, there, but it's hard to see, honestly.

I've been fooling around with the settings on blogger -- I'm not sure if you're going to see the following picture well enough to make out the details without clicking through. If not, I'd suggest clicking on the picture below, with the lines drawn by my trusty assistant, MS Paint.

So, as with last time, the red line marks the edges of those parts of my square that I can excavate, at the moment. The little bit circled in yellow, with the 1 in it is the crusader period pit I mentioned earlier, which is cutting into a surface that dates to before the Crusaders. It's going to take pottery to tell us when that surface is from, but whatever it is, it's going to have to be earlier than the Crusades.

The bit circled in green, and numbered 2 is a bit confusing. It's clearly a line of stones, and it's been plastered, but that line seems to meander a bit. At the moment, I'm not sure if it relates to the surface that the crusader pit cut, or if it's something earlier or later. It's possible we'll learn more about it when we take it out, but we might not. In either case, it gives us a good boundary between the areas to the north and south of it, which we'll talk about soon.

Before that, we've got the long area circled in blue, and labeled 3. At the moment, I think it's a late trench, probably the foundation trench dug in the 1920s for Garstang's wall, which is labeled 4. One of the reasons why I think that is that it's shot through with tree roots, while the areas to the east of it aren't; material deposited later isn't going to be packed as hard as dirt that's been sitting in the same place for a thousand or two thousand years, and it'll be easier for the trees to get their roots through it.

Which leaves us with five and six, which are distinguished by not having any particular distinguishing characteristics. Much of 5 lies over the big Byzantine wall, so it's going to be later than whoever it was that took the stones from that wall -- I'm guessing Crusader, but that's a guess that's going to have to wait for pottery analysis. It's got different sorts of fill; rubble, and ash, loose dirt and harder packed dirt, but it's all sufficiently jumbled that I'm not sure if it's possible to distinguish much about it. We'll see what happens as we go down.

6 is mostly hard packed fill, and much of it seems to be of that surface that the Crusader pit goes through. While there are some complications, 6 seems to be our best bet for good layers of undisturbed archaeology. So we're not going to start there until we get a bit deeper in the areas with later material; the general rule is that you want to try and dig the later material first.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

2009 season, day 3, part 2

As I had hoped, I was able to get in a few pictures this afternoon. But as it turned out, they're not very good pictures. Sorry about that.

Anyhow, this is, more or less, what the square we're digging looks like now. The problem is that in this light, it's not entirely clear that there's something near a two meter drop about three quarter of the way through the shot. When details like that aren't apparent, I wouldn't expect somewhat more fine details to come through.

The picture is taken looking north, and the bit close to the edge of the square on the south is missing. But that's more or less what we dug today, and what I'm basing my plans for tomorrow on.

The red line should mark the edge of my square. (Triangle would be a more technically accurate, but I'm calling it a square because that's what people excavate. Also, it is a square, but most of it is empty air, having been dug by Garstang and not filled in again.) The area with the red one in it marks the area that doesn't seem to have been disturbed, and which I expect to find good, stratified archaeology. The plan is to chase a Crusader pit there tomorrow, but if I can't get the edge between this area and the next, finding that pit isn't in the realm of possible.

The blue line shows the edge of an area of soft dirt, which I think is related to the wall put in by Garstang -- a sort of foundation trench. We'll take a bit of that out tomorrow, and we'll see if I can find something to show that I'm right.

The little sort of brown-taupe line is somewhere I'm not sure about -- 3 is either material similar to 1 or to 2. One of the things that might help tell us is the feature that the orange line encloses, and which is marked with a 5. That marks the edge of the area marked 1, and if we find it, we know that the line. If it peters out, the problem becomes more complicated.

The bit in green, marked 4, is what we've excavated today. It's got a mix of different types of fill, and I'm not quite ready to call it a 20th century layer. But I'm not certain what it is, if it isn't that. I assume that'll get refined, as we get further down.

To get back to the story of the sherd, from the previous post.

After the day's digging is done, the pottery buckets are taken back to the pottery compound -- the excavation's base camp, more or less, where the initial post-excavation processing of finds takes place. There, the buckets are filled with water, and the pottery is left to sit. It's early days, yet, so the sherds only get to sit in water from the end of the excavating day, 1:00, until pottery washing, which starts at 4:00.

I was a bit busy today, so I didn't start taking pictures until after the pottery washing was done. So the sherd I took a picture of earlier isn't actually in those buckets; it was in a bucket similar to those buckets.

After the sherds are washed, they're put into fruit crates, and left to dry in the sun. Wet pottery looks a bit different than dry pottery, and if you put pottery away wet, you get bags full of water. And while I didn't get a shot of the sherd in the bucket of water, it is in that fruit crate; it's the green one near the middle, with the incised decoration that makes it look a bit like a palm leaf.

