Çatalhöyük

The Gabii Project: Archaeology in The Information Age

Racel Opitz demonstrates use of the tablets to students .

Racel Opitz demonstrates use of the tablets to students .

Rachel Opitz doesn’t dig much at Gabii, but rather records. Leading a core team of four, her topography, data entry, and photogrammetric modelling unit is tasked with the construction of a digital database on a large scale.

“We have scale issues,” Rachel chuckles, “Well, they’re not issues because the method works.”

Rachel’s team has implemented strategies and introduced technologies aimed at increasing efficiency within The Gabii Project to support a large open area excavation. They upgrade software and propose new methods nearly every field season. Most recently, Rachel brought tablet technology to the scene, replacing almost all of the paper recording formerly done in the trenches with direct to digital recording on Panasonic ToughPads and Android tablets, linked in real-time to the project’s ARK database and GIS system.

“One of the reasons we were able to open such a large excavation area as is that the recording is just so fast,” Rachel states plainly. “You can answer very different archaeological questions working at this scale”

Several forms of digital recording can be uploaded and processed in real-time using the current configuration.

Several forms of digital recording can be uploaded and processed in real-time using the current configuration.

The Gabii Project isn’t the only dig using digital recording. Excavations at Çatalhöyük and Pompeii—to name a couple high-profile cases—are also making use of similar systems, and such methods have been increasingly adopted in recent years. In Rachel’s opinion, what sets The Gabii Project apart is Program Director Nicola Terrenato’s insistence on using these systems extensively from the beginning.

“More and more people are doing some variant on what we’re doing, and that’s a good thing. Of course we try to stay at the forefront, so five years from now we’ll be doing something totally different.”

 

You can follow Rachel’s work at: http://gabiiserver.adsroot.itcs.umich.edu/gabiigoesdigital/

Hand Crafted, Microbrewed, Mobile, and Field Friendly Database Solutions– Tyler Wilson

Happy Day of Archaeology! Take a moment today and think about the imprint you will leave in the ground when you’re gone! As a trained osteologist and physical anthropologist, I am familiar with bones, graves, and the grave goods our loved ones leave for us when we’re departed. I have participated in many traditional digs because, as archaeologists, we all love to uncover the past.

However, my current work with the Center for Digital Archaeology (CoDA) at UC Berkeley is anything but traditional. As Informatics Specialist I work with our CTO and Founder Michael Ashley to develop hand crafted, microbrewed, mobile, and field friendly database solutions to harmonize and collect all archaeological data directly from the dig site. This is done through our remarkable Codifi database, a mobile database solution run on iOS and Windows and implemented on iPads in the field. We have deployed our Codifi solution at many sites around the world, and I feel strongly that I am contributing not only to the growth of the field of archaeology but also making archaeologists’ work easier and more intuitive.

The work I do now is primarily about content and media. Storing, managing, adding and preserving metadata, relating, and presenting to a user. Archaeologists love content, as we should, our work is dedicated to its discovery and understanding. I’m glad that the work I do is enabling archaeologists to more easily create, manage, and relate their content as they find it. I enjoy being connected to digs in Turkey, Jordan, and throughout the Middle East, and empowering not only the data collecting process, but also the knowledge gathered from it to inform cultural heritage.

An example of one of these fantastic projects:

 Last_House_on_the_Hill

Last House on the Hill (LHOTH) brings together incredibly rich digital media with all of the archaeological data to company the 600+ page physical monograph into a single, but multi-vocal accounting of the UC Berkeley excavations at Çatalhöyük, Turkey. Explorers of LHOTH will find they can easily traverse what would otherwise be an unwieldy amount of content. Ruth Tringham, the project director and the Creative Director@CoDA, has poured thousands and thousands of hours into LHOTH, finding deep satisfaction in bringing this remarkable resource to life.

