New Season Dates

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We are looking for the few, the dedicated, the untiring, for a special short season in 2014.  There are a few places left if you would like to join the team: July 28 – August 18, 2014.

Don’t delay, and don’t forget that the ASOR grant applications are due soon (Feb. 15). They can be found at: http://www.asor.org/fellowships/excavation.html

Room 1 w storage & features

Contact Yorke Rowan (ymrowan@uchicago.edu) or Morag Kersel (mkersel@depaul.edu) for more information.

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TK on the left, AM on the right, sustained by coffee, hummus, and biscuits

When the field excavations and survey end, most people involved return home (or on to their next project!) soon after – to teach, to enroll in their classes, to go back to their real jobs. As any archaeologist can attest, the excitement of discovery and fresh insights while in the field is only one part of the overall research project. The long, arduous process of studying the material culture, biological remains (animal bones, plant remains) and establishing the stratigraphic and contextual relationships begins after the excavations, and sometimes take years.  But even before that process can begin, these materials must be organized; the thousands of files and photographs must be organized in some coherent manner in order to be useful and likewise, the physical remains too must be organized, placed in well labeled containers, and stored in accessible places.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEnter the interns (Ani Marty and Tova Kadish) and one volunteer (Ted Gold). For two weeks, two interns  (Metcalf Interns) from the University of Chicago stayed on in Jerusalem after the excavations for intensive remedial organization, database work, editing, flotation, and a seemingly endless array of other tasks requiring stamina, organization, intelligence, plates of hummus, and boxes of petit beurres. Together AM and TK worked miracles. At the moment they are printing out the 300+ pages final report for the Antiquities Authority – yay!

TG continued working on the sickle blade assemblage, a project he started in 2012 and used for his BA Thesis at the University of Chicago.

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TG and Yorke check out some lithics

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We are very grateful for their professionalism, dedication, and commitment to the Galilee Prehistory Project – we can’t thank you all enough!!!

End of the 2013 season and excavation video

We had our last day of digging last wednesday, followed by a lot of sweeping, photography, packing, and cleaning. We left Karmiel on saturday, and now most of our students and some of our staff have already returned home.

Here is a short video of time lapse photographs, taken during the field season, that shows some of what it is like to work at Marj Rabba. Thanks so much to all of our students, staff, volunteers and interns for a successful 2013 season!

On Pottery

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Although we bring back bucketsful of pottery from the site to wash at camp, most of it ends up returning to the field.

After the pottery is washed and dried, our pottery expert (Dr. Dina Shalem) examines and sorts each basket. She is looking for diagnostic or indicative sherds. These are pieces of pottery that can help us identify and understand the types of vessels used at Marj Rabba. Diagnostic sherds include: handle pieces, rims, bases, uniquely painted body sherds, or decorated sherds.

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Sorting the pottery

For example, a certain piece of rim could be identified as part of a large crater bowl or a smaller cooking vessel, depending on the rim. Or a piece of hula ware, which is a decorated pottery from the North, can tell us about the trade that was occurring between there and Marj Rabba. Combined with other threads of evidence, this pottery will help inform us of the people’s daily actions and interactions.

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Hula ware

Once the diagnostic sherds are separated they are counted by part of vessel and features present in order to provide a numerical assessment of the vessels present at the site. Then they are marked with the basket number, locus number, and license number, in that order. (Although if space is lacking only the basket number will be written down since all other numbers can be looked up via basket number.)

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Labeled pottery

This is vital, as many of these pieces will be removed from their bags containing this identifying information in order to be drawn or photographed for publication. Including at least the basket number allows each piece to be contextualized and returned to its place.

After processing the diagnostics, the (very large) remainder of non-indicative sherds will be sent back to the field and banished to the pottery graveyard.

Graveyard

Pottery’s final resting place

A Lesson in Proper Troweling Techniques and the Perils of Comfortable Archaeology

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   A Lesson in Proper Troweling Techniques and the Perils of Comfortable Archaeology

picture of Madeline excavating while crouchingHere at Marj Rabba, we hold ourselves to a high standard, even when it isn’t easy. For example, no matter how hot it gets, we always maintain proper troweling technique and excavation posture. This means: carefully (but quickly, and also precisely) scraping the edge of the trowel across the excavation site, evenly lowering the entire locus from the top rather than chopping into it from the side, and crouching on our toes or standing and bent over while excavating and sweeping.

