dinsdag 5 november 2013

Back in the USA!

The Lost Dutchman is gone again. Usually I keep this blog for my excavation trips to Israel, but this time I’ll keep you posted about my trip to the USA. “What does that have to do with Archaeology?” you might be asking yourselves. Well, it does provide me the opportunity to catch up with some of my American friends down in South Carolina. There’s also the chance that we’ll be visiting some sites in Mexico, but that’s not really connected to the work in Israel. 

Anyway, let’s get back to Saturday: Thanks to an ‘inside source’ – who shall remain nameless – we didn’t get jumped by the fact that our plane was delayed. It still sucked, but at least we knew it was going to. We changed in Dublin, where it turned out that it really didn’t matter much because there were more connections coming in behind us. To top it off I managed to score the ‘most awkward moment’ when was seated next to a girl with a perfect British accent on a seven-hour flight. What exchanges we had are straight British vs American. Five hours into the flight, we actually get to proper talking and we figure out that we’re both Dutch. Five hours of fooling each other without actually knowing it. To top it off I realized I didn’t even know who I was talking to until we buckled up for the landing in Newark. 

Le wild Jeff Koons appears...

The next day we managed to make our visit to New York a mental rollercoaster. Starting off we went to the 9/11 memorial. Now I’m not someone who immediately started waving flags and going all “we have to support the USA, ‘cuz freedom” during that fateful day in 2001. It’s simply not in my nature to jump onto something like that, not in the last place because it happened 20,000 miles away. However, visiting the memorial and seeing all those names does make you realize just how horrible and tragic the whole affair was. Reading about whole teams of firefighters being wiped out; seeing how many people of all origins died; reading that at least three unborn children were among the casualties…it does something to you. We took the time to visit some of the places in the neighborhood, like St. Paul’s Chapel. Perhaps the most moving is the mementos, the ‘offerings’ that people left there from all over the world. It’s not a feeling that can be described in a few words. 

Overlooking the South Memorial Pool

We decided to stack onto all that with a visit to the Guggenheim museum. Out in front was a section of the New York Marathon, so we joined in cheering on people who think that running for a very long time is a good way to freeze your legs off before the snows hit. The Guggenheim itself had a mixture of modern art on display, running from the ‘classical’ to the ‘contemporary’. As if all racking our brains wasn’t challenging enough, we layered on some vertigo at the Empire State Building. It ain’t cheap going up there, but was the view ever worth it: thousands of city lights as far as the eye can see. It was a good end to a first day in the USA.

Go for the architecture, stay for the art.

The next day we drove up North to cross the border with Canada for a visit to Niagara Falls. I got my first taste of driving an automatic gearbox under American road laws. Considering that everyone is still alive and the car doesn’t look noticeably worse for wear, I’d say it was successful. Niagara Falls itself is a pretty impressive feat of momma nature, throwing up columns of evaporating water that can be seen for miles. The sheer scale of the thing and the amounts of water coming down leave a lasting impressing. 
"Maid of the Mist"

So there’s three days of visiting the USA. It’s taking some getting used to the way things work in the US: All mediums are large by European standards and some things that are nigh impossible to find in Europe can be bought without so much as a hiccup over here. Next on the schedule is a trip to Lady Liberty and then we are southbound for Atlanta, South Carolina and Florida. I’m looking forward to the warmer weather. 
New York, New York!
Signing off, 

The Lost Dutchman

zondag 14 juli 2013

Closing Time

Just like the previous year, the workload of the last two weeks was such that I hardly had time to wash my clothes, let alone update the blog. As of now, no one is left in Karei Deshe but the core of the staff team. It has been a hard four weeks but also an amazing four weeks. Sometimes you wish It’d never end; other times you wish you could be done with it. It`s as much an emotional rollercoaster as it is a physical one. Right now, I wish I could have it all one more time: One final time of being ‘flown’ up to the site; one final time for that beautiful sunrise; one final time for seeing a pair of Russians shooing scorpions from the site, one final time for “GOOOOOOOOOOOD MOOOOOOORING HORVAT KUR!!!” when a plane passes overhead, one more night of swimming in the lake, one more time of hearing our new soundtrack performed live, one more time the shitty chicken that lost its taste in week two, one more time of “OK, NEXT!”. One more time for “Dear people of Horvat Kur”…
Big stone, is good!

