Overseas Study

So this summer I ended up traveling to Ethiopia to participate in a pilot archaeological study spearheaded by Dr. Michael Harrower, an assistant professor currently working at Johns Hopkins University.  The overall goal of the project was to begin excavating a large, very important site known as Baita Semati, situated on a hill in the Mezbir Valley (located in the northern province of Tigray) that stands about 7 km from the Yeha Temple, the largest standing structure in Africa south of Egypt (built between 8th-5th century B.C.). British, German, and American teams led archaeological expeditions in this valley during the early to mid-20th century that largely focused on the major Yeha Temple site. Preliminary surveys limited in terms of scope, data collecting were literally conducted by archaeologists on mules in the Mezbir Valley. Small sites around the Yeha Temple were indeed recorded, but the majority of archaeological work has historically been concentrated on the Yeha Temple. Baita Semati represents the largest recorded site (approximately 20 ha) in relatively close proximity to the Yeha Temple (approximately 7 km). The site contains a high concentration of diagnostic pottery sherds as well as rectangular cut-stones, of which a few had apparently been dug out and used to fashion houses in a nearby village. Of important note, it is this type of cut-stone that was used to construct the Yeha Temple  Could this site be the residential sector associated with the Yeha Temple? What is this site’s relationship to the other smaller sites recorded in the Mezbir Valley that are within line of sight? What is the chronology of the site? These are the salient questions that members of Dr. Harrower’s SRSAH (Southern Red Sea Archaeological Histories) team sought to gain insight into.
We spent the majority of our time excavating a 2×6 trench on Baita Semati.  Our approach to excavation was primarily digital-with an R4 base station and a GeoXH GPS device we were able to not only map out find spots, new layers, and new features but also record the majority our observations. Paper forms were indeed used (i.e. C-14 forms, photo logs, and bag logs) but they played a refreshingly nontraditional and minimal role in recording observations. Our GPS set-up allowed us to record archaeological data to within 2 cm. New layers were photographed with a photo-chit system-we distributed photo chits (small, laminated squares containing an I.D. number) across a layer, recorded their coordinates, and georeferenced and rectified the photos within arcGIS. These images can then be laid over the layers (which we recorded as outlines but will be post-processed as 3D polygons).  We discovered large numbers of Aksumite (the prominent African empire that ruled from the 1st century A.D.-6th century A.D.) and Pre-Aksumite pottery, 5 coins that bear crosses and a sun-atop-crescent moon symbol of the southwestern Arabian god of Almaqah, glass slag, metal slag, beads, and a possible arrowhead. Since I plan to utilize arcGIS extensively in my future archaeological endeavors, I had a wonderful time learning about the integration between arcGIS/GPS tech and excavation. I particularly loved this streamlined approach to excavation as it is efficient, highly accurate, and more importantly, well-integrated within the arcGIS environment. This approach grants us with the possibility to utilize the analytical tools of arcGIS to frame our excavation in new exciting way in order to derive new insights. Overall, the excavation was incredibly productive and the site itself is quite promising!
Aside from the field experience, I had a great time learning about the Ethiopian culture. I was mistaken to be Ethiopian several times as numerous Ethiopians customarily spoke to me in their native language of Amharic (in the capital of Addis Ababa) or Tigrina (spoken in the northern province of Tigray, where we worked on our site).  I’m not a huge fan of the country’s food, but I must say that it does offer a unique taste. Their staple food is injera, a spongy bread made of a crop called tef. Ethiopians wrap literally every other food that they cook (i.e. goat meat, fried chick peas, chicken, etc.) with injera, thereby obviating the need for eating utensils. Notable events of awesomeness included crashing an Ethiopian wedding with one of my supervisors in Aksum, finding an arrowhead on-site, and witnessing a few of Ethiopia’s most fascinating archaeological sites. I visited a tripartite sanctuary in Wuqro, Ethiopia that contains a remarkably preserved sacrificial altar complete with Sabean script, a bull spout, and a drain (presumably for blood or water) that leads into a round basin. I witnessed the towering stelae and underground internment chambers of Aksum (the capital of the Aksumite empire). I stood in front of  the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, the rumored location of the Ark of the Covenant. I also marveled at the aforementioned Yeha Temple, made from cut stone that is so precisely fit together that one wouldn’t even be able to slide a thin piece of paper through the construction.
The extent of the poverty in the country was shocking and humbling at the same time (I’m used to seeing poverty, but not at this scale). While working at the site, we stayed in a very modestly outfitted field house with no hot water, limited electricity (a generator was turned on for around 2 hrs a day), and no internet. A beautiful view of the Ethiopian countryside and a quaint, peaceful atmosphere propelled us through our most difficult days of lab work. The living experience was quite refreshing because it led me to better appreciate the comfortable lifestyle I live back home and not take it for granted.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience both culturally and archaeologically. I hope everyone else had a wonderful time this past summer conducting fieldwork and I wish STARC, ArcSmart, and everyone else affiliated with USC archaeology the best this year. I hope to finish my grad school apps as soon as possible so I can fully enjoy my year off. Notable plans include interning at a Roman museum in Tongeren, Belgium and spending time with my Dutch relatives in Holland, annnnd doing more traveling of course!

