Self-guided walking tours for visitors to Gordion, Turkey

Jane, me, and Beth checking the view from Tumulus P. Photo by Carolyn Aslan.

Jane, me, and Beth checking the view from Tumulus P. Photo by Carolyn Aslan

In earlier posts (August 3, 2012 and August 8, 2014), I mentioned the Gordion “ecopark” project’s goal of preserving regional biodiversity, the historical landscape, and the archaeological site itself. One part of the project concerns visitor education.

I first visited Gordion as a tourist in 1983 and began archaeobotanical fieldwork there in 1988. I have returned most years since then, and never tire of the landscape—cultural, historical, and botanical. In an attempt to share some of my appreciation for the place, I have put together a few self-guided tours that may encourage visitors to go beyond the local Museum and the excavated remains.

Before I went to Gordion this summer, I already had a general idea of what the tours should include:

The question was, how to give easy-to-follow directions and just enough information to be interesting, but not so much that people would spend more time reading than actually looking around them. From the beginning, my plan was to field test the routes and information. My first drafts were overthought and overcomplicated; Gordion colleagues were quite happy to set me straight on that score (I hope I am not forgetting anyone: Dave Bescoby, Beth Dusinberre, Emily Miller, Jane Gordon, Carolyn Aslan, Canan Çakırlar), as seen in the photograph above.

Gordion is particularly rich in ancient monuments: over 100 burial mounds dot the landscape. The land between the mounds is equally important. Herding and farming have been practiced for millennia, but suburban and agricultural development threaten the area. If the sole measure of value is economic, much of what I love about Gordion will be lost, but in the interim, I hope that the economic value of tourism can exceed that of destructive alternative land uses, like excessive irrigation agriculture. Tourism alone will not save the place. The local population, too, has to value the natural and cultural heritage of the region. To that end, Turkish versions of these tours are under development .

The tours are designed to be used at the site itself; if you are planning a trip to Turkey, do visit Gordion.

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The True North Strong and Free: Summer Research with Canadian Tree Planters

I arrived to northern Ontario not knowing a single person I would meet. This wouldn’t be the first time in my dissertation study of tree planters that I was to introduce myself to a room full of strangers, telling them that I’m an anthropologist and that I come in peace.  And, in fact, this time was pretty easy.  The first time was in a cheap hotel in Monterrey, Mexico, surrounded by 150 Mexican guest workers waiting for a H2B visa en route to the United States. That was difficult given the fact my Spanish was still weak and the rumor had already started I was a government agent.  The second time was slightly easier, introducing myself at 11 PM in a hay barn to a group of American planters who were enjoying the little leisure time they had.  It was still hard – it’s never easy telling someone you are there to observe them – but at least there was no language barrier.

So this June I found myself in Heart, Ontario, on a school bus with 45 Canadian planters, most of whom were college kids on summer break.  I quieted down the school bus and explained that I was a PhD student from the US who studies tree planting and that I would spend a week with them to learn more about how and why they do the job. Saying I was a student is key. It puts people at ease more than almost any other line.  Most people warmed up to me quickly, and some even approached me, asking if I could interview them on camera. That said, I did encounter one problem, itself a familiar one that happened when spending time with American planters too: people who assumed I was an undercover cop or a narcotics officer.  I am loathe to claim a connection with Sadaam Hussein but we can agree on one thing: it is really hard to prove something that doesn’t exist.

The work of research in Canada went well. I left with a better understanding of tree planting and new Canadian friends.  In the United States, Latin American workers, both imported guest workers and undocumented immigrants who permanently reside in America, have mostly replaced the native workforce that planted trees in the 70s and 80s.  These workers plant out of necessity. It is a difficult job. Each person plants thousands of saplings a day, and these immigrant workers typically sleep in motel rooms a long drive from the worksite.  There are some Americans who do this work, mostly white Americans in their 20s and 30s, who enjoy the lifestyle and freedom that migrant work affords them.  But in Canada, the native workforce doesn’t plan on making a lifestyle out of it.  Most people choose the work cause it’s a way to make money during the summer when they’re not in school, as well as a rite of passage where they work hard, party hard, and leave knowing they can do this difficult labor.

I understand the appeal for the Canadian workers. The crew I was with would come to spend almost 7 weeks in the wilderness, away from cell reception and surrounded by flies and mosquitoes.  It reminded me of summer camp, except replace boating and wood shop with arduous agricultural work.  This meant it also had the same sense of camaraderie and liminality.  I left happy (and grateful!) to have had this research experience, as well as tempted myself to return one year as a worker and not a researcher.

One last note of interest: I was featured on the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s radio and tv stations, as part of a piece done by a French-speaking journalist. You can see me at 33 seconds into this piece: http://ici.radio-canada.ca/widgets/mediaconsole/medianet/7112686

Boarding the bus after a day of work

Boarding the bus after a day of work

On the bus returning to the campsite.

On the bus returning to the campsite.

Planting a tree.

Planting a tree.

 

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An Excavation, An Education: My Summer at the Roman Peasant Project

This summer I was lucky enough to spend a month in the small town of Cinigiano, Tuscany excavating for the Roman Peasant Project. The project, led by its directors Kim Bowes, Cam Grey, Emanuele Vaccaro, and Mari Ghisleni, was in its sixth and final season. The goal of the project was to understand the lives and economies of the Roman peasant. The larger purpose was to comprehend the meaning of what it was to be poor in antiquity. This season we excavated a site called Tombarelle, which we believed to be a Roman village.