We’ve been through hell and high water as a team: we suffered the usual exhaustion, some medical concerns and a lot of frights when the Tell burnt down in a bushfire and we lost most of the digging equipment. Yet, through all of those things we`ve always had a lot of good luck and high times (especially when we figured out that our site itself was more or less unharmed.

Skyview came by on friday to perform their magic

The hardest part of this dig is being a staff member, as you have to watch all the people you call your friends after four weeks of sharing blood, sweat and beers, leave in small groups. Each time again, you suffer that same uneasy and miserable feeling in your stomach as you wave goodbye. On Monday, I will suffer that feeling for the final time, but it will be all the more difficult because it is the final goodbye of some of my closest friends on this dig. Perhaps that is why small things like proper Italian ice cream and one final glass of Laphroaig Quarter Cask on the beach of Karei Deshe while looking out on Tiberias under a starlit sky seem all the more enjoyable, yet also depressing. I`m not simply sad that Kinneret Regional Project season 2013 has come to an end: It`s a mixture of searing heartbreak and awkward satisfaction, as if you are leaving home to go on a long trip.

There are so many memories to bring along on this road from home back to home. We`ve managed to fully uncover the building that was found in 2010, we sang the praises of Gufah, the great divine and almighty lord of Taybeh, we swam in the Mediterranean, met Fano: the slyest old man in Jerusalem, negotiated the prices in camels for certain people and argued why they make the best pets… but most of all we came together as a group and became brothers and sisters in more ways than one. It`s probably best summed up by the following anecdote. When coming back from storing our equipment, some of the staff members commented that this whole experience is a bit like Hotel California by The Eagles: you can check out, but you can never truly leave.
Such a lovely place...

My dear, dear friends of Horvat Kur whom I know will be reading this: it has again been a great honor and a tremendous pleasure to be together with you and to share so many wonderful moments with you. I have already prepared plenty of room in my heart and my soul: check in and stick around for some drinks and some laughs until we meet again in the future.

The dear people of Horvat Kur

Signing off, for the last time this year from the enchanting Sea of Galilee 

… *snif*

The Lost Dutchman

dinsdag 25 juni 2013

A weekend to mill it over

After one full week of excavations, the weekend was finally upon us. No getting up at four in the morning, no instant coffee and no scorpions for two whole days! The event was promptly celebrated in style by watching the sun set on the lakeshore with good company, some nice music and a cold drink. As a flock of snow white herons streaked low over the cobalt blue water, a great feeling of peace came over me: life was good and we were living it. As it was Midsummer Night, the Finns took us on a traditional celebration of Juhannus, where we got a taste of the beautiful melancholy that is the Finnish soul…with perhaps a bit of cynical humor thrown is, as illustrated perfectly by the game ‘bus stop’. The game is played in a circle and the main objective is to not look someone directly in the eye, or else you freak out and are out. Naturally, we had a great time, but since Finnish people are usually too cynical to really enjoy themselves, you could argue that we just had a time.
She`s aged beatifully...

Come Saturday we went on an extensive excursion to Sepphoris and Caesarea Maritima. The ruins in Tzippori National park contain one of the most exquisite mosaics in the Levant: a roman portrait of a woman dubbed ‘The Mona Lisa of the Galilee’. It also contains a street discovered by one of our directors, Prof. Dr. Jürgen Zangenberg. We made sure to pay homage to this significant feature by taking a group photo here.

On the Jürgenstrasse
After lunch, we traveled to Caesarea Maritima, an administrative center commissioned by Herod THE Great. Walking through the gate towards the remains of his palace and the hippodrome, it`s easy to see how he got the name: the man sure had an eye for location. We enjoyed a walk along his beachfront party complex with the smell of silt in our nose. After a thorough tour of the site, we went to a nearby beach for a swim in the Mediterranean. There is something captivating about this body of water: it is a thing mysterious and alluring beauty, yet also comforting and playful. She is the desirable mistress of every man, woman and child that lays eyes upon her and falls under her spell. She has been the lifeblood of countless societies that laid themselves to rest beside her and she still invigorates the people that live their lives by her side. She will always have a special place in my heart. At the end of the day, we were forced to say goodbye and return to the no less beautiful Sea of Galilee.
I`d build here too

But we could do one better. After dinner, a small group of us drove over to the Tabgha Pilgerhaus where that heavenly treasure of the Holy Land awaited us: a large glass of Taybeh. By now, readers will be aware of its near-sacred status for us digging folk. Watching the moon tuck the lake in with a blanket of silver while the hills were dancing with what seem to be giant candles, we had both hilarious jokes and wonderful conversations. Truly we lived the weekend for what it was under the protective blue and silver Eye of God.

