Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Technology and Archaeology Ashley Hopper

Technology, Photography, and Archaeology

For the first time this year, we had the opportunity to use a drone to take aerial photography of our site. They did have the drone last year, however, they never got the chance to take high quality photos of the site due to some rather unfortunate mishaps. Jordan Tynes, a professor from Wellesley College visited us for a week to help teach us about the technology and take photos of the site. Kaylie Cox, a fellow student and aerial protégé, was Jordan’s assistant and took over for him when he had to leave. She is quite the expert on drone technology already.

Flying the drone is a two-person operation and requires careful coordination so the drone won’t crash. A Go-Pro camera is attached to the bottom of the drone, while photos are taken using the time-lapse setting with two photos being taken every second. While one person is controlling the drone, the other watches the timer so the battery won’t run out. The battery only lasts for eight minutes of active flying, making it very important for the co-pilot to give regular updates on how much time has passed. The highest that we have seen the drone fly over the site is 125 feet but Kaylie would not recommend going over 100 feet due to the drone’s sensitivity to wind. With such thoughtful consideration of the elements, there have not been any crashes yet!

This technology is important for archaeological sites and excavations because it can document changes from the air that might not be as noticeable from the ground. It gives us a bigger picture of how things are progressing on site and provides a different perspective for our photography. It also gives us a direct overhead view of the site compared to our photography taken from the ground, as it is not always easy to take photos from the ground due to awkward angles or positioning.

The only downside to the technology is that it can only be used in certain weather conditions. We had to learn this the hard way one day when we rushed to clean up our trench but it turned out that the wind was too strong for the drone to fly. It will be very interesting to see how drone photography on archaeological sites progresses in the coming years! 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Advanced Excavation Techniques: The Future Digger

Advanced Excavation Techniques: The Future Digger

(A Non-Intentionally Alliterative, Complimentary, Semi-Collaborative Continuation of Mr. Jones’ Previous Blog Entry)

            Throughout the history of archaeology, evolved methods have allowed for increases in information acquisition and advancements in archaeological accuracy. We have total stations, digital databases, and chemically literate conservators. However, the lowly laborer attains no newfound skill, performing techniques that just might be as old as archaeology itself. Thankfully, that is all about to change.
            Please be cautious in attempting any of the following presented techniques, as many of them require considerable balance, excellent physical coordination, and perhaps a couple of extra handfuls at nut break. Additionally, anyone with a history of cardiac illness, weak lung capacity, or lack of mental fortitude should refrain from the following, or consult a specialist before attempting to engage in any of the activities listed below.

The Flying Sherd:

            The name is self-explanatory. An accurate sherd toss into a pottery bucket can save the time and energy one requires to constantly walk back and forth. Plastic buckets are recommended, not metal, in order to reduce impact, and possible sherd damage. Also, this technique should not be used with faunal material, as it is often far more fragile. Lastly, if one is especially concerned with the well-being of airborne material; the “alley-oop” method may be initiated.

The Reverse-Through-The-Legs Dustpan and/or Shovel Disposal:

            Once again, the title of this technique is description enough. It is a technique found most useful in tight, awkward spaces, in which zembili placement options are adequate at best.

The Schliemann Shuffle or The Heinrich Hop:

            It depends on the region: in Beotia it is referred to as The Schliemann Shuffle, and in Attica, The Heinrich Hop. To perform this technique, simply make a lateral two-step hop to move positions while digging with a pick. The technique is conducted in order to maximize picking efficiency, covering more ground without having to reach, therefore preventing possible muscular injuries.

The Foot-Flick and Catch:

            The brilliance of this technique is due to its simplicity. By catching the shaft of ones’ hand-tool with the laces of the shoe, the fall is cushioned, the floor of the trench avoids being marked, and energy is not wasted by bending down to slowly place a tool. Furthermore, the opposite technique may be applied by sliding one’s foot under the shaft of a grounded hand-tool and lifting/flicking the foot; raising the tool in a quick but controlled motion. This technique not only maximizes labor efficiency in terms of speed, but also saves ones’ lumbar region from a possible chronic injury. Plus, it looks cool.

