Along the Tajo River around 90km east of Madrid, the ArchaeoSpain High School Field School is excavating the Medieval Castle of Zorita. The castle, said to have never been conquered by force, was built in the beginning of the 9th century as a Moorish fortress for Mohammed I of the Omayyad Dynasty of Córdoba. According to the Persian physician and writer Al-Razi, the Moors used the stones from the nearby abandoned Visigothic city of Recópolis to construct the walls. In 1174, the castle was given to the Order of Calatrava, one of Spain’s most famous group of knights. Zorita became the Order’s headquarters from the end of the 12th to the beginning of the 13th centuries. Our students, hailing from the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Canada, update us on their progress in units next to a Romanesque chapel inside the castle walls.
Samantha Odrowaz-Sekely, 16, Toronto, Canada:
For the past two weeks I have participated in the ArchaeoSpain program excavating at Castillo de Zorita de los Canes, in Guadalajara, Spain. This castle has a magnificent history: it was built by Arabs in the 9th century, then taken over by Christians, and it fell into the possession of the Calatrava Order. The most remarkable and thrilling find so far was a nearly complete skeleton. We found a skull, with a roof tile embedded in the head, in the first stratigraphic layer. As we continued digging around the skull, we uncovered a nearly complete skeleton! The skeleton, dubbed Rodrigo, was identified as male based on his hip structure. Rodrigo was missing both of his patellas, but was otherwise almost complete. We used small, delicate brushes to remove as much soil as possible while still providing the necessary amount of support for the skeleton. When it was time to remove Rodrigo, each set of bones was removed, starting with the left foot bones, and continued until the skull. Each set of bones was put in a separate bag, with a label to identify the bones. Overall, it is a truly exciting project!
Juan Merino, 17, Valencia, Spain:
We are a group of seven students and two professors who are digging in Zorita castle, in Guadalajara, Spain. The day starts at 6:30, with a quick breakfast and we immediately go up to the castle to start digging at 7:00. Today we were very excited because we were going to take “Rodrigo,” the skeleton we found a few days ago, out of his tomb. It was easier than expected, because Rodrigo’s tomb was only a hole in the ground, and a professional anthropologist helped us. Step by step, all the bones were put in boxes, one for the head, another for the left arm, etc. After a few minutes, the skeleton disappeared in front of my eyes, much faster than it had appeared. This experience was very exiting for me. In fact, it’s completely different from high school and I can’t stop feeling happy and very interested about all that is happening these days at the site. It’s really an adventure.
Madison Taylor, 16, Knoxville, Tennessee:
Today is the tenth day of our three-week-long excavation of the Castillo de Zorita de los Canes in Guadalajara, Spain. I worked with Kate to clean and to excavate Layer 104, and to attempt to puzzle together what the small room could have been used for.
Layer 104 is in the northeastern corner of area 2 and approximately two and a half meters by three and a half meters. Layer 104 is surrounded by walls (units 105 and 106) that consist of stone and Roman-style plaster and was the first thing we cleaned with brushes and small picks. The dirt throughout the unit was a dark beige color and was very dry, sandy, and dusty and contained many rocks and river stones ranging in size from a half a centimeter radius to 15 cm in length; the rocks made scraping the surface of Layer 104 difficult at times. Also, there are many pieces of charcoal and gypsum ranging in size from grainy dust to 3 centimeters in length. Roof tiles exist throughout the sandy layers and into the layers underneath. Toward the center of the unit is a piece of iron about 12 centimeters long and three jawbones and other bones of goats and sheep. We removed the animal bones but left the iron, waiting to remove it with the earth around it intact tomorrow. We scraped away approximately 3-5 centimeters off of the surface of unit 104 using picks and trowels and brushes. Many more bones were found; all of the bones found are likely animal because we have only found animal skulls and each intact, recognizable bone is animal. Sometimes, there were pieces of charcoal beneath the bones.
