Rapoltu Mare: The Crossroad of Roman Dacia – Dwight Wu

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.


 

My name is Dwight Wu and I am a Ph.D. student in the Ancient History program at the University of Pennsylvania. Thanks to a generous grant from the Penn Museum, I will be working with a team organized by Archaeotek on an excavation and survey project at Rapoltu Mare, Romania. In this post, I would like to share with you some of the things I have found regarding the surroundings of our site, as part of my preparation for the dig.

Rapoltu Mare is a small village on the banks of the Mureş River. The nearest Roman site is Petris, a small waypoint identified on the Peutinger Table.

Post 1 Map 1

The location of Petris according to omnesviae.org, a Roman route planner that maps the Peutinger Table onto Google Earth. (Photo credit: René Voorburg)

The location of Petris itself, however, is not securely supported by inscriptional evidence. Petris is identified with the modern village of Uroi based on the distance recorded on the Peutinger Table or Tabula Peutingeriana, namely XIII millia passuum or roughly 20 km from Adaqua (modern Călan), and VIIII millia passuum or 14 km from Germisara. Since Adaquas and Germisara are both known points, the logical thing to do is to draw a line and measure out a point that agrees with the Peutinger Table’s descriptions.

Post 1 Pic 2

The distance between Adaquas and Germisara on the Peutinger Table. (Photo credit: René Voorburg)

Other than the Peutinger Table, all that could be said about Uroi is that there is a Roman presence in the form of building foundations, possibly villae rusticae, or rural estates, and objects datable to the Roman period – such as tiles, ceramic fragments, and a sarcophagus with coins among other items. Without inscriptions that identify Uroi as Petris, however, one could only take this identification so far. Nevertheless, the settlement at Uroi was likely important enough for it to be treated as a waypoint on the imperial road, as it is associated with the andesite quarry at Magura Uroiului, a protruding precipice north of Uroi and overlooking the Mureş River. It is the region’s most important construction resource, used by Dacians to build fortresses in the Oraştie mountains and by Romans for monumental projects at Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa.

While Rapoltu Mare has yet to be systematically excavated, materials datable to the Roman period have been found at a plateau called “La vie,” located to the southwest of Magura Uroiului. The results of the trial excavation – aside from tiles, bricks, and cattle bones – include a foundation wall that has now been identified as a villa, making this the third villa rustica, or rural estate, found in the environs of Uroi. The current theory is that Uroi and its surrounding settlements – including Rapoltu Mare and Simeria – formed a productive and convenient location where investments in property were also taking place. This summer, the aim of our project is to further excavate the rural estate, and survey the plateau with GPR (ground penetrating radar) to map out the scale of human habitation under the top soil.

While at Rapoltu Mare, I hope to visit other Roman and Dacian sites, such as Germizera at modern-day Cigmău and Vetel-Micia, both military vici, or civilian settlements, that grew around Roman garrisons, flanking the Uroi-Rapolt region to the west and east. Most interesting would be to visit the fortresses in the Orastie mountains, including Sarmizegetusa Regia, the sacred place of the Dacians.

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Teens and Trips: Cultural Heritage Education at Gordion, Turkey

By Janelle Sadarananda, with Naomi F. Miller and Ayşe Gürsan-Salzmann

This post is part of a series reporting on the Gordion Cultural Heritage Education Project, conceptualized and led by Ayşe Gürsan-Salzmann, Deputy Director of the Gordion Project. Naomi F. Miller, consulting scholar at the Penn Museum, and Janelle Sadarananda, graduate student in AAMW, provided additional adult supervision in 2015.


Hello again from the educators and participants of the Gordion Project’s Cultural Heritage Education Program! If you’re just joining us on our adventure (macera in Turkish, an important word for our group), the goal of the program is to expose local high school students to the history and archaeology of central Turkey through hands-on activities and field trips. You can read a more detailed introduction to the program in our first post. Through this program, we hope that students will not only take ownership of their local cultural heritage, but also grow as global citizens as they see how Turkey’s archaeology, history, and landscape connect to the wider world.

Two of our fieldtrips in July allowed us to combine the study of archaeology with modern cultural experiences, and to discover more of central Turkey’s beautiful landscapes. We took one trip to Juliopolis, a Roman site that has hundreds of excavated tombs full of interesting artifacts, and had several other adventures along the way. On another day, we traveled to Kaman-Kalehöyük, a site occupied in the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and the Ottoman period, excavated by a Japanese team. Exposure to new places, new people, and new information on these trips is encouraging the students to appreciate their cultural heritage and to broaden their horizons.

01_juliosign

Photo by J. Sadarananda

Welcome to Juliopolis! The students saw artifacts from the site earlier this summer in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. The damming of the Sakarya River inundated most of the site, though the necropolis remains above the water line.

Photo by G. Bieg

Photo by G. Bieg

After a brief refresher on the site by Halil Demirdelen (Vice Director of the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations and often our tour guide on fieldtrips), the students trekked through the necropolis to find a tomb, read its informational plaque, and report their findings to the group.

Photo by G. Bieg

Our earlier visit to the Roman temple of Augustus in Ankara. Photo by G. Bieg

Seeing the actual remains of burials at the site helped the students make connections between Juliopolis and what they had learned on previous trips to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations and on our tour of Roman Ankara.

