Tag Archives: archaeological survey

Oft Interred With Their Bones

Ever wonder what happens to all those chicken bones after you eat your chicken, or the ribs from barbecued ribs or rib eye steak?  Sure, they end up in the trash, but one man’s trash is another’s treasure.  Eventually, your garbage ends up in a landfill and is buried.

Archaeologists make it a habit of digging up ancient trash, and one of the things we dig up are animal bones. How did they get there? That’s usually easy.  If they are a small rodent, we usually know that it just died in its burrow and we found it.  But bones from sheep, goats and cattle, or deer are generally considered to have been supper.  Continue reading Oft Interred With Their Bones

Under the Sea: Mermaid Excluded

The city of Akko is on a peninsula surrounded by water.  Situated at the northern most point of greater Haifa Harbor, the Mediterranean surrounds the Old and New cities.

Maritime endeavors have always been important to the inhabitants of Akko, which was a Phoenician city during the Iron Age, and we all learned in grade school, or should have, that the Phoenicians were the sailors and traders of the Mediterranean Sea.

Interestingly, I’m surrounded by archaeologists who are totally interested in the Iron Age and they all agree, very little is actually known about the Phoenicians.  Looking at the Phoenicians is one of the objectives of the Total Archaeology @ Tel Akko project and while digging on the tel can tell us how they lived on land, exploring under the harbor might provide a clue as to how they lived on water.

Akko harbor is certainly known from Crusader history and during the Hellenistic period, the city was renamed Ptolomais and the harbor was very important.  Alexander the Great entered through Ptolomais on his way further east.

Hence the mermaid reference.  Supposedly, there is a female mermaid-like entity that appears near the Tower of Flies and asks, “Has he returned yet.”  She is supposedly asking after Alexander.

And the Tower of Flies, that too has a story.  When the Crusaders came to Akko or St. Jean d’ Acre, they thought they had reached Ekron, where one of the major deities was Ba’al Zevuv – Lord of the Flies (I kid you not).  Since the tower already existed and apparently garbage was dumped there frequently, the Crusaders named it the Tower of Flies.

But to the harbor. Centuries of sediment deposition from the small river that flows into the Mediterranean near Akko and natural ocean processes have undoubtedly changed the shoreline, covered evidence and filled in any number of harbor manifestations.  The only way to find the Phoenician harbor is to dig — underwater.

Total Archaeology@Tel Akko includes an underwater archaeology component and while they haven’t yet found the Phoenician harbor, they are bringing up some interesting results.

Not Panning for Gold

A’ndrea wet screening dirt for iron.
Credit: Jill Bierly

I was wet screening some dirt from the probable metals working area the other day, sitting under a shade near the path that winds up and around Napoleon Hill (Tel Akko) when two small boys, 8 or 9 I’d guess, walked by.  They asked me in Hebrew if I was looking for gold.  I said no, iron.  They gave me the strangest look, stopped for a second, and then began walking on. As they got about 6 feet in front of me they turned and said, you are looking for gold.  And they walked off.

Gold and silver, those are the precious metals that everyone thinks of when they think of prospecting or looking for ores and such.  But, for archaeologists in most places, the use of copper and then iron ores for metalworking is far more important.  Copper is the only metal beside gold and silver that occurs in its native form on Earth.  Just as one can find gold nuggets, copper nuggets – not as shiny bright and not as valuable – are also found.  Native copper is the only indication of metal working of any kind in North America in pre-contact times.  The nuggets were hammered into tiny bells or other ornaments, but Native Americans never smelted copper or any other metal.

In the Middle East, however, copper, bronze and eventually iron were smelted and worked.  Last year at Tel Akko, during the excavation by the Penn State and University of Haifa, Tel Akko project, excavations revealed a potential metal working area.  This year, a new area, next to the original was excavated and examined by students and a researcher from the Weizmann Institute.

Remember Wooly Willie or other metal filings games where you move the iron with a magnet to create hair, beards, etc.?  Run a magnet through the dirt in these two areas and the magnet looks like Wooly Willie with a full beard.  The number of hammerscales – tiny pieces of iron that fall off when hammering iron into shape – is truly amazing.  The area also yielded pounds of iron slag.  In other areas of the Tel copper slag appeared as well.

The first or second day of the dig, I found, in situ – in the ground in the original location – part of an iron blade.  Yes, I was digging in the same location with all the hammerscales.  Today, one of the last days of digging, someone found an iron arrowhead that is probably late Iron Age early Persian.

Some say that Akko was famous for metalworking.  Certainly indications from this year’s excavations suggest that some ironworking went on in the Persian period, if not earlier.

Holes, Holes and More Holes

I did almost 10 weeks of full coverage survey as fieldwork for my dissertation.  Walking three abreast over the landscape looking for surface artifacts.  Calling out when someone saw one — pottery, projectile point, worked stone.  It was hot.  Sometimes difficult terrain slowed things down, but all in all, those were fairly pleasant days.

At Tel Akko, as part of the Total Archaeology project, some of the students did shovel survey.  Not something I would have even considered.  Every 5 meters on a grid, two students dug a 40-centimeter by 40-centimeter hole, 40 centimeters deep.  They collected the artifacts for later investigation and moved on to the next grid point.  It was hot, it was dirty and it was hard work.  The field, when they were done, looked like a giant game of Whack-a-Mole or an invasion by some small, burrowing extraterrestrials.  All the pits were eventually recorded and filled in, and the survey team joined the rest of us in excavation.  They mostly thought excavation was a breeze, out of the direct sun and in one place.  I’m not sure they were totally right about excavation being easier, but it certainly is different.

One of the things that made the survey interesting was Jamie Quartermaine, an archeologist from Britain who was in charge.  He probably has more energy than any two teenagers and a tendency to veer off on tangents.  Much of the time he has tongue firmly planted in cheek and he is utterly delightful.

Through a Rabbit Hole

The first time I saw the balloon used for taking images it was teetering on the edge of a table unused.  The reason being that the helium filled balloon with a digital camera attached just barely sits above the ground or a table if there is no wind.

On Tel Akko, there is no wind until about 9 or 9:30 in the morning, and so, until then, the balloon cannot be flown.

Another thing about the balloon that I found out, is that the images, which are taken automatically at intervals of 10s of seconds, become useless if there is anything moving below the camera.  I got caught on the south side of the tel with the balloon high overhead and had to stand stock still for at least 10 minutes while the balloon moved out of range.

Even so, the images that the balloon can create are truly amazing.  An Adobe Acrobat pdf of one of the images can be manipulated using a mouse to see bird’s eye views, slanting views and even a look at the sides of walls and pits.

Click on the photo to download the pdf.

The 3-D imaging is not just being used for the site mapping, but also for individual unit mapping, helping with the usually tedious drawing of unit or top plans.  Because individual rocks, pottery and features can be seen in the 3-D images, the units come alive with a clarity that is never seen in a flat photo or a scale drawing.  By tying the 3-D images to actual points on the ground, they can become accurate site plans and unit maps.