Friday, November 6, 2009

Seein' it All Small

After the field season this summer and before returning stateside, the Mo and Yo sho made pilgrimage to a local theme park. We had visited this place before, back in 2004, when it first opened. We were curious to see what has changed at Mini Israel, an outdoor theme park with scale (mostly 1:25) models where you can "See It All Small".

The park is set just at the foothills before the ascending road to Jerusalem, near the Latrun Monastery, and just across from the IDF "Tank Museum", which is also represented in miniature form at Mini Israel.

After paying a not-insignificant entrance fee, the visitor enters through turnstiles opening onto an outdoor plaza; to the right, one can pick up maps, an umbrella (to shelter one from the boiling heat of the coastal plain), or rent a covered golf cart.

To the right is a cafeteria and the gift shop.

Miniature models are the primary attraction -- representations of archaeological, historical and industrial places in Israel (actually, two places are in the Palestine autonomous territory). The models are meticulously made with great attention to detail, then set in miniature mountains, next to lakes, along streams according to their geographic situation in reality. Miniature plants are reputed to be local, indigenous species.

Visitors follow black topped paths snaking their way through this open area, leading first along the shore of the Mediterranean, where models of ships and docks

are just meters from imitation Caesarea.

Although the facsimiles of these buildings and sites appear to be careful copies, their relationship to each other is not; there is a general north-south and east-orientation, but the relative distance and proximity between sites is not represented. In fact, the site is in the shape of the Star of David (well, sort of - that's the intent anyway).

Since we visited years ago, some things have changed. Most of the sites we saw before are still there. Tel Dan, Haram esh-Sherif, Western Wall, the Egged bus museum (which doesn't actually exist!).

Some things haven't changed - miniature lakes and seas are generally dry or in some state of disrepair. The planes at the airport continue to jerkily cruise around on the ground.

The same archaeological sites are represented, including the Middle Bronze gate at Tel Dan....

...what we believe is a generic archaeological excavation near the Mediterranean shore....

... the Dome of the Rock...

and the western wall.

The bedouin camp is still represented, with everyone in traditional garb, including the women with water containers circulating around the camp tirelessly on their track.

And the Palestine Archaeological Museum, known as the Rockefeller, exists, still decontextualized from the East Jerusalem surroundings.
But other things are new. Most striking are various representations of industry giants of Israel: Sonol (gas), Prigat (juice), Tnuva (milk products), Arkia and El Al (airlines), as well as international conglomerates such as Yoplait and Coca-Cola.

The gift shop has changed rather dramatically. When it first opened, there was only one way out of the park - through the gift shop. Sale items in the old gift shop were a very eclectic array of kitsch, similar to what is available in many shops in the Old City. The new gift shop, which is no longer the exit from the park, is 'nicer', in that there is less kitsch, but sort of boring, in that it consists primarily of Ahava products (it seems Ahava probably bought the shop, or is a major owner) -- you know, salves, emollients, balms, unguents, lubricants, mud, salts and moisturizers. It looks more like the part of the department store you (well, Mo & Yo anyway) try to zip through quickly before someone spritzs you with something stinky.

Anyway, the question is this: Why does this appeal? If these places are nearby, why see the 'fake' miniature version rather than the original? Why represent a gas plant, but not the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Megiddo, or Bet Shean?

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Weekend in Maine

Yo and Mo rejoined forces for a long weekend last week; Yo visited Mo in her fancy digs at the JIAAW, and then they traveled up the coast toward Maine. We had never been to New Hampshire or Maine before, and the weather couldn't have been more inviting. With beautiful weather, a red rental car and lobsters waiting, we left for Maine on Friday.

Coastal New Hampshire was beautiful, and I think neither of us realized that NH had such beautiful beaches. Here we stopped to enjoy the sun and surf.

We had to turn around at one point, deciding that we should have stopped at Petey's Lobster Shack when we had the chance. We were not disappointed. Here's Mo with her double soft shell lobster platter (which Yo ate half of, along with his own lunch!).

Not quite sure what to do with TWO huge lobsters. Mo was fine with eating the lobster until it came to the green stuff and then she gave up.

