EAA Istanbul: A Blast from the (Çatalhöyük) Past

Tea on the Ferry across the Bosphorus, taken in 2006 (!)
Tea on the Ferry across the Bosphorus, taken in 2006 (!)

For the first time ever, I’m attending the European Association for Archaeology (EAA) meetings, 10-14 September in Istanbul. Istanbul is probably my favorite city in the world, so full of chaos and color, heady intellectualism, romanticism and a past that stretches deep beneath the Bosphorus. I don’t think my Turkophilia sits all that well with my Turkish friends, who have to struggle with the conservatism of Erdoğan’s government and have to fight in the streets to protect themselves from his police state. I worry about my friends in Turkey, I worry about Turkey’s slide into militancy, but I also believe in them and their passionate resistance and refusal to be silenced.

So my joy to be returning to Turkey is somewhat tempered by the ongoing struggles of the Gezi protesters and Erdoğan’s move from prime minister to president, with the accompanying fears of a cult of personality that will elevate him into an autocratic regime.

Whew–after that fairly heavy-handed politicizing, I’ll be presenting in two sessions, both about previous (slightly old & moldy) work that I did regarding Çatalhöyük that I need to publish.


First is a paper:  The Life and Death of Virtual Çatalhöyük in Second Life

Abstract: From 2007 until 2011, OKAPI Island in Second Life hosted a virtual reconstruction of the Neolithic village of Çatalhöyük. This simulation included reconstructions of current excavations, past and present lifeways at the site, a virtual museum, and hosted several forums and open days. Using the reconstruction we hosted a mixed reality session,filmed machinima, held university lectures, and collaborative virtual building sessions. OKAPI Island in Second Life was an incredibly fertile proving ground for re-thinking our assumptions about archaeological interpretation and outreach.When Linden Labs, the makers of Second Life, decided to end the educational discount that made OKAPI Island affordable, a team of students and professors at the University of California, Berkeley made the effort to preserve the virtual reconstruction by record, a process that is familiar to archaeologists. After the “death” of a virtual reconstruction of an archaeological site, what lessons can be learned about digital materiality and preservation? How can we use the example of Çatalhöyük in Second Life to inform our future reconstructions? What is next for collaborative virtual work in archaeology?

Since my fairly effusive 2009 work in Archaeologies, (Re)Building in Second Life: Changing Virtual Reality in Archaeology, I wanted to add a coda–so many virtual reconstructions and digital projects are built, published, and we are left to puzzle out what happened later, so I wanted to wrap up all the work that we’d done and the eventual fate of the reconstruction.

I’m also very happy to be putting together a poster with my good friend and colleague Jason Quinlan:


Title: Fifty Years of Visualization at Çatalhöyük

Abstract: Çatalhöyük, a spectacular archaeological site in central Turkey, has been the subject of visual interpretation for half a century. From Ian Todd’s photography performed during James Mellaart’s 1960s excavations to Ian Hodder’s work since 1993, a vast visual record has accumulated of over 100,000 images. The collection records not only site excavation and finds but also embedded changes recorded in the archive’s collective “metadata” in both technical and theoretical approaches to site photography over time.

In this poster we explore the changes in technology, methodology and theory at the site as seen in the changing modes of visualization at Çatalhöyük. Through quantitative and qualitative analyses of the visual record, we provide insights regarding the contrasting archaeological processes at the site. Finally, we look to the future of visual interpretation at Çatalhöyük.

I’m happy to finally be able to draw a line underneath my work at Çatalhöyük and get more of my dissertation research out the door!

Turkey – the Whirlwind Tour

It seems strange that I was at Catalhoyuk only a couple of days ago. Oh Catalhoyuk, you busy little excavation out on the Konya plain. In less than a week’s time there it was like I’d never left–my feet were covered in mosquito and flea bites, I was tired and mildly ill from Efes and Raki and I think half of my clothing blew away in a freak windstorm. Still, I wasn’t part of the current project madness–writing up the current round of volumes and excavating. It was a little strange writing in my corner in the seminar room all day, but I got a lot of dissertation work done, a pace that I hope to keep up for a few more months.

