zaterdag 14 juli 2012

Ultimes Dies

All things must come to an end eventually and this little trip to the Galilee is no different. On Wednesday we started closing down the season, cleaning up all the squares and taking down the first few tents. That might actually sound easy, but fine detail cleaning in squares that are already in the full sun is no party. Those last days were very hard and everyone was happy to sit down and not have to haul gufahs full of stones or brush very brittle plaster for a while.
Standing on the dump filling sandbags is even harder work, so it was much appreciated that a group of Dutch visitors chimed in to help keep the work going. All in all, we finished well over an hour before the regular departure time, a very welcome change of pace at the end of the season. The last digging day itself is just a matter of final clean up and bringing all of our tools down so that our friendly tractor driver could bring it all back to the storage containers. It`s time for them to gather dust instead of dirt.

Four weeks of digging does that to ya...

The last afternoons were mostly dedicated to formalities. The last week reports, loci info and of course everyone had to line of for some idiot with no sense of humour to have their portrait made. The end of the digging season was celebrated with a barbecue and the handing out of all the certificates proving that each of us has been to the KRP and proved his or her mettle. After that it was time to party hard and party hard we did. The real badasses went on until well after 4 a.m.

But just because the digging is done, doesn`t mean that work on the site ceases altogether. On Friday, a team from the company Skyview came over. These guys do aerial photography with small zeppelins: ideal for getting top view photographs that can help us read the area better. Some of the true long haulers of the night before went without sleep just to go and see this happen in the flesh.
Besides the aerial overview, important features of the architecture are getting an extra recording and a few specialists will look at various aspects of the site. Once all the archaeological work is done, a restoration expert will come in to help preserve as much of the plasterwork as possible.

Skyview came by on Friday morning

And then it was time to pack our bags and say the last heartfelt goodbyes. From leaving Karei Deshe, through Ben Gurion airport and Zurich airport all the way to Schiphol, we had to say goodbye to close friends every step of the way. The fact that we got the thorough treatment by Israeli Customs didn`t do much to help the situation. Every goodbye seemed more difficult than the last and every time it made us feel more worn out and alone. Most people will tell you that saying goodbye is never easy, but they never tell you that it`s this frickin` difficult. I wept many manly tears that day.

It has been four exciting weeks full of discoveries and good stories, but it has also been a very demanding four weeks for many among us. It`s probably for the better that we don`t spend longer on the dig, as we`ve had plenty of people who had to stay at the lab for a day to recuperate. To be honest, I`m pretty messed up myself, but as long as there`s work to be done and caffeine to be had, we keep going.
Despite the fact that my body is telling me it has reached its peak level of exhaustion and that I looked forward very much to going back home again, I left Karei Deshe with a heavy heart. All the friendships made and strengthened, the experiences shared, the hardships endured, the finds unearthed… the only things I can take home with me from all this are the memories (and the photos, of course). It saddens me to know that I will probably not see most of these people regularly, if at all again. But that is also a part of the whole KRP experience. We live four intense weeks in which we become a true family: a group of sisters and brothers who will go through hell and high water for each other. Wherever you go on the world, you can at the very least drop in for a drink.
I`ll miss this view

I will miss many things while away from Karei Deshe. The sunrise over the Golan, the view of Mt. Arbel if you drive to Tiberias, the palm trees, the walk up to the site, Sirpa`s driving skills, the afternoon breeze, the Taybeh beer, all the cheesy puns, the nightly swims, the view of the lake at night and of course all the wonderful people who were there. But there are also things that I`ve missed from back home. Chocolate sprinkles, pork, proper fries, a good double whopper with cheese, chocolate that tastes like real chocolate (rather than sugar with something brown) and real orange juice that isn`t made of insanely sweet syrup.

I`m back home now and the weather is very grim and dreary. Life here starts returning to normal again (although my body has a hard time keeping up). Therefore, this will be the last blog post of this season. Now all that`s left for me to do is wash all my dirty clothes and to sit inside and miss the blue sky and all the Dear People of Horvat Kur, most probably for another year. Thinking about it, my mood starts to fit the weather here.

It`s been one hell of a ride and I thoroughly enjoyed all the good times we had together. May we once meet again on the shores of the Sea of Galilee or wherever else our roads take us.

Signing off, for the last time,

Yours truly

The Lost Dutchman

maandag 9 juli 2012

Blessed Fruit

We`re closing in on the end of the season now. Week three has come and gone with mixed feelings. Everyone is getting very tired and most people are more silent and take it more easy than they used to. Some just have to stay and work in the shelter for a day to recuperate. The flip side of this is that there have been a great many interesting discoveries. With only two more days of actual working before we start cleaning up, this is wholly in line with the situation of last season. This situation where the most defining and interesting information comes to light when time is running out, is commonly referred to as Carter`s Law, after Howard Carter (yeah, that one). The main difference is that for us, it`s not about golden masks and ancient treasure.

All the puzzle pieces from last year are coming together too. The baulks from that season are gone, exposing just how vast the space inside must have been. When you constantly work in five-by-five squares, it becomes difficult to keep track of the big picture, even if you talk regularly with your colleagues next-door. So to be able to look into last year`s area and see the full extent of it is an eye-opener. What also is becoming apparent is that stone robbing in antiquity has mixed up many things. Some significant object that are technically considered ex situ are basically just hovering on the edge of in situ, since it seems that when they turned out to be too heavy to move, the stone robbers just left is where they dropped it. There are also many strange walls appearing in the plaster, which seems to point to either a very ad hoc repair phase or squatter habitation in later times.
We draw to try and make sense of it all

In most squares, progress has been pretty much straightforward. However, there is one square that is still keeping everyone occupied. In this square, the inside of the Synagogue`s North-East corner has been found in the shape of the bench, but the wall is still not visible. People in the square have renounced their faith in the Wall. They believe the Wall does not exist since they are not able to physically see it. They claim that back in the day, belief in the Wall was logical since it answered many questions, but that we have moved on since then and that belief in the existence of any Wall is pointless. I`m not sure yet how to deal with such heresy, but we must put an end to it.

