A-Sitting On A Tell (Or: Just Another Day in the Field)

4.30 o’clock. Ante meridiem. Definitely too early for an honest “Good morning.” not pressed through clenched teeth. It’s still dark outside, the dim light barely enough to distinguish a black thread from a white one: The muezzin just called the faithful to prayer and, probably unintentionally, the archaeologists to finally get up as well. Breakfast at such an early hour basically consists of not more than some strong tea, a slice of soft white flatbread (which will be rather dry within the hour), and a handful of olives – taken in the quiet and still fresh morning air of the excavation house’s courtyard in the light of setting stars and a single light bulb. Actually, it’s too early for an honest breakfast too.

The next 20 minutes or so expedition’s staff is silently gathering over tea and bread in dining room and yard before it is time to go. For work, finally. On leaving the historic oriental brick-house in the old part of this eastern Anatolian town, everyone grabs a piece of equipment or provisions for the day to come and one after another heads through the narrow alleys towards the waiting mini bus and driver. A 20-minutes-ride through yet still abandoned streets lies ahead – to the excavation site outside and beyond town. The last chance for a nap.

To work. Through dim alleyways. (Photo: J. Notroff)

To work. Through dim alleyways.
(Photo: J. Notroff)


From legacy data to drones

While my archaeological journey began in Italy and I still hang out with the Etruscans of Poggio Civitate, my day job is with the Archaeological Exploration of Sardis as the Publications Data Manager, a brand new position which I began in March of 2014, and FINALLY I’ve made it to site after messing with their data, images, documentation, and all things print and digital. Most of the time I’m in Cambridge (Somerville to be exact) cleaning up data, digitizing images, archivally storing those images, copy editing, website developing, and answering questions from scholars and fans of the Lydians and those who came after at Sardis.

My first day on site began with a ride in a land rover far older than I, crammed into the back with six conservators and equipment, to watch them take photos and take care of business on some newly exposed floor levels. The thing sounds like a swarm of bees, but looks like a good time to play with.  It’s less fun to have it flying right above you as you sweep a floor.  I got to hold a newly-lifted vessel in a box on its way back in the Land Rover to the compound.

Now I’m becoming accustomed to this depot, and after an hour it feels like home. I finally have the chance to weigh and measure a set of Byzantine glass weights that a scholar asked about a couple months ago for a new publication on this object type. Feels good to finally hold in my hands the objects I’ve only longingly gazed at in the images I archived.  Here at Sardis I’ve seen over 50 years of excavation, from paper tags to photogrammetry, shovels and drones, ancient past, less ancient past, recent past, present, and future.  So happy to be a part of it all.

Early morning photography of cleaned surfaces in some of this year's excavation units

Early morning photography of cleaned surfaces in some of this year’s excavation units

My natural habitat among boxes of artifacts

My natural habitat among boxes of artifacts

Day Of Archaeology at Neolithic Asikli, Turkey

Hi from  Central Anatolia, Turkey

On this Archeology Day, we celebrate all archeologists who have given their support, in the field, in libraries, at museums, and at home, in an effort to understand all stages of human history.

Sea People at Aşıklı

25th season at Aşıklı

The archaeological excavations and research that we first started in 1989 under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Ufuk Esin, to understand the earliest sedentary communities in Central Anatolia, is now in its 25th year. We extend our gratitude to everyone who worked with us as part of the team or who supported our work over these past 25 years as well as to our new members. 25 years was almost a lifetime for the Aşıklı community who lived 10,000 years ago. Understanding in depth the Aşıklı community, its lifestyle, habits, behaviours, and belief systems, and to share this knowledge with others, excites us today as much as it did in the first years.

Please follow our work:



The Many Hats of Directing an Archaeology Program

My name is James Newhard, and I am Director of the Archaeology Program at the College of Charleston (SC), a position which I have held since July of this year.  This is the second time that I’ve held this position (the first time, between 2005-2008).  In between my first and second term, I served as chair of the Department of Classics (2008-2010).

In my training, I held a focus early on in classical archaeology, earning degrees in classical languages and classical art and archaeology at the University of Missouri, before graduate work in classical and pre-classical archaeology at the University of Cincinnati.  Along the way, I also worked as a staff archaeologist at the CRM firm of Gray and Pape, Inc., and held a geoarchaeological fellowship at the Wiener Laboratory at the American School for Classical Studies in Athens.

