Tag Archives: pottery

The lunatic fringe

 

As the Blues sense victory, the Reds super-weapon stalks over the battlefield shooting lasers from its cycloptic eye!!!!!!!!!!

As the Blues sense victory, the Reds super-weapon stalks onto the battlefield shooting lasers from its cycloptic eye

It’s a regrettable truth that archaeology attracts far more than its fair share of mentally deranged people, not just within the subject as a commercial and academic pursuit, but also from society at large. Itinerant fruit cakes gather around the subject like kids round a carcass.

The first season's unfortunately shaped test trench

The first season’s unfortunately shaped test trench

We got a call this week from the British Ambassador congratulating us on discovering the world’s earliest shopping mall. The consular staff had read it in the Iraqi press; how we’d found a big building full of little shops. I suppose you could call it that, provided we assume that most shops in the Old Babylonian period sold only broken pottery and dust. This was in fact one of many colourful interpretations of our data by members of the excitable press. The very best example of the genre for this particular project dates to the first test season when two trenches were dug across each other to chase rectilinear wall lines. This produced a sensational article on Wikipedia (recently removed but still available via the Worthy Christian Forum) which claimed we had discovered a temple in the form of the earliest Christian cross, dating to 2000 BC (…).

 

The alien escape capsule is found mostly intact, but did the pilot survive the landing?

The alien escape capsule is found mostly intact, but did the pilot survive the landing?

No.

No. That’s ceramic space technology for you

Fanciful tales are by no means restricted to intellectually deficient journalists trying to rake a publishable story out of tedious old crap. There are plenty of crazies out there churning out nonsense simply because they’re window-licking simpletons. This project has acquired its own conspiracy theorist, whose name I won’t mention in case she finds my blog and starts accusing me of supressing the truth about all the alien technology we’re excavating for the US government. She’s written a book about the site, available on Amazon, which as far as I can tell claims to be an investigative piece about our secret archaeological work funded by the oil industry and shadowy government agencies. I’ve only read the sample pages free on Amazon as I refuse to pay her money (even though she claims all profits will go to the Society for Truth in Archaeological Research, which I fear may have but one member). She seems to think we’re either looking for alien technology, hiding the truth about the origins of humanity, covering up radical new evidence about biblical scripture or hunting for Nazi gold. One of those.

I’m not quite sure why she thinks we’re so secretive; the project has a website, a facebook page and a twitter account. Her in-depth research, which she claims to perform in Ohio wearing pyjamas and listening to Bach, mysteriously doesn’t seem to have found any of these. The truth is out there, if you can find it amongst all the crazy shit.

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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

 

A pot to piss in

BRBs: ceramic fungi blooming in Trench F

BRBs: ceramic fungi blooming in Trench F

I just hauled four big sacks and five crates of pottery back to the dig house from one of my trenches. I dumped them in the office and left for lunch before the registrar could start crying properly. The vast majority of the stuff is made up of bevel-rimmed bowls (or BRBs, for those who are sick to death of them) – a type of pot found in Iraq from the Uruk period, which has nothing to do with those really mean orcs from Lord of the Rings (alas). Bevel-rimmed bowls are very ugly and badly made, unlike the preceding Halaf period pretty pretty girly painted pottery, which G. finds over at the other site and flashes about like bonbons.

The sort of gaudy prehistoric rubbish which makes people all giggly during pot washing

The sort of gaudy prehistoric rubbish which makes people all giggly during pot washing

I actually consider the crappiness of bevel-rimmed bowls as a flower of hope in the desert of the prehistoric; it represents the point when people found out that there were better things to do with their time than sit around painting their tableware. I know it floats some people’s boats but the prehistoric was clearly very dull; all people were doing was subsistence farming, bit of hunting, building very small, very boring houses and making up religions that never caught on. Conversation must have been turgid throughout the late Neolithic, and people probably turned to painting pottery because it was that or discussing the right way to knap flint for the eight-hundredth time.

 

Then the Uruk period comes along, people invent cities, writing, beer and discos, and suddenly everyone wants pots you can hand round at a party and leave out for the bin men with the other empties. Life becomes less about how fine you can make the cross hatching on your tea cup and more about shopping and going to the pub, which is my definition of civilisation.

Small figurine nestled in a bed of Egyptian sand, bag fluff and pencil shavings

Small figurine nestled in a bed of Egyptian sand, bag fluff and pencil shavings

Archaeological rants aside, by the end of the day I’ll be roundly hating bevel-rimmed bowls and all they stand for, and everyone else on the team is going to be hating me for digging them up. It’s going to take at least three hours and a lot of ill-feeling to get it washed. Thankfully, I curried favour with the registrar yesterday by shaking enough Egyptian sand out of my pencil case to nestle a find in for drawing, otherwise I’d be keeping my back to the wall and preparing my own meals.

In other news, the dig director has stolen the chair from my room, which means he’s also seen The Mess…