I’m in Ankara now, staying at ARIT to check out their incredible archaeology library and perhaps investigate our permit situation a little bit. I’m not sure why Ankara gets such a bad rap–okay I’m quite sure, compared to Istanbul most cities look pretty bad. Still, there are big, lovely parks around and everyone is friendly. I have never seen so many blond Turks in my life! ARIT is up in the hills in the embassy district, right across from the president’s house–something I didn’t realize until one of my fellow hostelers showed me the tennis courts and the guys with machine guns that you can see from our balcony.

The ARIT library isn’t open on Sunday so after I type out these few words I’ll head out to the Museum of Anatolian Civilization and the Atatürk Mausoleum, maybe checking out Ulus while I am at it. It’s been a strange trip so far, I’ve spent most of the time alone, either writing or going on long walks in various cities. Alternately, I was back at Catalhoyuk, where I was around so many dear friends that I didn’t have time to talk to them all. I feel a little addled, but good–after another couple of weeks of this my wanderlust might quiet down for a little while. Maybe. Probably not.


The Fledgling: The Maeander Archaeology Project

The Big Maeander River by Ali Ertim

I haven’t really wanted to write much about the project I’ve been working on–even now it’s a bit scary to mention it because there are so many ways it can fail. I always have at least 3 or 4 (more like a dozen) academic schemes up my sleeve at any point in time and most of them fail. I don’t have time to implement them, I don’t have the money or the technology (or my knowledge) is just not there yet. Obviously I like talking about the projects that succeed much more. The success of the Meander Archaeology Project  is impossible to tell so far, but it’s been an incredibly important part of my life for the last few months–too important to keep it under wraps, even with the potential of a large public disappointment.

So it was with great hope and absolute dread gripping my heart that I dropped a large envelope off at FedEx, containing the applications of my colleagues for a research permit for archaeological survey in southwestern Turkey. I’ve been looking around for suitable regions to begin a project for a couple of years now. Last summer in Jordan and Syria were very much occupied by that very task. More and more I realized that as much as I love learning Arabic, that my heart (and some of my favorite archaeology) was in Turkey. Everything since then has been a whirlwind. I’m lucky enough to have some incredible friends and colleagues who are willing to try out a new project with me. I got to see them all yesterday, in their most unflattering guise–passport photos that I stuck to dozens of visa application forms, seven copies for each person to pass through the labyrinthine bureaucratic process. The passport photos were so bad (most of them were taken at the last minute–my fault) that I wanted to post a note along with the package, “The team is not normally this angry or this stoned, I promise!”

Still, it would have been absolutely impossible to come even this far without the love, interest and support of Daniel Eddisford, Dan Thompson, and Ruth Tringham. So the permit is in for recommendation by ARIT, and the visa applications are finished, and there are some funding schemes in the works. It will be hard if this project doesn’t come through this year, as we’ve put so much effort into it, but I’ve learned so much that ultimately it will be worth it even if we have to try again next year. Here’s to hope & very occasional and fleeting success!

The Çatalhöyük Workplace Model

As I wend my way through graduate school, I have lamented at times that we’re not really taught how to manage excavations projects or people, and we tend to “grandfather in” field craft as was handed down from previous generations of excavations, whether or not it is appropriate to current knowledge in the field. Don’t worry, I’m not off on another rant about archaeologists digging in square holes, though I was sorely tempted to post something when that iPad in Pompeii link made the rounds–the pain in seeing that lovely stratigraphy mauled and then peered at through a screen to “aid interpretation” gave me the shivers.

Anyway, the  sad news that came through last night that the “Hodder Team” at Catal was not going to be excavating this year meant that many of my excavator friends were out of a job for the season and now are looking for other opportunities. I have no intention of building on any gossip or going into unnecessary detail (sorry!) but the working model for excavators (the specialist teams are a whole different beast entirely) at Catal was different enough (at least to American excavations) that I think it deserves at least a bit of comment.