The pace of the project was fast and the work was hard, but it was definitely a rewarding experience. Over the course of the four weeks I worked in four different trenches. Each day brought with it a myriad of different tasks. We pickaxed, shoveled, and troweled non-stop, uncovering different contexts. I learned how to identify changes in soil and fill out context sheets. We found a large quantity of pottery sherds and animal bones. After the hours spent in the field we went back to our lab to wash and quantify our finds from the day, and to float our soil samples. As grueling and hot as some days were, I learned something new each day.

After a few days in the field I began to work closely with a recent Penn graduate, Julia Hurley, on the total station. A total station is an instrument used in surveying to measure distance and depth of points. For archaeological purposes this means that the location and size of different contexts and finds within trenches can be recorded and stored. Once collected they can be compiled in GIS software to create 3D images of our trenches. I was taught how to set up and operate the total station. By week two, while I was still working in the trenches, I was operating the total station under the supervision of Julia whenever the archaeologists needed to record points.

The findings of this season were intriguing to say the least. The scatters had led us to believe that we should have found some signs of a house or living quarters. However, we found no signs of living quarters. Often it is assumed that where a scatter exists, one would expect to find a village. Our findings dispute this assumption. Instead we found signs of productivity and disposal. One of our trenches appeared to be a giant dump, containing waste such as animal bones. Another, which contained two poorly formed walls and a floor, seemed to be a workspace of some kind. The largest quantity of pottery was found here, some in very good condition. Finally we had two more trenches that provided us with very little information regarding Roman peasant life for two very distinct reasons. One of these trenches might have been a kiln, but yielded very little material culture. The final trench of the excavation we believed to be a Roman cistern at first, but upon further examination was determined to be the foundation of a medieval tower.

The Roman Peasant Project exposed me to many new experiences and taught me many new skills. As a student of Classical Languages I was excited and intrigued by the goals of this project. The classroom creates a very limited and skewed view of Roman life. It is the material culture of the elite that commonly shapes our understanding of the classical world. The literary works that I have translated in class revolve around matters of love, family, war, politics, and empire. My education has not presented the peasant’s point of view on any of these topics. In fact their desires, concerns, and ways of life are peripheral to my own studies. The Roman Peasant Project widened my perspective.

 

Floatation in the rain

Floatation in the rain

 

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Dispatches from Iraqi Kurdistan: Survey Far Beyond the Hilly Flanks

Survey in the newly opened archaeological frontier of Iraqi Kurdistan comes with many challenges. Other reports from University of Pennsylvania graduate students on the project about various aspects of our work have been put up on the Beyond the Museum Walls blog but my own work deals specifically with the survey in our area. This season of the Rowanduz Archaeological Project (RAP) included excavations at Banahilk, Gird-i Dasht, Sidekan Bank and Gund-i Topzawa as well as survey in the area of Sidekan. These excavations uncovered material spanning from the Neolithic to the Ottoman periods and make up a large area. Simultaneously, we conducted a survey of the area of the Soran district of Iraqi Kurdistan, but with particular attention on the Sidekan district. In addition to participating in the excavations at Gird-i Dasht and Gund-i Topzawa, my role on the project is to conduct the survey, which has its own challenges and rewards.

Map of RAP 2013 survey area, with sites noted on the bottom

Map of RAP 2013 survey area, with sites noted on the bottom

Survey, in general, consists of traveling the landscape looking for evidence of human occupation and interaction. A great number of posts on this blog have also dealt with this aspect of archaeology. One of the most commonly used methods for survey is walking straight transects along fields and other flat areas to locate and document the presence of pottery on the surface. The amount and location of the pottery sherds is noted and an overall picture of the density of pottery can be seen. This information can then be used to show areas where humans in the past spent time and presumably participated in activities. I performed field transects in areas around known sites and encountered a challenge to survey in the area— dense vegetation covering much of the surface. While it yielded some results, the low visibility of the surface led to imperfect results.

View across the Topzawa Valley. Most of the area has thick vegetation except for the small plowed field.

View across the Topzawa Valley. Most of the area has thick vegetation except for the small plowed field.

Prospection, on the other hand, is a method that usually takes place over large areas and attempts to find sites and features. One can travel by foot, car or anything in between noting areas that look modified by humans or that have artifacts on the surface. GPS points are taken at points of interest and sites and their corresponding characteristics are noted. This became the most productive ways in which to locate sites and gather valuable data. Two major factors make this possible. One is the scarcity of archaeological survey taken in the area. Only one foreign survey by Rainer Boehmer, in 1973, occurred in this area, and it was merely a few days. The second is a massive road cut running parallel to the Topzawa River which cut a number of sites and burials. It was this construction and destruction that first alerted us to the presence of the site of Gund-i Topzawa. Walking this road cut is a special type of archaeological survey; massive walls, complete stratigraphy, burnt layers, complete pottery vessels and even complete rooms with ceilings are visible in the cut. It was my job to record the location of these sites along the cut which will help lead to finding similar sites buried below the surface.

Survey along the road-cut (left) with the highest peaks of the Zagros in the background

Survey along the road-cut (left) with the highest peaks of the Zagros in the background

This season the survey took place almost exclusively in the area around Sidekan, a mountainous valley that extends to the Iran-Iraq border. While the areas under governance of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) have been experiencing rapid growth and development, Sidekan remains a rural village of only a few thousand people.

The main commercial area of the village of Sidekan

The main commercial area of the village of Sidekan

Soran’s population, in contrast, swelled over the last few years to nearly 200,000.

View of the city of Soran at dusk

View of the city of Soran at dusk

Most of the population in the Sidekan area lives along the rivers of Topzawa and Senne that wind their way down from the peaks of the Zagros Mountains that form the border. This border was not only an important division in antiquity but throughout recent history. Remnants of the massive destruction during the Iran-Iraq war are minefields that were placed along this frontier, a number of which still remain. With regards to archaeological survey this creates difficulties as these areas obviously must be avoided. They are, of course, also a danger to the many people who live in this area.

