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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Sitz Unseen: Looking at Archaeological Sites

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Anna Sitz

Many people think that archaeology is mainly about doing: breaking the ground with a pickaxe, shoveling and sifting dirt, using a trowel to uncover artifacts. These activities are all part of the archaeological process. But a large part of archaeology is about looking rather than doing. I am a fifth year PhD student in Penn’s Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World program, and I want to share some of my experiences with looking.

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Ceramics from Alabanda, after washing

Several of my colleagues have written about archaeological surveys, in which a team walks through fields or over mountains, scanning the ground for pottery sherds (pieces of broken ceramics) or traces of walls. I participated in a survey a few years ago as a part of the Philosophiana Archaeological Project on Sicily. After a couple weeks of surveying, an archaeologist’s eyes become trained to pick out the colors and sharp edges of pottery fragments from the surrounding dirt, stones, and vegetation. Despite the bright Sicilian sunlight, I preferred to survey without wearing sunglasses, because accurately seeing color was such an important part of picking out the ceramics.

marsyas perge

Marsyas watches museum visitors in the Antalya Museum

Even when the digging begins, looking is still a major part of an archaeologist’s work. Each time a pickaxe, shovel, or trowel pierces the dirt, excavators watch the soil for artifacts or bones. The more spectacular of these items might end up in a museum, where the public encounters them as the most visible products of archaeology.  While digging, however, archaeologists are watching not just for these objects, but also for subtle changes in the dirt itself: a change in color, texture, or inclusions (such as pebbles or mortar). These variations are evidence of a change long ago- a flood, a new floor, a pit, a fire, etc. Ideally, the archaeologist can connect the changes in the color/texture of the dirt with artifacts (such as coins or ceramics) in order to date the layer.

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Dirt, Alabanda excavation

Of course, archaeologists are not often lucky enough to find securely dated artifacts and a distinct type of soil all at once. And even an archaeologist most carefully watching the dirt underneath her trowel may miss some of the more gradual changes in the soil taking place in the trench as a whole. At times, looking too closely can obscure the bigger picture. For this reason, many trenches have an area supervisor, whose job it is to watch, record, and assess.

myra tombs

Lycian rock-cut tombs, Myra

The looking doesn’t stop even when the archaeologist exits his trench. In order to better understand the artifacts, walls, and contexts that emerge from the dirt, archaeologists have to look at other sites that have been previously excavated. This summer, I have been visiting several sites in Lycia, in southwestern Turkey.  This is the region just south of my normal area of fieldwork, at Alabanda in ancient Caria.

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View from the acropolis of Olympos (Lycia)

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Church at Patara (Lycia)

When archaeologists visit other sites, we enjoy the spectacular views and well-preserved buildings just like everyone else, but we are also keeping our eyes open for small details that can better help us understand our own work. We might look at a building’s layout and its masonry in order to see how it compares with what we are finding.

arycanda church view

View from the church at Arykanda (Lycia) into lower courtyard

We pay attention to sight lines, in other words, what an ancient person would have seen when standing in a building. We also think through the logic of building a structure in one place instead of another (for example, on a hilltop rather than in a valley), and the effect that location had on visitors.

xanthos tomb

Tomb at Xanthos (Lycia) overlooking the valley

myra painting

Byzantine painting in church of St. Nicholas, Myra

My undergraduate training was in art history rather than archaeology.  While looking at a masonry wall is a completely different experience from looking at a Botticelli painting, there is quite a bit of overlap in the skills set needed to understand each one. Both art historian and archaeologist must develop an “eye” for the material they study – the ability to pick out pertinent details quickly, to identify the style of painting or construction technique, to draw connections with other material.

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Acropolis wall with reused blocks, Iasos (Caria)

botticelli madonna book

Botticelli, Madonna of the Book, c. 1480. Wiki images

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this way, looking becomes an act in itself, a process of selectively seeing certain features and drawing mental connections. So the next time you visit an archaeological site, try to practice looking at the walls, ceramics, artifacts, and plans like an archaeologist. You don’t even have to get dirty to do it!

