Some days the field is hot and sweaty.  Some days you get so covered in dirt you forget what it is like to be clean.  Some days entering data in the house is tedious and brushing bones seems to never end.  Some days you think you will never catch up with the backlog and actually imagine yourself buried under a never-ending pile of coarseware body sherds.  Some days you sit silently in your trench or tomb, or at your desk, questioning your resolve.  But some days – SOME DAYS – you find an object, learn something, confirm a notion that makes all of your hard work worth the blood, sweat, and tears.

For the PNRP team, today was this second kind of day.  Those working in the house were called to the field on the urgent word of Dr. Parker and Dr. Perry.  A great scrambling occurred as house staff rushed for boots, sunblock, and field appropriate attire.  Piling into the truck, they speculated among themselves about the nature of the secret find.

When they arrived it was second breakfast.  Today, the rest was not so charming as anxiety riled the team.  But finally, it was announced that everyone would enter the tomb to see the find.  Lining up at B.6, students and staff climbed the ladder down to the dusty and humid tomb to view the find, waiting long periods but deeming it worth it in the end.

Carlos - excavator of the shaft with the special find - overlooks the B.6 and Anna and Daniel compare notes

Carlos – excavator of the shaft with the special find – overlooks the B.6 and Anna and Daniel compare notes

More waiting in line to go down in the tomb.  Dr. Parker compares notes with those who had already seen the find

More waiting in line to go down in the tomb. Dr. Parker compares notes with those who had already seen the find

Kako and Tyler enter the tomb

Kako and Tyler enter the tomb

Students and staff line up to climb down into B.6

Students and staff line up to climb down into B.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Parker framed the find at lunch (as Dr. Perry and a few choice staff remained in the field to work with the find), saying “this is a day you will remember always.  Maybe you do not realize it yet, but it will be.”  The rest of the afternoon flew by as spirits were up and pottery readings went quickly, placed into the contexts with the new find.  We knew what it was leading up to now, and the excitement sustained.

Some days you bond with 47 of your nearest and dearest team members.  Some days you find perspective.’

This 2014 season, PNRP’s directors focus their attention on a series of tombs and domestic sites located on that ridge. Some have been partially opened in past field seasons while others are newly selected areas for excavation.

Luckily for archaeologists, offerings, burial goods, bodies, and trash left by Nabataean, Roman, and Byzantine denizens are not the gold and silver riches depicted by Arabian Nights or the Indiana Jones saga. Instead, we find broken and damaged traces of the past from two thousand to 1600 years of burial.

This past week, tomb B-8 uncovered buckets of both broken and whole ceramics, shards of multi-coloured glass, broken alabaster jar stoppers, shell scraps and beads, blocks of stone with drilled holes, tombstones, disintegrating coins, iron nails, and plaster mixed between bright sandstone of lavender, royal purple, rose, scarlet, white, and orange – the same stone used by clever and colourful artisan depictions of camels, palms and other Jordanian landscapes along avenues of tourist shops.

Tomb B-8 is another shaft tomb on the North Ridge, but its status as a grave has been questioned by a stone wall that has emerged from under thick tumble and sand. The wall’s construction quality ascends from top to bottom. Where the bottom sits on the bedrock of the tomb, the stones are cut and fitted neatly together with dry mortar. This wall ends approximately 2 and a half feet from the right adjacent bedrock and opens into a low but wide chamber. Nature has painted deep coloured palms and fern shaped fans over its walls and filled the chamber almost 5 feet full of sand, silt, mud, and dirt.

For the first two weeks, our team descended slowly but steadily through the tumble that filled the tomb shaft. These deposits are the rich strata entombing those remains listed above plus the delicate remains of an infant initially misidentified as faunal or animal remains. Now that we have reached the floor of our shaft an interesting quandary has made itself clear.

Textbook archaeology involves neat balks and cutting vertically through soil until the cultural horizon ends and your trowel descends into what I like to call the “dead zone” or the level at which deposits of humans and all material culture disappears. In Tomb B-8, our little team will be forced to excavate horizontally, with a careful eye towards vaguely distinct stratigraphy between layers and layers of soil deposits.

