City of Gold

It has been a long time since I went to visit places in Jerusalem with someone who has never been there before.  Everyone in my family has been several or more times, as have most of my friends.  Whether you love Jerusalem, revere it or feel uncomfortable there, it is certainly not a city that one forgets or ignores.

Penn State’s Tel Akko project visited Jerusalem last weekend.  There were stops at the City of David, the Western Wall, the new Mamila Mall (more on that later) and the Tomb of the Holy Sepulcher.  I’ve pretty much seen them all before, but many in our group had not.  Most are not Jewish, but all visited the appropriate side of the wall – one side for men and one side for women – with proper dignity and respect.  It is an awkward place.  There are many women sitting and praying and always a line of women up at the wall itself making personal supplication or placing a small note between the stones.  What becomes awkward is that no one ever turns around and walks away from the wall, one must back away.  Lots of tourists and locals backing out of a small space can be chaotic.

The Wall is the remains of the outer retaining wall of the Second Temple built by Herod the Great.  This is all that remains and of course, nothing remains of the First Temple, built by Solomon and destroyed by the Babylonians.

The City of David, however, is an interesting site.  Done up in a sort of Disney park motif, it is perhaps the location of where David built his palace when he, if he, came to Jerusalem.  Excavations in the area have gone on for a while, but there is great debate as to how old the ruins are and to whom they should be attributed.  I’d like to think they were King David’s, but the archaeologist and scientist in me want some solid proof.

A house with numbered stones that has been deconstructed and reconstructed
The Stern House where Theodore Herzl slept was removed and reconstructed in the Mamila shopping mall. The stone numbers have not been removed. Credit: Avishal Teicher.

The strange thing about Jerusalem – besides the various religious groups and the many sects of these religious groups, Jewish, Christian and Moslem — is that wherever you walk, you appear to be walking uphill.  There are either stairs, which one never returns down, or slopes one never sees the upside to.  I realize that Jerusalem is not an M.C. Escher painting, but it acts that way sometimes.  Climbing stairs with rails as hot as a stovetop and the golden sandstones, so indicative of the city, reflecting the glaring sun in your face.  I do appreciate Jerusalem, but I must say, I don’t necessarily like it.  Eventually, I left the group, before the Tomb of the Holy Sepulcher (which I have seen many times) to walk through the shuk (outdoor street market) drinking Diet Coke and looking for a place for lunch.

Much more civilized.

But here’s the interesting bit about the Mamila Mall.  A new mall was built by the Israelis to go over one of the valleys that surround the old city.  It makes movement from one hill to the other much easier.  But among the existing houses on the streets that were converted to the mall, was an historic house, the Stern House where Theodore Herzl, a late 19th early 20thcentury Zionist leader, stayed on his one visit to Israel.  Rather than destroy the house, they numbered every single piece of stone, took the building down and then rebuilt after the base of the mall was built.  It still has the numbers on it.  Looks very weird.

Brushing Dirt

Anyone who has ever done any archaeology knows that at one point or another dirt needs to be cleaned.  I realize this sounds oxymoronic, but in truth, dirt floors of a habitation need to be swept before photographing or drawing, rock wall have to be swept to see the stones that delineate them, and other features from time to time need to be swept.  There are no special implements for archaeological sweeping.  We use push brooms and whisk brooms and paint brushes and we sweep into dustpans, put dirt into buckets and then wheelbarrows.  Any pottery sherd or other artifact goes into a bucket for evaluation.

The first time I found myself sweeping a plaster floor with a push broom a simply stopped in the middle of the act and smiled.  I thought, my mother would be bent over laughing to see me sweeping dirt when I gave her so much trouble sweeping my room or the kitchen floor.  But somehow, it just seems different when it’s archaeology.

The beginning of a season at an existing site consists of a lot of cleanup.  The off season, usually winter, brings with it windblown dust, waterborne dirt and roots and weeds that spring up all over and refuse to be tamed.  Any prophylactic activity done the season before, such as sand bagging baulks – meter wide pieces of earth that are left in place to preserve the stratigraphy – must be removed.  The site needs to be pristine before work can really get done.

Once everything is satisfactorily tidy, then we take photographs, measure elevations, map in features and prepare to dig.  Areas started the season before continue as they did then.  New areas must begin at the modern ground surface and gradually go down through possible levels.

At Tel Akko, we have Early and Late Bronze Age, Iron Age, Persian, Greek and maybe Roman remains.  In the city of Akko there were also Crusader and Ottoman occupations.  So we dig, looking for clues to who lived there and how they lived.  Where they got their “good china” from and how they made metals.

At the same time, Tel Akko is a city park where early morning walkers stroll and groups of tourist surge by.  The past meeting the present.

Logic on the rocks

Flickr – Creative Commons

Last week my boyfriend and I were discussing how to stay cool while attending an upcoming outdoor wedding and reception, on a day that was forecasted to be about 93 degrees and something like 80-percent humidity. He wondered if drinking alcohol would help us stay cool — as there would be an open bar at the reception.

