Saturday, June 27, 2009

It's a little funny

It's a little funny how fast my body is adjusting to not digging. We finished on Thursday and my hands are already peeling.


The calluses that I get on my hands from picking and scooping up dirt and carrying it here and there in buckets and wheelbarrows are peeling off, leaving soft pink skin behind.

It's only been two days since I swung a pick!

I didn't loose my calluses last weekend, when I didn't dig for two days.

How did they know it was time to go?

I am currently considering the following theory: Beer repels calluses.

Normally on the dig I'm drinking G&T's or something and somethings, not much beer. Although I do also have a beer from time to time, it's less beer and more tasty mixed beverages with hard alcohol. But the hard liquor has gone and we have a lot of beer left. So we are drinking more beer than usual.

If you are perhaps wondering if this theory lacks anything resembling logic... remember where I am and what I've been doing for the last four weeks. Moving vast amounts of dirt from one place to another in Israel in summer without shade could also be interpreted as lacking logic. Or even sanity.

Well, here, where I am, logic need not apply.

Thus, I think beer might turn out to be an excellent callus repellant. Methinks I should have some more to see if I can do something about my callused feet! It is an experiment! I'm drinking more beer in the name of science!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How can I do paperwork under these conditions?

It's hot. Really really hot. How hot? 107 Fahrenheit or 42 Celsius.

It doesn't feel that hot when we are out there... but then we are coming back in around noon and I think the temperature hits high around 2 or 3. Which is great siesta time, let me tell you.

Otherwise, I seem to be up to my eyeballs in paperwork. We have a sheet to fill out for every locus. A locus is a feature in the square. It can be a wall or a layer of dirt, a pit (often dirt within more dirt, but different colored and deposited at a different time... yeah, it *is* the pits), a floor (plastered or cobbled or beaten earth or.... etc), just about anything you can describe that is NOT an object you can pick up and move is a locus. And each one that you have has it's own page of information that must be filled out. Archaeological law states that you will suddenly have a plethora of loci (plural of locus) during your last week of excavation. Only 4 so far? Have another 12!

But because of this record keeping, I can tell you that in the first two weeks, we moved 25 cubic meters of soil. And for those of you who can't imagine in meters... that's 883 cubic feet of soil. From one square. Then myself and my volunteers also removed the back fill from another square. Which I have to guestimate, since there were walls that we didn't remove... but it was about another 25 and a half cubic meters/900 cubic feet of soil. Finally we dug down deeper in that square... removing some of the walls... and moved about (ABOUT) another 28 cubic meters/1000 cubic feet.

If my math is right.

And do remember that I am a social science major. I deal in theoretic cultural behaviors of long dead societies. Math is not something I often need to do.

This photo was taken of the site early in the morning. Like 5:30 or some mad time. We have to shoot photos before the sun causes shadows. Each of those squares is a 5 by 5 meter square, to give you some scale. (16 feet by 16 feet... jesus people) And there are nine of them. Not all have been excavated this season, we been here every summer for the last three years, but these are not the only squares we've dug, either. We had many other squares that are now back filled.

So there you have it. Archaeology is massive dirt relocation followed by paperwork.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Progressive foot unveiling among other things...

It's been a long week. My schedule runs roughly as thus:

4:00 AM Wake up, roll into clothes, fall into bathroom.
4:15 AM Make coffee. Put on sunscreen and bug spray. Eat bread with peanut butter.
4:30 AM Fill water cubes.
4:45 AM Stagger to van and load up the dig team.
4:50 AM Drive to site.
5:00 AM Get tools, commence digging.
8:30-9:00 AM Breakfast
11:00-11:10 AM Fruit break
12:00 Clean up and go to lunch
12:45 PM Take off shoes and socks. Marvel at mud between the toes.
1:00 PM Shower
1:15 PM NAP!!!
3:30 PM Wake up confused, drink coffee
4:00 PM Pottery washing
5:30 PM Check email if I took too long of a nap earlier in the day. Be shocked because I seem to have not checked my email for a few days.
7:00 PM Dinner
7:30 PM After dinner drinks.
9:00 PM Go to bed.

On days where I have a field trip, we usually leave around 2 o'clock. From time to time I must also forgo a nap for other reasons, such as shopping, locus sheets, and blogging. Obviously, blogging has suffered from my insistence on napping during the day. However, you do manual labor for 7 and a half hours in the morning and see how much you feel like plopping down to write!