Each year, a few professional excavators from the UK (mostly) were hired to excavate areas of interest and to teach students how to excavate. Workmen were hired primarily to move dirt, sieve, and help flotation of samples. The workmen very rarely excavated, which kept them separate from the team most of the time (and I think robbed the students and excavators of a more immersive/interesting experience and language training, but it’s a difficult balance, for sure). The professional archaeologists were paid and generally had at least a decade of experience in single context recording–these people were usually excavation supervisors in the UK and were taking a significant pay cut to work on interesting archaeology. They provided Hodder with very detailed interpretations, experience, and excellent data. It was a complete re-education to work with them; these professional archaeologists are truly practicing a craft, one that is generally unappreciated by academic archaeologists. After all, we are they ones saying that “anyone can be an archaeologist!” and allowing children and volunteers (and graduate students!) to excavate our sites. The contrast between the “Hodder Team” and other teams at Catal who were primarily using student labor was striking and very instructive. Excellent data was important to Hodder, and he was willing to pay for it.

This is an interesting mini-trend, many of the same professional archaeologists were working in Iceland (before the crash), and now are working in Egypt and Qatar, on projects that have complicated stratigraphy and who need this kind of precise, excellent data produced by highly skilled professional excavators. They’re craftsmen and women who simply cannot be replaced by graduate students and volunteers who may have taken an archaeology class somewhere along the line. The excavators come back each year, providing a continuity that more transitory students cannot provide.  Also, a new crop of excavators does not need to be trained to “see” and interpret the archaeology of that particular site, single context methodology and its translatability aside.

This is very much on my mind as I’m trying to get a new project together in Turkey. People need to get paid. There needs to be transparency in finances on excavations. But can I deliver?

Plaster “caps” at Çatalhöyük

As I’d previously mentioned, I was digging a lovely burned building at Çatalhöyük before I left. Happily, several interesting discoveries were made in that short time. We uncovered a seated stone figurine with a beard that was painted (sadly, I don’t have any photos, but I’m sure it will make the official Çatalhöyük press release), an interior wall with plaster on both sides, a red-painted niche, part of a collapsed roof, and plaster “caps” on the pillars. We had originally planned to excavate the building down to the occupation surface (some 1.8m below the collapse!) but the building was halfway in the large “Mellaart” section, where there was ongoing work to understand the phasing of the tell, keying off the 1960s excavation. It was decided that though the building had great finds and a good chance of answering some broader questions about life at Çatalhöyük, we were unable to dig it properly and so excavation will cease–it will be conserved and backfilled carefully, waiting until the entire building can be exposed. I deeply respect that decision–though it was a bit disappointing at the time, I completely understood.

E VI,14.recon

Anyway, the plaster “caps” were a great find; the caps were illustrated in the original Mellaart reconstructions, but there weren’t any particular notes or photographs of them, so we weren’t sure if they were an elaboration of the building or an actual find.  We found two, and while the easternmost cap was unlikely to be disturbed, the westernmost cap (they were both on the north wall) had fallen off the pillar during the building’s collapse and cracked in half. The directors decided to lift the cap to preserve it, and possibly to investigate how it was constructed.

Pillars in Burnt Building Collapse

It was well photographed in situ and drawn from several perspectives by the site artist, Kathryn Killackey. We planned it, recorded it fully, and then it was ready to go. Shahina also mentioned that she might like a quick photoshop of it, “put back in place.” I took a few of my own photographs after we had lifted the cap, to get more exposure of the pillar:


Sadly, my camera’s light sensor is broken–which only became obvious after I downloaded these photos and the pillar cap was already gone. So I had to merge Jason Quinlan’s photo above with my own, like so:


I also did a semi-crazy full repair job. Fans of bad photoshop jobs, rejoice!


I then decided that I didn’t like the angle of the original job and tilted it some, erasing the part of cap where it had broken in half and tilted upwards in the back.


So, not perfect by any means, but about an hour’s worth of fun. The best part was moving around the cap and seeing exactly where it had fallen off–like two puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly.