After we did our part in contributing to the depletion of oceanic protein, we continued up the coast to southern Maine. After a pleasant evening with our hosts C and C, and a fine sleep, we all went for a long walk on the beach the next morning, collecting sand dollars, sea glass and chasing H. around. Here we all are on the beach.

We spent part of Saturday exploring Portland, but Mo left the camera in the car so there are no images of that adventure. Nor are there any images of Yo's adventure with some bad scallops, but you wouldn't want any images of that . . .

Sadly, we did have to leave on Sunday, but since it started raining then anyway, it was time.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Travel Advisory . . .

Usually we don't have great excuses for our long silences in the blogosphere, but this week we actually do. In the next week we will move 4 times, in 3 different countries, so we won't be posting. After packing up our excavation and ourselves after three months away we leave Tel Aviv tomorrow morning at 5:30am. We arrive back in Toronto around 1:00pm and will hopefully be picked up by our amazingly kind family (LL, MRK and BDL) where we will be whisked off to the anthropology department at U Toronto, so we can pack up Mo's office. On Monday we'll pack up our car (assuming it still works. . .) and drive from Ingersoll to Chicago, where we will begin packing up our apartment. Our landlady, after sprucing the place up, sold it in July and we have to be out by September 1. On Wednesday we'll pick up the Uhaul and move across Hyde Park to another condo. Thursday and Friday will be unpacking and shipping boxes to Providence in advance of Mo's move to Brown the following Tuesday. Then we will collapse, oh sorry start teaching a class and get back into the work a day world in the lives of archaeologists. The entire time we are sure to be wishing that we were in the field, except maybe Jordan where the memory of no running water, electricity, cellphone reception and the flies still looms large. We'll be back in touch in September.

And just in case you were wondering, the monkey is still with us and has been a great help in Turkey, Jordan, the PA and Israel. More monkey tales to come . . .

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Marj Rabba: End of Season Highlights

After five weeks of living in double-wide trailers, the small team working at Marj Rabba dispersed, some to continue work on the excavated material back in Jerusalem, some back to North America, some back to their homes in Sakhnin. Only a small area was exposed, but we consider it a very successful season. Although we are very excited about the walls, architectural features and finds, we will try to rein in our enthusiasm over dirt and rocks and stick to the highlights.

Marj Rabba in December, 2008

First, we were confronted with a field that looked very different from the lush green grass when we visited the site back in December. That was then. When we returned in July, we were confronted with thistles and weeds, taller than Yo or Mo in places. Bad conditions for laying out squares. The solution? Cows and goats! They did an admirable job, those hungry quadrapeds, but they don't exactly rush, so we also resorted to a weedeater. That, however, lasted only a little more than an hour before it was kaput.

With our squares laid out in two areas (west is the large rock pile, east is the field), we discovered walls and other architecture in all three squares of the east section (where the tall grass was). The remains of the stone walls indicate well-built walls, and the other stone features were inside, presumably inside a room. In the photo below, you can make out the wall running acroos the top of the picture; on the right side is a curvilinear structure that presumably continues into the unexcavated area on the right (east). We aren't sure what the curving structure is, but its intriguing and we're looking forward to complete excavations in that area next year.

In the square to the west, still inside of the room, this intriguing structure initially looked like this:

But once we finished excavating the interior, it turned out to be a well built stone pit, perhaps a silo. Here, it is in the top of the picture below, built up against the bedrock, just below the wall (and near the corner of the two walls).

Here's a close-up view.

Sometimes when you need shadow for photography, you can just line up some archaeologists to get the job done.

Other times, you might have to bribe them with suckers!

Of course it isn't all architecture. We found buckets of pottery, flint debris and tools, and well-preserved animal bone. Here is a photo of some possible "Hula ware" pottery, with the tell-tale wave incisions; whether or not this pottery really comes from the Hula valley, or merely is a style, is something we must determine. We even found things we didn't expect! No, those aren't Mentos.

SNAKE EGGS! Yumm. (Okay, maybe lizard eggs.....)

Over in the west area, things were much more difficult. We wanted to try to understand why these piles of rocks were left there, and when. We started by placing a trench across the wall that was visible on top of the pile of rocks.

