Brass monkeys


8:31am, F records zero degrees in Steel Dragon no. 72

I’m finding it very difficult to write my blog today as I think my brain might have frozen itself to the top of my skull in the night. I was woken this morning by my neck brushing the freezing wet edge of the blanket where my breath had been condensing, and then by realising that the dream I’d been having about living in a meat freezer was inspired by a true story. It’s gone bastard cold over the last couple of days in southern Iraq. Yesterday we drove to site, opened the door of the heated truck and decided to just pay the workmen and go home. We’ve all been making a lot of bad jokes about that explorer who died in the Antarctic earlier in the week, mostly involving references to going to bed to ‘shoot my bolt’. I haven’t had a shower for two days now as I can’t stand the idea of taking off either pair of trousers.


Thursday morning. M and I try to look on the bright side while the director pays the workmen to go home before we all perish.

I’ve become slightly obsessed with the temperature around the Ur dig house. A particular source of consternation is that it often seems to be warmer outside my steel shipping container than inside, leading me to wonder if I might be better off sleeping under it than inside it. Another anomaly was pointed out to us by G the conservator who has discovered that on cold days the fickle gods of thermodynamics converge on a patch of air just outside the front gate where it is for some reason several degrees warmer than anywhere else for a radius of about three feet. We’ve all trudged out to experience the phenomena accompanied by dark mutterings about geothermal springs, doorways to hell and Saddam’s missing nuclear weapons programme.

Here’s the token bit of archaeology which maintains my tenuous claim that this is an archaeological blog and not just a massive moan: I dug out all of the previously mentioned sub-floor vaults this week, confirming the initial findings that they contain absolutely sod all. This was rendered substantially more annoying by the hive of noisy activity in the adjacent area where F was shovelling out cuneiform tablets by the bucket-load to the sound of merry laughter. Most of the tablets are of the very small sort which we refer to as USB sticks. F’s new theory is that she’s digging a waiting room where everyone had to take a number and all the tablets are going to say ‘Please wait, you are number 74 in the queue’ or similar. I hope it’s a bookies.


I post Haider in the most recently dug vault with orders to repel the press and permission to use the small pick if necessary

The week’s work was punctuated by several official visits, the last and most disruptive of which came with a large herd of cops and press, who only managed to do moderate damage to the site. My one effort at shooing a cameraman out of one of my vaults only resulted in him scampering into the next room where he tripped spectacularly over the string dividing up my sampling spatials, pulling out several nails. I gave up at this point and F and I went off to hide in the tent until it was over.


One of the cops guarding the spoil heap and looking mean

3 thoughts on “Brass monkeys

  1. Jon Pattengill

    Hope your cold spell ends. While I was making a modest effort to make some money as a working cuneiform scribe, I actually tried out the system of making tiny memos, putting them in a basket and then at the end of the month taking them out and compiling their contents on a single tablet. Taking my cue from the Ur III scribes, I tried to be as systematic as possible. The system was “SDPAI”, “Small Document Providing Accounting Information.” This was a mnemonic device to help myself remember the sequence of “Sign (plus or minus), Date, Party (name of person or company), Amount, Item.” I did it for a couple of months, tallying my clay and firing expenditures, my glazed cuneiform coaster, trivet and wall plaque sales and threw in my regular paychecks and bills as well. It was fun and very satisfying. Somewhere there is or was a ledger that all the little guys that came out next to you went into. I hope you will find things you like next time.

    1. Jon Pattengill

      The warm spot outside the gate you mentioned is very interesting. If it registers warmer on a thermometer, it is physics at work, maybe a freak convergence of microwave transmitter beams or something. If it does NOT register on a thermometer, you have something paranormal, which is even more interesting. Ghosts typically cause cold spots, not warm ones, so maybe you have an unusually happy and friendly ghost there.


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