There is never a dull moment in Tayfursökmen, the Turkish village that contains our dig camp. This is my first experience with both survey and excavation, and it is fabulous so far. I have really enjoyed sorting pottery (and bone) in the pottery yard before dinner; I think I have learned a lot just by asking about the pieces I find.

Along with learning tons of new things about archeology and how it’s ‘done’, I have really enjoyed visiting some village families in the evening, once even for dinner. I have been taking some observations each time I go, and here is an excerpt from the dinner we had with an Arabic family (you think understanding Turkish is hard, but Turkish-Arabic!?):

At 7:30, we headed back to the Arabic family’s house for dinner. We met them a few hours earlier while wandering the village. As we turned left from the bakkal onto the family’s street, the children ran to greet us. The street is a dusty road that is used for cars, tractors, cows, goats, dogs, and many other things that move. They walked along with us (and behind us) to lead us toward the house. We took off our shoes, walked up the narrow steps to the second floor of the house, and were seated in a traditional Arabic living room with some of the little girls and their father. A large carpet covered the floor, and cushions lined the walls for people to sit. A calendar hung from the wall supporting the MHP, or Turkish nationalist party. The centerpiece of the room was a television on a stand, and the father of the girls switched the channels between Turkish and Arabic stations. Finally, he decided on an Arabic music station. “Probably from Egypt,” he said. A belly dancer flashed across the screen with Arabic writing scrolling across the bottom.

The physical characteristics of the family differed quite a bit from person to person. The father and mother both donned bright blue eyes and lighter skin. Some of the children had the same, with light brown hair, while others had quite dark features, including dark brown eyes.

Before dinner arrived, Michelle taught the little girls how to play some hand games that we learned when we were little. It was an immediate hit. The girls learned our games, showed us some of theirs (some that were the same). We also taught them rock, paper, scissors and tried to explain that you can use this game when making big decisions. We played for a while, and then dinner arrived.

The girls (all of them, except the mother) brought bowls of salad, fresh cut herbs, a mezze of eggplant and other vegetables, and huge black pans of chicken, fresh cooked. We drank the cola that we brought as a hospitality gift.  We also brought along some cookies and chocolates. The men (the father and Trevor) sat at the ‘head’ of the table; farther from the door than all the women. The girls also brought out huge circles of flat bread, which one girl informed me was baked by the mother only hours before. We ate until we were full, and then we ate more. The parents and girls were very eager to know how we liked the food. We confirmed that it was delicious (it was), and thanked them. They shook off the thanks; it was their pleasure. After we had convinced them that we were full, the plates cleared (again by the girls) and one girl in a headscarf (around 16-17) swept the carpet. The father asked us if we believe that President Obama was not born in the United States. When we replied ‘no’, he told us he never believed the rumor either. The TV turned on again, and we watched more Arabic music.