Making sense of an unusual multiple burial at Çatalhöyük

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While it’s been a much slower season in terms of burials excavated this year, the quality of the finds thus far has been exceptional. One particular burial in Building 52 alone – still in the process of excavation – has already provided a number of very exciting discoveries. When the grave cut in the Northwest platform was opened several weeks ago we were confronted with what seemed a jumble of disarticulated juvenile skulls and and other loose bones. As the grave fill was gradually removed, however, we began to make sense of it all. The first intact body we came across belonged to an infant placed in the Northwest part of the grave cut. I’ve already reported on the well-preserved textiles found underneath this infant. Later, however, as we removed the last of the fabric we realized there was an older child lying directly beneath the infant. It seems the textile was placed between the two bodies but did not appear to wrap around either of them. This second child was also found with a wooden object – possibly a bowl – placed over its head. While Mellaart found a number of wooden household objects during his work at Çatal in the 1960′s, this is the first time such items have been found during the current excavations (this post continues here).

Admin, Aurochs and Adventures: an academic’s Day of Archaeology

By Jacqui Mulville, Reader in Bioarchaeology/ Head of Archaeology, Cardiff University, Wales

Just back from a week at Çatalhöyük, Turkey and still catching up on various issues.   Working as an archaeological academic is a bewildering mix of teaching, research, administration, fieldwork and engagement.

So far today I have tackled opportunities for postgraduates to teach next year, read a draft PhD chapter, virtually checked up on the faunal and conservation team left out at Çatalhöyük (they are at Gobekli Tepe as I write – see Facebook for the images), checked teaching timetables, planned staffing and activities for our ‘Lunatiks and Sun worshippers’ Guerilla Archaeology event at Wilderness Festival as well as mused on the history and archaeology of Nazi sun worship and written a student reference.  It is 10.30am.

We have students and staff scattered around the world in the summer months and keeping track of them all is a huge task. I have just left one postgraduate and four students out at Çatalhöyük in Turkey working as faunal analysts and conservators. Elsewhere there are groups of students excavating at Ham Hill in Somerset with Prof Niall Sharples, and crawling around caves in Montenegro with Dr Dusan Boric, as well many other students dotted around at various locations.

Fieldwork is probably one of the highlights of archaeological research and we prize the process, the products and the insights from hands-on archaeology highly. Indeed at Cardiff we make all our undergraduate students do eight weeks fieldwork or conservation placements.  Some of them do not enjoy the experience, it can be muddy, frustrating, back breaking, boring, painstaking and painful – however the majority leave with improved knowledge, skills and experiences as well as a whole new raft of friends.  The challenges of working closely with other people, often away from home, comforts and familiar routines can be hard.  I always know that at the end of the first week I feel a strong urge to leave, but if I wait a day or two the whole thing suddenly slots into place and the excavation becomes a new ‘home’.

This year my fieldwork has been curtailed due to an injury so I only spent a short time at Çatalhöyük over the eight-week excavation season.  I am ‘Faunal Team Leader’ and I was once again be beguiled by the giant aurochs bones and buccrania (skulls), the huge wild pigs and the tiny horses.  Aurochs have been extinct in Britain since about the Bronze Age and are extremely rare in assemblages therefore handling these huge bones is always astounding.

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Aurochs skull being reconstructed by a Cardiff conservation student

Part of our research at Çatalhöyük this year was focused on understanding a series of early mixed human and animal deposits found lying outside the site (excarnation, butchery, consumption) as well as continuing to look at cattle domestication (strangely late at Çatalhöyük compared to other sites in the region) and the role of wild species in this domesticating society. There are interesting changes towards the end of the Neolithic sequences – in terms of the species present, the houses, art and artefacts (including hunting tools) that seem to coincide with the appearance of domestic cattle – so were these Çatalhöyük cowboys different to their predecessors? We also are trying to map changing rates of accumulation in houses and middens to better understand how, and hopefully why, the inhabitants managed their waste.

