Life as a Lab Technician at Neolithic Çatalhöyük
This post represents my third field season working at the Neolithic tell site of Çatalhöyük in central Turkey, occupied between approximately 7500 to 6000 BCE. At this point, nearing the end of my time here, I have spent over four months of the previous two calendar years here. With each day that goes by my knowledge increases and my professional network grows. I can sincerely say that I have enjoyed all of my time here, although I will admit that there have been frustrating and claustrophobic points that are inevitable when you work in a rural environment surrounded by up to 150 colleagues in cramped conditions. The lulls always pass quickly and are far outweighed by the surreal experience of working at this wondrous site, and the infinitely interesting company of the multifaceted and international team of archaeologists from all kinds of backgrounds and experience levels around me. This being my third season here I now feel like one of the ‘old hands’ even though I have just recently graduated from a long and winding undergraduate career, am about to embark on a two year Master’s program at the University of McMaster, and am surrounded by many new and senior team members that have vastly more fieldwork experience than myself. The support and generosity of the people I work with here have allowed me to gain a level of knowledge and confidence that I never would have achieved solely in a classroom setting, and I can honestly say that archaeological fieldwork is what I was born to do.
My job at Çatalhöyük during my first two field seasons consisted primarily of working with the chipped stone database, entering new artifacts and organizing previously collected material in an efficient and manageable method. This allows current and future researchers to effectively focus their time on analyses, instead of searching for assemblages excavated over several years that have ended up split between crates. This year I was thrust into a role with more responsibility and importance, owing primarily to the fact that the chipped stone lab head, my current mentor and future Master’s supervisor Dr. Tristan Carter of McMaster University, was occupied with other projects in Greece and was only able to be onsite for my last week here. This new role was only possible because of the experience with the database I have accumulated over the previous two years, and the technical knowledge I have gained almost by osmosis simply by being around and handling the material as well as observing how other researchers collect their data and learning the terms they employ in their analyses of the chipped stone. For three weeks I was acting head of the chipped stone lab, joined in on the priorities tours and gave feedback to the excavators, which allowed them to better understand the units they were excavating in real time and plan how they would continue digging their respective buildings and spaces. I also began to record and enter the technical parameters of the chipped stone into the database; measuring artifacts, classifying their types and determining the technology by which they were manufactured. These were very rewarding tasks that made me feel more like a more accomplished and integral cog in the archaeological machine that operates here.
Beyond these tasks I was able to spend a few days in the trenches excavating with some of my friends and colleagues, helping them to complete some especially time consuming and physically demanding tasks, activities that I enjoyed very much. To be completely honest, I would much rather spend my time excavating and helping to understand the stratigraphy of the archaeological units than sit in a lab analysing artifacts and working with the database. Of course, the post-excavation lab analyses are a crucial part of the job that will ultimately allow me to be involved in the publication of results and enable me to (hopefully) acquire other lab jobs in the future. The lab work is a mentally exhausting job, and being able to get out and ‘spread my wings’, so to say, by doing the physically exhausting dirty archaeological work was a welcome change of pace that allowed me to better appreciate the amount of work and mental exertion that goes into excavation. My time in the trenches allowed me to better understand the contexts of the material I study in the lab, which will ultimately help me in my future academic endeavours. The more time I spend performing all aspects of the archaeological research process the better-rounded archaeologist I will become, which will allow me to be flexible in the tasks I am suitable for and give me better chances to pursue steady work in the future.
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