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Update from Iraqi Kurdistan

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So thrilled!

Covered with dirt from the excavation, I strive to make myself look presentable as a dust cloud in the distance signals the impending arrival of the director of antiquities and his entourage traveling in a caravan of white pickup trucks. As I bend down to retie my shoe, my eye is drawn to a rather strange looking potsherd. Only it isn’t a potsherd, it is my first epigraphic discovery; a fragment of a clay tablet written in the Neo-Assyrian script. For a cuneiform enthusiast there are few experiences more thrilling. This occurred during my first field season at Qasr Shemamok in 2012, and I have had the incredibly good fortune to return for 2013 and 2014.

My name is Katherine Burge and I am beginning my second year as a PhD student in the Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World graduate group at the University of Pennsylvania. Thanks to the generous support of the Penn Museum, I was able to participate in two archaeological projects in Iraqi Kurdistan this summer. In addition to participating in the Rowanduz Archaeological Program, this support also allowed me to continue my participation in the French Archaeological Mission to Qasr Shemamok, directed by Professor Olivier Rouault (Université Lyon 2) and Professor Maria Grazia Masetti-Rouault (EPHE-Sorbonne).

The tell of Qasr Shemamok

The tell of Qasr Shemamok viewed from the North

Qasr Shemamok is a large mound site located about halfway between Erbil and Mosul. The site shows evidence for a long sequence of occupation, but was especially important at the time of the Assyrian Empire as the provincial capital of Kilizu. According to numerous references in administrative texts of the Middle and Neo-Assyrian periods, Kilizu appears to have ranked among the major urban and administrative centers of Assyria. The ongoing excavations at the site have confirmed this importance, yielding extensive layers of occupation and monumental building dating to the Middle and Neo-Assyrian periods, including large mudbick terraces, as well as baked brick constructions bearing inscriptions of the Assyrian kings Adad-Nerari I (1295–1264 BC) and Sennacherib (704-681 BC). Excavations on the top of the tell have further revealed several phases of construction belonging to the Hellenistic and Parthian periods. For a more detailed overview of the project and its findings, please refer to the following links:

Neo-Assyrian levels on the southern slope of the tell

Neo-Assyrian levels on the southern slope of the tell

Mudbrick structures dating to the Parthian period on top of the tell

Mudbrick structures dating to the Parthian period on top of the tell

As in previous years, my participation in the project this season centered around an operation on the southern slope of the tell. This operation began in 2011 as a step trench extending from the base of the tell to its surface, and has since been expanded to expose a series of occupations dating from the Middle Assyrian to the Parthian periods. Last year’s excavation revealed a Hellenistic settlement cutting into the remains of an extensive mudbrick terrace dating to the Neo-Assyrian period, and it was a particular goal of this season to better understand this sequence. We therefore decided to open an area on the surface of the tell, in line with where we had been excavating on the slope. Just under the surface, we discovered a layer of fill and occupation, probably consecutive to a modern military function of the site. At a depth of around 80 cm, lines of mudbrick walls began to appear. These walls belong to buildings of the Parthian period, dated by the associated pottery. Excavating below the level of their foundations, we discovered a large layer of pebbles and gray sand, and showing traces of extensive culinary activity (fireplaces, ashes, animal bones, cooking pots, rocks and baked bricks organized as makeshift furniture, etc.) belonging to an earlier phase of Parthian construction. Under this layer we found mudbrick buildings and pottery dating to the Hellenistic period. This proved to be the northern extension of the settlement discovered on top of the Neo-Assyrian terrace last year. We further discovered that this terrace extends nearly to the top of the tell.

I am especially thankful to have had the opportunity to return to Qasr Shemamok this year in light of recent events that may prevent my going back for a very long time. Recent months have seen the advance of ISIS into northern Iraq, and in the last week militants managed to penetrate Iraqi Kurdish border areas southwest of Erbil, taking the cities of Gwer and Makhmour. Friends in Erbil communicated to me that Qasr Shemamok, which is accessible from the road to Gwer, had also been taken. Fortunately, the area has since been reclaimed by the Kurdish military.

