Posted by: thedirtybaker | June 11, 2011

Dirty Pictures

Look at that storage jar. You just want to pull out those sherds from the baulk. You want to, right? NOOOOOOOO!!! You have to leave it there. Mwahahahahaha!!!

That’s right, it’s time for some dirty pictures. Show ’em to the kids – they’ll like this batch (if they’re into archaeology)! Yes, archaeology – not only do we get dirty, we pay attention to the different colors and textures of dirt.  I’d love to show you pictures of 3000+ year old beads and other jewelry, but you’re going to have to wait on those (unless you want to Skype me).  Instead, here’s an archaeological smorgasbord.  (Hint: don’t eat 3000 year old fish.  It can’t be good.)

I’m currently working for the Tel Ashkelon Excavations.  It’s in a modern city also called Ashkelon – the name seems to have stuck for millennia.  The Romans called it “Ascalon” and “scallions” are named after it, I believe.  It’s on the southern coast of Egypt, close enough to Gaza that I got instructions on what to do if the sirens go off.

The site was occupied at least as far back as the Early Bronze Age (3rd Millennium BCE), but not much of the excavations have gotten that far down, as it’s buried under Arab, Crusader, Muslim, Byzantine, Roman, Hellenistic, Persian, Iron Age II, Iron Age I, Late Bronze Age, and Middle Bronze Age remains.  The materials I’m working on are from the Iron Age I (1200-1000) BCE, when the city was part of the Philistine Pentapolis.

The Philistines were one of the Sea Peoples.  They may have been pirates or mercenaries of some sort at the end of the Late Bronze Age, but they settled down on the southern shore of Canaan after fighting the ruling Egyptians, and probably with their encouragement.  There are a lot of Egyptian-imported finds from the earlier part of the Iron I.    They were fierce fighters, and may have been placed there as vassals to the Egyptians who could (perhaps) maintain order in this region.  Culturally speaking, they were the most advanced people in this part of the Mediterranean, and their architecture, loomweights, and pottery show that they likely originated in the Aegean region.

Medinet Habu Reliefs from the Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III. These show the Egyptians defeating the Sea Peoples. (Somehow, the Egyptians never showed battles that they lost, or they claimed to have won them.)

They also had a lot of jewelry, which is why I was invited here to publish it.  More importantly, the excavators here sieved their materials extensively, and did flotation, so they found more of the jewelry that most excavations missed.  (There are some major cities that didn’t find, or at least failed to publish, any jewelry.  No city completely lacked jewelry – the excavators just didn’t sieve the materials to find the smaller stuff.)   There are thousands of beads here, without any exaggeration.  And since the strings didn’t survive, we just have beads.  Lots and lots of beads.  Thousands.  Lots.  Many.  A ton.  Lots.  A fucking lot of beads.  It’s really freakin’ awesome!

So, about the site.  The most recent remains that I’ve seen have been from the Ottoman

Ottoman period water installation. I've also seen a lizard using it as a sunbathing platform.

period.  There’s part of a noria, or a water-drawing installation that includes a harnessed animal walking around in a circle all day.  Before that there are late Muslim, Crusader, early Muslim, etc.  If you’ve looked at my Facebook, you’ve already seen photos of “old, fragmentary walls.”  The builders incorporated Roman columns, which means they have to be Roman or post-Roman.  As it happens, they are either early Islamic or Crusader, as are the towers next to them.

Muslim or Crusader walls, incorporating Roman columns, in a masterful example of recycling.

Islamic or Crusader Tower remains, also incorporating Roman columns.

These columns and capitals are Roman (I think the sign said Severan, but I’m not sure).

Foreground: capital from a Roman column. Background: columns

They used to be able to hold up a roof in the Roman period.  Now they are doing a bang-up job supporting the air in the National Park.  Keep it up!

The Crusaders did quite a job of leaving big, visible remains – better than they did at holding off Salah ed-Din and his minions.  They built them on earlier remains, too – the main shape of the site is based on the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1500 BCE)  Fortifications.