Enchanting as this all may sound, it`s not all fun and games. One of the volunteers cracked a tooth by accident on Friday, in the severe catastrophe of biting down too hard on a cherry stone. Fortunately a staff member was able to take him to the dentist, who stabilized the situation quickly and professionally.
Beyond that, some people are also suffering from cold symptoms, courtesy of the Israeli love for excessive air-conditioning. Something as simple as a cherry stone or sitting in the foyer can take you out of the game, and those are by far the least of the things that can be unfavorable to your health: cisterns off the trodden path, our dear arachnid friends from the site, and someone recently spotting a snake on a nearby beach are a constant reminder of the fact that we have to be careful and look after both ourselves and each other.

All in all this has been a weekend to mill over, with so many experiences to take away from. It has taught me that good times are not to be taken for granted and bad experiences should not be set aside lightly or forgotten. Remember your mistakes and hardships so you can learn from them and move forward as a stronger person. But also do not forget that life is about the good times and memories you create with the people who are meaningful to you. Look after yourself, expand your knowledge and understanding of the world around you, do something crazy and have a metric ton of fun while you do it. Because sometimes in life, you`ve just gotta drink the Taybeh.

Sometimes, you`ve just gotta..

Signing off for now,

The Lost Dutchman

donderdag 20 juni 2013

Context is everything!

We are all well underway with the first week of digging and as newcomers start to grasp the scale and purpose of the work they do, they come to interesting realizations. One of the most heard so far is the joy people experience at finding ‘special objects’. Special objects are not so much things like rich treasures, but rather items that can tell us more specific things about what we are excavating. A good example of this is nails. The purpose of a 1500 year old, severely corroded nail is evident to no one save archaeologists.  


If you were to find a piece of severely worn flint while gardening, you might raise an eyebrow at it. More likely, you`d probably toss it somewhere far away from you. In the field, even a heavily worn piece of flint is significant as long as it was visibly worked. Where an annoyed jab to throw something as far away as possible is what most people would consider the best solution, out on an excavation site it literally has people dancing.

Then again: it doesn`t look like your average garden...

It is all evidence of the archaeological adage that context is everything. Without it, all our effort: the fuel burnt, the people brought over, the sweating in the sun, the cramps, scratches, bruises and hangovers…are for nothing. Any and all finds need to be relatable to the environment in which they were found. A collector might be pleased with having an object that is beautiful, but it is the exact layer, the pottery that surrounded the object, and other such apparently trivial things that can help us date an object and give us a better understanding of how people in history perceived and used said object.

This is exactly why archaeologists despise looters and treasure hunters. A good example is the TV-show “Diggers”, which depicts people trying to find antiques to sell for a profit. No self-respecting archaeologist could support a show that teaches people to take evidence of historical events out of their context for a reason so banal as to make money off it. You could argue that this is reflected in the relatively low average pay of archaeologists: these are people to whom a specific chunk of rock is more important than their own personal health; to whom financial means only serve to prolong and expand excavations, rather to enrich themselves. As the 19th century Egyptologist Jean François Champollion noted: “Archaeology is a beautiful mistress, but she brings a poor dowry.” As we at Horvat Kur know all too well: true love isn`t about gold digging…


Signing off for now,


The Lost Dutchman

dinsdag 18 juni 2013

Here we go!

It is my great pleasure to report we are finally in-country. After quite a long trip everyone has safely arrived at their new temporary home. Several team members arrived several days ahead of the main group and have gone ahead and cleared the site of thistles, which meant that day one of the excavation was devoted solely to setting up the tents. With everything moving ahead so rapidly, we can get stuck in with the good stuff straight away: proper excavation.


