Hitting the ground running (sort of)

Tuesday was about as productive as I could reasonably have hoped for it to be, which in reality wasn’t very. I seem to be only slightly jet-lagged (hurrah!), so I managed to get to sleep around 1 and woke up around 9. Not too shabby, I thought! I spent the morning unpacking, and finally taking a shower. Apparently the institute has been having intermittent water problems. Sometimes (like last night) there’s no water pressure, and then sometimes (like tonight) there’s no hot water. These institutes, here and in other countries, tend to be in old British imperial period houses. They’re beautiful, but definitely getting rundown, and upkeep often outpaces what a small academic institution can reasonably afford to spend, so things tend to have to fall apart completely before they get fixed. In the case of CAARI, the big project this past year has been the construction of a massive addition to the library. It’ll triple the current size of the library, which we desperately need, but there’s one catch – no one would sell CAARI more land at an affordable price, so our new library is subterranean! There’s a giant hole where the garden on the east side of the building used to be, which currently has one floor, and soon will have two floors of a library built. Eventually the garden will be put back in and the new library will have skylights. I’m excited to see what it will look like, but the fact that CAARI has a massive empty parking lot to its west that we couldn’t afford to buy makes it a bit frustrating.

Anyway, I unpacked properly, which is nice… I’m not used to being here for long enough for it to be worthwhile, but I’m here for two months, and I have this room for at least 30 days, which is awesome, because it is easily the best room in the institute! Always make friends with the administrators… the directors may come and go, but the administrators will be here forever. In this case I’ve been coming to CAARI for 9 years now, and for years I was in room 7, which is the size of a closet! I’ve stayed in room 4 once (private bathroom, but you have a roommate), and recently I’ve been in room 2, which is great… nice size, nice light. But this time, I got room 1. Its huge. It has its own balcony and 12 foot ceilings. Its hard not to feel very colonial in this place, and I feel like I should be drinking Gin and Tonics. 10 am was morning coffee with the staff and the various researchers in the institute, which at the moment is really myself, a grad student from LaTrobe, and the Fulbright (from UVA) and her husband. I made the arrangements to get into the garage, which will be my lab for the next two months, but is currently being used as storage space. Oy. I also called our contacts in the village where my dig stays when we’re working in the summer, so I could get into our storage rooms. One phone number doesn’t seem to work (uh oh) so I may just have to track down the guy who runs the storeroom where we keep all our equipment on foot, but the other number got me through to the gentleman who owns the warehouse we use as out apothiki (Greek for warehouse, but its what Aegean and Cypriot archaeologists call the storehouses where we keep our equipment and non-valuable artifacts). However he was quite insistent that I could NOT come get anything out today or tomorrow, so Thursday I have to go have coffee with him at 11, after which I hopefully will have permission to actually get it and get our ceramics. I spent the afternoon reading, dealing with email, and contacting the museum (to get access to more pottery! Sherds! How I love my sherds!). Then off to Lidl, for the acquisition of groceries. The institute is self-catering, and the kitchen is perfectly adequate, but alas most grocery stores are too far to walk easily. Apparently there’s one not too far away now, but since I have a car for the next week I headed out to stock up cheaply. Apparently the long-lived Fulbright car is no longer in this world, so there is no other car currently here at the Institute. I foresee begging rides off my Cypriot friends in the future…

But then the exciting part of the day! I went out to dinner at the Berlin Wall 2, with my friends Tim and Efthymia. They work at the museum and they are just the most lovely, fun people. Efthymia knows the family that runs the Berlin Wall, so named because it’s built right up against the wall that divides Nicosia in half, separating the Republic from the occupied North. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, it left Nicosia as the last divided capital in the world. Not a particular point of pride, but it certainly contributes to the current character of the city, though less-so now that the border crossings are open and more lax. We had mixed grill and lefchanicho (wine sausage, so good), and yoghurt, hummus, salad, and french fries. Delicious. I swear (and I’m Irish here, remember) Cyprus has some of the best tasting potatoes in the world! I kept Tim and Efthymia out past their bedtimes, as we went to the Weaving Room afterwards for another drink. Its called the weaving room, because it was, in fact, a weaving workshop during the Ottoman period. Its a fabulous stone building, and they’ve left the original wood balcony inside, and its filled with books and chairs, and serves cold beer, hot coffee, and delicious traditional deserts, all at a criminally low price. I predict this will make a good writing spot. Conversation was good, and roamed all over. I learned all about dynamics of modern Cypriot politics I never knew, as well as their association with the various football teams. In many ways it reminded me of the situation in Ireland… revolution, followed by a civil war that no one wants to talk about, but which had a serious impact on the politics of the next several decades. Cyprus’ experience is 50 years more recent though, so the wounds are still fresh.


