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

I am counting down my last days here at Tell Atchana and I have to admit that I will miss it here!  I only have 3 more days in my trench, but luckily we removed most of the in-situ pottery today so I will get to see it all before I leave!  In the past week we have been piecing together some really beautiful Syro-Cilician painted wares that will eventually be restored by our loverly conservation team!

Today we took final photos of this phase of our trench (3c in case you were wondering), and now we are beginning to take down some of the main features in order to see what is underneath… I can’t quite decide how I feel about this.  We have spent the past month exposing all these interesting, beautiful features, and now we’re just going to destroy them all??  I guess that’s the whole idea behind archaeology though, you find something, study it, and keep moving.  Which brings me to my next topic: documentation

The Alalakh documentation system is a beast.  Every day we keep a daybook detailing what we dug and how we did it and describe EVERYTHING down to what color the dirt was, all while recording seemingly insignificant millimeter changes in elevation. On top of the documentation that takes place on site, we spend several hours each evening we do things like sorting pottery, entering lot and locus information into the database, and writing photograph descriptions.  Some days I really dread this, but it is definitely the most important part of our job.  Anyone can dig a hole in the ground and pull out some buried treasure, but we aren’t a bunch of Indiana Jones wannabes running around the desert (well, maybe some of us are).  I would say I only spend 40% of the work day playing in the dirt, and the rest of my time is spent sampling, observing, and describing.

I know have mentioned before that I have become really attached to my trench and everything in it, so I am very sad to see it get big-picked into nothing.  But thanks to the sickeningly thorough and precise nature of archaeology, I know that every single detail of its existence is neatly organized in the Alalakh database if I ever want to visit it. And who knows what we’ll find next? I’m sure that just a few centimeters under my beloved kitchen there is a whole new context just waiting for some caring archaeologist to tear it apart!!

Sadly though, I leave in 4 days… so it won’t be me.  Probably Luca.

-Lexy Sinnott

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!

Good morning world!!!

It’s about 7 AM, and we are in the midst of the last work day of the week. Only 6 1/2 more hours of pottery drawing and Fun With Excel before lunch!

I am currently caught up with all the pottery drawing–today I have one more pot to draw, and then I get to continue my latest exciting project: creating a master list of all the sherd illustrations from 2006 to present. Once this is completed, the information will be added to the database where it can be accessed easily.

Im proud of my pottery drawings!

I'm proud of my pottery drawings!

I’m in an excellent mood today, probably because last night was so fun. As Lexy posted, we went to a wedding at Atchana and danced non-stop. It was great to interact with the villagers in a context other than that of excavation. The music was loud, the clothes were beautiful, and everyone was very welcoming and enthusiastic. When we got back to the compound, Wuthering Heights was playing on the projecter, complete with Turkish dubbing. It was entertaining to watch without understanding what the actors were saying.

Speaking of understanding… I have officially begun my quest to learn Turkish! I’ve been studying during breaks and talking to Pinar, Neslihan, and Ferhat, three amazing people from the home team. They’ve been very sweet and helpful and have been kind enough to teach me a few raunchy things to say as well, just so I’m not limited to “Hello” “Goodbye” and “I go over there now” 🙂 With any luck, I will be able to have basic conversations before the season ends.

Time to get back to drawing!

-Sarah Hawley

We are just beginning our second week of work here at Alalakh, and I have to say things are just getting more and more interesting!

I mentioned in the previous post that each trench gets 5 or 6 workmen from the surrounding villages of Tayfur Sokmen and Atchana.  During the day they just chatter away in both Turkish and Arabic, usually mixing the two languages in a single sentence.  I just tuned them out for the first few days, but recently we have all been making an effort to understand one another.  Whenever someone wants to communicate something, they usually use pantomime to get the idea across, and then the word or phrase is translated in to Turkish, Arabic, English, and sometimes Italian.  It’s very entertaining and I have been retaining at least some of the vocabulary.  Today I printed a basic translations packet for everyone in the trench so we can really get talking!

On another note, this morning, my trench supervisor Luca and I were lucky enough to get invited to one of our worker’s houses for breakfast.  Atchana is a very small town located on the Tell (hill) where the site is (see Sarah’s earlier post “Archaeology and the Community” for details).  It’s not too big, walking down the streets the only traffic we encountered was of a gaggle of geese and a chicken – yes, he was crossing the road!!

We had our breakfast in Abdullah’s 1-room house where he lives with his mother and 6 siblings.  The food was absolutely AMAZING, consisting of a large piece of tandoor bread, many different spiced vegetable dishes, and of course cay (tea).  Abdullah’s mother immediately covered my hair with a headscarf so I could be a proper Turkish lady, and insisted that I keep it when I left so that I could be cooler while we worked through the afternoon.  I was absolutely awed by her generosity, although the family doesn’t have much, accommodating a guest is a top priority.   I feel so lucky to be here!

Oh and Yahya, another of the workmen decided to nickname everyone in the trench.  I am Fatma Girik, blue-eyed Turkish actress, Luca is Kemal Sunal, Turkish actor, and Yahya dubbed himself Tatar Ramazan, which after a few google searches we have determined to be the Turkish equivalent of Rambo.  Oh, and Abdullah is Michael Jackson… too soon?

-Lexy Sinnott

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

Hooray, my first post!

So I arrived in Istanbul yesterday morning and have been here on my own since then.  Istanbul is the opposite of dull.  It is very loud, there are people everywhere, and the traffic is out of control.  Although I have spent very little time here, I managed to get in a car accident already! While my taxi was at a stop light, we got rear-ended by a car going 30 mph… good thing I was wearing a seat belt!  My luggage was wedged in the trunk, but was removed eventually.  Luckily the only thing damaged was my toothpaste!  Oh, and the taxi  😦

Needless to say I am excited to meet up with the rest of the USC people later tonight!! Hopefully everyone will arrive safely and jet-lag-free so we can explore a bit. We leave for Hatay tomorrow, we have a lot of ground to cover in a short period of time!

-Lexy Sinnott