First-hand experience Excavations at Keber Tepe (Ancient Doliche) by the Forsschungsstelle Asia Minor, see www.doliche.de

First-hand experience

Lennart Kruijer reflects on his fieldwork in Turkey, which, like an archaeological site itself, has left visible traces.

Crickets are chirping and the warm, dry wind is picking up. I am sitting on a little balcony of the excavation house, and in the distance I see the red moon rising above the industrial zone of Gaziantep, a large city in south-eastern Turkey. While I write on my laptop I notice the blisters on my right hand. Like an archaeological site, they show the material traces of activities in the past. The blisters are almost systematically scattered across the palm of my hand and my fingers (see picture).

In fact, I very well remember the moment I obtained these humble trophies of hard work. Most derive from preparing the new trenches exactly three weeks ago, when I became overtly fanatical in scraping the surface with my trowel. Apart from a childish urge at showing off my scraping-skills, I guess the ten months of absolutely no physical exercise behind a desk that preceded this campaign created the perfect conditions for these burning small bubbles on my sensitive skin.

Lennart kruijer blog2

One specific blister on the inside of my index finger - still red and clearly not well taken care of - definitely derives from that hot afternoon of excessive pickaxing in the second week. We are currently excavating a fourth-century, basilica-shaped church that is covered with thick layers of colluvium and a very neatly preserved collapse layer. The colluvium, often consisting of innumerable fragments of limestone, is particularly attractive for the armchair archaeologist who feels released from his office-prison and eagerly wants to play outside again. Naïve enthusiasm combined with a pickaxe and sweaty hands certainly do the job.

Fortunately, most blisters have by now turned to hard skin. It is the same, curious procedure every campaign: as time goes by, the filled wheelbarrows seem to become less heavy. Suddenly you don’t get sunburnt anymore. Day by day, your tools fit the shape of your hands better and better. Also, you don’t need an alarm anymore to wake up at 6 AM, even on work-free Sundays; the rigid rhythm of the day becomes the only sensible time to adhere to. In a way, the archaeologist and his excavation slowly start to converge - or, dare I say, ‘entangle’? But clearly, this is the armchair archaeologist talking again. I think it is time for some pickaxing tomorrow morning.


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