Living the Dream

I’m sitting on the patio of the Krasares Restauraunt on the coastal road outside the village of Kissonerga in the Paphos District of Cyprus. Its the 4th day of the second week of excavation in the 2012 season at the Bronze Age site of Kissonerga-Skalia, directed by Dr. Lindy Crewe, of Uni. Manchester. I’m here in the role of advanced student/pottery assistant. Lindy is widely considered the finest ceramicist working on Cyprus, plus she’s just ridiculously wonderful to work with, and having weighed my options (including just staying in the States and working on my reading list – prudent, but BORING) I hauled myself, via 4 plane flights and 30 hours, to return to my favorite country to do archaeology. If you’re looking for a great field school in Cypriot archaeology, I highly recommend you check it out next year!

The project is going well this season, with 4 trenches open and digging is moving on apace. The site is fascinating, and confusing! We have loads of Chalcolithic material, which appears to have washed down from the site of Kissonerga-Mosphilia, sitting atop some layers which may be as late as Late Cypriot I (the earliest phase of the Late Bronze Age on Cyprus) and others as early as Early Cypriot I or even Philia (the earliest phases of the Early Bronze Age on Cyprus). Our primary goals are to figure out what was going on at this site during both its earliest and latest occupations, and to try to establish a stratified pottery sequence. The pottery sequence is particularly important, because the ceramics here in the southwest of Cyprus are quite different from those found in other parts of the island, and the pottery here has never really been studied. Lindy is working on developing a new typology for the Bronze Age ceramics of the area, which when correlated with the typologies for the southern part of the island, and the best known from the central and southern regions, will allow us to really see how the region fit into the broader history of the island. Big problem right now – we have some pretty diagnostic stuff for the latest and earliest phases, but right now recognizing the Middle Bronze Age is really difficult. Presumably it’s there, but we just don’t know how to see it!

I spent today drawing pottery, a skill I am now very glad I acquired, thanks in particular to Jorrit Kelder (check out his wonderful book “The Kingdom of Mycenae: A Great Kingdom in the Late Bronze Age Aegean”) who taught me the basics when I worked at Priniatikos-Pyrgos on Crete. Pottery drawing is a funny thing – more technical drawing than anything else, but I find its a great way to really get to know the material. I’m a very visual and hands-on learner (lectures go in one ear and out the other), so the act of handling the ceramic sherds, orienting them, and visually reconstructing the vessels really helps me to learn the shapes, fabrics, and decoration, in a way that reading publication reports never fully does. I’m planning on taking my camera out this week to document the pottery analysis and recording process, which I hope to post on this blog. Just don’t make fun of my drawings – they’re passable, but I’m no artist!

The first step in pottery processing, is every archaeologist’s favorite post-excavation duty (sarcasm? maybe not…), pottery washing. Today’s pottery washing was particularly entertaining though, since we found ourselves washing a bunch of things we shouldn’t have! These were objects that had been mistaken for pottery, because of their irregular shapes and being caked in dirt, so honest mistakes all, but still amusing. Since everything was kept with the material from the context in which it was excavated, we still know right where they were found. So, pulled out of the pottery buckets today were a) a beautiful chalcolithic polished stone chisel, b) a pierced stone disk, c) a deer antler prong (possibly a handle of a tool, or a tool in and of itself), and d) a really peculiar ground stone object which appeared to have been a piece of stone bowl or mortar in a previous life, but which had been reshaped into some sort of stamp or rubber.

Dinner tonight was roasted potatoes and aubergines with fresh feta crumbled and melted on top, a large greek salad, and pickled beetroot. So delicious! We eat here 4 dinners a week, one night is pizza, and two nights we’re on our own. Lunches we take turns cooking for the team (cooking for 30 is an adventure!), and breakfast is out in the field, a standard archaeological practice. The food so far has been excellent, and since I’m not excavating like I normally would be, as I stay back at the dig house to work on the ceramics, and since I’m eating so much, I fear I’m not losing weight, but may even be gaining it! But, with delicious Cypriot food in my stomach and the sun is setting into the Mediterranean, turning the haze yellow and pink and orange, it may be time to have a drink with the crew before heading up the hill for the night. Good night all!