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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The Holy City

In July I watched the eclipse of a full moon from a kibbutz in Israel. In the dark of that same lunar phase, I watched the stars fall over the Arabian desert. This past weekend the Mediterranean Sea glistened under yet another full moon. The waning disc hanging in the early morning sky today seemed to be taunting me: time to write something!

I’m back on the dig at Zincirli in the south of Turkey where we’re nearly half-way through the 2018 season. After leaving Tell Keisan, I spent a few days in Jerusalem before flying to Jordan where I joined a G Adventures group tour, checking off a few items on the bucket list before heading here mid-August. It’s been a busy month.

Internet connection has been a challenge this summer. Or a convenient excuse. Add to that a busy dig schedule, an intense one week tour of a new country and the time needed to process the enormity of being in the Biblical landscape – and well, you have a pause in the reporting. I’ve opted for a quiet weekend to reflect and put together a few posts, hoping that without the usual crowd on the internet I may finally get my photos uploaded! 

Let’s start back in Jerusalem, shall we?

I found myself with mixed feelings during my time in Israel. Yes, I was in the epic land of the bible and all, but my limited time there was mostly in an urban setting. The shores of the Sea of Galilee were disappointingly littered and dirty, the landscape strewn with plastic scrap, the highways crowded – and weekend outings brought us within earshot of airstrikes across the border in Syria. All this made it difficult to impose the pastoral scenes of Sunday School stories on the sprawl of modern day and yet…

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I had booked an airbnb room just off Jaffa Street – a pedestrian mall steps from the Jaffa Gate of old Jerusalem. My dig director dropped me off nearby and I followed my host’s directions to a quaint courtyard. My room opened off an arched stairway and was all that was promised – rustic, cosy and clean. I showered, oriented myself with a study of online maps and headed off to old Jerusalem.

I’d heard stories of just how easy it is to get lost in the winding streets of the walled city, so I went prepared with maps loaded to my phone and a plan. It took a turn or two… or three…but I was very soon magnificently lost. I’m still not sure precisely which route I followed or which streets I was on. 

I was fighting the temptation to get caught up in the romance of the biblical city, but I lost the battle somewhere along King David Street. Threading through the crowd in this warren of tourist shops, dodging robed clerics of various faiths, awash in the scent of eastern spices and enchanted by the multi-hued goods, the haunting notes of the Muslim call to prayer stopped me in my tracks. I caught my breath, holding back tears, suddenly overwhelmed by the realization: I’m in Jerusalem. I am in JERUSALEM.

Leaning in a doorway momentarily to catch my balance, the shopkeeper noted my distress and urged me to come in, take some tea, sit down a moment. I think the streak of white hair that I sport may have garnered more sympathy than I was due – but I took advantage of the invite. I knew it was likely a sales pitch – and it was to some extent – but I decided to accept it as a kindness. 

I sat, sipped herbed tea, discussed the beautiful handmade silver pomegranate pendants on display and when I made it  clear that the price was far beyond my meagre budget, we spoke instead of our children and travels. Refreshed, I bid goodbye and continued my wanderings. I found the western wall, had a glimpse of the Temple mount but was unable to find my way there as the passages were barred inexplicably by soldiers. I was accosted by a vendor of freshly pressed pomegranate juice and when he learned that I was from Canada, he waved me in to the depths of his shop. Reaching in to a dusty cupboard, he retrieved an handful of well-thumbed photographs. There he was, pictured with his son in Vancouver, in Banff, in Ottawa, here with his grandchildren in Montreal…he’d seen nearly as much of Canada as I had! Further along there were sweets to sample and intricate embroidery to admire. I was unable to resist an elderly vendor of fresh figs, although I was admonished by a passer-by for paying far too much. I never recovered my planned route, but I found enough unexpected corners, sights and sounds to occupy several hours of wandering. 

Finally stumbling upon the Damascus Gate, I exited the walled city and headed back to my room. The quiet courtyard was now home to several little bistros opening for the night’s business. After dinner at a small cafe, I turned in for the evening. Conversation and music drifted up to my little room into the wee hours of the morning but, happily, I slept through most of it. 

A few thousand more words…

I had an internet problem tonight that I finally managed to fix – thank you, Apple forums! – so before I grab that forty (or more) winks, I leave you with these.

Another season’s end

The 2018 dig season is a wrap. The last of the die-hards departed early this morning; some off to dig at Zincirli in Turkey, some to home – and I to continuing adventures.

Nearly three weeks have flown by in a blur of early wakings, lengthy days and plentiful strong coffee. A steady supply of new artifacts has been appearing on my desk, nearly the number I would expect in the usual longer time in Turkey.  I nearly made it across the finish line, but some hours of work remain to close out the season.

Somewhere in there was a morning outing to a sea cave on the Lebanon border, two field trips and an evening stroll to the Mediterranean shore to feed the mosquitoes. I dipped my toes in the Sea of Gallilee, looked over Jordan, clambered through a crusader castle and strolled Roman pavements. The highway signs are laden with story:  Nazareth, Bethlehem, Tiberius, Jordan. History lies thick on this land and beneath it.

And today I am in Jerusalem.

That’s a story for another day. Time to tuck in early in my cool stone-lined nook of a room and try to replace a few of the hours of sleep I’ve been missing.

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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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Home…and a road trip

I’ve been in Canada barely three weeks and in that brief time the Okanagan valley has shaded into autumn. The orchards have gone from glistening green to tones of gold and bronze. The clouds drift low and heavy these mornings, moseying between the hills. The comforting patter of rain on the roof – a sound I hadn’t heard since early June – is an almost nightly feature. Along with the chill air comes a familiar fall melancholy; this sweet-sad reflective season has always been my favourite and remains so even here, where the spectacular autumn colours of eastern Canada are so muted.

Three weeks: one of jet-lagged disorientation and a flutter of Canadian Thanksgiving preparation, another of pleasant local travel with friends and finally some days of gathering thoughts, considering where I’m at and what might come next. While I chew on that, here is a small representation of my recent wanderings and the beauty that resides within a days’ reach.