Photo by G. Bieg

Photo by G. Bieg

After our time at Juliopolis, the day was far from over – as Naomi says, “Macera devam ediyor!” (The adventure continues!) We combined archaeology and ancient history with a 21st-century surprise: Halil Bey had arranged with the Belediye (local government) for a boat ride on the Sakarya.

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Photo by J. Sadarananda

The students were thrilled – one said that this was the first time she had ever been on a boat. The generosity of the Belediye also illustrated how our cultural heritage education program is gaining enthusiastic support from people in neighboring towns. There is a sense that young people should have the opportunity to learn about their region’s history and landscape firsthand.

Photo by G. Bieg

Photo by G. Bieg

Ayşe remarked on the bittersweet nature of the boat ride – the water and scenery were beautiful, but we were sailing over the submerged houses and marketplaces of ancient Juliopolis.

photo by J. Sadarananda

Photo by J. Sadarananda

After the boat ride, we continued appreciating nature and considering the benefits and losses associated with the damming of the Sakarya when we stopped at Nallihan Bird Sanctuary. This wildlife park offers a home to a variety of birds, including several species of herons, gulls, and ducks. It is thanks to the damming of the river that this ideal bird habitat formed.

Photo by J. Sadarananda

Photo by J. Sadarananda

We got a close-up view of some baby herons!

Photo by G. Bieg

Photo by G. Bieg

The day ended with tea, free time, and shopping in Beypazarı, a charming town with a reconstructed Ottoman center. The students enjoyed the freedom to wander and browse.

Photo by N. F. Miller

Photo by N. F. Miller

Photo by G. Bieg

Photo by G. Bieg

Beypazarı is known for its delicious carrot juice!

Though the day began with archaeology at Juliopolis, the trip encapsulated the multidimensional nature of the cultural heritage program – the students spent time taking in the natural landscape, considering how development projects affect both archaeology and nature, and doing some of their own exploring. We hope that combining all of these elements allows the teenagers to grow as people and to form their own opinions. The excited chatter and laughter on the bus ride back home signaled that this day of adventure had been a success!

Our next adventure took us to Kaman-Kalehöyük. Joining our usual group were three Turkish university students from the Gordion project, and we encountered more new friends at Kaman Kalehöyük – an international team of researchers headed by Japanese archaeologists.

Photo by G. Bieg

Photo by G. Bieg

Our group at Kaman-Kalehöyük. On the left is Dr. Kimiyoshi Matsumura of the Japanese Institute of Anatolian Archaeology/The Middle Eastern Culture Center in Japan. Along with three Turkish university students, Gordion’s house manager, Zekeriya, was also a new addition to our group for this trip.

Photo by G. Bieg

Photo by G. Bieg

As Dr. Matsumura explained the Japanese researchers’ discoveries over 30 years of excavation, our students took in another perspective of the importance and value of Turkey’s archaeological sites.

Photos by G. Bieg

Photos by G. Bieg

In the labs at the Japanese Institute of Anatolian Archaeology, students learned about research in human osteology, conservation, archaeobotany, and zooarchaeology from the researchers themselves. In fact, the zooarchaeologist had set out a few bags of astragali (“knucklebones”).

Photo by G. Bieg

Photo by G. Bieg

One of the most special things about Kaman-Kalehöyük is the Japanese garden on the grounds of the Institute. A piece of Japan in Turkey!

Photo by J. Sadarananda

Photo by J. Sadarananda

During our time at Kaman-Kalehöyük, the students were able to connect their previous fieldtrips and activities with what they were learning from Matsumaru-san. In the research labs and at the museum, the students also reflected on their hands-on experiences at Gordion in light of what the Kaman researchers were working on. They recognized the knucklebones in the zooarchaeology lab from Janine’s talk at Gordion, and they were blasé about the potsherds that visitors are allowed to touch in the Kaman museum – after all, they had excavated sherds themselves last week!

During the trips to Juliopolis and Kaman Kalehöyük, the students not only expanded their knowledge of Turkey’s history and landscapes, they also began to make connections and synthesize information. Furthermore, as a group, they began to develop a sense of camaraderie. Not even a flat tire on the way home from Kaman could dampen their spirits!

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Sealings, Snakes, and Sacred Lakes: A Report from the 2015 Summer Season at Abydos – Part 1- Paul Verhelst

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.


The 2015 Penn Museum Research Team- From Left: Chelsea Cordle, Dr, Jane Hill, Paul Verhelst, Matt Olson, Dr. Jennifer Wegner, Alexander Wegner, Dr. Joe Wegner. Photo by Dr. Jennifer Wegner

The 2015 Penn Museum Research Team – From Left: Chelsea Cordle, Dr. Jane Hill, Paul Verhelst, Matt Olson, Dr. Jennifer Wegner, Alexander Wegner, Dr. Joe Wegner. (Photo credit: Dr. Jennifer Wegner)

Every excavation season in Egypt has a tradition of providing something new, whether it is a new experience, new knowledge, or a new discovery. This summer was a continuation of that tradition as I returned for my fifth excavation season at the archaeological site of Abydos with the Penn Museum research team. Abydos is located in the middle of Egypt, about 300 miles south of Cairo, and is the setting for many excavations focusing on different periods of ancient Egyptian history. Current Penn Museum research focuses on the Middle Kingdom Funerary Enclosure of Senwosret III and the town-site of Wah-sut, the Second Intermediate Period Royal Necropolis, and the New Kingdom cemetery located in South Abydos. This summer season I spent most of my time excavating in the town-site of Wah-sut as well as continuing my research on the remnants of a sacred lake known today as the Malih. This blog post will focus on the sealings and snakes or excavation portion of my time at Abydos this summer. The sacred lake portion of my summer involves conducting more research on the Malih, which I will talk about in a later blog post.

