Floors and pots!

Apologies for the delay in updating our activities at Marj Rabba, it has been a busy week. One of the goals for this small season was to locate the floor in Room 1 and to define better the associated structures (including floors) to the east of the room. We have had a lot of success this week as careful excavating has uncovered at least three flattened pots, possibly sitting on a floor.

Flattened pot lying on a floor??

Flattened pot lying on a floor??

Flattened pot lying on a floor??

Flattened pot lying on a floor??

Flattened pot lying on a floor??

Flattened pot lying on a floor??

Sometimes to get a good image of the pots in situ we have to make our own “shade”.


Make shift shade!

Our weekend – Site Visits!

Today we visited some Chalcolithic sites as one big happy family. First we stopped at Tel Teo.

A man in tall grass, checking out a tel site

A man in tall grass, checking out Tel Te’o

Tel Te’o is a very tiny tel. A small portion of the site was excavated in advance of road development. The Tel Te’o publication states that there is evidence of the Pre-pottery Neolithic B, Pottery Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Early Bronze IA, and the Early Bronze II. It was fairly hard to see anything on the surface due to the long grasses and thistles. We did see some basalt and pottery and some large stone walls on the surface


The gang at Tel Te’o


Some folk stayed at the road side to get an overall view of the tel (“I thought that tells were huge and you could see them from anywhere” direct quote from one of our excavators).



We found a skeleton!

We found a skeleton!

After Tel Te’o we made our way to Rujm el Hiri, which is a standard weekend visit for the Marj Rabba crew. This year we found a cow skeleton – a poor cow that was quite old and suffered from some calcification on its bones.

Girl power at Rujm el Hiri

Girl power at Rujm el Hiri

Rujm el Hiri is an ancient megalithic monument, consisting of concentric circles of stone with a tumulus at center. For many the site is believed to be an ancient observatory and stellar calendar. Today we saw evidence of this in the form of coloured crystals left on the basalt structure. Perhaps folk were visiting during the summer solstice?

Talking about the landscape

Talking about the landscape

Jocelyn R. checks out some crystals left at the site.

Jocelyn R. checks out some crystals left at the site.

Joyce F. prepping for the walk back to the van.

Joyce F. prepping for the walk back to the van.

After two site visits we stopped off on the way home at the Golan Brewery – makers of the Bezelet (basalt) Beer.

Rewards after a morning of Chalcolithic sites.

Rewards after a morning of Chalcolithic sites.

All present and accounted for!!

We are up and running in the field – a total station (many thanks to AD for the donation!), 2 tablets, 3 shepherds, 8 archaeologists, a herd of cows and a herd of goats – no one can stop us! Our last archaeologists arrived last – welcome Jocelyn R. We hope you have a great first visit to the region.


A man, the total station, and two tablets…

Genius Chad - 2 tablets in the field!!

Genius Chad – 2 tablets in the field!!

Tablets in the field!

Tablets in the field – a dream come true.

We start our days at 5:00am when we climb into the van and head to the site. At 8:30am we eat breakfast on site – sandwiches, yoghurt, granola bars, veggies, and other strange items (today we had weird banana chips). Sometime we share our breakfast spot with a herd of goats and/or a herd of cows.

Sometimes we eat breakfast with goats

Sometimes we eat breakfast with goats

Gabby B in the house

Gabby B in the house – tools of the trade

Day 1 – A small but mighty crew (-1 who arrives this evening)


JF cleans the baulk and finds some rather large spiders . . .

Day 1 in the field – lots of cleaning thistles, wrapping barbed wire, lots of sandbags, two frogs, a mouse, and a few scorpions. Our final tally is 8 intrepid souls and 8 disappointed folks back in the US. Over the next three weeks we hope to find some floors, to understand the construction of various building, to make some 3D models, and to bid farewell to Marj Rabba.


Director – Yorke Rowan supervises the clean up.

Sherd dump and barbed wire fencing

Sherd dump and barbed wire fencing

At many archaeological sites in this region the non-diagnostic pottery pieces (mainly body sherds) are dumped back at the site, once they have been weighed, counted, and studied.

BH cleaning

BH cleaning

JF, ACH, GB cleaning in Area BB

JF, ACH, GB cleaning in Area BB

In the coming days guest bloggers will tell tales of the dig – stay tuned for future updates!

The Final Season – MR 2014

Last season we left without finding the bottom of Room 1 in Area BB, which left us feeling that the excavations at Marj Rabba were incomplete. On Sunday we head back to the field where we will be concentrating on this area and wrap up any other unfinished business. It’s a small experienced crew from the following institutions: The College of Wooster, Columbia University, Whitman College, the University of Connecticut, the University of Chicago, DePaul University, and KPMG.

Rm 1 w storage & courtyard w features4

Area BB and Room 1 – the object of this year’s affections

Room 1 w storage & features

Close up of Room 1 and the storage area

We hope to keep our friends and families up to date by blogging regularly about the season. Check back on our progress over the three-week season as we wrap up at Marj Rabba.

New Season Dates


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.



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.


TG and Yorke check out some lithics



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


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.


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.


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.)


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.


Pottery’s final resting place

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


   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.

picture of trowel being scraped along the top

The right way to trowel

picture of trowel digging in point first

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.

picture of a scorpion

Never give them an easy target.