Tag Archives: hangover

Wolves and walls


Meanwhile at Ur, the sun does that thing again

I’m currently enjoying my first hangover of the excavation season. We got through an alarming amount of our vodka stock last night, and a French sausage. We sang along to the whole of Paul Simon’s Graceland album and fashioned the plastic netting from the duty free bottles into a large sculpture of a penis. I knew this stuff would come round, I just didn’t expect it this early.


The brick storage room and its neatly stacked rows of bricks

News from the trenches is of hard fighting and slow progress. The room I’m excavating has proved to be full of structural brickwork, consisting of a series of unusual cross-walls, which caused some confusion for a while. The best explanation was provided by my head workman Haider who suggested it was a room for storing bricks in. It took me three weary days to define all the architecture and clean it up for a photo, the reward for which was a back-breaking day of planning it all. I love drawing hundreds of bricks, it’s the best thing ever. Now I’m digging out the first of what are clearly a series of sub-floor vaults in which I am finding more or less absolutely nothing. The director is hoping it’s a grave and stops by now and then to ask if I’m finding any bone – lots, is the answer, and all of it rat. At least there’s no paperwork to speak of, I haven’t registered a find in four days.

I’m hoping for a more fruitful time on site next week as the omens are good. On Tuesday an eagle was seen sitting atop my spoil heap, on Wednesday a wolf crossed our path on the way to site (I’m still mentally digesting the presence of non-fictional wolves in southern Iraq) and yesterday there was an enormous moth in my shower. They say ominous portents come in threes so I’m counting the moth, it really was very big.


The oracular eagle of the spoil heap, which foretells the death of kings and the discovery of occupation deposits in room 301

In other animal news, only one of last year’s site dogs has showed up. We don’t know what has become of John, Limpy Lassie and Arsehole but this year the density of sleepy dogs (roadside dog corpses) seems to be at an all-time high around Nasiriyah. Our one remaining dog Steve showed up quite quickly, looking rather thin and sad but we’re feeding her up on a diet of bread, biscuits and the oil at the bottom of tuna cans. Hussein, one of the local workmen, told us that Steve has four puppies at a nearby farm so F asked the director if we can please please have a puppy if we promise to look after it and feed it and clean up its shits but he remained unmoved despite the crying.


The old gang: Steve, John and Limpy Lassie in happier, less dead times. No pictures of Arsehole survive because we didn’t like him very much


Enough of a good thing

The modest amount of pottery emerging from my room fill

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

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.

Bloaty puss

Bloaty Puss

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

Sadam’s marsh road, now thoroughly shat on by water buffalo and gnawed at by dogs

The watery world of the marsh arabs

The watery world of the marsh arabs


Party pain

The hop-step-point familiar from Morris dancing

The hop-step-point familiar from Morris dancing

I had a dream last night that I was lying in my grave and someone was trying to bash my head in with the butt of a levelling rod. Then I woke up with the most appalling hangover. We had a bit of a party here at the dig house last night for a special anniversary and some of us got a little carried away. Or in fact, literally carried away.

We had a famous band down from Cairo for some traditional dance music. They used to play for President Mubarak when that was an acceptable thing to do, but now they’re reduced to playing in the middle of nowhere for drunk archaeologists. Vive la revolution. We also invited our workmen, and a fearsome number of antiquities inspectors invited themselves, forcing me to consume most of my alcohol covertly in the office.

And then there was the dancing; oh dear. I have a powerful memory of dancing the Egyptian stick dance using a ranging rod from the equipment store while wearing a cardboard Nefertiti hat. My grace and elegance, honed through careful practice on the floors of low-end clubs and my six month experiment with morris dancing, was of course captured for posterity on the mobile phones of numerous Egyptian men. I’m sure a productive day was spent in the village swapping files and laughing.

Pimp my dervish: dancing at the next level

Pimp my dervish: dancing at the next level

In consequence, I’ve spent today on a diet of water, ibuprofen and shame. I’ve watched a lot of DVDs and done a fair amount of shaking, punctuated by ignominiously vomiting out of the living room window half way through Howl’s Moving Castle.

I’ve learned several things in the last twenty-four hours: 1) all traditional Egyptian tunes sound exactly the same, 2) foreign women trying to dance is a class of saleable pornography here, 3) gin – there are attainable limits, 4) Egyptian sparkling wine is not fit for human consumption.

I am going back to bed, it seems I may live after all.