October 31, 2012

Notes from the field bath house

Filed under: Egypt, Field photos — acagle @ 8:15 am

[EDIT: photos loading slooooowly]

First full day in the Roman bath house! I’m thoroughly enjoying this little project, although it’s turning into something of a major project the more we uncover and find that needs doing. As a bit of history, it was cleared and restored somewhat in the 1970s, so all you see in the following photos has happened since then.

Our first thought was to remove the trash and windblown sand that had accumulated in order for the conservator to get some plaster samples and attempt fixing some to the wall better. There turned out to be more sand than expected, and also of a different consistency than we’d initially thought: There was some loose sand, but under it was an uneven layer of compact. . .something. . .of unknown depth. Actually, I didn’t know what it was at first and just cleared down to the compact stuff. I soon discovered that it was just the same sand but very compacted due probably to rain and trampling by visitors. So, a couple-hour project turned in a couple of days and perhaps several more to go.

First up, another serene sunrise over Karanis:

Next, here’s the overall view of the bath building:

That first area is the frigidarium or cold-water bath. To the right of that you enter into the tepidarium or warm-water bath. From that room you exit to the left into the laconicum or steam room, and thence into the caladarium or hot-water bath. You would go into each in a particular sequence, but I don’t know which at the moment.
Here’s a closer-up view of the frigidarium:

The tub is on the left there and you can see a step next to the tub for entry and exit. Just right of the step you can kind of make out a dropoff: that’s the compact sand we’d been removing from the back wall out (towards the camera). It’s about 40 cm thick there and the floor underneath is of large paving stones. Most of the mud bricks you’ll see in here are fired rather than just dried to provide some moisture resistance, hence the red color.

Next is the doorway from the tepidarium into the laconicum:

This was also covered in about 30-40 cm of compact sand and fallen bricks and plaster. The large paving stones are the floor surface and comparing to photos from the 1970s work, one is missing and the first one there has been broken in half and one part is now missing. The three small brick structures were for a bench — it’s a steam room after all.

A couple of niches in the laconicum. The semicircular one is where I first discovered that the compact sand was the same as the loose sand (just more compact): it was the same stuff and also had recent junk in it, mostly cigarette butts and styrofoam.

One corner of the laconicum with some plaster still attached and some that has fallen.

And here we are in the caldarium with its nice stone tub. Note the spout coming out of the tub in the middle. There was a deep pit just to the left of where that is, but it has been filled in.

Lengthwise view of the tub. It was partially filled with sand when I got to it and the interior was a bit surprising: it’s three stone pavers with plaster around the edges. The near side has been broken off at some point, probably before the last century. Again, note the drainage hole in the center right.

Finally, a small platform outside of the frigidarium. This was in photos from the 1970s project and it’s still in halfway decent shape, although the wall behind it has deteriorated markedly. Actually, much of this building has deteriorated quite a bit since then. Some of the wall parts are now just plain gone, at least one wall is visibly bowing out and could really collapse at any time, and the stone lintel above the tepidarium-locaonicum doorway is now cracked, apparently all or most of the way through. Once I saw that I became somewhat concerned as it’s a pretty serious crack.

Really, at this point nothing much can be done to save the structure from ultimate destruction apart from perhaps reconstructing every single by encasing them in concrete or filling the entire thing with sand up to the tops of the walls. Were I God-Emperor of Egypt I would immediately do the latter. But I’m not, so we do what we can.

October 30, 2012

What a cute shoulder blade

Filed under: Paleoanth — ArchaeoFriend @ 2:12 pm

The shoulder blade of Australopithecus afarensis toddler (approx. 3 years old) from Ethiopia shows that bipedalism was not a sudden, catastrophic change in skeletal anatomy.  This tiny little scapula has the same shape and orientation as shoulder blades of arboreal primates, while A. afarensis knees and pelvis show evidence of upright bipedalism.  It looks like A. afarensis were doing both — sometimes walking, sometimes taking to the trees.  This shows that change in locomotion was gradual, with long transitions.

“What we’re showing is that bipedalism wasn’t this sudden change that took shape in an early common ancestor,” said study co-author David Green, an anatomy professor at Midwestern University in Downers Grove, Illinois.

“As bipedalism was developing, there were other forms of locomotion that were still important.”


 National Geographic has video and a story on this find (they call it “Lucy’s baby,” or Selam).  Oh, and there are some really cute (afarensis) baby pictures. 


(One of the less cute photos of Selam)

Notes from the field

Filed under: Egypt — acagle @ 6:14 am

Photos tomorrow! Mainly because I did something interesting today, namely cleaning sand out of a Roman bath house. A curator is studying the plaster on the walls so we are cleaning out all the sand blown in since the last restoration in the 1970s. It was going to be a 2-hour project but it’s turned into a couple of days instead because there was more sand and more complications than we thought. But it’s got two nice tubs from the caldareum and the frigidarium and some interesting plastered brick flooring that I uncovered today. Then it’s back to the boring old trench 4.

May post a photo of that later on today . . . . .

