Priniatikos Pyrgos II


While I cannot speak about anything in great detail or risk getting cross-wise with folks in charge of Greek Antiquities, work at Pyrgos has been moving along, and I’ve been working with students to clear out a jumble of collapsed architecture.  On Friday we finally came down to a layer that appears to have a collapsed wall and a surface, so we’re finally getting beneath top soil and down to some more secure deposits.  We’ve also been working inside of two structures and I haven’t moved much beyond getting the strat from the previous year in order and a preliminary skim of the room interior.  So far it looks like the structure that hasn’t been excavated is not an ossuary, which is a relief.  What it actually is remains to be seen, and from what I can tell there are only one or two courses left in the walls, so we might not get many deposits at all.
Regardless it’s always interesting to check out the archaeological subcultures around the world.  Archaeologists are generally no more than one or two people removed–after a few years in the field when you meet someone you can usually figure out at least one person that you both know.  People who have regional interests quickly become small communities, and I witnessed this in Jordan where they had a regional conference that I attended.  Most of the presentations were from American projects and I quickly saw why everyone still digs in Wheeler boxes in that area–because everyone else does it too.  They talk and think in squares and sections and it is part of their subregional archaeological culture.  I think that’s partly why I’m so fascinated by what the team at Pyrgos is doing–they’ve changed from using the American system to single context and there has been some aches and pains associated by the shift, but they’ve done it and it’s working pretty well.
The one major impediment to true single context recording here is the fact that you cannot remove walls in Greece unless the project is headed by a Greek archaeologist.  This means that the large Byzantine structure that we are digging will be left in place after we’ve taken away the last floor layer. While this may not seem like a big problem at first, it makes the underlying stratigraphic relationships difficult to see, as you are confined to working within structures that have no relationship to the deposits below.  It’s like digging out all the dirt around a skeleton and trying to leave all the bones in place while you dig another skeleton lying below it. It’s also annoying because a lot of these walls aren’t that impressive–a few courses of stone doesn’t evoke much in the way of imagination.  Still, I guess it would mean that you’d have to decide which period of history you felt was most important and leveling the architecture above.
In addition to the Madaba-area conference I attended in Jordan, I also attended a meeting at INSTAP, the regional research institute here in Crete.  There was a lecture by a prominent archaeologist who was arguing about the dating of the destruction at Knossos, after all of the artifacts and excavation evidence was lost.  It was mostly a debate about pottery chronologies and there were passionate counter-opinions in the crowd.  I finally truly understood what it was like before some of the post-processual and feminist archaeologies came to the fore–nobody cared about who actually lived there, what their daily life was like, or even the localized consequences of this apparent destruction.  They cared about the pottery sequence and what was reflected in the patchy historical record about kings and invasions.
I suppose I’m showing my Berkeley lineage here–Ruth has certainly had a lot to say about households and people with faces, but I guess I didn’t realize just how revolutionary that idea was until I saw in person what she was reacting against within the field.
This was a bit of a meander through archaeological subcultures and random excavation notes, but probably not unexpected as I’m using what little free time I have here in Crete to work on my dissertation.  Which I should get back to, right about now.



The permit arrived on Friday just after breakfast, so we spent a bit of time tidying up the site and finalizing area assignments before the long (Saturday AND Sunday) weekend.  On Saturday I realized that I hadn’t had a day off in two weeks, and one day I had before that I spent hiking up three waterfalls inside of Wadi Mujib, a gorgeous canyon  in Jordan. So, needless to say, I was tired and spent the day mooching around site, resting, and swimming.
On Sunday I was feeling restless and while I was still tired, it was time to travel.  All of the ferries in Ayios Nikolaos had gone for the day, so we caught a ferry in Elounda to Spinalonga, a small island fortress.  Spinalonga was built in 1579 to guard against the Ottoman threat.  There are some nice ruined Ottoman houses on the island.  During the early 20th century it was used as a leper colony, and seeing as I’ve already excavated at one leper colony in Hawaii, I thought I’d visit another island leposarium.  Besides, who wants to see another classical site? Yeesh, not me.


It was a blindingly hot day, so the hike around the island was a little tedious, but there were some nice details in the architecture and reuse of the early fortress ashlars that made it worth it.  I was also worried that it would be completely overrun by tourists, but it seemed like it was mostly Greek families who came for the nice swimming off of the battlements.  The ruins of the leposarium were unsurprisingly grim, even in the lovely setting.


