In a Mamluk Ruin


For the last week I have been excavating a Mamluk-era barrel vault, previously excavated in 2004 and 2005.  After cleaning out tons of limestone blocks used as backfill, we started to try to sort out the major architectural features in the building—in particular there’s a mysterious cistern, which was cut in the northern wall that I’m itching to investigate. While trying to clear some of the caved-in ceiling (and upper floor) from the barrel vault, I found a nice little fire pit, dug right next to the east wall and full of charcoal. We sampled the charcoal extensively, and I started to excavate the feature.


From the top the fire pit was circular in shape, but as I went deeper it became obvious that the people who dug the pit couldn’t be bothered to move the same rock tumble I was struggling with. This fire pit was dug after what we call the primary occupation of the site—the structure was used opportunistically by people who appear to have had a bit of goat for dinner, judging by the nearby bone and tooth I found. We’ll know better when Alan sorts out the phytolith and flotation samples that we took.  He’s looking for evidence of plant remains to determine ancient climate and regional diet. 


So these people who dug the pit chose the very northeastern corner of the building, which is quite far away from what we think was the door.  Yet at this time, the building had at least caved-in partially, as the fire pit intrudes into a collapsed layer.  The fire pit was also quite small, measuring only about .3m x .3m x .3m deep and the area near the fire was only large enough for one person to cook.


The town of Dhiban is situated on the next tell over, and it is cacophonous, full of shouts and dogs barking, calls to prayer at all hours (including 3am), welding, sirens, you name it.  I began to wonder if the tell site of Dhiban was once the same way, noisy and full of mayhem.  But I also know that it was not always this way, that Dhiban has been through periods of occupation and near abandonment, and I wonder if the fire pit was built during one of those quiet times, a single line of smoke dividing the evening sky, and a very small group, perhaps only one person, standing in the Roman, Byzantine, and Mamluk ruins and enjoying the view of the wadi and the night sky.

 Also posted at

Call for Contributions – Archaeological Photographers

Dust Storm in Qatar, by Daniel Eddisford
Dust Storm in Qatar, by Daniel Eddisford

As digital photography becomes increasingly ubiquitous, archaeologists are experimenting with their unique professional perspective on a variety of subjects. Bolstered by a long history during which “few scientific fields have used photography as variously and experimentally as archaeology, and few have enjoyed such public enthusiasm mediated by this technology” (Banta et. al 1986:73), digital photography has encouraged bold new directions in visuality in archaeology. This project is about this new visuality, new perspectives and new directions in photography in archaeology.

We aim to collect and document the work of archaeologists, photographers and critics directly involved in this field into a published volume. In this collection we hope to capture and express the tremendous creativity and energy displayed by archaeological photographers. We are looking for quality submissions from archaeologist photographers who are pushing the limits with standard and digital photography. These submissions should include 3-5 illustrative photographs and a 250 word abstract outlining your particular theoretical approach, methodology, or experiences in the field. These submissions are due September 30, 2009.

Please contact Colleen Morgan or Guy Hunt for questions and submissions.

Here’s a link to the fledgling blog that will be kept up to date with more information about the project:

The Utility of Various Social Networking Tools for Archaeology

I’ve written a bit about this before, covering twitter for conferences, flickr for outreach, facebook for conferences, youtube for calls for papers, etc. I strongly believe in the DIY ethic, meaning that I believe archaeologists should both provide their own content for media and learn how to produce the media themselves.  Social networking and digital media production tools make this relatively easy, and the growing ubiquity of blogs of various stripes shows that more archaeologists are becoming comfortable with self-publishing and digital outreach.  I should probably develop this into a longer article at some point.

Blogs – LJ/Blogspot/Wordpress/hosting your own blog – It seems like we’re very quickly hitting critical mass with dig blogs, group blogs, personal blogs, organizational blogs, and news blogs. William Caraher covered this pretty well last January.  My own experience in keeping a personal/professional blog (hey, since 2002) and attempting a series of blogs on all of the above platforms has met with varied levels of success. Academic/class blogs are never all that successful. Students will contribute if they are specifically required to, but will not read their classmates posts or comment on them in a meaningful way. Group blogs are difficult unless there is one person in charge who nags everyone else to post. Most of the problems come with personal investment–is there a reason for someone to blog on the group blog versus self-publishing? There are also a lot of blogs that are islands–the contributors post to that main blog, but do not read or respond or link to other blogs who may have discussed the same issues in the past.  It can be difficult, indeed the number of archaeology blogs is rapidly expanding and it’s occasionally difficult to figure out who posted what first, but it’s important to know the genre that you’re writing in. The blogs that I find the most useful and interesting generally reflect what the person is doing at the time, or discuss archaeological topics in a meaningful way.