Mo and students SS and BJ debating how to tackle the west rock pile. The trench was about 2 meters by 10 meters, cutting across the rock pile east-west, and thus both sides of the wall.

This was hard work, digging through rocks. About 5% was sediment, the rest was small to medium sized limestone rocks, placed there by people for reasons we hoped to determine. However, there were very few artifacts: some Chalcolithic sherds and flints, and a few late Roman or Byzantine sherds. Either could easily work there way down between the rocks over millennia. In the end, our beautiful trench exposed bedrock below the well built wall, but remain unsure what to make of the wall, or the pile of rocks. Visiting archaeologists ranged in opinion; one was sure in his gut that its Chalcolithic (we liked to hear this!), but others believed that it must be much later. Yet there is almost nothing later to date the structures.

Below, this is Trench one, looking to the west; the wall is at the top, and bedrock is what the scale and north arrow are resting on.

The other side of the trench looked similar - mostly rock, and not many clues as to how it came to be there or why.

Finally, at the end of the season, we needed to try to protect both the site as well as any visitors (cow, person or goat). We sandbagged most exposed features.

Then, we covered the excavate areas with plastic, sediment and rocks.

Finally, we bought fencing to keep animals and people out, primarily so that they wouldn't hurt themselves if they didn't notice the excavated squares.

We even bought a sign for our fencing. We fully expect that only the sign will remain by next year....

Then we had to find someone to move the container back to Jerusalem. Look at this strong guy, almost independently putting the two ton container on the back of the truck -- and in white pants too!

Thanks to the "because we're professionals" of Marj Rabba for so much hard work, early mornings and boiled eggs.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Finishing the season

Typically, closing down excavations at the end of season can be terribly hectic and even chaotic. The end of our season went was not nearly so frenetic as some, but then, we are a small excavation with great students and volunteers. Still, we have been very busy chasing after a truck with our shipping container, closing the excavation areas, and re-organizing ourselves in Jerusalem.

We will return with more photos and stories soon!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Where to Dig??

We pick a place to dig based on survey, landscape and any information we have been given by local landowners, shepherds and archaeologists. In this area our colleague DS (Northern Chalcolithic expert) had identified the site as part of a survey in this region. Once we have the field cleared (by goats or modern machine - see previous post) we lay a grid and then start to dig. This is the early stage of square L1:
In addition to the students we have three workmen from the nearby village of Sahknin. They have been working in L1 and so has Mo. We speak a mixture of Arabic, Hebrew and English in the square and usually we can come to an understanding, although Mo is not always sure what it is. Last week had a conversation about one of the guys getting married: either he was getting married or meeting with a Russian prostitute, turns out he did actually get married.
During the course of day we collect up all of the pottery (broken pieces of pots) and flint and basalt and take it back to where we are living to "process" - that means we wash, record and sort all of the finds. Below is a bucket of pottery ready to go back to the lab.
In order to entice people to pottery wash, which actually isn't that much fun, we put out coffee and tea. Not that the coffee is that great - Elite - a famous Israeli brand that I think only our pals J and M enjoy.
Here we are bagging up the dry pottery from the pervious day. Sometimes there are some interesting nuggets in the very dirty pottery - painted decoration, incisions and appliques. At times it is a bit like a treasure hunt, but mostly it is just a tedious part of the life of an archaeologist. Pottery washing is a good time to sit around and talk about the days events, or how we are going to proceed the next day and how we could improve on aspects of the recording system or excavating methodology. We try to be as inclusive as possible and ask for and encourage input from the students (both positive and negative). Sometimes we just argue about the merits of Harry Potter - preparing one of the students (AB) for her year in Cambridge. Or we just discuss the differences between Americans and Canadians, apparently there are many.
We have had a great couple of weeks. Everyone cheerfully carries out their assigned tasks. Last night we had movie night with popcorn and everyone crowded around Yo's laptop. We watched Star Wars (movie #4) but it was missing the final crucial Death Star scene - not sure it mattered since we had been playing a Star Wars drinking game . . . More adventures soon.