So, I got a bit of touring in. I’m not sure where I’ll go next weekend and I suppose I’ll try to fit Knossos in at some point, but I think I’ve gone into archaeological site freefall, where one pile of stones starts to look a whole lot like the next.  Speaking of piles of stones, progress in my part of the trench is a bit slow, but we’ve started to move a bit today, getting rubble cleared and walls disambiguated.  I’m working in a part of the trench that has been actively avoided until now, so that maybe says something.
More about the archaeology when I actually find something, I suppose.

Priniatikos Pyrgos


I made it to Heraklion at around 1PM, minus one piece of luggage. My Amman to Istanbul to Athens to Crete flights had started at 3:30AM that day, and the suitcase containing the majority of my clothes and my dig boots had gotten lost somewhere in-between. The site is about 1.5 hours away by bus, but the next bus wasn’t for a couple of hours, so I had some nice coffee with Dan in Heraklion’s main plaza. I was still dazed from transit but I couldn’t help but notice….

Everybody was naked.

It was true! I hadn’t seen that much flesh for what seemed like ages and I found myself completely shocked. Bikinis! Tiny shorts! Shirtless guys! Such a startling change from dusty ol’ Dhiban. Well, the nudity and the sparkling Med, olive orchards and absolute disinterest from the locals–a blessing after the constant harassment in Jordan.

When the bus pulled into Istron we got off at the bus stop and were immediately sighted by Barry, the site director. He picked us up and we had a quick beer at the local bar. The dig house is about a mile away from town, down a small road that wanders through olive orchards, tiny house gardens, and WWII gun emplacements. Each of the apartments has a small kitchen inside, so I’ve been eating lovely greek salads and ratatouille and as many vegetables as I can stomach. There are lemon trees outside and the cicadas buzz so loudly you can’t hear the person next to you at times. I’m sharing the flat with a lovely Polish couple who made mead to drink tonight at sunset.

The site is on the coast, a walk back up the town road and then a short walk to the beach, where the ruins rise out of a rocky outcropping in the sea. It’s a beautiful walk in the morning, wandering between the shadows of the olive trees and checking out the first swimmers of the day.

Sadly it’s been a slow start when it comes to the archaeology. The permit process has been slow this year and we can’t start work until it is issued. So we’ve been cleaning and planning and the students have been washing and sorting pottery until they’re half-blind. I have been taking my time planning the area I’ve been assigned, which mostly fits onto a 5m x 7m grid of graph paper. There’s a scatter of stones to the north and what looks like a room to the south, but the walls are a bit wonky and the coursing is strange, so I’ll have to sort it all out when we are allowed to dig.

The site is multi-phase (it has a really excellent website if you want details) but it looks like I’m up in the Byzantine again, with a hint of Hellenistic. Odd work for a girl that likes the prehistoric, but I’m quite happy as we’re digging the site using a modified single-context system. It’s amazing how much of a difference that makes for me. I’ve vowed not to dig at sites that use other recording systems, but that vow will probably go the way of the vow I made several years ago that I’d never dig for free again. Hah.

My dig boots arrived yesterday so hopefully the permit will come in soon. In the meantime, I think I’ll go for a swim after my glass of mead.

Dhiban, the Photo Show

One of my goals this season was to hold a photo show, highlighting photos from work on the tall and in the community to show some of the people of Dhiban what we were doing.  We rarely get visits from local folks so we thought it’d behoove us to bring some of the tall to them.  I intended to do something similar last year, but ran out of time.  It was a priority for the 2010 season.

After a couple of meetings with the mayor, he allowed us to use the Dhiban town hall, a building in the middle of the town that is used for community functions.  We had the photos developed in Madaba, and bought frames there as well.  Hanging them was rough as the town hall, like almost every other building in Dhiban, was made out of cinder blocks.  But after much preparation (including runs to buy sweets and tea) we held the show last Thursday.

Along with the photos on the wall we ran a slide show with a lot more of the images taken from the season.  This seemed to be the most popular part of the show, and people sat and watched until photos of themselves or of people they knew appeared on the screen, then cheered.

A lot of town dignitaries showed up, but not as many of the regular townsfolk.  It was disappointing in that respect, but a good first step.  I’ll have a lot more details in my dissertation, if you care to know!

