Ghosts of archaeology past

The deep magic of calling  down clouds using wet washing

The deep magic of calling down clouds using wet washing

The clouds are gathering over Erbil in a distressingly English way that makes me want to have a slice of cheese on toast and go to the pub. Even here autumn is on the way, in a sticky sort of 35°C manner. I’ve had my first autumn cold, probably due to the damage to my immune system wrought by two weeks of heavy drinking. As well as being snot-free once more, I’m currently enjoying my third day off thanks to the joys of the Kurdish election, so life seems good.

1911, Assur. A German archaeologist teaches a Sharqati workman how to annoy me

1911, Assur. A German archaeologist teaches a Sharqati workman how to annoy me

Work on site goes slowly onwards and downwards. Last week I started to tackle the Sharqatis. Sharqatis are men from Sharqat near Mosul who were trained by Germans a hundred years ago as excavators. This ancient knowledge has been passed down from father to son through the last century so that now they come fully trained to excavate new sites just as badly as the old ones. We have two. Don’t get me wrong, they’re very good at what they do, but we stopped doing a lot of those things fifty years ago. The main problem is that they want to find the walls and have very little interest in the stuff above and beside them like pits and late Medieval floors. As well as being very experienced in archaeology, they are very experienced in dealing with foreign archaeologists. When I ask them to please stop digging holes in things and to take the upper deposit out first they very politely say ‘yes, of course, whatever you say’. Then as soon as I walk away they laugh at my Egyptian Arabic and carry on digging big unstratigraphic trenches towards the wall face. I’ve had to start popping back after two minutes to catch them at it.

Meanwhile I’m continuing my explorations into the Erbil expat jungle. I’m amassing a large collection of business cards, including several important professors, three international consuls and the head of the Board of Intangible Cultural Heritage. I thought about getting some of my own printed but what would I put on them? ‘Homeless, penniless archaeologist, please feed me’, something like that? I’ve also extended my knowledge base in the realm of drinking establishments. I’ve found one around the corner where I can sit in the garden and the beer is reasonably priced, but because I’m a woman they set up a special table for me and whoever I’m with in the darkest corner. There is no women’s toilet. I feel like a leper. On Thursday night I went out with some other expats to try the new ‘Irish’ bar that opened last week. As it turned out it was owned by a Jordanian man and his Lebanese wife and only served German beer. A few forlorn shamrocks hid in a dark corner by the appalling DJ. When we left they tried to charge us a $50 per head cover charge and for a large meal we hadn’t eaten. We paid them for the actual things we’d drunk, told them we would never come here again and went somewhere better. I’d been hoping for Guinness and singing.

I like my archaeology with a decent view

I like my archaeology with a decent view


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