In order to neatly and efficiently excavate this enormous pile of dirt, we’ve chosen to slowly peel back the layers from top to bottom with a careful eye towards stratigraphy. While some layers are clearly delineated, delaminating levels of dry mud and silt, others are more closely backed, red clay and silt levels deeper within the columns. The team may also chose to utilise a step approach for excavation. This involves pealing back the soil horizontally but in evenly stepped intervals  which appear, no surprise, like a stairway.

Since there’s no telling what other remains are still inside this shaft tomb, our excavation approach may change depending on our findings. Only another new day in the field can tell.

Going into the fifth week of the Petra North Ridge Project, it has become common to hear students discussing their return to the United States, but recently with a subtle shift in vocabulary. Where, at the beginning of the trip, post-PNRP plans would be discussed with a prefix of “when I get home”, or describing cultural differences as “at home [it’s this way]”, now I more often hear students discussing “when I get back to the States” or “in the U.S. [it’s this way]”. Indeed, the PNRP house has become home for many of us. There are certainly aspects I won’t miss (I can’t wait for air conditioning and decent water pressure!), but there are many traditions, both within Jordanian culture and the PNRP house, I will miss. For every frustration I’ve felt over the omnipresent heat, dust, and room-temperature drinking water, I’ve had two redeeming experiences. The people I’ve met and relationships I’ve forged over the last few weeks alone are enough to make the entire trip worth it, let alone the incredible experiences I have had.

The PNRP experience has been an all-encompassing one. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feel of the desert, dig, and days off have been unforgettable. Who on the project will be able to forget the first time they saw the Khazneh? Or the grating tune of “that song” that the Bedouin workers play constantly in the trenches and tombs? For lack of a better organizational pattern (thanks, high school English classes), I figured it’d be easiest to describe my experiences by enumerating the senses.

Jordanian culture and the PNRP experience has been at the very least a treasure of visual stimulus. The view from my new dig site (B.7) alone is more beautiful than any work environment I’ve been in. I’ve beheld the glittering waters of both the Red Sea and the Dead Sea (glittering because of the reflection of the blistering sun, but that’s a different matter). I’ve learned (or, let’s face it, am still learning) skills such as balk drawing and recognizing minute differences in soil color. I’m also becoming more proficient in identifying bone fragments, a skill I sorely lacked upon arrival. In terms of culture, it’s been a refreshing change to enter a store and, instead of being greeted by sullen teenagers working minimum wage and ever-present price tags, be met by friendly store owners who, though often over-eager, name you a price with a shrug and a smile. Everywhere we are met by welcoming smiles.

View from the tombs

View from the tombs

PNRP has definitely provided a cacophony of sounds, to the point where I’m not sure how I’ll sleep at home without the familiar symphony of donkey braying, children shouting, and the 3 AM call to prayer. Those who are musically inclined could make their way to the roof to join in the musical stylings of Diana and Daniel, but woe to those without a prodigious knowledge of folk and bluegrass. Pottery washing, or really any gathering of students or staff, is punctuated frequently by raucous laughter. I don’t think I’ve experienced a silent moment since I arrived.

The taste experience has been a singular one for me. As a self-identified picky eater, I was wary about traveling somewhere so foreign, but have been pleasantly surprised by most of the food. Badriya’s “upside down” is a dish unparalleled by any other I’ve tasted here. I didn’t even know I liked tea until I became a regular at the daily break for Bedouin chai. And somehow, someone always has Pringles, which I would definitely call an unexpected taste experience.

Bedouin tea tent

Tea time!

Unlike the other senses, I think my fellow students would agree that the smell experience has not been as pleasant. With the ever-present smell of dirt (or is that just dirt caked to the inside of my nose?), donkeys, camels, sweat, cigarette smoke, and the dig bathrooms with toilets that don’t flush, I think I’ve stopped being disgusted by bad smells. Even this is redeemed, however, by the smell of dinner cooking wafting to the roof during pottery washing, chai brewing in the mornings, and the sweet smoke from the narghile (hookah).

