Wednesday, March 19, 2008

An Early Bronze Day (well, mostly)

Invited for a day out to visit archaeological sites with two friends and colleagues, Yo jumped at the chance to enjoy a spring day visiting new places. Our two leaders of the journey were Dr. B and Dr. vdB. Dr. B is considered one of the leading experts on the Early Bronze Age in the southern Levant, particularly the pottery made during the earliest phases of the EBA. Dr. vdB (seen below) is, in fact, a noted authority on early predynastic Egypt, but has now been working in Israel for some years and has a great deal of expertise in the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze.
Dr. vdB enjoying the tour led by S near Fasa'el.
A beautiful day, with green hills that are usually brown or white, the flowers were thriving and the air was crisp and clear. Our first stop were the excavations directed by a graduate student, Sh., who is excavating sites in the area of Faza'el, an area in the Jordan Valley section of the PA (Palestine Autonomous area), north of Jericho. Excavations at this site exposed remarkably well preserved walls virtually at the ground surface, including curvilinear walls typically of EB I. In addition to the preserved, well-made walls of rooms and alleys, a very nicely preserved silo with the entrance is easy to see.

S., graduate student and director of excavations.

Fossilized ammonites (?) in the excavations - art for the EB folk?

Excavation squares (above); excavated silo (below) with baulk still cutting across the silo.

Nearby there was some sort of Roman structure, unexcavated; you might be able to just make out the line of walls.
Below, you can just make out the large boulders of some Roman enclosure or building.
In the immediate area we also visited a site partially destroyed by the security fence (below) for the local settlement, possibly a Chalcolithic site.

Yo at Fasa'el

After visiting these sites in the immediate area of Fasa'el, we drove back down the Jordan Valley rode toward Jericho. We first stopped in a beautiful little wadi (valley) known as Wadi Uja, with flowing water, some large caves visible up in the cliffs and a riot of wildflowers. We visited a site, probably occupied during various periods, possibly the Chalcolithic, the Early Bronze and porbably some later occupation as well.
Above, looking west up the wadi.
Above: The guys walking back across the site towards the vehicle amid wildflowers.

From there we went back out on the Jordan Valley rode where we visited a site immediately next to the road, just to the west on the hill above. This site, only recently identified and called something like "Hujet Musa", is thought to represent a period around the late Epipaleolithic or very early Pre-pottery Neolithic. The remains of the round stone structures of these hunter-gatherers are easily visible on the surface slope; all around the site are deep holes in the bedrock stone. These holes probably represent what are known as "bedrock mortars", spots where the people used to use long pestles to crush various nuts, grasses and other tasty treats. Over 200 were identified in the immediate vicinity of the site.

Note circular structures at ground surface. Thick line of stones near feet are NOT a wall, but an infilled trial trench.

Below, bedrock mortar

Below, Jordan Valley road with truckload o' cows going by. Next road is security fence and road used by army. Jordan is just across the river to east.

From here we went to Tiberias to visit the salvage excavations led by Dr. Y. A pipeline going in very near the road will destroy the archaeological remains, so Dr. Y's job is to salvage and document all of the ancient remains in that immediate area. His excavations exposed two different levels of occupation; an Early Bronze period which included some large architecture, and a Fatimid (Islamic) period occupation. These revealed an unusual aspect of re-use, where it appears that the Fatimid people re-used the much earlier (c. 4,000 years!?) architecture into their own buildings.
Hey kids! Remember this: good archaeologists don't sit on the ancient architecture!
The view from the excavations in Tiberias - not so shabby!

From Tiberias we went up near the "Golani junction" to have a picnic up in a wooded area. Although we weren't able to find a picnic table for Dr. B, he nevertheless shared an amazing lunch with us. Unfortunately I forgot to take any pictures, but suffice to say, 4 archaeologists sitting around in the woods eating lunch was vastly more pleasurable for us than it would be for you to witness it.