“You lose body heat when you drink alcohol,” he said. “That’s why you’re not supposed to go outside without a coat during the winter when you’re drinking.”

This coming from a guy who only wears a coat if the temperature is subzero. Maybe.

“What? Does drinking alcohol make you lose heat?” I hadn’t heard this before. And while my boyfriend acts as if he knows more than he does quite often, sometimes he does actually know what he’s talking about. (Don’t tell him. It might go to his head.)

He found several web pages, like this one, that supported his argument and said, “If it makes you lose heat in the cold, wouldn’t that be a good thing in hot weather?”

Well, this is a compelling argument, but I’m not quite sold. We both agreed that finding an expert to verify or refute this urban legend of sorts is the best course of action.

As this summer is turning out to be pretty hot no matter where you are, I thought this could be great barbecue conversation fodder. If the boyfriend was right, we could be heroes among our friends by telling them that their cold alcoholic beverages were indeed keeping them cooler — science says so! If he wasn’t right, then I could enjoy yet one more situation where he was proven wrong — and this time with science.

Enter Dr. W. Larry Kenney. He is a professor of physiology and kinesiology at Penn State, and is particularly interested in human thermoregulation and the biophysics of heat exchange. Perfect!

I wrote him a note with our dilemma. He quickly got back to me.

“It is actually a myth that alcohol causes you to lose body heat, winter or summer,” Kenney replied. “Alcohol sometimes leads to hypothermia in winter months because it leads people to make poor decisions about clothing, shelter, etc. Physiologically [there is] little impact.”

Kenney pointed me to a study that was done in 1980 where participants consumed the equivalent of “five bar whiskey drinks” and had their body heat loss measured. As Kenney told me, the researchers found that the subjects’ heat loss was not affected by their alcohol consumption. Slightly more interesting, I thought, was that the researchers tested three groups of participants — heavily clothed, seminude and nude — for whom the results were the same.

I’ll let that sink in for a second… Who says research can’t be fun?

OK. Back to what Kenney had to say about alcohol and summertime imbibing.

“The water content of most alcoholic beverages helps maintain hydration similar to other fluids, at least up through moderate consumption,” he says.

Boyfriend says he knew that. Of course he did.

So I leave you with this thought: whether you are heavily clothed, seminude or nude, you will not lose body heat because you are consuming alcohol. You might lose body heat because you are nude. Or you might just get strange looks for being heavily clothed in July.

If you drink, do so responsibly and no matter what always stay hydrated! Your drinks will only keep you as cold as you serve them.

Fun in the Sun? Well, Maybe

I have heard people scoff and raise a skeptical eyebrow when hearing of a semester abroad or an international summer program.  I know what they are thinking – easy A’s, lots of eating and drinking and well…

I don’t know about all programs or even all Penn State programs, but I can categorically say that anyone attending Penn State’s summer archaeological program at Tel Akko in Israel is not having a grand old time.  Well, they are, but not in the way you think.

Today, the first day was an easy one.  We stayed at the Israel Marine School where we are living.  Began at 7:30 a.m. with breakfast, followed by lectures until lunch at 1 p.m. and more lectures from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m., then dinner at 7p.m.

I’m not sure how the students sat through it all.  We are all jet lagged and the overview spanned the time period from Early Bronze Age to the Crusader period and Napoleon’s failed attempt at capturing the city.  That is a lot of history and archaeology crammed into one day.  But hey, we were done at 7:30, right?

Sure, because we have to leave tomorrow morning at 5:30 so we can have a tour of the site and do clean up until 12:30.  They will feed us breakfast though.

The excavation project is sponsored by Penn State, the University of Haifa, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont McKenna University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Trinity College. Students are enrolled in different programs through their schools, but all students and staff have to attend the lectures.

Oh, and if you think that we’re free after lunch, no, most days we have to wash pottery and then have another lecture.

There are trips on Saturday and a lecture Sunday at 6 p.m.  These few credits are not for the faint of heart, but, besides learning how to dig, uncover the secrets of the ancient past and make new friends, most of the students undoubtedly will think these four weeks were a blast.  And some of them will come back next year.

What I Did on my *Summer Research Trip (*not vacation!)

For many of us, summer travel means vacation, a time to take a mental break from the work that occupies us the rest of the year. Not so for many researchers. It’s not that they’re staying put at home—far from it! But summer travel means something different to them.

Take professor of musicology Marica Tacconi, for example. Her summer schedule may sound glamorous, with trips to Florence and Bologna, but some folks misunderstand the nature of her sojourn and think she’s on vacation. She’s happy to remind them that she’s not there for the sightseeing, shopping or even the food and wine.

Professor Marica Tacconi in Florence

Continue reading What I Did on my *Summer Research Trip (*not vacation!)

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