Georgia

Anglo-Georgian Expedition to Nokalakevi (AGEN)

This season is the sixteenth of excavation by the Anglo-Georgian expedition at the multi-period site of Nokalakevi, the longest running international collaboration in Georgian archaeology. Working closely with colleagues from the Georgian National Museum and the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia an international team, primarily from the University of Winchester, has been in Nokalakevi since the 1st July.

Those with an interest in our work here can read more in our 2014 BAR publication of the first ten years’ results, and we are now in the process of writing our 2011-15 publication. In brief, however, the first significant settlement at Nokalakevi dates to the 8th/7th centuries BC from which period we have recovered double-headed zoomorphic figurines. The site was more or less continually occupied from then, with further peaks of activity in the 6th-5th centuries BC, and in the 4th-1st centuries BC. The distinctive features that survive at Nokalakevi today are the stunning fortifications dating to the time of the Laz kings and their Byzantine allies in the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries AD, culminating in the enormous refortification of the eastern gate under Justinian as he prepared for war with Persia.

This year, with a team including volunteers from Georgia, Britain, America and Nor way, we have worked in three trenches in Nokalakevi.

Trench A was located next to the eastern gate, and has provided evidence of the complete span of occupation here. Last week, after 16 seasons and 200 students, we reached the underlying natural deposit. Unlike the natural clay in Trenches B and C, in Trench A it was the bottom of a palaeochannel with rolled riverstones. The presence of a palaeochannel – and the visible movement of some groundwater through it even today – goes a considerable way to explain the difficulties we have experienced in recent years with water logging and standing water in the trench. The fragments of double-headed zoomorphic figurines recovered from Trench A, without any associated structures, might indicate deliberate deposition all practice at the edge of an area that would most likely have been marshy in the 8th/7th centuries BC.

Work has continued in Trench E when the weather allowed – this area too suffers with issues of waterlogging – and we have also opened five trenches at a new site 11 miles to the east, where evidence from test-pitting last year strongly supports the presence of a ‘lost’ Byzantine fort briefly held by the Persians during a military incursion into west Georgia and described by both Agathias and Procopius.

Having finished Trench C last year, we opened Trench F at the start of this season. Located across the top of the old Trench B the new area was designed to fully expose a Hellenistic structure which had been partially revealed in 2004 and 2005. Trench F successfully located the southwest corner of this structure, however we will need to extend it to the east and north next season in order to reveal the entirety of what now appears to be a very complicated structure, or structures.

After a month of hard work, spells of very bad weather and spells of very hot weather, today is the last day of the 2016 season. Tomorrow we pack up and head for Tbilisi for a brief stay before we fly home. We will all be sad to leave Nokalakevi, but we are already making plans for our return in 2017.

Of kurgans and more… a day of survey in eastern Georgia

Early wake up this morning: 6 am and we are ready to start our day of survey in the valleys of eastern Georgia!

The sunrise in Sighnaghi

The sunrise in Sighnaghi (Kakheti)

Today the EKAS (Early Kurgan archaeological survey) team is heading to the Iori valley, a quite desolated but promising area for our research aims. EKAS is a two-year project investigating mid-Early Bronze Age burial sites in southern Caucasus, related to my PhD research topic and funded by the University of Melbourne Fieldwork grant. The period of our interest is characterised by the deposition of community leaders in barrows, also locally known as kurgans. The aim of our project is to map and record these mounds for a better understanding of the relation between these features and the landscape.

The Iori valley is wide and barren and it is crossed approximately NW-SE by one of the tributaries of the Kura river, the Iori. Several sloping hills placed on each side of the valley surround an otherwise flat countryside. Numerous mounds, either natural or artificial, stand out clearly in the landscape.

After a preliminary analysis of satellite images and Soviet topomaps, we first drove across the stunning sunflower and wheat fields which currently cover a large portion of this area of Georgia. In doing this we detected several areas of interest, which we surveyed today. First going uphill, we walked several fields with different degrees of visibility: one field has been particularly rich in finds. A bag full of obsidian and few flint flakes, some of these natural and some worked, was collected. Particularly relevant is that obsidian is not attested locally; the nearest sources exploited since the Palaeolithic are located in a radius of more than 200 km.

Saba and Sofia fieldwalking

Saba and Sofia fieldwalking

We continued descending the hills towards the Iori, surveying various mounds and small hills. Some of these were clearly natural and did not show any sign of anthropic activity (apart from the daily passage of shepherds and their flocks). On others we found pottery sherds and obsidian flakes, possibly attesting the use of them as burial sites. One of these in fact was a burial mound and traces of previous excavation are still visible.

One of the surveyed mounds

One of the surveyed mounds

What also captured our interest while surveying the boundless fields of the Iori valley was a ridge mountain with caves and cavities overlooking the whole area.

The cave mountain

The cave mountain

The entire team became excited while later getting confirmation from a local farmer working his fields that villagers previously visited this mountain and retrieved some archaeological finds (deposited at the local museum of Sighnaghi). Here’s our destination for tomorrow…

Anglo-Georgian Expedition to Nokalakevi (AGEN)

In 2015 we mark the fifteenth season of excavation at the multi-period site of Nokalakevi by the Anglo-Georgian expedition, the longest running international collaboration in Georgian archaeology.

