Celebration!


7-2It’s been a while since my last posting. Things have been really picking up here. On a positive note, both Marita and Jeremy returned from the hospital. Jeremy is already back working in the field and Marita is well on her way to a full recovery. Everyone else seems to be in pretty good health.

July 4th came and went. Bill got a great price on some hamburger and we had a cookout on the rooftop of the Shokini (our residence). We even had sparklers to play with once evening set in! For us it was actually Canada Day (July 3rd) and the 4th of July rolled into one. There are more Canadians on this excavation than Americans, but no one seems to mind.

We opened up another area of our square last week. Until now the new area really hasn’t produced anything exceptional. Today, however, my area leader, Elizabeth, found a Byzantine lamp – completely intact!

7-1Alas! I wasn’t around for the discovery, since I was over at Jennifer Ramsay’s area (an isolated farmhouse) helping out there. Dr. Smith asked me to drive one of the trucks today, since they were short on drivers. On top of that, Jennifer had to stay back from the field today to handle some administrative matters (she is the Assistant Director for this excavation). I think part of the reason that Dr. Smith wanted me with Jennifer’s team is that it consists of three young women (Nikki, Petra, and Jessie) and he was uncomfortable about leaving them alone out in the desert. It’s not that the local Bedouin cannot be trusted, but every population has its “bad apples.” I’m sure Dr. Smith was going by the “better safe, than sorry” rule. The excavation at the farmhouse is a very nice one, though they have not produced many artifacts. The walls of the structure are amazingly well preserved and look very nice. There was not much room for the four of us in the square, however, so I spent most of the day sifting and brewing chai (Bedouin whiskey!) for my friends.

An interesting thing happened to me two nights ago. It was my turn to pull trash duty for the floor and when I knocked on Dr. Smith’s door I was told to come in and take a seat. Besides Dr. Smith there was Miranda, Jennifer Ramsay, and Derek. Dr. Smith explained to me that there were other sites that were not being excavated, but were a part of the Bir Madhkur project. However, since it would be a while to get to them, he was concerned that looters might ransack the sites before they could be properly excavated. One site in particular sits a short distance from a main thoroughfare, putting it at a higher risk of being disturbed. Dr. Smith then proposed that I begin a probe of the site (dig a test square of 1 meter by 2 meters) over the next week. This would serve two purposes. First, it may be able to shed some light on the site. We know that it is a caravanserai, but this one is particularly interesting because it looks like it might have an intact cistern associated with it. The perimeter of the cistern can be seen plainly from the surface. If we were able to excavate to its floor, we would be able to determine its maximum volume of water. In turn, this may allow us to estimate the size of caravans that came through this region during the height of the caravanasarai’s operation. And second, Dr. Smith told me that he and the staff have been on the lookout for good people from among the volunteers – hard-working, reliable people, who can handle the environment to potentially return for future excavations of the site. By being placed in charge of this site with a staff member acting in an advisory role, I would be gaining first-hand experience at excavating a square – on the job training in archaeology. I wasn’t expecting this, but of course I accepted his offer. I guess all of my hard work paid off!

Yesterday morning, after we had dropped off everyone at their excavation sites, Dr. Smith and I hopped into a truck with our Antiquities Rep., Muhammad, and we drove to several of other caravanserai that were included in the Bir Madhkur Project. It was both exciting and disheartening at the same time. Looters had already been making inroads on the sites, though their excavations were, thankfully, small. On the site that I will be working on we found a relatively fresh probe that was extremely neat – too neat to have been dug out by merely looters. It looks like I’ll have to work fast. I begin tomorrow.

Until next time,
Ma’a Sala’ame!
Isaiah

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