Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The romance of archaeology...

You sit around a campfire at night, every now and then checking the ground because there may be a scorpion or a camel spider.

Both have been seen and killed at our camp.

Do not give me your bleeding heart "oh but that poor creature has the right to live - you could have just moved it - it was probably more scared of you than you of it" because you don't have to get up at 2 in the morning to pee and need to keep your flashlight close at hand so that you can check the floor for poisonous things and then you get your shoes which you shake vigorously to again check for the creepy crawlies before going out with your flashlight, again watching for things that RUN at you from the dark!

It is said that the camel spider only runs at you when it feels threatened... apparently people playing poker in the courtyard is threatening.  And while not venomous, they do leave a VERY NASTY BITE, so we'll be killing them dead, thank you very much.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Quick blurb...

Sitting in the Museum Authorities, getting some Internet done.  

So I have some time to give you some more info - particularly about the finds Jennie asked about (since I did just pick up last years finds for cataloguing, this is a relevant question).

The site we're digging was abandoned within living memory.  By abandoned, I mean, most people moved away or at least out of the houses.  There are several people living in tents and campers on the beach, but they are mostly weekenders or squatters or we-don't-ask kinds of people who are not living IN the city.  Over time the city has filled with sand and wind-blown deposits, but walls remain up to a good height.  Most of the finds we've collected so far date to the 19th or early 20th century.  How long the site was settled is not known exactly and is one of the reasons we're digging.  Since it was one of the most important cities in Qatar when the economy was still based on pearls and not oil, it *should* date back quite a ways.  I put "should" in stars because, in archaeology, whenever something *should* be something, it generally isn't.  It's sort of the Murphy's Law of archaeology.  Right up there with, "if you are looking for something big and important that will take at least three days to excavate, you will only find it on the last day of excavation."  And my own personal law, "if the Archaeogoddess finds a wall in her square, it will go into the baulk (the soil left standing between two squares) and will NOT come out the other side."  I think I mentioned that law earlier this year.

Anyway, we have a curious collection of ceramics, some locally made, some imports from nearby, all pretty grungy, and then some really fantastic Chinese imported ware.

We also have a lot of boat nails because we are digging a harbor town whose economy was based on pearl diving, NOT finding boat nails would be weird.

There are a good enough number of coins and beads, and enough fish, goat, and camel bones to keep me busy.

But everything is salt encrusted and corroding.  Even the tool handles get a nice salty sheen to them.  Many of the metal finds are probably not that old, but in this environment, they don't last all that long.

So now I have lots to do, but a sever lack of storage space is going to make things rather messy about my office.  Not to mention the rust, dust, sand, and salt that already lends my office a shabby chic that you just can't buy anywhere.

Anyone know an office supply store in Doha?  One that sells cheap or used office furniture?  


Friday, November 20, 2009

Won't be able to sleep for all the caffeine!

So here I am again, this time writing a post in a cafe.  Too much late night coffee!  Oh the horrors of trying to sleep tonight.

Anyway, some updates:

I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered MS Access, but it is no longer mastering me!  And I have things to register, always good.  We’ve finally commenced digging - the backfill from the previous season is mostly removed and some squares have started work.  Speaking of work, the workmen arrived so things are moving along at a much faster clip. 

The wind is up.  Everything I own is covered in a light layer of very fine dust.  Not much we can do about that.  I’m more worried that the tent is going to blow down on me.  This isn’t even the worst we’ll get, either.  The sand storms that we’ll be getting in a few months are supposed to make this weather look like a light spring breeze.

We’ve also had some rain!  Not much, but just enough to send our poker game scrambling for shelter.  The rain was less wet than one night when the water was just condensing out of the air onto everything.  It was running off the roof and the sky was clear.  WEIRD!

Today we had 6 buses of visitors show up for the fort-museum we're camped next to.  The tourists (probably workers for a company, maybe an oil refinery, getting a "cultural trip") rode 1.5 hrs in a bus for a half hour stop and then 1.5 hrs "home."  Mostly they just used our bathroom.  The director sat and watched to make sure they stayed out of the ladies room.  Then they came and wandered into our housing complex.  Peering into our tents.  One of our archaeologists tried being nice and explaining what we were doing etc etc but when it kept happening I finally just told them "this is our home, please leave."  I'd be more polite and visitor friendly if they didn't just wander into the middle of our courtyard where we are sitting and walk straight up to the tent doors and look in.  HELLO!?  We're sitting right here, how about you ask us what's up or say hi or something, don't just try to go into our tents!


Oh, and before I forget.  Replies to comments:

@ Corrine: I always end up getting up to pee in the middle of the night.  I am NOT looking forward to my first sand storm-bathroom trip.  But it is inevitable.