 Shirts, Shorts, and Sherds:

            Although this next technique is more indirectly related to excavating than the previous listed, a freshly washed, crisp garment can make a 5:00AM rise almost pleasant. However, it can be difficult to find time for doing laundry within the busy schedule of an archaeologist. And of course, properly cleaned archaeological materials are essential to any successful dig. So, this technique is quite straightforward: sherd washing and laundry at the same time.

The Stratigraphy Sommelier:

            Few archaeological laborer grunts are savvy with the information one can gain if they are able to recognize things like soil changes, various stratified layers, material inclusions, etcetera. So, this technique allows for even a mindless pawn to notice a subtle, significant event that may occur in his or her trench. To excel at this technique, one need only to lick every bit of earth, rock, fauna, flora, and ceramic available in the surrounding environment, constantly. Eventually, one will acquire the skill to distinguish different types of stone based on their texture against the tongue, or even, taste a date.

            Although it is safe to say that the field of archaeology will never be the same, the provided examples serve merely to scratch the surface of archaeological technique advancement. Lastly, It is important to note that many of these techniques may be combined in several ways with the groundbreaking tool technologies presented in Mr. Jones’ earlier blog entry.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Tools Required for Excavation: An Archaeologists Tool Kit
Sydney Giesbrecht

Every good archaeologist has a set of essential tools used daily on site. While some are more important then others each plays an important role in excavation.

The Small Pick:

Required for more detailed work such as articulating large rocks or cleaning a bulk at the end of the day. A pick does less damage then most other tools because when breaking into the earth there is only on small point of contact rather than with a shovel where more extensive damage can be done due to its width.
The Trowel: A multipurpose tool.

Sometimes it feels as though there is nothing that a trowel cannot do. During my first few days on site the trowel felt awkward in my hand and I wasn’t quite sure of its full purpose. Now after 5 weeks on site it fits naturally in my hand, almost like an extension of my arm. A trowel to an archaeologist is like a scalpel to a surgeon. Since arriving on site not a day has gone by that I have not required my trowel. It can be used for a variety of things on site ranging from scraping a bulk to examining soil changes on a surface, or simply collecting dirt into a dustpan. It’s most important use in my experience is for checking for changes in soil on a surface. For example if you are working on a surface using picks and shovels you may not notice a change in soil density that clearly. If one area is denser or more clay like then another, a quick scrape on the surface with the edge of your trowel will help to clarify any changes.

Brush: Necessary for all cleaning styles.

                        The brushes found on site range from paintbrushes to large brooms. Small straw brushes as shown in the image above are particularly useful for brushing off rocks and cleaning uneven surfaces. Paintbrushes can be used on site for more delicate work and gentle cleaning in order to not damage or displace the item being excavated. For example if you were to come across a mud brick that you wanted to articulate and photograph a paintbrush would to the least damage.  Larger brooms can often be used on harder surfaces at the end of the day to clean up, in a similar fashion to the way you would sweep the floor at home.

The Dust Pan:

            While dustpans may seem insignificant in day-to-day life they are very important at an excavation site for soil removal. When working in smaller areas where a shovel is not an option, the dustpan is a lifesaver. Also very helpful at the end of the day to clean up any messes created during excavation. A clean trench is the best kind of trench.

The Water Bottle: Most important tool of all.

            Without water nothing can be done on site. This may seem silly but dehydration is no joke here at EPAB.  With hot days and lots of physical activity you can become ill very quickly if you aren’t drinking lots of water. The average team member will drink 2-4 liters of water before lunch. If you aren’t hydrated you cant dig, and that’s no fun for anyone.

Shovel and Large Pick:

The shovel and the pick go together like peanut butter and jelly. When removing a layer or soil, or making a pass, the pick will be used along with the shovel. Similar to a small pick a large pick is used to loosen soil. Large picks play an important role in the removal of soil, particularly when opening a new trench and getting through the layer of top soil. The pick like make somewhere between a 5-10cm pass and a shovel will follow behind removing the soil being careful not to carve into the newly reveled layer below. This technique is used in order to prevent unnecessary damage to potential artifacts in the soil.

Wheelbarrow and Zambeili:                                   

Two tools that are often unappreciated but play an important role on site. A Zambeli is a large rubber bucket placed in the trenches and is very important in removing soil. Soil it transferred from the trenches to the wheelbarrows via the zambeli and then transported to the dirt pile away from the trenches. In order to excavate a site you need to be clean and precise, so soil needs to be constantly moving. Wheelbarrows are often running non-stop all day long on site.

