Heritage Fellow experiences first dig in picturesque Cappadocia

I am helping clean what seemed a possible differentiation in the color of a plastered mud-brick wall.

By: Mehrnoush Soroush, 2012 Heritage Fellow

I received the Heritage Fellowship to participate in my first fieldwork at the site of Kınık Höyük, in Cappadocia. Kınık Höyük is close to the small city of Altunhisar, and Niğde is the closest real town where we spent several free Saturday afternoons. I cannot think of a better way to have spent this scholarship. To begin with, our höyük (mound) is located in such a picturesque landscape. My early morning trips to the site and my afternoon trips back to the dig house were like short dreams in a wonderland: endless combinations of horizontal lines of golden grain fields and orchards and vertical lines of poplars which constantly sway in the cool mountain breeze. All of these are embroidered on a blend of clear blue sky and pinkish gray mountains that infinitely reflect one another. Our höyük is the most prominent feature, at least in my eyes, in this landscape: a miraculously intact golden cup, set up-side down amidst orchards and fields and visible from almost everywhere, including our dig house in the village of Yeşil Yurt.

The small town of Altunhisar in the foreground, the Taurus Mountains in the background and Kınık Hoyuk right in front of the mountains amidst orchards.

Digging at Kınık, I worked with a team from Pavia University, Italy, directed by Prof. Lorenzo d’Alfonso from the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University.**Prof. d’Alfonso’s enthusiasm for and dedication to teaching and mentorship took me, at an unexpected pace, through all steps of archaeological practice. He has all students take part in all activities and learn all tasks. Thus, I dug in the mornings, and spent my afternoon hours helping organize the finds: washing ceramics, filling forms, photographing, working with our database, and making drawings, all of which involved unplanned short lessons from Prof. d’Alfonso and my very congenial colleagues on all aspects of archaeology. On top of that, I had one little extra responsibility: flotation of soil samples, the first step for the study of archaeobotanical remains of Kınık Höyük. Dr. Naomi Miller from the University of Pennsylvania Museum paid us a visit to teach me how to do this. My summer archaeological field school made me most certain that archaeology is no doubt the most exciting profession in the world!

As one can imagine from my enthusiastic words, I enjoyed everything I experienced this summer. But, my favorite was observing the very varied rhythm and changing dynamics of fieldwork: the mix of planning and decision-making that involves every team member and yet produces uncertain results and unexpected moments. To give you a hint: Our ordinary everyday routines was broken when a possible differentiation in the color of a plastered mud-brick wall was observed, or when weeks of disappointingly digging of pit after pit, in the least promising part of our operation, ended in our finding a wonderfully preserved stone pavement in the very last week of the season. Or, one day, when we had extra workmen, we had them open a seemingly unpromising area that we had put off digging until next year. This area had such complicated stratigraphy that the day before we decided to stop working there and concentrate on finishing what we had opened elsewhere. Guess what?! In the first hours of digging, we found our most beautiful Iron-Age ceramic of the whole season lying just ten centimeters below the surface. Maybe my most interesting experience, in this regard, was when we hit an undisturbed “context” of destruction, full of ceramics, some half an hour before heading back to the dighouse. It was most exciting to see how our routine changed: some of us had to forget about the break and work non-stop until the afternoon and the others came back to continue the work until we made sure that all material was being taken care of. This does not mean that fieldwork is mainly about excitements: One needs to learn how to bear with boring hours and days, how to stay calm, creative and interested under the sun at noon or amidst the blinding dust devils and how to bear the physical and emotional pressure of the end-of-the-season days and hours.

We closed this year’s season yesterday. As I am flying back home, my mind is still processing it: thinking about the friends and the scenes I will miss, the things I could have done better, the things to remember in future. And, last but not least, that my initial joy and excitement of receiving ASOR field scholarship is complete because I used it in such a fulfilling field experience.

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