@ Jennie: Right now I'm cataloging iron nails.  But there will be other stuff, like beads, rings, spindle whorls, weights, and coins.  And before you ask, no, I can't take pictures.  :-(

@ Jacki: If I feel like shaving, which I might once a week until it gets too cold to wear capris (which will probably be next week), I use shaving cream and a bit of water.  I can shave with less than a cup of water.  But mostly I'm not worried about shaving.  Who am I trying to impress?  Not even my dear Dane minds if I don't shave for months at a time, so I normally don't shave in the winter anyway.

Was that Too Much Information?  Just keepin' it real folks!

Speaking of shaving, the men have discovered the local barber.  Once a week or so the guys come back with amazingly smooth faces.  Softer than my skin, for sure!

BTW, can anyone tell me WHY I need to wait 6 hours to download 700 MB of data?  Don't tell me about bandwidth, processing speed, and metasourcing (I just made that one up, but doesn't it sound clever?), it's because the internet hates me, right?  This means I might, just might, some day soon, spend the night in a hotel so that I can have LONG TERM access to internet.



Also I'd like some privacy, since I'd like to skype my husband and I don't need all of Doha looking over my shoulder.  Yes, buddy, I saw you looking....

That's about all from here.  Think of me the next time you vacuum.

Hugs all!

Monday, November 16, 2009

A rare update! Don't go holding your breath for the next one...

There’s no internet at the site, so don’t give me your bellyaching!  If you are reading this I’m probably dead I’ve made it to an internet café (or a café with internet, oooh baby!) to upload this.

The things I do!

I mean, if this were the good old days, I’d have just vanished and you wouldn’t expect to see or hear from me for five months.  Instead I’m typing up a blog post and taking my computer to a football (soccer for the Americans) game so that if I pass an internet café you can all read about my life in the desert.

(Pause for lunch.)

Back again.  So I’ll start by telling you about meals.

First breakfast is between 6:30 and 7 am, before we go out to work.  I’m pretty much all about the coffee and digestives, but some do have cereal or other stuff.  Proper breakfast is at 10 am, when the restaurant in the nearby town brings by food for the ravaging hoard of archaeologists.  Lunch is at 3-3:30, depending on when the restaurant brings it by and that’s the big meal of the day.  The sun sets at 4:45, so dinner is leftovers, cereal, scrounge up something whenever you get peckish.  I suppose we should call “first breakfast” just breakfast and then the last meal is dinner, not lunch, but it just seems odd to think that you have dinner at tea time!  One of the archaeologists is very clever with building things and he made a banana-toffee pie the other night.  Oh, it was good!  Since food is coming from the restaurant, we’re eating well.  It is high in oil content, though, so we’ll be dying of clogged arteries before the end of season.

Living accommodations are… well… have you seen M*A*S*H?  Movie or tv series, doesn’t matter.   Army tents with mats, but we do have proper beds with metal frames and mattresses instead of cots.  It gets cold at night so I’m already using my blanket.  We have run electricity to the tents, so we can turn on lights and have fans or heaters when it gets really cold.  The fancy built accommodations will arrive… later.  In Qatar it seems that nothing really happens until it becomes an emergency, so I’m not holding my breath waiting for the housing to be built.  It works fine enough, I have my own room with a wardrobe for my clothes and I’ve scrounged some drift-junk for a table.

“Drift-junk” - whatever washes up on the beach.  We beach comb for furniture.  Or rather, junk that we can turn into furniture. 

The bathroom accommodations are a bit primitive to western eyes.  Have you ever seen/heard of a Turkish toilet?  It’s a porciline basin with two raised foot stands and a hole in between.  You squat.  Oh yes.  There’s a little spray hose next to it to spray yourself and the basin clean.  We do have toilet paper and if you use it, you must put it in the trash can (it has a lid) and not down the hole.  This style of toilet is considered more hygienic than western toilets, because you don’t sit down or touch anything.  It works, but does hurt the knees a bit.  My legs are either going to get very strong or I’m going to have to rig up a couple of handle bars for myself.  The shower is in the same stall.  Hot and cold water.  It runs down the toilet, giving it an extra flush, if you will.  Right now there are only four girls in the tents, so we have no problems getting our daily wash.  It might be more of an issue later when a few more come.  The toilets are public, so from time to time the local fishermen come and use them.  If only they’d look at the door where we’ve put up a picture of a woman.  But no, sometimes there are men in our bathroom.  Sigh.

It’s pretty hot during the day and fairly chilly at night.  It feels colder because of how hot it gets.  My office gets quite toasty by around 10 and by 2 it’s roasting. 

Everyone here is a proper archaeologist.  That is, they have years of field experience and many have lived in quite squalid housing arrangements on dig sites.  These are probably the most adaptable people on the planet.  And the most inventive.  Our resident building genius not only makes pie, he also built a light table - we use it for copying plans and drawings that are larger than the scanner we have in the office.