Left: Map of South Abydos with the town of Wah-sut indicated by the red box (Photo from Josef Wegner, “New Light on Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period.” Near Eastern Archaeology 78 (2015): 69) Right: Detailed map of Wah-sut with the 2015 excavation units indicated by the red box (Photo from Josef Wegner, “Modeling the Mayor’s House at South Abydos.” Expedition 56 (2014): 26)

Left: Map of South Abydos with the town of Wah-sut indicated by the red box (Photo from Josef Wegner, “New Light on Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period.” Near Eastern Archaeology 78 (2015): 69) Right: Detailed map of Wah-sut with the 2015 excavation units indicated by the red box (Photo from Josef Wegner, “Modeling the Mayor’s House at South Abydos.” Expedition 56 (2014): 26).

This summer gave me the chance to return to the town-site of Wah-sut, which the Middle Kingdom King Senwosret III founded in order to support the construction of his funerary enclosure and temple as well as maintain his funerary cult. The focus of my excavation was a large debris deposit near a building known as the areryt or administrative gatehouse. This debris deposit formed as residents of the mayor’s house and nearby houses dumped their garbage outside the town’s boundary wall near the areryt. From the reign of Senwosret III when Wah-sut was founded to the Late Middle Kingdom when it was abandoned (1850-1650 BCE), this debris deposit grew as the residents of the Wah-sut dumped numerous pottery sherds, animal bones, and other objects that made up their garbage. After the town’s abandonment, windblown sand covered the debris deposit and it remained relatively undisturbed for 3,800 years.

Unfortunately, sand is not the only thing covering the debris deposit today. Debris mounds from previous excavations along with modern garbage from the nearby village of el-Araba now cover the sand overlying the debris deposit. The excavation team worked for over a week to remove the debris mounds, garbage, and sand until they reached the grayish-brown silty soil of the debris deposit. Nothing rewards patience and hard work like finding so much that I was constantly bagging and tagging artifacts and recording in my notebook throughout the workday. I couldn’t have ask for a better typical day of excavation, especially since it made the workday fly by and the 100-120 degree Fahrenheit temperatures less noticeable.

My kufti Ramadan, in the tan gellabiya, oversees the excavation of my unit in the areryt debris deposit. Excavation in Wah-sut usually involves removing the debris mounds from past excavations and the garbage that accumulates from the modern village of el-Araba.

My kufti (foreman) Ramadan, in the tan gellabiya (traditional attire), oversees the excavation of my unit in the areryt debris deposit. Excavation in Wah-sut usually involves removing the debris mounds from past excavations and the garbage that accumulates from the modern village of el-Araba. (Photo by author)

So what kept me so busy throughout the workday? The most common artifact from the debris deposit was thousands of pottery sherds from a range of different vessel types. Usually there was the random assortment of pottery sherds, but occasionally we found a semi-intact pot, which began the search for the other pieces of the pot that would complete the 4,000-year-old jigsaw puzzle. Another artifact that comes out in large numbers is animal bones from cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, and fish, which the ancient Egyptians ate to satisfy their diets. Many of the bone elements that came out from the debris deposit were rib, feet, and vertebrae bones from the animals previously mentioned. However, this season provided some interesting bone elements from pigs and fish, which continue to be questions to which I’m still trying to find the answers. Other artifacts that came from the debris deposit include fruit pits, seeds, flint blades, alabaster vessel fragments, small clay figurines, loom weights, spinning whorls, a spinning bowl, balls of human hair, copper objects, and the always-present faience beads.

An artifact of particular importance from the debris deposits are small clay sealings, which are the remnants of a clay lump pressed over rope that was wrapped around doors, pots, boxes, baskets, and papyrus documents and then impressed with the seal of an individual or institution. The impressed clay sealing would officially close the door, pot, box, basket, or papyrus document and prevented anyone from tampering with it until an official broke the clay sealing in order to gain access to the object of interest and discarded the broken sealing. Such activity must have occurred in the areryt or mayor’s house in Wah-sut as the debris deposit contains a large variety of clay sealings.

Left: A pile of clay sealings from a single day of excavation, 169 sealings in total. Right: One of the typical areryt sealings found in many of the units within the debris deposit. (Areryt sealing photo from Josef Wegner, “Echoes of Power.” Expedition Magazine 48 (2006): 32)

Left: A pile of clay sealings from a single day of excavation, 169 sealings in total. (Photo by author) Right: One of the typical areryt sealings found in many of the units within the debris deposit. (Areryt sealing photo from Josef Wegner, “Echoes of Power.” Expedition 48 (2006): 32)

Finding these grayish-brown pieces of impressed clay is not an easy task as the debris deposit contains grayish-brown soil mixed with non-impressed grayish-brown clay lumps, as well as the other artifacts. However, the extra time and concentration needed to find the clays sealings are well worth it as the corpus of clay sealings has proved to be valuable in reconstructing the economic and administrative ties between individuals and institutions in Abydos during the Middle Kingdom. The excavations of this summer and previous excavations have produced thousands of clay sealings. Many of the clay sealings excavated from the debris deposit represent examples found elsewhere in Wah-sut. However, the debris deposit excavations have produced many examples of new and complete clay sealings, which may shed some new light on the interactions occurring between the Wah-sut, the Senwosret III funerary enclosure and temple, and other towns in Egypt during the Middle Kingdom.