There have been many new sensations I’ve experienced in the dig and on my days off. The one that sticks out the most is probably the sense of weightlessness I felt when floating in the Dead Sea, and then, soon after that, the intense burning of salt water in every tiny cut or scrape on my hands, arms, or legs. As many of us were plagued by bug bites and small excavation-related cuts or scrapes, I think this is a feeling we share. An almost constant sensation is that of the sun burning and sand blowing on any exposed area of skin during the day in the field or on the roof during pottery washing. I’ve learned to distinguish between human and faunal bone by touch more than sight and have crumbled more sandstone between my fingers than I can remember (it’s oddly cathartic). I’ve felt the muscles in my arms, legs, and back grow stronger with each hike up the North Ridge and each goofah I sift. I’ve savored the soft fabric of brightly colored pashminas and worn down the pads of my thumbs rubbing dirt off of pottery sherds, faunal bones, and rocks (most often thinking them to be bone or pottery sherds). I have certainly learned how important the sense of touch is to the field of archaeology in properly identifying and excavating artifacts and bones.

PNRP has been a wealth of new experiences, and I can honestly say that I’m very sad it’s almost over. As I sit in the kitchen writing and looking out the window to the village of Umm Seihon and the desert landscape, I know that Petra and the PNRP will always have a special place in my memory.

Guest blogger: Heidi Rosenwinkel

Wednesday was a very exciting day in the domestic trenches! As Petra North Ridge Project’s small finds specialist and assistant conservator, I was called out from the lab to investigate a delicate in situ artifact found through careful and skilled excavation by Maggie Eno and Jonathan Parker. The fragile nature of the artifact did not lend itself to typical excavation methods, so in conferring with another experienced conservator, Carlos Santiago, we decided the best chance we had to safely remove the object was through a block lift.
Block lifts are typically simple procedures, wherein an artifact is removed still embedded in a block of the surrounding soil, but this situation proved to be a bit more difficult in the sands of Petra. I formed a team with Carlos Santiago and Daniel Lowery, and with the assistance of camp manager, John Rucker, we gathered plastic wrap, duct tape, a piece of cardboard, cotton gauze, tulle, plaster and a wooden frame. We excavated a perimeter around the object, and covered the area containing the artifact with plastic wrap. Working as a team, we began to undercut the block while tightly duct taping the sides to maintain its shape. As we went, we tucked the plastic wrap and duct tape beneath the block, and when it was fully undercut and loose from the bedrock below, we carefully slid the block on to a piece of cardboard.

Carlos, Heidi and Daniel in the field with their special find

Carlos, Heidi and Daniel in the field with their special find

In order to keep the object compacted in the loose sand, we soaked strips of cotton gauze in plaster and wrapped the block like a mummy on top of the cardboard. I put a piece of tulle and the wooden frame over the plastered block. We poured plaster into the frame and are now waiting for the plaster to set so that we can safely transport the object to a controlled lab setting for conservation and analysis. What a great result from such a collaborative effort! Another success for the Petra North Ridge team!

Heidi with the Plaster box

Heidi with the Plaster box

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day – second breakfast that is. After entering the field just after sunrise at 6AM, the team puts in a full 3.5 hours before they get their first prepared meal of the day.   Often before entering the field, the team only has time for a piece of pita with peanut butter, maybe some eggs for those lucky few who identify as “morning people,” and some coffee those that are caffeine addicted among us.

 

Working hard on the site in the sun

Working hard on the site in the sun

In other words, by the time 9:30 rolls around, we are all more than ready for good food and some shade.  At 9:30 on the dot there is a mass exodus from the field to the little tea shop down the hill from site.  There, we find everything we need: shade, food, water, bathrooms (sometimes), pop for purchase, and good – if somewhat tired – company.

In the colorful second breakfast shop

In the colorful second breakfast shop

The little tea shop is a light-filled, vibrant, and cheerful place, with saddle bags of local wool handing from the ceiling, bright colored flags all about, colorful benches also in the same wool as the saddle bags, and a delightful family of cats.

Heather Beals shares second breakfast with a friend

Heather Beals shares second breakfast with a friend

Mamma cat and her kittens, guarding the silver jewelry

Mamma cat and her kittens, guarding the silver jewelry

As the shop owner kindly explained, he keeps cats to chase away the snakes.  The mama cat and her two older kittens (four months old) have quickly made friends with the students, eating leftover egg yoke after the shop owner has given them yogurt for their own second breakfast.  The newest batch of kittens, born about a week ago, are just starting to open their eyes.

