I just wanted to share a photograph from Kemalettin who took a moment out of his busy work schedule to appreciate the colorful arrangement of tags and boxes awaiting his attention. We use the colored tags to prioritize our finds as they come in from the field. The depot count is at 229 crates with 22 working days left! Now back to work.
The University of Cambridge just released a press release about some of our on-going research spearheaded by John MacGinnis and recently published in the Cambridge Archaeology Journal.
The link to the press release is here.
This element of our research focuses on a collection of “tokens”, small clay artifacts in simple geometric shapes that were used to account for commodities such as sheep, cattle, and grain. This technology first appeared during prehistoric periods in the Near East and, as demonstrated at Ziyaret Tepe, continued well into the time when cuneiform documents were being used in the Iron Age. The press release provides a summary of our research and explains how these important, and often overlooked, artifacts were used.
The full citation for the reserch article is: MacGinnis, J., M. W. Monroe, D. Wicke and T. Matney (2014) “Artefacts of Cognition: the Use of Clay Tokens in a Neo-Assyrian Provincial Administration” Cambridge Archaeology Journal 24(2): 289-306.
Normally archaeology is like a marathon; slow and steady progress and lots of repetive tasks which require stamina and time. This season we have a goal to process 828 tomato crates full of pottery (the tomato crate is a standard measure of pottery in this part of the world, see photograph below). Every once in a while, however, you just feel like sprinting…
This morning four of our ceramicists took off in the car for the depot right after our morning tea at 5:30am, with scales, notebooks, and pens in hand to see if they could process all the pottery from two very large deposits in one morning. All before lunch! This is the ceramic equivalent of the 100m dash.
Here’s the before picture showing Marie Jensen, Raffaella Pappalardo, Azer Keskin, and Valentina Vezzoli standing in front a pile of pottery, most dating to the Late Assyrian period (9th – 7th centuries BC). Each bag represents the pottery excavated during a single day from a specific locus (a locus is, in effect, a well-defined spatial unit representing perhaps a pit, floor, or oven). The tags tell us which loci are stored in which tomato crate (stored in numerical order in the depot). So all of the pottery in each bag can be placed back to its exact spatial coordinates on the site plans. This pottery was washed when excavated but otherwise needs to be categorized prior to analysis.
Our ceramics team spent the morning separating the sherds into ware types (just like modern pottery which comes in different wares – bone china, earthenware, etc., so ancient potters used different clays for different purposes), counting and weighing the sherds from each locus and recording details of decoration, vessel construction, and use. Likewise, the ceramicists will also record the “form” (our term for shape), since the form of the pottery determines both its function (for cooking, eating, drinking, storage, etc.) and also its date. Just like in the modern world, pottery styles change through time providing experts like Marie, Raffaella, Azer, and Valentina with evidence for when the pots were made.
Just before lunch, four very hot, dusty ceramicists returned from the depot having processed 17 tomato crates in under six hours. It was a great effort and satisifying for them to make such progress. By the way, they were all still smiling.
One of our conservators, Yvonne Helmholz, has made a potential interesting discovery during the routine cleaning of an artifact destined for the study collection at the Diyarbakir Museum. The artifact is a flat bone plaque, roughly rectangular in shape. It is small, roughly 7.5cm by 5cm (3 inches by 2 inches) in size. Here is a picture of what it looked like when it came out of the ground.
Such objects are often used as decorative panels for wooden furniture such as chairs, tables, or beds. However, in this case, the bone appeared to be undecorated. Under the microscope, however, Yvonne discovered traces of very fine etching which may have the result of working the bone plaque into shape. More intriguing were minute traces of what looks like a very thin layer of metallic tin and a slightly thicker layer of gold on a few places. While we will need to undertake metallographic studies to confirm these initial observations, it seems not unlikely that this plain bone artifact may once have been covered in gold leaf. The tin, if that visual observation is confirmed by analysis, is more difficult to explain. Tin is often used as solder, but not with gold, so its function is unclear.
The plaque was discovered in Operation G in the lower town, in the corner room of wealthy residence. It was first discovered in 2003 and like so many artifacts that have been the subject of specialist analysis it has been waiting in line for final analysis. We are completing all of our field observations this year so there are certainly more interesting discoveries to come. After testing the metal residues, this interesting artifact is bound for the permanent study collections at the regional Diyarbakir Museum.
Check out the new banner at the top of the page. This is a panaramic shot that Willis took of Bismil at night. One day shortly after we arrived in Turkey, six of us retired in the evening for some refreshments on the rooftop of the Hotel Dolay before dinner and were greeted by cool breezes and a full moon. For anyone who was in Bismil even a few years ago, you can see how the city has grown. The new census population is 111,000! The area is thriving with lots of new construction projects all over town in advance of the new Ilisu lake.