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The right way to trowel

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The wrong way to trowel

M. demonstrates the RIGHT way to trowel     C. demonstrates the WRONG way to trowel* * these demonstrations are staged. No archaeology was harmed in the making of this blog

Trowel technique allows us to observe important features in context, which preserves data and adds to our understanding of the site. For example, using proper troweling technique, area CC has found a mudbrick floor. This is easily distinguishable by a flat, relatively smooth (except for the mole trails) area of mudbrick which was added to over time. Area AA has also found mudbrick like that of CC, but its use is unclear. The area is dotted with pits and places where the mudbrick is absent for no clear reason. Had we troweled in from the side, the two areas might look similar; both have a fairly thick layer of mudbrick. If we found some pieces of mudbrick and pottery, we might not be able to tell if the pottery came from on top of or beneath the floor. Only through clues like these can we contextualize and understand our findings.
picture of Parker crouching to trowel
P. excavating some pottery in context

The best finds, like this artifact, are found in situ, and then carefully excavated around until the entire locus is low enough that the artifact can be seen and removed. That way, we can observe everything else that was going on in the area at that time, and come away with a really good understanding of the site.

Why do we always squat, crouch or stand when excavating, rather than the traditionally more comfortable poses of sitting or lying down? There are two reasons. One, most importantly, is that a person who is comfortable is more likely to slow down and dig in one place than a

picture of Ani excavating while sitting

A. demonstrates the wrong way to excavate

person whose knees are constantly reminding them to move. A person who is comfortable may remain in one place for hours, loathe to shift to a new area or better position, because where they are is just so comfortable. This is how unwanted pits form and excavators miss evidence. Putting our comfort ahead of the site is just not cool.

The other reason is scorpions.

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Never give them an easy target.

BB says “Goodbye Circles!”

JF excavating in BB

JF excavating in BB

This week’s blog post will focus on Area BB as supervised by Brittany Jackson. The name of the game was excavate and the objective: bring down the circle! In the past week members of the “Brittany Bunch” worked exceptionally hard to remove soil and stones from multiple loci. One of the tasks of last week was to bring down a circle of stones that originally looked like it may be the foundation of a silo.image 4

After the surface was cleaned and modern botanicals were removed the area was ready to be documented.  Here at Marj Rabba we use hand drawn sketches as another way of recording features and outlining formations that may not be easy to see with the naked eye. Once the drawings were updated the pebble circle was ready for excavation! The goal for excavating this circle was to expose the intersection of walls 922 (running N to S) and 315B (E to W), [pictured below].

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An additional aim for the assignment was to uncover any possible continuation of a wall that appeared during excavation of another cobble circle on the east side of the square.

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In order to accomplish these goals the circle needed to come down 0.33 m from its initial height of 466.85 m above sea level.

Field Practicals

This week students at Marj Rabba learned about the wonderful worlds of lithics (stones) and pottery from two of our expert analysts. We had hands-on practicals in the afternoon after our long day in the field, yummy lunch, and siesta. Every day in the field we collect up all of the artifacts (broken pieces of pottery, animal bone, lithics (worked stone)). We find the artifacts in situ (that means in their original place/archaeological context) or we find them in the sieve. At Marj Rabba we are doing 100% sieve from all contexts except the very disturbed topsoil. Here Achmed and Amir are sieving the material from their excavated area:

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We bring back the artifacts from the field and in the afternoon we record, wash, sort, and label them for the experts to analyze.

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Washed pottery drying in a fruit flat.

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Here Dina explains some of the intricacies of Chalcolithic . . .

Dina Shalem, PhD Haifa, is the leading expert on pottery from the Chalcolithic in the Galilee. She came by this week and gave us a tutorial on the types of wares, vessel shapes, and elements that go into studying pottery.

Below Yorke talks to the MR crew about lithics. Lithic analysis is the study of stone tools and other chipped stone artifacts using basic scientific techniques. At its most basic level, lithic analyses involve study of the artifact’s morphology, the measurement of various physical attributes, and examining other visible features (such as noting the presence or absence of cortex, for example).

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We learn something new everyday at Marj Rabba!