The highlight of the week was the visit from a few local friends of KRP, if only because they brought fresh lychees and figs with them for breakfast. These are the kinds of fruit that are usually of lesser quality in Europe and the US, so for many of us, being able to eat fresh, perfectly ripe ones was a rare experience. They were delicious and raised morale to good levels again. It`s hard to imagine what such a change means when you`re stuck on a monotonous diet of any kind. Four weeks of eating nothing but cheese or jam for breakfast makes you long for something completely different. It was, without question, the best thing I ate this week.

Pure bliss in a box

We got to see something different from our own little holes too last week. We took a trip to Tabgha on Monday to visit the Church of the Multiplication and see its mosaics. The church features very interesting Nilotic imagery with plenty of waterfowl. As the monks were so nice to let us in after closing time, we had the church to ourselves. We got a real taste of Byzantine acoustics when the Finns started singing Laudate Dominum. It was a moving experience.

The Byzantines seemed to like the bird vs snake theme

We ended the visit on a lighter note by swimming in one of the pools with spring water from the heptapegon. It was much cooler than the water of lake Kinneret and on a warm day like that, it felt like heaven.
Tabgha is also home to a few very friendly dogs

Our other trip that week was to Capernaum. We got a private tour by Stefano de Luca, who took us behind the gates and fences that keep most average tourists where they`re supposed to stay. He explained us how the 4th century Synagogue was built on remains from  an earlier building and how we could tell from the varying angles and differences in stone. We walked the gallery of the spoliae, which Stefano thinks once belonged to the Hadrianium from 2nd century Tiberias, before they robbed and carried off Capernaum. Then he explained to us the finer points of living in a Byzantine town and how privacy was an alien concept to the common man and woman. He ended his tour with a thorough explanation of the 5th century pilgrimage site that is believed to have once been the location of Peter`s house. We stayed until well after closing time and enjoyed the peace and the unique opportunity to get a real understanding of the urban context surrounding the main attractions.

You won`t often see Capernaum like this

The coming week we will be expecting many parties. Tonight there`s a Swiss reception (read: Stefan is buying us all a beer). On Wednesday we will have a Dutch party, hosted by the husband of one of the volunteers. What it is exactly is still a surprise. On Thursday, there will be the farewell barbecue, followed by a night of free time where the volunteers try their hardest to get rid of as much leftover alcohol as they can. After four weeks of hard work, we`ve earned ourselves a decent evening of getting-drunk, methinks.

Signing off,
The Lost Dutchman, not hammering on a keyboard for once...

donderdag 5 juli 2012

Grime Lines and Lucky Foam

With all that is going on at the dig and in the lab, it is becoming more difficult to keep up a regular stream of blog posts. There are so many things to be taken care of. Selecting photos, numbering pottery, identifying pottery, packing finds, finding bottle openers... It is hardly surprising that most people are starting to feel the long days. Things like sunburns and small wounds are becoming much more common, not to mention a deep-felt hatred of stupid egocentric teenagers who seem to have never met a bird in their life and feel the need to keep shrieking about it until most of the KRP crew wakes up again. Thankfully, most people now are so tired in the evenings that they can sleep through it all. Then again, field archaeologists seem to be cut from a different cloth in more ways than one.

When normal people spend a day at the beach, they usually return with tan lines. When an archaeologist or an archaeology student spends a day at the dig site, they return with grime lines. All the dust, dirt and stone chips that are kicked up by the digging will settle on the exposed skin. When this skin is covered with a mixture of sweat and sun lotion, the `sediment` will settle extra well, thereby creating a stark contrast with the skin covered by boots and gloves. These so-called “grime lines” are the mark of a field archaeologist.
A typical Grime Line stratigraphy: no wonder we set so much store by our showers

Getting rid of all the dirt is a challenge in itself. When returning from the field, the first thing on everyone`s mind is the shower. The runoff from the shower always turns brown and you`ll find dirt in places you could never imagine. It is not uncommon to find dirt behind your ears or in your eyelashes until a week after the dig. But that is just your body. The clothes come off even worse. Most digging gear will never be fully clean ever again, so the best way to save space for all your souvenirs is to throw most of it away. Bringing old clothes is very advisable.

Not every job is equally dirty

With everyone so dirty you wouldn`t expect us to receive many visitors, but that could not be further from the truth. Many local archaeologists and foreign colleagues on their own excavations will come by at least once to see what is going on. Some of the more notable guests are people like Mordechai Aviam, Yeshu Drei and Stefano de Luca.

Mordechai Avaim is a lecturer at the Kinneret college and has unrivalled experience in the archaeology of the Galilee and its Diaspora. With all he has seen, he was even nice enough to share his knowledge with us in an evening lecture. Stefano de Luca has experience digging the remains of the towns of Capernaum and Migdal and is considered a veteran in the field of pottery. He was even nice enough to lend us a long ladder so we can start to have a really good look at just what exactly is in the cistern.
Mordechai Avaim was very happy with what he saw...