Mountains are the defining feature of the terrain in the survey. Sidekan rests in a valley system that forms the last set of peaks before the chaine magistrale, the highest peaks of the Zagros Mountains that form the modern border between Iran and Iraq. Our site of Gund-i Topzawa was at about 4,000 feet above sea level and during a day of survey, our car reached an altitude of 10,000 feet.

View down into the Topzawa Valley. Hiked to current point surveying hill for archaeological remains. Steep way down!

View down into the Topzawa Valley. Hiked to current point surveying hill for archaeological remains. Steep way down!

These high elevations manifest themselves in steep slopes and limited flat areas which make walking many of the areas difficult, many times impossible. Sometimes a moderately difficult hike up the hill can become frightening descent down the mountain. Archaeologically, it also changes the types of occupation compared to the vast flat plains of Mesopotamia. Massive mounds which characterize much of Near Eastern archaeology are near absent from the landscape. Rather, settlement seems to take place in terraces along the rivers into the hills, as the excavation at Gund-i Topzawa has begun to reveal.

This season’s survey revealed a number of sites along this cut with pottery dating to the Iron Age (approximately 1000 BC -300BC), large stone walls and thick layers of burning. These seem to be part of a larger settlement pattern of villages that interacted with each other and were struck by a massive destruction event. The nature of this destruction and the identity of the attackers still must be solved, but it gives a fascinating beginning for the survey to begin.

Penn graduates students: (left to right) Myself, Darren Ashby and Katherine Burge. Sitting in a room at Gund-i Topzawa, likely typical of the type of sites surveyed.

Penn graduates students: (left to right) Myself, Darren Ashby and Katherine Burge. Sitting in a room at Gund-i Topzawa, likely typical of the type of sites surveyed.

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LiDAR Scans and Sacred Lakes: A Report from the 2014 Summer Season at Abydos- Part 2

The Malih in the late 19th Century. Photo from Auguste Mariette, L’Egypt de Mariette: Voyage en Egypte par Auguste Mariette Pacha (Editions Errance: 1999), planche 33

The Malih in the late 19th Century. Photo from Auguste Mariette, L’Egypt de Mariette: Voyage en Egypte par Auguste Mariette Pacha (Editions Errance: 1999), planche 33

In my previous post, I talked about the technological methods utilized in Abydos this season. Another major part of my season at Abydos was to do a preliminary investigation of the sacred lake associated with the Osiris temple. The remnants of this sacred lake, known now as the Malih or the Salty, survived into the 20th Century until it was filled in and covered by houses. Even though a few scholars from the 19th  and 20th Centuries recognized the Malih as the remnants of a sacred lake, it appears that modern scholars have forgotten this sacred lake and its association with the Osiris temple and the annual Osiris procession. The goal of this research on the sacred lake is to bring it back into modern scholarship and show its importance to the landscape of Abydos.

The identification of the Malih as the sacred lake associated with the Osiris temple has to do with its location at the eastern edge of the Osiris temple within the ancient settlement of the Kom es-Sultan. Textual evidence from two Middle Kingdom officials supports the idea of the close proximity between temples and lakes at Abydos as they indicate the building of temples involved the construction of a lake nearby. According to an official named Meri, the building of a temple to Senwosret I included the construction of a lake that connected it to the Nile River. Another official named Mentuhotep built a temple to a god at Abydos, presumably Osiris, and constructed a lake nearby. These sources help to support the idea that building temples at Abydos involved the construction of a lake in close proximity. If this is the case, then the Malih most likely represents the remnants of a sacred lake constructed for the Osiris temple.

The area of the Kom es-Sultan (A) with the Osiris temple (B) and Malih (C) at Abydos. Photo from Google Earth

The area of the Kom es-Sultan (A) with the Osiris temple (B) and Malih (C) at Abydos. Photo from Google Earth

The close proximity between the Osiris temple and the Malih indicates that the temple and sacred lake had a close relationship. As with similar sacred lakes at sites like Karnak, Dendera and Tanis, the sacred lake at Abydos served as a place for rituals conducted by the priests at the Osiris temple. The sacred lake of the Osiris temple had a specific purpose during the annual Osiris procession, which was a religious occasion when the image of Osiris was taken from the temple in the Kom es-Sultan and led south through the naturally occurring wadi to Osiris’ symbolic tomb at Umm el-Qaab. This procession included many stops and rituals along its route, but one of the first rituals and stops involved some sort of water element in which the image of Osiris crossed a lake at night in his boat called the Neschmet bark. Even though what happened on the lake is not known, accounts by a 12th Dynasty official named Ikhernofret and the 13th Dynasty King Neferhotep, both relate accounts of each acting as Horus and repelling Osiris’ enemies from the Neschmet bark. The close proximity of the Malih to the Osiris temple and the need for a lake during the Osiris procession, gives weight to the idea that the Malih is the sacred lake associated to the Osiris temple and is the lake Osiris’s golden Neschmet bark glided over.