Flickr/Picasa – I find Flickr immensely fun and useful–perhaps even moreso than other social networking types.  I love posting photos, getting feedback, and curating the groups that I’m in charge of. I like seeing what my friends post and the archaeology photos present on Flickr have inspired a forthcoming book proposal. Sadly, it seems that many people join Flickr, post a lot of photos, refine their technique, then start posting infrequently, as their standards are raised so high that only one out of several hundred photos are “good enough” to post on Flickr. Some people also seem to struggle with the interface.  I highly recommend using Flickr Uploadr, which is a program that you can use to sort and tag your photos to get them ready to upload, then uploads them in a batch.  This is especially useful for those of us who work on projects with inconsistent internet access. That said, the participation on an institutional level, such as dig-based or company-based Flickr streams are one of the best (and easiest) forms of outreach. Adding tags, descriptions and posting the photos to groups is a great way to gain visibility for your site. It’s also easy to post a “widget” to your blog that shows your most recent Flickr photos.  I have one, if you scroll down far enough.

Picasa is the Google-based photo-sharing social network. I resisted at first, but I’ve found Picasa useful for more group or class project oriented photo galleries. Picasa provides a finer control for photo permissions, and I’ve uploaded photos there that I’ve needed to share with a few specific people, but not generally. For instance, I have a pretty giant Catalhoyuk illustration file on Picasa that I will be using as reference for more Second Life student building that I do not share more generally.

Facebook/Myspace/Ning – When people turn their noses up at Facebook, I simply tell them that I’ve been invited to speak at conferences and have organized major archaeology meet-ups (WAC Dublin!) using Facebook. I find it incredibly useful to keep up with people that I’ve excavated with, met at conferences, and even other archaeology bloggers.  I also use it to post notices about different blog posts, flickr updates, and conference CFPs. I’ve already posted about how to use it in a pedagogical context, and how to handle your students more generally in that context. I don’t really use myspace anymore, and Ning…I just don’t see the use of a social network for archaeologists only.  I think it’s important to be visible out in the world, and it’s not that difficult to find other archaeologists on Facebook. Ideally we would all use an open-source, academically-oriented non-profit solution (with NO quizzes!) but that does not seem immediately forthcoming. and Linkedin are okay for hosting your CV, but are of limited utility otherwise.

Twitter/Tumblr – I experimented with using twitter at the Stanford TAG, and I’ve subscribed to a few archaeology twitter feeds, but I still have pretty mixed feelings about the format.  I generally do not care to get 140-word updates about news items or excavations. Chatting with other archaeologists (and friends!) about the airports we are in seems to be the limit of twitter functionality for me.  I can also see it being used as a discussion forum during conference presentations and I hope that we’ll be able to provide that at the Berkeley TAG in 2011. It is an excellent tool for massive collective action or for keeping people apprised of unfolding events, but is of limited utility in the day-to-day outside of my immediate circle of friends.

I use Tumblr for general internet meanderings, and I quite like it. It’s informal easy to use, and more my speed than or other link lists. If you’re like me, then you come across all kinds of wonderful things while doing research, and I see tumblr as a way to catch all of the chaff that is thrown into the air that I can’t necessarily use, but want to remember for later. It’s the most personal of all of these tools, and reflects most directly what I’m doing at the time.

Youtube/Vimeo/Etc – Video is one of the most undeveloped arenas of archaeological research, especially video shot and edited by archaeologists.  Youtube is a pretty good venue for sharing these videos, but the networking aspects are weak, and the youtube encoding is poor for details. Vimeo is more isolated, with slightly better encoding, but is not extremely useful for the “stumble upon” audience. Everything should be posted on Youtube first, and then other hosting sites second.

Fickle Academia


I asked my friend Darren (who is finishing up his PhD and just got accepted to law school!) to assist me with a rather silly idea that I had, inspired by this Norman Rockwell painting:

The idea was that I’d learn to use the professional lighting rig that OKAPI owns, but I know nothing about light design and just went with the natural light inside the archaeology building.  The background isn’t perfect, but we had a pretty good time, and Darren was game.

The Bahrain Bioarchaeology Ethics Statement

As I’ve indicated in the past, I’ve been working with a team of researchers here at UC Berkeley to document a previously uninvestigated collection in the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum.  As we have been getting further with the materials, it has become clear that we needed an unambiguous stance for our particular project’s goals in studying human remains and digital distribution of images of artifacts associated with these remains.  So we cooked up a nice collaborative work in google docs (which I’ve been using heavily for collaboration–it’s great!) and posted it on the BBP Blog, located here:

Here’s an excerpt from the digital documentation side:

Given that the Bahrain Bioarchaeology Project is working with human remains excavated in the 1940s by Peter Bruce Cornwall, who did not receive prior consent from the national government of Bahrain or from regional interests, we feel that we must be explicit in our methodology and goals in depicting the excavated materials curated in the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum.  In this digital age it is easy for members of western academic institutions to share both visual and textual information regarding our research and while it is often desirable to keep an open dialogue with fellow colleagues and an interested public, this same openess can be seen as disrespectful when the display of human remains and associated artifacts runs contrary to the desires and beliefs of stakeholders associated with the site.  We believe that it is important to clarify this relationship and our stance regarding the data we are gathering as part of the Bahrain Bioarchaeology Project (BBP).

You can read the rest here:

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