We then made one final stop to excavations in the town of Kfar Kana. We weren't sure exactly where the excavations were exactly, which led to bickering between Dr. B and Dr. vdB that sounded like an old married couple. As we headed into town, one's mood could only lighten in the knowledge that at MonaLiza you could become a new woman.
We eventually did find the excavations, which included more stone walls of various thicknesses. I'm sparing you these particular walls; suffice to say that some were very large, thick walls, possibly fortification walls, except that they are being dated to the earliest phases of the EBA, which makes fortificaiton unlikely.
From Kfar Kana we went to Dr. vdB's new place in the town of Zefat (Safad, and many other spellings), at one time one of the centers for mystical Judaism, and something of a tourist attraction, with a small but thriving arts community. Many of those people have moved on, yet it remains a largely religious town.
We admired Dr. vdB's view over the Sea of Galilee and Tiberias to the south; even though it was quite hazy this day, his view from the backyard is still quite beautiful. After some drinks and a wonderful meal we sat and chatted and listened to music. The next morning I tried a Dutch taste treat for breakfast which I've never had before: chocolate sprinkles on buttered bread. Yum! Quite the tasty way to start the day!

View to the south from Dr. vdB's backyard (above) and his backyard (below).

Chocolate sprinkles, breakfast of champions! YUM!

Many thanks to Drs. B and vdB for inviting me, it was a great trip!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Keeping Busy

Once again I (Mo) have been a bad blogger - just not that much going on and I am not sure that reporting on the interior of my "office" would be all that interesting. Basically I've just been working and shoveling snow . . . However in the past of couple weeks I did do some interesting things.

Visiting Mrs. Fleming's Grade One Class
A few months ago our 5 year old niece decided that it would be interesting for her class if "someone" (since Yo is in the Middle East that would be Mo) came to talk about archaeology. Last week I went to the class taking along a bag of goodies. I borrowed some Jordanian artifacts from the lab at UToronto and took my tools and dressed like an archaeologist. The kids were great, they asked a ton of questions and had some great guesses about the various artifacts I took along.
Sample Questions:
1. How old are you? LL and I had practiced my talk before I went to the class and she assured me that someone would ask how old I was - I was unconvinced but we practiced the answer at her insistence.
2. How many years have you been in school? We glossed over the answer so as not to put the fear of god into these budding academics.
3. What cities do you work in? Memphis, but not where Elvis comes from. "My dad has Elvis albums" "Who is Elvis?" I left Mrs. Fleming to answer that question.
4. Are you a paleontologist - another classmate answered - "no she doesn't dig up dinosaurs, so she's an archaeologist". Great when the kids do the work for you.
5. Do you watch the Magic School Bus? They have archaeologists on that show.
6. Is that used for air hockey? It was a ceramic handle that did look like an air hockey paddle (only in Canada).
I asked one of LL's classmates if he wanted to be an archaeologist (he asked a LOT of questions) he answered - "no I am going to work at MarineLand (like San Diego Sea World, near Niagara Falls) with the dolphins". LL tells me later that this little guy is obsessed with dolphins, sharks and pandas and "we aren't supposed to talk to him about them, he gets too excited". Kids make me laugh.
Archaeology is in the news in our small town of Ingersoll as during the development of a site downtown, some skeletal remains were uncovered. The remains may be associated with the nearby Catholic Church or they might be the remains of some individuals who were part of the Underground Railroad. Investigations are continuing but when I mentioned the Underground Railroad the kids wanted to know what that was - Mrs. Fleming left me to explain that one . . .

I stayed about 45 minutes and I think that kids enjoyed measuring each other, using the calipers, and guessing the potential uses of the artifacts.
Raptor Girls

On Sunday afternoon I went with my pal Dr. J to a Raptors' game (Toronto's NBA team), tickets courtesy of the ever generous brother in law BDL. I had never been to a game nor had Dr. J, we both admitted that while neither of us were bball fans, we were interested in the spectacle - the game did not disappoint. Unlike baseball (Dr. J is a huge Red Sox Fan) there is constant music, noise and movement - the action never stops. As I waited on the subway platform to meet Dr. J, I overheard two fans "this is going to be an excellent game. It's sold out, and the Supersonics (Seattle) are a great team". I felt a bit guilty because we had great seats and these die hard fans were probably not in row 10. We sat next to a guy and his little boy - they have been season ticket holders since the beginning and knew all of the ins and outs of attending.

Like when the opposing team is taking their foul shot the fans have to make tons of noise with these clappers.
When to dance, so the camera will zoom in on you and you'll be on the big screen. No picture because "we do not dance".When to shout defense and when to clap. For two very tall women (hovering around 6ft) we really had no clue.
This is the pretty creepy Raptor who rolls around on the floor and throughout the crowd. Apparently you can "rent" him for birthday parties . . .
The final score - yeah the Raptors won!Thanks BDL we had a great time!