Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Day in the Life of an Archaeologist

Hi everyone. Today I thought I would talk a bit about our daily schedule. See what you think about this...

Wake up is at 4:30 AM unless like me you are crazy enough that you manage to wake up at 4:00 without the help of an alarm. (Like I said, crazy!). We wake up that early in order to finish a full eight hour work day before it gets too hot but you don't really think about that when you wake up and it is pitch black outside. You mostly think about how you must be crazy.

Once we manage to pull ourselves together we wander downstairs for First Breakfast (like Hobbits we have a few extra meals built into the day) which usually consists of tea or coffee, bread and jam and what we affectionately call "bug juice" which is sorta but not really like Tang. 5:00 sharp the bus pulls up to take us to the dig site. It is still dark and the ride never takes as long as we would like it to.

By 5:10 we are at the Pottery Compound where we one and all race to grab our tools. We do this by the light of the florescent moon which pierces the still dark morning. Honestly, it is still dark! Then, tools in hand we strike off in the direction we believe will lead us to our designated excavation areas. (We haven't lost anyone yet and, fingers crossed, we won't this year.)

By 5:30 we are usually hard at work even though we can't really see anything. We work using a range of tools from dental picks and tiny paint brushes on up to full size pick axes and shovels (although they have a more fancy name). We dump all the dirt we dig up into buckets called gufas and then haul it away.

We break for Second Breakfast at 9:00 which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It is good because we get a break after a morning of
manual labor and because the meal is pretty good even though we sit in the dirt to eat it (unless you are lucky enough to track down a nice patch of grass). And breakfast is pretty good; all you can eat (at least until it runs out) eggs, bread, olives, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, yogurt and more. The only real problem is that you have to go back to work and it always seems much, much hotter after the break.

And then we go back to work until our next opportunity for food or sleep, whichever you need more. Fruit Break happens at 11:15 or so and it only manages to be a Fruit Break if you saved some fruit from breakfast. From that point, however, the morning is almost over and even
though it is so hot your eyeballs are sweating the last bit of the day doesn't seem too bad. 12:50 we pack up our tools. 1:00 we board the buses and go back to the hotel. Once there we get cleaned up and go down to lunch.

After lunch we have free time until 4:00 when we get back on the bus to go back to the Pottery Compound (basically our office at the site) where we work on processing and analyzing the objects we found earlier in the day. We do that for a couple of hours before getting back on the bus to return to the hotel where we then attend evening lectures on any number of subjects from numismatics (the study of coins) to my favorite, Ashkelon in the Islamic period. And then, only then do we go to dinner (usually around 7:15) after which it is again free time. Which in my case lasts until about 8:30 when I go to bed.

So what makes us do it? Well, next time I'll write a bit about what we do when we are working.

Also, the answer to the latest "Who? What? When?"

Hey staff and volunteers! We are inching our way ever closer to the start of the season. Room and grid assignments are done, the hotel is
full (at least on the weekends) and the grids are dirty! See everyone on Saturday.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Basilica

It was a busy day of work today as we started preparing two areas for excavation. Perry, Hamilton Elementary School's traveling bear, visited one of those areas. This is an area in the central part of the site where many of the city's important public buildings were located. It is here that a man named John Garstang first identified one of ancient Ashkelon's basilicas. Today the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon continues to work in the same area so that we can better understand it. We are currently in the process of expanding the area in which we want to work and getting it prepared which means we have to clean the dirt. That's right, clean the dirt. What that means is that we sweep it so that we can see everything in it and believe me there is a lot. When we can see different colors in the dirt we can see things such as pits, floors and sometimes even walls.

This was Grid 47 before work commenced today. Wait until you see it after!

Today work also began in Grid 51 which is being expanded and prepared for excavation. After a week of cleaning both it and Grid 47 should be ready to go.

Monday, May 24, 2010

In Ashkelon

We are here! And I'd like to send a big shout out to the students of Hamilton Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois who will be following this blog for the last few weeks of school. Welcome to the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon.

Accompanying my son and I to Ashkelon this summer is Perry, Hamilton's traveling bear. He will be making appearances throughout the summer so keep an eye out for him.

In the meantime, while we begin to prepare for the summer season we are simultaneously working on a number of projects. Here you can see two of Ashkelon's staff members "reading" Iron I pottery. Iron I pottery dates to 1200 - 1000 BCE and the time of the Philistines. When we "read" pottery we look at the shape and decoration of pottery (bowls, pots, lamps, jars, jugs and so on) to determine when it was used. The Iron Age
pottery in Ashkelon comes from many different places including Cyprus and the
Greek Islands. There are even imports from Syria. The vast majority of the pottery, however, was locally made.

We "read" ceramics from all different periods. While Josh and Laura are working on the Iron Age I am working on Islamic period pottery. At the site of Ascalon, our Islamic period pottery dates from 640 - 1270 CE. During this period we have imports from many different places including North Africa, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran and as far away as China.

The sun is hot, the breeze is mild and it's time to start digging. Stay tuned for more from Perry and for regular updates on our progress this season.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Let the Fun Begin -- Soon

The answer to the last "What, Where, When?" is that the picture was taken standing on top of the remains of an unexcavated church located on the South Tel. The view is looking to the southeast towards what may very well have been the intersection of the city's main north-south road with its southernmost east-west road. The stones at the very bottom of the picture are from one of the church's apses.

This summer we return to Ascalon's city center and a building first discovered by John Garstang in the early 20th century. The building he found was a long rectangle roughly oriented north-south with an apse on its southern end. Garstang believed he had uncovered the city's main basilica with, perhaps, a senate hall or some other type of attached structure. In 2008 we decided to return to the basilica to test the accuracy of Garstang's work and to further expose and examine the monumental structure he unearthed.

Over the course of two seasons of excavation we found that Garstang's work was generally very accurate. What we also found forced a major reinterpretation of the building. It now seems clear that the apse at the southern end of the building is in fact an odeon, a small Roman theatre. What does that mean for the remainder of the building? Is it a basilica? Are we actually looking at one single structure or are we in fact looking at several? How does the odeon fit into the urban plan of Ascalon?

We hope to answer these questions and more as we expand Grid 47 to the east and the south. Moving east is particularly important because we believe it will be an area undisturbed by Garstang's earlier work and, therefore, an opportunity to better understand the occupational sequence in the city center.

In addition to Grids 38 and Grid 47, which I will be supervising, there is one more area that will be excavated. Grid 51 is situated on top of the South Tel near the Mediterranean Sea and was originally opened as an excavation area in order to determine to full extent of the ancient city. In other words, we wanted to know whether or not the area of Grid 51 was inside or outside the city wall. This season work will continue and be expanded under the direction of Dr. Kate Birney with the goal of reaching the 604 BCE destruction of the city.

Three excavation areas, three different periods of the site's occupational sequence, three sets of questions and a world of archaeological exploration. This season promises to greatly expand our understanding of some key aspects of Ascalon's past. It will almost certainly be fun and tiring and fun and exhausting and fun. To those of you joining us, welcome. To those of you thinking about next year, keep an eye on the blog for regular updates. And for those of you just curious about an archaeological excavation and what we do, enjoy.

See you there! One week and counting.

Now, "What, Where, When?"