Wednesday, September 26, 2007

What does an archaeologist do??

The other day I said to our niece "I have to go to work now" and she laughed. Usually her aunt mo and uncle yo just lie around, drink martinis, and watch bad movies when they visit (to be fair it is usually a holiday). I think that the thought of her aunt actually going to work was pretty amusing. I bet she wonders, as might most of you, what we actually do. We say that we are archaeologists, but when we aren't on a dig or teaching what does that mean? I thought it would be a good idea to explain what we do -- well I'll tell you what I do here in Toronto, Yo can post his own blog about what he does in Amman - sounds like a lot of martinis and lying around watching bad movies. Yo at Nai drinking martinis:I currently work on a field project in Greece. Usually in May and June I am in Greece working on the Early Bronze Age project of Keros (you can see earlier blogs for greater detail). This is an image of our transport to and from the site:Hopefully this coming season Yo will join the project as the ground stone specialist (I'll let him go into detail about ground stone etc...). I am interested in the archaeology of the Bronze Age Cyclades, but I am also interested in the looting that took place at the site in the 1960s and 1970s. This is an image of a looter's pit on Keros. My area of specialization is how countries legally protect their archaeological sites from looting. I am interested in whether or not laws work, how they work and why countries pick particular laws. I am also interested in why people loot sites, why people collect archaeological artifacts and how these practices effect archaeology. For my PhD I looked at antiquities laws in Israel and Palestine. In Israel you can buy and sell artifacts from pre-1978 collections. This a shop in Jerusalem:Palestine is currently writing their legislation and I was very interested in the process behind the writing. I spent a year living in the area talking and interviewing people about their involvement with the antiquities trade. Why am I telling you this? Because much of what I am doing now is writing articles based on the research from my dissertation. Why am I writing articles? Because that's how you get "known" and then maybe somebody or some institution will want to hire you.

So one thing we do is write articles, books, reviews and present the results of our research at conferences. Last week I finished an article called Legislative Legacies for a journal called the Jerusalem Quarterly. The article is about the laws in Palestine and their historical antecedents in the mandate and Ottoman periods. I spent a lot of time looking through archival material for information about the writing of the laws. A lot of detective work.

We also teach. I don't have much teaching experience, but I would like to get more. Yo has tons and has taught all kinds of courses at all kinds of universities and colleges. This past year I took 12 students to the site in Greece for a field school. Field school photo: At the excavation the students learned how to excavate, how to get up in the morning, how to interact with locals, how to socialize with famous archaeologists and how to "be" an archaeologist - all useful skills regardless of whether you end up an archaeologist. Dancing with ACR:Archaeology is definitely not for everyone, but generally everyone has to get up in the morning and go to work. Sorting the wet sieve material in the early morning:
While I am here in Toronto I am analyzing the results of my research from my 6 months in Jordan last year. I did a lot of interviews and I now need to look at all of the answers that people gave and look for themes and similarities, sort of like connecting the dots. I am also doing some more interviews while I am here, hopefully with people from the Royal Ontario Museum. During my poking around in the archives in Jerusalem I came across some information about artifacts that the ROM bought in the 1920s, so now I want to trace the information from the ROM angle. Why? Because it is useful for anthropologists and museum professionals to know about past museum acquisition policies in order to make improvements or change the way we acquire artifacts (not buying anything that is looted). The demand for artifacts from museums and individuals is what drives looting, so I am always chasing leads on what creates this demand. The new Michael Chin crystal at the ROM:
I also spend some days working on the Antiquities Market section of the Journal of Field Archaeology I am a co-editor (with CML) and we have to badger people to submit articles for the journal or we have to edit articles.

I (along with CML) also work for Prof G, a lawyer from DePaul University on a project, which brought 35 middle eastern cultural heritage experts to Washington to discuss how they protect their cultural heritage.
I sometimes review World Heritage Site nominations for UNESCO I am also working on developing some new projects - a co-authored book (with CML) on aspects of this research and a collaborative field project where another archaeologist (MSC) and I try to trace the pathway of looted artifacts from Jordan to Israel. A type of pot we are attempting to trace:
There are lots of other things we do - writing grant applications, applying for jobs, giving public lectures etc... but our real love is being out in the field and travelling. It is all about visiting far away places.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Birthday High Jinks

This month our nephew MRK and our niece LL had birthdays. Going back to school, the summer ending, and having a birthday in one month all makes for a lot of adventure and high jinks.