In an ideal world, the pottery will be looked at the day after it's washed, but we've been known to get a few days behind, when the excavation season is in full swing.

So, the hope is that we'll see that sherd again tomorrow; if that doesn't happen, it'll be the day after.

And I think I'll leave it at that, for today.

Good night!

2009 season, day 3

It was another productive day, today, and the triangle I'm digging looks a good deal different than it did yesterday. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures -- hopefully, I'll get that done this afternoon. Instead, I've got a couple of pictures of a a green glazed potsherd, which I took out of a trench near the south side of the big Byzantine wall.

Assuming that all goes well, I'll follow this sherd as it makes its way through the system we have. Thus far, that story hasn't been terribly eventful.

The story so far goes as follows: I saw the sherd in the dirt, (it's more or less in the middle of the first picture) and put it into a pottery bucket (it's on the lower left of the bucket in the second picture). The bucket has a tag which will let us track it -- it's got the date it was dug, the supervisors, the general area and the specific square from which it was taken, and so on. It's also got a bar code, which means that even if I made errors in transcribing that information onto the tag, as I will do, from time to time, we can look in OCHRE, and get all of that out, and more, including any comments put in about that sherd. There's also a plastic bag in that bucket, which I believe was holding marble tesserae. Once I've gone through this with a piece of pottery, I'll show you how finds like that are processed.

Anyhow now I'm off to the pottery compound. If I've got the time, I'll show the next step that sherd takes after I come back from there, and have eaten dinner. Also, maybe there'll be more about the digging that we've done today.

Monday, June 8, 2009

2009 season, day 2

Today, the plan was to finish cleaning the surface early in the day, and start digging as soon as possible. That plan was somewhat disrupted by finding a nice, level surface. That surface had to be cleaned, which took much of the morning.

But that wasn't all we did. There's a bit of a trench to the side of Garstang's wall that we've been digging out, and there's the end of the big Byzantine wall that we've been looking for.

I'll attempt to explain this, though the medium of pictures. Unfortunately, most of the pictures that I took in the afternoon didn't come out quite right, so I'm going to start by scribbling all over the one you can see up on the left, there.

Okay, there are a lot of lines there, which I hope will be visible if you click through on that very similar looking picture, to the right of this paragraph.

The red line, more or less, marks the edges of the slice of territory that I'm excavating. It's trying to represent a three dimensional space in two dimensions, so there'll be problems with that throughout, but I'll do what I can.

The bit circled in black marks the edges of the smooth, regular surface. I'm very pleased with that surface, as it makes it easy to distinguish between topsoil and what we're digging, and I'm looking forward to going through it. The bit edged in green marks a row of stones from the big Byzantine wall in the square that we excavated last year. Next to that, there's a little trench, where we've started digging today, showing that face of the wall. And, on the far side of the area, there's the 192os wall that we're going to be taking down, course by course.

And that's all for now, I think.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

2009 season, day 1

Rather than heading in on Friday, I played hooky and slept until ten. But today was no day for hooky! This was the first day of the season proper, and as far as I could see, it went great.

The bit I'm excavating is the little slice of dirt between the area where we dug last season, and the area where Garstang left as an open air museum. Before we could start digging, we had to takeout the sandbags that had been left there the previous season, as well as get rid of the dirt that had escaped the control of wheelbarrows and people carrying buckets of dirt last season. And we had to clean the surface of various plants that had taken up residence over the winter. So we had work to do.

The same was true throughout the area. The JCB came in for the morning, and finished lifting the last of those rocks from Garstang's wall, and when he was gone, the people working at that end of the area turned the somewhat irregular furrow the JCB had left into a more clean-edged archaeological trench.

Basically, there looked to be about two days worth of work in the area before we could get started, and we seemed to have just about finished that.

And I was eventually able to connect to the network, and record the buckets of pottery we took out while cleaning the topsoil. Unfortunately, I kind of did that wrong, at the time. But one of the advantages of using a computer system for recording is that I can go back and fix things later. Which I'm pretty sure I did. Hopefully, tomorrow, I'll get some of the measurements that I hadn't gotten today. And, if hope may be piled onto hope, maybe next time I'll get it right the first time around.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pre-season, Day 4

Not much happening today, at least not in the area where I'm working. We did a bit of surveying, making sure that we know exactly where we're going to be digging. Other than that, there was the excitement and romance of infomation technology, attaching routers to wireless cards, and making sure that we can connect to the network.

This is stuff that needs to be done. We're going to be using OCHRE, the “Online Cultural Heritage Research Environment”, to manage what we find in the field, so we need to be able to connect to the servers in order to open a new pottery bucket, or record a find, or, basically, to dig at all. All the same, it doesn't make for terribly interesting reading, I'm afraid.

