Jugs Before Jars, Except After Cars - Shikhin Excavation Project 2016
By: Kirstin Rose-Bean, Strange and Midkiff Families Scholarship
This year ASOR and its donors gave me the opportunity to participate in my fourth dig season and my first time at Shikhin. Each time I dig, I think I know what to expect, but there are always new situations, new people, and new surprises. Shikhin is a village with extensive pottery and lamp production in the Roman periods, so one of the first things I learned in the field this year was how to recognize a lamp fragment. Because lamps are made of ceramic, at first lamp fragments look like they’re just a rim or some weirdly curved part of regular old pottery. Similarly, I’ve learned to identify wasters, ceramic that was damaged during production. Most of these were ruined sometime during the firing process and have cracks or bubbles. Wasters are very important to the history of Shikhin because they represent pottery and lamps that were made here at the site. Unlike whole vessels, people don’t generally buy broken junk and carry it far away or save it as a family heirloom for generations, so we can be pretty certain that the wasters are still at the site where the potter made them (and messed them up). They just threw these in a trash pile somewhere near where they were working. That helps us be certain that the styles of pottery we find as wasters were definitely produced at our own site. The wasters at Shikhin have revealed some unique forms of pottery and also may indicate that a few lamp forms were produced here that were previously believed to be produced only in other areas of the country.
Here at Shikhin I have a new staff position to adapt to as well – I am Pottery Registrar and assistant to Kay Clements, our Artifact Registrar. As Pottery Registrar, I write down all information and calls made during pottery reading. I’m no pottery expert, but as James R. Strange (our director), Moti Aviam (our co-director), and James “Abunah” Strange (former director of the USF excavations at Sepphoris) read the pottery, I write down the forms they see and the dates they understand those forms to be from. I’ve paid attention at pottery reading at my previous sites, but since I’m involved in the reading of every bucket this year I’ve learned quite a bit about the process of pottery reading as well as a few individual forms. For example, they always organize the forms from smallest opening to widest – so we start with jugs, then jars, and progress all the way to bowls and basins (“jugs before jars, except after cars” is a favorite phrase at Shikhin to remember which of the two to start with).
The day after the pottery has been read, I am also responsible for making sure the pottery is registered. Shikhin is a field school, and registration of pottery is a task that all students are required to learn (and therefore help me complete). Each diagnostic sherd is carefully labeled with the dig’s permit number, the pottery bucket number (which includes field and square information), and a sherd number to distinguish each individual piece of pottery. I’m very grateful for all the help of the students, volunteers, and other staff members, so that I could be in the field during the day and not sitting in a room writing on pottery all day long!
The final portion of my job as Pottery Registrar and the entirety of my job as Assistant Artifact Registrar involve lots of typing. Somehow movies never show the portions of archaeology where you sit at a computer and type numbers and weird abbreviations like Hell 2, ER, or Byz. I guess they figure Indiana Jones and Hours of Data Entry wouldn’t sell many tickets. Each evening I transfer all of my handwritten notes from pottery reading to an excel spreadsheet and all of Kay’s notes from the Artifact Registry page to another excel spreadsheet. Because archaeology is a destructive science, the preservation of excavation notes is essential. For this reason, it is very important to have digital copies of all of our information as well as physical copies. Every night when I finish typing up the day’s information I copy the file into an additional location – so by the end of the day three copies of the information exist, two digital and one physical.
My summer at Shikhin has been a wonderful experience and I have learned so much. I’ve enjoyed the chance to be more deeply involved in the “back stage” portions of the excavation. I love field work, but the processing of the artifacts that happens back at camp is just as important and, in its own way, just as exciting! I’m very grateful to ASOR and to all the lovely donors who make summers like this possible! I’m especially honored to have excavated with several members of the Strange family, the donors for the scholarship I received!
Kirstin Rose-Bean fell in love with archaeology at a young ageand has always been fascinated with the history of the Ancient Near East. She is a graduate of Lycoming College (B.A. in Archaeology and History 2012), and Duke University (M.A. Religious Studies 2014) and will be starting a Ph.D. program in New Testament at Baylor University this fall. Kirstin has excavated in previous seasons at Tel Gezer (2009 and 2011) and Huqoq (2013) and hopes to keep returning to Israel to dig for several years to come!
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