Military trench on top of the tell, looking over the plain towards Mosul

Military trench on top of the tell overlooking the plain towards Mosul (Also pictured: a dog that would not move)

Qasr Shemamok is no stranger to warfare. It has witnessed many military conflicts in modern times as well as during the ancient periods under archaeological study. Military trenches dating to the first Gulf War trace the perimeter of the tell’s surface where hoards of rusted artillery shells and even a plastic military map have been found. Cement floors from installations dating to the same conflict were discovered just under the surface layer in one of the excavation areas. The tell was also hit during the American bombing of the region in 2003, giving its surface a pockmarked appearance. The modern name of the tell, Qasr Shemamok, probably refers to an Ottoman fortress, the ruins of which were noted by 19th century archaeologists A.H. Layard and Victor Place during their respective visits to the site. We know from inscribed bricks that the mound was heavily fortified by a double system of city walls during the reign of the Assyrian king Sennacherib. It is not difficult to see why the site has been so attractive for military occupations throughout history: at a height of 30 m, the tell provides a strategic vantage point from which one can see for miles across the Shemamok plain.

Celebrating the last day of excavation

Celebrating the last day of excavation

However damage to the site during the present conflict is the least of our worries. Although the tell of Qasr Shemamok is currently unoccupied, there are two villages situated on either side of it. Several of the local inhabitants have worked with the French mission every season since the excavation began in 2011. We are anxious for the safety of these friends and coworkers, as well as for the safety of their families and neighbors.

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On the Wampum Trail: Balancing Traditional and Museological Care of Wampum

My name is Stephanie Mach and I am the Student Engagement Coordinator at the Penn Museum. I work closely with Penn Museum’s collections, University classes, and student researchers. My position acts as a bridge between the Museum and the Penn community, therefore, I am often asked about issues of cultural heritage, repatriation, museum best practices, and protocols for cultural sensitivity regarding the care of our collections.

This spring, I joined a new research team for travel to museums in the northeast (New England, Canada, and New York) to survey wampum collections. This project is directed by Dr. Margaret Bruchac, faculty member in Penn’s Department of Anthropology specializing in Museum Anthropology and Native American Studies. We were accompanied by Lise Puyo, an exchange student from Université Lumière Lyon 2 in France. In the field, we surveyed wampum construction techniques such as material, weaving methods, and repairs. My research interests were especially focused on museum curatorial methods associated with the care and display of wampum objects. For more information on our research, see the blog, “On the Wampum Trail.” Participating in this research project has allowed me to not only learn more about material culture studies, but to experience first-hand how many museums like ours navigate the complex and delicate balance between museological collections management and traditional care of cultural heritage.

Reproduction of the 1794 George Washington Treaty of Canadaigua wampum belt. Made with electrical wire insulation and artificial sinew by Jake Thomas. Object # III-I-1867, Canadian Museum of History. Photo by Stephanie Mach.

Reproduction of the 1794 George Washington Treaty of Canadaigua wampum belt. Object # III-I-1867, Canadian Museum of History.

In May, we visited ten museums and noticed a variety of protocols, handling practices, and storage methods. Since certain kinds of wampum are specifically listed in NAGPRA as being objects of cultural patrimony, we were aware of the fact that we were asking to see culturally sensitive material, and museum staff informed us about objects with active claims. We are keenly aware of the delicacy of our position as researchers moving among multiple tribes and institutions. Our intent is to gain a broader understanding of wampum use and production while simultaneously focusing on minute details of material and construction that may help to clarify temporal, regional, and cultural differences. Hence, we consulted with the Haudenosaunee and others ahead of time, and we are sharing what we’ve learned with relevant tribal nations and institutions.