The diversity of experiences has served me well in understanding the variety of archaeological approaches and methods in play in an active, multidisciplinary program.  Charleston, SC is a unique place in terms of archaeological activity, possessing in its environs evidence for Native American, Euro-American contact, colonial, ante-bellum plantation, and post-civil war systems of organization.

CofC students excavating at Hampton Plantation, SC

College of Charleston students excavating at Hampton Plantation, SC. Photo courtesy of Dr. Barbara Borg

In addition, there are significant sites of military conflict in the area (American Revolution and Civil War). All of these activities and periods of history are found both on land and offshore.  Archaeological studies by faculty and other entities are constant in the area, providing local opportunities for student engagement that few other areas of North America can offer.  In addition to the local archaeological wealth, the College is home to scholars actively involved in the Mediterranean, Near East, eastern and western Europe, and Egypt.

As in many American universities, archaeology at the College of Charleston is an interdisciplinary program, pulling its coursework, faculty, and students from cognate programs.  As Director, my role is to coordinate and communicate the course offerings provided by the constituent programs (Anthropology, Art History, Biology, Chemistry, Classics, Computer Science, Geology, History, Historic Preservation, and Mathematics) to faculty and students, receive and distribute information about internship opportunities and supervise their academic components; build community across the program via social media and events; engage with departmental chairs, program directors, and deans on academic programming to strengthen the program and cognate areas; promote the research and other activities of faculty and students; lead discussions among the program’s Steering Committee in regards to curriculum design and management; advise students; recruit new students; and in general to promote academic and research cooperation across the institution and with relevant local, state, federal, and private entities in the area.  In these activities, I am provided with some administrative assistance to facilitate communication with various stakeholders and maintain records useful for tracking the program’s progress and activities.

I still retain my appointment to the Department of Classics, where I teach typically in the areas of introductory Latin and classical archaeology (focused upon Aegean Prehistory and Classical Greece, landscape archaeology, and computer applications in classics and archaeology), and contribute to discussions of curriculum, program development and promotion, and the general academic community.

As a scholar in my own right, I am involved as the Assistant Director for the Avkat Archaeological Project in central Turkey and

Fieldwalking in the Avkat region, central Turkey

Fieldwalking in the Avkat region, central Turkey. Photo: AAP Archives

Peter Bikoulis and Jim Newhard review in-field database systems on the Avkat Project, Turkey.

Peter Bikoulis and Jim Newhard review in-field database systems on the Avkat Project, Turkey. Photo: AAP Archives

the Göksu Archaeological Project in the Taurus Mountains.  My interest in survey archaeology has turned my attention to the intersections of survey methodology, geospatial applications, and informatics.  I am currently designing the computing data systems for the study of the Linear B deposits from the Palace of Nestor and a number of other informatics and geospatial topics.  Currently in the analysis and publication phases for Avkat and Göksu, I am busy with processing these datasets, writing relevant sections of the publications, and managing ‘spinoff’ ideas that are an inevitable by-product of fieldwork.

Fortunately, these various roles tend to not happen all at once.  On the appointed ‘Day of Archaeology,’ my day was spent working in one of our GIS labs on campus, where we are developing methods to refine chronological and functional information derived from survey data.  Throughout the day, there was the scheduling of several meetings with students, faculty, and administrators for the week ahead; updating members of the archaeology staff on the development of a database to track internship opportunities; forwarding employment opportunities to Classics majors; reviewing abstracts for a professional conference; and communicating with collaborators on the progress of the publication for the Avkat project.  In the early afternoon, I briefly met with several students in geospatial informatics about the status of several ongoing research projects and how they may become engaged, and reviewed the efficacy of recently-obtained 3D visualization software.

Newhard, wearing a hat

Newhard, wearing a hat. Photo by permission of author.

As an academic archaeologist with administrative duties, one wears many hats.  As I work in the field of archaeology, I find that the skills and knowledge critical to most tasks are not the ones that were the subject of comprehensive and final exams.  Archaeology is as much a process of working with people as it is with the artifacts.  No day is the same, but in most cases, the day is full with any number of activities that engages the mind, other people, and our combined understanding of the past and its applications to our present condition.

