Imagine…

Imagine a hazy, too warm, brooding September day in the south of Turkey. The air carries the smell of rain and a subtle threat of thunder. Outside the window the pines that were thrashing in the wind an hour ago are now only gently stirring.

In your palm rests a fragile clump of shaped earth, bearing the slightest traces of an ancient cylinder seal. Slanting the desk lamp to cast the impression into relief, trying to distinguish between the rough texture of the clay and slightly raised figures depicted there, you sigh with frustration. (Seriously: if you were about to make something that would last three thousand years wouldn’t you take the time to do it properly so that when it finally came out of the ground three millennia later someone might actually be able to appreciate your craftsmanship without squinting to the point of near blindness?) Angling the piece nearer to the light, trying not to damage the fragile, crumbly lump, your tenuous grip eases slightly and the clay falls to your angled drawing table, sliding to the floor, shattering…

NO. That didn’t happen. Imagine, I said, just imagine. 

This scenario plays and replays in my head throughout my workday as a myriad small finds pass through my hands: delicate bits of jewellery, tiny beads, intricately decorated figurines and amorphous lumps of unbaked clay printed – sometimes barely visibly so – with seal impressions. I worry about crushing or dropping or unintentionally losing something as I measure and examine and trace the contours. It hasn’t happened – yet. The fear does, however, keep me mindful and reverent of these small remnants of ancient daily life entrusted to me.

Beside my desk this afternoon rests a crate of miscellaneous objects to be drawn and –  aside from a few things that still need to be conserved or photographed – this will likely be the last of the season’s new drawings. We’re nearly at the end of digging. Tomorrow evening is our wrap-up party and many of the dig staff scatter for home on Sunday. Senior staff remain another two weeks – finalizing research, assembling data, composing reports, documenting finds – winding down. 

For now, back to the drawing board…and some quality time with this little fellow, who I am holding with a firm grip.

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New season

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The days are passing as quickly as they ever do on an archaeological dig, blending one into another. The season at Tell Keisan was already half way through when I joined in, so it’s been easy to pick up the established rhythm. 

The excavation crew depart for the site in the dark of early morning well before we of the house staff arise.The dawn chorus is barely begun as we settle to our various tasks, not reaching full voice until somewhat past first breakfast. The birdsong here is varied and melodious, a change from the frenetic cooing of pigeons I’m accustomed to waking with in Turkey. The rasping buzz of cicadas climbs in volume as the heat builds, eventually masking the hum of traffic on the highway nearby. Our proximity to the seashore brings stifling humidity in addition to the Middle Eastern heat. 

We are housed in the guest facilities of a local kibbutz: small, comfortably furnished rooms – air conditioned – clustered about a shady courtyard. A few rooms have become makeshift offices, the pottery is sorted in growing stacks on tables on the lawn and multitudinous bags of soil samples are tucked into tiled alcoves outside our door. Coffee awaits in plentiful supply in the dining hall and we avail ourselves continuously of the stimulant as we work through the morning. 

The objects cluttering my desk are familiar – parallel to the small finds at Zincirli: beads, a spindle whorl, figurine fragments. I fill my new pens, peer through the magnifying lens, measure carefully and begin to pencil in the lines of worked stone, bone and clay – elements of an ancient story we are assembling.

We join the returning dig crew at the dining hall across the kibbutz for our mid-day meal. They are dust-coated, sweat-drenched and weary from the morning’s work. We glean news of recent finds and developments, and tramp back to quarters to shower or rest briefly before the afternoon work session. A lecture from one of the dig specialists rounds out most afternoons – fascinating insights to the many aspects of archaeology – offered in the hour before the evening meal.

I find myself eagerly anticipating meals. Besides the welcome break from long working hours, breakfast, lunch and dinner each present an array of tantalizing dishes: colourful salads, cheeses, yogurt, pickled and fresh vegetables, baked goods, breaded and roasted and stewed meats… and everything is delicious. I enjoy and anticipate Turkish food too – but these particular tastes are new and novel and I am definitely enjoying the discovery process while resisting seconds.