Tom's birthday 036

Mamma cat and he youngest litter

On the other side of the site, some Bedouin take second breakfast in the black tea tent they set up at the start of the project.  Sometimes providing the only shade on site, the rest of the team has quickly learned to take advantage of it as well.

Bedouin tea tent

Bedouin tea tent

Helicia, Ed, Jana, and Tom  Parker take a tea break

Helicia, Ed, Jana, and Tom Parker take a tea break

The half an hour goes by quickly and soon we have to return to work.  But the break both refreshes us and gives us the stamina to finish the day.

Our canine friends take a break too

Our canine friends take a break too

Plaster Master!

Susanne Grieve

Now that we are in our third week, the lab has been in full swing! We have several people working with the project including specialists in botanical materials, faunal remains, pottery, conservation, architecture, bioarchaeology, and geoarchaeology. In addition to…ahem…interesting discussions on bone decomposition, there is dialogue on the interdisciplinary nature of the project. As an archaeological conservator on site, my role is to stabilize and preserve the artifacts that have been excavated from the tombs and domestic areas of the North Ridge.

Most of the excitement in conservation comes the fact that you never know what will come across your bench from the day’s excavations and some days you may be doing the excavating! Because of the site conditions, many of the metal materials are covered in sediment and a compact material we call concretion. These can mask any surface details on the object and it isn’t until they are cleaned and stabilized that you can read inscriptions or see details. For example, some of the coins that we have found so far are heavily concreted, but after conservation, we can identify a date range for that particular locus. Coins always produce the best reactions, but my favorite material to treat so far has been several fragments of plaster.

As you can imagine, even when it is decorating modern walls, it is a fragile material. Combine this with almost 2,000 years of burial and it becomes really fragile! Since our fragments are disarticulated and are found separated from the wall we can relocate them to a more controlled environment such as the lab to treat them. But, transportation of objects has the highest risk of damage so to prevent anything from affecting their fragile painted surfaces, we placed them in buckets and covered them with sifted soil from the trench. This ensured that there was minimal movement of the object and that nothing would abrade the surface of the plaster. (Side note: Conservators often deal with painted surfaces that are still intact and use a technique called “facing” if the surface has to be removed from its in situ location). Once back in the lab, I could take a closer look at the extent of deterioration and determine the best approach to treatment.

In Action A

In Action B

As I examine the object, I like to envision what the room would have looked like. Many of the fragments contain layers of paint in red, black, green, and yellow, but with all of the surface dirt adhering to the paint, it is hard to interpret the designs and colors. My first step is to clean the surface of the plaster in preparation for stabilization techniques and to determine how loose the surface is. This proved very difficult with these pieces, as the paint was loosely adhered. In the end, I had to clean the fragments with very light brushing using a soft brush on unpainted areas and a light flow of air over the painted areas. This worked well to remove the lightly adhered sediment, but left the painted areas in tact.

This particular plaster section also had some fascinating construction details:

Plaster Layers Obverse

Reverse AT With Terminology

Since the paint was so fragile, it was decided that the next step should be to consolidate it before any losses could take place. Luckily this step also brought out the beautiful paint colors and allowed us to see patterns that were nearly invisible before. The end result? A stable plaster that can now be used for study!

Obverse BT Low Res

Before Treatment

After Treatment

After Treatment

Before Treatment

Before Treatment

After Treatment

After Treatment

While it doesn’t produce the wow factor of coins, it is such a great feeling knowing that you helped stabilize a very fragile object. Next up on the bench: clay figurines!

As the second week drew to a close, the students and staff at PNRP were delighted to reflect on the progress they had made.  Having finally recovered from the various illnesses that plagued the start of the summer, team members made significant strides during the second week. Area C continues to develop, revealing further walls and floors.  Trench Supervisors Maggie, Cassie, and Jordan  all removed over a meter of dirt from their respective trenches.  As most of their loci are tumble layers, this often involves the removal of large, heavy stones.