Digging Glass: A Day in the Glass Lab

June 29th found me, as it usually does, doing archaeology.  Some years I’m excavating, some years I am lecturing to groups who are visiting sites like the ones I’ve excavated, and some years, like this one, I am working away on the publication of finds from all those years of excavating.

Glass is a beautiful, seductive material and a rich source of evidence about technical and aesthetic aspects of a culture and about the complex processes of exchange and influence between cultures.  Glass — luxurious, expensive, and resource intensive — reflects the decision-making of the elites and their sense of style. The production of glass is a fundamental technology based on complex technical knowledge and specialized skill. Glass, discovered by accident, grew to transform the environment of daily life by brightening tables and structures. The story of the coming of age of glass is one of the fascinating stories in the history of technology. One you should check into.

I am currently working on the glass from three sites:  Aila and Humaya in Jordan, and Gordion in Turkey.  The glass recovered from these three sites covers the gamut of glass forming technologies (molded, core-formed, mosaic, blown) and ancient periods of production (Iron Age through early Islamic).  So working on archaeological glass asks for a dedication to the material itself in all its life phases and permutations.  Ever since I worked at the Jamestown Glasshouse during my undergraduate years, it’s been glass for me just as it’s coins or bones or pottery for someone else.

Today, on the Day of Archaeology, it’s Roman glass from Gordion, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Phrygia.  I am beginning to write up the chapter on Roman glass for a final report.

Gordion had an interesting Roman period, one until recently mostly overlooked, and has produced interesting Roman glass that reveals periods of economic prosperity, a taste for luxury glass tablewares, and information about Gordion’s connections to the outer world in the period.

For today, a closer look at a heavily weathered fragmentary mosaic bowl.

mosaic bowl fragments

Heavily weathered fragments of mosaic bowl in new container.

As with the study of other artifact, the study of this glass has several stages.  Because we are not permitted to remove the glass from Turkey, I have carefully examined, measured, described, and drawn each artifact in the depots at the excavation house near Gordion.  Here in my lab at Bucknell University this summer I am working from my drawings, notes, and from photographs I have taken in Turkey (some of which are below).

This fragmentary bowl was excavated in 1951 and had received relatively little (no?) attention over the years.  Several years ago we moved the fragments from a candy box with tissue paper padding into a beautifully designed container created by Ariel O’Connor, a Gordion conservation intern.  It has been a puzzling vessel for me because of the heavy weathering, but seemed clearly to be a mosaic bowl of some sort. I have worked with conservators on site to remove some of the weathering layers to see what lay below.  What you see in the following photos is what we found.

Cleaned fragment.

Cleaned fragment with color scheme of mosaic strips visible (back lit).

Great excitement as we uncover gold!

Cleaned fragment with gold band visible in sunlight.

Fragment with gold band (back lit).

Quite a difference from those gray, filmy pieces in the first picture!

Here’s a photo of  part of the rim of the bowl:

Cleaned fragment of rim (back lit).


Today, in my library full of studies of excavated glass and museum collections, I have been trying to figure out the technique, color scheme, and date of the vessel.  I am also trying to locate comparable excavated pieces or pieces in collections that will give me hints to the origin and date.

A final entry on this piece in my field notebook says the fragments appear to show that the vessel was fashioned from tooled strips of canes with a repeating sequence of turquoise blue, yellow edged in purple, opaque white edged in dark blue, and colorless encasing shattered gold leaf.

A wonderful aspect of my job is spending a pleasant hour or so leafing through likely museum catalogues and that thrill of discovery when I find, just now, what I was looking for – a parallel in profile, technique, and color scheme, in a favorite publication – David Grose’s catalogue of early ancient glass in the Toledo Museum of Art (1989).

And the answer is:  The vessel is very likely a gold-band mosaic bowl of the early to mid-first century BCE.  The profile is that of a broad shallow bowl with an upright rim with a narrow rounded edge. It was likely assembled in sections from tooled, fused strips, molded, then rotary polished.  It is one of two bowls (some of the fragments are definitely from a second bowl).