In general, institutions with active claims were more cautious in their approach; they placed more strict protocols on our visit, particularly regarding photography and handling. For example, before confirming our visit, several museums contacted tribal representatives to ask permission to show the collections to outside researchers. Another museum does not allow photography of wampum without prior tribal representative approval. At one museum, we were prohibited from photographing certain collections, understandably because they were from a burial context. Yet, we were allowed to photograph reproductions of these same collections that were on public display. In another museum, we examined a reproduction wampum belt constructed of plastic beads and artificial sinew that was treated with the same respect and restrictions afforded to historic shell wampum. The strict protocols placed on these reproductions raise interesting questions. Does it matter whether these objects are reproductions or not? Are wampum belts sacred in and of themselves, or are they made sacred by the rituals and meanings attached to them? This experience allowed me to think about wampum in an entirely new way.

If we consider the fact that wampum belts are made of organic material–shell, sinew, hemp, leather–then we know that these materials will not last forever. However, there are no fixed expiration dates on meaning and significance. What happens when the material severs, cracks, or breaks? Does the meaning also diminish? Or does the significance get passed into a new material–new shell beads, new leather strands, a new generation? Can a reproduction embody the significance of the original?

Cotton twill tape and polyethylene foam used to support and transport wampum at the Penn Museum. Top: NA3879; Bottom: NA3878. Photo by Stephanie Mach.

Cotton twill tape and polyethylene foam used to support and transport wampum at the Penn Museum. Top: NA3879; Bottom: NA3878.

On the subject of preservation, we can compare the various ways that museums have chosen to preserve, conserve, and store wampum. In collections storage, belts were laid out on padded tables for us, handling protocols were explained, and gloves were provided so we could carefully lift the ends of the belts to see their construction techniques. To ease the movement of these objects, wampum belts and collars were typically placed onto strips of polyethylene foam or archival-grade paper board and tied down with cotton twill tape in storage. A few museums cut cavities into thicker foam and laid the object into the cavity. Both of these methods allow collections managers to transport these objects more safely from shelf to table, since the foam or board supports the weight of the belt and the ties and foam cavities ensure that the object does not move or fall.

The Fort Stanwix Treaty belt has been sewn to a fabric backing for support. Object # 37415 in the New York State Museum, Albany, NY. Photo by Stephanie Mach.

The Fort Stanwix Treaty belt has been sewn to a fabric backing for support. Object # 37415 in the New York State Museum, Albany, NY.

At several institutions, we encountered wampum belts that had been sewn down to fabric backing. In each case, this had apparently been done for display purposes and presumably left intact post-exhibition to provide added support in storage. Some belts were quite fragile, so the stitching provided reinforcement, but the foreign threads interfered with our ability to examine original construction and condition. In a more extreme case, one belt had been glued to a plexiglass backing and was completely immobilized. We also encountered a very long belt that is roughly five feet in length, however, less than half of the belt was visible due to an artistic display mount that coiled the belt at two mid-points. These curatorial strategies likely created dramatic visuals for display, but became a disadvantage for the objects in storage and for potential researchers and tribal visitors. I was understanding, as a Museum professional, of the various factors that impact care such as cost, time, and staffing, yet disappointed as a researcher not to be able to see details of the other side. Of greater concern is the fact that tribal members visiting these belts would not be able to lift them freely from their storage mounts.

When I first encountered a belt attached to a backing, my first thought was that I selfishly wanted to see the other side, but understood that this arrangement provides the belt with more support and stabilization than if it were free moving. However, my mind was quickly changed when we visited a repatriated wampum belt under the care of Chief Curtis Nelson at Kanehsatake. This belt is stored in the same box that it arrived in from the museum, including the standard foam support and twill ties. Everything seemed quite similar, until Chief Nelson lifted the belt from its box, draped it over his shoulder, ran his hand down the beads of the belt, and began to speak about its significance to his community, historically and presently. It dawned on me that the reason I had not seen a belt move or be moved in this manner before is that it would be inappropriate for a museum collections manager or curator to handle a belt in this way. Until this point, I could have considered the museum protocols for careful handling to be aligned with the goal of preservation–but I now see they are equally aligned with cultural sensitivity.