Yeshu Drei is worth singling out. This Israeli engineer-turned excavator is working together with archaeologist Haim Ben-David at a location called Umm al-Qanatir. Here they have the unique situation where the Synagogue collapsed and was left untouched by stone robbing. The two decided that it could be possible to rebuild the synagogue and set to work on scanning and measuring the building. They then came up with a plan of the thing in order to reconstruct the synagogue and so far the project is forging ahead wonderfully. Despite all this, Yeshu found some time to come have a look at our site and help out with a few things.

On the practical side of things, we have started to actively excavate the cistern. We also recieved a pottery specialist among us for three days. Phillip Bes can study the remains firsthand and give us a far more accurate picture of what exactly it is that we`ve found there. About 5% of all ceramic found so far seems to be from beyond the region, which shows us that these villages at least some contact with the outside world, making them more than just secluded cores in the Galilee.
Besides pottery, we also found a crushed anmial skull that required some real archaeology

Besides the huge amount of ceramics, the amount of scorpions has also been increasing at our site. Most of them seem to enjoy the fact that we put down nice sandbags and large rocks for them to hide under. Once we remove these again however, they tend to be less amused with us. These encounters can be summarized by the fact that “the Flight of the Scorpion” is becoming a common expression on the site.

No flinging scorpions at breakfast, please

The past weekend was the “long” weekend. We got to travel about a little and a few of us decided to visit the cities of Haifa and Akko. When we arrived in Haifa that Friday we fell right into a street party in one of the city`s side streets. Both the band, the crowd and the atmosphere were incredibly relaxed: even the police could laugh at jokes about explosives. The best part of it was probably that they served “kriek”, a typical Belgian cherry beer. Half a world away, on a party out in the streets of a city which you don`t know, you can find a bit of (almost) home.


We eventually went to Ben Gurion Street at the bottom of the Baha’i Gardens for some really nice food in a wonderful atmosphere. If you ever get to Haifa, eat at Fattoush. Even if you hate Arabic food, go there for the wonderful atmosphere (the toilet had an Ottoman feel to it – the toilet!) We could even get the best beer in the Middle East: Taybeh. Taybeh beer is the only beer to be brewed in the Palestinian territories, much to the distaste of some Islamic extremists. Those with real taste recognize it as the best beer in the whole region. It is a shame that the stuff is so hard to obtain, because it really is a very very very very good beer.

Nice view, isn`t it?
After a long night of divine sleep we got up around 8 a.m. and went off to Akko. The walk to the sheruts (shared taxis) was gruelling because of the heat and humidity, but once in there we could enjoy almost an hour of air conditioning. Acco didn`t feel much different from Haifa, but we had a little sea wind now and then to help cool down. For those hoping to find a refurbished crusader city there: no dice. Old Akko is an Arabic town from the 18th century and it has retained that atmosphere to some extent. Despite a steady stream of tourists, most of the souk just seems geared towards the locals and it smell just like that. The main produce sold is fresh fish and spices, making for a very atmospheric mix.
Spices at the souk

We decided to take breakfast in a small bakery at the souk. Finally, we had a `real` sugar breakfast, with various Levantine pastries and proper Arab coffee. We even contemplated bringing some back with us to get a little break from two weeks of cake in the early morning. After that we walked the narrow streets of Acco. Rather than going to the somewhat cheesy crusader museum, we opted for the beautiful Jazzar-Pasha mosque. The guide there told us about the workings of Islam and of “The Butcher” (Jazzar) himself. In the end we got a little truth out of him. In a quiet corner he told us that he didn`t much like this guy, because he built the Mosque to absolve himself in the afterlife. To our guide it seemed like cheating in front of Allah. Can`t say I blame him for thinking that way, but I sure loved the architecture and the decoration of that Ottoman building.
Jazzar-Pasha Mosque

When we decided that we had sweated enough we crashed on a terrace to make good on a promise: shade, mint tea and sisha. It was very nice to just spend an hour chilling and doing nothing but smoke sisha and draw the square. Afterwards we returned to the souk for some falafel, accompanied by Bob Dylan. We made one last pass and returned to Haifa to cool down and relax from our “difficult” day. We ended up hanging out with a Canadian we met in the dorm and he joined us for dinner that night.
Felafel: omnomnomnom

We decided to eat something Western for a change and ended up on Ben Gurion Street again. Although the name sounds quite Levantine, Douzan serves quite a lot of Western style meals (or what passes for a Western meal in the Middle East). Again, they had Taybeh on the menu and again we ordered it.

When the waiter poured and the foam went over the edge of the glass, he told us that is was a sign of good luck. He probably had no idea how right he would be. We got talking about blond hair and how it is considered something special in the Middle East. We ended up using this uniqueness to our advantage. One of the guys wanted to own a Taybeh glass really bad, so a blond-haired girl asked the waiter if she could please have one for herself. After some deliberation he told us to wait until the owner had left. It took us half an hour of waiting, but we eventually walked out of there with one fresh, clean Taybeh glass.
Here`s to all things blond!

Since it was Saturday night and most of Haifa had awoken from Shabbat, we hit a local bar that advertised with live music. The atmosphere was good and they had cherry beer on tap, so both the girls and our Canadian friend were quite happy. But when the live music arrived, we all kinda went: “what-the...” The instrumentals were pretty nice, but the singer had the sleazy air of a porn star. What he sang about was quite difficult to follow and that was not just because he sang in Russian. At the end of the show, a guy dresses up as a sailor walked in with a pillow and started to tear the thing to shreds. Everyone was covered with tiny feathers and the place had turned white. The owner of the bar was less than pleased with this grand finale and he saw his entertainment out with the songs “Hit the Road, Jack” and “Why did you do it”. We left the bar as better rounded individuals, because now we know how a chicken feels.