This last weekend we were in Jerusalem and I had fully intended on catching up with my blogging and my paperwork. But, you guessed it, I slept instead. Then on Saturday I think I ate something that was not so nice and ended up rather ill on Sunday. I'm still rather weak, but the nausea and cramping is past. My wound is also noticeably smaller!! It's like a really slow zipper, closing from the top down in a very slow but steady way. I'm fascinated by the daily progress.

And if you are wondering what the three pictures have to do with anything... well, they don't. It's the progressive foot unveiling that happens every day after digging. Those socks were white. So were the feet... only they've gotten a bit more tan from all the sandal wearing. And I am now borrowing a pair of Smartwool socks that are AWESOME! I still have dirty feet, but the socks are much better fitting and because they draw the sweat away from my feet, I have cooler and less smelly feet at the end of the day. Bliss, I tell you.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Shopping in Israel

Because last year's food was so dreadful - rice and cabbage and potatoes EVERY FREAKIN' NIGHT! - we decided we'd buy our own.  It was bound to be better and cheaper than what we were getting.  This requires us to go into town to shop at the local supermarket every few days.  We have a rotation, so no one gets stuck doing it too often.  

Shopping in Denmark is tricky enough because of the language barrier, but in Israel, a lot of the items are in Hebrew.  They use a WHOLE different alphabet.  Of which I know only a few letters.  None of which make up words, by the way.  I imagine that this is how illiterate people shop, by pictures.  This works out okay... so far I haven't bought something completely awful.  And I can compare the shapes of the letters to the price tags to figure out what is what price. But I am definitely buying "salads" by color: white, pink, or red.

Dining by the sea

On Saturday we went to Akko for lunch.  It was sort of a long drive for lunch, but what else was there to do?  There was the excitement of going left when we should have gone right because when you are driving south it is PARAMOUNT that you realize the map is now "upside down."

We ate in a little restaurant by the sea, where the local youths leap off the wall into the water.  They quickly realized we were all sitting there waiting for them to jump so we could take pictures and would you believe, not a single one jumped for me??  Eventually my arm got tired of holding the camera out, so I just took this picture and you'll just have to believe me when I say they leap into the water.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Listed as: walking wounded

Don't go reading this post if you are squeamish. Or have issues when people describe wounds. Or if you pass out at the slightest suggestion of blood. Because I'm posting a picture here of my injury and I don't want the faint hearted to suffer a coronary just because I have been damned by the gods.

I've got the usual bumps and bruises that everyone gets. I pulled a neck muscle the other day after a particularly violent sneeze, but that's pretty much gone now. I have two bruised toe-nails, but so far neither has turned anything other than pinky-red, so I may not loose my toe-nails....

Are you still reading this?

I am still sunburning myself, but after buying a higher SPF in a brand I've used before, the only place I'm burning is where I manage to not put any on. I seem to choose a new place every day. That's fine. I can handle it.

Today I managed to repeatedly bash my hand on a rock (or actually several rocks) and finally, after a bit of bleeding, needed a band-aid. This was obviously a trial run for the much larger rock related injury I would have a few hours later.

Rocks, when not in walls and generally just hanging out in your square, need to be removed in a proper archaeological fashion. First you dig all around them - and not a hole, you have to bring the level of the entire area down to the bottom of the rock before it is "floating" and then you can pick it up and carry it or throw it to another location. The rock in question was a normal head-sized rock, with rounded edges, and didn't look particularly threatening. I picked it up and began carrying it away... as I got near the discarded rock area, the bottom section of the rock broke away.

Did you know limestone is sharp? I mean, really sharp??

A chunk of it hit my leg and left an inch long gash in my thigh.

A word on my thighs. I love my legs, I think they're hot and I've been really impressed with them ever since my thighs finally got to be thicker than my knees. Which was like 8 years ago. They are now considerably thicker than my knees and have a nice layer of fat to round them out into nicely shaped thighs. I am rather fond of them. Not as fond as I am of my calves, which for reasons that make no sense (honestly, did you expect them to?), I am really proud of.

Anyway, because of the nice layer of fat, the damage was only cosmetic. My skin opened up in a short, fat wound. There was blood running for a while, but fat doesn't bleed and skin is shockingly lacking in major arteries. Whoot to that!

