November 28, 2012

Notes from the field

Filed under: Egypt — acagle @ 9:38 am

Just another quickie update: I am d-u-n DUN. With all of my own work, that is. I have finished my report and gotten all of my paperwork together and finished back filling the Bath. No photos, though I might go back over tomorrow and take a couple, but it’s not a lot to look at with most of the sand back in. Well, when I get back I have some other photos that I might post. It went well. We backfilled one entire room that had a very saggy wall and dumped sand over a few other things that people need to avoid sitting or standing on. So it’s done. And I’m done.

I’m still going out to the site tomorrow to help the ladies fill up their trench, so I have one more day in the field, but it won’t be too strenuous (I hope).

Then Friday morning I leave the camp (probably around 4), stay at a hotel nearish to the airport — demonstrations planned for Cairo Friday — and then at 10:30 Saturday morning I begin the long trip home.

Oh, and I finally drove in Egypt! Never done that before. I drove from the site and then back out and back again. Not too bad, really, although there wasn’t much traffic. Hee! I channeled Jeremy Clarkson: “How hard can it be?”

Probably post again once I am home, probably next Monday unless I have something exciting to say on the way back.

Over and out.

November 24, 2012

Notes from the field

Filed under: Egypt, Field photos — acagle @ 9:23 am

Just a couple of new photos today, not particularly clear unfortunately. This first one is at Karanis and is the south temple:
Desert Fox

The thing to notice here — apart from the hot babe archaeologist sitting in the doorway — is that she is sitting at what would have been the level of the surface when the temple was in operation. Where did the rest of the ground go? Into surrounding fields. The sediment from archaeological sites here tends to be rich in organics, as one might expect from human habitations, and for the past hundred or so years, locals have been literally mining archaeological sites for fertilizer. The material is called “sebakh” and the people who dig it out are called “sebakhin”.

Now, at Karanis around 1920 or so, a company was set up to mine the place on really an industrial scale. They had a small railroad for hauling the sediment away and even set up their little company field office in one of the ancient Roman buildings. . .and then started gouging out the middle of the site. What they did can barely be grasped by this photo:

November 23, 2012

Larry Hagman, RIP

Filed under: Pop culture — acagle @ 10:45 pm

Larry Hagman hath passed away. Little bummed about this, although it’s not surprising, he’s looked very frail of late, and he was 81 after all. I only bring this up because I have some fond memories of Dallas back in the 1980s. I only really discovered the show in college although I’d obviously known of its existence before then — I mean, was there anyone on the planet who hadn’t heard about Who Shot JR? For some reason we (a couple of my roomies and I) started watching it on Friday nights, along with the sister show Falcon Crest. This latter show was notable somewhat archaeologically for having Paul Freeman as a villain for a season (Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark). That was at a time I was really getting into archaeology so it’s got these sort of warm fuzzy memories associated with it. Back then, we would sit down with a bunch of beer and hard pretzels and watch both of them, hooting and hollering at all the camp. And then we’d go out and hit the bars. Great fun.

Hagman always kind of fascinated me because of his Dallas comeback since I still kind of remember him for his role on I Dream of Jeannie. Not only was his comeback neat, but it was a completely different character and format: he went from being the ‘hero’ in a comedy to the villain in a drama. And he pulled it off! Apparently he was a very heavy drinker and eventually had to have a liver transplant so for the last few years he was really on ‘bonus time’. He also had a short-lived series in the 1990s, I think, and it was set in Louisiana, he played a judge I think. I kind of liked the couple of episodes of it, but it was cancelled pretty quickly.

It’s kind of odd how the show is seen as kind of emblematic of the “greedy ’80s” since it originated in 1978. Also, I kind of think it’s absurd to call the ’80s greedy when the ’90s make the ’80s look like the ’60s by comparison. But you know, the powers that be have decided that, so I guess it’ll probably stick.

RIP, Tony Nelson.

November 22, 2012

A few thoughts on fieldwork

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 11:17 am

While nobody is listening. . . . .

I wrote this on my other blog earlier this evening:

Reading some of Neil Peart’s “Ghost Rider” just now a certain passage struck me:

The solitary traveler is frequently invested by others with an aura of romance, myth, and desire. So many people feel trapped in the workaday predictability of their lives, and their frustrations and dissatisfaction can be simultaneously stimulated and soothed by a non-specific fantasy of “getting away”. But like all fantasies, this dream vision remained free of consequences, and that alone was the deep, cold distinction between fantasy and reality: No consequences.

One might substitute ‘archaeologist’ for ‘traveler’ there. Seeing them (us) on TV or reading about “the adventure of archaeology” certainly can make life in the field seem romantic and dashing with all sorts of interesting things happening literally every minute of the day. And we certainly use that on occasion to impress people, at least to a limited degree (I’m not above admitting that one reason I do this is to imbue myself with a little of that Indiana Jones swashbuckling demeanor, however misleading). But it misses all of the stuff that really goes on out here: the heat, the dust, the flies and mosquitoes, the often bad food that causes altogether too many varieties of gastrointestinal distress, and the monotony of digging through a bunch of uninteresting sediment, dumping it into a basket, and hauling it off to the screens for 8 hours a day. Not to mention the jet lag and being away from friends and family for weeks, maybe months, at a time. And, well, danger to life and limb, not from curses or terrorists or Nazis or whatever, but. . .well, okay, it’s the roads mostly.

