British Museum blog

Digging Domuztepe: week two – sore arms and bruised palms

Alexandra Fletcher and Rachel Swift are a curator and a conservator working at Domuztepe, a Late Neolithic site (about 6200-5500 BC) in south eastern Turkey. This series of posts traces the weekly progress of their recent excavation season.

Rachel Swift, British Museum

The trickle of small finds from site has increased as the digging has really got going and I have been cleaning lots of Neolithic beads, including a group found lying together as if they were once a necklace. I have also had the chance to do some digging on site giving me a better understanding of the context for the finds I work on.

Neolithic beads found at Domuztepe, undergoing conservation

Neolithic beads found at Domuztepe, undergoing conservation

I helped to excavate a large oven which I then had to draw a plan of – resurrecting archaeological skills I haven’t used in a while.

At the end of this week the whole dig team has a slightly longer break than normal – two days off instead of one. It’s great to get sleep without being bothered by mosquitoes and recharge our energy that tends to get low in the relentless heat. It gets hotter than 40˚ C on most days.

Alexandra Fletcher, British Museum

The site is working really well and the plan of a Late Neolithic house with several rooms is gradually emerging.

Alexandra Fletcher (left) and Rachel Swift, excavating on site at Domuztepe

Alexandra Fletcher (left) and Rachel Swift, excavating on site at Domuztepe

The walls are made from mud and are surrounded by soil formed from the collapse of more mud walls. This makes them very hard to see and excavate properly. You end up scanning the soil carefully for slight signs of straight lines or different textures. Then you feel your way through the deposits using your trowel with a forward thrusting, twisting motion. This looks most odd to anyone used to working in the wet soils of Britain, where you tend to scrape the soil backwards.

Hopefully, the thump and twist motion means you spot the point where the soil breaks vertically and that’s your wall face. You really have to have the courage of your own conviction, because if you keep digging past the face – it’s gone forever.

Needless to say everyone is getting sore arms and bruised palms from chasing wall edges.

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Filed under: Archaeology, Domuztepe dig 2011

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You can now discover thousands of British Museum objects in partnership with @googleartproject at We’ve asked staff members to highlight their favourites and explain what makes them special. Chris Spring, Curator of Africa Collections, describes why he finds the ‘Throne of weapons’ so powerful. ‘This war memorial celebrates the ordinary people of Mozambique, many of them unarmed, who stood up to a culture of violence. It represents both a human tragedy and a human triumph. The Throne's essential humanity is suggested right away by its anthropomorphic qualities - it has arms, legs, a back and most importantly a face - actually two faces. My first reaction was that these faces are crying in pain, though they could also be seen as smiling faces finally freed from conflict. These anthropomorphic qualities also link it immediately to the arts of Africa, in which non-figurative objects such as chairs, stools, weapons, pots etc are seen as - and described as - human beings. The Throne has toured the world, taking its message of peace to schools, churches, shopping centres and even prisons – and of course, to museums and galleries.’ #MuseumOfTheWorld We’re celebrating our partnership with @googleartproject, and have asked curators to tell us about their favourite objects. Hugo Chapman, Keeper of Prints and Drawings, explains why he chose this chalk drawing by Michelangelo. ‘One of the things I love about drawings is the way they sometimes allow a glimpse into the private, behind the scenes world of an artist, one unseen in finished works in paint or stone. An example of that is a red chalk drawing by Michelangelo of grotesque heads in red chalk that reveal that the Florentine Renaissance artist had a lively, if caustic, sense of humour. The three heads were probably drawn to amuse but at the same instruct his pupils, as the three studies show how slight changes can radically alter the reading of an image with the character and mood of each figure (paranoid anxiety; vacuous joy; and depressive gloom) signalled by the position and erectness of their donkey-like ears.  I wish my ears were as expressive.’ Discover many more incredible works of art in the Google Cultural Institute at

#Michelangelo #art To celebrate our partnership with @googleartproject, we’ve asked members of British Museum staff to highlight their favourite objects and explain what makes them special. Jill Cook, Deputy Keeper of Britain, Europe & Prehistory, chose this stone chopping tool from an early human campsite in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. ‘Holding this 2 million year old African tool in my hand I am reminded that whatever differences exist between people now, we are united by our common origin in Africa. The discovery of this piece by Louis Leakey in 1931 began to change our understanding of what makes us human. It illustrates the beginning of a transition from an ancestral ape that walked upright on two legs within the confines of a limited ecological niche to humans with more complex brains capable of changing and eventually dominating the world around us by making tools and weapons. This chopping tool is one of the seeds from which all human cultures and societies have grown.’ Discover the stories of thousands of objects in the Google Cultural Institute at

#MuseumOfTheWorld In Victorian England many people were fascinated by their past, and the ancient tribal leader Caratacus (also spelt Caractacus) was adopted as a symbol of national pride and independence. Like Boudica, Caratacus resisted the Roman invasion of Britain. Although he was eventually defeated, he earned a reputation as a noble and worthy foe. The Victorian sculptor J H Foley portrays him here standing triumphant, the embodiment of courageous English spirit. See this incredible #Movember moustache in our #Celts exhibition, until 31 January 2016.
J H Foley (1818–1874), Caractacus. Marble, 1856–1859. On loan from Guildhall Art Gallery/Mansion House, City of London. Some more #Movember inspiration! Here’s the Museum’s security team from 1902 photographed on the front steps. They include officers from the Metropolitan Police, and the London Fire Brigade (identified by their flat caps). We’re celebrating #Movember with Museum moustaches great and small. Here’s a #Movember fact: Peter the Great of Russia introduced a beard tax in 1698 and this token was given as proof of payment!

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