Finally, we played more hand games. The girls started to ask me about my family. “Do you have a father?” they asked, “what is his name?” The girls ran out of the room at one point and returned with some jewelry, with which they proceeded to adorn my ears and hands. One bracelet had a ring attachment and chains crossed along, sort of like a henna design. I tried to give the bracelets back to the girls when we left, but they sincerely refused and told me to keep them.

So today I received an email from the lovely Tiffany, and it made me realize that I haven’t posted anything exciting on hunterblatherer for about 8,000 years (+/- 7,999 and a bit). I suppose it’s debatable whether I was posting anything exciting before, but let’s pretend for my sake that I was.

I’m still here in Sheffield, getting ready to submit three papers and a dissertation proposal on May 31st. Naturally, that’s what I ought to be doing right now, instead of posting blog updates, but I think breaks are conducive to my health. I have the same policy towards chocolate and periodic naps, with the result that today I’ve taken a nap and eaten an entire chocolate bar. Also, I’ve written 919 words. Success! But I can do better than that, so after I post this I’ll go right back to writing.

The program here is still wonderful, and I’ve gotten some great opportunities to talk to and work with phenomenal scholars in the field. In February I got to attend the Sheffield Centre for Aegean Archaeology Round Table (SCAA website here). It’s a small, informal conference held every year, in which groundbreaking research and theory is discussed for several days by very important people. It was incredible meeting people I’d heard of, whose articles I’d read: Colin Renfrew, John Bennet, Cyprian Broodbank, Michael Vickers, Carl Knappett… and the list goes on and on. These are the rock stars of the Aegean Archaeology world, and their presentations were all fascinating. It was a privilege to listen to them, and to top it all off, I was able to hobnob with them throughout the conference. I can say that they are all lovely, kind people who are perfectly willing to talk to a visibly nervous MA student. I was so nervous meeting John Bennet (he of the Linear B tablets) that I fumbled my reception snack and ended up throwing some sort of half-eaten pastry across the room, where it landed on a professor’s trousers (Notice the use of ‘trousers.’ “Pants’ means something quite different in Britain, and I’d like to be clear that it was a social gaffe, but not THAT much of a social gaffe). Luckily, the professor didn’t notice, and John Bennet still spoke to me afterward.

My class at the Ashmolean with our professors, learning about Cypro-Minoan

Yesterday I went to the Ashmolean museum at Oxford with a group of archaeology students and two professors. We wandered around looking at artifacts (artefacts, for the crazy Brits) and got to play with some objects incised in Cypro-Minoan script. Cypro-Minoan and Linear A are two undecipherable Bronze Age scripts. I think it would be fun to get a tattoo of an inscription. Either you would never know what it said, or archaeologists would finally decipher it sixty years from now and you would find out it said something like “the king demands wool for taxes” or “Kushmashusha was here.” Which would actually be pretty cool, since it would verify Cyprus’ identity as the Alashiya of the Amarna letters, a point still up for scholarly debate.

Ashmolean Museum - I'm pretty sure this says "The king's squirrel demands tribute"

In other news, I wrote a sonnet about Linear B yesterday while pretending I was going to write essays. I’m writing about various Late Bronze Age related topics for the end of term, and Linear B is an inevitable part of my research, albeit one I don’t necessarily enjoy. Take this as proof that I am quietly going mad.


A Sonnet

The Pylos archives bring me to my knees
The pinnacle of pinacology
I have no life, you say; I don’t agree
I have no friends, but I have Linear B!

Oh, Tn 316 can thrill me more:
The human sacrifice; a hasty plea
Your text meant naught, alas, Hand 44—
All kingdoms fade to dust eventually

The po-ro-ko-re-te wants fifty sheep—
Such poetry sends joy throughout my soul!
Redistribution haunts me in my sleep—
Obsession, yes, my passion takes its toll

I welcome scorn, for desperate as I seem,
I much prefer my Mycenaean dream


Actually, I don’t think I’m going “quietly” mad, I think I’m probably doing it rather loudly. Anyway, if you didn’t enjoy that poem, I don’t blame you, and if you did enjoy it I seriously question your sanity, but you are probably also an archaeologist and therefore already certifiably insane.