Landscape of Abydos with the Osiris processional route indicated from the Kom es-Sultan to Umm el-Gaab. Photo from Josef Wegner, “Abydos and the Penn Museum,” Expedition Magazine 56.1 (2014): 5

Landscape of Abydos with the Osiris processional route indicated from the Kom es-Sultan to Umm el-Gaab. Photo from Josef Wegner, “Abydos and the Penn Museum,” Expedition Magazine 56.1 (2014): 5

The use of the sacred lake for the Osiris temple and Osiris procession indicates that it was a prominent feature of the Abydos landscape until the 19th to 20th Centuries when its silted-up remnants consisted of two ponds that covered a roughly 200 by 400 meter area and it became known as the Malih or Salty. Some 19th Century scholars identified the Malih as the sacred lake associated with the Osiris temple and others included its outline on their maps of Abydos, but the last account of the Malih as a sacred lake came from Dorothy Eady, better known as Omm Sety, in the early 1970’s. She commented on the Malih as a sacred lake, its use in the Osiris procession and stories from locals who say they saw a golden boat floating on the Malih. She also gives the only account of the Malih’s fate as the standing water in the ponds caused a malaria epidemic, which led local officials to fill it in during the early 1950’s. It is as if the Malih’s dwindling prominence and eventual disappearance under houses caused scholars to forget about its identification as a sacred lake and relationship to the landscape of Abydos.

Corona Satellite image of the Malih in 1968 (left) and the modern housing covering, but showing the rough outline of the Malih from a 2014 Google Earth image (right)

Corona Satellite image of the Malih in 1968 (left) and the modern residential covering, which shows the rough outline of the Malih from a 2014 Google Earth image (right)

In order to re-introduce the Malih to modern scholarship, my advisor Dr. Joe Wegner and I undertook a project to investigate the Malih during the 2014 summer season at Abydos. The first steps of this project involved researching the Malih while at Penn and then visiting the area while at Abydos. Upon arriving at Abydos, we walked to the Kom es-Sultan, where I began to take pictures of the Malih to document its current appearance. From the Malih’s western side, which borders the Kom es-Sultan, one can see the houses built into the depression of the lake that still gives the general outline of the Malih. Any visible boundary of the lake at the northern or eastern edges is not easy to see since houses completely cover it and there are no noticeable depressions marking an edge like on the western and southern sides. The chance to investigate the northern and eastern boundaries of the Malih was possible through attending a local wedding within Beni Mansour. Attending the wedding was a fun experience, but it also gave me the chance to realize that unless you had knowledge of the area as the Malih, you would not be able to tell that it was once two ponds, let alone an ancient sacred lake. I will admit that it was not until I started this project that I finally looked at the area of Malih as a body of water rather than just a part of a modern town. Investigating the Malih not only occurred from the ground, but also through satellite images gathered by Joe. By combining what we learned from ground exploration and these images, we gained a better understanding of the Malih’s overall size along with its relation to the Osiris temple and the sacred processional way.

The southwestern edge of the Malih from the Kom es-Sultan

The southwestern edge of the Malih from the Kom es-Sultan

The western edge of the Malih from the remnants of the Osiris temple

The western edge of the Malih from the remnants of the Osiris temple

The culmination of this summer’s research on the Malih/sacred lake occurred in Prague when Joe and I presented our current findings at the Profane Landscapes, Sacred Places Conference held by the Czech Institute for Egyptology on June 26th and June 27th. The conference’s topic of sacred landscape and places in ancient Egypt offered a great opportunity for us to present our current research as well as receive feedback. We were not the only lake people at the conference, other presenters talked about lakes at Giza and Abusir, which provided comparable research and some new ideas concerning the investigation of lakes in the ancient Egyptian landscape. Joe and I co-presented on the Malih/sacred lake the second day of the conference to a well-receiving group of Egyptologists who provided valuable comments and ideas. Overall, the conference was an important experience and concluded with some well-deserved Czech Pilsner.

Now that Joe and I are back from Abydos and Prague, we are discussing the next steps of the sacred lake project. Listening to other conference presenters gave us the chance to figure out how to answer some questions we already had and develop new questions, with two questions that stand out in particular. What was the original size of the sacred lake? Was the water source that filled the sacred lake from the Nile River or a desert source? Answering the first question will involve sediment core drillings across Beni Mansour, which will allow us to look at the sediment pattern of different areas, like the desert and floodplain, as well as distinguish the boundaries of a sediment pattern typical for a lake that could indicate the sacred lake’s original size. Answering the second question will involve learning more about the hydrology of the floodplain and desert, along with looking at studies done on the Osireion and its water source. Another part of this project is to interview locals and record any stories related to the Malih before it was covered. We hoped to find stories like those recorded by Omm Sety, such as the nightly visit of a golden boat on the Malih. These stories might provide some useful details about the Malih as well as preserve some interesting and colorful stories.

Houmdi (left) and I (right) at his daughter’s wedding, sitting in the courtyard of his home built within the area of the Malih. Photo from Jamie Kelly

Houmdi (left) and I (right) at his daughter’s wedding, sitting in the courtyard of his home built within the area of the Malih. Photo from Jamie Kelly

In the upcoming seasons, it will be exciting to see more information about the sacred lake come to light as we continue to conduct research and answer more questions. I hope this research will re-introduce the Malih as the sacred lake of the Osiris temple and show its importance to the landscape of Abydos. In the future, the knowledge gained from this project can contribute to other questions about the changing boundary of the floodplain and desert at Abydos as well as discover additional lakes that once dotted the Abydos landscape.

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Ur Digitization Project: August 2014

Deep Pits and Early Burials
Spotlight on 31-17-404: Ubaid Period Skeleton from Ur
More about the rediscovered skeleton from grave PFG/Z

On August 5, 2014, the Penn Museum released a press announcement about a 6,500-year-old skeleton in its collection that had been reconnected to a key piece of its history by the Ur Digitization Project. The announcement captured imaginations worldwide and we have been inundated with questions about it. So, what better topic for this month’s Ur blog than this, the earliest skeleton preserved from the site of Ur?

31-17-404 in its original crate. Composite photo by Kyle Cassidy.

31-17-404 in its original shipping crate. Composite photo by Kyle Cassidy.