Sunday was a proper Sunday: sleeping late and having a true weekend breakfast with decent cappuccino and croissants. We decided on going to the Hecht museum on the campus of Haifa University. In order to get to the bus, we had to ride an uphill metro. The thing was so old that it felt like we could plummet down every second. Compared to that the bus ride was a lot smoother, even if we were banging into people left and right.

Haifa University is huge; no university in the Netherlands can compare to it. They even have a McDonalds in their cafeteria. Small wonder then that the Hecht museum is quite large. Its collection runs from the Chalcolithic to the Byzantine era and has many well-preserved pieces. A seasoned archaeologist can easily walk around there for several hours without getting bored. In such conditions, AMF (Advanced Museum Fatigue) becomes a serious threat, so we ended up going to McDonalds for some eats. Due to our long stay, we ended up eating a Big Mac menu in around four minutes, just to be able to catch our bus. We succeeded in the end and were back safe and sound at Karei Deshe just before dinner.
If it`s found in this region, the Hecht museum has it on display

All in all it was a very good week, with many interesting discoveries as well as a healthy dose of laughs. Rest is still a valuable commodity, especially now that things are getting so busy. At least people here are happy with the results of it all, so we `ll just keep up the good work...

Although I might try and post a bit more often and with lesser words than I`ve done now.

Signing off,

zondag 24 juni 2012

A tale of Finns and Romans

Well, the first week of the Kinneret Regional Project has just flown by. It`s almost hard to believe that we`re in country for seven days already. Yes, you read correctly: I`m falling in the cliché pit. I guess I have to do something now that our snake pit is gone.

Trying to piece it all together...

So let`s have a look-see at what has been going on so far. We have been tying up a lot of loose ends on the dig site, taking down baulks and bringing some of the deeper squares down to the bedrock. However, the knots are coming undone already. Not every baulk will be removed to facilitate communication and the lowest layers are turning up some really interesting finds: the most striking one has to be the finding of grains. These were carefully wrapped up in aluminium foil and stored away until they can be analyzed by a specialist. Apart from that we are finding large quantities of tesserae. This is double bad news, because they are found outside the Synagogue – meaning that we will most certainly not have a mosaic floor – and because they are a pain in the you-know-what to clean properly. If anything we are making good progress and soon, very soon, we will start to uncover the building in its entirety.
A smile and all of the sudden that load of stones weighs like a feather

I`m glad to be able to fly Sirpa Air again. There is probably no better way to wake up when going to the dig, than to be driven there at break-neck speeds over the rollercoaster-like roads by a seemingly gentle Finnish lady whining about what sissies we are. In general, having the Finns on board for KRP is great for the dig: If you need a strong man for something, you can always ask a Finnish woman.
Sometimes only a Swiss berserker will do.

The Finns also know how to get a party started. This was exemplified by the Juhannus celebration. Every year, Midsummer`s Night falls in the digging season and the Finns hold a customary gathering at which they drink and make merry to honour the occasion. This year, they taught us some of the older Finnish ballroom dancing. The most fitting way to describe what ensued is a hilarious polonaise of people jumping on each other`s heels. We were also able to offer the Finnish co-director a “piece of home” (read a bottle of Finlandia vodka). The German co-director had the time of his life not just because of the wonderful party, but also because in the European football championship, Germany took Greece to the cleaners. With the beautiful lake Kinneret as a backdrop it seems that a sauna was the only thing lacking. Then again: you cannot have a Midsummer`s Night party during the daytime.

But our dear friends from the north are not the only ones who know how to throw a party. Ioanna from the Romanian contingent turned 23 yesterday, which was an extra nice day because there was a fieldtrip. This meant that we could sleep late – until around 6:30 in the morning – before having a solid breakfast. After that we were piled in a bus with a very friendly (ahem) driver and we went off into the countryside.

First stop on the road was the archaeological site of Sepphoris. This site was under excavation as recently as a decade ago and features the remains of a Romanized city a theatre and a Synagogue. The site features many beautiful mosaics from the Byzantine period with exquisite patterns, striking amazons, imposing centaurs and a spectacularly large image of the Nile. This so-called “Nilotic image” shows people recording the height of the flooding on a nilometer, a hunting scene with lions and curious looking blue leopards, personifications of the Nile god and the city of Alexandria. The Sepphoris Synagogue is no less impressive, with the remains of a zodiac depiction. This is centered around a Helios sun disc riding a quadriga (four-span chariot).
She may not be the Mona Lisa, but she`s a beauty...

The visit to Sepphoris was marked by two high points. The first is the most beautiful mosaic of a young woman. This little masterpiece manages to capture blushing cheeks and glinting eyes in stone. It is often referred to as the Mona Lisa of the Galilee and although that title could be a subject for art historical debate, it certainly is hard not to fall in love with her. The second high point was a small performance at the Sepphoris theatre by Benjamin Lang. We were treated to Romeo and Juliet, act one, scene one. It was perhaps 1800 years ago that the theatre had last seen such a good, satirical piece. Our orator had his audience in fits and he received a well-earned round of hearty applause for his on-stage performance.
"Did you just bite your thumb at me!?!"