So I again needed first aid, this time a bit more urgently than a scraped finger (hey, it was on my left hand, I'm left handed, how in the hell am I supposed to put a band-aid on my good hand using the one that can barely function on the best days?).

Alcohol wipes followed. Stingy! Then temporary bandage. I was offered the chance to request stitches. But no way, I would rather have a scar than have stitches. I am not scared of needles and shots, but to be sown up like a turkey? Uh, no, thanks, I'll just take my war wound and go, thank you very much.

I mean, it's just a scar!

And they use string or something! Ugh! Argh!

I'd rather use duct tape to patch myself up than have stitches.*

As you can see, I am not a fan of the stitches. *brrrrgh*

After lunch I showered and we dressed it properly with little wound closing sticky things that are awesome. Then Neosporin and a big band-aid. Since those were the last of the wound closers, I'm going to have to wait as long as I can before I shower again. But that's cool, I can do that. And if I can't get the wound to stay closed after than, even using regular band-aids as "tape" that's okay too. I'm just rolling with it.

Anyway, before covering it up, I tried to take a picture, but it's kinda hard to do. I asked the dig director, who not only does medical treatment, but also the photography for the site, to use my dinky camera to catch the following shot (hmmm, should have used a scale... but that might have been pushing my luck):

Thankfully, since it's just a flesh wound on the upper leg, it doesn't slow me down all that much. I've just got to "cowgirl up" and go about my business, since it really isn't much of a wound. (Really, it's not much of a "cowgirl up" moment... it doesn't hurt much.) But I do wish I had someone to pamper me and tell me not to lift a finger and feed me olives while I reclined in bed.

Then again, don't we all?

*I'm not kidding about the duct tape, I would totally have used that if that was my only option other than stitches.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


Oh woe is me... I have allergies. I always bring LOADS of allergy medicine with me. It has almost always worked. I did bring allergy medicine with me, but for whatever reason, it seems to have no impact on my nose. I had a lovely few days and then today I was hit.


I was miserable.

It was so bad, the dig director sent in our pottery specialist (who will dig in the field until we find enough to keep her busy) to find the director's Sudafed. Two of those and half an hour later I was right as rain. Actually, I was rather bouncy. No wonder they make meth out of the stuff. Those little red pills are GREAT!

They may sell this in the shop, otherwise I have to wait until I can find a pharmacy that will either sell more of it or something similar.

Speaking of things that were drugged... I know the past tense of drag is not drugged, but in archaeology land, we often invent new words or new meanings for things to entertain ourselves. It's the heat you know. So "I drug it" is a fairly acceptable humorous term for dragging an artifact from the ground with your tools. Alas, not everything that gets dragged from the ground is something you are glad to have drugged.

I did not take pictures of this, it wasn't really a photo taking opportunity.

We have a large deep open square on our site that we are currently digging adjacent to in order to open a wider area and create a series of "steps" down to the lowest point (among other things, but I'm trying to keep it simple and away from archaeological theory, which is not as interesting and has no bearing on this story.) Because the walls of this pit are exposed (the dirt walls of any archaeological square are called "baulks" - and that is your archaeological vocabulary for the day), sometimes animals will burrow into the baulks. Today we discovered that two families of birds had done so and were in the process of raising a family... which included a number of baby birds.

Can you see where I am going with this?

We excavated the nests.

We didn't mean to! I mean, we can't really help it if they burrowed in or borrowed a previously used animal burrow, they go underneath where we are digging. Many of the holes are old and abandoned or house mice that can run away. Baby birds cannot run. They can't really do much except die. But we certainly do not set out to maim and kill defenseless animals living in their small homes, no matter how damaging to an archaeological site those animals may be (they dig where we want to dig)

Four were killed out right. We think it might have been yesterday when the square supervisor was walking around the square and part of the ground sank under his feet. It's likely that was the nest collapsing. So today three dead baby birds were drug out of the nest with a large hoe. After a rather savage pick-axing. Oh dear. Then while removing a pile of collapsed rubble we found another nest. This time we only lost one baby bird and saved three more.