Colleen v. The Cistern, Days 1 & 2


A couple of days ago I posted on my Facebook wall: if you had the choice, would you draw a big fortification wall or would you dig a cistern. The answer was overwhelmingly the cistern, and I was already leaning that way as I’d never dug a cistern before, but I’ve drawn many walls. So yesterday we (me and Leith and Mohammad) started clearing out all of the surface debris that had fallen into the cistern. Lots of trash had either been blow into it or had been deposited on purpose and I wanted to clear it off so that I could get a better picture of the whole thing.


Here’s an assortment of the modern trash (and one Mamluk pot sherd) that I cleared out, a quickie shot for the contemporary archaeologists. Not shown are the many many black plastic bags that were tied shut with mysterious substances inside. I’m a curious girl, but not THAT curious.

So we made it as tidy as possible and took a photo and I drew an overall plan of the thing that looks more like a Georgia O’Keefe drawing than a plan–I use the MoLAS drawing conventions and all the hachures indicating slope make it look like a big flower. Anyway, so that brought us through the first part of the day and I decided to tidy it up as much as possible so I could take an early morning shot before the sun hit the west side of the tell.

On day two we decided where to section the cistern fill so that our geomorphologist would be able to ascertain the different episodes of collapse and fill. We are cutting it from north to south, not exactly in the middle, but close. After trying to figure out where the best place would be to enter and exit and where to haul out the gufaf, we started. More modern trash. A lot more. I found a weird metal wire and a garden hose and lots of potato chip wrappers. There were three or four of the same kind, was it someone’s favorite place to hang out while having an afternoon snack? I can’t really imagine, as the cistern sort of reeks of pee when the sun hits it just right. Did I mention that I have started to question the judgement of my lovely Facebook friends?

We also ran into seven scorpions, three of which were black and as big as my hand. I usually try to run a peace-and-love trench with the minimum of killing small crawly things, but I let the workmen kill the akrab immediately while in the cistern. It’s just too confined of a space to successfully maneuver them out of the way. Not so with the huge, cool gecko that I found. My workmen were really keen on killing it and I had to physically put myself between them and the small creature. It was then that I found out that not killing them was haram. I mentally added it to my haram list next to singing and abusing cats, which are in the medium haram range–not heavily punished, but frowned upon. Sometimes. Anyway, I carried him away and put him safely in the rubble of an Umayyad trench. Later I tried to get an explanation about why not killing lizards was haram, but I didn’t really understand–something about Abraham and the lizard gathering sticks to help him burn?


So, after .3m or so, we came upon a change in the color and texture of the dirt, our next layer of stratigraphy. Unfortunately, we had to haul out around 250 gufaf before this happened, with a line of three people: one person digging, the next person lifting the guffa up overhead, and the last person carrying it to the backdirt pile. We didn’t sieve this layer, as we were still getting modern trash, and the hand picked assortment of pottery that I looked at was absolutely miscellaneous surface wash. We also had to lift a half dozen ashlars out of the trench–this is only going to get worse as the trench goes down.

It is also hot in the cistern, and Leith, Mohammad and I were sweltering during a blazing, breezeless and oddly humid day. With some help from Dr. Bruce we finished clearing out the second context all the way to the soil change, so I can do a bit of drawing and get a photo tomorrow. I am also getting final photos of the walls in my last trench tomorrow, after which I’ll draw the elevations and the sections. I’ll probably post a rough draft of the trench report in the next couple of days, if I don’t drop dead at the bottom of a cistern. Or get clobbered by a falling goat. It could happen.

For now though, I’m going to post this and prepare for my photo show, and hopefully watch Spain beat Holland tonight! Go Espania, I’m mostly rooting for you because all of the workmen on site like Spain!

At the Wedding Party

Not at a wedding, but a nice photo of a sweet lady with a traditional drum.

(written on 30 June)

The music downstairs shakes the windows and my tongue is still numb from drinking boiling hot coffee. Yes, it’s wedding season in Dhiban. As seasonal visitors to this large town we inevitably become enmeshed in the local social scene and attend at few weddings each season. After slinging a pickaxe all day the absolutely last thing I want to do is go to a wedding, but they are socially awkward to avoid.

It seems that a lot of people liked the post Haram at the Beach, so I thought I’d open up another tiny little window into Jordan–the local wedding parties. The definitive work on this subject has been done by Jennifer Jacobs, and I can only provide a faint ghost of her analysis, based mostly on what she’s told me and what I’ve been able to pick up on my own.