Summer for Cardiff archaeology is also festival time; we take staff, students and alumni to music festivals to tell people about archaeological research. Guerilla Archaeology is in its third year of festival attendance and kicked off 2013 with a very successful Glastonbury trip. You still have time to catch us at Wilderness, Shambala or at the London Shuffle festival (curated by Danny Boyle!). Look out for my ‘24th century BC Party People’ piece in the program at the former, discussing the archaeology of festivals.

Speaking to people about my research has quickly become one of the highlights of my job. The challenges of explaining what we do and why it is interesting, important or revealing really gets me thinking about both modern and ancient humans as well as challenging assumptions and exposes the gaping holes in my knowledge. I have read more, and more widely, than ever before as a result of these interactions and whole new areas of research activities and ideas have developed from outreach activities. Just speaking to fellow academics can become rather insular and isolating, so getting out there can really impact on yourself as well as the wider public.

Anyhow it is now 11:04 and the various claims on my time are calling…. so back to work. I have the final edits of a monograph on sea level change in the Isles of Scilly to complete and a Swiss grant application to review – though I would rather be at Gobekli Tepe  looking at the carved animals on the monoliths…

Have a great day of archaeology!

 

End of the Academic Year at York

Today seems a very opportune moment to blog about my life as an archaeologist, as it’s the final day of the academic year at York, and everyone is revelling over the coming of summer.  I have something more to celebrate as well, as I’ve finally had time to sign the contract that turns my currently fixed-term position at York into an ‘open’ (permanent) lectureship.  Yay!

I have looked back at my contribution to the 2011 Day of Archaeology, and this has led me to reflect on the incredible changes that have presented themselves in my life since then.  Exactly a year and one day ago I graduated with my PhD in Archaeology from Southampton, and then left for fieldwork at Çatalhöyük.  I started my post at York in January, and at the same time as launching into the design and teaching of a series of new classes and modules, I closed off some research projects (e.g., our Wellcome Collection Brains exhibition – see photo below!) whilst embarking on others (e.g., the Urban Cultural Heritage and Creative Practice collaborative).

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Me, June 2012, basking in the glow of my little acknowledgement at the Wellcome Collection exhibition, Brains: The Mind as Matter

Amidst all this activity, though, there has been one clear constant, and that is the relentless pace of scholarly life.  At any given time an academic is torn between a seemingly infinite number of obligations, and it would be difficult to accurately characterise the amount of multi-tasking—and the ever-increasing number of emails and responsibilities—that come with the job.  It’s such diversity and challenge that makes this lifestyle energising and inspiring for me—but it is also indescribably demanding, and there is a consistent concern in the back of my mind that I may have missed or skipped over something critical to my work in all the frenzy.  Today alone I had 3 student meetings and a departmental meeting to attend; I am negotiating the start-up of two new projects, and am analysing data from an ongoing project at King’s College London; I am preparing documentation for our fourth season at Çatalhöyük this summer; I am arranging a qualitative methods workshop to run in a couple of weeks, as well as helping to facilitate some filming at the Archaeology Department here in York around the same time; I have a book chapter that demands completion, along with an unspeakable number of emails in my inbox that require attention.  Even as I write this list, I can think of at least a half-dozen other tasks that need consideration.

But whilst the scale of the workload could be paralysing—or, at a minimum, disillusioning—I have moments every day where I think how fortunate I am to be doing what I’m doing.  Most often, these moments present themselves in my interactions with students and in teaching, something which I never would have expected given that so many people seem to disparage the experience of being a teacher.  For me, however, the enthusiasm of the students at York, the chance to watch them develop and experiment with their ideas, and the opportunity to see them present their work and gain confidence in themselves and in their intellectual capacities, make my job extraordinary.  The relentless nature of academia could easily consume you, I think, but it’s in those conceptual and material engagements with others that the frenzy slips away and you’re left with a sense of real inspiration.  Indeed, for me, it’s not just inspiration, but hopefulness and excitement about what’s to come tomorrow.

