British Museum blog

Digging Domuztepe: back in the UK

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 progress of their recent excavation season.


Alexandra Fletcher, British Museum

I always arrive home to a weird feeling of disorientation. After being away for so long it takes a few days to adjust back to luxuries such as hot water on tap and comfy chairs to sit on. My surroundings also look shockingly green after the dry, baked fields of south eastern Turkey.

A view of the village on our last morning

A view of the village on our last morning

After the excitement of getting home has faded, it’s back to work for the Domuztepe team. Although the dig only happens for a few weeks every year, the project is running all the time with people analysing the data collected, writing up the results, updating our databases and digitising field records, plans or drawings. As soon as we arrive home we also begin our permit and funding applications for next year’s dig. The excavation is therefore a year-round activity and the site is never far from my mind.

The Domuztepe project was supported by the British Institute at Ankara, the British Museum, University of Manchester, Brennan foundation and the Gerald Averay Wainwright fund for the 2011 season.

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Filed under: Archaeology, Domuztepe dig 2011

Digging Domuztepe: week five – clearing up, packing away

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

My last week in camp starts badly as our water supply fails. Apparently there were problems at the local pumping station. Ever adaptable, the team takes the soil sampling tins and some empty drinking water bottles to collect water from the local spring so at least we can flush our toilets.

Stuart emerges from the Neolithic well for the last time

Stuart emerges from the Neolithic well for the last time

The last week is always hectic and this year is no exception. We finish work on site on the last day before the holiday to mark the end of Ramadan. Much to everyone’s relief we manage to finish digging out the well and sort out the relationships between all the Neolithic mud walls we have found. Then, as a three day holiday starts for everyone else in Turkey, we begin the long process of packing everything ready to go into the local museum. It all needs to be cleaned and recorded before being packed away.

Time to pack things into the store at the museum

Time to pack things into the store at the museum

The work is incredibly varied. One minute you are brushing the soil from skeletons, the next labelling tiny beads and the next washing pottery. Then suddenly it’s the night before I am due to leave and I am frantically packing my own things into bags.

As my plane leaves the local airport the next day I have mixed feelings; glad to be going home but sad that the digging is over for another year.

As ever the team owes much thanks to the local residents of Kelibişler, Kadioğlu Çiftliği and Emiroğlu and all our other supporters in Kahramanmaraş and Pazarcik, especially the staff of Kahramanmaraş Museum.

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Filed under: Archaeology, Domuztepe dig 2011

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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Filed under: Archaeology, Domuztepe dig 2011

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

Digging Domuztepe: a season at a Neolithic site in Turkey

The camp at Domuztepe

The camp at Domuztepe

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

The dig’s base camp consists of old-fashioned canvas tents clustered around the buildings of a deserted school and arriving again is a strange experience. The weathered statue of Ataturk, stifling heat and friendly faces that greet me are now so familiar that the months since my last visit instantly disappear.

Rachel Swift at work in the conservation area

Rachel Swift at work in the conservation area

As usual, sleep during the first few nights is sporadic and I am woken at intervals by barking dogs, mooing cows and the 4.20am call to prayer. At 7.30am on day one I get to work preparing ‘Conservation Corner’ for action. I discover that writing an inventory of my conservation supplies last year was time well spent as I can now find just about anything in seconds. Oh the wonderful power of lists!

The archaeologists have been busy on site for a week now and a tidy pile of finds awaits my attention. I spend the next few days cleaning 7,000 year-old bone tools, tiny stone beads and fragments of wall plaster (a first for me at Domuztepe) whilst gently sweating and guzzling water to avoid dehydration.


Alexandra Fletcher

Like Rachel I have the strange sense of never really having been away and quickly settle into life in camp. I am pleased to see that the colony of owls that live in the building we use as our workroom are raising babies and that life in the rest of the village continues as normal.

A shade erected over the excavation area keeps the sun off the archaeologists at work

A shade erected over the excavation area keeps the sun off the archaeologists at work

I drive straight out to the site (very carefully as the track is rough and bumpy) and get my first look at what we will be digging this year. Several Neolithic graves have been found and over the next few days these will be photographed, drawn and lifted so excavation can continue beneath them.

A neolithic burial found on site

A neolithic burial found on site

Work has also begun to put in place all the safety equipment we need to dig out a deep well (2.5 metres and still going down).

Our team of workmen shout greetings as I join them and we catch up on a year’s worth of gossip. They come from the villages that nestle alongside other ancient tells (mounds created by hundreds of years of human occupation in one place) that dot the plain around us. This area was once marshland, although it is now drained for farming. Herds of wild pigs once lived here giving the site its name. ‘Domuztepe’ is ‘Pig Hill’ in English.

