Category Archives: weather

Things in fog

The sun burning off the fog just in time to prevent my wet shirt becoming improper

The sun burning off the fog just in time to prevent my wet shirt becoming improper

When the weather forecast said it would be cloudy I’d imagined us being under the clouds rather than in them, but then life thrives on these little misunderstandings. It’s an incentive to the process of waking up when the first thing you have to do in the morning is to find a deep hole in long grass and dense fog. Having successfully located my trench without breaking my legs I got back down to the more weighty problem of finding any archaeology in it. I’ve spent that last three days digging through a metre and a half of melted tell slush, which has led to a certain amount of ill-temper and wistful thoughts about sandy Egyptian sites. On the positive, shovelling heavy clay from depth is one of the best abdominal workouts I know, next to a good long bout of sea sickness.

The view outside my bedroom door where the stuff sits and smells of wet cardboard

The view outside my bedroom door where the stuff sits and smells of wet cardboard

The fact that all we’re finding is pottery has led to an unhealthy obsession with the stuff on the part of many of the excavation team, resulting in long and extremely tedious conversations about rim profiles and fabric types during which I nod, say ‘hmm’ a lot, and dwell on how pottery fragments always give me a craving for McVities digestive biscuits. I think it’s all hateful and wish we had a proper ceramicist so I wouldn’t have to pretend to care.

As I was walking back from taking the backsite for the dumpy today, a lone donkey came trotting down the road with an unusual air of purpose. It seemed uncertain as to who’d get off the road for who, but a frank exchange of views and a large level scale decided the matter and he went round. But I do wonder what the hurry was. I returned for breakfast to find that there was no tea left and that all our Laughing Cow cheese triangles had been replaced with Iraqi Wonder Cow, which tastes mostly of petrol.

A terrible fraud has been committed

A terrible fraud has been committed

What? Donkey of unknown provenance and destination

What? Donkey of unknown provenance and destination

All I want for christmas: pork and rain

Our conservator after trying to consolidate this coffin for six days. I shall never forget the howl of misery with which she blessed its collapse when we tried to remove it.

Our conservator after trying to consolidate this coffin for six days. I shall never forget the howl of misery with which she blessed its collapse when we tried to remove it.

Like all dutiful (single) archaeologists I have returned home to my parents for Christmas. The end of the season was pretty busy and tiring, although largely because we kept staying up late to get to the end of the dvd of Our Mutual Friend (BBC, 1998). We managed, in the end, to watch three period dramas, dig up nearly a hundred dead people, send only two team members to the doctor, and give one of our conservators a real life nervous breakdown, so a good season all round.

I’m suffering the usual amount of culture shock. It hasn’t stopped raining since the plane broke through the clouds over Manchester airport, my mother took me straight to a carol service in the local medieval church where I felt odd and then fell asleep, and I’m only now starting to remember that toilets have a flush after two months of throwing the paper down a big hole and walking away.

Dreary rain at Manchester

Dreary rain at Manchester

I’ve been at home now for a whole day during which I’ve attempted to eat my body weight in pork. I bought a quantity of large German sausages and a jar of mustard on my way through Frankfurt airport, only to find 6kg of ham at home due to my parents making a happy error in their christmas meat order. I’ve also had to engage in some highly unsuccessful Christmas shopping – my parents made me promise some years ago that I would desist from buying them any more presents in Middle Eastern souqs. Apparently my mother considers there to be a limit to the number of scarves a person can usefully own. I hope she likes tea towels. I have already presented her with my traditional christmas gift of a large bag full of dirty clothes and sand.

My last find of the season; some mashed up painted coffin bits

My last find of the season; some mashed up painted coffin bits

This may be my last post for a little bit. I was supposed to be digging in Iraq after new year but there’s been a delay over the security arrangements (quelle surprise) leaving me stuck at home for most of January, digging up nothing but a new overdraft in a very very very wet place.

Digging up old stuff in a cold place

Doodoo and Oy (who are gay lovers), discovered in the clean washing

Doodoo and Oy (who are gay lovers), discovered in the clean washing

It’s now gone very cold here and I’m wearing more socks than I can comfortably fit in my shoes. Cold doesn’t last very long in Middle Egypt and the locals seems to act as if surprised and slightly betrayed. Galibiyas are horrible drafty things. This morning I was first into the kitchen for breakfast and found two of the dig house cats sleeping in the clean washing box. The little monsters will do anything to get inside; I keep finding them hiding in the shower, to our mutual surprise. I can hear them scratching at the door from the roof as I write this.