Condoled Chief Curtis Nelson at the Mohawk Nation of Kanehsatake (Oka, Quebec, Canada) holds up the repatriated wampum belt in his care. Photo by Lise Puyo.

I was impressed by the efforts of several museums to consider and respond to the challenge of managing these and other culturally sensitive materials. One museum had a separate area of storage specifically for housing culturally sensitive material. In this space certain objects were draped with cloth to hide them from sight, offerings of tobacco were allowed to lay loose on shelves, and the entire section was roped off from the rest of storage to signal that this area was restricted. We encountered offerings left on or near objects in storage at several other museums as well. Those offerings included tobacco pouches, medicinal herbs, and quahog shells. One museum allowed smudging in storage, while several others had a room specifically designated for consultation meetings where smudging is permitted. I also noted at least two museums that had smudging kits available for use by visitors. Lucy Fowler Williams, Keeper and Associate Curator of the American Section at the Penn Museum, discussed the difficulties of finding the best smudging space at our Museum, noting that on one occasion, despite being out of doors, smoke was pulled through the vents and set off the fire alarms anyway!

A box of smudging materials is available for use by Museum visitors. Photo by Stephanie Mach.

A box of smudging materials is available for use by Museum visitors.

After witnessing the care of wampum at so many different locations—tribal museums, non-tribal museums, and in the hands of a traditional Wampum Keeper—we are able to consider the many negotiations to be made among tribal members, collections managers, curators, conservators, and so on when balancing traditional care and standard museum collections management. I return to my job, but continue this research, with a renewed appreciation for Museum staff and tribal members who work together to care for material culture–a relationship that flourishes under the framework of open communication and shared understanding.

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Soft Vegetative Roof Capping at Gordion: A Tutorial Video

Poa bulbosa inflorescence

Poa bulbosa inflorescence

Archaeobotanists usually deal with dead plants, but as I was finishing my research on the ancient plant remains at Gordion, an ongoing project of the Penn Museum, I became involved in a bigger project: preserving regional biodiversity, the historical landscape, and the archaeological site itself through the management of the native vegetation. The approach sees an open-air archaeological site as a specialized kind of garden. This post is about one small piece of the “Ecopark” project.

I just returned from Gordion (Turkey), where I have been advising the Conservation team about the soft vegetative roof capping they have established on the conserved walls of the Citadel Gate building and the Terrace Buildings.

Poa bulbosa on the Citadel Gate building

Poa bulbosa on the Citadel Gate building

When the project began, I suggested the locally abundant bulbous bluegrass (Poa bulbosa) for the purpose. It has been very successful in protecting the walls, but as a living barrier, it needs some maintenance. This year, I weeded the walls and timed the results: Over the course of 5 days, I spent 412 minutes weeding 3268 seedlings over an area of about 55 square meters. This information will help the team develop a maintenance schedule.

Conserved Terrace Building walls.

Conserved Terrace Building walls.

361 plants removed from 4 linear meters (my foot for scale)

361 plants removed from 4 linear meters (my foot for scale)

I also developed an instructional video (filmed by Angelina Jones (MLA and MSHP Candidate, 2016, School of Design), so even if you don’t know the plants, you can learn how to weed them out!

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LiDAR Scans and Sacred Lakes: A Report from the 2014 Summer Season at Abydos- Part 1

Home Sweet Home, the American Dig House at Abydos

Home Sweet Home, the American Dig House at Abydos

This summer at Abydos promised to be a busy and exciting season. The Penn research team (dubbed Team Hafla, which is Arabic for “party”) returned to Abydos after an exciting winter season with the discovery of King Senebkay and the Lost Abydos Dynasty. We were ready to continue exploring the cemetery around Senebkay as well as other sites in South Abydos. What made this season so exciting were not only the opportunities to excavate, but also the chance to be part of the application of new technological methods at South Abydos as well as the chance to perform background and survey research on the forgotten sacred lake associated with the Osiris temple. Since I have a lot to talk about, I will split this into two blog posts, with this one focusing on technology and a later post on the sacred lake project.

