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,