Maggie cleans the balk as  Marie Rogers, Jonathon Parker, Area Supervisor Carrie Duncan and Co-Director Megan Perry discuss the findings

Maggie cleans the balk as Marie Rogers, Jonathon Parker, Area Supervisor Carrie Duncan and Co-Director Megan Perry discuss the findings

Students Jana Lanier and Lindsey Nolen clear the heavy stones from their trench

Students Jana Lanier and Lindsey Nolen clear the heavy stones from their trench

In Area B, the tomb teams (under the direction of Nicki, Kelsey, Alex, and Eva) have mostly removed the fill and disturbance layers in B.5 and B.6 and are not working directly with the articulated and commingled remains.  B.7 and B.8 have also removed a significant amount of material.  B.8 in particular contains much later ceramic material than the other tombs, suggesting a possible Early Byzantine occupation or use as a dump site.

Trench supervisor Eva Falls stands in tomb B.7

Trench supervisor Eva Falls stands in tomb B.7

Area Supervisor Jessica Walker documents commingled sketal remains in B.6

Area Supervisor Jessica Walker documents commingled sketal remains in B.6

In Area D, the Nabataean / Roman city wall (early 2nd century AD) continues to be articulated in trenches D.1 and D.2 while the possible Byzantine wall is explored in D.3.  Trench supervisor Sophie Tews was shocked to discover human remains in her trench – D.1 – especially as it does not seem to contain an architectural feature.  D.2 trench supervisor Alex Zarley appears to have more architectural features – possibly domestic in nature – which included donkey skeletal remains.  D.3 continues to be a mystery, with Area supervisor Russell Gentry and trench supervisor Ashley Jones attempting to puzzle out the multiple intersecting architectural features, only one of which appears to be the expected Byzantine city wall.

Sophie Tews and Pamela Koulianos discuss a ceramic find with Sophie's trench

Sophie Tews and Pamela Koulianos discuss a ceramic find with Sophie’s trench

Finally, PNRP architect Anna Henderick continues to draw the city wall between trenches D.1/D.2 and D.3, hoped to be completed by the end of the season.

Anna Henderick draws the Petra city wall.

Anna Henderick draws the Petra city wall.

What happens when one of the co-directors celebrates a birthday during the dig season? The whole team celebrates!

Dr. Parker insisted that his birthday be kept low key but luckily his team knew how to celebrate despite the restriction.  So Dr. Parker received various gifts and cards throughout the day.  The first gifts were smaller, including a door sign from his senior staff and a birthday note on his desk made out of sherds.

"Happy Birthday Tom" in his favorite material: sherds!

“Happy Birthday Tom” in his favorite material: sherds!

Tom's birthday door greeting

Tom’s birthday door greeting

After dinner, he was surprised with a beautiful cake made by Badriya in his honor.

Tom's birthday 014His final surprise came after his lecture on Nabataean Petra.  When asked for questions, the team played the Beatles song “When I’m sixty-four” and gave him small gifts – a do-it-yourself Petra wall (to be constructed from legos), and an Angry Birds dart gun and blow-up bat to defend off the invading Romans.

 

Excavation is now well under way in all three areas. The team drives down to the field at 5:45 AM in order to beat the heat. This has been hard for the last couple of days, with the weather reported to have been over 110 degrees on Sunday and Monday.  Because of the heat, we leave the field around noon, after a second breakfast at 9:30.
Everyone is hard at work.  In Area B, Area Supervisor Jessica Walker oversees the excavation of four tombs, two of which – B.5 and B.6 – were partially excavated in 2012. But despite almost a meter of backfill, looters attempted to rob the B.5 tomb, disturbing the sealed contexts and necessitating the use of a sifter. But the B.5 team remains in good spirits and laugh at the amount of dirt which comes back in their boots.

Amie Goerlich excavating in B.5

Amie Goerlich excavating in B.5

Pulling guffahs from the tomb

Pulling guffahs from the tomb

The other Area B trenches are new this year. The teams in B.7 and B.8 have removed almost one meter of sediment and hope to soon reach bedrock.

Sifting in B.7

Sifting in B.7

In Area C, Dr. Duncan oversees three new trenches and one old trench from the previous season. Area C is further south than the excavation areas of previous seasons, but the team has hopes to identify Byzantine domestic occupation in Petra in the new area based on the presence of a Byzantine wall. The three new trenches have yielded several large stones which may be toppled walls.

Hard at work in Area C

Hard at work in Area C

Dr. Duncan’s trench from last season has been completely cleared already.  Trench supervisor Carlos Santiago Marrero and his team are now documenting and drawing, and hope to move to a new trench soon.