Bulk Scraper: The Secret weapon.

This tool is how you get the straightest bulk walls on site. Archaeological sites are broken down into grid units and on our site each grid is a 5 X 5 meter square. Bulk walls for as you move down into the soil sort of like a small shaft. These bulk walls need to be straight and vertical in order to ensure that you are collecting everything that is within you grid unit. If your bulk slants you could miss an important artifact or feature within the soil. This tool shown above helps to create perfectly flat and vertical bulk walls. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Eleon in Comparison

Eleon in Comparison to Other Projects
Alix Causer-McBurney
This summer will be the last of my undergraduate degree, a Bachelor of Arts Double Major in Anthropology and Greek and Roman Studies, with a focus in osteology, from the University of Victoria. These last three summers I have had some really amazing field work experiences. In 2013 I attended a Mortuary Archaeology Fieldschool in Drawsko, Poland. The site is most famous for its multiple vampire burials. In 2014 I worked for the Yukon Government’s Tourism and Culture Department in their Palaeontology Program through the Student Training Employment Program. The work involved visiting local placer gold mines in the Klondike Goldfields around Dawson City and collecting Ice Age fossils. This summer I am in Greece, working at the ancient site of Eleon for GRS 495 credit to complete my degree! Three absolutely fantastic summers, in three truly incredible places. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work and study in all of these places.

Many of the students, both in Poland and in Greece, had never attended a fieldschool before, or had only attended the one. In Poland I was one of those students; here in Greece I am one of few that have attended one, and a different one, before. I found it very interesting the differences and the similarities I experienced in Poland and Greece. The Yukon was also a bit different as I was the only student working for the Palaeontology Program.

17-18th Century cemetery, containing many graves with little grave goods, as well as multiple vampire burials.
Placer gold mines in the Klondike Goldfields, containing majority Pleistocene/Ice Age fossils.
Late Bronze Age through Classical Period city site of Ancient Eleon, containing building structures, ceramics, bone, and stone tools, among other things.
Hot and dry. Worked in light rain, but not heavy rain. Very few rain days. Some early starts to keep out of the hottest part of the day.
Hot and dry. Quite a few rain days, but did not hinder our work. Irregular hours, depending on what was needed.
Hot and more humid. Early starts to keep out of the hottest part of the day. Surprisingly many rain days for a Greek summer. Do not work in the rain or when the site is muddy.
Small village with few to no English speakers, encouraged us to learn the basics of Polish. Even in cities it was easier to get by with some Polish.
Not relating to living, but a definite language barrier when it came to communicating between academics and the miners – luckily I have a background in both!
Small town, but with more English speakers than Poland. Learnt some of the basics of Greek, but did not need to use as often, particularly in cities.
All new people involved in the excavation, apart from staff. Many academic visitors to site, but few locals.
I was the only student, and the youngest person on the small staff. Many academic visitors, often helping with their research.
A mix of new and returning students, along with past students, and quite a large staff. Also quite a few academic visitors as well as locals.
Four week long fieldschool. Focus was on mortuary archaeology and osteology, with almost daily lectures on different aspects, as well as guest lectures from visitors. Field notebooks required with daily entries and drawings, weekly tests, and of course participation.
Summer long Work Experience position. Focus was on identifying Ice Age mammal fossils, as well as interaction with the miners as well as the public. Kept a field notebook, as well as took photos and kept a photo log. Also, posted social media updates for the team.
Six week long fieldschool. Focus on archaeology and Bronze Age pottery, with a few lectures on ceramics, conservation, faunal analysis, and drawing. Field notebooks required, a blog entry, a trench tour, an exam at the end, and lots of participation.
Work Monday to Friday, morning-afternoon in the field or lab, with a lecture in the evening. Break in the later afternoon which involved writing in field notebooks, swimming, games and drinks. Dinner together then out for drinks and games until quite late at night. Weekends away travelling in groups to different places, trains main mode of transportation.
Irregular work hours, usually on ten day rotations with four days off, work morning-afternoon and sometimes later into the evening. Lots of driving required, often in 4x4 on poorly maintained roads to operating placer gold mines. Lots of walking while at the mines. Happy hour drinks with the team after work and sometimes dinner and evenings out in town, especially when we had visiting scientists.
Work Monday to Saturday, early morning to early afternoon in the field. Break in the afternoon, in which many people napped, others swam, played games, had a cold beer, and wrote in field or trench notebooks. Late afternoon pottery washing, lectures, pottery and faunal analysis (Except on Saturdays). Dinner together and then early nights for most. Long weekend halfway through dig season when groups travelled to different places, usually in cars or the van.