Pay no attention to the man who stuck his head in my picture. Check out the fortifications instead!

Fortifications as seen from below, just above the dry moat. Would you want to attack this city? Better to take your coconuts and "Run away! Run away!"

In these pictures, you can see the MB glacis (a.k.a the rampart), with a  Philistine mud brick (looks like dirt) tower sticking out towards the right.  A Hellenistic continuation of the wall can just be seen perching on top.  There was also a dry moat (a.k.a. “long ditch”) at the base of the wall.    The next picture shows you some of the construction and some re-construction done on the wall.  One of the MB city gates was filled in in antiquity and was therefore in really good shape when the excavators found it.  They then had it reconstructed as an educational tourism site, and roofed to protect the mud brick.

The mini-tour I went on also covered some of the Iron Age.  Since one of the hard parts of archaeology in this part of the world is figuring out the stratigraphy, I thought I’d include a bit about that.

Think of a layer cake of subsequent strata of human habitation and abandonment.  That’s the basic idea of the tell/ tel.  Now, stop thinking about the frosting for a minute, delicious as that may be. Tels began when people, thousands of years ago, decided that someplace was a good place to build a village.  They rebuilt, spread out, left, people came later (maybe the same people, maybe not), and built there again.  some of the layers were small, some were big, in both horizontal and vertical directions.  Gradually, over

They cut through a wall and found the floors that led up to it in the baulk.

time, the settlement was on higher ground than the area around it.  At some point, often in the Middle Bronze Age, the site was large and  the people built up a wall.  The entire site wasn’t necessarily inhabited at all times, so some parts grew higher than others.  You might have a lens-like pocket of frosting that was a village-sized settlement in a less-occupied period.  Mmmm… frosting!  (OK, so maybe I’m the one thinking about frosting, not you.)  At other times, the city grew so big that a lower city was built outside the walls, and maybe a secondary wall was built around that area, too.  Imagine cupcakes around the base of the cake, mostly in one direction. Maybe brownies or bar cookies since they built square/ rectangular, not round.  (Well, how else can I get baking into the Dirty Baker blog right now?)

Even within the layer cake itself, it’s complicated.  Some areas have more layers than others.  Sometimes people dug a lot of  pits (which therefore disturbed lower layers) or basements (which therefore disturbed lower layers) or built large buildings that required deep foundations (which therefore disturbed lower layers).  Every time a lower layer was disturbed, it mixed the materials from different periods together.  Sometimes they used stones or other materials from earlier periods (e.g. the Roman columns in Crusader walls) to build with, rather than going further (off site) for them.  So instead of layers of cake and frosting that are even, imagine that some dug into the layers when your back was turned, so you had to push frosting in creatively all over the place so that it looked even-ish from the outside.  Now, imagine cutting trenches into parts of the cake (not necessarily at the edges, and trying to figure out the history of the cake from that.  That’s what archaeologists here deal with.

So when we dig, we leave baulks in place (temporarily), so we can see if we’ve missed floors, pits, etc.  They show up as horizontal lines in the vertical planes that we’ve left behind.  And if there’s a storage jar  or wall in that baulk, we have to look at its outline until the baulk is taken down.  Our hands start itching to take it down, but we have to wait.

Also notice where the edge of the larger excavated area is.  This is a very hot grid to work in.  Apparently, the breeze from the sea goes over it and they never feel it.  It’s like working in a mud-brick oven!

Check out the little tags in the picture below.  Those are to identify what they found in the baulk.  Pretty cool, eh?

Look at that storage jar. You just want to pull out those sherds from the baulk. You want to, right? NOOOOOOOO!!! You have to leave it there. Aaaaaaargh!

By the way, if there’s something you want to know about any of this, or about archeology in general or of this area in particular, feel free to ask.  If I can’t answer you, I’ll feel free to admit it.


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