Those with an interest in our work here can read more in our 2014 BAR publication of the first ten years’ results, and we are now in the planning stages of our 2011-15 publication. In brief, however,  OSL dates obtained in 2013 indicate some Chalcolithic and Bronze Age occupation, but the first significant settlement at Nokalakevi dates to the 8th/7th centuries BC from which period we have recovered double-headed zoomorphic figurines. The site was more or less continually occupied from then, with further peaks of activity in the 6th-5th centuries BC, and in the 4th-1st centuries BC. The distinctive features that survive at Nokalakevi today are the stunning fortifications dating to the time of the Laz kings and their Byzantine allies in the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries AD, culminating in the enormous refortification of the eastern gate under Justinian as he prepared for war with Persia.

This year, with a team including volunteers from Georgia, Britain, Canada, France and America, we have worked in three trenches in Nokalakevi. Trench A is located next to the eastern gate, and has provided evidence of the complete span of occupation here. Currently we are investigating deposits from around the 8th century BC.

 

The picture in Trench C, in the west of the site, was markedly different. Last year it revealed elements of the dig house that served as the base for the National Museum’s 1973-1991 expedition, and the village hospital that preceded it. This year was spent removing significant colluvial deposits, overlying an Early Medieval structure. Underneath the terrace cut for this building there were further colluvial deposits overlying natural. Trench E is located east of the the fortifications and was opened this June. It is currently providing evidence of medieval walls which post date the collapse/ destruction of the 6th century fortifications. We also opened four test pits at the site of a possible fortification 11 miles to the NE. Materials recovered from this work indicate that it may be contemporary with Nokalakevi and it is possible that it is the fortress that was briefly captured from the Byzantine/Laz garrison by a Persian army invading western Georgia. We plan to open full trenches here next year.

After a month of hard work, spells of very bad weather and spells of very hot weather, today is the last working day of the 2015 season. Tomorrow we pack up and head for Tbilisi for a brief stay before we fly home. We will all be sad to leave Nokalakevi, but we are already making plans for our return in 2016.

Anglo-Georgian Expedition to Nokalakevi (AGEN)

2014 sees the fourteenth season of excavation at the multi-period site of Nokalakevi by the Anglo-Georgian expedition, making us the longest running international collaboration in Georgian archaeology. Since we started coming out here there have been significant cultural, political and economic changes in Georgia most recent of which is the arrival of a 3G phone signal (and reliable electricity supply) to this rural part of western Georgia, and with it the internet and access to the Day of Archaeology tomorrow.

Those with an interest in our work here can read more in our recent publication of the first ten years, or in a brief article for the Antiquity project gallery published in 2010. Suffice to say here that the site was first settled (on current evidence) in the Chalcolithic, almost continually occupied until the 8th century AD, and restored as a significant regional locus in the 15th century. The distinctive features that survive at Nokalakevi today are the stunning fortifications dating to the time of the Laz kings and their Byzantine allies in the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries AD, culminating in the enormous refortification of the eastern gate under Justinian as he prepared for war with Persia.

Our work here has shed more and more light on the story of Nokalakevi, but at least as important, if not more so, has been our role in training the next generation of Georgian archaeologists alongside students/ volunteers from Britain, Ireland, the United States, Canada, Australia, Holland, Poland, France and Spain. We were the first to employ modern, western methodology in Georgia and its influence is clear as a young Georgian heritage sector prepares itself for the threats that accompany a stable and improving economic situation.

This year, as we look forward to contributing to the Day of Archaeology, we are working in two trenches (Trench A and Trench C). The former is located next to the eastern gate, and is currently investigating 8th/7th century BC layers from which we have already retrieved a number of fragments of double-headed zoomorphic figurines for which Nokalakevi is famous. The latter, recently opened after Trench B was completed, has already revealed elements of the dig house that served as the base for the National Museum’s 1973-1991 expedition, and the village hospital that preceded it. It was particularly interesting to investigate the old dig house, and to combine archaeological techniques with the oral testimony of those who remembered being students living there. However, with the last of the structural elements removed today, tomorrow holds the potential for exposing Byzantine deposits that lie underneath the terracing dug for the hospital in the late 19th century.

 

Historical Archaeology with Teens

Greetings from Thomson, Georgia, USA!

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We are thrilled to be participating in a Day of Archaeology! I am the Curator and Archaeologist of Hickory Hill, a historic site near Augusta, Georgia. On our 256 acres we have many archaeological sites. The one we have been working on since the summer of 2005 is the Jeffersonian Publishing Plant. All of the work is done by teenagers.

In 1910, populist statesman Thomas Edward Watson constructed a large brick building on the grounds of his home where he published a weekly newspaper, a monthly magazine (with a readership of about 30,000 people), books, and pamphlets. The building was quite large with 3 printing presses, 2 linotype machines, and 30 employees! Unfortunately, in the 1920s the structure burned and the remainder was torn down.