After lunch and souvenirs we dragged our overheated bodies back in the bus for the next leg of the trip. We drove from the hills towards the coastal plain where we would be visiting the ruins of Caesaria. This Roman-style harbour city was built by king Herod the Great and accommodated most of the Roman administration for Galilee and Judea. It features the remains of a impressive theatre, Herod`s palace (a popular fishing spot), a hippodrome and crusader-era ruins surrounding the artificial harbour. Most of the volunteers agreed that excavations at Caesaria would complement the KRP nicely, seeing as it offered the opportunity to float in the Mediterranean on a daily basis. The long and short of it is that Caesaria is a place with beautiful sights and interesting Roman ruins. Most notable are the bathhouse mosaics and the seawater crashing on the seawall that supports the hippodrome.
Yeah, I could dig here...

After the educational part we took a dip in the wet `n salty. The Mediterranean is a whimsical mistress, but that day she loved us and we loved her back. Add a 2000 year old aqueduct running the length of the beach to that picture and it`s easy to see why we had such a great time.

The final act of the day was Ioanna`s birthday party in the garden. Considering that the next day was a Sunday and that you have a large amount of students packed together in one place with access to alcohol...well, you get the idea. The long haulers stopped partying at around 3 am. It had been a long final day in a long week, but it was a good day and a good week. On to the other three and any
curious finds they may bring us.

...and now it`s time for a cold maccabee at the shore of the lake!

Signing off

dinsdag 19 juni 2012

A sort of homecoming...

We`re finally here! The next four weeks I will be reporting to you from the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Despite the scorching temperatures and the pressing humidity, it still is great to be back in this place. Coming to the Karei Deshe guesthouse has the distinct feel of arriving back home: it has a comforting familiarity to it, which only veterans of the KRP will understand. The arches, the swallows, the wind...even the scorpions in the field seem to be exactly the same, but that doesn`t mean that nothing has changed.

The lake has grown a bit since last year. Due to a wet winter with some snowfall – of all things – the water level has risen again. The distance to the water`s edge is now a bit shorter; very handy for those of us who enjoy swimming under the stars. The heat is (for the moment) also a bit different. The air is usually dry, making the heat more bearable. This year however, the 40-plus temperatures are evaporating the waters of the lake a lot faster. All the heat and dust remains in the valley, making it more difficult to breathe. It was already noticeable on the first few days at the site and many of the volunteers took extra breaks to deal with the heat as a result.
These guys didn`t mind the high temperatures...

The most significant change is the putting up of a large fence across the garden. Because it was decided that there should be free access to the lake and that the compound should be fully enclosed for “security reasons”, there now is a fence between the guest house and the lake. The thing about having a fence thick enough to stop a raging bull is that it makes you feel ”caged in.” There used to be this feeling of moving towards a wide open space when walking to the beach, but unless we ”accidentally” mess around with some explosives, that thing isn`t going anywhere. No one (not even the staff at Karei Deshe) really like having this metal monstrosity obstructing the wide vista over the beautiful Kinneret, but the thing has to be there to comply with all the rules. At any rate it has been arranged so that we can go out and swim whenever we want.

Things on the dig site seemed to have remained the same. On our first day of working we collected all the tools and started with a bit of ”gardening”: the entire site had overgrown with weeds and thistles, so in order to actually be able to work, all these had to be cleared by hand. It was the first day of hard physical labour and with temperatures at extraordinary high levels (even by Israeli standards) the volunteers were literally feeling the heat. Since we needed to clear the vegetation first, there were no tents yet so every bit of shade became a valuable commodity.
Day one mainly consists of waiting - quite a long time - for equipment.

We did get the tents up the next day, but given the amazing (ahem) talent of the people here at setting up tents, it took quite some time. With the help of Elina, Jasmin and our new American friend Byron, we got some decent looking shade tents up, but we all agreed that ‘tentology’ was a course that should be taught academically from here on out.
Many hands (and proper motivation) make for light work.

That covers most of the preparations. Because we were done relatively quickly, we could get on with the digging. The main objective now is to get as much information from the currently excavated building as possible and that means tying up a few loose ends from last year (clearing bulks and finishing off last year`s squares) before we move to the mysterious North East corner.

On a side note, it has been mentioned by several locals that snakes are more active now because of the higher temperatures. Sure enough, when the staff first arrived at the site to assess how bad things were, they found a hole in the fabric covering the cistern and sure enough, there was a piece of snakeskin close by. As it turned out a snake had made its way through the fabric and fallen into the cistern. So we ended up with our very own snake pit. Fortunately our cistern specialist, Yinon ”The Caveman” Shivtiel, went down the first day to take some measurements and brought the poor thing back up. It was a harmless black snake, so no harm no foul.

So that`s all for now. We`re underway and making good progress so far. Adjusting to the heat will take a bit of time, but it`s not an insurmountable hurdle. More from the field will follow in due course.

Signing off.

zaterdag 16 juni 2012

Into the wide blue yonder…

At the moment it`s becoming very hard to concentrate on anything other than my imminent departure. H-hour of D-day is approaching fast. As I am writing this I cannot help but think that in 48 hours, I`ll be scraping the soil on a new excavation season. The waiting has a habit of stressing me out: have I got everything packed and ready for the off? I keep anxiously weighing my suitcase in order to dive the 23kg maximum set by Swiss. As for the 8kg max on hand luggage…well, let`s not even go there.

Saying goodbye is not easy on this one. I`m leaving just before Father`s Day, will not be home for my brother`s birthday (again) and to top it off we`ve just had a litter of kittens born this past week. On the other side there`s the fun times and important works in Israel. I keep getting that feeling of mild homesickness mixed with a double measure of anticipation and excitement. In the end, the latter will prevail, but for now I`m stuck halfway up the fence. So there`s nothing to do but double-checking and triple-checking everything I`ve already checked. This is dangerous because you`re bound to miss the things you haven`t checked yet and I can`t really afford to miss those for such a long time.