I suppose there’s a point to my rambling, and it goes something like this: I am really enjoying graduate school, and I never would have been able to be where I am if I hadn’t gone through the archaeology program at USC. I’m so grateful I stumbled upon the ARC website one day and went on a tour of the lab, because my life has been altered in incredible ways since then. I’ve been to Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Chile, Ireland, and England, and all because USC sparked my passion for archaeology and travel. To the undergrads, I would definitely recommend grad school if you are interested in archaeology, because it’s been a phenomenal experience so far, no matter how many jokes I make about it in my blog posts.

So thanks, Professor Dodd and Ashley and ARC-peeps everywhere, because you prepared me for the next steps in my education and encouraged me in the adventures that brought me where I am today.

~Sarah Hawley

It’s been a while since I’ve updated, so I figured I’d post a quick look at Life After USC Archaeology.

I’m currently at the University of Sheffield, getting an MA in Aegean Archaeology. I LOVE it. I have classes in research methods, Aegean prehistory, funerary archaeology, and a theoretical class called “Reinventing Archaeology.” The professors are phenomenal, and the city of Sheffield itself is pretty adorable.

The main difference between archaeology education in the States and archaeology education here is that here, I have to be totally self-motivated. I was warned about this by other students who have come to the UK to study. Here, it’s all about the reading you do on your own and the independent paths you take while hunting down an education. The professors are there to guide, to answer questions if you need them, but there aren’t a whole lot of assignments. Reading lists will include entire books for one week, and you can choose to read some or all or none of whatever is on the syllabus. I’m used to a little more direction–specific articles for specific weeks, with assignments to guide your progress.

I mentioned this to one of my professors, and she seemed surprised that I was having a little difficulty adjusting to the new system. She said, “I’ve always thought of education as spots of really bright light, and your job as a student is to fill in the spaces in-between. The classes are the bright lights, highlighting times and places across history, but the true process of education is purely self-motivated. It’s an individual journey of discovery. When I asked for her advice regarding how best to tackle the enormous reading lists, she shrugged and said, “Read what interests you.”

This amount of personal freedom is novel, exhilarating, and a little intimidating. Left to my own devices, I have a bad tendency to read trashy novels, play on the Internet, or paint my toenails. Or to read academic literature that has absolutely nothing to do with my area of study. For instance, I’m currently splitting my time between “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Nietzsche and “Central Problems in Social Theory” by Anthony Giddens. Oh, and an anthology of famous vampire short stories. At this rate, I’ll be writing my dissertation on the social evolution of vampire lore and how that has absolutely NOTHING to do with Aegean prehistory. Unless the Minoans were vampires. Which is totally possible.

One project I am actually starting is an end-of-term paper in which I have to analyze the theory, motivations, ethos, and effectiveness of an archaeological publication. Somehow, I ended up being given “The Emergence of Civilisation: The Cyclades and the Aegean in the Third Millennium B.C.,” by archaeological rock star Colin Renfrew. Great! I thought. Should be interesting. And then I went to the library and checked it out.

Holy smokes. This thing is huge! About 600 pages! Nonetheless, I’m rather looking forward to writing the paper, once I manage to read the whole thing.

This week we do a field archaeology unit, where we travel around Yorkshire, learning about landscape archaeology, drawing, etc. etc. I’m pretty excited.

That’s all, really. Maybe I’ll put a picture in here.

Hiking around the Peak District, just outside Sheffield

Yup, this is where I’m studying. I’m a very lucky lady.

P.S. Here’s a quotation that seems rather relevant to this post. First of all, it’s from a tremendously trashy book (I wasn’t kidding about reading smutty stuff for fun). Second, it has to do with the quest for education.

“She had liked once to think of herself as passionate, in love with her books, drunk on history, enamored of the wide world, of all the peoples within it. To be studious was to be the opposite of boring, she had believed; it was to be so interested, so madly curious, that one simply could not wait for the answers to arrive on their own: one had to go chase them in the only manner available.”
~Meredith Duran