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Since 2005, we have been excavating at the site, now designated 9MF914, with our summer archaeology camp. This is a day camp for kids age 11 to 18 who are interested in participating in real archaeology — no seeded sand pits here.

The campers are trained in proper techniques as well as site preservation, mapping, and other necessary skills (Law of Superposition anyone). They spend the week excavating, screening, cleaning, and cataloging as any professionals would — and come back year after year to participate — not bad for rusty nails, bricks, and window glass. Who says kids are only interested in video games?!

This summer our junior archaeologists uncovered a cache of discarded ink rollers. They were terribly excited and did a fantastic job recovering the artifacts. The kids couldn’t wait to clean them.  Among their other finds are are remnants of equipment, bricks, every sort of rusty nail, and lots and lots of window glass!

They”ll be back next year.   So will we!  Keep digging!

 

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A Nevada CRM Archaeologist

This is my first post for the Day of Archaeology event.  I’d like to begin by thanking the organizers, advisors, and sponsors for conceiving of and making this event happen.  It’s important that we discuss archaeology across the world and get our work out to a broad audience.  All most people know about archaeology is what they see on the Discovery Channel or from Indiana Jones.

The road I took to get to a career in archaeology involved several u-turns and a few speed bumps.  Here is a quick history.  When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut, an airline pilot, or an archaeologist.  Since my family didn’t have the money for me to realize any of those goals I did what I thought was the next best thing and joined the Navy right out of high school.  I spent the next four and a half years working on EA-6B Prowlers as an aviation electronics technician.  During that time I went on a cruise on the USS Enterprise for six months in the Mediterranean and in the Persian Gulf.  We saw some great cities with great archaeology and history.  At this time, archaeology was something you saw on TV and included crusty old PhDs working in universities.  I never considered it as a career.

Near the end of my time in the Navy a random phone call landed me in commercial flight training at the Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  While there I received my private pilot’s license and finished the training for a few other licenses.  After a year and a half I transferred to the University of North Dakota to continue my flight training at the nations largest and most advanced collegiate flight training school.  UND Aerospace has an amazing program with state of the art aircraft and flight simulators.  It was a great experience.

While I was taking aviation classes I filled up my general education requirements with anthropology classes.  I still loved the science of archaeology, in particular paleoanthropology, but still didn’t see it as a career option.  I’m not sure why.  I think it was still just one of those fantasy fields that you never think you are capable of performing.

After a couple of years I started to lose my desire to fly commercially.  I just didn’t think I would get any satisfaction from shuttling people around the country for the rest of my life.  Sure the pay is good but there are a lot of things you can do that involve less stress if all you want is money.  I need a job that makes me feel good at the end of the day and that I look forward to going to everyday.  Since I still didn’t see archaeology as an option, even though I had taken most of the classes offered, I spent the next couple of years taking photography and math classes just for fun.  I know, I like math.  I’m probably the only CRM archaeologist that has used SOHCAHTOA to determine the exact angle for a transect.

During my penultimate year in college my professor, Dr. Melinda Leach, told me that I could graduate in one year with a degree in anthropology.  I just had to take all of the upper level classes and that would be it.  With no other direction I decided to go for it.  I had to take 18 credits during the fall and 15 credits during the spring and write, I think, five or six research papers during the year but in the end I graduated.  After graduation I went back to Seattle and worked with my brother’s father in law’s home remodeling company.  I hated it.

In the fall I went back to North Dakota to help with the big event that the department had planned the previous year.  We had Jane Goodall coming to speak to a packed house.  One day, while sitting in the student lounge, a former student, and friend, came up to me and said hi.  He was visiting because hurricane Katrina had destroyed his apartment in New Orleans and his company laid everyone off for a little while.  He asked what I was doing.  At the time I was getting ready to go on an Earthwatch expedition to dig in Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.  After that I had no plans.  He asked if I had checked Shovelbums.  Shovel what?

I educated myself on shovelbums.org, prepared my CV, and started on a job in Minnesota a week after I returned from Africa.  That was in October of 2005 and I’ve been in CRM ever since.  I’ve worked at all times of the year, on all phases of field archaeology and in 13 states.

In August of 2009 I began a one year MS program at the University of Georgia.  The program was intense but I received my Master of Science in Archaeological Recourse Management in July of 2010.  I’m currently working in the Great Basin of Nevada and love every minute of it!

So, I guess that wasn’t too brief.  My fiancé will tell you that brevity is not a trait that I possess.  Hopefully someone will get out of this that it’s never too late and you are never too old to get into the dynamic field of anthropology.   There are many paths that you can take to get to anthropology and there are just as many that you can take along your career.

My Chief in the Navy once told me how he decides whether a job or a position is right for him.  He said to look around at the people that have been doing your job and are at the ends of their careers.  Are they happy?  Are they doing what you would want to do?  My favorite thing about archaeology is that you can’t really tell what the future will bring.  You could be running a company, teaching at a university, or hosting your own show on the Discovery Channel, if they ever get back to science and history shows and away from reality shows.  The possibilities are nearly endless.

In my next post I’ll talk about the project I’m on right now and the wonders of monitoring.

 

Written northeast of Winnemucca, NV.