The workmen, in the spirit of Captain Scott, accept their fate and wait for death

The workmen, in the spirit of Captain Scott, accept their fate and wait for the end.

The workmen are just as bad. In the morning they huddle together with a wild look in their eyes as if the world has gone mad and there’s nothing to do but wait for icy death. No one was laughing, however, when it was found that the thermos flasks hadn’t made it to site and we couldn’t make instant noodles. This was especially galling as we’d been down to only chicken flavour for the last week but had been re-supplied that morning with beef. I cried inwardly over my unopened beefy breakfast.

One of our many mysteries was solved today; the disappearance of all the sheets. My Australian colleague J- confessed at dinner that she has finally taken a blanket from the stores as it’s got so cold. We all gaped in astonishment (we all know D- has been under five blankets for the last week and would have taken more if the extra weight wasn’t a risk to life). It seems J- has been unwilling to take her turn in the flea-infestation-blanket-lottery and has instead been adding extra sheets to stave off hypothermia. We find, in fact, that she has fifteen sheets on her bed, not counting the one she sleeps on top of. As A- commented, “sometimes I think I’m a bit strange, and then I go and excavate with people.”

and a further mystery: how did I take this picture of my bony gloves? I now mostly use my laptop for warmth.

and a further mystery: how did I take this picture of my bony gloves? I now mostly use my laptop for warmth.

 

The mystery of dinner is also about to be solved with what appears to be potato pizza.

Wind and kids

On my 29th birthday I got this baby in a box

On my 29th birthday I got this baby in a box

We’ve had wind now for two days (in the metrological sense you understand) and everyone is very tired, and frustrated and thoroughly exfoliated. I’m digging next to my French colleague who punctuates the working day with “Uh, putain!” about once every twenty minutes as the wind sends another little avalanche of sand into the beautifully clean burial she’s trying to plan. I excavated a child today which is the most irritating sort of burial in these windy times, as there are more bones and they are extra small and easily blown away/misplaced/trodden on etc.

It’s somewhat disconcerting that I have more contact with dead children than live ones. They just aren’t the people I need to deal with on a day to day basis, and I find myself unwelcome around live children and their parents due to my foul mouth and inappropriate anecdotes. A dead-centric view of childhood is something which can be awkward around parents, for example, I pretend to remember how old my friend’s kids are by imagining how long they would be if they laid on the ground: “so Emma must be…” [about the same length as Individual 163 from last season, so] “…four now?”

My worryingly soft and hairy nephew

My worryingly un-solid (and hairy) nephew

I became an aunt very recently and all I can think of when I see my nephew is how very little of him is solid; babies are almost all flesh (and sick and compressed gasses). His pelvis is in six parts instead of two; how weird is that? Baby skeletons do nothing to dispel my association of pregnancy with the dinner table scene from Alien.

Quote of the day: “The wind blew my knee caps away.” – J on the woes of windy grave digging.

A hard rain

Wet Egypt

Wet Egypt

I’m writing this post at 7am as we are stuck in the dig house waiting for it to stop raining. If this was what I was after I would have stuck with British archaeology. I estimate we’re about an hour from someone suggesting we play charades.

Archaeology is best done either completely wet or completely dry, but it can go particularly horrible when moisture is introduced to something which has been very dry for the last three thousand years (I am painfully aware that the sheet I put over my new burial yesterday afternoon did not reach the feet). In many ways, the same principle is true at a larger scale in that the entire Middle East becomes unpleasant when it gets wet, as large quantities of rubbish which were relatively benign in their desiccated forms regain their vitality. Often you can smell rain coming in the desert as a faint odour of landfill and wet sheep.

All you need is a cardboard box, some sticky-backed plastic and a sufficient lack of sense. You too can have a Nerfertiti crown.

All you need is a cardboard box, some sticky-backed plastic and a sufficient lack of sense. You too can have a Nerfertiti crown.

In the meantime we are employing ourselves usefully in the construction of Nefertiti hats out of cardboard boxes.