July 2009

Now, I would never delve into the affairs of my sister, but it’s a pretty big deal when you’re leading a discussion group at the World Archaeology Congress (WAC). This year, it’s in Ramallah, Palestine. Kristin (my sister and an archaeology program graduate) will be leaving next week for WAC along with Ashley Sands (who posts here) and Georgiana Nikias (Archaeology ’07).

Just a plug.

Tomorrow I get to make a fun solution of tri ammonium citrate and tinker with that to get just the right pH to remove the rust off historic fasteners. It’s fun to work with chemicals. I finished toning the Marini appendage and it will be reinstalled soon. That was fun. first, i scrubbed all the old stuff off with shellsol (solvent) and a paper towel. then i mixed up some toned wax to color match the original cast of the sculpture (if you remember, the penis was a later addition) using dried pigment and molten veloz wax with solvent in it. i then painted the penis with the wax, let it cure a bit, then ran a solvented paper towel over it again and painted green powder pigment (to match the patina) onto the base coat. i’m going to let it cure overnight, then tomorrow morning i’m going to take it up to the sculpture and color match it further. i feel like this is really significant for some reason– not the penis, but the whole act of being given a piece of public art and told to fix it. i like it. it feels good. i’m just a lowly intern, but I just contributed to a piece of Getty art.

-Sarah Butler

Today was the first actual day of excavation and the group I was in made a 4×4 grid at the bottom of a mound approximately 30x20m and about 18m tall. We have found 1 or 2 looting pits around the site but we’re the first archaeologists to actually dig at the site so we don’t really know what we’re gonna find. We don’t even know when the site was built! Hopefully by the end of the 5 weeks we’ll actually be able to answer some questions about it. And hopefully none of the giant spiders kill me before then! ūüėČ Actual digging starts tomorrow and I’m crossing my fingers we’ll know more soon.

-Sara Pitts

arkadaŇüSo tonight after dinner a couple of the Turkish students here on the excavation taught me some traditional Turkish dances. It was great! Now I will be totally prepared the next time we are all invited to a wedding!


Then get out of my kitchen!! ¬†After about 3 weeks of excavation, it seems that my trench may contain much more than just the floor we intentionally set out to find – it may have been a cooking facility at some point! ¬†It all began about 2 weeks ago…¬†

At the beginning my trench was just 3 walls and a buttress, and we were looking for the floor in the middle. ¬†However, about a week into excavation we figured out that the buttress was actually a later addition, so we spent a day removing it with the big picks (very fun!) Low and behold, there was a whole new phase underneath!! ¬†Since then we have found another platform/wall structure, 2 benches extending off the walls, a horseshoe-shaped fireplace, and a mound of burnt mud with several whole ceramic vessels sunken into it. ¬†Now our trench is the best one on the Tell! ¬†I guess I should mention that I have become very attached and might be slightly biased…

We haven’t only found features, but also some pretty interesting small finds. ¬†Among those have been some pretty painted ceramic fragments (and tons of broken boring ones), some metal, a bead, a bunch of charcoal for carbon sampling, and my personal favorite – a human jaw bone! Nobody knows why it was there, and we didn’t find any other human bones, so we sort of just disregarded it. ¬†Hundreds of thousands of people have lived and died in this space, so I guess one jaw bone is pretty insignificant in the scheme of things.

Every day in the field holds the possibility of making new discoveries. ¬†At the end of the day, you could have a completely different interpretation of your space than you did 8 hours prior. ¬†It’s kind of like a jigsaw puzzle with a bunch of missing pieces. ¬†As you find more and more pieces, whether it be under your dining room table or a few meters of dirt, the picture starts to come together. ¬†I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we find the clue that links all of our features before I have to leave!

-Lexy Sinnott

Collecting carbon samples from my trench!

Collecting carbon samples from my trench!

So the past three weeks I have been surveying the Lake Titicaca basin for pukaras (fortified hilltop sites), chulpas (funerary burial towers),¬† slab-cist tombs, ceramics, lithics, and other ancient artifacts. We divide ourselves into two groups of about five (about three Peruvian workers in each group). We spread ourelves out and scan¬†our designated¬†survey area for any artifacts.¬†The landscape where we¬īre surveying is nothing short of breathtaking (beautiful views of countryside, soaring mountains, and lakes). Whenever we discover a site, we determine the limits of the site using flags and then outline the site using a very handy Trimble GPS (which surprisingly very easy to use). After the site is defined,we perform systematic surface collection, which entails establishing points within the site that are 50 meters apart. At each point, a 8 meter diameter circle is measured out and flagged. Every ceramic sherd and lithic within this circle¬†is then collected and bagged. The purpose of systematic surface collection¬†is to determine when certain areas¬†of the site were occupied (by analyzing the¬†ceramic sherds and assessing their concentration within these areas,¬†we can gain insight into who occupied that particular part of the site and¬†when they occupied it). When we encounter a feature (such as a tomb) we register its coordinates within the GPS.¬† My¬†research¬†project¬†will examine the spatial relationships between tomb locations, sites, and fortified walls in an effort to assess whether or not tombs functioned as land/boundary markers.¬†I¬†also hope¬†this spatial data will inform me about the level of social stratification that was present in the area.