The Penn Research Team- Front row: Alexander Wegner. Middle row beginning from left: Matt Olson, Shelby Justl, Lisa Saladino, Dr. Jen Wegner. Back row beginning from left: Paul Verhelst, Jamie Kelly, Dr. Kevin Cahail, Dr. Rasha Soliman, Dr. Joe Wegner.

The Penn Research Team- Front row: Alexander Wegner. Middle row beginning from left: Matt Olson, Shelby Justl, Lisa Saladino, Dr. Jen Wegner. Back row beginning from left: Paul Verhelst, Jamie Kelly, Dr. Kevin Cahail, Dr. Rasha Soliman, Dr. Joe Wegner.

Before I start talking about the technological methods we used at Abydos this summer, I will give a little background about the site. Abydos is located in the mid-section of Egypt, about 300 miles south of Cairo. Established during the Predynastic Period, Abydos was the burial place of the First and Second Dynasty Egyptian kings and continued to develop through the Greco-Roman Period as a settlement and cemetery due to its association with the cult of Osiris. Current Penn research focuses on the Middle Kingdom Senwosret III tomb enclosure and town site of Wah-sut, the Second Intermediate Period tomb of Senebkay, and the New Kingdom cemetery located to the north of the Senwosret tomb enclosure.

Even though my title only mentions LiDAR, we utilized multiple technological methods this summer at Abydos including magnetometry and ground penetrating radar. Since I was involved with the magnetometry surveys, I will talk about this technology and the experience we had with it this summer.

Magnetometry involves a survey of an area with an instrument that measures fluctuations in the earth’s magnetic field caused by buried archaeological features. The main archaeological features we were hoping to find are mudbrick walls, which would indicate the possible locations of additional structures and tombs. These features appear as a line of black dots when the data from the magnetometer is processed and geo-referenced on a map. Sometimes these black dots seem to form the walls of a structure; however, a lot of the time these black dots are other magnetic objects like fired bricks and pieces of metal, which can be misleading. The goal of this season was to explore the area around the tomb of Senebkay with the anticipation that there are additional tombs in the area.

Dr. Kevin Cahail conducted the magnetometry survey at South Abydos this season. Almost every day Kevin strapped the 50 pounds of equipment to his back and carried it around the site conducting the magnetometry survey. At this point carrying around a 50 pound instrument may not sound so bad, but when you factor in the heat (some days it could get around 110 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit), the uneven, sandy terrain and malfunction equipment, it makes it a little challenging to focus solely on recording data and staying focused. Kevin gave me the chance to conduct a survey for a day and I have to give him a lot of credit because it was definitely hard work. After this experience, I let Kevin handle the surveying for the rest of the season. I reserved myself to setting up the survey transects for Kevin rather than carrying the magnetometer.

Dr. Kevin Cahail conducting a magnetometry survey at South Abydos.

Dr. Kevin Cahail conducting a magnetometry survey at South Abydos.

One of the major obstacles to the magnetometry survey at South Abydos was the power lines that run across the site. The electricity given off from the power lines caused problems with the magnetometer’s computer memory, usually resulting in a complete loss of data gathered that day. Even with the power lines, Kevin was able to process the data from magnetic surveys conducted away from the power lines. From the array of black dots, Kevin was able to identify new areas of interest where future excavations will one day take place.

From magnetometry, we will move on to LiDAR, which was the technology I focused on this summer. LiDAR stands for Light Detection And Radar and is usually applied for remote sensing and three-dimensional (3D) modelling. Both methods involve using an instrument that shoots out a laser and measures the distance it takes the laser to hit a surface and reflect back to the instrument, which creates a point. The LiDAR instrument continues to shoot out the laser and measure each beam’s distance, which creates millions of points and results in a high-resolution scan of a surface. The goal this season was to use the LiDAR to make 3D scans of Senebkay’s tomb, Senwosret III’s tomb and any other structures discovered this season.