New problem(!):  The bowl appears to come from a securely dated context – a destruction level – that’s a century earlier than that.  Hmm.  Well, this is how we make progress.   Stay tuned for the final publication!

Digging on the Web

On this “Day of Archaeology”, I’m busy preparing to head off to the field (in sunny Tuscany (!!)), square away some data, and finish work on some tech consulting.  That last bit is a clue that I’m not really a “normal archaeologist”. Actually, I’ve never met an archaeologist that I’d consider normal –  which is what attracted me to this field in first place. But even among archaeologists, I’m something of an odd-ball.

I have a background in Near Eastern archaeology, and did my dissertation research looking at interactions between Egypt and the Levant (modern Israel, Palestine, Lebanon) in the Early Bronze Age. But for various reasons, both personal and professional, I shifted gears toward the digital side of archaeology, co-founded a nonprofit with my wife (and boss!), and for the past 10 years, I’ve loved almost every minute of my work day. Except writing grant proposals (but there are some necessary evils in all work).

My research and professional interests focus on archaeological data, and much less on digging and field work for myself. This focus means I have a very different professional network, set of collaborators, and work life. Though I work closely with other archaeological professionals, I’m also heavily engaged with folks well outside the discipline, including Web and information scientists, digital librarians and archivists, technology companies, “digital humanists”, and researchers in scholarly communications.

I keep such odd company because I’m really interested in improving the way archaeologists communicate and share their research. Archaeology is intensely multidisciplinary and collaborative. It involves inputs from all sorts of different sciences, and many archaeologists work together in large teams. Sharing the results of all this research needs to reflect the collaborative nature of the field, and it needs to speak with people in other disciplines and walks of life. That’s why I’m so interested in making it archaeological data more open, easier to share, and easier to reuse.

My primary project is Open Context. It’s a system for publishing archaeological data, openly, on the Web, for all to browse and reuse. On this “Day of Archaeology”, I’m busy indexing tens of thousands of detailed records of archaeological contexts, objects, bones, and other material from Kenan Tepe, a major excavation in Turkey led by Bradley Parker. This collection represents the monumental effort of almost 10 years of field work. You can browse around its photo archives and see many thousands of pictures, mainly of dirt. Though it is free to access and use, the data are priceless. Excavation is a destructive process, and the documentation describing such excavations will be the only record available to revisit and re-analyze excavation results. That’s why comprehensive publishing with platforms like Open Context, as well as archiving with digital repositories like tDAR, the ADS, or the CDL is so important.

As this blog post should make clear, I love working with the Web. And what I like most about it is that I work with a growing and vibrant community of like minded people who want to see more from archaeology than costly journal articles read by a narrow few. The developers of ARK, Portable Antiquities, all the collaborators of Pelagios, and the bottom-up group linking archaeological data, are all hugely talented and make my work life rewarding and fun. All this makes archaeology (for me) as much about community and the future as it is about the past.

Behind the scenes at Current Publishing

Hello from Chiswick in West London, where the sun has finally come out and it’s all systems go in the Current Publishing office.

My name’s Carly – I’m the Editorial Assistant for Current Archaeology and Current World Archaeology, and as it’s the Day of Archaeology today I thought I’d take you behind the scenes to see how the magazines are put together.

Friday is treats day at Current Publishing, and today the morning got off to a very promising start with advertising maestro Mike earning literal brownie points by bringing in some baked goodies for us to share. We’re always excited when cake arrives in the office, and with one team birthday yesterday and two more imminent, there’s a lot of it about.

Right now we’re slap-bang in the middle of the press cycle. Our sister magazine Military History Monthly was sent to the printers yesterday, so today the full might of the design team has switched over to CWA, which is the next to go (in July).

Designer Justine is currently working her magic on the culture section, making our museum and book reviews look fabulous, while Art Editor Mark is experimenting with options for the next cover. At the moment we have 10 separate designs stuck up on the wall, which certainly brightens things up a bit!

CWA Editor Caitlin is putting the finishing touches to the last couple of features that are going into the next issue (#54), giving them a last polish before they are signed off as ‘ready to lay out’, while CA Editor Matt is out in the field, visiting an excavation at Oakington in Cambridgeshire where some seriously spectacular Anglo-Saxon burials are being uncovered. We covered the site in CA 261, and it’s fantastic to see that there are more stories to reveal. Watch this space for more information in CA 270!