October 29, 2012

Notes from the field

Filed under: Egypt — acagle @ 8:44 am

No photos today, it was busy and not much to take pictures of, to be honest. I started my new trench which was last excavated in 2008 so we had some trouble finding the last excavated surface — it had been backfilled in. But we eventually found it and will finish uncovering it tomorrow. Reminder for any archaeologists out there and anyone else: Write everything down. We couldn’t find our benchmark and spent quite a bit of time looking for it — probably stolen — but it would have made the search much easier had its exact location bee written down. Also, there were actually two sets of backfilling: one in 2008 and then another one at a later date, probably 2010. The second one confused us because we expected the old surface right under it, but it wasn’t there. So we wasted quite a bit of time figuring out that it was much deeper. The other lesson is to not do all that stuff at the last minute: Make backfilling your trench or whatever an integral part of the excavation, ensuring that you note down somewhere prominent exactly how you did it.

It’s a difficult trench to excavate and I’m glad they trusted me to do it, but it’s a bit nerve-wracking (which explains why I woke up at 2 and couldn’t get back to sleep. . . .). I know I’m up to it, but have to keep reminding myself of that fact.

October 28, 2012

Notes from the field

Filed under: Egypt, Field photos — acagle @ 8:42 am

[Note: All of the photos aren't uploading right now, will have them up in the next couple of hours, I hope]

Few photos from our trip to Amarna and environs. We stayed in Minya at a resort — yes, resort — but geared to Egyptians so the price was very reasonable. For any potential future travelers, Minya is only worth going to for Amarna and maybe Bene Hassan, otherwise, it’s of extremely limited interest.

First up, Beni Hassan, some First Intermediate/Middle Kingdom tombs:

Yours truly in front of the tombs with the Nile in the background, also showing the sharp delineation between Valley and desert that Egypt is so famous for. That also shows the height at which these were cut into the local limestone. Interesting stuff, the limestone, probably part of the larger Theban limestone formation but very different from that found at the type site near Luxor. That stuff is bright white and very fine grained and homogeneous, apart from abundant chert nodules and fractures filled with quartzite. This junk is fairly heterogeneous and layered throughout so finding good spots was probably tricky (part of this formation in the area is, in fact, similar to the white Luxor stuff and is mined for building stones).

1066 and All That

Filed under: Battlefield archaeology, Cemeteries — Andie @ 2:12 am

A new book has  suggested that the field that has been commemorated for hundreds of years as the site of the Battle of Hastings may be a somewhat embarrassing case of mistaken identity.    Historian John Grehan has reconsidered the evidence for the circumstances leading up to the battle and believes that it actually took place a mile away from the field that, in spite of a lack of 10,000 bodies or associated artefacts, has been accepted as the battlefield.  It’s an interesting story, but needs to be tested by an excavation at the proposed new site.  Still, I’m surprised that metal detector enthusiasts haven’t found anything yet if there’s something there to be found – it must be one of the areas where they are most active.

6500 year old figurine found in northeast Spain

Filed under: Uncategorized — Andie @ 1:51 am

Can Sadurni figurine

Excavations in Catalonia have produced the oldest figurine to be found on the Iberian peninsula at a cave site, Can Sadurni, where previous important finds have shed light on early food production in the area – including the earliest evidence of the production and consumption of beer.  Excavators are now speculating that the site may have served as a meeting point for the nearby inhabitants at that time.

The statuette consists of the the torso, neck and arm of the figure, made of heavily tempered pottery.   Various features difficult to see with the naked eye are also described in the article, including marks that may indicate jewellery and clothing and certain anatomical features, like spine and breasts.

October 26, 2012

Students excavate their own college in Providence, RI

Filed under: Uncategorized — ArchaeoFriend @ 1:14 pm

Students at Brown University are diving beneath the ivy and into the dirt below as they excavate portions of the college, looking for historic artifacts and remnants of buildings.  Ironically, they had to hold off on their excavation to locate the former president’s house because the university was inaugurating a new president.  Students are currently excavating outside Hope College dorm:

This is part of an ongoing project, started in 2006.  What a great class this must be.  Students in the historical archaeology class here at my university are mapping where the original buildings (now gone) once stood.  This really “brings archaeology home” in so many ways.

Update from the field

Filed under: Egypt — acagle @ 9:54 am

Hey guys. No photos, am in Minya visiting Amarna over the Eid holiday. Saw the Beni Hassan tombs yesterday and Amarna today. Some tombs, the workers’ village, bunch of other stuff. A couple of famous locations as well, including the sites of discovery of the Nefertiti head and the Amarna Letters. Only my iPad with me so just text for now. We head back tomorrow and will post photos then if there’s time.

I’m not even sure what day it is. .. . . .

‘Oldest Mayan tomb’ found in Guatemala’s Retalhuleu

Filed under: Cemeteries — Andie @ 7:20 am
The site of the discovery of the tomb in Archaeological National Park in Retalhuleu, Guatemala, undated handout photo

One of the oldest Mayan tombs ever found has been uncovered in western Guatemala, say archaeologists.

Located at a temple site in Retalhuleu province, the grave is thought to be that of an ancient ruler or religious leader who lived some 2,000 years ago.

Carbon-dating indicated the tomb had been built between 700 and 400 BC, said government archaeologist Miguel Orrego.

A rich array of jade jewels, including a necklace depicting a vulture-headed human figure, were found.

The scientists found no bones at the tomb in the Tak’alik Ab’aj site – some 180km (110 miles) south of Guatemala City – probably because they had disintegrated.

But the vulture-headed figure appears to identify the tomb’s occupant as an ajaw – or ruler – because the symbol represented power and economic status and was given to respected elder men.

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