I`m ready to go there. Out into the wide blue yonder to get me some sun, a cold beer on a balmy night, some new friends, some answers and – most important of all – some great memories to last me a lifetime. This is where we write our very own little epic: one that only we will read in detail, of which only we see the signal importance. It will be of our good times, our hardships, our brotherhood and our burning desire to uncover the answers to our questions that will drive us – with a little help from Sirpa and whatever van she gets to race around with this season.

For now there is little more to be said. The luggage is packed and ready in the hallway, my gear packed nice and tight to the weight limit. All I need to do is get my impatient backside to the airport so I can go annoy the customs agents and the night shift workers at Starbucks. It may not be true coffee in the purist`s sense, but it is caffeine and boy am I going to need that stuff to get through the night and following day without sleep.

Just some final checks to be made and goodbyes to be said. The next time you`ll read something new on this  blog is when I am settled in at Karei Deshe. Enjoy yourselves in the mild weather while I go for slow-roast in 40-plus`. Oh, and eh... don`t do anything I wouldn`t do.

Signing off

donderdag 7 juni 2012

We happy few...

Most of what I`ve written so far concerns the material aspects of archaeological fieldwork. These aspects are more tangible and easy-to-write-about by their nature. The one post that hasn’t dealt with objects or locations, talks about how much crazy it requires to do fieldwork. But a vast amount of crazy is not sufficient to explain why people experience doing it as being something absolutely wonderful.
The crazy is an important part, but not the whole story...

What makes archaeological fieldwork so very special is the fact that it creates a profound sense of brotherhood. Despite being a somewhat charged and possibly even discriminatory term, few words better describe the feeling. It`s quite the miracle to experience: people will start out as complete strangers, but after four weeks of digging together they`ll part as friends and say goodbye crying. The logical assumption must therefore be that for some reason, it is a bonding experience.
This should not really be surprising: the crew are all engaged in heavy, intensive physical labour. They volunteer to suffer the same hardships, which betrays a similar mind-set. The crew ultimately works towards the same goal, but they go there via different paths. The site is divided up in squares of 5 x 5 meters, with up to six volunteers per square. Therefore, in order to get some idea of the bigger picture, you`ll have to talk to your fellow volunteers. This means that you have a guaranteed always-good conversation subject. This usually creates enough substance for a conversation and you take it from there. You eventually develop a similar sense of humour and you can accept things like sarcasm, cynicism and misogynist jokes better, because in the end it is a specific sort of caricature that becomes a joke in itself.
What else can one do in a classical theatre?

Something that also factors in the creation of this bond of friendship is the sense of a shared experience. Because you are part of a closely knit group, the feelings of compassion towards each other are more strong. If you lose your bank card or fall ill, there will always be someone to back you up, comfort you or help you out. Perhaps the best example of this comes from the 2011 season. One of the volunteers sprained her knee. Immediately people were scrambling to help and she was carried off-site to return to Karei Deshe. Afterwards, there were always people asking how she was doing and whether or not she needed help with anything. Most of the time though, she preferred to tough it out, which characterises another trait that you find among the volunteers: perseverance.
Despite being stuck with an injury to her knee, she kept trying to get back to the field when she was able. The time that she could not do so, was spent by bringing some sense of order into the project`s storage facility: a challenge of epic proportions to which she rose with gusto. Others also displayed a similar determination. We have had people that were literally ordered to take a day off by the directors, because otherwise they would certainly have collapsed from sleep deprivation. Despite being in a sorry state they still felt compelled to keep going to work, toughing it out purely on curiosity and determination.
This is what makes KRP great

These anecdotes exemplify the sort of attitude that prevails among the volunteers of the Kinneret Regional Project. Everyone always stands ready to help out when it really matters and it`s not generally accepted to roll over and just give up. Perseverance, dedication, compassion and a good sense of humour are the key elements that bind the crew. Some have said that it feels like being part of a family.
In a sense, the KRP can indeed be likened to a traditional family model. There is a `father` and `uncles` and a `worried mother` - sometimes strict but always just. Then there are the `older brothers and sisters` who work in the lab and therefore have a better idea of the bigger picture beyond the excavation season, and finally there are the `younger kids` who are either smart enough to enjoy what free time is given to them, or dedicated enough to want to help out the `older ones` in their work. It may seem a bit platonic to put it like this, but in terms of task division and the sense of dedication towards one another, it certainly rings true.

Why I find this important enough to write about is that this is one of the most valued things about archaeological fieldwork. The sense of cohesion is one of the core pillars on which the ability to do this kind of work rests. Without it, everyone would feel a lot more lonely and a lot farther from home. It is this bond of camaraderie that makes it so easy to reminisce together about all those crazy, wonderful experiences you had together. Just as a little craziness makes archaeology more fun, a little brotherhood makes archaeology so wonderful. With only nine days to go before we actually `go`, it`s this feeling that gives one confidence for the journey ahead. It`s among the key ingredients for this tingling sensation one gets thinking about all  that has yet to be unearthed.

Signing off

woensdag 30 mei 2012

What the hell am I thinking!?!

