Monday, May 30, 2011

Day 11

Today continued the trend of increasing temperatures and testy gnats.  We spent the morning working on cleaning out locus 003 to get it photographed and taken out.  We hope to do this tomorrow morning.  Preparations for the removal of all the irregular basalt pavers that make up the floor surface of locus 003 included making another top plan, endless brushing and articulating of all the rocks, and continued picking in areas with too much dirt.  We found a few more nice, square pavers to go along with the irregular and ill-fitting pavers that constitute most of the floor.  This nice, large, rectangular pavers are more likely to be older and originally associated with the temple, while the irregular ones are probably newer and associated with structures that occupied the site after the temple went out of use. 

We had more shoko for second breakfast, which was great because the rest of the day was spent brushing and trimming baulk in the hot sun and under the attack of thousands of biting gnats.  It was not enjoyable, but after coming home and washing pottery, I enjoyed the renewing sensation of removing my boots, putting on my flip-flops, and taking out my contacts.  The rest of the day was spent relaxing and reading.

Today, Gabby Mazor, who excavated the famous site of Beit She’an-- formerly Scythopolis, and who is a good friend of Andy and Nanette’s, came up to Omrit.  I always love to hang out with the Gabinator (as Andy calls him) and chat about limoncello (he makes his own) and reminisce about our time together in Rome (he joined us on our Mac Classics Dept January in Rome trip in 2009).  He is a great archeologist and is always a pleasure to have around.  I am looking forward to his visit to our square out in the field over the next few days.

Finally, last night we had out first full-group excursion to Tel Hai.  We watched a movie called Paradise Lost, made by a Palestinian Israeli filmmaker from the village of Fardeis.  The movie was very interesting, and the filmmaker was there to speak with us after the screening.  Unfortunately, we had been invited to a campus-wide event (which we did not know until we arrived), so the whole question and answer session was in Hebrew.  Luckily, one of our friends from the skype class translated for us, but overall it was very unfulfilling.  We didn’t get to talk to our Tel Hai colleagues about the film at all, and we didn’t get to interact with the filmmaker either.  Andy is trying to set up some more meetings between jus the two skype classes.  We are already friends with each other and have a relationship already established.  Additionally, dealing with 5 or 6 students, instead of 20, is much easier when trying to facilitate a meaningful discussion.  I am looking forward to more dialogue in the remaining weeks!  To the right is a nice picture of the Tel Hai “new campus” quad in the twilight.  They have a great view of the Hula valley from campus, so I hope to capture that on our next visit.  For now, goodnight!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Day 9

Sorry for the delayed update, the internet on the kibbutz was a bit spotty yesterday and I ended up not being able to upload.  But no fear-- I have enlightening pictures to go along with the update so the wait will have (hopefully) been worth it.

Saturday is a half day of excavation.  That means we still wake up at 4:30 but we only dig until 9 am and come into the kibbutz for second breakfast in the dining hall instead of in the field.  Saturdays are usually great and yesterday was no exception.  It was raining yesterday, which was extremely strange for Israel in the summertime, and the square turned into a muddy mess for much of the morning.  We finished cleaning the northern half of our square, and at the end of the day, Dan (a director from Carthage) took photos of the area, so we can now move forward and perhaps rip out the area to see what is underneath.  The floor surface looks mostly secondary, and although we haven't had out pottery "read" (read analyzed), I would guess the floor surface we've uncovered is probably Byzantine or even later.  We hope to pull out the later flooring, leaving some earlier stones (which you can distinguish because they are much better looking-- squarer and flatter), and see if there are stairs underneath.  The directors are still hoping our threshold block is the entrance from the Colonnaded Way into the temple area (aka the main entrance to the temple).  You can see a photo of the north part of the square, complete with big threshold block and floor surface to the right!  Compare to the photo of our unexcavated square from last week to see how much work we've done so far.
Dan was also nice enough to take a square photo for us!  Here we are on the left; from L to R: Larry (a new square member and donor to the Omrit project), Kate P (Class of 2011), Lindsay M (2012), myself, and Edward (Carthage class of 2013).  Next week  we'll work on the southern part of our square and probably start going underneath the floor of the northern half of the square.  Things in M11 are looking good!  After coming in and eating breakfast, we catalogued finds from the last few days and filled out other important paperwork and cataloging related things.  