Carlos Santiago Marrero explaining the next steps in excavating to Helicia Chiang

Carlos Santiago Marrero
explaining the next steps in excavating to Helicia Chiang

Area D is a completely new area, north along the Nabataean city wall. Russell has three trenches, two directly north and south of the wall and another several hundred meters east along the wall. Excavation in these areas is moving fast, with most trenches at the drawing and photography stage already.

Trench Supervisor Ashley Jones drawing her trench with Tony Scialabba

Trench Supervisor Ashley Jones drawing her trench with Tony Scialabba

Russell Gentry photographing his area with the help of Trench Supervisor Alex Zarley

Russell Gentry photographing his area with the help of Trench Supervisor Alex Zarley

But those in the field are not the only ones at work already. In the house, pottery in being processed, small finds are being documented, artifacts are being conserved, and human remains are being analyzed.

Pam Koulianous and Sarah Wenner processing ceramics in the house

Pam Koulianous and Sarah Wenner processing ceramics in the house

Anna Osterholtz analyzing the bones as they come in

Anna Osterholtz
analyzing the bones as they come in

Now onto the next locus!

 

The PNRP 2014 Field School and Excavation has officially started. On Thursday, June 26 the team left Amman to travel down to Wadi Musa, where we stayed the night. The next day we were officially introduced to Petra. Staff went directly to the North Ridge to discuss trench locations while field school students walked down through the Siq. After, Dr. Leigh-Ann Bedal (Penn State Erie) kindly offered a tour of Petra Garden and Pool Complex, visible from the North Ridge on the other side of the Colonnaded Street.

Dr. Bedal gives a tour of PGPC

Dr. Bedal gives a tour of PGPC

On June 28, after setting up camp at Dakhilallah’s house in Umm Saihoun, the entire team went up to the North Ridge for a special tour specifically of the other sites nearby. Dr. S. Thomas Parker (North Carolina State University) provided commentary on the Blue Chapel and the Byzantine Church.

Dr. Parker gives a tour of the Blue Ridge Chapel

Dr. Parker gives a tour of the Blue Ridge Chapel

Dr. Megan Perry (East Carolina University) then gave a summary of the Ridge Church and specifically the tombs found there, known in publication as the Petra North Ridge Tombs 1 and 2.

Dr. Perry gives a tour of the Ridge Church and associated tombs

Dr. Perry gives a tour of the Ridge Church and associated tombs

 

After, the PNRP areas were examined. Dr. Parker spoke briefly about the city wall and how he hoped to further explore it, and Dr. Perry spoke to the tombs excavated in 2012 and the special finds they yielded.

Dr. Parker stands on top of the Petra city wall

Dr. Parker stands on top of the Petra city wall

Finally the three trench supervisors – Dr. Carrie Duncan (University of Missouri at Columbia), Russell Gentry (North Carolina State University), and Jessica Walker (University of Pittsburg)—introduced their respective areas and trenches.

Russell demonstrates where his trenches will be placed in Area D

Russell demonstrates where his trenches will be placed in Area D

Dr. Duncan introduces Area C

Dr. Duncan introduces Area C

On June 29 – the first day of Ramadan – field work officially begins.
Staff
1) Parker – co-director
2) Perry – co-director
3) Grieve Rawson – conservator
4) Lowrey – faunal
5) Kanellopoulos – architect
6) Hendrick – architect
7) Duncan – area supervisor
8) Gentry – area supervisor
9) Walker – area superior
10) Osterholtz – human osteo assistant
11) Koulianos- ceramics assistant
12) Rucker – geologist and camp manager
13) Wenner – program assistant/ceramics assistant
14) Brigham – trench sup domestic
15) Jones – trench supervisor domestic
16) Karlis – trench supervisor domestic
17) Tews – trench supervisor domestic
18) Marrero – trench supervisor domestic
19) Zarley – trench supervisor domestic
20) Eno – trench supervisor domestic
21) Garcia-Putnam – tomb supervisor
22) Falls – tomb supervisor
23) Smith – tomb supervisor
24) Roepe – tomb supervisor
25) Rosenwinkel – assist tomb supervisor /small finds
26) Ramsay – archaeobotanist /first guest lecturer
27) Hedges – archaeobotanical assistant

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