Even though excavating the debris deposit in Wah-sut took up much of my time, occasionally I got the chance to venture to see Dr. Joe Wegner’s excavations near the Funerary Enclosure of Senwosret III. On one particular visit, it became apparent that there were a few snakes out that summer near where Dr. Wegner was working based on the amount of snake tracks visible in the sand. Having worked on various excavations in the United States, Jordan, and Egypt, I was used to dealing with a variety of wildlife, which is very much part of any archaeologist’s job. However, I had yet to encounter or even see my first snake in Egypt, but I knew the experience would happen eventually based on the stories from members of the Penn Museum research team.

The dead horned viper outside the tomb of Senebkay

The dead horned viper outside the tomb of Senebkay. (Photo by author)

On another visit to Dr. Wegner’s excavations, some workers noticed snake tracks leading into the tomb of Senebkay in which some people were working. I steered clear of Senebkay’s tomb and went to view the other excavations happening nearby. A few minutes later, one of the khuftis came to tell me that one of the workers had killed a horned viper in Senebkay’s tomb and invited me to come and see it. Luckily, my first snake experience in Egypt involved looking at the horned viper from a distance after it was dead rather than encountering a living one. It was surreal to see the horned viper. It was quite long and many workers commented on how it was the longest horned viper they had seen in Abydos. It even had the horns on its head, from which it gets its name. Many people got up close to take pictures of it, but I decided to take my pictures from a distance on top of a sand mound. I was perfectly happy to not be close to something so powerful and dangerous, whether it was dead or alive.

This summer season at Abydos has provided many new discoveries through excavating the debris deposit in the town-site of Wah-sut and finding some interesting artifacts, and some new experiences as I had my first and probably not my last snake encounter in Egypt. So as I said in the beginning of this blog post, Egypt does not disappoint when it comes to new discoveries and experiences.

 

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Back to the Baths: Season 3 at Cosa – Sophie Crawford-Brown

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.


At the beginning of June, the team returned to Cosa for our third season excavating the large bath complex near the forum.

Me with the museum cat—the newest addition to our team!

Me with the museum cat—the newest addition to our team! Photo credit: author

Cosa was founded as a Latin colony in 273 BCE. It sits high on a hill overlooking the plains and port below—a stunning view for us excavators as we sweat in the afternoon sun.

View of Cosa (photo by Matthew Brennan)

View of Cosa (Photo by Matthew Brennan)

In our first two seasons, we uncovered a laconicum (a round heated room), as well as several façade walls on the southern and eastern edges of the complex. Further investigation in the 2015 season revealed an impressive staircase leading directly from the street into the bathhouse!

Aerial view of our excavation area. The round outline of the laconicum is visible on the left (photo by Matthew Brennan).

Aerial view of our excavation area. The round outline of the laconicum is visible on the left (Photo by Matthew Brennan).

Close-up of the floor with its herringbone pattern.

Close-up of the floor with its herringbone pattern. Photo credit: author

With the perimeter walls better defined, we focused our efforts this season on the baths’ interior. My trench was between the laconicum and the area I worked in last year. In fact, one of the same plaster-faced walls uncovered at the end of the 2014 season extended all the way through the new trench! It marks the edge of a very large room, which seems to have been re-worked over multiple phases. A beautiful floor is still preserved at the bottom of the trench, part of which is finished in a herringbone pattern.

Matt photographing the trench at the end of the season.

Matt photographing the trench at the end of the season. Photo credit: author

Season after season, we are slowly gaining a better picture of what the baths would have looked like in their heyday. I can’t wait to see what 2016 will reveal!


For more information on our project, visit: http://www.cosaexcavations.org/

To read our daily excavation blog, visit: http://cosaexcavations.blogspot.it/

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

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Quartz Crystals and Camelids; Why They Chose Cuncaicha – Katherine Morucci

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.


August 1, 2015
Arequipa, Peru

From within my poorly constructed catacomb network of sleeping bag, liner, jackets, fleeces, hats, and gloves that refused to stay grounded to their designated locality, I wondered if death by hypothermia or hypoxia was preferable. By no means was my tomb helping my body cope with blood oxygen levels of 60% saturation—my heart rate and throbbing head vehemently assured—but a drafty air pocket was more than my system was willing to withstand. I remembered Dave laughing when I had mentioned that the temperature seemed to be dropping quickly. “When you’re sleeping on the puna, there comes a point in the night when you have to tell yourself, ‘everything will get better once the sun rises,’” he commented. At the time, I found this comment quite grim and slightly concerning, as I was already shivering in the back seat of the truck. And yet there I was—in my borrowed top-of-the-line camping equipment and cold-weather gear—praying for daybreak.

Sorting flotation heavy fractions, well bundled even during the day.

Sorting flotation heavy fractions, well bundled even during the day. Photo credit: author

“Why here?” I asked myself, frustrated with lack of sleep and an empty stomach that was unwilling to bear food. It was a rhetorical question—if we had any means to better understand why this now-forsaken land was once home to one of the earliest known Andean settlements, and possibly the largest site dating to the Pleistocene epoch, we wouldn’t be here.