LL turns 5
Here is LL with her 12 Dancing Princess cake:
And the aftermath of eating the cake:

And martinis for the parents:MRK turns 6

CR plays a tune, following in her father's footsteps:

Smile for the camera . . .Even if you don't have snow in Canada you can still use a sled, it just takes a little more effort:

All that effort requires food - feeding the masses:
FMK helps celebrate her big brother's birthday. She looks angelic, but really she is the female version of my brother at age 3 and a half, enough said. Sometimes you dress like a lion to help celebrate a birthday:

And sometimes you dress like a Princess:

Apparently the whole gang thought it would be a good idea to dress up:Happy Birthday MRK:After all the cake and play and fun you sometimes just have to relax:

And just a reminder to be thankful for good drivers and sturdy SUVs, last year when we all piled into the huge honking family SUV to attend MRK's birthday party we has a small mishap on the way. I ended up looking like this:

For a while I was sporting the very fashionable "three eyebrow" look, but I am much improved. We are very glad that we made it to the birthday bash safely this year. Happy Birthday MRK and LL.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tabular Scraper Production Sites

Earlier this week I joined Prof G, B and T, all archaeologists. Prof G was leading us to some sites south of Azraq where tabular scrapers were once produced. T is an archaeologist who specializes in Upper Paleolithic and Epipaleolithic sites and directs excavations at sites in Azraq. His fellow countryman, B, recently studied similar sites up near Ruweished, not far from the Jordan-Iraq border (see our post on "Burqu, basalt and badia", June 3 for the area of Ruweished).

What, you may ask, is a tabular scraper? These are tools made of flint that are sometimes found at Late Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Early Bronze sites, so from perhaps 6000 BC to 3000 BC. The tools are large "flakes" of flint material. What makes them interesting is that they are a very specific, recognizable flint tool found across sites in Jordan, Palestine and Israel - but in very low numbers. Although we find them at sites far to the west, including sites virtually at the Mediterranean, there has been very little information about where they were being made, or where the flint originated. Some sites where these tools were manufactured are known from the Negev, but those are fairly small spots and seemed unlikely to be sufficient to have supplied all of the known sites. Thus the discovery of sites where many of these were produced is a significant discovery to archaeologists working during these periods across the region.

We left from Amman and headed south on the Airport highway, or the Desert Highway. This is the same road we used before to get to Wadi Ram and other points south. However, to get to the area, we need to head southeast, so we eventually took what is know as the "HAZMAT" road, a well paved road that cuts across the desert to the east. As you might have guessed, this road leads to a major, very large area for the disposal of waste. This is, in fact, a little known highway that leads to Qasr Tuba (see earlier post Tuba bound, May 27)

Since we were with prehistorians, no one had been to Qasr Tuba before (!), although T and Prof G have been visiting Jordan for some time. (actually, few people visit this site - its very remote, and not accessible by car). We stopped off for a quick visit, which had no site caretaker this time (presumably on Ramadan leave). In his wake he left many, many flies to keep people away. We quickly complied. The lack of flint may have contributed to the drifting interest of the prehistorians.

Driving away quickly in the hopes of decreasing the fly population, we headed south on the main road from Azraq to Saudi Arabia. At one point we stopped at the "Ba'er Station" for fuel and snacks, which you can see off in the distance. Although I actually had tinned tuna and sardines with me, there was no bread, crackers or anything similar, so that idea was out. Everyone had different choices: Prof G, being wealthy and tenured, went for the Hala Chips; being a naive and poor money manager, I did the same.

T, on the other hand, went for the Krokodile chips.

G went for the "Ringo".

The taste comparison achieved a quick and conclusive consensus: they were all nasty. But we all agreed that G won the prize -- the policitically incorrect Ringos were easily the most revolting of the bunch. Or any that I had ever tasted. Apparently it IS possible to simply whip cheap oils and then make them spongy (not really crunchy). No need for actual vegetables or anything. Or perhaps its a similar technology to cotton candy, where by adding enough air makes a sponge chip out of oil.

Our charming ramadan lunch complete, Prof G easily found one of the sites that he had identified years ago.
What you are looking is a vein of flint that has been ripped up. The people found the layer of flint, and then dug down, so that we can now see the shallow pit forming in the photo above.

In order to make tabular scrapers, ancient flint knappers really wanted one thing: a very large, flat flake from the outside of the flint. This outer flake would still have the cortex on it (sort of the 'skin'). So at quarries like this the primary evidence you find are large flint nodules with negative bulbs of percussion (which you can see in the photo above), where massive blows have knocked off these large cortical flakes. The flakes were then moved somewhere else, trimmed for the desired shape of the tool, and then either used or perhaps exchanged.
The vein of flint is also visible eroding out of the side of the cliff (below).Of course, it CAN be difficult to get a good shot from above, so a little help from Said's truck helps immensely.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Wadi Ram (Pt II), Kerak and Humeima

Yes, its only been two weeks, and already I returned to Wadi Ram. It is a beautiful place, and this time it was the beginning of Ramadan, the holy month. This holy month, when muslims fast from sun up until sun down, starts at the new moon, which meant a better stargazing night while sleeping on mats out in the desert this time. Last time we visited, two weeks ago, the moon was nearly full, which is nice but obliterates the stars. This time I joined Prof G, A. and M. Although A and M study post-interesting periods (Roman stuff, and Crusader stuff, respectively....really just a joke), it was ok because Prof G was there. At any rate, we visited some of the same sites as my post (see Wadi Ramm, 8.29) of a few weeks ago, so I will only post a few new photos from Wadi Ram.
First, where is Wadi Ram? Far to the south in Jordan, almost to the southern tip, where the port town of Aqaba is located. The southern yellow line is the border with Saudi Arabia; to the east is Israel.

