British Museum blog

Digging Domuztepe: Weeks three and four – tantalising glimpses of the past

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.


Alexandra Fletcher, British Museum

Shopping in the Gaziantep souk

Shopping in the Gaziantep souk

We all returned from a weekend break refreshed and then a couple of days later Rachel had to return to London. As she left, we were joined by Ben Gearey, an environmental archaeologist from the University of Birmingham.

Ben is here to take sediment samples from the floodplain surrounding Domuztepe, which he will examine for pollen, beetle remains and shells in order to try and reconstruct the ancient landscape.

Ben examining the floodplain sediments

Ben examining the floodplain sediments

Getting the samples out of the ground could be done by drilling out vertical cores by hand, but in the dry clay soils this proved very difficult. So we decided to dig very deep holes with a large JCB. Meanwhile, the excavation of the Neolithic well has been making steady progress.

The view down the Neolithic well

The view down the Neolithic well

Stuart Campbell, the dig director, has been working to excavate this feature. He has now removed over six metres of soil and each one has to be laboriously hauled up to the surface. He has to put on a safety harness and a helmet before climbing down a rope ladder to begin digging.

Dig director, Stuart gets his safety harness on

Dig director, Stuart gets his safety harness on

Despite being difficult to use on the floodplain , the coring equipment proved very useful in looking at the soils in the bottom of the well and finding out how much more there is to dig (about 1.5 metres). Much to Stuart’s relief we should get through that before we have to stop digging altogether.

Lowering the heavy metal coring equipment down into the well with Stuart at the bottom was difficult and had to be done very carefully indeed.

As the well walls have to be cut back and held in place with wood panels it has also allowed us to see layers of the site that it would take us years to reach with normal excavation. Tantalising bits of Neolithic pottery have been coming out with the soil and we have been able to see periods of building, abandonment and even large scale burning within the settlement.

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Edward Burne-Jones was born #onthisday in 1833. This watercolour from his ‘Flower Book’ is titled ‘White Garden’. This was a name for Atriplex hortensis, a small garden plant that has edible leaves. In this painting Burne-Jones has created an imaginary ‘white garden’, populated with lilies that are being picked by two white-clad angelic figures. Like other figures in his works, they appear dressed in classically inspired white robes, with their blonde hair tied back.
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