Approximately 15,000 years ago humans entered the New World via the Bering Strait. Thereafter, humans migrated across the totality of the Americas in a blitz speed event that spanned approximately 2,000 years. This was by far the most rapid and large-scale migration event in recent human history. Considering the geographic and ecological diversity of the Americas, researchers have puzzled endlessly over how early settlers were able to adapt to and thrive in such distinct niches. For example, the peopling of Peru alone entailed the exploitation of coastal, canyon, mountainous, and high elevation plateau environments. Needless to say, some of these locations seem far more habitable than others. Which brings us back to an image of myself, encased in a mound of well-branded, miscellaneous fabric, fighting a losing battle against the puna floor, which robbed me unforgivingly of all homeostatic attempts to maintain a comfortable body temperature.

Of the places to settle in Peru, the high altitude Andes possesses some of the harshest climatic conditions. Obstacles such as high solar radiation, hypoxia, hypothermia, increased metabolic demand, and nutritional requirements make long-term settlement in such areas particularly difficult. Additionally, vegetation is incredibly limited and the soil is inhospitable to all crops except tubers. As such, my question regarding why anyone would choose to settle under such conditions holds value beyond my personal suffering.

As it turns out, Kurt Rademaker, of the University of Northern Illinois, has spent years asking the same question. This season, Kurt will try to answer it by continuing an ongoing excavation of the rock shelter site, Cuncaicha. In past seasons, Cuncaicha has been proven to hold one of the earliest dates of Paleoindian settlement in the Andes. Impressive finds such as obsidian projectile points, quartz crystals, shell beads, ample faunal material, and rock art suggest the cultural profundity of this site. What’s more,  fragments of burnt human skull have led the team to believe that there are more human remains to be found—it is suspected that excavations of the cave’s lowest levels may yield a human burial.

Cuncaicha rock shelter

Cuncaicha rock shelter Photo credit: author

The hope is that the materials obtained this year will help us better understand how some of the first humans to enter South America were able to adapt to the extreme conditions associated with high altitude occupation. How were they able to accumulate the genotypic variation necessary to cope with such metabolic and homeostatic extremes? Moreover, how did they manage to climb to 4,480 meters in elevation in order to establish this site and where did they start?

While the circumstances mentioned above might very well make these excavations the most interesting effort to which I have contributed, I must admit my personal investment originates from a different source. My interest in animal science has me locked into thought involving the heavy nutritional and economic dependence of Andean populations on camelids such as the vicuña and guanaco. As such, I have latched on tightly to the vast knowledge held by the Penn Museum’s very own Katherine Moore on the emergence of animal domestication. In rummaging through screen after screen cluttered by skeletal fragments, we will be working toward a better understanding of how dependence on animals shaped life in these communities. That is, in understanding the behavior of these animals, and how those behaviors were exploited by these people, we can piece together a larger picture regarding the way of life lived by the inhabitants of Cuncaicha.

Vicuñas, wild cousins of the domesticated llama and alpaca.

Vicuñas, wild cousins of the domesticated llama and alpaca. Photo credit: author

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Teens and Trowels, Cultural Heritage Education at Gordion, Turkey

By Naomi F. Miller, Ayşe Gürsan-Salzmann, and Janelle Sadarananda

This post is part of a series reporting on the Gordion Cultural Heritage Education Project, conceptualized and led by Ayşe Gürsan-Salzmann, Assistant Director of the Gordion Project. Naomi F. Miller, consulting scholar at the Penn Museum, and Janelle Sadarananda, graduate student in AAMW, provided additional adult supervision in 2015.


Turkish non-archaeologists sometimes wonder why we come all the way from America to live in a village for a couple of months, away from our families and the comforts of home, just to dig holes in the ground. Participation in a dig is an excellent way for people to answer that question for themselves. For the high school students in this year’s Cultural Heritage Education Project at Gordion, the opportunity came on July 8.

Large Middle Phrygian blocks in foreground

Large Middle Phrygian blocks in foreground

Ayşe arranged with Sarah Leppard, the supervisor of Area 1, to host the kids. Sarah is digging the monumental Middle Phrygian wall (ca. 800 BC).

The girls enjoyed sweeping up the dirt around the stone blocks that are bigger than they are; they commented that they already had excellent sweeping skills. The boys fit right in with the men who were clearing off the surface. Lest anyone think we are unaware of the gender implications, rest assured. Yet, a good time was had by all!

View of the excavation Area 1

View of the excavation Area 1

Sarah and Ayşe supervising the cleaning operation

Sarah and Ayşe supervising the cleaning operation

Irem and Berna

Irem and Berna

Sude and Süeda

Sude and Süeda

Mert and Ege

Mert and Ege

Having done some excavation, it was time to do some lab work. Janine van Noorden, our zooarchaeologist, had the students put together the comparative sheep/goat skeleton as an introduction to her concerns: the relationships between people and animals.

We start with a pile of bones...

We start with a pile of bones…

That begins to look like a skeleton

That begins to look like a skeleton

Janine asks, “What do the teeth tell you about the animal’s diet: dog, pig, or cow?”

2015.2466

Many cultures around the world play with the heel bone (astragalus; aşık in Turkish), and Ayşe told us about the Turkish game. A highlight was Ege’s observation that if most of the animal’s weight is carried by the functional equivalent of toes, it’s sort-of like high heels.