Nevertheless, it remains a very rewarding endeavor and I’m glad I kept my resolve and came out again. Just being in a strange place with only the stuff you carried with you and spending most of your time intent on a single project gives one a certain amount of perspective on that “workaday predictability” you left at home. You appreciate what you have there all the more, but you also tend to give it its due which is: it’s just stuff, it’s not life.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Filed under: Egypt — acagle @ 9:10 am

Not that anyone will be reading this all weekend, having lives the way you do. But as I sit here in Egypt, I thought I’d express good wishes to all of those with friends and family today. I am personally thankful to have at least a few people enjoying my — our — missives here on ArchaeoBlog.

Nothing special here today, just an ordinary work day, although as I finished my work in the bath house yesterday, today was all about starting the report. Had trouble with the introductory bits, but I just moved on and started the descriptions of the actual work. Hopefully, I will finish that by Monday so I can go out on survey on the northern side of the Lake with the Kiwis to look for Neolithic stuff. I may go out to see Kom W tomorrow, a famous site that established the earliest agricultural(ish) economy in Egypt. It may be full already and I was not feeling too well today for a bit (I think something may be wending its way through my GI tract). Otherwise, I’ll do more on my report and start putting together a little presentation for the group on what I/we’ve been doing in the bath all season.

Will also be returning a little earlier than planned, Dec. 1. No emergency or anything, but I’d planned on staying until the 10th but the bath house work didn’t require as much paperwork to prepare at the end, so I have the time left over. That I could use to go out and survey with the Kiwis, but, well, you know, that would be a lot of work and stuff. Besides, I will be back doing global health when I return so it’s all good.

So, enjoy the long weekend. . . .while I am slaving away here in the backwaters of the Fayum . . . .

November 21, 2012

Photos from the field

Filed under: Egypt, Field photos — acagle @ 8:50 am

Okay, just a couple of glam shots of the Roman bath, cleaned up nicely and glowing in the early morning light. No commentary, just enjoy. . . . .

Desert Fox


Notes Quick update from the field

Filed under: Egypt — acagle @ 8:30 am

Last day out on site! Yesterday we cleaned the whole Bath and photographed it for a 3D model rendering — very very cool — and today I went and described each wall and floor for any sort of damage since the 1975 and later restoration and various other observations. I didn’t notice any new damage, but did find a few other things of interest, such as some walls that were unexpectedly different and such. As one might expect, the parts that were covered up with sand for the last 40-some years were fine; those that were uncovered suffered. Tomorrow (Thursday) I begin writing the report which will be heavy with photographs to document the state it is in right now, 2012. I think Sunday we will start selectively backfilling it with sand. We’ll cover up most of the floors and lower parts of walls where there is still plaster preserved, and one entire room where a wall is in danger of collapsing. It will limit access — which is good — but we intend to put up signage and offer a way to direct people around the outside for a better viewing of the interior, so perhaps that will suffice.

I do have some photos to share, but it’s been iffy uploading them. Will try later this evening and/or tomorrow.

Which is Thanksgiving. Except here, where we are working and will do it on Friday instead. With turkey! I thought I’d heard our dinner a few nights ago, but I was mistaken: they bought a frozen one.

November 20, 2012

Car Lust update

Filed under: Car Lust — acagle @ 7:11 am

Had a go with an update of the Great Cars of Egypt:

I’m kind of sad seeing so few of those old 504s and Ladas and Fiats all over. They were kind of foreign and exotic and, you know, different. Now most of them all look pretty much the same: rolling, rounded jellybeans, only differing from one another by the badge on the front grille and the name on the back. And now with the Tuk Tuks the streets of Egypt probably don’t look too much different from those of Bombay or Bangkok. Oh, I’ll happily fasten my seat belt in the new vehicles and feel marginally safer, but it won’t have quite the same caché as a 504 wagon with its rakish headlights and long-throw suspension.

I also reminisce about some of the changes that have taken place in the time I’ve been coming to Egypt. No photos of the field quite yet, but I have some nice ones of the bath coming.

November 18, 2012

Notes from the field

Filed under: Egypt, Field photos — acagle @ 7:58 am

Just a couple of photos today. First up, the brick making process in going full bore:
Desert Fox

The upright ones are finished, or nearly so:

Desert Fox

November 17, 2012

Notes from the field bath house quarry

Filed under: Egypt, Field photos — acagle @ 6:41 am

A very little bit of Fayum geology. We have a quarry across the street from our dig house and I’ve been meaning to go check it out for a while now and finally got the opportunity to do so yesterday. I believe in this area what we have is the “Ravine Beds” a middle Eocene series of soft sandstones, claystones, marls, and limestones. These all derive from a marine source, the former Tethys Sea, the much larger precursor to the Mediterranean. At that time the coastline was much further south than it is now and also moved around north and south depending on sea levels, so the deposits generally tend to reflect the location of the shoreline.

Here is a shot of one of the walls:
Desert Fox

The lowest stratum and what makes up the floor of the quarry here is a compact yellow very fine sandy silt; I believe they’ve been using this in our brick making operation. I believe this is a deep-water environment since there are no fossils at all in it and it’s very homogeneous. Above that is a series of different strata, none very thick suggesting a series of different depositional environments over a relatively short period of time. Above that is a layer of finely stratified sand, almost like a dune. Note how it has scoured down to pinch off two sections of the stuff above it. That sand layer is pretty neat actually:

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