Well, this summer’s wonderful archaeological experience is now officially over. I arrived back in the States on the 26th, and while it’s nice to have hot water and deliciously awful food again, I really miss Turkey.

This summer was long and full of hard work, but in the end we all learned so much about how to survey, excavate, and perform archaeological analysis. I ended up spending most of my time with the home team, drawing and inking pottery illustrations. I’m now quite proficient at inking despite a few days of horrific failure and periodic pen explosions. Some of my illustrations may be used in future publications, and I can’t wait to see them in print! I plan to return next year for the Alalakh study season to draw EVEN MORE pottery and help out Mara, the amazing local pottery specialist, with her work.

Now the fall season of fellowship applications, grad school apps, GRE preparation, and all the rest of senior year responsibilities has begun, and Turkey has changed from a fascinating and complicated reality to a wonderful memory. In fact, I am currently sitting in the ARC lab at 9:30 AM, thinking about the things I miss about Turkey and preparing to begin my draft for the Provost’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship (which all USC archaeology students should apply to!)

Soon it will be time for the first STARC meeting of the semester… get excited!!!

I’ll add some pictures later… right now it’s time to work.

-Sarah Hawley

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!

Just to recap, the past 3 weeks have been devoted to survey, meaning walking around and picking up pottery in various places in order to learn more about a series of existing sites.  We actually ended up discovering a new site! The report should be finished by the end of the summer, possibly sooner, and once it is I’ll try to somehow get it up on the blog.

But survey ended this past weekend, and we have been officially excavating since Tuesday! It took about 3 days and 45 workers to clear Tell Atchana of brush and debris accumulated since the last season.  It was hard work but it was pretty satisfying to see the site in all its glory.

The trench that I work in is rumored to be the hottest trench on the site because of the lack of wind that the area receives.  I was pretty scared on my first day out there, but we have a shade tent off to the side of the trench, and as long as you drink enough water it’s not much worse than the other trenches… plus my farmer’s tan is coming along nicely!

My official title is Trench Assistant, and I work under the Trench Supervisor Luca Tepedino, a volleyball-playing, spicy Italian gentleman.  Aside from Luca and myself there are 6 Turkish workmen who do a fair amount of the digging and heavy lifting.  I have to say that ours are pretty well-behaved compared to some of the other trenches.  Most of our entertainment during break comes from exchanging stories about what weird activities they are up to while working, what colorful new vocabulary has been acquired, and who has earned a new nickname.

Our goal for the season is to uncover the floor of a courtyard surrounded by three walls in our trench.  On the first day of digging we began by picking down 5 cm when we discovered a bunch of burnt material in one corner and a line of burnt mudbrick lined in plaster.  It was very exciting, nobody expected us to find anything so soon! However, our find slowed our progress down to millimeters a day instead of centimeters.  One of the workers spent almost 5 hours uncovering the fragile plaster with a dental pick usually used on human remains!  I mostly work with a trowel scraping off the very top of the sun-baked soil in search of the faint outlines of mudbricks, then brushing it off.  Scraping, brushing, scraping brushing.  It sounds monotonous and can be at times, but when you find something it feels extra-satisfying!

A typical day starts at 4:45 am when we wake up.  Breakfast is at 5:00, and we are on the site working by 5:30.  We have a break from 8:30-9:00 with more food, and a Cola Mola (mola is Turkish for break) around 11:00.  Work stops at 1:15 for lunch and a siesta, only to resume at 4:00 for processing and data entry.  We usually finish work at 7:00, so days are very busy.  Nobody really complains though because we all enjoy what we do, being out in the field is generally the highlight of an archaeologist’s year!

Today was a half-day and tonight we are celebrating the 4th of July early so that we preserve our day off tomorrow to go to nearby Antakya (Biblical Antioch) for some sightseeing and supplies.  The BBQ starts soon so I should get going! Gule Gule!

-Lexy Sinnott