Photo credits: all photos and movies by Naomi F. Miller

Posted in Community Engagement, Cultural Heritage Preservation, Expedition, Museum, Turkey, video | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Archaeology of Central Asia: Excavations in Xinjiang (Part 1) – Annie Chan

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.


August 7, 2015

Late last month, I took the eastward route to my fieldwork site halfway across the globe—traveling from Philadelphia, via Istanbul, across Central Asia to the Bortala Valley a stone’s throw away from China’s border with Kazakhstan. In the mid-summer heat, we opened excavations in two areas of the valley (60 km apart) with structural remains that represent human habitation and funerary activities in the mid to late 2nd millennium BCE.

Now that I am returning for my fourth field season (collaborating with the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), every bend and stretch of this morainic topography appears distinctly familiar, but what is glaringly unusual this year is the dearth of herds roaming the summer pastures. “There is just not enough [for the animals] to eat,” the pastoralists often grouse about the dwindling food supply. The air is so dry even the grass struggles to breathe, forcing the animals to feed on winter pastures at higher altitudes. A few of them allegedly fell prey to a pack of wolves that had descended from the high mountains; several large animal carcasses have been found in the past week. Whether wolves were the culprits, the eagles certainly got wind of the fresh kill, eagerly circling above their intended feast.

Frequent sightings of eagles in the valley.

Frequent sightings of eagles in the valley. Photo by author.

One of the two areas is situated on piedmont slopes at about 2,200 meters above sea level. Fieldwork is carried out in three areas of what was likely a ritual or ceremonial complex, comprising the investigation of a large quadrangular settlement structure, slab graves and cairns, and a rock shelter. In attribution to its vast array of stone arrangements, the locals call this place ‘Aduuchuluu,’ which means in Mongolian, stones like herds of horses. Building on results from previous seasons, which were collected mainly from the large settlement structure and multiple graves dated to different periods of burial, this season we are further exploring the variability of funerary practice in this area and examining how the settlement structure was used.

My happy place: excavating inside a rock shelter.

My happy place: excavating inside a rock shelter. Photo by author.

My task this week is to install a 2 x 1 meter test pit inside a rock shelter that has probable signs of past human activity. We often use test pits in lieu of a full excavation when we want to obtain a stratigraphical history of site formation either to find evidence to justify a comprehensive excavation or to obtain a reference depositional profile to validate existing hypotheses of site contexts. As we have not excavated rock shelters before in this area, I was excited about what this investigation would yield. The excavation was completed in 4 days and although there were no material finds, we uncovered a fireplace with ash deposits at a depth of 20 cm. Soil samples were taken for dating and other scientific analyses.

The other area of excavation is located on the lower valley floors below 1,500 meters above sea level, and it exhibits a different settlement pattern, with large conglomerations of stone structures spread across hilltops and valley floors, indicating the presence of organized communities. The topographic survey of the area was completed last year and aerial photography was used to document the archaeological sites. The goal this season is to conduct test excavations at multiple locations to determine the chronology of these structures and to discern the primary human activities. Based on the distribution pattern, architectural features, and ceramic finds to date, we speculate that these sites were occupied by people practicing mixed forms of agro-pastoralism in the late 2nd millennium BCE.

They come from places near and far…

They come from places near and far… Photo by author.

The density of sites, hidden in plain sight, stands in sharp contrast to the vast and unobstructed landscape. You can hear the sound of a motorcycle approaching from 2 km away, you can be drenched in sunshine while you watch rain clouds shower the mountain peaks nearby. You can walk a few miles with no company in sight but be greeted with yoghurt and cheese (and maybe even a full meal) when you find yourself in the home of a pastoralist. In my next blog post, I will share more of the experiences that have made doing archaeology in the steppes all the more interesting and dynamic.

After a thunderstorm.

After a thunderstorm. Photo by author.

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Updates from Thrace: A Roman Gemstone – Samuel Holzman

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.


This summer I am excavating with the Molyvoti, Thrace, Archaeological Project on the Molyvoti Peninsula in northern Greece. This project, which includes five Penn students, is studying the remains of a Classical Greek house from the 4th-century BCE, which was reoccupied in the Late Roman Period (4th-6th centuries CE). Although my primary interest is in the architecture of the 4th-century BCE house, the discovery of an engraved carnelian gemstone in a trench I supervised last season piqued my interest in life and commerce at our site during the Roman Period.

The excavation area situated on the Molyvoti peninsula overlooking the northern Aegean. Photo by author.

The excavation area situated on the Molyvoti peninsula overlooking the northern Aegean. Photo by author.

The most opulent archaeological artifacts are typically found in graves, where objects of value were intentionally deposited. Artifacts found in abandoned houses reveal more to archaeologists interested in studying urban life in antiquity, but they are understandably fragmentary and ordinary. I was thus shocked when, while supervising the excavation of a 5 x 5 meter section of an abandoned, 2,300-year-old house, a remarkable piece of jewelry was discovered. It was a radiant red lozenge that, upon further inspection, proved to be the carnelian centerpiece of a Roman signet ring.

Showing the gemstone to a student during the tour of the trenches (Photo by Alison Weaverdyck).

Showing the gemstone to a student during the tour of the trenches. Photo by Alison Weaverdyck.

The polished gem has a delicately carved counterpoise figure (standing with its weight on one leg) recognizable as the god Hermes/Mercury by his winged sandals and caduceus. His cloak is draped over his right arm, and he holds extended in his left hand a coin purse, a common iconography in Roman representations of the god. Three small incisions below the coin purse make it appear as if it drips with money.