As an ajanibia athar (foreign woman archaeologist – probably misspelled) I always feel scruffy when I attend a wedding, especially since the unmarried women there are out of their burqas and dressed to the nines in tight-fitting club gear and blingin’ high heels. The married women are still dressed up, but are covered, and the old ladies are mostly in full black. There aren’t any men–they have their own party, ostensibly guarding the house by drinking coffee in a tent nearby. After greeting the bride (more about her later) we are served several rounds of flaming hot coffee to start–it’s a special green bedouin coffee that tastes like a strong herbal tea and is served by the hostess out of a thermos into one or two cups. She stands over you as you drink it, and you are expected to drink it in a single gulp. It is bad form to serve cold coffee, so it’s always scalding. After you burn the entire interior of your mouth, you shake the cup, indicating that she can move on to serve/burn the next person. Then there are rounds of tea and sweets and I usually try to sit next to a really old lady so that we can pretend to understand one another while we engage in small talk. My Arabic is still completely awful, but I can at least exchange pleasantries.

After sitting and drinking tea for a while, the Persian pop starts thumping and the unmarried women dance with each other. There is some circle dancing and ululation, but it is club-like dancing for the most part. The dancing can get mildly risque, which can be strange with women you don’t really know and hardly ever see out of their veils. The bride sits on a big, overstuffed chair on a platform several feet above the action. At the couple I’ve been to she often looks bored and mildly distressed and is dressed in the most unbelievable sequin-Barbie concoction with sky-high heels and intense make-up. We dance for her, and sometimes she comes down to dance with us. An interesting side note–I was wearing a big scarf to make one of my short-sleeve shirts less “risque” but the scarf was triumphantly torn off of me, not once but twice now. The comfort and security of being around all women and being able to show bare arms and legs was an extraordinary feeling.

Anyway, after some dancing and awkward chit-chat with older ladies, the groom’s female relations come in, chanting their acceptance of the bride into the family. It’s a very moving scene and the chanting is interspersed with ululation. This chanting happens off and on throughout the night, and is accompanied by fantastic drumming. I’m told that the chants are customized for each occasion with specific references to the bride and her circumstances.

Throughout all of this, there are some great intergenerational interactions going on. There are always hoards of little kids around, getting in the way and begging for attention, but generally just running around in a big pack and enjoying themselves. The younger married women sit inside the diwwan (receiving room) and frown. If you talk to any one of them, they’ll instantly break into a smile and be chatty, but the default is a look of general disapproval. The old ladies are all outside of the hot diwwan, sitting in chairs in long rows and hectoring the small children and chatting with each other. They are my favorite, and before I sit down with one of the ladies I’ll exchange several kisses on alternate cheeks with them. I used to be confused with the whole cheek kissing thing in Turkey and England, with one, two, or three kisses given, but this is just a long series of kisses until either party seems to want to stop. There’s probably some order to it, but I generally lose count after five. Quite a few of the older ladies have facial tattoos, and a few of them have gone through a curious set of motions with me, touching each of their tattoos and touching the corresponding place on my face, like they are transferring them to me. They also quite like holding my hand and pinching my cheeks. After the relentless negative attention from men we ajanib attar get while walking down the street, it can be quite comforting to be with the women in their own environment.

So the night winds down, and the next day the bride is taken to the groom’s house for a small, informal marriage ceremony. After living in this world of women’s world of sisters and grandmothers it seems like it might be scary to move into a man’s household, but I’ve never asked. I just go to the women’s parties, drink hot tea, dance, and watch the summer wedding fireworks that dot the horizon.

A Better Day in Dhiban


Saleh and I moved 123 qufaf today, 80 of them before breakfast. A quffa (pronounced goo-fah) is a bucket made out of an old tire–they’re great for hauling dirt around, cheap, and relatively easy to repair. I hope to never use another plastic bucket. Anyway, I swung the pickaxe for most of the day, bashing through a layer of undifferentiated collapse inside my trench. There was a really late (I’m talkin’ TPQ 1970s here–modern screws and some bottle glass, along with a pull tab) pit cut into the eastern extent that was full of cobbles and very dark dirt that was pretty easy to boost out and once that was gone I was able to see that it cut into a relatively homogenous matrix. So, out came the pickaxe.