Meanwhile, our boss Rob is tinkering with the ‘Flatplan’, doing clever things to the system we use to plan the layout of each issue, track the progress of articles and generally organise our lives, and our intern Roseanna is lending a hand with the news section, hunting for breaking stories all over the world. We’re always grateful for another pair of hands in the office, and it’s such fun sharing what media archaeology is all about with people who are as passionate about the past as we are.

This is the great thing about working at Current Publishing – we’re a small team but everyone has a unique and important role to play, and every day is different. Although I work for both magazines, because of where we’re at in the schedule I’ve been mostly focussing on CWA today. It’s great fun jumping between UK and international stories.

This morning I finished a two-page article about a site in Peru and wrote a fact box about Phrygians for a feature on Turkey, while this afternoon I’ve been sourcing pictures and turning around a breaking news story about World Heritage Sites for the CWA website.

Much like digging, you never know quite what each day is going to bring – but that’s what makes it so exciting.

Find out more – you can find Current Archaeology on Facebook here, or follow us on Twitter at @currentarchaeo.

Current World Archaeology’s Facebook page is here, and we tweet as @worldarchaeo. 

A Day of Archaeologists

Much of archaeology, especially in academia, comes down to how you spend your summer vacation. After finishing up the first year of a PhD at the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown University, this summer I’ve been making the project circuit in Italy and Jordan, the latter as part of the Brown University Petra Archaeological Project.

Today was the day off for the team, and met with a slow start after a late night of football and dancing under the stars on the roof of the dig house (aka Club Sayhoun). Day off or no day off, five of us were up early and ready for a six hour hike to Jebel Harun, the grave of Aaron (Arabic: Harun), brother of Moses. And what a hike it was- you can all check out Allison’s post detailing just why visiting the tomb has been a pilgrimage for almost two thousand years. To add to her sparkling narrative would hardly do it justice, so instead I’m going to focus on the archaeologists with whom I spent the day hiking to the top of the known Petra world.

The hiking team (from left to right): Sarah Craft, Andrew Moore, Linda Gosner, and Allison Mickel

Crafty just finished up the fourth year of her PhD at the Joukowsky Institute. She researches pilgrimage sites in central Turkey, so was mixing business and ‘pleasure’ in hiking up what seemed like 10000m in 30+ degree desert sun. She’s also been a great friend in my first year at Brown in showing me both the school and the city, and will be sorely missed this coming year as she lives in Istanbul with a fellowship at the Koç University Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations.

I just met Andrew this year at Petra, where he’s working for the first time after finishing his MA at the University of Colorado Boulder. In the last week I’ve already discovered he has a wicked sense of humour and, after today, I also know the man is a beast when it comes to an intense hike. I’m sure there must be some goat blood in his family tree somewhere.

Linda is another Brown student, so I’ve had the chance to get to know her pretty well in the last year. Aside from a shared love of dance (NB- she can actually dance, and I cannot), and a mutual hope for a Spain win against Italy on Sunday, we’ve also spent the last year in classes and brushing up on Latin to varying degrees of success. If I wanted to embarrass us both, I’d post the video of us re-enacting the opening scenes of the Lion King on the mountain today. I think this time discretion is the better part of valor.

Allison is another person I’ve had the good fortune to meet this season at Petra, and has just finished up her first year of a PhD at Stanford. We’ve already had some great chats about communicating archaeology to the public. I don’t know how she made it up the mountain after a serious bout of sickness yesterday, but after some strategic shady stops, a lot of water, and even more stairs we emerged victorious to greet the others and have some lunch.

Exhausted. A pilgrimage really is all about the journey.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of the discussion of archaeology focusses on the archaeology itself- on the site, the materials, the landscape, the archive, the publication. But at least to me, the personal interactions on days like today leave a more lasting impression. Meeting and developing friendships with these people- the archaeologists, my peers- is the thing that is ultimately the most rewarding aspect of a career in archaeology. I’m looking forward to similar days of archaeological pilgrimage, both in the rest of my season with BUPAP and in the future.