Even though Woolley uncovered thousands of bodies, he only saved about 30 skeletons or parts of skeletons from the Royal Cemetery, ones that were in good enough condition for analysis of the day. Most of these went to Sir Arthur Keith at the Royal College of Surgeons and are now in the Natural History Museum in London.

The majority of bodies at Ur were not in good condition. Woolley preserved a few of these by pouring wax over the fragile bones and the dirt surrounding them. He did this for several skulls from the Royal Cemetery, dating approximately 2500BCE. Penn received two of these skulls, both currently on display. One is the skull of a soldier or guard, complete with helmet. The other is the skull of a female attendant, complete with golden headdress. Woolley meant these for display rather than for analysis, as techniques of his day couldn’t work well with largely flattened ancient bone.

After completing excavations in the Royal Cemetery, Woolley became interested in the earliest periods of the site. Thus, he dug a very deep trench (designated Pit F) in an already low spot inside the Temenos wall (the area surrounding the sacred space). This was a relatively central point and one where he would not be burdened by huge amounts of later remains since it was already worn down. He reported the level of the top of the pit “not more than 18 meters above sea level,” though his section drawing shows it at 17 meters above.

He dug through eight occupation levels at the top of Pit F and then through a large-scale pottery-making area and finally through deposits that were cut through with burials. One of the lowest of these deposits was the ‘flood layer,’ about three meters of water-lain silt. In Ur Excavations volume 4 Woolley reports: “we found some 49 graves dug down to and into the Flood deposit,” though the appendix to the volume only describes 48 (the 49th is almost certainly one mentioned as a possible second burial immediately beneath Grave U). He labeled each with PFG (Pit F Grave) followed by a letter from A to VV, skipping H, I, and II (skipping H was probably a simple error, as he did not skip HH, but it was Woolley’s general practice to leave out the letter I in designators as it would too often be mistaken for the numeral 1).

The burials were not in one mass, but spread across the lower portion of Pit F, the result of an ancient cemetery. Furthermore, they divided into two major groups. In the uppermost group, bodies were ‘flexed,’ that is, they lay on their sides with their knees drawn up. In the lower group, the bodies lay on their backs, stretched out to their full length. Woolley believed that both groups were Ubaid period, but later analysis indicates that the upper group is probably early Uruk period.

Woolley found Ubaid house remains beneath the flood layer and he assigned this period Ubaid 1. The burials in the flood layer he assigned Ubaid 2, but he mentioned the similarity in pottery of both groups. The pottery found with the graves is the chief way we date the skeletons and the particular skeleton 31-17-404, from PFG/Z, had 10 clay vessels buried at its feet. These are of distinctive Ubaid types, but types we now know to be late Ubaid, somewhere around the division between Ubaid 3 and 4, approximately 4500BCE.

Woolley didn’t map the location of his deep pits terribly well, but he did divide Pit F into 5×5 meter grid squares. He didn’t show the exact location of every burial, but he did report them to their five meter squares and to their elevations above sea level. With the help of aerial photos, we can place Pit F in its correct location on the site and show just where each the grave was placed in all three dimensions with relatively good accuracy.

Location of Pit F. At left is an aerial photo from 1930, at right the location of the pit has been inserted into Woolley's map of Ur in the UrIII period (later than the Ubaid burial).

Location of Pit F. At left is an aerial photo from 1930, at right the location of the pit has been inserted into Woolley’s map of Ur in the UrIII period (later than the Ubaid burial).

Pit F Grave Z was found in square D5 at 3.15 meters above sea level (~14 meters below the surface of the mound). It was in the lower of the two groups, but like all of the burials, it was dug down from above the flood layer and into it. This shows that the man in the grave lived after the flood, though we don’t know exactly how long after. He was not covered over by the flood as some might think when looking at the drawing of the location of his body inside the silt.

The bones of the Ubaid burials were in particularly bad condition and the one in PFG/Z (later designated 31-17-404) was the only one that Woolley spoke of as in any shape to be preserved. He covered the bones in wax, just as he had done with the later skulls in the Royal Cemetery, and almost certainly thought of this as a display item rather than a study item. That is probably why he sent it to Philadelphia. We didn’t have a Physical Anthropology Section at the time, but a representative sample of all Ur material was to be sent to each museum, and the human remains had mostly gone to London. The body had been excavated either in December of 1929 or January of 1930 and had spent a long time thereafter getting to London. It then became part of the division that was conducted in March of 1931.

Nearly 85 years later, not only does Penn have an excellent Physical Anthropology Section, we also have new techniques for analyzing the fragile and wax-coated skeleton, such as CT scans, DNA testing, and isotope testing. By reconnecting a skeleton to its records, we have reestablished a key portion of the history of this person and he can now help us to learn about his culture in ways that his excavators never predicted. It’s a great example of why the Ur Digitization Project is doing what it’s doing: reexamining all the records from Ur.

Note: The Ubaid skeleton will be on display in the Penn Museum Artifact Lab in September and October where conservators can be observed working on it. Come see this amazing discovery!

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Archaeology at the border: Survey and excavation in Xinjiang (continued)

As we approach the end of the field season, with 2 weeks remaining, the cold weather  also begins to settle in. Since I last wrote, the grass has yellowed, leaving flocks of sheep and cow to scavenge from what is left from a summer much drier than prior years. The rainmakers had to be called in to induce precipitation by dispersing silver iodide into the clouds.

Up goes the rocket and down comes the rain.

Up goes the rocket and down comes the rain.