After dinner we scatter to various conversations in the darkened courtyard – renewing acquaintances and cultivating new friendships, sorting out new names and faces. Israeli digs work somewhat differently than those elsewhere in that a part of our field staff is composed of volunteers as opposed to students, attracting a more varied demographic. I’m enjoying not being the only (partially) grey-haired participant.

Nearly at the end of my first week, I hope to finally visit the dig site tomorrow. In anticipation of tomorrow’s early rising, my two Israeli roommates and I tuck in at an early hour. Sleep comes easily, cosily curled beneath the comforting hum of the air conditioner. 

Off again…

Autumn became winter, then winter became spring and now we are half way through summer. I’ve shamelessly neglected this blog so rather than face the daunting task of catching you up, I’ll just launch in to my current exploits, shall I?

Here I am once again – half way around the world. New country. New dig. 

Tomorrow I begin as the illustrator at Tell Keisan, working once again with Dr. David Schloen – this time in Israel. It’s been lovely landing in a strange place to find familiar faces from past seasons at Zincirli – friendships that reach back over years and stretch across many miles. With more than fifty staff here, there are also many new faces to learn in the next two weeks! 

I’ve arrived on the weekend so it’s been an easy start: yesterday a half day to catch up on sleep and slip into a new rhythm, and today to tour a nearby dig at Tel Dor at the edge of the sea, followed by time on the beach. I have to honestly say that this has been, hands down, the best first day on a dig I have enjoyed thus far! Nonetheless, I’m still a little sleep deprived and jet lagged. So I leave you with a snapshot of the Mediterranean from the Israeli shore.

More soon…

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Season’s end

Yesterday I awoke in the Turkish city of Adana; this morning my window overlooks the Toronto airport, the city skyline in the hazy distance. Tomorrow, I’ll wake to my Kelowna valley view. The 2017 Zincirli season is not only over, but half a world away.

As ever, the final days of the dig were frantically busy. The few of us left behind to conclude the season worked intensely – but also enjoyed some cosy communal time. The smaller group fit companionably along the courtyard picnic tables, lingering over evening meals, sampling the local wines in a vain search for something palatable, dissecting world events and digesting the season’s findings. A challenging jigsaw puzzle focussed our attention the final nights but, alas, too late in the day for completion. Our numbers dwindled by twos and threes until the final departures this week. Now the offices are sealed awaiting our return.

I leave you with a few images from this year’s work and travels. Heading home…

Time flies!

I’ve been here on the dig for three weeks and we’re already past the half way point of the season. Spare time seems to be at a premium. I’m using my afternoons to catch a nap rather than socialize or write. The usually punishing schedule is particularly punishing this year; could it be advancing age??

If the pattern holds, we’re easing into September weather. Temperatures are in a slightly more comfortable range – in the morning and evening, certainly. Our start time has been dialled back to account for a later sunrise, and we ended our evening meal after dark tonight. I have a full crate of artifacts collecting beneath my desk, awaiting attention: an assortment of partial stone vessels, clay weights and such. Nothing that you would recognize as ‘treasure’ but it all tells a story. I’ve drawn about half of what is on my “to do” list, and more comes in from the field each day. Maybe that accounts for the lack of free time more than my age?

While I continue to play catch up here, I thought I’d hold you at bay with a few photos from a recent trip to the Gaziantep museum. The stele I’m posed with and the orthostat were two of the very first finds that I was assigned to draw in 2008. I was only here for three weeks that first season – a “try out” for the position of illustrator. I cut my teeth on some major material and passed the test, so here I am nine years later. The museum case may not seem like much to you – but it’s the first time ever that I’ve seen a collection with which I’d been up close and personal: I’d drawn (and handled) every artifact in the display!

 

 

Once around the circle…

Hello again. Welcome back. I know. It’s been a while.