The house was primarily inhabited during the 4th century BCE, but in the late Roman period (4th-6th century CE) the collapsed building was altered and reused. Renewed activity at the site may have been the result of the growth of an important Roman road built through this region of Greece. The Via Egnatia, whose route is still followed by the modern highway, was the primary overland connection between Rome and its second capital, Constantinople. The site at Molyvoti likely became a viable settlement again due to the commercial boom that attended this new route.

The carnelian gemstone, emblazoned with the god of commerce and travel (marked by his coin purse and winged sandals), reveals the entrepreneurial spirit of at least one individual who resettled the site. I initially mistook the Roman-period inhabitants at Molyvoti for squatters, rummaging through and salvaging scraps of the earlier house, but this personal artifact depicting Hermes with a dripping purse speaks to the ambition—if not actual affluence—of the house’s Roman-period inhabitants.

The carnelian gemstone with a representation of Hermes (illustration by Sam Holzman).

The carnelian gemstone with a representation of Hermes. Illustration by Sam Holzman.

This season, I am very excited to continue excavating in the Roman-period levels of the site. I hope more discoveries like this one will shed light on a less well-understood period at Molyvoti. For further information about discoveries made at Molyvoti last season, please see the preliminary site report: Arrington, Terzopoulou, Tsaklaki, Tartaron. “Molyvoti, Thrace Archaeological Project. 2014 Preliminary Report.” Forthcoming from Archaiologikon Deltion.

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On Maadi and Migration – Emily Sutcliffe

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.


Prior to my arrival in Cairo this summer, it had been three years since my last visit to this beautifully frenzied city of 22 million people. A lot (a lot) had taken place in those three years and I was eager to see if I could pinpoint changes on the day-to-day level. My host family, whom I’ve known for nine years, lives in Cairo’s Maadi section and Maadi, with its tree-lined streets, gardened roundabouts, and relatively diverse inhabitants has truly come to feel like my second home. Maadi is considered one of Cairo’s most affluent districts. Cairo’s American school, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court, and the residences of most foreign ambassadors in Egypt are all in Maadi. Maadi also has extremely poor sections – areas that might be considered slums. Holding to the idiom, there is truly a “right” and “wrong” side of the tracks in Maadi, with the poorest residents occupying the streets behind the train line that cuts through the city. Maadi is quite a large district and is comprised of many sub-neighborhoods – Degla, New Maadi, Maadi Gardens – each containing unique architectural characteristics and socioeconomic signals. Degla, for example, is viewed as one of the most favorable, wealthy sections of Maadi. It has tall trees, colonial villas, and is the area of choice for much of Cairo’s expat population.

FullSizeRender-21

Photo by author.

Though they spend a lot of their time in Degla (going to the country club, the gym, their children’s school, restaurants, etc.), my host family lives in a more middle class section of Maadi right along the Nile. This part of Maadi is packed with tall condominium buildings and while not unusual to see a foreigner, it’s a far less frequent occurrence than in Degla. I’m told by many of the folks I talk to that “Maadi people” are known – that they have a common air about them and that they love Maadi to such a degree that they don’t like going to other parts of the city.

What strikes me about Maadi – and Cairo in general, is the way people from various backgrounds and social classes so closely occupy physical spaces while maintaining vast socio-cultural-economic divides. Streets are shared by cars, horse-drawn carts, and rickshaws. Men and women in very expensive suits and dresses walk beside peasants and produce carts. In middle and upper class neighborhoods every residential property has a doorman or bowab. Doormen are almost always from agricultural villages and travel to the city for employment. Residential buildings normally contain basic living quarters for the doorman and his immediate family. These doormen form communities and live in the same affluent neighborhoods (though worlds apart) as the families they work for. My host family likes their doorman very much, but maintain a noticeable distance and professionalism in their interactions with him. The extremely close physical proximity of Cairo’s wealthiest and poorest residents is fascinating and quite unlike the USA, where socioeconomic segregation is more pronounced.

FullSizeRender-20

Photo by author.

The matter of class proximity in Cairo is likely related to Egypt’s remarkable rate of population growth. With an astonishing population explosion from 20 million in 1950 to approximately 83 million in 2014, Egypt has the largest population in the Middle East and is the third largest African nation, behind Nigeria and Ethiopia. The overwhelming majority of Egyptians live in one of three places – Cairo, Alexandria, or in the Nile Delta. Cairo and Alexandria are more crowded than ever and many middle and upper class Egyptians are opting to leave the city for new developments on the cities’ desert outskirts. Three years ago there was some indication that these developments or “suburbs” were catching people’s attention, but now their popularity is overwhelming. It seems like every middle or upper class Cairene I talk to has plans to move to a settlement outside the city. This very noticeable migration and the many sprawling sites of new construction that line the highways leading in and out of Cairo proves to be one of the most marked changes since my last visit to Egypt.

From where I sit, looking out upon a peaceful, tree-lined street in Maadi, change and tradition are so intricately interwoven that it’s difficult to know where one ends and the other begins. At this very moment a man sits on a wooden produce cart with his legs dangling over the edge, barefoot. His skinny horse clip clops along, passing the BMWs, Peugeots and Hyundai’s flanking the street. The piercing sounds of jackhammers and power saws compete in the distance, as yet another condominium tower races to the sky. Though at a lower volume than in years past, the mid-day call to prayer cuts through the chaotic tranquility that is Maadi and, for a moment, synchronizes all these moving, migrating parts.