Spring over here has been pretty mediocre so far, with warm weather only prevailing the past week or so. The cloudy, rainy spring shows on the people, as they have a hard time adjusting to the 20-plus temperatures. Many complain about how warm it is and even more get careless, ending up sunburnt as a result.
It is therefore a pretty sweet feeling to be able to boast that you`ll be spending four weeks working outside in temperatures that are easily 10˚C higher, eliciting reactions like: “You actually pay for that!?!” It makes you sound like a badass, but at the same time you can`t help but think to yourself that you have to be crazy to do this job. It might be a good moment to take a look at just how much crazy it takes to get by working in field archaeology.
This is how early you have to get up. Most sane adolescents would be going to bed

Every morning at Karei Deshe starts early. Consider yourself lucky if you get up at 7 a.m., because that means it`s weekend. Weekdays start between 4 and 4:15 in the morning. There`s no point in showering yet, so you collect your things and go down to the foyer for what is known as ’sugar breakfast’. This consists of a cup of tea or coffee and one or two slices of sweet cake. If you`re really lucky, you have to fill the water canisters too. After breakfast the crew gathers outside to be shuttled to the dig site. One of the drivers has a style that comes close to rally driving, so the light breakfast is perhaps a good thing.
Around 5 a.m. everyone is ready to go to work. This part of the day is probably the best since temperatures aren`t as high yet and you get to see the sun rise over the Golan Heights in the distance. Yet the digging still is demanding physical labour that requires a lot of bending, lifting and scraping your knees over rocky tumble. Little wonder then that around 8 o`clock everyone anxiously monitors the director`s movements for the ´breakfast phone call´. Breakfast is served on-site from 8 a.m. until 8:45, after which the crew goes back to work for three more hours of digging: this time in the scorching heat. Although tents are set up against the sun, the temperature can`t be helped much and some jobs have to be done outside of the tents. The least favoured among those (for reasons that should appear obvious to everyone) is keeping the spoil heap in a usable state.
Three hours of work before you can shove something substantial in your stomach

Around noon every member of the crew is sweaty, dirty, dusty and exhausted enough to want to go back to Karei Deshe, so everyone is shuttled back for a well-earned shower and lunch. Afterwards, you`re given an hour of siesta time between 2 and 3 o`clock to catch some shuteye or relax and check your e-mail. The real fanatics however, can already be found in the lab.
From 3 until 4 o`clock there`s pottery washing. The job is shift-based so everyone is screwed at least twice a week. Brushing dirt off bits of pottery is not the most enthralling job in the world, but at least you can sit outside in the shade of the trees and have a chat with your colleagues. Once pottery washing is over, there are three routes open to you:
1.      You`re scheduled for pottery reading: you sit in the air-con`d lab and spend half an hour or so by weeding out the useless stones from the pottery shards and identifying what kind of shards there are. After that you`re free to go and amuse yourself in whatever depraved way you see fit.
2.      You`re not scheduled for pottery reading, which means you`re free until dinner. This time can be used to wash some of your clothes. There are occasional trips to Tiberias where you can sit on the boulevard and enjoy a drink or get some personal supplies like detergent, deodorant or sunblock.
3.      You volunteer to help out in the lab. The staff always enjoy it when you offer to help them out. There`s a variety of menial tasks that need to be done, from helping with prepping and packaging finds for storage to hand-counting the tesserae. Obviously not every job is equally desirable, but the help is always greatly appreciated and can even help getting jobs done before they`re due, which means that the research can go ahead faster and further. Helping out in the lab is advisable for those studying archaeology: after all, the directors are the ones who grade your performance…
Counting tesserae changes a man... photo courtesy of Tine Rassalle

Dinner is served from 6 to 7 and usually marks the end of the workday, unless there are lectures scheduled, which is about twice a week. Lectures usually run from 7 until 8:30. Once the lectures are over, you can enjoy the remainder of the evening, which is until 10 p.m. Turning in early is strongly advised, because between the rowdy type of teenagers that make all sorts of racket and the uneasy dreams about whether or not you`ve finally found the east wall of the synagogue, a good night`s sleep is a valuable commodity. At least you have to suffer such days for only four weeks, because KRP has one of the shorter excavation seasons.

It is therefore not surprising that people think you have to be absolutely stark raving bonkers to do fieldwork. There is even a famous quote about it; the kind that is ascribed to various great names. It`s difficult to be sure who was the first to come up with this wisdom. It is sometimes ascribed to Avraham Biran, but it could also be by the late Moshe Kochavi. The words themselves are clear as glass: “You don`t have to be crazy to be an archaeologist, but it helps…”. It is as the Italians say: “Si non e vero, e ben trovato”, because seldom have truer words been spoken about a profession.
No average person is able to find joy in long days of hard physical labour in nature`s extremes to chase down wisps of clues, for the sole purpose of being able to constantly readjust your hypotheses about what life in ancient times may have possibly been like. It requires a great deal of passion and determination. A little bit of extra crazy to help deal with all the little hardships and Tantalus torments you suffer might be just what the doctor ordered.

Let’s be honest: archaeology wouldn`t be half as much fun without it.

Signing off

woensdag 23 mei 2012

The scumbag with the hat

Recently, the mailman delivered some packages from the UK with kit for the coming season. Among them is a brand new dark brown Jaxon outback hat. Looking it over got me thinking about the colourful relation between archaeology and the wearing of hats. Easily the biggest and most persistent clich̩, it is perhaps even more synonymous with archaeology than alcohol Рespecially to the wider public. A sure-fire way to convince them that someone is an archaeologist is to portray them wearing a hat. The downside of that is it tells people straight away that such a person is a scumbag, and here`s why.