I’m sitting on my balcony as darkness falls. A chill glass of white from a neighbourhood winery sits to hand. The distant clouds are frosted in pink, the nearer hills shading to bronze; following a week under the shroud of a smokey haze, it’s lovely to breathe clear air and see down the valley again. The crickets have begun their nightly chorus – the rhythmic song of late summer that lulled me to sleep my first nights here.

It was a year ago this weekend that I left behind my home in Ontario. I’ve come round the calendar, marking the changes and learning the rhythms of this new home. I’ve seen the summer orchards shade to bronze and copper, watched as winter crept down from the peaks and watched it retreat again, drank in the scent of orchards in blossom, marvelled as clusters of fruit appeared among the rows.  It was peach season when I arrived and it’s peach season again; each day’s offering bigger and juicier than the day before. Berries, apricots and cherries have had their day, now root vegetables and field tomatoes are crowding the stalls. Cabbages and pumpkins ripen in the fields, the trees are burdened with still-green apples.

Summer is far from over here in the Okanagan – but I’ll be heading off in the morning to spend the remaining weeks of the season in Turkey.  After a year of exploring and learning a new place, it’s time to return to a familiar one. The dig at Zincirli opened at the beginning of August and I’ve had word that lovely objects have emerged from the soil and are waiting to be drawn. I’m eager to reconnect with friends – it’s been nearly two years! – and I’m wondering how the sleepy little village of Fevzipaşa has fared meanwhile. I’m awash in thoughts of steaming tea in tulip glasses, tiny cups of morning espresso, late night conversations in a windy courtyard and early mornings awakening to a somewhat-less-than-melodious call to prayer. Adventure – of a sort – awaits.

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If you’ve been following this blog previously, you have an idea of what’s to come. If you’re new here – you may want to take a look at this early post to catch up on what I’m up to. Old friend or new – I hope you’ll come along!

Happy.Go.Lucky.

Yes, it’s appalling how long I’ve neglected this blog but my adventures are about to resume – and so the inspiration for blogging in the first place will, happily, be renewed. Tomorrow evening I’ll be winging my way to Turkey once again. I’ve done a provisional packing. Everything fits, which I’m sure means that I’ve forgotten something major but I don’t know what it is yet. Over the years I’ve stashed an awful lot of stuff at our quarters in the village – art supplies and books, bedding, clothes and sundries – so each year I take less and less with me.

Meanwhile I’ve concluded that no amount of cramming Rosetta Stone exercises will have me speaking Turkish fluently before I fly out. In spite of regular study, the language still baffles me. I’ve added considerable vocabulary, but I still have little clue how to string the words together to compose a sentence. I’m hoping that I have enough stuffed into my brain to keep Sila, my little village friend, from laughing at me. Again. I am haunted by her exasperated sighs at my past feeble attempts. Perhaps I will be speaking more at the end of the summer than now. That’s not really saying much…pun intended.

As I’ve been preparing this past week, I’ve been reflecting on a service that I attended last weekend, a memorial for the mother of a good friend here in town. Kay was a vibrant presence and the service was a celebration of a life joyously well lived. I am very mindful of two oft repeated phrases of Kay’s that her grandsons quoted: “Aren’t we the happy people?” and “Aren’t we lucky?” She seemed constantly mindful of the wonder of life, the good fortune of being surrounded by friends and family and never ceased to remind others of that.

Now, here am I about to take a plane half-way around the world. I know there will be friends waiting in the Istanbul airport, that we’ll greet each other warmly and continue our journey together. I know that at the end of a familiar road there will be yet more friends to greet and a foreign village that has become a kind of home. Yes, there will be grumbling over too early mornings and seemingly endless hot, long days of work but there will also be stories and laughter and yet more friendships shared over the summer.

Ah, my archaeological friends! Aren’t we the happy people? Aren’t we lucky?

Will you come along and share the summer with us?