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Trekking in Transoxiana: My Journey to Central Asia and Beyond – Kyle Olson

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.


1 August 2015
Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Asalom Alaikum, Marhamat, Здавствуйте, and Hello from Central Asia! My name is Kyle Olson and I am soon to be a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology at Penn. With the generous support of the Penn Museum’s summer field funding, I will soon be embarking on a journey of archaeological reconnaissance that will take me through Turkmenistan en route back to Philadelphia from Tajikistan.

The name of the region in which I work was historically known as Khorasan. You may have heard this word in the news because this is the name that ISIS uses to refer to Afghanistan and Central Asia. (Image Credit: https://aratta.wordpress.com/2014/08/02/traces-of-an-bmac-related-culture-near-the-town-of-sankhast-in-north-khorasan-province-iran/)

The name of the region in which I work was historically known as Khorasan. You may have heard this word in the news because this is the name that ISIS uses to refer to Afghanistan and Central Asia. (Image credit: https://aratta.wordpress.com/2014/08/02/traces-of-an-bmac-related-culture-near-the-town-of-sankhast-in-north-khorasan-province-iran/)

My summer began with a State Department-sponsored Critical Language Scholarship to study Farsi and Tajiki, two dialects of the Persian Language that are widely spoken in Iran, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. I have spent seven weeks in an intensive language course and in my spare time have immersed myself in the local culture, alternatively using Tajiki, Russian, and what little Uzbek I have picked up from my host family to navigate my way across the country to visit archaeological sites and local museums.

Panorama of the Anzob pass on the road between Dushanbe and Panjakent on the way to Sarazm. (Photo Credit: Author).

Panorama of the Anzob pass on the road between Dushanbe and Panjakent on the way to Sarazm. (Photo credit: Author)

The Penn Museum does not presently have an expedition operating in this country, but has a long tradition of collaboration with Soviet, post-Soviet, French, and German archaeological teams working at famous Soghdian and Hellenistic sites such as Ancient Panjakent, Takht-i Sangin, and Torbulok. My main goal this summer has been to collect information about and visit Bronze Age sites such as the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sarazm near Panjakent and the Bronze Age Settlement Complex near Nurek, which includes the sites of Kangurttut, Dakhana, Teguzak, and Barak-i Kuruk. Previous excavations at these sites revealed evidence of settled agricultural communities dating back to the third and second millennia BCE (Before the Common Era) who participated in trade relationships with communities far to the north in the Kazakh steppes as well as to the west and south with the agricultural oases of Turkmenistan, Iran, and Afghanistan. It’s pretty impressive when you consider the distances involved, the roughness of the terrain, and the technological constraints with which they were faced!

Open but protected excavation trench at Sarazm, showing a building complex constructed from mudbricks. (Photo credit: Author).

Open but protected excavation trench at Sarazm, showing a building complex constructed from mudbricks. (Photo credit: Author)

It is in pursuit of tracing these trade connections that I will be traveling to Turkmenistan after the end of my stay here in Tajikistan. From my base in the capitol city of Ashgabat, I intend to visit the nearby sites of Anau, Namazga Depe, Altyn Depe, Kara Depe, Ak Depe, as well as Gonur Depe and Togolok in Margiana. The former sites were the locus of an Early and Middle Bronze Age proto-urban cultural florescence – the Namazga Culture – that laid the foundation for the emergence Oxus Civilization, or the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, as it is known in Russian-language scholarship.

Mountain River Valley in Tajikistan. Ancient peoples would have had to traverse these routes in order to exchange goods across these territories. (Photo Credit: Author).

Mountain River Valley in Tajikistan. Ancient peoples would have had to traverse these routes in order to exchange goods across these territories. (Photo credit: Author).

The Oxus Civilization belongs to the era of the Great Bronze Age Civilizations of the Old World, including those that flourished in Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Aegean, Anatolia, Iran, and the Indus. Due to its recent discovery, its remote location, and the fact that little of the primary research on this civilization has been published in English, the Oxus Civilization is largely unfamiliar to all but a small group of specialists. It is, however, no less deserving of attention, especially given its important role in developing and expanding the networks of trade that would eventually form the basis of the Silk Road.

See Possehl 2007 in Expedition 49 Issue 1. Adapted from Figure 10.8 in Fredrik T. Hiebert. Origins of the Bronze Age Oasis Civilization in Central Asia. Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, 1994)

Adapted from Figure 10.8 in Fredrik T. Hiebert. Origins of the Bronze Age Oasis Civilization in Central Asia. Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, 1994. See also Gregory L. Possehl. 2007. “The Middle Asian Interaction SphereExpedition volume 49, issue 1.

Togolok-21, a fortified BMAC site in Turkmenistan (Photo Credit: Google Image Search, www.andrewlawler.com).

Togolok-21, a fortified BMAC site in Turkmenistan. (Photo credit: Google Image Search, www.andrewlawler.com)

I’m looking forward to getting on the road next week and kicking off my program of reconnaissance! Turkmenistan has the distinction of being among the most notoriously difficult destinations for American travelers to visit; consequently, I am very grateful both for the assistance of my colleagues in securing visas and accommodations, as well as for the financial support the Penn Museum has provided in helping make this trip possible.

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