Day two already saw us scraping the soil, with people from all corners of the world working on virtually every corner of the building. For some, work consisted of nothing more than preparing new ground for excavation by carrying a lot of stones to a new dump area. Others have already been able to start working their way through topsoil. We`ve turned up a surprising amount of roof tiles so far, which will further help to give us an understanding of the general size of the building itself. Everyone has also acquainted themselves with the scorching heat (38 Celsius) and the powerful west wind that blows into the valley from about 11 o`clock in the morning.


There is a surprising amount of scorpions this year, with at least five getting flying lessons on day two already. We`ve also spotted the first snake, but he was quite happy to slither along to the next patch of tall grass. The resident mouse has also returned to hide out under staff tent when it is down at night.

The newest member of our 'flying circus'

The Karei Deshe guest house itself hasn`t changed much in the meantime. There is a new cook, but his skills in preparing chicken are about equal to the one he succeeded. The beds are the same, the swallows racing around the courtyard don`t seem to have changed. The only significant difference is the water level in the lake. The past winter has been exceptionally wet, resulting in a water level which hasn`t been seen for nearly a decade. In previous years, the beach would start where the trees would stop. This year, the lake starts where the trees stop. Any flooded reeds are also quite far away which should make swimming much more enjoyable.


See, excavation is funness!
Both the volunteers and the staff have already settled into their ‘digging life’. Everyone knows where the drinking water can be tapped, where snacks and beer can be bought and which cake they prefer for the early morning sugar breakfast. Personally, I`ve grown tired of the food already, but I also feel that it should be so. Being stuck with chicken for four weeks, eating hummus which can best be described as ‘meh’ and drinking beer which does not rank much higher than that has become an intricate part of the Horvat Kur experience. There is something comfortably familiar about its taste. It tells you that you are on an adventure where personal comforts cannot always take pride of place and where luxuries become something you will well and truly enjoy. This is what makes the taste of Taybeh so fantastic, the dinner trip so special and the evenings out in the lake so magical.


Signing off for now,


The Lost Dutchman


zaterdag 15 juni 2013

Breaking Out

What? This blog is still alive?...yeah, sort of.

Seeing as I will be leaving for Israel again tomorrow, it was high time I finally wrote something for the blog. Unfortunately, life has been grabbing me by the ankles for the past few months, preventing me from making any headway with all the items I had planned for the blog. But with so many people asking me whether I will keep one again this season, there`s really no reason for me not to do so. I`ve had a few ideas that have fallen by the wayside and which I may attempt to resurrect during the coming excavation, but for now I want to focus – in fact I only seem able to focus – on my impending departure to Israel.

When reflecting on what I wrote a year ago, it`s striking how much the feeling is exactly the same: I am still going over the list in my head  for a seventh time just to make sure that I do indeed have everything. I also still can`t wait to start my trip by train to the airport, but much more than last year, this feeling is taking full control of my mind. I can`t plan any further ahead than unpacking my gear and setting up shop in the field lab. All the common concerns of the rest of the household just seem like static noise to me and I can`t help but feel like a caged animal, as if everyday life`s chains still pin me to everyday dullness as I have to sit and wait in the knowledge that many of my friends already have their boots on the ground at the shore of Lake Kinneret. Seeing photos of them at work isn`t doing much to soothe the feeling of being like a caged lion. But tonight, I can finally break the bars, tear those chains out of the ground and take off into a world of scholarly practice, sun, heat and good times. More so than ever during my preparations for the coming season am I looking forward to making new friends and revisiting old ones. There`s Taybeh, Maccabee, araq, chicken and wasp-infested tuna to help me get on with the days.

Packed up and ready to go!
Nevertheless, I`ll miss my family, the cats, the dog and friends that I have to leave at home or will not be seeing in Israel. But it is all part of the experience of traveling long and far abroad. You don`t just go somewhere to see some nice sights or do something interesting: you travel to experience the feeling of being transported from one ‘world’ into another. You travel to change your perspective on life, to become a more fully-rounded human being. Travel is just as much about finding hardship as it is about finding joy; it`s about finding differences and similarities so that you better understand and appreciate the world around you. In the case of archaeological fieldwork, you add a chronological dimension to it.

On one of the train stations in the Netherlands there`s an old piece of verse. Freely translated, it goes something like this: While traveling one experiences the stranger side of life: it`s so different and varied, yet everywhere it remains the same. As travelers, archaeologists, historians and religious studies scholars, our eventual goal is to gain a profound understanding of this wisdom.