The last few days have been removing backfill.  At the end of the season the open areas were covered with a rough material called “hessian” and then sand was poured over it.  This protects the exposed layers from rain and any sand blown into the site doesn’t get mixed with the archaeology.  It’s a hard job to remove, and it would go faster if we had workmen, but since the building material used on the site is so fragile, it must be done.  I, however, am not in the field, but in the registration office.  My job is to record the finds from the field and store them.  It’s one of the better uses of my OCD-tendencies.  So while I’m waiting for the finds to roll in, I’m designing a database in MS Access.  Do I know Access?  Uh, I do now!  I’m still having some difficulties, but by tomorrow I should have a fully working database designed to fulfill everyone’s needs and organized to my specifications.  It is a lovely thing.  And another skill to add to my resume.

In our down time we play a lot of cribbage. There’s no alcohol (or porn or pigs, but really, what would I do with those?), so our cribbage games, while savage, are not “drunken savage.”  We watch movies or tv shows on our computers - soon we should get a projector and we can have movie night.  Bed time is fairly early.  Ten is fairly common, though after a hard day of labor some of the team retire earlier.  I’m still adjusting to nights in the tent town and curse my small bladder I usually have to make a midnight trek to the toilet.  Thankfully I purchased a flashlight with a magnet that sticks to my bed so at night I can check for scorpions, snakes, and large beetles before I put on my shoes and when I walk the path to the loo.  I had a rather large beetle in my flip-flop last night when I got up.  He was not that thrilled when I chucked him out of my tent door.

So that’s my life in the field.  Unless those permanent accommodations are set up, it will be my life for the next five months. 

Now you’ll have to excuse me, it’s time for my shower before the mosquitoes come out!

Friday, November 06, 2009

In the Q-Zone

Qatar is weird.

Just want to get that out there.

I'm still in the hotel, there's been a bit of madness surrounding vehicles. From what I understand we got permission to have cars but no cars were set-aside for us. So we wait for transportation. Slowly the rest of the staff are moved out to site, those of us who do mapping or survey or registration are still sitting by the pool, drinking water and wondering if our bank accounts can handle one more shopping trip to the souk. Not much has happened apart from deciding that Doha is like Las Vegas. Without the alcohol. Or volcano. Or pirate battle. Or gambling. In fact, if you took everything that makes Las Vegas 'Las Vegas,' you'd have Doha. It's hot, there are palm trees, and big flashy cars and all the buildings are lit up at night.  And as you can see from the picture, there is a pyramid.  Most people siesta during the hot, so shops are open until late at night.

I've been scribbling in my calendar a sort of short diary so that when I got around to posting (can't cut into the pool time, you know, we could be desert bound at any time!) I'd have something to write about.


I give you: The Diary of the Archaeogoddess....

1 November: Arrived in Doha at 2:30 AM, while checking in, found out we'd be out by noon and there was a roof top pool. Went straight to pool with the other archaeologists checking in and dipped feet in water until 4 AM. Found out about 3 AM we were not leaving today. Yay!

2 November: Begin exploring Doha. City Center Mall is big. But not as big as the other mall that has a river with gondolas in it. City Center does boast an ice rink on the ground floor and a fun park on the roof. Spent the rest of the day by the pool. Several archaeologists bought snorkels and are trying them out.

3 November: Another pool day. Back to the mall. We then hit the souk (it's reconstructed, so the nicest cleanest souk EVER) and bought tickets to the England v. Brazil game on the 14th. Volunteered to go live in a tent on site instead of in a house. Still didn't get me out of the hotel.

What my hotel room looks like.  Sorta.  Without all the mess.

4 November: Got one car, so they are taking people out to the site. Sat by the pool. Hit the souk. Pondered buying a parrot. Plan on having pirate v ninja battles one night. Plot avoiding anyone with a phone so a couple of us can stay by the pool.

5 November: Wonder where we can get fireworks. Guy Fawkes day, you know. Back to the souk. Check out the Islamic Culture Center. Realize I haven't been to the Islamic Art museum. Oh, well, there's always the weekend. Complete acclimatization and get cold at night when the temperature drops below 30 C. The pool at 27 C (80 F) is just too cold to swim in. Freak out every time someone comes up to the pool. Five of us plan on jumping into the pool and holding our breath until whoever it is that has come up to tell us to pack goes away. We make it another day. At dinner we're told we'll all be leaving on Friday.

6 November: Breakfast. I'm packed and ready to go. Told, no, you aren't, you're here until probably Sunday. But they are taking two of our little hotel club. That leaves five of us. Five lonely souls in this massive hotel. And I'm going to have to unpack again. Drat. At this rate we'll be in the hotel until the football match! And we're all going to get fat from the buffet meals. Three a day. They'll need a forklift to get us out. I finally agree to housekeeping. I need to have my instant coffee restocked.

So that's it. That's what I've been doing. Alternating between getting antsy to get out there and desperate to stay. Boredom is slowly setting in and so is poverty, but being well fed and clean for so long, as well as sleeping in a massive room! Well... hard to argue with that. The muzak in the dinning room will eventually drive us out, but not before we all gain 5 kg from the rampant dessert table!