We are currently excavating the twenty graves we exposed at the site of Adonqolu this season. The site lies on the gentle south-facing slopes between two mountain ranges (please refer to my previous post for description). The graves are all oriented east-west with their capstones arranged generally in a north-south direction. They are lined with, most commonly, erect stone slabs on all four sides of the grave, and they sit inside quadrangular structures outlined by either erect stone slabs or flat-lying stones. Graves in the same enclosure may be dated to different time periods, and this chronological gap can be discerned by observing the stratigraphy as well as structural configurations. To understand their spatial arrangement and chronological relationship, we are also creating 3D reconstruction models using a photogrammetry software. All archaeological findings are shot in with a total station and the distribution of finds will be correlated with the structures in three dimensional space.

DSCF2912Besides gazing at human crania with Europoid features, the other highlight of my fieldwork has been the bronze objects I excavated in one of the graves, which include bronze beads, bronze bracelets/anklets, small bronze ornaments that might have been affixed to clothing, and what look like bronze mirrors (see picture at left). What is also interesting is that the bronze objects are mixed in a concentrated deposit of burnt human bones. Unlike this grave, most other graves yielded flat bottomed ceramic pots with incised patterns (picture below) that can be attributed to the Andronovo Culture of Central Asia, bronze objects are limited to one or two pieces if not absent. Where the bones of the deceased have been preserved, they are usually placed in a fetal position with the head facing north in the western end of the grave. Secondary burials have also been found.

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Since our day is long, starting normally at 9am when the moon still hangs high in the sky, and ending at 8pm when the evening sun is still above the horizon, we take a siesta in our Mongol yurts with a pot of traditional milk tea. In the month of August, the weather has varied from tank top and shorts to thermal wear with fleece and wind jacket. The strong winds in the mountains are unrelenting at times, leaving us covered  completely in dirt at the excavation site. Teamwork is one of the most paramount aspects of archaeological fieldwork, and I am privileged to have worked with a team that has held its own through rain and shine.

Lifting the capstones with a pulley.

Lifting the capstones with a pulley.

While I find the hospitality of the herds equalling endearing as their owners, my companions beg to differ – we often find cows and camels roaming near our site, finding their way into our latrines and once, through our kitchen. They are also the most unperturbed pedestrians, they would stroll into the middle of the road at the most inopportune moments. But to be fair, this vast area of grassland is their home and we are the trespassers. They are the livelihood of many Mongols and Kazakhs who practice pastoralism in the area today, and most of whom I met have enthusiastically showed me their lifeways. I learnt how they make milk products including yoghurt, butter, hard cheese, and what they call milk wine (you add a dollop of butter and drink it hot!), all products derived from animal husbandry. They also showed me how to felt by hand. With increased industrialization, these traditional skills are gradually losing their limelight; it is also difficult for the pastoralists to keep making these products once they move into the urban environment, these processes require communal effort, an outdoor setting, and tools that cannot be found in stores. As I made these observations, it became more apparent to me the importance of documenting these activities before the skill sets are completely forgone by future generations.

[My summer fieldwork is supported by grants from the Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS and the Penn Museum.]

Making milk wine from fermented milk by distillation.

Making milk wine from fermented milk by distillation.

Making cheese

Making cheese 

Preparing the wool for felting.

Preparing the wool for felting.

Laying the felt

Laying the felt

The kids love kicking and rolling the felt roll.

The kids love kicking and rolling the felt roll.

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A Glance into the Lives of the Roman Peasantry: Four Weeks of Excavation with the Roman Peasant Project

Ceramics from the Tombarelle site

Ceramics from the Tombarelle site

This summer, I had the pleasure of being accepted to be a part of the sixth and final season of the Roman Peasant Project. I excavated alongside a team of professional archaeologists, professors, and graduate, PhD, and undergraduate students in rural Tuscany in Cinigiano, a municipality in the Province of Grosseto. The site we excavated was called Tombarelle. The Roman Peasant Project, directed by Kim Bowes, Cam Grey, Emanuele Vaccaro, and Mari Ghisleni, is one of very few archaeological excavations that seeks to uncover and investigate the lifestyles of peasants in the Roman period. Since a great majority of the material culture of Roman antiquity represents persons of wealth and status, this project is very important for expanding the views gathered from these traditional sources. Being the final season of the project, I was very excited to learn of the accumulation of data over the years and the conclusions drawn from the evidence discovered across rural Tuscany.

Having had no previous experience in archaeology, with the exception of an introductory course taken during the first semester of my freshman year, I quickly learned the elementary concepts of rescue-style excavation. Unlike tradition excavation, this style of archaeology requires the digging and investigation of an area to occur at a brisk pace. The four trenches we excavated were first discovered through use of an archaeological survey. They were dug quickly and were some of the many areas of interest for excavation in Cinigiano.  Following the survey, an excavator was called to remove the first few layers of soil, and we began the excavation by troweling in order to clean the trenches. It was quite a funny thing for one to “clean” dirt, and I have to say, I enjoyed every minute of it.

Discovering artifacts and new methods of surveying was both a very entertaining and exciting endeavor. Within the first week, we began work with pick axes and shovels and discovered our first finds of the excavation, with many of them dating from the fifth century AD. When a found had been made, a series of happy squeals emanated from those of us new to the field of archaeology. By the end of the second week, I had not only worked on every area of the dig site, but also had also learned to take measurements with a dumpy level. This required me to look through a leveled instrument to read certain heights on a measurement stick, almost like peering through a telescope at a vertical ruler. After taking the level of a small find and a fixed point, a small amount of math was applied to find the height of the artifact in respect to the sea level. Whenever such a prominent small find was uncovered, like a piece of Roman glass, for example, a dumpy level and a total station would be the instruments used to document the location of said small find.