On a less philosophical note, it`s time for me to go slow-roast in the scorching heat, take pictures of dirt and lug around stones from. I`m finally going to see all the Dear People of Horvat Kur again (Gods, how I`ve missed that sentence)…

Signing off,

The Lost Dutchman

maandag 4 februari 2013

Mine`s Better than Yours - Archaeologists and their Trowels

Archaeologists are funny people. Not only do they treat very old bits of metal and earthenware with an almost zealous reverence, they are also very stingy about and proud of the few bits of modern metal they use to poke in the sand. I am of course talking of the trusty trowel. It`s the archaeologist`s best and closest friend while in the field. Most will have a preferred brand of trowel and display pride so fierce that many Apple- and Samsung-fans could learn a thing or two from them.

First, for those savage uninformed heathens that don`t know what a trowel is: it is essentially a shaped slab of metal fitted with a handle that is used in construction for applying mortar to bricks. The archaeological trowel is usually smaller and measure between 10 and 15 centimeters (that between 4 and 6 inches for those of you who still think that body parts confer accurate measurements).The designs are generally more tapered to make them suitable for fine archaeological work. It is the single most basic tool in archaeology as it can both move relatively large amounts of dirt as well as scrape around the finds that have been wedged in the soil without risking the sort of damage that can be caused by a pickaxe.

There are two big names in the field of trowel production (hence the Apple-Samsung reference): Marshalltown and WHS. Both have their varying qualities and specialties that appeal to the fan base. Marshalltown is an American brand that has been producing hand tools since the 1890`s. The company`s signature trowel is the Philadelphia style, known for its “arrowhead” shape and relative flexibility granted by the thinner steel. This makes them a bit more forgiving but also (according to some) less durable. The company also produces a diamond-shape trowel of thicker steel, known as the London style. There is a reason for this name. 

The Marshalltown doing what it does best
WHS is its British counterpart. The name WHS refers to the beginnings of the company, William Hunt and Sons of Brades Steel Works, which started in 1793. Through the centuries, several larger companies have bought the brand name, yet it has always remained in existence. One possible reason for this might be the “nom-de-guerre” explanation that many construction workers have for the acronym WHS: Work Hard or Starve. The company`s headquarters are in Sheffield.
The staple archaeological trowel of WHS features a thick diamond shaped blade that is very durable yet unforgiving. It will not bend around objects, but neither will you risk a “spring-launch” effect. Opponents of this type of blade criticize it for its inability to flex well, rendering it more brittle than certain other models. The Marshalltown London style effectively a copy of this type of model, yet the type will always be seen as a British thing (hence the strategic name London style). 

As mentioned earlier, opinions on which type of trowel is preferable tend to be the strongly held ones. Those who swear by Marshalltown will not concede easily to working with WHS` and many people who own said British trowel have no respect for the “floppy colonial scraper”. But the adoration for the trowels cherished by their owners goes beyond a mere mine-is-better-than-yours discussion. Many archaeologists have very dear memories attached to their trowels. For some interesting ones, I suggest the following page. 
The WHS in its natural habitat

Personally, I`m partial to the WHS – although I`m not beyond using the Marshalltown if the choice comes between that and a builder`s trowel. In the two years that I`ve been on excavation in Horvat Kur, I`ve gone through two trowels. My first one served me well all season long and on the advice of my parents was stored in the tool shed. When the time came for me to collect it, the shed was so full of second-hand vacuum cleaners and radios that I could no longer find it. A second one was ordered and again it went with me to Israel. There, it scraped everything from topsoil to the finest dust, opened beer bottles during the evenings and was even involved in uncovering our most extraordinary find to date. Unfortunately it was lost the very last days of the excavation and is now probably spending its days at the bottom of a tool crate in a container somewhere on the shore of the lake of Galilee. 

Although sometimes a trowel just won`t do...

Despite the fact that this season my tasks will mostly focus on taking photographs for the Kinneret Regional Project, I will order a new one. The WHS is short, stubby and not always the sharpest tool in the shed, just like me. Therefore I cannot bring myself to pack all my stuff and consider myself ready for another season without the comforting knowledge that inside my suitcase, there is a trusty trowel to dig out pottery shards and beer bottle caps in equal measure. It is simply the way things should be.