Archaeology is greatly concerned with digging and finding out what is in the ground, however in order to ensure it is done properly, you need to make sure those who come afterwards can follow your actions by reading your publications.  Once you excavate something, it can never be re-excavated-- archaeology is an inherently destructive discipline.  So we filled out "locus sheets," which describe each locus (see early post for definition) and the items found within; we filled out "daily artifact logs" which catalogues all the finds from each day and what type of finds they are (pottery, glass, metal, coins, stone, plaster, etc).  Kate finished a sweet top-plan, which is a picture of the square drawn as if you were hovering above the square: it allows people to come afterwards to visualize the square in different stages of excavation.  You're supposed to top-plan every time the square undergoes significant change.  That can mean opening new locii or pulling out lots of rocks.  Kate is an excellent top-planner, hopefully I can get a photo of one of her plans and post it later.  Because our square isn't actually a square, but more of a lopsided quadrangle, top-planning and baulk drawings (which are like top plans, but for the walls of the square) are tough.  The scale of our plans are really confusing and drawing them takes extra effort.  Measurements are hard to get accurately and our top-plan doesn't fit on any pre-designed top-plan sheets.  So M11 is a bit of a crazy "square" due to its irregular shape, but we are doing a good job of making our excavation as accurate as possible.  To the right is the elevation gun in its rain gear.  

After paperwork, we had some down time (read "nap") and then I went for a walk, we had a BBQ with some kibbutzniks, and relaxed outside on the lawn.  I stayed awake until midnight (!) to watch the final of the Champions League and I was rewarded by seeing Man U lose.  Great day!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Day 8

Phwew!  It is getting hot and buggy here.  Today the gnats were back to near-2009 levels!  I had to cover my ears with a bandana, and if they continue to get worse, I'll have to excavate in a long sleeve shirt and buy cotton balls to put in my ears.  It is also getting very hot, and was in the low 90's plus humidity.  It might even rain tomorrow, which would be extremely out of the ordinary for Israel this time of year!

Today in M11 we excavated very efficiently and went down quite a bit in all sectors of our square.  We also opened a new locus in the northern half of the square.  This new locus (L003) corresponds to the area near the threshold block, and is characterized by looser and sandier soil than is found in the rest of the square.  We plan to excavate almost exclusively in L003 tomorrow to try to see if the stairs the directors seek are actually there.

The team members of M11 are, other than me, Edward F of Carthage (of coin-finding fame), Lindsay M ('12 at Mac-- she gets photo credit for yesterdays pics)), and Kate P ('11 at Mac).  We're a small team, and we've dubbed ourselves either the "Tractor Jockeys" because of the hard tractor fill we've been excavating; or the "Shady Sleuths" because of the mysteries we are constantly confronting and solving in our square, plus the exorbitant amount of time we spent on putting up shade over our square.

After leaving the field, we had falafel for lunch, catered by a local Druze gentleman, who gave me extra hot sauce at my request and then told me I was becoming Druzim.  On Fridays, we don't have factory lunch because of Shabbat, so we get falafel (yum)!  M11 then washed pottery, I went to the store to get some yoghurt and beer before the store closed for Shabbat, and then relaxed until our afternoon outing.  We went to Kedesh, a Roman temple and Hellenistic trading center site near the Lebanese border.  Amy F, a Mac grad from 2007, gave a lecture on Kedesh and showed us around because she had worked on the site before.  Thats her at the temple at Kedesh today on the right!  From Kedesh, we went to nearby Ramot Naftaly, an Israeli Moshav (like a Kibbutz but less historically socialist), and visited a winery there for a tasting.  The wine was good and the site was beautiful, tand we returned to the Kibbutz feeling refreshed and read to close out the week on a positive note.  Hope to find some stairs tomorrow!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day 7

We dealt with gnats and the hot sun today, along with some big stones and some hard packed earth.  It was tough work but we had a productive day—we closed out our first locus, and opened our second.  That means we’ve cleared out the first layer of dirt, which was probably heavily contaminated, and have moved onto the second stratigraphic layer.  We moved a lot of dirt all over the square and brought the whole thing down around 5 cm.  We also brought down the area between our old square and our new one, and hopefully by second breakfast tomorrow, we’ll have exposed all the pavers between the threshold block and the stairs we’re hoping to find.  Whether or not they’ll be there is another story.  But no matter, the view of the sun rising over the site and the Hula Valley is always worth waking up at 4:30am and digging in the hot sun all day!

After a long day in the field, we washed pottery, catalogued the day’s finds, and had some lunch.  Then I took a quick nap before afternoon work, which was really informative.  We did some reconstruction work with pottery and looked at some stucco from the early shrine.  A Mac grad from 2001, Ben Rubin, who is now a Classics professor at Williams College in MA came up today and he’ll be working with us for the rest of the season.  He worked at Omrit in its earliest years and discovered the Early Shrine!  He did his PhD work in Turkey, so I’m looking forward to chatting with him for the rest of the season.