Trench 17000 of the Tombarelle site

Trench 17000 of the Tombarelle site

I worked primarily in two trenches during the duration of the excavation. For the first week and a half, I worked mainly on a structure thought to be a cistern. By the end of the dig, we discovered that it had, indeed, been used as a cistern during Roman times but had been reconditioned to serve as a basement of a medieval tower. It was in trench 17000, however, where I spent most of the hours and the remaining two and a half weeks of the excavation. During the third week of excavating trench 17000, we uncovered a tile floor, mostly flat. This floor was surrounded on two sides by what appeared to be walls. This building could very well have been a Roman house. In addition to learning the physical aspects of an archaeological excavation, I learned how to fill out context sheets for my trench and transcribe the written context sheets onto a computer database.

Our finds led us to question the complexity of what a Roman peasant truly was. The peasants we studied in Cinigiano lived in rural societies. It is unknown, however, if they were as poverty-stricken as traditional views would relay. It was interesting to discover that the evidence from the material culture we unearthed suggested that the Roman peasants of this area had a great knowledge of the world outside of their farms and agricultural societies. Throughout the course of the dig, we unearthed pottery sherds, including some pieces of Terra sigillata, animal bone fragments, and pieces of tile and imbrex. Many of the pottery sherds we found were from pots and amphora that were replicas of original pieces found elsewhere across the Roman Empire. Two particular potsherds that we found had leaf-like designs etched into the clay. The pottery specialists on the excavation confirmed that these particular pieces were, indeed, reproductions of the originals. In respect to the animal bones we found, which were the bones of both cows and pigs, some possessed gnaw marks while others did not. This could suggest that these animals, in addition to being raised for sustenance, were used for certain manufacturing purposes. The building we found, if not a house, could have been a tannery or a farm. It could have also served another industrial purpose. This suggests that these peasants were involved in the manufacturing of, importation, and exportation of goods for trade.

My experience with the Roman Peasant Project in Cinigiano was an amazing one. Not only did I learn about the field of archaeology as a whole, but also I met many outstanding friends and scholars. We spent many days laughing and singing in the trenches and many late nights talking after dinner about careers, the future, favorite television shows, and, of course, the ancient world that we were attempting to uncover. My first bout with archaeology may not have been quite so exhilarating as Indiana Jones might have found it, but, in all honesty, I probably had just as much fun as the good doctor.

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The Corinth Excavations

The Temple of Apollo at Corinth.  This is the view I see each day as I walk from the excavation house to the Museum.

Fig. 1. The Temple of Apollo at Corinth. This is the view I see each day as I walk from the excavation house to the Museum.

I am writing from the site of Ancient Corinth, where excavations under the auspices of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens have been going on since the late 19th century.  The Corinth Excavations have been a training ground for generations of archaeologists, including me, and I thank the director, Guy Sanders, and assistant director, Ioulia Tzonou-Herbst, for making Corinth such a wonderful place to work.  I’ve been working at Corinth for a long time, so I’m also indebted to the director emeritus, Charles Williams, and the assistant director emerita, Nancy Bookidis, for a scholarly lifetime of support, encouragement, and friendship.

At Corinth, I am working on late seventh and early sixth century BCE pottery from the area known as the Potters’ Quarter.   Up next to the city wall on the west side of the city, the Potters’ Quarter is one of the sites around the city where pottery was produced.   The Potters’ Quarter was excavated by Agnes Newhall Stillwell, a graduate of Bryn Mawr College, for several years beginning in 1929, when she was a fellow at the American School.  No kilns where the pottery was fired have been discovered in the Potters’ Quarter, but the large quantities of damaged–misfired, cracked, misshapen–pottery as well as much material associated with pottery production, especially try-pieces, that are found in fills and deposits make clear that pottery was produced nearby.

Corinth C-31-46

Fig 2. Corinth C-31-46

I am working on the very large quantity of material from a well–Well 1929-1 in Corinth nomenclature–in the Potters’ Quarter.  The well was dug in the 7th century BCE and once it went dry, it was filled up with quantities of pottery, discarded no doubt from nearby potteries.  Some of the pottery from the well was published by Stillwell and J. L. Benson (Corinth XV:3:  The Potters Quarter: The Pottery.  Princeton 1984), but much remained unstudied and that is what I am working on.  I am particularly interested in the different painters whose work is represented in the well’s contents, and here I’ll focus on the painters of the shape known in Corinth as the kotyle.  It’s the same as a skyphos, a deep two-handled drinking cup, and the kotyle is very common in Corinthian pottery of the late seventh to mid-sixth centuries BCE.   Some Corinthian kotylai (the plural of kotyle) are very fine, but not the ones I’m working with.   An example, Corinth C-31-46, (fig. 2) from elsewhere at Corinth shows the shape–only one handle is visible here–and the decorative scheme, which includes a figural zone that here has an elongated panther and part of another animal.

Philadelphia 49-33-26

Fig. 3. Philadelphia 49-33-26

I have grown quite familiar with the style of these Corinthian kotyle painters, and one day, a few years ago, when I was looking a drawer of pottery sherds in the Mediterranean Section, I saw a small fragment by a painter well known to me from the kotylai of my Potters’ Quarter well.   The fragment, 49-33-26 (fig. 3), is part of a small study collection of Greek pottery, some of it from the Potters’ Quarter, which came to the Museum sixty-five years ago thanks to the generosity of the Greek government.  The Penn fragment is the work of an artist we call the Painter of KP- 248, whose name vase is from the Potters’ Quarter.  That fragment preserves the head of a panther, and you can see that same panther face in another little sherd, Corinth L-29-10-302, (fig. 4) also by the painter and also from the well.  And you see it again in the group of joining fragments, Corinth L-29-10-92, (fig. 6) which preserves about a third of the kotyle and has two elongated panthers (the head of the panther at the right is not preserved); these fragments are from the well and are the work of the Painter of KP-248.  The Painter of KP-248 was clearly painting his kotylai at a pretty rapid rate and usually stretches out his animals so that there’s only room for three in the picture zone.