So far, we¬īve found some pretty impressive artifacts and sites. Beautiful painted and incised¬†pottery, an intact¬†Late Intermediate Period vessel, arrowheads, slingstones, an ancient shovel, and an ancient anchor weight have been found on this survey project.¬†We¬īve found at least three pukaras, situated in highly defensive locations on mesas. When I was leading a survey crew¬†on top of one of the mesas,¬†our team discovered a sunken plaza that¬†was encircled by slab-cist tombs (this site will definitely play a major part in my project). Although a couple of the tombs had been robbed, we were able to peer inside and take photos of the tomb¬†interiors (the¬†interior walls were made of stone). We¬īve found a few arrowheads (one day I found 4 which was¬†awesomeee). This past week¬†we surveyed and registered a pukara situated on mesa (BEAUTIFUL SCENERY BTW). One of the farmers came up and told our team that there are a few cave tombs below the pukara, with only¬†skulls, NO BODIES.¬†Our team carefully meandered along the cliffside and¬† found 4 cave tombs situated¬†in the cliffside of the pukara¬†(one of which had rock art!!).¬†In total, we found around eight skulls (one was placed in an adobe niche tomb) and¬†a few other¬†bones.

Even though survey is exhausting, it is extremely rewarding.¬†After three weeks of intensive¬†walking and climbing, I feel back in shape. We earn our meals at the end of the day I guess you can say haha. We stay in a nice house in a small town called Tiquillaca, which is about 40 minutes away from Puno. On the weekends we drive back to Puno and chill (I¬īve taken two tours-Sillustani, a gorgeous¬†chulpa site, and the Islas de Uros, the famous reed islands). Once again, this is the most epic trip that I have ever taken!

On Wednesday I took a guided tour through the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave (more easily known as the ATM cave). It took about 30 minutes to hike to the mouth of the cave and we spent about 3 1/2 hours inside the cave. It was more interesting due to the fact that a river runs through the cave meaning we did pretty much everything: squeeze through tight spots, climb up dry rocks, wade through knee-deep water, swim, and any intermediate option you can think of. The cave was gorgeous! It had stalactites, stalagmites, full columns, other neat rock formations I don’t know the names of, lots of fish near the mouth of the cave, adorable little bats, a couple of crickets, and one of the biggest spiders I’ve ever seen in person. And the icing on the cake was that about half a mile into the cave it suddenly turns into an archaeological site with hundreds of pottery shards, some of which were nearly complete, and about half a dozen skulls and skeletons. Although the site was amazing and I’m glad I was able to see it, I was astonished by the fact that so many amazing artifacts were just lying around in the open of what has essentially become a tourist trap. The most barriers I ever saw were a few bright pieces of tape on the ground surrounding the more complete ceramics and all of the skeletons, but this in no way stops any of the artifacts from being damaged and the majority or artifacts had no barriers surrounding them at all. The particular tour guide I ended up with had been doing this for about 8 years and he pointed out numerous items throughout the tour that tourists had damaged over the years. There was even a quarter sized hole in one of the skulls from a tourist accidentally dropping something on it. While I understand the difficulties of excavating inside a cave, I find it surprising that so much information and history are being allowed to get destroyed like they are. I’ve read about issues involving tourism at ancient sites before and the damage it causes vs. the money the country receives from the tourism but seeing it up close and in person for the first time definitely adds a whole new perspective. I think it’s totally senseless to let such damage occur, but I understand why it happens and I also think the public deserves to see such amazing pieces of history. I only wish I had a quick fix for such a complicated dilemma. Any ideas? I guess for now all I can do is enjoy what I was able to see and make sure that I don’t contribute to any of that tourist damage when I see Xunantunich tomorrow.

Have a good weekend everyone!

-Sara Pitts

So once a week we have a day off. Yay! It helps keep us sane around here since we work so hard and for such long hours the other 6 days a week. For the second day off, I went to the beach (Samandag Deniz).

The beach at Samandag

The beach at Samandag

We actually joked that we were going to swim over to Syria because it is so close to the border. Maybe next time.

I got a horrible burn because I (very intelligently) did not wear sunscreen. But, the Med was soooo warm and wonderful that it was totally worth it.

It cured my cabin fever and I was totally ready to get back to work analyzing pottery. BTW–they have excavated a couple of whole vessels in the last couple of days and they are BEAUTIFUL. I feel so honored that I get to register them!

–Ashley Sands

Next Page »