This evening we had a lecture from site architect Michael Nelson on the architecture of the temple structures.  I don’t seem to have too much free time, but when I do, I’ll put up a post or two with some info about the temple structure itself.  It was a very interesting lecture and included all of the new finds from the past two seasons.  Now to bed before and early wakeup tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day 6

Howdy everyone!  Today was a tough day out in the field.  It was hot a blazes and we had lots of fun trying to get our shade tarp in place so that it actually provides shade for us!  We finished out our baulk excavations yesterday and spent the morning laying out our new square and then putting up the shade for it.  Our new square (M11) is just south of the baulk we'd been excavating and we're hoping to find out how the structure with the large threshold stone relates to the rest of the temple complex.  The directors are hoping to find stairs, however I am not sure they'll still be around.  They might have been taken out for secondary use somewhere else in the area.  Anyway, here is the baulk-area and threshold stone after we'd cleared it out. 

After setting up our new square, we spent the rest of the morning hoeing and picking up the extremely hard-packed tractor fill which constitutes the first layer of our square.  We started collecting pottery and Edward found a coin!  It is very small and thin, and hard to see any markings on it.  It looks a bit like the one in the picture to the left, which is of me and a coin I found two years ago.

This afternoon, a few of us drove into Qiryat Shmonah with Ron, the surveyor, and we got real coffee and used the ATM.  I found some Murphy's Irish Stout to break up the Goldstar monotony, and picked up some sunflower seeds, which remind me of my time studying abroad in Turkey.

This evening was really exciting!  Those of us who have been participating in the Skype class (Advanced Topics in Middle Eastern Conflict)-- there are five of us at Omrit now, drove over to Tel Hai College in Qiryat Shmonah with Andy and met with our Israeli and Palestinian counterparts!  We had pizza, skyped in Fritz (our Mac technician), and chatted about Israel, recent developments in the region, and the Balkan Beat Box concert at Tel Hai tomorrow.  I hope to get to the show, though it will supposedly end sometime around 5am, which is when we have to be at the site digging!  The meeting with the Tel Hai students was great, and I can't wait until Sunday, when the whole group will go over to Tel Hai to watch a movie and have a discussion.

Its getting late here, so I will let you know how M11 progresses tomorrow!  Here is a picture of it before we began excavating.  Lilah Tov (goodnight).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Day 5

Another full day in the field and I am tired!  We spent the day closing out our baulk-square thing.  We articulated around the threshold stone and uncovered some basalt paver stones.  I got a nice picture of the square which I will put up tomorrow (I promise)!

Today at second breakfast we got some shoko, which made my day.  Things are getting hotter here, and the gnats came out a bit today.  I hope the conditions stay this mild, but I am not too optimistic.  Things always get pretty tough by week two or three.

This afternoon, my squaremates continued to help re-catalogue artifacts from 2010 and then after dinner, we visited a gentleman on the kibbutz who makes his own wine!  He just started last year, and is an electrician who is fulfilling a lifelong dream now in his spare time.  He treated us to a taste-- not bad!  Now its almost nine and we have to be up tomorrow morning at 4:30.  Bed calls.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Day 4: Crossing the Threshold

Yesterday was Sunday, our off-day, and although we didn't get the whole day work-free, we did get to take a field trip to the great site of Banias!  It is a lush, green spot popular with Israeli picnickers these days (see right).  We spent the rest of the day helping the directors re-catalogue artifacts to make sure everything is easily accessible for the experts who will come help with the upcoming publication.

Today, however, was out first full day in the field!  It was a very long day, but it felt great to get some real work done.  In my square, we uncovered the remainder of a huge threshold block-- it is basalt and must weigh around 2 tons (edit: more like 4.5 tons)!  We're almost done taking down one of the three baulks that we have to bring down to consolidate our squares into one, presentable, excavated area.  My back will probably hurt tomorrow from all of the picking, hoeing, and wheelbarrowing I did today.

Up in the temple complex, one group came down on a cool concrete conglomerate floor.  On the western side, one student (Joey Frankl- who gets the photo credit) found the base of a glass vial, or unguentarium.  In my square, we found a piece of a corinthian capitol aside from out threshold block.  I will try to get a picture of the block to put up tomorrow, so you can see just how cool it is!

