Despite Early Mornings Platt Fellow Happy to be Excavating

By: Ted Gold, University of Chicago, 2012 Platt Fellow

To begin with, a little background on what the Platt Fellowship meant to me: I’d been doing some work for Professor Yorke M. Rowan over the course of the winter and spring quarters of my third year at college, and he was kind enough to inform me that he was running a dig at the Chalcolithic site of Marj Rabba, and that said dig still needed volunteers.  The dig sounded wonderful: six weeks in Israel up to the neck in dirt uncovering flint tools and pre-Bronze Age settlement walls.  Unfortunately, the length of the dig meant it would be quite expensive, but Yorke was kind enough to recommend that I apply for a grant from ASOR, which I did with no particular hope of getting it.  I do believe I did the equivalent of a Riverdance across Facebook upon receiving the email that I’d gotten the grant, and thus have the privilege to be sending this post from the less-than-stellar wifi network of the ORT Braude campus in Karmi’el, Israel.

Today, after the usual hellish sensation of waking up (no morning person, I), resolved itself into an engrossing day, combining as it did some of my favorite parts of archaeology: digging through mudbrick-laden soil (a sensation not unlike cutting into a satisfyingly expensive-feeling cheese), searching through burnt or ashy soil (a haven for preserved plant matter and therefore the bread and butter of my supervisor), and wondering what in the name of the Flying Spaghetti Monster we were uncovering.  The object of inquiry was an ashy pit covered with stones suggesting rubble or some kind of collapse layer, which I was assigned to help clear.  The goals were to delineate the boundaries of the pit, and then to remove the rocks and collect the ashy soil for flotation.

However, the pit’s configuration presented quite a few challenges to these relatively simple goals.  For one, rather than lying loosely upon the ashy pit, several of the stones were actually embedded into the soil itself, suggesting they had been laid there with some degree of purpose.  After clearing some of the floaters, the previously amoebic-looking pit resolved itself into a circle, with four tightly packed stones sitting near the center (to quote one of my peers: I’m not going to say that it wasn’t aliens . . .).  Secondly, the borderline between the mudbrick and the ashy soil was nebulous at best, and when the transition was finally clear, the ashy soil seemed to keep going on and on the deeper we went, to the extent that we had to leave it for the next day rather than closing off the locus once and for all.  Within the pit, we found several examples of burnt pottery and lithics fragments, which in themselves will likely provide quite a bit of data as we examine them further.  Later in the day, we floated the soil samples in a bizarre contraption made by our archaeobotanist out of an oil drum, cheesecloth, and sundry other knickknacks.  This is an immensely satisfying process, as it involves massaging muddy dirt to release any trapped charcoal or plant matter as it’s submerged in water.  This will hopefully net us enough biological material to date the pit itself.

Overall, I have to emphasize how ridiculously happy I have been on this dig, and how grateful I am to ASOR for the opportunity this grant has afforded me.  Without their generosity, I would not be the filth-drenched, flint-grubbing, trowel-wielding slice of joy that I am now, and hopefully will continue to be for the next few weeks.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, these flint blades won’t sort themselves!


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One thought on “Despite Early Mornings Platt Fellow Happy to be Excavating

  1. Dear Ted,
    I, too, spent the summer on a dig in Israel — my site, Khirbet Summeily, is a great little Iron Age settlement with an awesome view. Your description of early(!) mornings, the joys of digging mudbrick, the adventures of flotation, and your obvious passion for dirt could easily be mine. Thanks for sharing your well-written (I’m a highschool teacher), thoughtful, and absolutely eloquent blog. I am proud to be a member of an organization that works hard to get students like you into the field. Congratulations on your Platt Fellowship — I hope you attend the Annual Meeting in the fall, I’ll be checking name badges, looking for you.

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