It was good to finally be able to move on my trench–I had been spending too much time on things like defining the big wall in the western extent and digging this late pit. I worked from known to unknown, removing the dirt where I could see spatial relationships to other architectural elements and moving out from there. A cluster of stones in the northwestern corner became an installation against the western wall, and I carefully cleaned around it to define the architectural aspects versus the stones that came in through the collapse. Soon, I came down to a nice flagstone paving for the room. Well, relatively nice, as it had been bashed up from the stone ceiling collapsing on it. The room terminated much more quickly than I had guessed–only two courses of stones remaining before the ground level. Some nice finds surfaced right above the floor–a nice fragment of a molded oil lamp, a bracelet fragment, and a whole lot of Mamluk-era pottery.

It’s surprising how none of the above description really does justice to excavating on a terrace over a wadi in Jordan. A hot wind whips up through the wadi, blowing your paperwork and any light artifacts. Little gazelle-like ants pause then scatter over my dustpan, too fast for my camera. Late in the day your tools become too hot to touch and any water left in the sun becomes tea-hot. I try to save most of my slow tasks for after our watermelon break, so I can draw or write up paperwork or bag artifacts instead of slinging dirt during the hottest part of the day. Sweat drips down your nose and splashes whatever you are working on, making dark spots on the ground that dry almost instantly. At the end of the day my arms are covered in swirls of white salt crystals that wash over my tattoos like a second skin.

So, today was a better day. I had some nice archaeology come up and was able to work out a few of the grad-school kinks in my back. Tomorrow I’ll finish revealing that nice paving, then photograph, draw, and otherwise fully record it.

Oh! And we found the missing rebar in a dip in the tell about 20 meters from the pit. So my hypothesis was correct: orneriness was to blame.

Meet Saleh


Saleh has been working with the Dhiban Excavation Team since 2009 and is back this year to help with excavation.

Saleh graduated with a degree in archaeology, but he has had a hard time finding steady employment, much like other archaeologists in the world.  He knows some English and helps me learn Arabic, while I help him with the finer points of English grammar.  He’d love to study Hebrew for his PhD, but would also like to get married.

Saleh’s family is from the local Bani Hamida bedouin and he sang his family-specific song today as we cleaned off a section in the hot sun. He also has blingin’ shoes.

He asked me to post about him today, and I did! Marhaba, Saleh.  See you tomorrow.

Dhiban: Institutionalized

(written on 29 June)

“Sometimes I try to do things and it just doesn’t work out the way I want it to
and I get real frustrated” – Institutionalized, Suicidal Tendencies

I woke up this morning with Institutionalized in my head and I just should have known. Nobody else in the girls’ house knew the song and, once again, I felt old and weird.  “You know, like in Repo Man!” Nobody had seen it. Conversations at 4:45AM usually don’t work out anyway, I guess.

So I get to site, still humming “Just one Pepsi!” and I noticed several things at once: my grid points were missing, my sieve was gone and the goats had rampaged through my trench. Again.  The missing points were the real problem–archaeologists need to align themselves on a spatial grid to dig accurately and we usually use permanent or semi-permanent markers to use continually season after season.  The problem is that the locals here really like to yank out the pieces of rebar that we pound into the ground.  We hide them but they often find them anyway.  I like to think that they steal them because they need the money, but I’m fairly certain this instance was just a certain shepherd being ornery.  This time we established the grid around my trench and had them yanked out that very day, under the guard’s nose. And the surveyor was sick.  My sieve had been taken by another archaeologist on the project and the replacement that I tried to use was broken. Four different people tried to set it up before they believed me that it was unusable.

I start the process of reestablishing my grid, leave my trench for a couple of minutes, and come back to find that my workman, who is usually very competent, has dug a bunch of craters right in the middle of the next new context.  I audibly gasp and he’s immediately sorry, but the damage has been done.

I was out a datum, a sieve, and the next thing I was working on was compromised.  I had been becoming increasingly stressed, but then I just laughed.  Too bad the day just got worse as it went on.  Malesh.

Doesn’t matter, I’ll probably get hit by a car anyway.

Blogging Archaeology – Update!

This week has been big for me in the blogging world! First, I am chuffed to make Archaeology Magazine’s list of Top 5 Archaeology Bloggers:

Welcome to everyone who has followed their link to this blog–I’m currently working at Tall Dhiban in Jordan and hope to have more updates about the archaeology in the very near future.

Also, the much esteemed Kris Hirst of Archaeology at has agreed to be the discussant for the Blogging Archaeology session at the Society for American Archaeology in 2011. There’s more information on the session here:

I should have an updated abstract soon.

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