University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Survey- ‘I can see for miles, and miles, and miles, and miles…’

By: Elizabeth Potens

July 3, 2013

Who knew ‘The Who’s’ lyrics would become relevant to my involvement in this project? This week I was able to take a stab at an aspect of archaeology outside of the well-known process of digging and excavation. In the area surrounding our main site at Stryme there are cultivated fields of cotton and wheat. In an effort to project the feasibility and efficiency of future excavations in these areas, we performed some preliminary survey. This included examining each numbered plot by the division of planted fields, cotton versus wheat, and judging the visibility of the soil on a 1 to 5 scale, 1 being completely covered in plant life and brush and 5 being completely exposed soil. After quickly examining most of the plot, we then took a 1 meter by 1 meter square and counted the number of pottery sherds visible to hopefully acquire an idea of the average sherd density of the area. There was a large difference in sherd densities between plowed and fallow fields, as the plow would churn up much material just below the surface. Therefore, it’s hard to make absolute convictions about which would be best to excavate next considering these circumstances. We also take into account interesting landscape features and visible features. For example, on the road to the site there is a piece of a wall breaking through the dirt surface, implying a good possibility of structures to be found in the adjacent field.

Trudging through the fallow fields, tracking down a possible tumulus.  (Photo by: Amanda Ball)
Trudging through the fallow fields, tracking down a possible tumulus. (Photo by: Amanda Ball)

One feature that we also concentrated on in survey was the tumulus. After receiving possible coordinates for these ancient structures, it was time to break out the hand held GPS and track them down. Thankfully, one of those tumuli we found was rather distinct and large compared to the surrounding, flat landscape. We almost missed the other three tumuli as they were only slight rises in the ground. This could have occurred due to past excavations and later plowing over of the fields in which the tumuli are located, or from general erosion in the area. At each spot we took photos, mapped the coordinates, measured an approximate dimension, and recorded details about the surrounding area.

Here me and another team member are using our coordinates and GPS to locate and elusive tumulus.  (Photo by: Amanda Ball)
Here another team member and I use our coordinates and GPS to locate an elusive tumulus. (Photo by: Amanda Ball)

Finding the existence and remains of a tumulus can be very helpful to our excavation efforts as it can reveal more about the people who had lived there and in the surrounding area. Perhaps the location of the tumulus was a sacred spot, or when excavated, the contents could tell more about the occupation and identity of the deceased. Some noticeable features consistent with many tumuli include the structure being built on a place with great visibility. Not only is the tomb enclosure a hill itself, but it is often built so that from its place one can see for miles and can have a clear view of the associated site from which the deceased belonged, as well as be seen by those below. Hopefully further survey of the area to be conducted during the week will reveal more tombs and features unique to our site.

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