The character that for the general public has forever bound archaeology (or whatever passes for that in Hollywood) with the wearing of hats is Indiana Jones. Armed with his rather nicely cut brown fur-felt fedora, a whip that magically sticks to things like beams and weapons, and a summary knowledge of archaeology, “Dr.” Henry Jones Jr. quests for ancient mythical artefacts and saves damsels in distress while he`s at it, usually from unsavoury sadistic figures who tend to wear swastikas on their suits half of the time. This image of the George Lucas creation is so well-ingrained that wearing any kind of head covering (even a floppy bush hat) is an open invitation to anyone to call you ”Indy.” But to be called ”Indy” is to be identified with a scumbag.
Jones has a habit of dumping all these gals he`s fallen for and rescued, for no apparent reason other than the somewhat vague ”call of adventure”. Despite being portrayed as a seasoned doctor of archaeology, words like ´trowel´, ´spoil heap´ and  ´locus´ are alien concepts to him (or perhaps Jones just took Proverbs 26:27 to heart). The notion launched by Wheeler that archaeology is destruction is often taken too seriously and the preferred tools are usually big, clumsy and as blunt as Jones` own intellect. Most of his comments with regard to the locals are doused in colonialism and he entertains the notion that all ancient artefacts of value “belong in a museum”; one that, incidentally, is in America and belongs to a friend of his. In short, the character of Henry Jones Jr. is a nepotistic, womanizing, colonialist treasure hunter. This has created for the public a romantic but ultimately false image of the archaeologist as a person who is out to discover ancient shiny things in far-away lands to show to the world. For the record: ancient shiny things are worth fuck-all if they cannot be put in relation to a context and so help to clarify what purpose they served, which is the main issue that archaeology has with tomb-robbing.
Womanizing, tomb-robbing, nepotistic scumbag

Another world-renowned archaeologist with a healthy dose of scumbaggery is Zahi Hawass. Until recently the head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and the Minister of State for Antiquities, most people know Hawass through his work for Discovery Channel, History Channel and National Geographic. Here he tirelessly searches for the history of his country and uncovers the secrets of ancient Egypt, all the while sporting a brown fedora (which isn`t exactly the same as Indy`s, but then again most journalist live for making generalizations). Hawass has, as he claims himself: ”given his life to protecting and preserving antiquities”. The fact that George Lucas has called Hawass ”The Real-life Indiana Jones” should give you some indication that he isn’t all that wonderful. Therefore, it shouldn`t come as a surprise that Hawass is surrounded with controversy.
Zahi Hawass had quite the reputation among Egyptologists: he takes substantial liberties when interpreting evidence, has a tendency to plagiarize both in his books as well as on television and somehow manages to publish the same information multiple times and present it as new and ground-breaking. But it not just his attitude towards the literature that is considered cavalier: despite his deep love for the heritage of Egypt, his handling of most artefacts shows an air of nonchalance. There was a small outrage in the academic community when Hawass used finds from the tomb of Tutankhamun for photo shoots to market his own clothing line. But that is just all the stuff about his questionable reputation as an archaeologist.
During his time as chief of the SCA, Zahi Hawass has allegedly abused his position to favour himself and to further political goals. He decided which sites would be dug on the basis of their potential for glamorous finds and was always there to present himself to the media as the one responsible for all these wonderful finds, brushing aside the people who had actually done all the hard work. In his quest to bring as much of Egypt`s treasures back `home`, he would threaten to, as well as actually suspend excavation permits for archaeologists from certain nations in order to pressure both museums and countries into returning artefacts. This might even be understandable, were it not that the museum in Cairo lacks the proper facilities to safely and correctly archive all these objects. Besides that, he apparently received an annual bonus of $200.000 for his work with NGC, while young archaeologists during the Arab spring clamoured around his workplace, demanding to know why there were so few jobs and such poor wages whilst a 7bn. profit was made. Furthermore, he has used his power to either obstruct or clear the way for various companies, usually benefitting those he had ties to. Finally, Hawass has always raised eyebrows with his almost Nasser-like criticism of Israel in general. While one can put serious question marks to the Israeli conduct towards the Palestinian Territories, one thing is certain: its archaeologists tend to have a better sense of scholarly ethics than Hawass. By now it should be obvious that the “Real-life Indiana Jones” is a more serious scumbag than the imaginary one.
Corrupt, fraudulous, megalomaniacal, egocentric scumbag

So obviously someone is pretty butt hurt about these images of would-be academics using hats to be passed off as the real thing. Here`s why people doing real fieldwork wear hats: most of the regions that are of interest to archaeology lie outside the comfort zone of most people. The weather can be either very hot, dry and sunny or very wet and humid. Despite the use of shade tents, many archaeologists wear a hat simply to protect their face and neck from the sun, because nothing is more annoying than having to work hard when you are sunburnt, let alone suffering from sunstroke. In wet climates, it is just downright obstructing to have to work while holding an umbrella, so a hat is more convenient. Apart from that, keeping the sun out of your eyes will prevent you from missing small details that could prove important.
So even if some archaeologists like to have this idea that they are associated with romantic images of adventurers that cruise the world and uncover a wealth of gold and such, they are serious enough to know that reality is different. The true romance in archaeology is the tingling feeling in the back of your head when you`re thinking about what a village may have looked like, the geeky joy of identifying pottery, the sense that adventure can be in smaller things like sitting on a slab that covers a 6-meter deep cistern and be oblivious to it. Of course everyone would like to find something special, but that something can be as simple as a faience bowl, which will hardly impress most museum visitors. You know that you have a true archaeologist on your hands when a grown man goes giddy from finding intact pottery, when finding the remains in of a wall become as vital to you as air or water.
So, it`s not that archaeologists wear hats because want to be seen as Jones and Hawass, but rather that Jones and Hawass wear hats because they want to be seen as archaeologists.
Lazy, annoying, dirty scumbag. - Photo courtesy of Eeva-Mari  Haapala

Although a hat does have purposes we can all agree on…

Signing off,

The Lost Dutchman