You may recall that last time we looked at some fairly enigmatic features, some of which Prof G had uncovered during his initial research investigation this past summer. This included some stone arc features with paving stones and upright stele. I had also included some photos of an odd sinuous 'wall' or paved walkway, which seemed to connect to nothing nor lead anywhere (seen above with an apparently skeptical A and Prof G). There are three segments of this sinuous walk or wall, and although they are not connected it is apparent that they are from the same general period of time and probably built at more or less the same time, by the same people. But why?

Well, I don't know! But here is what the next best thing to an aerial view looks like of these three wall/walkways. You can just trace the line of the walls, primarily because they were cleared by Prof G and his able assistant. And the view below gives you a (admittedly slight) sense of the other features in the same general area where these walls or processional walks are located. I like the term Processional Walk, don't you?

We also returned to the rock art area.

That evening we sat and enjoyed the softening light. We also enjoyed watching a young bedouin fellow bring home a few camels he recently purchased (clip above). Prof. G comments that the price of dog food has gone up so much its cheaper to just use his four wheel drive!
After a rather chilly but beautiful evening sleeping in the same area as the processional walk, we awoke and counted off - still four of us! Despite our best efforts to put A out on the edge of the mats as bait, no dingos had carried her off.

The next day we bought some sodas and some "date newtons" for brunch and headed out. We stopped off at the Nabatean temple again, but that was boring the first time 'round, so you can refer back to the earlier post if you care for substantial architecture and reconstruction. (ok, thats not true, I think that A and M quite enjoyed it). Heading north, we crossed the narrow little rails that once served the Hijaz railway, but now primarily serves the limestone mines to the north.
Go little pufferbelly!

On our way north, we stopped off at the site of Humeima, a Nabatean site (with a temple, possibly seen below), Roman occupation, with subsequent occupation during the Ummayyad period (early Islamic).

Nabatean temple?

From Humeima we continued north toward Amman, and made one final stop, at Kerak. I had been to the town of Kerak before, but I'd never visited the castle or seen the museum. M., an expert on Crusader pottery, wanted to visit the Kerak Museum to see what is on display for future comparative research. And it was a beautiful day, so why not visit a castle?

To the west, one can see the Dead Sea and Judean desert to the west, even on such a hazy day. (The slightly darker patch is the Dead Sea).

And finally, the gang - many thanks for such a wonderful trip!!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Creationism in Canada

We are in the midst of a provincial election here in Ontario and yesterday the front page headline of the Globe and Mail read: "Christian private schools should be allowed to teach creationism if they receive public funding, Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory said yesterday." Tory is the leader of the Progressive Conservative party, a party vying for control of the province. Currently the Liberals are in power here in Ontario, the premier is Dalton McGuinty. I went online to find out a little more about Dalton and I was saddened to see that the first thing that pops up on the screen is some footage of McGuinty shaking hands with Arnie, the governor of California - I guess Dalton thinks that will garner him some votes "I am pals with the terminator..." But back to Creationism in Canada - some six hours after the headlines appeared John Tory went into damage-control mode, saying "creationism should be explored only in religion class and not elsewhere in the curriculum, such as in science class." In Ontario there a basic school curriculum that everyone has to follow if they receive public funding. As a tax payer you can choose whether your tax dollars for education are put into the public or separate (Catholic) school system - a legacy of the French/English divide. At the moment those are the only choices for public funding. Both school systems teach evolution, but in Catholic school in religion class they might go into creationism or they might not. In response to Tory's comments the current Minister of Education (coincidentally the person running against Tory for the Don Valley west seat in Toronto) stated "In terms of public dollars, those public dollars should go into a curriculum that has been agreed upon as being the one that is the best for our kids and is rooted in science and is rooted in evidence." There is hope yet...

The other day we were going to Booster Juice for a smoothie. As we got to the front door we all noticed a couple seated on the patio. The male had his shirt off and the female was picking things on his back. We were all taken aback and quite frankly - repulsed. LL really wanted a Booster Juice but none of us wanted to walk any closer to this couple, finally her Daddy relented. We did decide that if you did not believe in evolution this public display of "nitpicking" was living proof.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

First Day of Grade One

Today our niece LL started grade one at her new school St. Pius X.

She was up and dressed at 6:00am, raring to go. She picked out her own outfit and she looked good. In consultation with her folks I decided to head to the university as I normally do, that way LL wouldn't be overwhelmed by big people - her mom, her dad and her crazy aunt. I called her dad later to find out how it went and everything was fine and dandy. Apparently after she finished her breakfast she ran upstairs, brushed her teeth, did her hair and grabbed her backpack and announced - "Let's go, I'm ready". Her mom - not so ready...
On Friday we made a trial run to the school to check out her classroom and meet her new teacher, Mrs. Cherevaty. Visiting the classroom for the first time outfit:

The apple tree with the names of all of the students in the class.

Her desk, with her name. There are three Olivia's in her class, but only one Livy, which is what we call her. It was good to have a trial run.

Our nephew MRK also started grade one today, but I will have to get the pictures from his mom and dad on the weekend before can post about his first day. Grade one is very exciting.