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Filed under: Archaeology, Domuztepe dig 2011

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Our #AfricanRockArt project team is cataloguing and uploading around 25,000 digital images of rock art from throughout the continent. Working with digital photographs has allowed the Museum to use new technologies to study, preserve, and enhance the rock art, while leaving it in situ.

As part of the cataloguing process, the project team document each photograph, identifying what is depicted. Sometimes images are faded or unclear. Using photo manipulation software, images can be run through a process that enhances the pigments. By focusing on different sets of colours, we can now see the layers that were previously hidden to the naked eye.

This painted panel, from Kondoa District in #Tanzania, shows the white outline of an elephant’s head at the right, along with some figures in red that it is possible to highlight with digital enhancement.

Tanzania contains some of the densest concentrations of rock art in East Africa, mainly paintings found in the Kondoa area and adjoining Lake Eyasi basin. The oldest of these paintings are attributed to hunter-gatherers and may be 10,000 years old.

Follow the link in our bio to learn more about the project and see stunning #rockart from Africa. This week we’re highlighting the work of our #AfricanRockArt image project. The project team are now in the third year of cataloguing, and have uploaded around 19,000 digital photographs of rock art from all over #Africa to the Museum’s collection online database.

This photograph shows an engraving of a large, almost life-sized elephant, found on the Messak Plateau in #Libya. This region is home to tens of thousands of depictions, and is best known for larger-than-life-size engravings of animals such as elephants, rhino and a now extinct species of buffalo. This work of rock art most likely comes from the Early Hunter Period and could be up to 12,000 years old.

Follow the link in our bio and explore 30,000 years of stunning rock art from Africa. © TARA/David Coulson. Watch the incredible discovery of this colossal statue, submerged under the sea of thousands of years. This colossal 5.4-metre statue of Hapy was discovered underwater in what was the thriving and cosmopolitan seaport of Thonis-Heracleion. It once stood in front of a temple and would have been an impressive sight for traders and visitors arriving from the Mediterranean.

Come face to face with the ancient Egyptian god Hapy for yourself in our‪ #SunkenCities exhibition, until 27 November 2016.

Colossal statue of Hapy. Thonis-Heracleion, Egypt. About 380-250 BC. Maritime Museum, Alexandria. © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation. The discovery of this stela, which once stood at the entrance of the main entry port into ancient Egypt, was an extraordinary moment. Its inscription detailing taxes helped solve a 2,000-year-old mystery!

This magnificent monument was crucial to revealing that Thonis (in Egyptian) and Heracleion (in Greek) were in fact the same city. The decree was issued by the pharaoh Nectanebo I, regarding the taxation of goods passing through the cities of Thonis and Naukratis, and it originally stood in the Temple of Amun-Gereb. The inscription states that this slab stood at the mouth of the ‘Sea of the Greeks’ (the Mediterranean) in Thonis.

A bilingual decree found in 1881 refers in its Greek inscription to ‘the Temple of Heracleion’ and in hieroglyphs to ‘the Temple of Amun-Gereb’. Together these objects revealed that Thonis and Heracleion were the same place.

Learn more about the deep connections between the great ancient civilisations of Egypt and Greece in our #SunkenCities exhibition.
Stela commissioned by Nectanebo I (r. 380–362 BC), Thonis-Heracleion, Egypt, 380 BC. © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation. For centuries nobody suspected that the #SunkenCities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus lay beneath the sea. Recorded in ancient writings and Greek mythology, the ancient Egyptian cities were believed to be lost.

Over the last 20 years, world-renowned archaeologist Franck Goddio and his team have excavated spectacular underwater discoveries using the latest technologies. The amazing rediscovery of these lost cities is transforming our understanding of the deep connections between the great ancient civilisations of Egypt and Greece.

See more magical moments of discovery in our #SunkenCities exhibition, until 27 November 2016. © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation.

#archaeology #diving #ancientEgypt This week we’re highlighting some of the incredible clocks and watches on display in the Museum. Mechanical clocks first appeared in Europe at some time between 1200 and 1300. Their introduction coincided with a growing need to regulate the times of Christian prayer in the monasteries. Telling the time with a sundial was especially difficult in western Europe with its unreliable weather. From the end of the 13th century, clocks were being installed in cathedrals, abbeys and churches all around Europe.

The design of turret clocks (public clocks) changed little over the following three centuries and this particular example, made around 1600, has similar characteristics to clocks made for churches in the medieval period. The maker of this clock was Leonard Tenant, one of the most prolific makers of church clocks in the first half of the 17th century. The clock was installed in Cassiobury Park, a country house near Watford.

See this incredible clock in Rooms 38-39 
#clocks #watches #horology
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