Our last digging season ended in a whirlwind of activity and I’ve been meaning to go back and finish off the last 2013 blog entries for months… and here it is 2014 already! As I told you last season, the 2014 season will be our last in Turkey. We are not going to be excavating this season on the mound or lower town, but we are still anticipating lots of interesting discoveries. Our goal this season is to fully process and record previously excavated finds stored in our depot in preparation for the final publications. This is the unglamorous side of archaeology – long hours in the laboratories – but very rewarding work.
A small crew arrived in Diyarbakir on Monday night and met with the new museum director, Mehmet Eneze, and our museum representative, Leyla Ay. Today, we opened our depots and set up a temporary field camp. On Friday, we will move into the local school that has served for the past two years as our field camp, but in the meantime we have accomodations at a hotel in Bismil. The garden will be a comfortable spot for a few days and here you see Jane, Tina, Emily, Tim and Azer (Willis took the picture) hard at work. With such a short field season (our last day is August 15) there is no time to waste! Check back in for our latest discoveries in the coming days.
I was asked via email how many field seasons we have done at Ziyaret Tepe and why the Turkish government is building a dam that will destroy so many ancient sites. Both are good questions so I thought I would share the answers here on the blog.
It is hard to believe, but this is our 17th field season at Ziyaret Tepe. The first year of the project, 1997, was devoted to making a topographic map of the site and completing an intensive surface survey. This means that we systematically collected and recorded surface materials (mostly pottery sherds, of course) over the entire 32 hectares of our site. We didn’t collect every sherd, but rather we took a carefully controlled sample that allowed us to estimate the size of Ziyaret Tepe, the periods during which it was occupied, and how the site grew and diminished in size over several thousand years of people living here. We then completed two seasons of geophysical survey and excavation started in 2000. We have excavated every year since the, except 2005 which was a study season at the dig house.
The dam being built at Ilisu is primarily going to provide hydroelectric power for the region. Additionally, the water from the reservoirs will be used for irrigation. Since we started work here, crops requiring irrigation have been introduced on a large scale: cotton, tobacco, and now corn. The Turkish government has been sponsoring a number of archaeological projects in the region since the late 1990’s in order to record as much of the ancient heritage of the region as possible before the completion of the dam.
At the end of each season, we take a series of final photographs which document the results of the digging. This picture shows the workmen, Dirk, and his team sweeping the trenches in Operation N in preparation for final photographs. We always take formal and publication photographs in the early morning or late afternoon when the light is good for seeing contrasting colors and textures. The mid-day light is too harsh and washes out all of the subtle differences that we need to capture.
A small frit figurine of the god Bes, identified by Willis, came out of the grave from operation M. Only a fraction of an inch high, the figurine was pierced to be suspended on a fine thread. It was found in context with a number of other beads, probably constituting a rather rich necklace worn by the interred individual. Bes was originally an Egyptian god who was a protector of households and in particular women and childbirth. It is not surprising therefore to find that images of Bes turn out far afield from ancient Egypt. While none have been found at Ziyaret Tepe before, they are present within the reaches of the Neo-Assyrian empire. Bes is immediately recognizable by his squat figure, grotesque face, beard, and large belly, which on our small figurine is marked with a small indentation for the navel.
The excavation of the large building in Operation M took a very interesting and exciting turn on Wednesday when Kemalettin discovered a burial under the earlier of two floors in the large building in Operation M. The burial, officially labelled M-134, was parallel to the western wall of the room.
A single body, identified by Tina as a male, at least in his 40s if we can judge by the fusion of the sutures in his skull and the wear on his teeth. The primary means we have of aging skeletons is by the patterns of tooth eruptions in younger individuals, the fusion of the epiphyses of long bones and the sutures of the skulls. For older adults, we rely on less precise measures, such as the wear on teeth and the ends of ribs. Given that the cusps of the molars of our body were worn nearly flat, it wouldn’t surprise me if he turns out to be in his 50s. He was quite tall with very robust bones. All of these are preliminary field observations; the skeleton awaits study.
Buried with the body were a number of small finds, of which we are still taking initial photographs and notes. Included in the grave were two ceramic vessels, one in each hand, which contained dozens of beads, a bronze fibula, and a frit cylinder seal. He had a long, white stone pendant and what appears to be an iron pendant or possibly a blade or tool around his neck. He had a bronze ornament near his right elbow. The grave contained quite a few stone beads, including a banded black and white stone, as well as carnelian, that were probably part of the decoration of his clothing. Also found loose in the grave were a second cylinder seal, this one with bronze caps, and a stone pendant.
One very curious element of burial M-134 is the positioning of the body. This man was buried with his body streched out, but face down, with the grave goods underneath him. This is highly unusual for an Assyrian burial; it’s hard to come up with many parallels right now. We’re not sure of the significance of the body position, but it is clear that this was an individual of some importance, given the wealth of material which accompanied him. The skeleton was articulated so it is clear that the deposition of the body in this manner was deliberate.
Details to follow as we process the grave goods and further investigate this surprising discovery.