Early each morning in Operation M, where we are looking for Assyrian domestic residences, Kemalettin’s workmen collect straw from the surrounding fields and start fires like the one below. As you know, the Turkish summer is hot so the fires are not for heat, but rather for making smoke. One of the biggest changes to the region that I’ve experienced over the past 15 years has been a dramatic rise in the mosquito population due to the arrival of irrigated cotton fields. Just before daybreak, the workers in the lower town face hordes of mosquitoes which quickly disappear after the sun is up (along with the bats that feed on them). It is pretty unpleasant for about an hour and the smoke from the fires helps keep the mosquitoes away, and makes for some dramatic photo opportunities.
Kemalettin also took this photograph of his team working early one morning. Unlike the Hollywood portrayals of Near Eastern excavations, archaeological digging is a slow, methodical task. The row of workers in Operation M are using small picks and trowels to flatten an area of soil so Kemalettin and his assistants can look for the subtle traces that mark ancient pits, floors, and mudbrick walls. Every surface in the trench has to be kept very clean. We’ve found that having the workers dig in a line avoids the problem of them digging too deeply in one place. If you look about halfway up the citadel mound in the background, you can just make out the pall of smoke that is hanging in the air from the worker’s fire.
Work in Operation M is proceeding very nicely. We are about 40cm (16 inches) down across an area of 10m by 5m (30 feet by 15 feet) and, according to our previous excavations nearby, we expect to hit the tops of the Assyrian walls in the next 10 or 15cm (4 to 6 inches), so Kemalettin is proceeding cautiously. The mudbrick walls are difficult to see and easy to dig through, so it takes experience, as well as a clean excavation area, to successfully find the ancient architecture.
By the early part of next week, we should be digging in the Assyrian levels in Operation M!