Signing off,

The Lost Dutchman

maandag 28 januari 2013

The Closest Thing to Heaven in the Holy Land

A little under a year ago I wrote a blog post called From Araq to Zombie, dealing with the basis of truth behind the cliché that archaeologist and alcohol go together like gin and tonic. Part of the post was a brief description of most common locally brewed beer in Israel. Soon afterwards, I was asked why I hadn`t written anything about Taybeh. Ignorant as I was, I asked why it was such a big deal. I was promised that when we got to Israel, they were going to show me what the big deal was. I would not be disappointed.
It was not just the beer that didn`t dissapoint.

In a country where most beer hangs somewhere between swigable and survivable, Taybeh was a true revelation. It actually tastes half decent, which is saying a lot.  The trouble with Taybeh is that it`s not brewed within the “green-line” Israeli borders. Taybeh is brewed in the Christian-Palestinian village it takes its name from, on the West Bank. This presents a uniquely difficult situation.

On the one hand, production is quite difficult as most resources have to be brought in from abroad, seeing as the predominantly Islamic Palestinians authorities would rather not have a company producing beer in their midst. In order to try and come up with an acceptable product, Taybeh started non-alcoholic beer production in 2006, labeling their bottles in green. This in order to make the brand attractive to Muslims, who do not drink alcohol out of religious principle.

On the other hand, the brand has to ship its product outside of the Palestinian territories in order to get it sold. This means getting it through Israeli checkpoints and onto the markets beyond. The main problem here is that the majority of Israeli companies don`t exactly fancy stocking Palestinian produce. Therefore, the market for Taybeh in Israel is smaller than it could potentially be and you will be hard pressed to find a shop that sells Taybeh. The most common places to find Taybeh are restaurants and bars. Typically the ones with a somewhat non-Israeli background such as the Lebanese restaurants in Haifa or the German-styled Pilgerhaus in Tabgha, are good candidates for drinking the brew.

The interesting thing is that since my introduction to the brew, drinking Taybeh in Israel has always become the marker for an interesting story. The first one is about our trip to Haifa and Acco. For the long version, see the post Grime lines and Lucky Foam from last year, but the TL:DR version is that one of the girls we were with used a combination of charm and blond hair to persuade a waiter to let us walk out of a restaurant with a Taybeh glass. It`s come to epitomize the good times we had that weekend. 

But Taybeh brings back memories closer to “home” as well. The divine solemnity of the church at Tabgha; the beautiful view of the lake basking in the afternoon sun, white herons gliding low over the water… It reminds me very much of how the Northwestern shore of the lake is almost like paradise. Josephus was quite right when he called this area “the ambition of nature”.

...and so is this

It`s not surprising that because of its hard-to-get nature and its inherent association with memorable experiences, Taybeh has come to be viewed as something of a luxury commodity. Small wonder then, that it became such a discussion topic. This is something that goes beyond the we-don`t-have-this-at-home factor, this is something that will take on the same significance that a photo book, or a reunion would. Therefore, if anyone knows where to get a sixpack of Taybeh in Europa or via the internet, do let me know.
...and this

So the conclusion of this piece is that we enjoy Taybeh because it`s good beer (by Israeli standards) which holds many memories of good times with the dear people of Horvat Kur. But perhaps the reason Taybeh appeals to us goes beyond merely the fact that the taste of the stuff evokes these memories. Perhaps we archaeologists prefer it because we recognize ourselves in the idea of trying to brew beer in the Palestinian territories. The whole concept is so crazy to begin with that it actually becomes awesome, just like archaeology. 

Boiled down to its purest form, archaeology is about the justification of craziness. We travel to nature`s extremes to perform hard physical labor in order to try and help better understand humanity`s past; a prospect that would have the average person suffering from Historical Significance Deficit Disorder declares you ripe for the nearest mental institution.
In a way, Taybeh epitomizes the whole experience of taking part in the fieldwork at Horvat Kur: it`s a unique experience that will create lasting memories of good times. These memories will stand as beacons for valueing the good things in life, and that is something I can drink to…

…anyone else thirsty?

Singing off,

The Lost Dutchman

p.s.  On a short note, it seems that Benjamin Netanyahu has lost his dominant position and that the social matters of Israel will find a well-deserved, larger slot in politics. It seems that for the time being, Israeli politics will be about more than just regional conflict. To my mind, that is a good thing.