All posts by Andrea Elyse Messer

Unusual Events of the Day

The bus was late yesterday.  When it did arrive, the driver was a bit upset.  A woman in a lefthand turning lane had suddenly gone straight rather than turn and he had had to slam on the brakes.  There was a little damage to the driver’s side of the bus, but nothing much.  They exchanged insurance info and he asked what happened. She said the GPS told her to go straight.  Israel or the U.S. some things are the same.

We started digging yesterday. IMG_0093 Pulling up lots of pottery. Not surprising as a second name of Tel Akko is Tel of Sherds. The place is just covered with them and they are mixed in with all the dirt. I’ve been hauling buckets and screening dirt.  A two-handled screen atop a wheelbarrow gets shaken to remove all the loose dirt. Then the diggers sort through what is left for pottery, animal bone, shells, iron slag and perhaps something cool. What could be cool? Loom weights – little ceramic globs with holes in them that are used in weaving, iron projectile points, highly polished and painted Greek pottery, a carved ivory figure would all be cool and all have been found on the Tel so far, but not in the screens.

What do I find?  Broken pieces of pottery ranging in size from less than half an inch to hand sized. Shells ranging from tiny snail shells to large, 2-inch, scallop shells to spiny dye murex shells. These are the ones that the “royal purple dye” comes from. And more sherds. Sometimes little pieces of Greek looking pottery, sometimes a handle, but so far, nothing of much note.  But I have faith.  Everything eventually ends up in the screens.  Something really cool will pop up, appear, emerge.

Yesterday was unusual in another way. After dinner, one of the staff, Nick Pumphrey, Claremont Graduate University, successfully defended his dissertation. His advisor is here and the defense took place via Skype. So a new Ph.D. takes his place in the Academy today. He doesn’t look any different than yesterday, but his wife looks much happier.

There and Back Again

Well, here I am in Israel again, at Tel Akko.  I wasn’t able to join the Total Archaeology at Tel Akko Project last year, so I was very interested in seeing what changed and what didn’t.  We are once again staying at the Israel Nautical Academy, a boarding school for students wishing to either enter the navy or join the merchant marine.  The school is mostly empty in the summer, so we fill most of two dorms.  There are more of us this year than ever before — lots of students, returning students, staff and faculty.  Total Archaeology at Tel Akko is a joint project of Penn State and Haifa University with Anne Killebrew, associate professor of classics and ancient Mediterranean studies, Jewish studies and anthropology, Penn State, and Michal Artzey, professor emeritus, coastal and underwater archaeology, Haifa University.

group of students standing and listening
Students in the Total Archaeology Project at Tel Akko listen while Nick Pumphrey of Trinity College explains basic tool use.
Nick Pumphrey of Trinity College explains basic tool use.
Nick Pumphrey of Trinity College explains basic tool use.

Students come from all over, but groups come from Penn State, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Trinity College and the Claremont Colleges Consortium. Right now we are just beginning to get over jet lag.  Continue reading There and Back Again

Of Ants, Audio-Visuals and Science Writing

In most cultures, when the queen dies, the next closest relative takes the throne, but then in human royalty, the fate of all reproduction does not rest on the new queen (or king).  Among Indian jumping ants, when the queen dies, the females compete and the winner changes hormonally and physically and becomes a Gamergate.  She supplies all the fertile eggs for the brood.

That little tidbit is what I learned from Matt Shipman, a science writer from North Carolina State University during a one-day workshop in science writing.  Continue reading Of Ants, Audio-Visuals and Science Writing

Cowgirls, Bandits and Bows and Arrows

When I was a kid, my parents went on vacation and left us home.  They brought back two identical, but differently sized, turquoise blue with white fringe cowgirl skirts and vests, holsters and six shooters.  My sister was about three and my cousin and I were almost 6.  My cousin already had a similar red outfit.  We loved them and played cowgirls and bandits all the time.  If a friend came over, they would get to be the Indian and use the bow and arrows with rubber suction cup tips.  But the Indian wasn’t the enemy.  He or she simply joined us to fight the bandits who were robbing the bank.  Or ended up taking his or her turn being kidnapped by the bad guys and eventually rescued.  The bad guys were always virtual. That was our view of the world and weapons.  Looking back, we probably watched too much Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers.


Later on I actually practiced archery and by college was pretty good at using a short bow, but then the fancy, compound bows became popular and I lost interest.  Continue reading Cowgirls, Bandits and Bows and Arrows

St. Augustine, Thanksgiving here first En Español

St. Augustine Lighthouse

Thanksgiving is coming.  A holiday enjoyed by nearly everyone in the country and perhaps my favorite secular holiday.  And yes, unlike in other places, Thanksgiving in the U.S. is secular although everyone of every faith celebrates in their own way.  A truly diverse holiday.

The first Thanksgiving celebrated in 1621 in Plymouth Plantation is usually what we think of when we think of the origins of the holiday, but is that true?  How Northern European centric are we being with that celebration?

A few weeks back I was in Gainesville, Florida, for a meeting and had the opportunity to go to St. Augustine with an archaeologist as a guide — at least for part of the day.  St. Augustine, founded by the Spanish crown in 1565 as a military installation, is still the oldest European-based settlement in the U.S.  When the Spanish landed, they immediately fortified an area, offloaded their ships and had a mass of thanksgiving and a feast.  The first Thanksgiving.  Probably, but not important really.  The settlement site was attacked, burned down a number of times and rebuilt, and while it moved from Spanish to English to Spanish to English hands, there were always people in the area.

What is important is that nearly everyone outside of Florida who is not an American history teacher of some kind thinks of the Plymouth colony, or Jamestown settlement.  The first European child born in what would become the U.S. was not Virginia Dare, but Martín de Argūelles, born in 1566.  St. Augustine was also an unusual place in that while it had slaves, they weren’t all from Africa and there were many African freemen as well.  Why? Because if you pledged allegiance to the Spanish crown and converted to Catholicism you could be a resident and protected.  Slavery, as ugly as it is, was of a different sort.  A Spanish slave could buy his or her freedom and many did.

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, St. Augustine, FL

Some of the early 17th century town still exists and has been conserved.  The 17th century fort, the oldest in the continental U.S., still stands on the water’s edge facing the bay.  The chapel, living areas and the “necessary” are still there.

These men and women, whether Spanish soldiers, their wives, native Americans from the Saturiwa or Africans undoubtedly spoke Spanish as their common language.  They attended church together, and while excluding other faiths, they embraced other differences.

It is only because England won the wars against Spain and France and Florida was a prize passed back and forth that St. Augustine is not what we look to at Thanksgiving.  I suppose it is a case of to the victors go not only the spoils but the place in history.

Archaeologically, we know a lot about the St. Augustine settlement and its original location in what is now Fountain of Youth Park.  A new exhibit, “First Colony: Our Spanish Origins,” curated by Kathleen Deagan of the University of Florida at the Florida Museum of Natural History, opened last week and we had a preview at Old Colony House in St. Augustine, where the exhibit will remain until 2016.  Eventually, this exhibit will travel across the country, bringing the Spanish origins of many of our citizens to light.