Tomorrow looks to be much the same -- I'll probably head in, and see where I can lend a hand, but I might just take the day off.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pre-season, Day 3

Today, there was more backhoeing. Specifically, we dug out a bit more of Garstang's trench, and took apart one of the walls of the open air museum. There weren't as many finds today, but there were a lot of heavy rocks, some of which I had to pick up. You see, while most of the wall was taken apart in such a way that the rocks could easily be scooped out, a fair amount of it spilled into what had been the open air museum. And, while the sculpture isn't there any more, the walls of the apse still are, so we did our best to get the fallen stones out without damaging the walls. Which meant hauling stones away from the walls, so the digger could get them without dinging the walls.

Assuming that I've figured blogger out, the picture above should be of the digger lifting stones from where they had fallen.

Unfortunately, we didn't finish up everything that we had set out to do with the digger, and it's not clear that it's going to be coming back; if it doesn't, there's a lot of dirt and rock that's going to have to be shifted by hand. My understanding is that someone else is going to be in charge of that bit of the excavation area, so I personally shouldn't have to move that stuff. But who knows what the future will bring?

After the backhoe went back to wherever it is that backhoes come from, I sat in on a bit of pottery reading; that is, an expert looked at various piles of pottery, and identified when and where they were made, based on the shape, material, and decoration of the pottery. In this case, a lot was from the fourth century BCE – the border between the Persian and Hellenistic periods, with material from before and after. It had nothing to do with the basilica, but it's an interesting period, and I learned a lot by watching the read.

Then I wrote this up, which brings us to now.

Pre-season, Days 1 and 2.

The volunteers and most of the staff aren't going to be here until Saturday evening, but I've already been at work for a few days. But, before I start talking about that, I think it might be worth talking about what we're doing here.

In the early 1920s, John Garstang excavated the basilica in Ashkelon. He was in charge of the British Mandate's Antiquities Authority for a while, and the head of a pair of archaeological institutes at different times. And yet, at least in Ashkelon, his field technique left a bit to be desired. He excavated a significant percentage of the Roman-Byzantine basilica in Ashkelon, and left a section of the apse as an open air museum, displaying the statuary that he had found.

Last year, we started excavating a section of the basilica that Garstang hadn't opened. At the time, we had expected to find one of his trenches meandering across that section, but as it turned out, while he recorded a trench there, there wasn't a trench there. Standards were different, back in the 20s. In the upper left corner, there's an aerial photo taken at the end of last season, showing what we did; the bit to the left is what Garstang excavated, the bit to the right is what we did last year.

The apse doesn't really look like that picture anymore. The tree in the middle is gone, and a great deal of earth has been moved, as we're hoping to open up almost the entire apse for excavation. Here's how that went:

Day 1:

Since I wasn't here on Day 1, very little got done. Well, actually, I wasn't here for the first day, and very little got done, but that's a subtle distinction. What I gathered was that there was some difficulty with the equipment. There's a big trench that Garstang seems to have dug, rather than just put on his plan, and earth moving equipment was called in to get the stuff that he filled the trench in with. Unfortunately, the edges of his trench were a bit wavy, and the equipment brought in couldn't really deal with the fine details. So, it didn't do much digging. But there was a floor found that gave us the other edge of Garstang's trench, so a start was made, certainly.

Day 2:

This is when I showed up. Also, a loader/backhoe was brought in, and I have to admit, it probably did more digging than I did. Which isn't to say that I didn't do anything at all. Mostly, I traced the edges of Garstang's trench and looked through what the backhoe was digging up, and taking out the occasional find. There were bits and pieces of marble floor tile, as well as little bits of carved stone, mostly from column capitals. The big find of the day was a blue teapot from the 1920s, providing archaeological evidence for the long held belief that Garstang was British.

Perhaps an introduction is in order.


This is the official blog of the 2009 Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon. And I'm Alter Reiss, the official blogger of the 2009 Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon. I got this job by writing about last year's excavation on my livejournal (if you're curious, entries related to last year's dig start at http://dhole.livejournal.com/2008/06/02/.) Unlike last year, when I was a volunteer, I'm on staff this year, so the time I have to spend on this might be a bit reduced. On the other hand, my authority has increased tremendously. I used to be a guy who listened to a square supervisor who listened to an area supervisor who listened to the dig director; now I'm one of those people who'll listen to an area supervisor who listens to the dig director. You can see how I have to struggle to keep this power from going to my head.

What'll I'll be doing here should look pretty similar to what I did on livejournal last year, though this year it's going to be a group blog, so assuming all goes according to plan, there are going to be other people posting about what's going on in their sections of the dig.