Building 49, Space 100 & 335, f. 4000


(my site diary entry from a few days ago)

This year I am working in Building 49, Space 100, probably for the duration of the excavation.  Building 49 is a small house, with plaster and the traditional features that characterize Catalhoyuk.  I started excavating platform f. 1651, located in the northwest corner of the building, which had a very large round impression in the center of the plaster, layer 13668.  I took off a series of red make-up, dirty surfaces, and white plaster, revealing the top of burial cut [14437], starting f. 4000.  After excavating the burial fill (14429), skeletons 14441 (a young woman) and 14440 (an infant) were revealed by Lori Hagar.  Along with the young female skeleton were a number of ground stone beads closely associated with the neck of the skeleton.  There was a small greenstone axe in the fill, possibly associated with the infant 14440.  A number of phytoliths were found associated with the young female skeleton, samples of which were taken by Lori.  After the skeletons were removed, I cleared out the burial cut [14437] to bottom of the burial cut, revealing a darker layer with construction debris throughout.  This layer has several instances of semi-articulated human bones, possibly disturbed by the later burials.  To date, I have cleaned most of this layer, in preparation for the next burial fill.

While the burial was being excavated by Lori, I moved to the south end of the building, to work on the north-facing wall f. 1658 and the interior wall, f. 1659.  I removed a layer of plaster that was overlying both walls, 14442.  The plaster was heavily degraded and had been conserved, making excavation difficult.  This plaster was overlying a niche [14450] in the wall above the oven that had been blocked (14448) with brick-like material, both excavated and recorded by Dan.  This wall plaster, 14442, also covered the internal wall f. 1659, a somewhat ephemeral construction of plaster and makeup on the western extent of platform f. 1666.  I excavated several layers of make-up, and another layer of plaster, 14451, overlying, again, both f. 1658 and f. 1659.  This revealed a post-like column 14454, comprised of make-up and plaster.  This column was painted red during a phase of its use-life, and a sample was taken by Duygu Camurcuoglu for further study of painted plasters.  After the column was removed, another layer of plaster, 14453, was removed from the wall f. 1658 and the remains of f. 1659.  The removal of this plaster layer freed 14458, which was plaster in oven f. 4003, removed by Dan.  The last layer of make-up for f. 1659 was also beneath 14453, and the removal of this last instance of make-up freed a series of floors 14423 on platform f. 1666, which were removed as the end of the phase.

When the Bosphorus Dries Up


“Amid the doomsday chaos, among toppled wrecks of old City Line ferries, will stretch vast fields of bottle caps and seaweed. Adorning the mossy masts of American transatlantic lines that ran aground when the last of the water receded overnight, we shall find skeletons of Celts and Ligurians, their mouths gaping open in deference to the unknown gods of prehistory. As this new civilization grows up amid mussel-encrusted Byzantine treasures, tin and silver knives and forks, thousand-year-old wine corks and soda bottles, and the sharp-nosed wrecks of galleons, I can also imagine its denizens drawing fuel for their lamps and stoves from a dilapidated Romanian oil tanker whose propeller has become lodged in the mud….

…No longer will we soothe our souls with songs about the birds of spring, the fast-flowing waters of the Bosphorus, or the fishermen lining its shores; the air will ring instead with the anguished cries of men whose fear of death has driven them to smite their foes with the knives, daggers, bullets, and rusting scimitars that their forefathers, hoping to fend off the usual thousand-year inquiries, tossed into the sea.

Orhan Pamuk, The Black Book
(poetry and prose that reminds me of archaeology, pt 3)

It’s no secret that I deeply enjoy the works of Pamuk, especially My Name is Red. I brought Istanbul with me during my last trip to Turkey, and especially enjoyed his descriptions of the quiet neighborhoods I was walking through. He writes very evocatively of the Bosphorus, and Istanbullus’ relationship with the large, muddy river, so I was happy to catch this bit in The Black Book about the history that not only surrounds the channel on both sides, but that which lies underneath.

I’m looking forward to his multiple Bay Area engagements later this month, but am a little annoyed that he is not giving a talk here on campus–I have to schlep to a church (he’s speaking at one in the city and one here in Berkeley) or to Stanford. I don’t mind the schlepping necessarily, it’s more the surprise that he’d be around and Berkeley wouldn’t be taking advantage of his presence.

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