Çatalhöyük 2012: Week 1

Human remain crates at Çatalhöyük

Human remain crates at Çatalhöyük

 

My wife Camilla and I arrived at Çatalhöyük on Sunday morning with Christopher Knüsel after flying into Konya from Istanbul. Sabrina Agarwal joined us a day later with her graduate student Inbal. Clark Spencer Larsen and his graduate students Josh and Barbara arrived two days before us. With the arrival of Bonnie Glencross this morning, the Çatalhöyük 2012 human remains team is assembled and ready for action. Please continue reading at: A Bone to Pick

 

A day off – Faunal Team Catalhoyuk 2012

Friday is our day of rest, so we are at the pool! This week the excavations at the famous Neolithic settlement opened for the season. We are a joint team from Cardiff University UK, Stony Brook, US and Poznan, Poland looking at the faunal remains to understand the human:animal relationship at the site. This week we began the season by examining the bones from building 80 (late in the site but still about 7-8000 years ago). So far we have recorded domestic sheep and dogs, wild aurochs, boar, deer and horses as well as tortoise, stork and jackal. We have a worked aurochs scapula, maybe used as a shovel, a possible bone ‘flute’ and bone gouges.

Excavation is focusing on removing backfill from the previous years ready to start excavation in ernest next week. The focus this year is on a number of houses, some of which have already produced cattle horncore installations, wall paintings and human burials beneath the floors.

Hand prints from Building 77. Two of a long series of handprints. Photo by Ashley Lingle, Catalhoyuk Research Project

 

The team is building with 60ish of us so far, and increasing to about 150 by the end of next week.  There are labs for human and animal bones, pots, stones, plants, conservation and finds as well as two separate excavation areas.  It is hard to keep track of everyone, so we have posted our photos and names on our lab door so folk can ID us. The excavation is truly international with folk from Sweden, Poland, US, Canada, Turkey, Greece and of course Wales.

Our first day off is being spent at the lovely Dedeman Hotel by the pool using their internet (thanks!). There is extremely restricted internet access at the site.  A highlight this week was the Tarkan concert – a Turkish singing sensation who performed to about 20k people in a mall carpark.

We are looking forward to the rest of the seasons excavations – and working with all the different specialists on-site.   Rather than material being analysed months, or years after it is dug up, in different labs around the world we are all here together.    Roll on the excavations – well, after just one more dip in the pool…..

 

Multi-tasking on 29 July

Today is more or less a very normal day in my life as an archaeologist.  That life is full of multi-tasking – working on multiple projects at once, which together pay me (slightly less than) an archaeologist’s typical starting salary.  As testimony to my day, here’s my to-do list for 29 July.  I’m still working through it – and it’s the middle of the night on a Friday, sadly!

  1. Respond to emails related to curation of Wellcome exhibition
  2. Edit & circulate presentations on first-year undergraduate academic skills project at Southampton University
  3. File pay requisitions
  4. Collect & photocopy personal & academic materials in preparation for departure for Çatalhöyük
  5. Send draft copies of features for EPSRC-funded digital humanities exhibition to contributors
  6. Prepare web feature for Southampton Humanities website
  7. Review edits to Portus Project portal
  8. Respond to student enquiries
  9. Day of Archaeology post

I graduated with my PhD yesterday, and am preparing to leave for a couple of days in Italy & then a few weeks of fieldwork at Çatalhöyük, so things have been quite busy and perhaps slightly unusual.  Nevertheless, I would say that this to-do list is a fairly common representation of the juggling that I do on a daily basis – and it only scratches at the surface of some of the expectations and varied commitments that university-based archaeologists are constantly negotiating.  It also speaks to what I adore about this line of work: the diversity of tasks; the incredible institutional and project partnerships; the continuous energy and high pace of the job.

I’m off to press on with the list before this day officially comes to an end.  Wish me luck!

Me with degree... Technically this event happened yesterday (28 July), but I'm still trying to bask in the glow - ha!