We were then left with an ethical dilemma. We don't really like to kill the non-poisonous things that are in our square. We routinely chase mice out. But mice can run. Baby birds will die. Should we kill them quickly or leave them to die slowly of heat, dehydration, exposure, starvation or predation? I didn't really want to do it, but as I was galvanizing myself and preparing to do the deed, our pottery specialist volunteered to find out where she could take the birds and then take them there, provided they could survive in a bucket in the shade for a few hours.

Thank god! I really was not looking forward to what I would need to do with a dustpan.

UPDATE: The baby birds have been delivered to the very nice lady who loves birds. She thinks they have a good chance. And we are all hoping that the rest of those burrows have mice and snakes and lizards and ANYTHING other than baby birds.

The first field trip or "if it's Tuesday this must be Bet She'an"

So yesterday was our first field trip. We offer students the option of going to certain sites in the area. Some of these come with "tours" led by "leading scholars," by which we mean that some of us know some stuff about certain sites and we'll pontificate about them if you so desire.

The first trip is always Bet She'an (of which there are MANY spellings). As it is a Roman city and I am a Romanist and I once gave a paper on the Decapolis (means "ten cities" Bet She'an is one of them), I am the tour guide. I have given this tour I don't know how many times. I do, however, often forget to take pictures.

But this time I did nab a few.

Bet Shean is a multi-phase site, most of the remains visible are Roman and Byzantine, but there was an earthquake in 749 AD that knocked a lot of the city down. Building on top of the fallen ruins is therefor a later period (because the columns had to fall down first, you see) and looks darned cool to an archaeologist.

Behind these buildings, in the distance, you can see the columns of the main street, or Cardo, as it is usually called.

This photo, taken last year by someone else, shows the tel. A tel is a hill made up of a series of superimposed occupational layers. This one is mighty tall and dates from 6,000 BC (at least) to the medieval period (but very little, as most people moved into the valley around abouts 300 BC ish). The Roman city was built on one side of the tel and stuck a few temples on top of the tel, but otherwise kept itself to the valley.

This photo shows more of the earthquake damage. We don't know why no one moved the stones after the earthquake, because the buildings in the first picture shows us that people did live there (there's other evidence, but you don't really want to hear about ceramics do you?), so why did they leave these stones in place? They are freaking big.

Anyway, that was the first tour. My legs were killing me and I'd gotten what turned out to be a rather nasty sunburn on my shoulders and arms. I looked at my sunscreen a bit more carefully when I got back. It says on the front: sweat-proof! Water-proof! Then on the back in small letters: sweat and water-proof for up to 80 minutes.

EIGHTY MINUTES?? I'm digging from 5 to 12! That's 420 minutes! I have to reapply this stuff 5 times a day?? Ugh. When the small shop opens tomorrow I am going and getting a better sunscreen.

I do not usually get this sunburned, but I was just that pale and my sunscreen that bad that I guess there was just no hope. So after a full day of work, sore legs and arms, a hike around a rather large archaeological park - we climbed that tel, by the way - I was beat and ready for bed. It was an early night. (Which is why this blog post is a day late.)

Monday, June 01, 2009


Sorry, no photos today. Today was a day of cleaning. Which means taking all of the dirt that has been kicked up by the backhoe and taking it to a location other than our site.

We use the backhoe to get rid of the flesh rending thistles and the top few inches of soil.

The result is ankle deep dust and I was not really enthusiastic of exposing my camera to the fine fine dust that we have on site. Seriously, this stuff is like flour. Once up in the air, it can get anywhere and everywhere.

So no pictures.

Not that there was much to see. It looked somewhat like a war zone and somewhat like a moonscape. At the end of the day we have cleared away where we are going to lay out our squares, 5x5 meters in size.

But let me tell you a story.

Two years ago I bought and wore lovely dig boots.

Last year I packed my husband's dig boots by mistake.

This year I packed MY dig boots.

This year I discovered that either my boots shrank or my feet grew and so my dig boots ATE my feet. Bruised toes, blisters on my heels. Ugh.

So what am I going to do? Use the Keens I wore last year.

What was the point of searching so diligently for my dig boots??


I'm a little sore, which means tomorrow I'm going to be stiff and very sore. But I shall have GREAT muscles and a funny tan, so I'll just bully through like I always do. If you don't have some pain then you know you aren't working hard enough. I also have the required mysterious bruises and scrapes that one gets. They are badges of honor. At least that's what we tell ourselves as we compare the sizes and shapes and colors.