Corinth L-29-10-302

Fig. 4. Corinth L-29-10-302

Corinth L-29-10-11 by the Painter of KP 14

Fig. 5. Corinth L-29-10-11 by the Painter of KP 14

To see how the style of the Painter of KP-248 is different from that of other Corinthian vase-painters, compare it to that of the kotyle Corinth C-31-36 above  (fig. 2), again from elsewhere at Corinth, and also to this other kotyle fragment, L-29-10-11, (fig. 5) from the well, by an artist also named for a complete kotyle in the well, the Painter of KP-14 (Yes, the painters have boring nicknames.   Of course, we don’t know the painters’ real names, so we give them nicknames, sometimes rather dull ones.).   You can see that the painters use the same idiom as they delineate their panther faces, with eyes flanking a prominent nose ridge, curved ears a little like leaves, and little lines to mark the muzzle or the whiskers.  But you can also see how alike the Painter of KP-248′s kotylai are and how different they are from the others, how different the details of the style of the Painter of KP-248 are from those of the other painters.

Corinth L-29-10-92

Fig. 6. Corinth L-29-10-92

The group of joining fragments, Corinth L-29-10-92 (fig. 6) by the Painter of KP 248, shows some variation in color because of problems with the firing.  You can see the animals and ornament are brownish instead of black, and there’s a reddish area on the top of the left panther’s head, on the right panther’s tail, and on the dots of fill ornament above the right panther’s back.  This reminds us of the extensive and important evidence that the material from the Potters’ Quarter provides for the study of the technology of pottery production.  And a new generation of scholars is discovering the significance of the Potters’ Quarter material, through new technical and scientific studies.  Amanda Reiterman (fig. 7), graduate student in Penn’s Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World program and Kolb Junior Fellow, and Bice Peruzzi, a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati, are doing new technical and scientific studies of the Potters’ Quarter material so that we may better understand pottery production and technology in the Corinth of the seventh and sixth centuries BCE.

Working on Potters' Quarter material Corinth with Amanda Reiterman, graduate student in the Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World program, last summer.

Fig. 7. Working on Potters’ Quarter material at Corinth with Amanda Reiterman, graduate student in the Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World program, last summer.

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Baths in the Dirt: Season 2 at Cosa

“Depart, work and troubles! Now I sing of the baths that sparkle with shining stones…”
-Statius, Silvae 1.5

Roman baths were famous for their opulence and ubiquity, and are spoken of admiringly by a number of ancient authors. To excavate a Roman bath, however, is a different matter. The baths do not sparkle, nor do the stones shine. Caked in millennia of dirt, their walls emerge mud-stained and crumbling. Only after cleaning and conserving our finds can we glimpse the gleam of the marble, the luster of the glass. Little by little, we begin to imagine the baths as they were meant to be.

Thanks to the generous support of the Penn Museum, I was able to return for my second season at the Roman site of Cosa. Founded in 273 BC, Cosa sits high on the Ansedonian hill overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. Although American excavations at the site began as early as 1948, they have been intermittent, and much remains unexplored. Our new project, directed by Andrea de Giorgi, Russell T. Scott, and Richard Posamentir, is focused on the large bath complex just northwest of the forum.

Sitting on a Roman street at Cosa

Sitting on a Roman street at Cosa

In our first season (2013), we uncovered the substantial remains of a laconicum—a round heated room popular in Roman bathhouses. Initial investigation of the building’s facades were also begun, and explored in more detail during the 2014 season. My trench is in the southern sector of the complex, and was opened in order to investigate the relationship of the building’s exterior (made clear by the presence of an ancient Roman street to its south) to the large western cistern area.

We uncovered several well-preserved masonry walls that intersect at right angles and help clarify the axis of the building. The rooms they separated are paved with Roman waterproof concrete which, we discovered much to our chagrin, worked all too well when the site was hit by relentless rainstorms in mid-June.

Rainwater pooling on a floor made of  (still working!) Roman waterproof concrete

Rainwater pooling on a floor made of (still working!) Roman waterproof concrete

Two large thresholds were also discovered in the southern sector of the bath complex, and must have served as principle entrances to the building.

Entrance to the bath building

Entrance to the bath building

Exploring the tunnel

Exploring the tunnel

Because the hill of Cosa has no natural water source, a major question of our project is how the hydraulic system functioned: how was water collected, stored, transported to the bathhouse, and distributed within the building? Part of our work this summer involved a detailed investigation of the nearby reservoir system, which is connected to the baths by a tunnel beneath the ancient street.

A new and exciting aspect of the 2014 season involved the increased use of digital technology. Our Quadcopter UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) was able to take aerial photos of the site, improving mapping capabilities and creating 3D models of standing features (the city walls, the arx, and the forum) and of our excavated trenches. These models will allow archaeologists to study and explore the site remotely, even after the excavation season ends.

Aerial view of the arx (photo courtesy of Matthew Brennan)

Aerial view of the arx (photo courtesy of Matthew Brennan)

After a fascinating and productive season, much remains to be explored at Cosa’s baths. I hope to return again next summer, whether or not they “sparkle with shining stones.”

The team (photo courtesy of Matthew Brennan)

The team (photo courtesy of Matthew Brennan)

For more information on our project, visit: http://www.cosaexcavations.com/index.html

To see our 2014 daily blog, visit: http://cosaexcavations.blogspot.it/

To view 3D models of the site, visit: https://sketchfab.com/matthewbrennan/folders/af22e37edf8840c0be5bcc07c0a52c4e

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