The Search for Ancient Eleon
Braden Stanley

This summer I embarked on an incredible journey to the beautiful country of Greece to take part in an experience I will never forget. It is hard to captivate the entirety of my experience with mere words, so I decided I would try to express my summer in Greece via video. When I first began this journey I often wondered what exactly I would be doing in the trenches of Eleon. Would I become the next Indiana Jones uncovering the temple of doom, or would I be an average person just moving dirt? As cool as Indiana Jones is, I would have to say that my experience at Eleon was far superior to any adventure that Jones took part in, and I say that for one simple reason...The big pick. In the infamous indy movies you never see Indiana wielding the big pick axe doing actual archaeology, where as in my opinion, there is nothing more satisfying than swinging the big pick doing a clean 10cm pass, and uncovering an ancient history in the process. I feel obligated, however, to mention a particular illness that will take over once the smooth wooden handle first touches your fingers. To the common man your body may just feel warm, as if you have received to much sun, but to the experienced archaeologist it is known as "the fever." The fever can be described as the irresistible desire to big pick, disregarding all cautionary measures to maintain locus levels and to observe differences in soil change. The fever will take over your body and mind in a way you never thought possible, and without realizing it you will have done three full 10cm trench passes before first break. By the end of the day you will have moved 150 buckets of dirt and ask yourself...what happened to me? Some may say they cannot tell if they have the fever or not, but perhaps the easiest way to diagnose the disease is when someone has been asked to do a shallow 5cm pass, but in reality they were digging closer to 10cm. Your body will do this on its own as it is something you will not be able to control. It will be up to your supervisor to get you out of the trench, feed you a cookie, insist that you take an Almora rehydration tablet, and tell you to go sit under the tree for some shade in order to get rid of the fever for the time being. I myself am burdened with this illness, but I do not intend on treating it. In all seriousness, my time in Greece has been something I will never forget. From the gorgeous beaches of Dilesi to the breathtaking 6am sunrises, from the incredible friendships to the amazing food, this experience will be an ever lasting memory. Being able to take part of an excavation at the incredible site of Eleon cannot be described with words - it is something that you will have to experience for yourself. But I warn you...if you do ever make it into the trenches, beware of the fever. 

Along with the video below, I have included a few time lapse clips to demonstrate the work we do in the trenches - Enjoy!


Thursday, July 2, 2015

What a great group for 2015! And not everyone on our team is in the photo unfortunately. We took this photo yesterday, on Canada Day. We had heavy rains the night before so we had a very leisurely 7 am start time. Many of us went to the site, others to the apothiki (our work/storage area), and the rest stayed back in Dilesi, for data entry and pottery analysis. I was part of the team that went to the site. What we found was pretty surprising - pools of water in several of our newly dug trenches. 

We assembled a crack team of water-balers and quickly were able to empty the most heavily filled trenches. We let it all dry in the sun and by today we were back in business, more or less. With only a week or so left in the excavation season, every day matters. 
Our students are also going to be blogging a lot more since it's part of the course requirements - so look out for those. Thanks to the ones who have blogged already - Duncan and Tyler. 
The end will come very quickly for us - as usual we are busy with end of season photos, t-shirts, group photos, etc. Our Greek colleagues came to visit the site today and were as usual very helpful and supportive. We are very lucky to have such great partners during this very difficult time in Greece. This afternoon I was interviewed for our local CBC morning program back home in Victoria. I tried to give a balanced perspective on the choices facing Greece. People are uncertain of the future, of course, and how Greece will manage over the coming days and weeks. My only thought is that something has to happen soon because what's been going on over the last few years has obviously not been solving the many problems so many people are facing. We hope for the very best for this country that have given us all so much.