The modest amount of pottery emerging from my room fill
With nearly three weeks left of the project here in Iraq we stopped digging today. It seems that the three of us digging on site are finding too much archaeology for the people back at the house to handle and we’ve been cut off. It all started with the tablets when a week ago I got my best day’s catch of four monsters, which I presented to the conservator, only to find that she didn’t want any more. Apparently four nice big cuneiform tablets is a week’s conservation work. So instead I had to move on to a juicy looking buttress room which seemed to have a decent quantity of pottery sticking out of this. After the removal of less than a third of the room fill, which produced a healthy eight or nine sacks full of pottery, I was again asked to stop; F and S in the other trenches had been producing similar quantities of the stuff and the poor young ceramicist was now washing our pottery with his human tears. He likes pots, you’d have thought he’d be happy. In any case, we are now sullenly back-filling and completing our records.
Fiery danger fish
As everyone seems to be getting a bit flaky after two and a half months (last week we invented potato rugby, which was all fun and games until J caught a hefty one right on the ear), we made this weekend a long one and accepted an invitation to the marshes. I made this as horrible as possible for myself by vigourously attacking my remaining whiskey the night before, drunkenly annoying people I like and then having to spend a very hung-over day in a moving boat. Things almost came to a head on an island in the middle of the marsh when our hosts cooked us some large fish for lunch. Luckily the salty, fatty fish had a curative effect rather than the reverse and a cross-cultural incident was averted. I came close to a relapse later when we encountered an especially buoyant cat.
After not sleeping at all in a very lovely reed-built house, we got up early to watch the sun rise and have breakfast in the marshes. After the sun had run through the usual old routine, we moored up on a section of Sadam’s marsh road and spread our breakfast mat on the tarmac. Sadam Hussein built the road to move his tanks through the area after he had had the marshes drained. Now they’re reflooded, the road is mostly submerged and is slowly dissolving away. I kicked a little chunk off into the water and watched it sink.
Sadam’s marsh road, now thoroughly shat on by water buffalo and gnawed at by dogs
The boys compare torsos: I am satisfied that none of us are in fact androids
We’ve finally had two consecutive full days on site after a lot of delays. These have been mostly due to rain but there was also the many joys of the goverment medical inspection, which involved a full day in Nasiriyah being tested for AIDS and having our chests X-rayed. As one of the healthier looking expedition members (I am one of the few with working knees) I was spared the x-ray, which was lucky as I didn’t want to have a conversation about underwired bras with an Iraqi doctor. They took my blood though, after which I had the sleeve of my jumper immediately, and rather aggressively, tugged back down by a burly old woman, least the men be aroused by the sight of my naked elbow.
Visit to Eridu: Bricks, bitumen, bullets
[insert phallic quip]
On site it was time for some photography today. As we are a highly advanced technological project this was not the usual matter of shinning up a stepladder, putting the camera on auto and hoping for the best. Instead we got out the fifteen meter long telescopic ‘quickshot’ pole (which causes much consternation at airports due to its visual similarity to a rocket launcher coupled with the fact it has ‘Quickshot’ written on the side of it). After buckling staff member A into the harness, and enduring an extraordinarily large amount of faffing, we extended the pole to its full height, giving the impression that A was going fishing for enormous salmon. Various parts of the pole then proceeded to retract into each other, necessitating adjustments with allen keys, then the laptop into which the camera was plugged had to be turned off and on, before finally the camera ran out of battery just as we were ready to take some photos. Isn’t technology marvellous.
Test flight: the photo drone soars through the sky with the grace and directionality of an angry, drunk bee
There had been hope last week that even the camera-laptop-pole arrangement had had its day after the arrival on site of our new photo drone – a small sinister black rotorcraft related to the ones Amazon wants to use to deliver box sets (and the ones America uses to blow up Afghan weddings). This was successfully trialed last week, successfully taking several hundred photos of mud from various heights up to thirty metres. Alas, this brave new archaeological world is now on hold due to minor damage sustained in a heavy landing and it being discovered that we need permission from the Iraqi army to fly it. Thus our dreams are made dust.