Conducting a LiDAR scan of a structure, like the tomb of Senebkay, requires planning before I can start scanning. Before I started scanning the tomb of Senebkay and other structures, I made a rough overview plan, which served to help me identify blind spots and set up reference points. The LiDAR instrument can only create a point from what it can “see” with the laser, which means that multiple scans are needed in order for every surface to be captured. By creating a rough plan, I am able to figure out where I need to place the LiDAR instrument to ensure that the final 3D model is not missing any surfaces of the structure. Another thing the rough overview plan helps me to do is set up reference points needed in the later processing of the scans. In each scan, I want the LiDAR instrument to be able to see as many of these reference points as possible since it will make the later processing easier. Usually, I do this rough overview plan of a structure the day before I actually start scanning, which gives me the time to evaluate the best way to conduct the LiDAR scan.

The LiDAR instrument and spheres set up in the tomb of Senebkay

The LiDAR instrument and spheres set up in the tomb of Senebkay

On the day of a scan, I tried to start as soon as possible in order to avoid the sun since its rays can disrupt the laser and the heat can cause the LiDAR instrument to overheat and shut down. I then went around and set up the reference points that came in the form of white spheres set up on small tripods, which left them open to various interpretations by my team members. My favorite interpretations of them are as alien viruses or spaceships hovering around a mother ship. Once my spheres were set up, I place the LiDAR machine in the first scan location. As soon as I hit the start button, I moved out of the LiDAR instrument’s line of sight as it rotates 360 degrees to scan the structure and capture pictures of the structure used to add color to the scan during processing.  After each scan, which usually lasts 13 minutes, I moved the LiDAR to the next scan location and continued scanning until I felt like I captured every surface and angle of the structure.

The next step is to begin processing the scans into a single 3D model, which involves loading the scans into a LiDAR program designed to create 3D models. In this program, I began by identifying the spheres and numbering them. Since the spheres act as reference points and are visible in the multiple scans, I can use them to merge or stitch together multiple scans of the structure into one model. This allows me to eliminate blind spots and create a high-resolution 3D model of structures like Senebkay’s tomb. After all the scans are stitched together, I can then remove any random points, which improves the model’s appearance. When finished, I will have a high-resolution 3D model.

A LiDAR scan of Senebkay’s tomb

A LiDAR scan of Senebkay’s tomb

Just like with magnetometry, the LiDAR was not without its issues. Overall, scanning was less difficult with setting up the LiDAR instrument, running the instrument and not over-heating the instrument during the day. What was more difficult was re-learning how to process the scans. At the beginning of the season, I had to draw upon the LiDAR skills I gained back in 2011 as well as get used to a different type of LiDAR instrument and processing software. Even though processing the LiDAR scans involved some stressful days, I continued to gain knowledge about processing the scans through determination and the assistance of colleagues who are experts in using LiDAR. I thought I would never say this after all those stressful days, but I have come to enjoy processing LiDAR scans and making models. These models are an important tool since it allows Joe and Kevin to bring back a scaled, high-resolution model of different structures to continue analyzing as well as preserving the structure in case of possible deterioration. I am sure the models will also serve as a cool addition to presentations as well.

What magnetometry and LiDAR represents for me is the continued experience of different technologies in the field. Ever since experiencing the use of technology during a field school in Jordan through the University of California: San Diego, I have strived to learn different technological methods in order to understand how they can be utilized on an excavation. In future excavations at Abydos, I hope to continue expanding my knowledge of magnetometry, LiDAR, and other technological methods.