Also found were many pieces of ceramic. Smooth, plain, clay-colored shards to large chunks of green and manganese pottery were found. Some pieces had ripples on one facet. The green and manganese plate pieces that were found had a white background with black and white striped patterns in the shape of an eye and spots and shapes of a bluish-green. These pieces are thought to be Arab because of the color and pattern. Also found were pieces of glass about a centimeter in length and very thin and unclear, and iron nails. Overall, ceramic outweighed any find in numbers; about fifty or more pieces were uncovered. Layer 104 contains many different types of objects from animal bones to shards of ceramic to glass to iron. This leads one to believe that this area may have been a rubbish pit. The unit is between the wall of a church and a room, and it is isolated and comparably small, and yields no whole skeletons or whole ceramic vessels. We will continue to excavate to find out if this was a rubbish pit and what was thrown away. The objects inside this unit may tell us who used this pit, what the people of the castle ate, what they used as vessels, and what they burned to cook or fuel a flame with (charcoal). The structure next to the rubbish pit is thought to be a room for a castle prior or priest; this might also help us understand what this corner was used for.
Kate Hodge, 17, Henderson, Kentucky:
Today we began by excavating around a house-shaped structure. I was digging in the stratigraphic layer 104, which is outside the walls of the house in the northeastern corner of Area 2.
My goal was to dig down through 104 to see if the two flanking walls had an end point. This question has not yet been answered, as the trench is not deep enough to tell. Layer 104 has gray-white colored soil that is very light, sandy, and extremely dry. The soil frequently yields white, flaky gypsum and chunks of charcoal that are 0.5 to 3 centimeters in diameter. We have found many bone and pottery fragments along with some iron and glass in this layer as well. All of the bone fragments are presumably animal because the most recognizable ones belonged to a sheep or goat. The pottery ranges in color from white, to green-blue, to black. Many of the pieces lack decoration, but some have geometric patters painted or stamped on. This layer is thought to be a trash area because of the volume of random pottery shards, charcoal lumps, iron pieces, and bone fragments.
Sydney Comstock, 16, Kensington, Maryland:
Today was just like any other day on the site, exciting and fascinating. As always, the walk up to Zorita Castle was filled with beautiful views, but the site was where the real finds were waiting.
The team continued digging in Trench Two, which turned into a room from a few large rocks that begged for us to investigate them. The doorway is facing west with a fireplace in the eastern end of the structure. After brushing and excavating the walls, the team started in on the floor. Working on the southern end of the room was tough going, the soil was quite compact with a sandy brown coloring. Using a little pick, I slowly began to level out stratigraphic Layer 102, which contained pieces of rocks, white gypsum, and some pottery fragments. As I was troweling out the pieces of ground I had just excavated, something didn’t fit in with the light brown coloring of the surroundings. A white, smooth stone had revealed itself and shone differently than all the usual finds. I picked it up and approached the director of the site. Immediately his face lit up and as he showed it to the other director she let out a squeal. As they explained to me that I had stumbled upon an ax head from the Neolithic age! I couldn’t believe it. I had held something thousands of years old and it had survived those many years to tell its story. The room, located directly next to the church, was presumed by our director to be a home of a priest who probably owned the stone. These smooth pieces that were made into ax heads were revered by the many people in the medieval age and were considered to have magical powers. The stone itself was about seven centimeters with a dull but cut edge. On the opposite end of the rock a chip was made so it could be attached to a stick by tying it with leather. This could not have been a greater start to the day.
The rest of the time was spent working on Layer 111 at the western end of the room by the doorway. Although finding the ax head was by far the highlight of my workday, excavating in this new layer was exciting as well. Here, the soil had contained many medieval roof tiles that had fallen when the ceiling collapsed. Those were photographed, drawn, and removed. This layer was also filled with charcoal and white gypsum, giving it an Oreo-like effect. The soil surrounding it was much darker and although it had a sandy feel, a small pick was needed for the firm parts. Altogether the day had been a great one, filled with interesting finds and new information. I wonder what will be discovered tomorrow.