After coming in for lunch and a rest, we went back out for our afternoon activity.  Today, my square helped Greg Stoehr, a Mac alumn ('98), work on a survey of the site.  We went out into the northwest corner of the site and marked out 5m x 5m squares and then picked pottery off the surface.  The idea is that Greg will have the pottery "read" by Debbie, our expert, and then map out pottery densities and time periods all across the site.  Pretty cool!  Now I am blogging before our 7 pm Hebrew lesson.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day 2: Field Trip to Metula

Our second day in the field went well.  We dived into our "squares," though since most of us aren't actually excavating true squares, we really just dived into task forces.  My group is working on cleaning up some squares that were excavated in previous years and taking down some baulk, which is the ground left between squares.  Essentially, we are combining multiple squares into one large square by taking down the walls in between them.  Other groups are working in the east side of the temple, one is in the west temple, and one is working on the temple steps and the south edge of the temple.

Since it was Shabbat, we had a short day and come back to the kibbutz by 10 for breakfast.  Normally, we are out in the field from around 5 am - noon, and have a second breakfast in the field.  It was nice to get in early, have a delicious full second breakfast at the kibbutz, and relax for most of the day.  After spending the afternoon reading, napping, and enjoying the sun, a group of us went with Andy to Metula (left), which is a beautiful town right on the Lebanese border.  After driving through town a bit, we stopped at an overlook and surveyed the area north of the site.  Looking north, I could really get a sense of the compactness of the region.  Mt. Hermon was looming just to the northwest, and Syria beyond.  Beirut was only a quick car ride away (had the border been open).  Lebanese towns were so close I could see people walking on the streets and hear car horns honking.  The northern part of Israel and southern part of Lebanon are very beautiful right now and everything is lushly green and in bloom.  Thinking about the recent conflicts in the northern border area that coincided with Nakba was very jarring as we drove throught the sleepy, peaceful streets of Metula.  I hope to return with Nanette to grab some coffee and see the down on a weekday.

Tomorrow is Sunday, which means we don't excavate.  However, we're not having the whole day off and we're going to start work on the other major project for this season: reorganizing and cataloging the artifacts.  Nothing like some sorting to pass the time!  I might get some Israeli chocolate milk (or Shoko) to help cope.   It comes in a bag.  Yum!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Day 1: Baggin'

Today was a short day at the site-- we split into two teams and prepared for excavations, which start tomorrow.  Most of us moved sandbags from around the base of a beautifully preserved frescoed wall, which is near the west side of the early shrine structure (see right).  The rest of the group moved sandbags and swept the stairs on the eastern side of the early shrine.  Take a look at the beautiful fresco we uncovered there last season below!  It was tough work, but the sun didn't come out until the late morning, so we kept cool and amused ourselves with conversation.  Since many of us are returning excavators, we spent most of our time telling stories from past seasons and telling stories that only classics students would find funny.

The board of Trustees from Tel Hai College, which is in Qiryat Shmonah (across the Hula Valley from our site) also came out to visit today.  Over the past few years, we've been developing a close relationship with Tel Hai and this year I participated in a Skype class with them.  We've been talking a great deal about the changes in the region and they're interested in continuing dialogue with Mac students.  While we're at Omrit, we meet with their Peace and Democracy program students at least once a week and Tel Hai is planning to work with us at Omrit to put a museum in some of their new buildings.  It was great to get to meet some of the board members, and Andy was excitedly telling us that Yitzhak Rabin's sister was there.  I can't wait for our first meeting with the students-- we've been having some great conversations about the developments in Egypt, Palestine, and Israel over the past semester's Skype class.

Currently, I'm sitting in the shade of a tree on the lawn of the kibbutz, and considering opening a Goldstar beer.  Now that the day's work is done, I'm looking forward to some reading and maybe even a nap!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bruchim Haba'im -- Welcome!

After a long flight from Minnesota, the Macalester team has arrived in the Galilee in Northern Israel.  Tomorrow we leave our homebase, Kibbutz Kfar Szold, and drive north about 15 minutes to survey the archaeological site we'll be working on for the next 5 weeks. 

This is my third year as a student excavator at Omrit, which is a Roman Temple site originally dating back to 1st century BCE.  It has since been occupied by later Romans, Byzantines, Ummayads, Bedouins, and is now mostly home to gnats, scorpions, and the occasional jackal!  This year, we have a very small team of around 9 Mac student-excavators, some Mac alumns, Mac Classics Professors Andy Overman and Nanette Goldman, and some guests from CUNY Queens and Carthage College.  I am a recent graduate of Mac (class of 2011) and I have majors in Classics and History.  I'm looking forward to getting back in the field and trying out my new trowel, as well as relaxing by the kibbutz pool reading in the sun.

I look forward to keeping you up to date on all the action at Omrit-- whether student-led shenanigans or groundbreaking archaeological finds.  Until tomorrow,