Pictured are Dr. Kevin Cahail and Dr. Joe Wegner, who were our grill masters, along with Shelby Justl and Lisa Saladino, who are anxiously waiting for the final product

Pictured are Dr. Kevin Cahail and Dr. Joe Wegner, who were our grill masters, along with Shelby Justl and Lisa Saladino, who are anxiously waiting for the final product

Even though we were busy at Abydos, it was not all work for Team Hafla. On our days off, we did numerous activities to liven up the desert. These activities included sightseeing in Sohag and Luxor, hiking through the nearby wadis, playing homemade games like ring toss and beanbags, having a water fight, and attending a local Egyptian wedding. By far my favorite activity was the day we grilled because it is not summer unless the grill is out, even at Abydos!

The final product: grilled chicken and vegetables, macaroni salad, green salad, and bread

The final product: grilled chicken and vegetables, macaroni salad, green salad, and bread

One last bit of fun I had was to convince Team Hafla to take the group photo with a LiDAR scan. I am sure that many people are wondering what those white balls Matt, Kevin, Shelby, Lisa and Jen were holding in the group photo from the beginning of this blog. These are the spheres used in LiDAR scans as reference points and even though they are not acting as reference points in our group scan, they are too much of a feature to leave out of a LiDAR scan. For now, I will leave you with a 3D model of Team Hafla and will return soon to talk about my other focus at Abydos this season, the forgotten sacred lake associated with the Osiris temple.

The Team Hafla Group LiDAR scan

The Team Hafla Group LiDAR scan

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In the Field, from Field to Field: Another update from Thrace

The survey team pauses for a quick photo.

The survey team pauses for a quick photo.

In a previous post Sam introduced the Molyvoti, Thrace Archaeological Project (MTAP), a combined excavation and survey project conducted in the Rhodope region of Thrace in northern Greece. Penn faculty and students have been involved with the project since its inception and I encourage you to read more about the project in the posts made by Sam Holzman and Beth Potens. As the second season of fieldwork has drawn to a close, this is a good opportunity to reflect on our progress so far and speak a bit about my own involvement in the second half of the project, the archaeological surface survey.

A storm rolls by in the distance as a student surveyor finishes her transect.

A storm rolls by in the distance as a student surveyor finishes her transect.

Before I get to the fieldwork, however, the region itself deserves some comments. Sam has discussed the temperate climate, the verdant forests, and lakes teeming with wildlife (and mosquitos), but the modern history of the region is equally fascinating. Located close to the Bulgarian and Turkish borders, the Rhodope region possesses a fascinating mix of cultures that you certainly won’t encounter in the more travelled south. Driving down the highway or from village to village, you see the bell towers of the Orthodox churches complimented nicely by the slender minarets of the mosques, and the clanging of the church bells on quiet Sunday mornings is soon followed by the call to prayer. Locals are equally likely to break out into traditional Greek dance as to take up a drum and sing a Pontic ballad (Pontic Greek, while generally thought to be closer to Ancient Greek, is almost unintelligible to a speaker of Modern Greek). This multiculturalism is one of the features that make this region of Greece so fascinating and a wonderful place to work.

The island of Samothraki looms in the distance.

The island of Samothraki looms in the distance.

In addition to the archaeological exploration of Ancient Stryme, this season included a systematic surface survey of Zone A, the protected area that surrounds the excavation site. This season’s survey was an intensive urban survey, designed to cover the principle area of habitation in and around the city walls. Though the zone is protected, limited agriculture still takes place, with wheat and cotton being the principal crops. Due to the vast differential in visibility between the two, we surveyed only cotton fields this year as the wheat obscured the ground almost completely. In spite of this limitation, 33 fields/tracts were surveyed this season, covering 410,887.5 m2. While we are still working through the data, the survey confirmed the character of the site as port city, with literally thousands of amphora sherds littering the fields around Stryme. The survey has also filled in and expanded the chronological range of the site’s occupation, dating at least to the Late Roman/Early Byzantine periods. Next year’s survey will push beyond the urban center of the site and we will hopefully then be able to compare the relationship between the Stryme and its hinterland, so stay tuned for more in the coming seasons!

A selfie from Stryme (photo courtesy of Penn MA student Amanda Ball).

A selfie from Stryme (photo courtesy of Penn MA student Amanda Ball).

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